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Collision Course

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Hell.

He was actually in hell.

Of course, a bitter stray thought echoed quietly, laced with resignation, where else would I go?

It was idiotic of him to expect that perhaps mercy was still attainable to him and the afterlife would bring even an ounce of peace. While maybe in the end reality had shaken him awake like never before and he had played a part in ensuring the world's survival (he desperately hoped, at least), it obviously wasn't nearly enough to atone for all the mistakes, the murders, the agony he caused. It wasn't enough for even a speck of it.

So, naturally, what was left of his soul was doomed to spend eternity in anguish.

Despite that, despite knowing all he earned was pain and despite it making perfect sense, he was nevertheless greatly dismayed to learn that this was what fate decided to punish him with.

Kneeling in a pool of thick, quickly cooling blood and cradling the lifeless form of his love.

The single most excruciating moment of his life.

This particular memory had haunted his dreams and thoughts regardless of the time of day ever since that fateful night up until the very end. Well, near end. In his last moments his mind had been filled with bright images of her face, her smile and her voice instead of the horrid ones that were the main driving force behind his dedication to the Moon Eye Plan. In fact, the last thing he could remember was finally reuniting with her and for the first time in a long while believing everything was going to be alright.

But that was... that was...

He didn't know what that was, but certainly not what he deserved. Perhaps it had been a mere flash of euphoria so that his pending suffering would only sting more. If that was even possible.

A distant thought murmured how cruelly ironic his predicament was. He had spent the better part of his life in a dire attempt to forever erase this particular event from ever occurring, but in the finale he was destined to forever be trapped in it.

Fate surely knew how to pull her strings.

Nevertheless, a tiny, almost indiscernible part of him silently marveled at the experience. While he had relived these certain minutes (or hours) an uncountable amount of times, never had it felt this crushingly real. The way her petite, childish body laid in his grasp, as if it was a perfect piece of a puzzle yet at the same time so disturbingly unfitting, the way the blood trailing down her chin glistened in the moonlight, the way she was slowly yet surely losing warmth, or how his chest heaved with great difficulty, how his small hands, tightly gripping her form, were smeared in such intense red, how his whole body ached and right eye throbbed, and how the chill of the air around him was seeping into his bones.

He didn't remember it being this cold. Then again, only Rin's lifeless body had been clearly etched into his memory, as if carved in flesh with rotten nails. Poisoning, choking, tearing him apart until the bliss of death came to release him.

Though that obviously wasn't the case. All his demise did was grate at his still heavily bleeding heart.

So there he was, clinging to Rin desperately despite fully understanding his situation. Nothing could bring him more torment and yet he refused to let her body go. If he was fated to spend eternity with his love's corpse, then at least he would accept his punishment with her in his arms.

The fragile, glass-like moment where an instant stretched to forever was suddenly broken by an unexpected voice. The sound of it was akin to a droplet landing in a lake, yet at the same time sent devastating waves crashing to the shore. It even made him jerk quite violently.

''Obito...''

At first he thought he had merely imagined it. It took him a short beat to place the voice to its owner, but he still couldn't comprehend the reason for its existence. It felt so disgusting, so inappropriate, as if it tarnished something sacred. Something never meant for anyone else's eyes or touch or presence.

And yet...

His eyes painfully peeled themselves off of Rin's bloodied face and focused on his hands. A snowy white shone from beneath the pints of red, its surface slightly warped. He blinked at the sight, his lips pursing ever-so-slightly.

Right. These weren't his hands, per se. They were...

(His shell suddenly felt too tight, scorching, tearing—)

But why was that thing in his hell? While he could logically understand the cause behind him being present, seemingly given that his afterlife was shaped to replicate the most agonizing part of his life, but since he thought this was a loop, it didn't quite make sense to make the white being sentient and being able to speak .

And apparently expecting an answer.

''Obito, we should leave.''

What the hell was he talking about?

If this was a ploy to somehow cause him even more misery (not possible), then he refused to play along. He would remain here, on the cold ground, soaking in his victims' and her blood and never letting her go.

''Konoha is probably arriving soon. They can't find us here.''

In his world it would have made sense. He never did remain long enough to have this certain conversation, though. No, he had had a new goal and could not wait a single second to start his journey to it.

This time there was no urgency. So he remained still. Silent.

Evidently, the creature wasn't satisfied with his reaction.

''Obito, we have to—''

''Shut up,'' he said, a low growl escaping his lips. He himself was taken aback by it. However, the mild surprise was quickly replaced by an inexplicable emotion which crushed his throat, rendering him breathless for a short while. The sound of his young voice send waves of shock, despair, guilt and everything in between over his already weakened from sorrow body. It felt foreign to his ears, so overwhelmingly out-of-place, as if the melody of a nightingale in a dead desert. Too high, too light, too innocent, even if its tone betrayed the heavy misery it carried.

He barely managed not to choke.

''There's no point in staying here anymore, we should get back to Madara—''

As if it were deadly poison, rage quickly spread through through his veins at the mention of that name.

''I said shut the hell up. ''

Logically, he knew that Madara had also been used as a pawn in the grand scheme of things. Logically, his intentions weren't inherently evil. Logically, he was merely an idealistic fool, much like Obito himself, who decided no means were too cruel to achieve his idea of a world of peace. But logic rarely played an important role in one's feelings, and as much as Obito despised himself, there was plenty of hate left for his honorable forefather.

Perhaps one day, after spending a considerable amount of time in this hell, his hatred would diminish, insuperable melancholy taking its place. That seemed like probable progression.

Finally, the creature appeared to have taken the hint and remained silent. A tinge of relief soothed his soul and he once more tried to shift his focus back on the frail body. To his great dismay, she had almost completely lost her warmth.

What an odd concept—the sensation of time in Hell.

A lot would had passed, probably.

He was unable to bask in her ghastly presence for long before it was once again interfered with. This time with something considerably stranger. At the edges of his consciousness a familiar sensation trickled. One he knew all too well due to his senses always being heightened regardless of time and place, which apparently covered afterlife, too ( wait, what? ).

Distant chakra signatures quickly approaching.

That certainly caught his attention and made his concentration shift. Confusion now beginning to steadily leak into the chaotic mix that was his heart. He extended his senses and focused.

A sharp inhale followed.

He hadn't felt these specific signatures in ages. While he didn't know most of them personally, he knew for a fact that a good portion had died a long time ago. And even though, once again, it sort of made sense , if this whole situation was a recreation of his past, but at the same time it didn't. Why would a team of Konoha shinobi be part of his afterlife?

They're probably a search party , the sole, quiet, sensible part of his mind that was left supplied, and this isn't a continuous moment.

Obito blanched at the intrusive thought. His eyes shot up to the sky, only to find it not the inky black as he remembered so vividly, but rather a gentle navy, and gradually brightening. A whisper echoed in his head that morning was coming.

Rin's body was cold and stiff. He had no actual memory of that certain feeling.

''Obito! They're coming! We have to go!''

Slowly, a different, completely unfathomable thought brewed inside his mind, next to his original belief. One he refused to entertain and yet it continued to scrape and hiss, strings of his logical thinking finding it more and more worthy of notice.

While Obito couldn't accept it, it was not entirely impossible that he was, in fact, not dead.

Sometimes, though it was not often, he cursed whatever sensibility he had left.

He would much rather believe he was in hell rather than... than...

''OBITO! ''

The signatures were too close for comfort now and Obito knew he had to make a split-second decision. He could continue on being convinced this was some sort of twisted afterlife and stay, or he could consider the idea that perhaps somehow he was alive and flee.

He shifted his eyes back onto Rin's lifeless face.

Then, almost involuntarily, he turned his head to look at his other former teammate who appeared to be very much alive, if still unconscious.

A flurry of words invaded his mind and a decision was made.

Caressing Rin's cheek one last time, Obito gently placed her down and leaped out of the clearing, sparing a glance back at the horrifying field, littered with bodies of his mutilated victims.

If he really was in Hell, there really wasn’t much he could do to mess up more.

Chapter Text

Even with his suppressed chakra signature that he was certain no one could sense, Obito still opted to travel a considerable distance from the clearing before finally choosing to stop and assess the situation more clearly (only then did he realize he could have used Kamui. His thoughts were a mess). Now that he was away from the battlefield, the gravity of the situation was beginning to catch up to him. Not to mention the lingering feeling of Rin's stiff body, that did wonders in tangling his mind up. It had certainly been awhile since he had been in such a disheveled state—he could barely focus on his surroundings. Despite that, his careful, calculated thinking, honed over years of strategizing, fortunately hadn't completely abandoned him, and was now whispering him rational instructions. So even though the better part of him was beginning to drown in a chaos that was his heart, he forced his mind to somewhat focus.

He leaned against the lean trunk of the tree he was perched on and inhaled deeply, closing his eye.

First task—calming down.

Obito once again extended his senses and willed his rapid heartbeat to at least slightly slow down. There was no immediate danger. He was alone (more or less) and no one was after him. So there was no actual reason to be this on edge.

( apart from Rin's blood on your hands, knees, chest— )

Obito steeled himself, taking another rather shaky breath.

(He pushed the whispers down . )

Assess. Make observations .

It was early morning. The location seemed to be... near the Country of Fire, if memory served. He bore only one eye and his body was encased in Tobi's. He had just left the place where his old life had ended and a new one had begun ( breathe breathe breathe ) . Those, and other smaller details, pointed towards one irrefutable fact—this appeared to be a recreation of a certain period of his past.

Obito clenched his trembling fists. It might have been painful. He didn't register it.

Don’t lose focus.

Now, from that conclusion, Obito could stem two theories so far. Either this was his cruelly twisted afterworld, and he did, in fact, die when he was supposed to, or he had somehow avoided death and was actually in the past.

The mere thought of the latter elicited a bone-deep shiver, and he felt his breath hitch. Light nausea welled up in his stomach, but Obito disregarded it. Or attempted to, at least. While he did have experience in dealing with colorful, cutting thoughts, never before had they been quite this sharp. They pierced through skin and flesh, threatening to rip old wounds open, digging without mercy. But Obito was nothing if not stubborn. He gripped the wheel tightly and steered his mind back, away from far-too-dangerous waters and back to what he did best, what sheltered him (and what he despised).

Continue.

Obito listened.

The idea of this being the Infinite Tsukuyomi had also briefly occurred to him, but he quickly disregarded that thought, since, one, he didn’t doubt he really did die, and two, even if he had somehow survived, being forced to relive his most devastating moment was light-years away from what he imagined a perfect world would be. A consequential notion followed that perhaps it was simply a genjutsu then, but that was also quite improbable, given that Obito wasn't exactly known for being easily trapped in one, much less being unable to leave it.

Which left him with only two explanations, both equally distressing, though in their own ways.

He could already feel a tearing headache closing in.

Explore them.

Desperately, Obito grasped at the thin threads of reason and pushed the incoming shudder down. Focus, focus, focus.

He bit his lower lip in concentration.

The first theory about this being his hell had, in the beginning, seemed almost undeniable. The last thing he could remember was sacrificing himself to save a child he put all his hopes into, and a long-lost friend. As he had turned to ash, he could vaguely recall a bright Rin meeting him in what he thought had been the Pure Land. But after that... He wasn't sure how much time had passed before he had blinked into consciousness again and found the same girl's departed form in his arms.

Naturally, the first thing he had assumed after such a chain of events could only be eternal damnation. And for awhile, it made perfect sense (since you're damned damned damned). It, however, began being gradually dubious as time actually progressed. Obito had stayed unmoving with her body for far longer than the first time, and so certain things had begun occurring that were not part of his memory. As if the forever he had believed he was destined to was not quite as everlasting. Moments passed, and night had slowly begun to pass. While Obito could never claim he knew how the afterlife worked, he was rather certain it wasn't supposed to be like this.

Which led him to his second theory. He wasn't dead and had somehow ended up in the past. Or an alternative dimension altogether.

His lips curved downwards at the calm assessment.

Time-travel was certainly not entirely unheard of. Though there weren't people who could truly testify that they had journeyed through time, the idea in general had been mentioned on a few scarce occasions in Obito's information-gathering, though he had always dismissed it with a scoff. Why waste precious time and energy on such a delicate and unpredictable notion, when one could create a world of his deepest desires without any risk? In hindsight, even if he had paid more attention to it, he doubted it would have been of much help in this particular situation, seeing as how he certainly hadn't performed any jutsu or seal that would have placed him here. The same went for space travel, even if he was more familiar with that particular subfield. Obito could travel through dimensions, sure , but never alternative realities.

After evaluating these two theories, the rational part of his mind concluded that there wasn't, in fact, enough data to come to a definitive answer. Even if he confirmed either, they both were too broad to accurately explain his predicament.

So in the end, Obito decided that he had no idea what was going on.

That was definitely something new.

His right eye fluttered open and he exhaled a soft sigh. Either way, he couldn't remain here. Whatever the situation was, being idle was never his forte. He had to act based on one theory. His disheveled state of mind was offering no help (he could barely keep it at bay as it was), so Obito grasped at his carefully  sharpened skill to shove all distracting thoughts or feelings away so his consciousness wouldn't be rendered useless. The cold and calculating part of his mind reasoned that it would best to follow a belief that he was indeed in the past or an alternative reality. In that case, he'd be able to gather enough information quickly enough to come to an actual conclusion.

(Sometimes, Obito hated the unnatural part of his brain—sometimes, very rarely, almost never.)

His shoulders slumped downwards.

Was a simple death really too much to ask?

''Let's go already, it's not safe here.''

Zetsu’s voice broke him out of his thoughts. Right. Now that he had sort of decided to follow one idea, he had to form a plan of action. First of all—where should he go?

Obito's mind immediately flashed him pictures of Konoha. The faded colors trickled unpleasantly behind his eyes, and he tried to blink away the rising smoke, demolished buildings, and streets littered with bodies. For years he had associated his ( former, always and forever ) village with despair and tragedy, the feeling slowly fading into sheer indifference over time, yet his heartstrings still tugged ever-so-rarely as unwelcome memories rose during certain times. Obito had always written the twinging feeling off as a twisted form of anger or hate; nothing more, nothing less. A sense of longing for the reality he had discarded as beyond saving, a mere illusion, had been lost to him for far too long, and had to be literally beaten back into him . Now, however, when his heart could pour a colorful variety of emotions mostly unfiltered, Obito thought he'd choke on the painful ache.

No, Obito couldn't go back there, not like this, ( never at all) , not when he had betrayed it in a beat, not when he had wreaked havoc upon it on more than one occasion, not when—

Madara , his mind suddenly hissed in urgency. Black Zetsu. They're still...

Obito clung to the fleeting thought desperately, as if someone drowning to a lifeline.

This timeline... This period, in it, he was still... Madara and Zetsu, they...

Calm down calm down calm down—

A mild shiver ran down his spine and Obito clenched his fists tightly ( not his, this is wrong, out outout ). He forced his chaotic mind to settle again (when did control become so difficult?), pushing down any scattered thoughts, and tried to focus only on Madara and Zetsu. The cave. This time.

Regardless of what this was, Obito vehemently refused to follow the same path. It had taken him so long ( far too long, far too late ) to realize he didn't want it, not really, and admit he could have chosen a much brighter a path, and not litter it with bodies of people he once cared about, and not believe they would be alive and real in his own world instead of these fakes these lies these—

Calm down.

Obito steeled himself. And willed himself to concentrate on one thought only.

Madara. Black Zetsu.

At that moment, it didn't matter what he would do later. In the future, if there was actually one. Obito didn't deserve it, not any prospect of it, not after throwing it away for an illusion but . He allowed himself to have one goal in whatever fucked up world this was—Madara and Black Zetsu could not continue living under any circumstances. Especially the demonic parasite.

Focus on that, just focus, don't think, focus and focus

Right now, they were expecting him. And at the same time, someone completely different. If he could manage to catch them off guard...

What would come next, Obito didn't know. Couldn't think about it. Couldn't let himself—

''Obito, are you listening to me?''

A wave of chilling water washed over him at the reminder that he was not actually alone. Obito spared a glance at his body. With Tobi wrapped around him, it would prove very difficult attacking anyone Madara didn't approve of. And if he asked the creature to release him (he didn't doubt it wouldn't complain) and killed Tobi beforehand, he was certain his actions would be quickly reported, and his tentative element of surprise would be thrown out the window. This revelation left him in quite the bind.

Obito chewed on his lip as he joggled his mind for any possible solution, something , anything that would give him the upper hand...

And as a certain thought occurred to him, he contemplated slapping himself.

He was an idiot.

There was no need to overthink. No need to come up with an intricate plan that would certainly have too many risks—all he had to do was for a short while pretend he was their Obito. If he recalled correctly, not long after his return, Madara had chosen to leave the world of the living, entrusting everything, including Black Zetsu, to him. So really, half of his work would be done for him. He would figure out what to do with the shadow later. For now, not much action was required.

Obito wasn't sure how to feel about it.

''Alright,'' he murmured finally, breaking the silence. ''Let's go.''

~.~

Right. Whoever was orchestrating fate's tune obviously found great pleasure in Obito's suffering.

The man's trembling hands clenched into fists as a venomous glare was cast over the area in front of him.

''Guruguru...'' He willed his sandpaper-like tongue to move, despite the name feeling bitter. His voice was laced with false calm, only barely concealing the shaking. ''Where is Madara?''

At the moment, he was standing still in the cave that had been his and his ancestor's hideout for many years—and yet it was noticeably absent of said ancestor. Or anyone and any thing, for that matter. After flaring his senses, Obito concluded that he was, in fact, alone in this vast cavern.

This certainly had not happened the first time around. Even the Gedo Statue was missing, which was beyond odd. Even if Madara had left, how the hell would he have summoned that thing with him? At this point in time the elder couldn't even stand on his own, much less bring the shell of the Juubi with him. Which shouldn't even be damn possible, considering the Rinnegan was required for the summon, and Obito was rather certain Madara was not in possession of said doujutsu in this time period.

This whole mess just kept spiraling down into chaos, and once again Obito was left dumbfounded. Only due to exceptional control over his body ( not mind? ) did he not shake from frustration.

''Ah-ah, well this is definitely weird,'' Tobi hummed. ''They left us behind! Why would they be so rude?''

The Uchiha carefully examined the creature's words. While he couldn't decipher any concrete tones that would betray what the artificial human was feeling, his comments were enough to get a vague idea.

Tobi appeared to be just as confused, which meant he really didn't know anything.

And that was more than mildly concerning.

Alright, alright, calm down. First step? Is there any danger present?

Actually... Obito couldn't tell. While there didn't seem to be anyone around, that didn't mean the place was safe . Until he found out why exactly it had been deserted, the man couldn't give a conclusive answer.

Fantastic. He was already failing.

Ideas, ideas, ideas... Obviously Mountain's Graveyard in this world or time was still the right place, since Tobi would have pointed out if it wasn't, so that theory was no good. Then why would Madara suddenly decide to leave, abandoning his protégé? Didn't his whole plan hinge on Obito succeeding him? And at such a crucial time, too? It didn't make any sense, unless he somehow , which should not damn possible, knew that Obito was returning with less than cooperative intentions. But that was absurd, how the hell would he—

Obito’s heart plummeted to his feet as a certain thought occured.

Unless he had indeed ended up in the past ( or an alternative dimension , he reminded himself), and he wasn't the only one . There was a possibility, however implausible, that somehow someone else also traveled with him.

That left him with either Madara or Black Zetsu.

If the elder had journeyed back, too, then Obito doubted this course of action would be the one he would have taken. He would have know that he was being deceived by the shadow and would have most likely abandoned his initial plan. Madara in his current state definitely wouldn't be able to outright kill the damned parasite, but he would still do something , and wouldn't outright leave Obito like this. So Madara being the one who accompanied him was an improbable option.

That left him with Black Zetsu.

And that was certainly the less preferable option.

Obito didn't know how the final fight between Kaguya and Naruto along with Sasuke had ended, but if the pair had managed (he prayed to all gods they did) to defeat the goddess, then no doubt Zetsu would try anything to prevent that from happening if given the chance. But it still didn't explain why the cave was deserted, since up until the very end Obito had executed their plan to the letter marvelously, so it would only be in the shadow's best interest to leave that unchanged. However, since Zetsu had decided to run from the Uchiha instead, that left Obito with only one plausible theory.

Not only had Black Zetsu traveled back with him, he was aware that Obito had, too.

In such a case his predicament would very much become hell regardless of reality.

It was hysterically ironic how quickly power was slipping from Obito's grasp when he actually decided to do something for the world that didn't include attempting to take it over.

Either way...

''Hey, Guruguru,'' Obito once again addressed the creature, this time his voice considerably more controlled. ''Could you get off?''

''Eh? But you're way stronger this way!'' the other protested, but Obito could hear that it was rather light-hearted.

''Just for a short while.''

''Aaah, fine, I'll try to find out where they all went in the meantime,'' Tobi mentally shrugged and unwrapped himself from the Uchiha.

Obito glanced down at his much-younger-than-he-was-used-to body. Sure, all the scarring and bruising was still there, but in other aspect his new form felt so... strange. Which was another point in favor to the time-or-dimensional travel, since if this was actually Hell, it wouldn't matter in what body he was, and here it did. These hands had already taken lives, but not ones he loved, not ones that believed he was dead, not thousands of former enemies and allies alike. These hands—

No, wait, scratch that— hand. Obito blinked once in momentary confusion as he stared at the paper white stump that had been his right arm. It took him a short while to find the certain memory—he had somehow destroyed it while attempting to break out of this cave, hadn't he? This slightly complicated things. He would prefer to have two hands, but seeing as how there were no White Zetsu around—

His eyes flickered to the artificial figure next to him, which seemed to be stalling and observing Obito with interest. Initially he had planned on killing the creature on the first occasion, that being now , since evidently Madara didn't want the younger Uchiha anywhere close anyway, but given his condition...

I suppose you'll get to live awhile yet.

''Hey, why are ya looking at me like—''

Tobi didn't get to finish his sentence before Obito's hand shot to grab him and in a moment's notice transported him to his personal dimension. From there, the creature wouldn't cause any troubles until Obito decided to use him—for one reason or another. Perhaps he would prove to be an asset beyond providing him with a prosthetic.

Obito's musings were, unfortunately, rudely interrupted quickly after he was left alone in the premise. As if the gods didn't hate him enough.

A couple of things happened all at once.

Loud, thunderous noises broke through the eerie silence and the whole cave shook violently. Obito's eye widened as he shot it upwards only to find the ceiling collapsing along with a wave of small papers fluttering down.

Explosives!

Before he could activate his Kamui, a sharp, piercing pain cut directly through his heart, causing him to gasp violently, hand shooting to his chest. Scorching daggers dug into his chakra coils, seemingly ripping them apart. With great horror, Obito realized that he could not access any chakra, not to mention the agony from attempting to do so. He had absolutely no idea how that was possible , but at the moment he was facing a much deadlier problem.

Quite literally.

The rocks and explosive tags were closing in and it would take them only a moment to reach him, most likely sending him into the afterlife for certain.

(Before he could attempt anything, though, dark thoughts flooded his mind, the idea of this being pointless suddenly making itself loudly known. Perhaps he should allow fate to correct its course, perhaps he should just stop fighting and dismiss any treacherous, silent musings that had begun to brew inside his mind at the notion that maybe he wasn't dead, perhaps—)

Despite the growing hesitation, Obito's hand almost involuntarily formed the Tiger seal and tore through the burning pain, desperately reaching for his cut-off chakra reserves. He only needed a little, a small drop , just a speck, just for a measly shunshin, because he was not going to die here, he would not allow that. Black began dancing in his vision, conflicting thoughts screeched louder than the explosives that began burning his body, but he ignored it all. Survival instincts kicked desperately, harder than his dark, inky emotions so he fought and fought and fought—

—and found himself falling down just outside the collapsing cave.

... Well damn.

Slowly, he rolled on his back and exhaled a deep breath, wincing at the sharp pain such simple actions brought.

It was safe to say his first few hours in this world had been disastrous.

And that was saying something, knowing what kind of life he had lived.

However , Obito thought as he moved his injured hand to the still-throbbing chest, that never happened before.

What the hell is going on?

It appeared the restrictions had lifted, as he could feel the comforting flow of chakra, however little, gradually beginning to soothe his aching body. His heart still held that sharpness from before, though it was quickly diminishing. Whatever had happened had completely cut off his ability to use chakra, and Obito wasn't entirely certain whether his technique worked at the last second due to his desperate attempts or because the suppression had somehow disappeared. Perhaps a combination of both.

Whatever the case was, Obito felt warm relief seeping into him.

He was still alive. Probably.

Even if reasons for concern had just shot through the roof.

Obito knew he would have to dissect this particular very troubling issue at a later time, since that little event had somehow drained almost all of his energy, his chakra reserves edging on the brink of fatal, and he could barely stay awake as it was. Not to mention the damage he had failed to avoid—a quick observation confirmed his fears. The better part of his body was scorched and the man wasn't sure whether the wounds would ever heal, even with his enhancements.

However, he couldn't remain laying there, whatever his condition was.

Obito needed a hospital. And fast. If he passed out in this place, all his troubles to avoid his recent near-death experience would be for naught. With great distress, he realized that his best chance was Konoha. His mind screamed in anxiety at the mere idea , but even someone as stubborn as him had to admit that, in a sense of practicality, no place would be better. If nothing was drastically different in this time or world or dimension, then all Obito was was a loyal shinobi, killed in action. Or, at least, thought to be. He was certain he would receive all the necessary attention, though he feared that perhaps he would attract too much. He couldn't afford the wrong people becoming too privy and attempting to gain information while he was still unconscious. It was one thing he absolutely could not afford.

That reason alone was almost enough to decide against his hometown. However, a traitorous thought whispered that there were certain people who would not allow anyone to enter his mind so easily. There were still people who trusted him, who wanted to protect him and who had no idea how easily he had murdered them once upon a time.

That reason had almost completely solidified his resolution to not come back.

There was no way, absolutely no way in hell and back

And yet.

Run away and never come back. Run away again. Run away like before. Abandon reality and strive for an illusion. What do you want to hear?

...He'd leave the self-damnation for a later time.

Now he had to assure there was a later time.

~.~

The serene atmosphere around their small camp was suddenly broken by a signature that slowly began flickering a small distance away. Immediately the men were on their feet, hands already tightly holding various weapons as the unknown intruder slowly approached them. They held off their attacks, choosing to simply observe first, yet ready to jump into action if need be. The chakra didn't seem threatening—in fact, it was barely flaring, which only caused confusion among the sensors within their group. Finally, a slumping figure emerged from the cloak of darkness, leaning on a nearby tree for support. Bewilderment flashed across a few younger faces at the peculiar sight. The captain of the team, however, did not faze.

''Identify yourself!'' he barked, carefully observing the what now appeared to be a young boy. He knew it would be foolish to lower one’s guard because of a child, no matter how young or helpless they looked.

The newcomer was silent for a while, frozen in place, but finally he slowly lifted his head, glancing over the group. The men shared a collective sharp inhale at the sight of a blazing-red Sharingan, putting them all even higher on edge. However, only a second after, the threatening doujutsu faded into near-black. A sign of rightful ownership and a claim of peaceful intentions. A few felt their shoulders slightly relax, and they all waited for the mysterious boy to speak.

''I am...'' Soft words, soaked with exhaustion and pain, left the newcomer's trembling lips. ''Konoha's shinobi... Uchiha Obito.''

The boy didn't wait for the group's reaction. Consciousness abandoned him, and he plummeted to the hard ground.

Chapter Text

He felt like he was swimming.

All thoughts had silenced, his mind had cleared, and the elevated feeling soothed his troubled heart immensely. At that moment, he didn't even remember why it had been aching. As if all burdens had lifted, chains dropped, and he was left with nothing but ignorant bliss.

He bathed in it for a moment. Or for eternity. It was all too unclear, but it was not enough.

So it was only natural that Obito felt a tinge of resistance as soon as his soul was beginning to be dragged back to reality. He wished to remain in this white domain for a little longer, but somewhere, in the deepest part of his mind, he knew he couldn't. Even if Obito would rather choose to spend forever in this silent void than to come back, it was not an option.

And so Obito allowed himself to reemerge.

Slowly, the whiteness was replaced by inky darkness, and distant sounds began reaching his ears. The last strings of unconsciousness gradually faded as if sugar in tea, and the feeling of his heavy body returned.

Obito continued feigning sleep for a short while.

Even if every inch of him felt somewhat sore, the position he was in was far from uncomfortable. Evidently, he was laying on a soft mattress, and judging by the absence of coldness, he was inside. Actually, it was rather warm, almost too much. But Obito didn't complain. Instead, he focused on his other senses.

He seemed to be alone in the room. The only sound he could make out was a soft chirping somewhere far away, and a distant rustling of mixed noises. Gentle light was hitting his closed eyelid, so Obito concluded it must have been daytime. Something uncomfortable was poking in the inner side of his forearm, but it was only mildly distracting. Overall, a serene blanket laid upon him, something he wasn't particularly used to.

Finally, he opened his eye.

It was a hospital room. Interestingly enough, it was one of those individual rooms, reserved for important people. Or someone who should be kept separate. Obito wasn't sure into which category he fell.

(He hadn't been in a hospital in a long time. Or anywhere nice and clean and bright and warm and—)

Obito was just relieved it wasn't a T&I chamber. That would have caused problems.

A glance to his side confirmed the vague idea that he was hooked to a tube. Clear liquid was periodically dripping into it, and judging by how numb he felt, it was most likely painkillers. Perhaps something else, too, but Obito couldn't have known. Still, even though his body ached significantly less, Obito greatly disliked being desensitized. Or have any foreign substance unknown to him enter his system. Some might call it paranoia, a shinobi would call it common sense.

He would have to mention that on the first occasion.

Quickly after that the door opened and a nurse walked in. Noticing that her patient was very much conscious, she seemed to still for a moment before a gentle smile appeared on her lips.

''I see you're finally awake,'' she spoke, closing the door behind her. ''You're in Konoha's hospital. How are you feeling? Are you in any immediate pain? Would you like some water?''

Obito was silent for a couple of moments, observing the young woman closely. She didn't portray any unease, or was exceptionally well at covering it. Someone who most likely had experience with a wide variety of patients.

(He was unused to such looks. It wasn't cold, it wasn't hostile, it wasn't broken. It unnerved him.)

''I'm fine, and no,'' he finally answered quietly without elaborating further. He had survived through much worse. And even if he was definitely thirsty, and that clear jug was just standing there a few meters away, he would wait awhile before consuming anything from these people.

''Alright, then I'll be bringing a doctor to check up on your injuries, if that's okay with you.''

Obito mused silently. Her tone and wording were rather strange. Since when did a patient have a saying in such matters? The nurse was acting as if he were a traumatized child, and while yes, his physical condition hadn't been the best, surely that wasn't enough of a reason for such tenderness?

(Nothing was.)

However, Obito's exterior betrayed none of these thoughts and he merely nodded. Flashing one last reassuring smile, the woman left.

...A bit unexpected, but he shrugged it off. Maybe the nurse was just like that. Sure, he had been pronounced dead for more or less a year, but again, it wasn't entirely unheard-of when shinobi turn out to be alive, especially in cases where their bodies hadn’t been retrieved. Quite rare, yes, but it still happened.

His thoughts were cut off by the door opening a second time. Now a couple of nurses walked in along with what appeared to be a doctor. The woman in charge stopped at his bed's foot and brought a clipboard in front of her, while the remaining pair began fussing over him, however gently. After removing the tube per Obito's request (not without asking for confirmation three times, though), they took his temperature, checked his eye responses and examined the many bandages adorning his body, making sure none were coming loose. They also mentioned something about needing to reapply them at a later time (why, he couldn't fathom, wasn't he already practically healed?), all the while speaking in such gracious tones that it almost made Obito sick and honestly freaked him out a bit. He couldn't remember the last time someone addressed him nicely , much less kindly, it simply felt wrong. No, he was used to harsh, usually indifferent tones, and more often than not filled with hate and fury. This whole situation seemed beyond bizarre, and the silently distressed Uchiha was left mildly disturbed.

He was not made of glass, but he decided to keep such thoughts to himself.

Finally, after his quick check-up, the nurses relayed the information to the doctor and left the two of them alone. Obito's eye lingered a second longer on the door before shifting to the woman in front of him.

She smiled, but it was considerably more professional, for which her patient was glad.

''Are you capable of answering a couple of questions before we proceed?''

Obito nodded. This was a standard procedure to determine his cooperation and, well, sanity.

The inquires were incredible simple. “What is your name, your age, where do you come from” and so on. Obito noticed that not one was related to what had happened or things that actually mattered. Perhaps that would be left to the definitely pending interrogation. Obito suppressed a frown at that thought.

''Okay, I will now relay your condition.'' The woman flipped a couple of pages. ''You suffered several second degree burns, some first degree, but luckily no third, and I'm pleased to tell you they've been healing remarkably quickly. There was also a significant amount of bruising, but fortunately no internal bleeding or broken bones. What took the biggest toll on your body was near-total chakra depletion and damaged coils, though they also seem to be healing well. Other than that, we could not execute any more in-depth tests on the orders of the Hokage. All in all, you do not seem to be in any immediate danger.''

''I see,'' Obito murmured. His eye shifted from the woman to stare at the wall as his mind digested the information. He had expected most of the diagnosis, the most worrying one concerning his chakra. Rarely had he faced exhaustion, usually there had always more than enough for anything. And he still had had a good amount of it left when he returned to Mountain's Graveyard, so the only explanation for his condition had to be related to that sudden suppression back at the cave. But damaged coils, too?

If not dealt with, this could turn into a huge problem.

Obito forced his mind to shift from that certain topic for the meantime. There were other, more pressing matters at hand.

On the orders of the Hokage, huh?

Well that was interesting. Obito wished to ask whether other, not-entirely-physical procedures had been performed while he was unconscious, but opted against it. For one, it would raise suspicion. And two, if the medical staff were not allowed to delve into his physical condition more than absolutely necessary, then he had reason to believe his mind had been left untouched, too. Given that he wasn’t in chains in front of ANBU only solidified that belief. Obito felt his tense shoulders relax oh-so-slightly.

''Oh, before I leave, I have one last question,'' the woman addressed him near the door. ''Now that you're awake, would you be willing to accept visitors?''

Obito's throat constricted and he was suddenly left speechless. A heavy weight landed on his chest, tearing up his lungs, and for a fleeting moment, he couldn't breathe. Fearing the sound of his voice, Obito merely nodded. His perfect impassive facade held up until he was finally left alone.

After that, the Uchiha allowed his face to twist.

~.~

It couldn't have been more than ten minutes before the heavy hanging silence was broken again. This time, a couple of soft knocks resounded through the room before the door opened. Even having expected the occurrence, Obito barely managed to push down a flinch. His lone eye flickered to the newcomer and he almost we wished it hadn't.

His insides lurched painfully at the sight, and for a second his vision swam. Sunny yellow tore through his mind, blinding with its vibrance. Gentle blue now appeared ocean vast that threatened to drown him, its lively flickering scorching his soul, tearing every string apart, choking him

Obito's old sensei was more alive ( alivealivealivefake ) than in his abandoned vision of a perfect world. And certainly an infinity away from being the cracked reanimated corpse he last remembered.

The crushing guilt was threatening to swallow him whole.

And that was with the sedatives still in his system.

A tender ( nervousworrieddoubtfulcrushing ), small smile played on Minato's lips. Warm reassurance radiated from the man as he slowly and rather carefully approached Obito's bed. His calculating eyes surveyed every inch of the boy's face and Obito could barely conceal how suffocating his sensei's bright presence was.

(It was strange—despite his appearance, despite all those far-too-young faces, despite Rin Obito could only follow strings of logic, but not accept it. Minato being here, with him, seemed like something irrefutable , yet at the same time completely unearthly, and Obito was left grasping for those cords that now appeared so far away.)

Finally, Minato spoke:

''How are you, Obito?''

His voice was gentle, any worrying, dismayed, heavy emotions carefully shoved away. As if a soothing melody it rang in the room, but to the other it was anything but .

He thought he might go blind if he stared a second longer at his former sensei.

How was he supposed to answer that kind of question?

Finally, Obito decided on nonchalance.

''Been better I guess,'' he said, giving a half-shrug ( really?didn't slip? ). His mouth felt dry. ''Been worse, too. Doctor said I'll live, so I suppose that's good.''

Fortunately, the tension eased as Minato's smile widened slightly. He seemed pleased by the honest answer. Somewhat. Still, he obviously found comfort in the fact that Obito seemed responsive.

After a beat of contemplation, Minato walked closer and took a seat in one of the chairs. Obito, too, decided to move into a more or less sitting position, ignoring his protesting muscles. He didn't want to appear frail, not to his sensei at least ( not after all of that ).

Obito's lone eye now focused on his lap where his hand laid limp. Minato was a bit too close for comfort and he didn't wish to show any clear signs of dismay, so he opted to just... not look at the other. For as long as he could anyway.

The silence stretched for a few seconds.

''Your doctor informed me that she told you about your condition. You probably have a few concerns.'' Minato's soft voice filled the room again. He, too, was avoiding any topics that surely were begging to be broached. But, as always, his sensei was beyond considerate ( it'swrong ) .

Obito mused on his answer for a bit. There was indeed one thing that peaked his interest.

''She said they didn't do anything too thorough on the orders of the Hokage,'' he finally spoke, allowing curiosity and a bit of confusion to leak into his tone.

''Ah, right,'' Obito saw Minato nod in his peripheral vision. ''I actually asked the Hokage to give that order. That, and a prohibition to enter your mind for information. It seemed wrong, given your... predicament. Luckily, the Hokage agreed. All they did really was confirm your identity.''

''I see,'' Obito murmured. After a pause, he flashed his sensei a quick, however small smile. ''Thank you for the consideration.''

The words burned his tongue. Was it something his younger self would have said? Fortunately, any... drifts from his character Minato was used to could easily be explained. He had been missing for over a year, after all. And if one spared a look at his body...

It was certainly not too far fetched to believe some changed in his persona had happened.

Still.

Obito disliked the way Minato spoke and he himself sounded.

It felt wrong on a variety of levels.

(His mind flashed a memory of Minato expressing his shock and dismay as he slashed Obito's body. That seemed more fitting. Obito tasted bitterness.)

''Of course,'' his sensei answered kindly. Any surprise was covered with great skill.

''I'm guessing you have some concerns, too,'' Obito said, not allowing the silence to continue. He forced some lightheartedness into voice, hoping it would put Minato a bit more at ease. His lips even lifted upwards a bit.

(Gods he missed his masks. He could already feel cracks in his facade forming. Minato was too bright, too kind, too alive, too—)

''Well, uh,'' Minato said, looking taken aback, but he quickly gathered himself. ''There's no need to talk about that yet. You should focus on healing, first.''

Obito hummed. He could never understand how this man could be so tactful if he wanted to. Anyone else would be demanding answers by now, to hell with his condition. And while part of him was glad for it, Obito wasn't sure how to react.

One thing was certain, though—there was little doubt that this wasn't, in fact, Hell. An alive and healthy Minato had no place in it.

At least that was out of the way.

Another matter was already making itself known.

Obito licked his dry lips and opened his mouth to speak, but Minato beat him to it.

''Oh, you're probably thirsty, do you want some water?'' he asked even as he was already standing up.

Obito spared a quick glance at the man. On impulse, he nodded, because despite everything he trusted the man, and even though it was so stupid, the jug was the same, it was still different.

A distant part of his mind whispered, that this could actually not be Minato, and only someone who looked like him, who came here to put him at ease and probe some answers out, but Obito quickly disregarded that idea. Sure, people could imitate his sensei's appearance, but never his presence and those eyes. For awhile, he was safe.

(His body was safe. His mind—)

After gulping down the entire glass of fresh, cold liquid—only then did he realize how dry his mouth had actually felt—a stray thought suddenly appeared that demanded attention.

''Hey, Minato-sensei...'' The name scraped his insides, but he pushed through, casting a carefully constructed, curious look at the man. ''For how long was I unconscious?''

Minato thought for a short moment.

''Today would be the third day.''

Obito’s eye widened slightly. Three days ? Had he really been that drained? That last Kamui technique had probably taken a greater toll on his already injured chakra coils than he realized. This younger body was also most likely not as used to such strain. He'd have to keep that in mind.

''...Oh,'' Obito murmured. Three days... His lips moved before he could realize. ''How's Kakashi?''

If Minato was surprised by such a question, he didn't show it. There were certainly a couple of things that should have seemed... off to him, but he didn't voice them. Obito, on the other hand, didn't know whether to curse his mouth or praise for such an opening.

''...He's, well...'' Minato considered his answer carefully, his piercing gaze not once leaving his ( former ) student. Obito didn't have to look to know his sensei was baring a pained expression. He must be feeling incredibly conflicted. Kakashi as well, no doubt . ''He actually was just recently discharged from the hospital due to chakra exhaustion. But he came to visit you immediately once he heard about your... return. However...'' Minato took a rather shaky breath and Obito's heart skipped a beat. He knew what was coming. ''Obito, there's something you should know.''

''I know about Rin,'' the boy spoke quietly before his sensei had a chance to continue. The words felt like ash on his tongue, images of blood and corpses flashing through his mind. He managed to swallow the rising bile. ''I know she killed herself, Sensei.''

This time, shock was clearly visible on Minato's features. His student kept throwing him for a loop this entire conversation and the future Hokage obviously didn't know what to make of it. He was silent for a few excruciatingly long moments, mouth opening and closing, before finally he found his voice.

''How?''

Obito took in a controlled breath, preparing himself. Perhaps it hadn't been wise to reveal such information, perhaps he should have pretended he was oblivious, but for one, he realized he would not be able to react realistically to such news, and two, he felt he should lie to his sensei as little as possible. This was a man he definitely could trust ( despite being so untrustworthy himself ). And besides, Obito didn't want to deceive Minato any more than it was absolutely necessary. Not again, not ever. That was the least he could do after everything.

Slowly, he lifted his head, the intricate design of his Mangekyou Sharingan adorning his iris. His eye pierced through Minato's blue wide ones, and the image of the man's every muscle tensing, a sharp inhale filling his lungs, a sea of emotions washing over his features was ingrained in his mind in all its beauty.

''Because I saw it happen.''

Chapter Text

Obito knew for a fact that after such a proclamation various alarms had begun ringing in his sensei's head, questions screaming and scraping, begging to be voiced. If the man hadn't been greatly alarmed before, he certainly was now. That much was evident from his shell-shocked expression. This time, Obito thought gravely, there's no way you'll keep silent.

To his surprise (not really), he did.

Minato stared at his student for a good while, scrutinizing gaze inspecting every inch of his carefully laid out features. He would not read out anything Obito didn't want ( too much practice ). Obito could almost feel Minato's burning need to ask, demand, interrogate , and the suppression it required to keep such impulses at bay. Eventually, he'd get to them. He was most likely hesitant to continue so quickly in fear of having Obito close up. Obito could understand such reasoning. Somewhat.

Finally, a soft sigh of resignation left Minato’s lips. His back straightened and a skillfully controlled expression slipped back in place. This particular conversation was being left for a later time.

Obito was silently glad for that.

''...I probably shouldn't keep you up for too long,'' he spoke in that gentle voice, void of any traitorous thoughts while standing up. ''You need to rest. I'll come back later. Maybe will try to bring Kakashi as well, if he...'' he trailed off with yet another sigh. Then, he flashed a small, albeit more cheerful than the others, smile at Obito. ''Kushina will probably barge into here as soon as she hears about you waking up, too, so, uh, be prepared for that.'' It then morphed into a sheepish one. ''Actually, she'll probably have my head for not bringing her in the first place.''

As much as Obito wished to answer with a joyous smile of his own, he could only briefly lift his lips, desperately pushing the overwhelming guilt down. His controlled demeanor fought ferociously with misery for dominance, only barely managing to keep its wailing head down, instead allowing it sharp teeth to dig into every inch of his body and soul. But he would do anything to keep it away from Minato's eyes.

Oh, how Obito missed his masks, twisting and burning, covering every inch of his face, hiding away any treacherous emotions, any twitches, any glares or longing glances, everything—

It was almost unbearable having to keep all these suffocating feelings below surface.

(leaveleavejustleaveplease)

''I'll look forward to it,'' he replied softly, his now-black eye not leaving Minato for a moment.

(It was strange having his Sharingan dormant. Everything seemed dark. Darker.)

He could only pray his sensei didn't misinterpret (correctly interpret) his oh-so-slightly cracked facade.

Minato's own didn't give anything away.

''Rest well, Obito,'' he beamed soothingly as he began opening the door.

A sudden thought occurred to Obito and he was quick to voice it.

''Uh, Minato-sensei?''

He stopped and glanced at him.

''Yes?''

''Could you maybe keep what we discussed between the two of us?'' Obito could feel his mouth drying. Seeing his sensei's doubtful expression, he added hastily: ''For now, at least.''

Minato's expression smoothened and he nodded. A few seconds later, he was out the room and Obito was once again alone.

Exhaling a long breath, he slumped down on his pillow.

That had certainly been taxing.

Minato was right—he ought to rest while he could. Who knew what kind of visitors the next time would bring. Hopefully none from T&I. But Obito wasn't particularly worried about that—he knew Minato would keep his word and would not divulge any information shared in this room, for awhile anyway. When that passed, however...

Obito lightly shook his head. He would cross that bridge when he got to it. No need to worry about the future's problems.

He almost scoffed audibly at that.

Then, he let his expression return to neutral. Truthfully speaking, ever since he started considering the idea that his situation was perhaps not his afterlife, some part of his mind realized that if he didn't fall down the same path as in the past, certain reunions would most likely become inevitable. And as their imminence had grown, dread had tightly wrapped itself around his heart. It wasn't that Obito didn't actually want to see the people he had come to care about so deeply, but... He felt he didn't deserve to reunite with them like this. Like nothing had happened. Like he hadn't stripped some of them of their lives, their dreams and future. Like he hadn't ruined everyone else's.

Like all he was, was a lost child who had finally found his way back.

All those smiles and kind tones made him want to heave.

If he were a tinge more selfish (nothing compared to before), he probably would have just made himself disappear.

Obito breathed a shaky sigh, closing his eye.

He had already hurt his loved ones more than he could ever atone for. If something happened to him now, it would only bring even more sorrow to them, as much as Obito didn't want to admit it. Even if they by all means shouldn't, they still cared. And while this body hadn't done anything to them, its mind...

(They're not your loved ones, though, this is not your world)

Obito jerked at the sudden invasive thought, which sent a heavily poisoned needle straight for his heart. He could almost physically feel the sharp venom quickly spreading through every vein, trashing, tearing, crushing—

He willed a thought to form, however small and quiet, however timid and doubtful.

Did it matter?

Obito's shaken mind wandered back to the recent conversation with Minato. He could all too clearly recall every color, every movement, every twitch of that carefully crafted expression, every emotion that washed over his sky-like eyes, everything. At that moment, there wasn't a single doubt that that man was his sensei. At that moment, it didn't matter from what world or time he came. It was Minato , period.

And right then and there Obito knew, clearly as day, that he'd be damned if he let anything happen to him or anyone else he cared for ever again. He couldn't save them from himself in his world, but that didn't mean they were doomed to the same fate in this one. Rin was gone from both (remember to breathe breathe breathe), but not Minato, not Kushina, not Kakashi, not anyone else whom he had wronged. A sun had died, but light still flickered, promising the birth of a new one if only he could keep the darkness away.

Even if, judging by so many facts and clues, the most probable answer was that he somehow ended up in an alternative world (his own timeline was long gone, anyway), it didn't matter.

He’d make sure the people he cared for had a future.

~.~

Apparently, Obito had dozed off in the middle of his musings (Damn sedatives, this never happened ), and was quite abruptly woken up by a series of knocks, followed by soft creaking. Obito had barely managed to open his still heavy eye before the room was suddenly full (too full) and a sharp chunk settled somewhere (everywhere) in his body. He wasn't prepared for this, he didn't expect this so soon , he needed more time—

Fortunately, only the tiniest amount of distress managed to leak out from the narrow cracks in his facade. Unfortunately, rarely did Minato's eyes miss anything. Obito could only hope he'd write it off as a play of light.

Truthfully speaking, Obito was more than a little surprised to discover that Kakashi actually came. Distant, closed off, unreadable (so miserable), but still there. Even if he stood furthest away. Even if the inner fight between staring at his former teammate and looking anywhere else was obvious. Obito had been almost certain Kakashi would avoid him for a good while, but... Perhaps he didn't know the young teen before him as well as he had thought.

Minato most likely had some influence as well.

Not that Obito complained. On the contrary, Kakashi was one of the tragically few people he had actually reconciled with before his end. It had given his much too tormented soul a bit of peace. Seeing Kakashi so young and so torn made Obito ache for him. Kakashi didn't deserve all the misery the world brought upon him, and Obito could only wish this time around he could somehow support him, lead him away from the darkness looming over him. But despite that, Obito was just... glad to see Kakashi alive and mostly healthy, if not in the best state of mind.

His final visitor sent him on a more feral roller-coaster of feelings.

Kushina was a sight. As she first entered the room, Obito could clearly see how much control it took her not to immediately approach him. Something in the last second kept her away, though Obito couldn't discern what exactly. A flurry of contradicting emotions overtook her features, and she was left standing there completely awestruck, as if in a daze. Her wide, strikingly violet eyes burned holes in Obito's soul, leaving them stinging painfully, their smoking edges widening and widening and widening—

He had forgotten how beautiful she was.

The heavy moment seemed to stretch to infinity before Obito glanced to Minato, who was leaning against the wall near the exit, with something akin to desperation, but he seemed determined to give the stage to his partner, casting his student only one of those reassuring smiles. Realizing help was not an option, Obito braced himself and shifted his eye back to the stunned redhead.

''...I feel like I'll catch on fire if you keep staring at me like that,'' he spoke softly, albeit masterfully forcing sheepishness into his tone.

It was completely stupid and idiotic, but Obito realized it was something this blood-thick atmosphere needed.

Luckily, it seemed to do the trick.

Visibly snapping out of her trance, Kushina exhaled shakily and took a hesitant step forwards. As if approaching a mirage that would disappear the moment your eyes shifted. Obito couldn't blame her, not really. He could only watch as the woman slowly but surely made her way towards him, still so terribly unsure, and finally sank into a chair on his left side. Not for a moment did her piercing gaze abandon Obito's carefully crafted nervous one. She continued gaping at him even as quiet words left her barely moving lips.

''You're awake.'' Kushina's tender voice deafened him, regardless of its volume. He had forgotten how absolutely loving she could sound. He almost choked.

''Doesn't really feel like it, though,'' Obito answered with a breathless chuckle after a pause just a beat too long. He willed his lips to curve (move move move). ''But yeah. Didn't mean to sleep for so long, not sure how that happened, really.'' (stop looking at me like that)

(He should be more careful with his words. Minato didn't miss his phrasing, at least judging by his calculating gaze.)

Kushina twitched oh-so-lightly, but any other signs of unease were quickly wiped. Her eyes flickered to Obito's only remaining hand, actively avoiding his other side. The covers, unfortunately, reached only his torso, leaving his stump exposed to the world. Luckily, at least the hospital gown he wore shielded his white chest from any privy eyes. Still.

Gingerly, Kushina extended her own hand, and as gently as touching a sheet of glass, grasped Obito's. He could barely conceal a jerky flinch. The contact scorched his skin, burned through the tissue, and turned his bones to ash. Who knew that a simple touch could cause such a reaction? It didn't go unseen by the woman, but instead of retracting her hand, she gripped his tighter. Vaguely, he could hear a distant thought murmuring that she was being protective, even if subconsciously. She'd be a wonderful mother.

Obito mourned that the fires charred only his soul.

''It doesn't matter now,'' she said, finally finding her voice again. A shaky smile made its way onto her delicate lips. ''You're here, you're alive, you're...'' a quiet tearful sob escaped her chest and she brought her free hand to her mouth, shutting her quickly wetting eyes. The two strong contradicting emotions of losing and gaining were fighting for dominance, and it was unclear which one would eventually prevail.

Finally, she collected herself and promptly wiped the unshed tears away, a choky laugh filling the room. She looked back at Obito with considerably lighter eyes. His heart skipped a beat.

''You're a bastard, y'know! ‘Without a scratch’ my ass, that's the last time I'm trusting you on that, idiot,'' Kushina’s bright voice eased all remaining tension away. Obito was momentarily startled by such a change, but gradually allowed himself to melt into the new atmosphere. If only for awhile (a second a moment a beat) , he decided it would be alright.

The small verbal tick sent his insides twisting regardless.

''Yeah, well, you should focus on the bright side—I'm still more or less in one piece, so I'll take that as a win,'' he answered with half a shrug, flashing her his best grin, however dimmed. Fortunately, he had a lot of experience of appearing much cheerier than he actually was. Surprisingly enough, though, he discovered not a lot of pretense was required. Kushina really did have a way of livening up those around her, and even someone like Obito wasn't immune, not completely anyway. Even if he feared the teary lump in his throat would soon reach his eyes.

''Hmph, you're lucky I can't send you to the hospital myself, y'know,'' she threatened lightly, yet he distantly felt her grip tighten. ''Though I'd be more than happy to do that to whoever beat me to the punch.''

Leave it to Kushina and her subtlety.

At least she was speaking her mind, something Obito couldn't say about a lot of people, mostly those present.

''Then you'd have to fight a lot of paper,'' he nodded solemnly, deciding to indulge her.

Surprise momentarily crossed her features, but she quickly recovered. In the corner of his eye Obito saw Minato straighten. No doubt his interest was piqued. Everyone in the room could easily understand what Obito had implied.

''Yeah? Then I'd burn it all and find whoever that paper belonged to and send them to the hospital, y'know.'' Or a grave was left unsaid, yet heavily hinted at.

''I definitely wouldn't want to be that person,'' Obito hummed thoughtfully. He decided to not elaborate further, for now. He still hadn't completely thought everything over, and certainly wouldn't want to risk accidentally letting something slip. Anything that would no doubt land him in a T&I chamber.

Kushina visibly deflated, but didn't pry further. Despite her overly cheerful demeanor, she still held an air of cautiousness around her. Again, Obito was glad for the breather ( use it, then ).

''Well, as much as I'd like to chat more, I can't stay away from work any longer,'' she sighed, though her warm smile was quick to return. What was her job again? Did she even work? ''I'll come to visit you as much as I can, though.''

A string of sorrowfulness twisted inside Obito.

''Thank you,'' he spoke softly. The lump in his throat tightened and he could barely voice out his next words. ''It was... nice seeing you again.''

Kushina's smile turned bittersweet as she caressed the boy's bandaged hand. Finally, she let go (already missing the contact what's with you) and stood up.

''Be sure to heal quickly, I have tons of things I wanna show you, y'know,'' she grinned.

Obito could merely nod dazedly, pushing down any leaking melancholy.

With that, Kushina made her way to the exit, casting one final gentle glance at him. Before she left, she shared a knowing one with Minato, and failed to connect with Kakashi's. The boy had yet to make a single noise or move at all. Only his fingers twiddled together seemingly unconsciously, actively staring somewhere either to the side or at the floor. Distress was practically radiating off the young shinobi, and yet, his feet stayed planted in place. Obito, for a moment, wondered.

Silence enveloped the trio once Kushina left. Minato, for awhile, was apparently trying to decide whether to approach his injured student, or to stay with his other one. In the end, he opted for the latter. Obito didn't mind. He wasn’t particularly seeking any close presence, he had almost suffocated enough in one day as it was. Besides, Kakashi seemed like he needed it more.

''Kushina-san is as lively as ever, I see,'' Obito commented, choosing to speak first. He sounded a tad too longing for his liking.

''Mm, I'm actually surprised she was as calm as she was, since she couldn't stay still for a moment ever since hearing about you,'' Minato answered with a light shake. He appeared mildly amused.

''Her hair has gotten longer, too,'' Obito resumed, promptly ignoring his sensei's comment. That didn't seem to pass by the Minato’s attention. ''Speaking of which, I should probably do something about mine,'' he continued, absentmindedly running his hand through it. ''It has gotten way too...'' A lock fell to right side and his eye caught it. ''...long.''

He blinked once. Then twice. Then slowly gripped several strands and brought them clearer into his sight.

Oh.

Oh.

Shit.

Alarms began blaring in his head as he continued to dumbly stare at his snow-white hair. Suddenly, so many things made sense and so many things didn't. He'd have to focus on the didn't part later, though. Since even in his peripheral vision Obito noticed the two individuals tense as he made this discovery.

No fucking wonder everyone was acting so damn odd around him. Even veteran shinobi who had seen it all didn't usually receive such treatment. Since the world they were living in was so messed up and required a much stronger will and resistance to trauma, the people who were raised to be soldiers had a much stronger immunity to emotional distress, though even then some couldn't take it all, ending up every way imaginable. Nevertheless, an average shinobi was capable of handling great amounts of stress without being damaged too much, and if it ever went overboard, they usually just snapped. Furthermore, even if their mind was in tatters, their body usually help up surprisingly well, most likely due to the influence of chakra, and incredibly rarely did any form of psychological burden affect a person's appearance.

That being said, finding Obito, who had been pronounced dead , in the shape that he was would have been bad enough. Discovering that his once-black hair was now completely white threw them all for a much sicker loop. So of course they made the worst possible conclusion.

The syndrome where one's hair turned white from stress was something akin to a myth in their world. It just didn't happen. And yet, they couldn't have possibly made a different assumption, since no one was idiotic enough to suggest that he had just simply bleached his hair. Or performed the Rinne Tensei and survived. Or became the Juubi's jinchuuriki. Vaguely, Obito pondered with wry amusement how those certain conversations would have gone.

So no wonder they were acting with him as if he was going to fucking snap and tear their throats out at any moment. Or just shatter, and then they'd have to deal with the wrath of Minato and Kushina, even if they themselves would be at fault.

Either way, to the people around, he really did seem like a goddamn glass doll.

Obito wanted to gouge his remaining eye out.

That would just be impractical, though.

So instead, he forcefully shifted his attention back to his surroundings. He'd have more than enough time (hopefully) to muse over this new revelation at a later date. Obito had already been silent for a tad too long, it would do him no good to have his visitors come to their own conclusions.

''...Definitely need a haircut.'' Finally, his blank voice broke the tense atmosphere. There was no point in having those two on edge. ''What a god-awful color. Makes me look old.''

The comment “It's not what you think ” burned on his tongue, but Obito managed to swallow it. He shouldn't be too truthful with them, not yet, anyway. While in the long run it would be more preferable to have these two regard him as a capable shinobi, rather than a maimed one (such a syndrome may as well be seen as a disability), Obito wasn't one to run bullheaded into situations without thinking every single aspect through.

He made a mental note to get back to that as soon as he was alone.

''Well, I'm sure Kushina would be more than happy to help you with that,'' Minato spoke with a smile once he recovered from that momentary surprise.

''Mhmm,'' Obito hummed lowly. Then, he pushed the rising irritation away and lifted his shoulders in a light shrug. ''I'll just bear with it for now, I guess.''

Obito wasn't sure whether he should have responded like that. He didn't particularly like how Minato's gaze scrutinized him. Uneasiness slowly crept into him.

A soft sigh left his sensei's lips as he unfolded his arms and shifted on his feet, posture changing slightly. It was remarkable how just by such little details, the whole air around him could change. Obito felt an unexplainable pang of anxiety.

''As much as I'd wish you could rest peacefully for awhile, I'm afraid that won't be entirely possible. Now that you're awake, I won't be able to keep people from coming in here and asking questions for long, so I was tasked to discuss this matter with you beforehand.'' Minato's voice was gentle and apologetic, which in Obito's opinion was stupid, since Minato had absolutely no reason to feel that way. He had already done more than enough by keeping his unconscious mind safe, and Obito would be forever thankful to him for that. Nevertheless, he felt touched by his sensei's tone. He really didn't deserve such kindness.

(it's almost as if he's just a—)

Stop thinking about it. You're in the way. Shut up.

(He pushed it down down down, as far as it could go, where the wailing wouldn’t reach him)

Obito nodded, allowing the lock of hair to fall back to its place and lifting his eye to meet Minato's.

''I understand. What do you want to know?''

A pause.

''Do you have any reservations?''

The need to ask for no Yamanakas prickled his tongue, but he ignored it. If he proved himself cooperative and answered all their questions, technically there shouldn't be any need to pick his mind apart. His main goal was to not appear too distrustful, and with no small amount of frustration, Obito realized it would be easier said than done, given whom he had spent the last year with. Obito was still debating whether to actually reveal his ancestor's name. On the one hand, it would most likely cause quite a few eyebrows to raise, but on the other, some would (hopefully) recognize he had no reason to lie and perhaps actually take the threat seriously. Fortunately, he still had some time to muse over this particular issue.

''No,'' Obito shook his head finally. ''I'll try to relay everything I know.''

Minato's pose relaxed slightly at Obito's words and he tugged his lips upwards. He was obviously glad his student was in a more-or-less stable state of mind, but it washed away only a drop of worry from his features. The real storm would begin soon.

''Alright,'' Minato nodded. ''They should come in a day or two, depending on the doctor's permission. She can be quite protective of her patients.'' Light amusement painted his smile— ''In the meantime, make sure you rest. We'll try to visit as often as possible,'' —and then it was back to gentle.

Obito merely hummed in response, almost wryly, watching as his sensei made his way to the exit. Kakashi had seemingly unrooted himself from the ground and followed Minato closely, hair obscuring any expression he might have worn. Obito followed Kakashi’s movements closely, something twinging inside, something he could not yet name. He felt a strange kind of sadness as his former teammate approached the door where Minato had already disappeared with one last warm glance to his injured student.

Then, he heard his voice rather than felt it.

''Kakashi.''

The addressed boy stilled, his movements suddenly frozen. Even then, even without as much as turning his head, the surprise that hit him was rather obvious. Obito wasn't sure whether it was the unpleasant kind or not, though. It was painfully clear how much Kakashi wished to flee, to not be left alone with his once-thought-dead teammate, but alas, he didn't. And even though it took a good while, Kakashi finally managed to glance at him.

Obito had extended his hand out, silently inviting him to come closer. He wasn't quite sure what urged him to do this. Something within him did, though, and he couldn't fight it off. Kakashi was suffering, and Obito didn't want to just let him leave with such a heavy heart. He wouldn't, not if he could do anything about it.

A painfully long silence stretched between them. Kakashi's inner turmoil was rather clearly gnawing his insides, and he seemed on the verge of just running away. But not once did Obito's determination waver and he stubbornly kept his hand up. Truthfully speaking, Obito was quite doubtful about the prospect of Kakashi actually accepting his invitation. He would understand if he chose to leave instead, and would only silently hope that next time he'd be more cooperative. It was Kakashi they were talking about, after all.

So, having that in mind, it was only natural that Obito was surprised that after what felt like a good minute the boy actually moved towards him rather than away. It was painstakingly hesitant and slow, but it was progressive. Though his gaze flickered to Obito's face on more than one occasion, it never met his eye directly, but Obito was simply glad for any kind of response at all. It warmed his heart oddly, seeing how Kakashi managed to will himself for Obito, even if it caused great distress to him. And right then and there, Obito swore he would never take it for granted.

Finally, Kakashi stopped a meter from the other's side, not daring to come closer or lift his stare up. Obito observed him for a quick moment before suddenly reaching out and grabbing Kakashi's own hand, ignoring the jerk and hitch of breath that came with it. This time, his teammate's wide eye shot to meet Obito's, and even through the mask he could see Kakashi's lips parting in shock. Before he could instinctively or otherwise move away, Obito tightened his grasp.

Many words and phrases flashed through his mind in that moment. He wanted to say so much, but for the life of him couldn't find the right expression. So for a short while, he let the heavy silence hang around them.

It's okay.”

Don't be afraid of me.”

I'll help you.”

I don't want you to suffer.”

You won't be alone.”

Finally, without thinking, Obito said what he himself desperately wished to hear.

''...We'll be alright.'' A small, almost vulnerable smile tugged on his lips. His eye never left his teammate's.

Kakashi's body shook and he bowed his head. Silver hair fell on the unhidden parts of his face, and yet Obito could still see how his lips trembled. Any words were lost to him, and he was left breathless, his bottled emotions threatening to spill.

Then, in a mere blink of an eye, he was gone.

Chapter Text

True to Minato's word, it wasn't long before Obito's hospital room was invaded by a small group of people, most of whom Obito would have preferred to not spend a lengthy amount of time with. His doctor had been quite reluctant to grant permission so early, but seeing as how Obito was faring well (too well too quickly, he could physically feel their want to stick needles all over his body and take him apart), she allowed it. Fortunately, he had more than enough time to muse over the most important aspects and come up with a stance that he hoped would please the authorities. He knew that while those closest to him were more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and place their trust in him (oh gods, what if he had chosen a different approach of destruction, those fools), others weren't as lenient, given that Obito had been missing for a year, and in that time period anyone could turn into anything. So he could only pray his story would work and he'd appear at least somewhat trustworthy. All he had to do was to seem like he had nothing to hide.

Wouldn't that be the deceit of the year.

The other troubling issues he had come across earlier had yet to be resolved. Vaguely, Obito remembered that his hair had turned white while becoming the Juubi's jinchuuriki, but that didn't explain why his hair now was without pigment. Had this body's experience actually been vastly different than his own? While being with Madara Obito couldn't say he... suffered. In fact, at the time he had been thankful and had held a lot of respect for the old man, since while in reality it had been Madara who orchestrated his “death” to turn Obito into his pawn, he hadn't known that then, so he really had thought Madara had just simply saved him. So the color of his hair remained a mystery with no obvious answer, and Obito cataloged it under “not very important at the moment ”.

The other problem that also was a worrying puzzle was his experience at the cave. In a mere blink of an eye his chakra had been depleted and coils damaged. However, since then nothing had appeared out of the ordinary and he hadn't felt anything strange regarding his chakra, too. Because of that, couldn’t know whether it was only a one time thing or it could happen again. Being completely in the dark was beyond frustrating—there was little to no information to go on and all it did was sour his mood. This issue was vastly more important, but Obito simply didn't have enough data to form any clear ideas.

And the other problems... Well, Obito couldn't do much from a bed. They were matters he would approach as soon as he gained some freedom. For now, though...

There were people who required all of his attention.

Obito wasn't surprised by the company. Since it would only be an initial briefing, there was no need for a crowd and only the most vital ones attended. That being Uchiha Fugaku (an obvious choice, given that he was Obito's clan's head), Yamanaka Inoichi (Obito convinced himself that was just a safety measure, and the man was the leader of one of the Intelligence divisions, so it did make sense), Minato (of all people Obito thought he was the most deserving to be here) and the Hokage himself (Obito admitted that he might have misjudged the severity of the situation in others' eyes by just a little bit if even the village’s leader chose to visit him personally—he had thought that'd be saved for a later date).

Obito was honestly just glad there was no Danzou or anyone of that sort present. That might have caused problems.

After the formal initial greeting (and subtle sealing to ensure their privacy), three of them stood by the foot of Obito's bed while Minato moved closer and took a seat besides him—an action of quiet reassurance. He felt a warm sensation at the gesture, even though he did not deserve such thoughtfulness. Obito didn't need it, but was still grateful.

Then, the Hokage cleared his throat and spoke:

''I'm glad to see you're faring better, Obito.'' His voice didn't betray any emotions, though it did have a tinge of softness. He clasped his hands behind his back. ''I hope they're treating you well here.''

Obito had allowed a bit of nervousness to seep through into his expression, just enough to not seem too anxious or overly composed, so his nod was slightly strained. He had decided it would be best to appear mostly calm, yet also mildly intimidated—from experience he knew it should help convince them he was being truthful and had no intention of lying. Even though he hated the idea of appearing frightened, he had survived much worse. This was nothing.

''Yes, Hokage-sama, they've been very nice to me,'' Obito answered, sounding just a tad quieter than usual. Not a single twitch would go unnoticed by some of these people, so everything about Obito's demeanor was carefully crafted to suit his goal.

''Good, good.'' Hiruzen nodded a couple of times. ''I'm sure you must be wishing to be released as quickly as possible, though.''

Obito cast a short, calculated glance to his sensei, who flashed a small smile in return. He looked back at Hiruzen and his observant gaze.

He opted for a safe answer.

''It does get a bit boring,'' Obito said, tugging the corner of his lips upwards. It had a tinge of wryness.

''Well then, it shouldn't take long after we're finished here,'' the Hokage spoke smoothly, as if it would be a mere discussion. On some level, Obito mused, perhaps that wasn't so wrong. But on all the other ones, it was anything but.

''Alright.'' The boy shifted into a straighter position.

A pregnant pause.

''Obito, what can you tell us about what happened?''

He lightly tensed his shoulders and flickered his gaze down to his lap. As if suddenly more on edge, he twiddled with the blanket between his fingers, lower lip between his teeth. Finally, he looked back up at the Hokage and spoke:

''It's, um, a bit... fuzzy around the edges, especially the, uh, beginning. I clearly remember being...'' A small wince crossed his face. ''...crushed, and I was sure that was the end, but then...'' He frowned, as if trying to remember an old dream. Finally, he just shook his head. ''Someone saved me. I'm not exactly sure why, though I do have a vague idea, if what they... uh, did and said was anything to go by.''

''And who was that person?'' Hiruzen prompted after a brief pause.

Obito shifted his eye to Fugaku. The man lifted his brow at the sudden attention.

''He introduced himself as Uchiha Madara.'' Obito's voice was considerably softer as he looked back at the Hokage. From his tone it was obvious he didn't find the idea laughable.

Varying degrees of shock and disbelief washed over them, and the atmosphere become almost too thick to breathe. In his peripheral vision Obito saw how Minato leaned forwards oh-so-slightly, wide eyes scanning every inch of the boy's scarred face, as if expecting, hoping to detect a lie. Only due to their professionalism did the men manage to quickly gather themselves, though their expressions were now much more solemn.

''That's impossible.'' Fugaku was the one who broke the sudden heavy silence, his voice on the verge of snappy. ''Madara has been dead for years.''

''Yeah, that's what I thought, too.'' Obito looked at his clan's head. A small frown crept onto his lips. ''He explained to me how he faked his own death, and then extended his lifespan by, uh, using this thing, like a very big statue, and its chakra somehow, though it got a bit confusing, and I never really, uh, asked about it... I don't know, but he seemed serious. I... don't think he was lying.''

A grave silence enveloped the group. Obito lowered his eye to his fidgeting hand again and shrunk in a bit on himself. Gods, appearing this intimidated was worse than acting as an idiot—at least being Tobi was somewhat amusing at times, but this... This was just awful, giving off the impression of an anxious, or worse, scared teenager. But Obito didn't waver— this is necessary, he reminded himself. So like bitter medicine, he swallowed it.

''Okay, so this man, Madara, found you.'' This time, it was Minato who spoke. His eyes seemed to burn holes in Obito's skull. He sounded reluctant. ''And you survived. A year is a long time to go without notice, though.''

The implications were obvious.

''I tried to leave, a lot of times!'' Obito lifted his gaze up to his sensei, suddenly louder, his voice laced with frustration. ''But he wouldn't let me go! I couldn't... I just... He said he needed me and just...''

He shook his head with a groan.

''...What did he do, then?''

Obito allowed a wince to twist his face momentarily, his hand seemingly unconsciously lifting to touch his white stump. He let the thick silence stretch for a beat longer before responding.

''It's somewhat... blurry, I can't remember much for some reason, but I know he...'' A visible tremble shook his frame. ''...experimented on me. He said he, uh, needed me to do something, though I don't...''

That was mostly a complete lie, at least from the way he implied it, but it was important to his story. And if that caused them to regard Madara more seriously, all the better.

Obito felt a tentative, yet comforting hand land on his knee and he shot his look to Minato. His sensei wore a warm, reassuring smile, though its tenseness wasn't covered. His blue eyes were silently asking “are you alright?” If Obito had been any less controlled, he might have broken down right then and there. The guilt he had managed to barely keep below surface for a mere day was threatening to overtake him again, and he almost choked. This was wrong , so very horribly wrong

He shouldn't be deceiving Minato like this. The last thing he should be doing to his sensei, who was too alive, was lying to his face with such perturbed ease — a cold, calculating part of his mind whispered that his was good, if even Minato believed his act, didn't see any cracks, then he should be fine, the other three should be convinced. This was good, good, but also so wrong, and the feeling was making him sick.

Just drown it, this is for Minato, for Kushina, for Kakashi, for all of them

However, Obito didn't allow any of these conflicting feelings seep through, not a drop. He just swallowed and lowered his hand to his side, responding to Minato with a ghostly, strained smile of his own. There was nothing to be changed now.

''...Obito, listen.'' The Hokage's serious voice shattered the silence. ''Did he tell you why he needed you?''

The addressed boy momentarily licked his lips and flickered his gaze to the old man.

He had decided it shouldn't harm to tell at least a bit of the truth – perhaps, if they took him seriously, they would be more on guard, and that couldn't be a bad thing. No doubt it would be difficult to be the only one on the lookout.

So Obito opened his mouth.

''He—'' And immediately, confusion with panic quickly following flared through his veins, causing him to freeze for a fleeting moment. Obito quickly cast his eye downwards and chewed on his lip as if deliberating, while in reality, his mind was thrown into an unexpected frenzy. He couldn't speak. All words associated with Madara's plans were suddenly lost to him the moment he tried to utter them. They physically wouldn't come, as if someone had cut down his vocal cords. The implications of this were terrifying and suddenly an issue from before appeared that much more grave and oh gods, don't tell me this is what I think it is—''...didn't say exactly, not that I remember at least.''

The group's scrutinizing eyes were now too close, too sharp, too perceptive, keep it together dammit, you're not some fucking child

''Nothing at all?''

''Well, he did talk weirdly a lot about how the world is rotten,'' Obito forced a thoughtful frown to appear. At least he could talk that much about it. ''And how I'd see it eventually... Never really understood what exactly he meant, though.''

The men shared a look. Obito wasn't sure what it meant, but at that moment his mind was rather disheveled and it already took more focus to keep his facade impeccable, so he didn't ponder much about it. Now more than ever he wished for this subtle interrogation to be over .

An unexpected yet very concerning wrench had been thrown into his plans.

''How did you manage to escape, then?'' Inoichi spoke up, glancing over Obito's body. ''I take it he didn't just let you go.''

''...It's a bit complicated. There was this white... thing, like an artificial human, who one day told me that Kakashi and Rin were in trouble.'' It didn't take a lot of effort to make his voice sound foreboding. ''And I couldn't just... do nothing. So I tried to get out more than ever, and Madara actually let me, saying strange things like ‘you'll come back to me’. Didn't really think about it at that time, I just had to get to Kakashi and Rin, so I took the opportunity. But when I finally got to them...'' A shaky inhale. Minato tightened his hold. ''For a moment, I understood what Madara meant,'' Obito's eye grew dark, and he had to forcefully keep his voice from dropping to a hiss. Control yourself, dammit —''And I made sure they never hurt anyone ever again.''

''Wait,'' Fugaku suddenly spoke up. He sounded startled, disbelieving. ''You were the one who murdered all those Kiri-nin?''

''They were responsible for Rin's death and were going to kill Kakashi. I could not let them.''

Again, only partly true.

They didn't need to know that.

''...Obito.'' Hiruzen stared at the boy intently, voice suddenly lower and much more serious than before. ''A very particular technique was used on those men. Are you saying you are capable of performing it?''

Obito licked his drying lips.

''You're talking about Mokuton, right?''

By that point, it seemed almost impossible for the atmosphere to grow even more grave. For a short moment Obito amused himself with imagining all the scenarios where it would become beyond grave just like that. Best to keep it within some bounds.

''I'm sorry, but I can't really say much about it, because I don't really understand it myself,'' Obito continued after a brief pause when no one responded. Their looks were answer enough. ''That was the first time I used it, so... Though Madara did mention something about Hashirama's—'' or should that have been “Shodaime Hokage's”? ''—cells, and how this—'' He gestured to the visible white part of his body. ''—is made of that... somehow. So, uh, I guess Madara thought he'd awaken Mokuton by doing that, since Mokuton was the Shodaime's power. At least that's what he told me.'' Obito made sure to mutter under his breath “like that explained everything” just audibly enough for them to barely pick it up.

So far, so good. A quick scan confirmed the men were mostly concerned with Obito's words rather than Obito himself (Minato fell into a different category altogether, so he didn't count). Which was what he wanted , he told himself, this was good.

Keep it down, keep it down, keep your head down

''What happened next, then?''

Right, he wasn't finished.

''After that, I decided to go back to Madara. He seemed too dangerous to be left alone, and I knew I had to do something. But I misjudged both of our abilities.'' Obito let a wince play out. ''And after barely escaping the second time, I didn't want to test my luck anymore, so, uh, here I am.''

For a short while they digested the information.

''...I see,'' Hiruzen finally broke the tense silence. His eyes wandered off somewhere to the side, as if he were in deep thought, and after a couple of seconds they shifted back. ''Well, Obito, you've told us quite a bit of concerning information. Is there anything else in particular you'd like to add?''

Obito pondered for a moment.

''...Madara was not alone,'' he opted to say. Better to have them keeping that in mind. ''He had an ally, though I don't know what. It didn't look human, not entirely at least, and his whole body was black. I only saw it a couple of times, so.''

The men once again shared an odd look. Inoichi subtly lifted his shoulder in a half-shrug. Alright, that was a bit strange. They appeared to be having a silent conversation, and not the kind Obito would have expected. Not the kind where they discussed fresh, new information.

Slight uneasiness began creeping towards his heart. Obito greatly disliked being the one in the dark. That didn't happen very often. But he couldn't exactly ask about it. Not when he shouldn't even be able to understand their looks. He couldn't risk cracking his carefully crafted facade.

''Alright, Obito, we’ve heard enough for today.'' The Hokage inclined his head lightly. ''I believe we should let you rest and heal for now. After you're discharged, we will discuss your situation further.''

Obito merely nodded in response. The sooner they get out, the better. This trend of discovering something seriously troubling in the middle of a conversation was becoming more than a little irritating.

His interrogators one by one exited the room, though Minato lingered. He carefully inspected Obito's expression for a short while, seemingly debating with himself on what to say or whether to speak at all. Finally, he decided.

''Obito, if you ever want to talk, you can always come to me, you know that, right?''

He sounded concerned. Worried. But also unbelievably relieved. No doubt his mind was already suggesting scenarios of what ifs, none of them being any better than the last. Minato was light-years away from being greedy or stupid, he perfectly understood how horribly worse Obito's predicament could have been. It was painful to realize how close Minato was to the truth. Though perhaps even he could never imagine what actually had happened.

Obito feared his voice would betray him, but answered regardless:

''I know, Sensei.''

He could only hope Minato would interpret his tone and strained smile to his benefit.

Chapter Text

Obito was told he would be released after a few days. If his body were like a regular person’s, there was little doubt he would not be discharged so quickly, so Obito didn’t complain. What he did have trouble with, and could barely keep his tongue behind his teeth for, were the tests. Apparently, now that he was awake and thus without the protection unconsciousness brought, everyone was more than a little eager to analyze whatever foreign material was implanted in his body, and he couldn’t exactly refuse. That wasn’t how this world worked. Trauma or no trauma (he still frowned internally each time it was implied)—it was an unknown substance that could potentially be dangerous, and since Obito was reasonable, he didn’t resist. Even if reasonable didn’t always translate to willing.

Minato and Kushina were sympathetic—the former discussed this matter on Obito’s behalf with the authorities, but the most he could win was a lessened number of those tests. It wasn’t much, but Obito was still beyond grateful.

Truthfully speaking, despite his sour mindset, he didn’t have much to hide, not regarding his bodily modifications at least. What Obito was concerned about was them (everyone) potentially wanting to take a step beyond simple analysis. He’d most likely have to show his teeth in that case. Or have Minato do it.

God, he was awful. But it was necessary. If having to depend on his sensei was what it took to have his mind a safe distance away from any prying eyes, then so be it, self-damnation or not.

(He wondered how long that tactic would work. How long Minato would keep them at bay. How long his fight would last. How long before he turned against Obito, too.)

In the meantime, Obito compartmentalized his thoughts. Mostly about the ever-rising problems. Again, while he was bound to a bed, he couldn’t do anything else, and he certainly couldn’t risk sneaking out. Besides, he needed the time to muse over his current issues, anyway. In his previous life (previous?true?fake?), there wasn’t a puzzle he couldn’t solve, not a question he couldn’t find the answer to, so Obito was rather confident about his chances. Still, those matters kept nagging and eating him from the inside every passing minute, and Obito knew that unless he figured them out and removed them from the equation altogether, they wouldn’t let him rest.

So he busied his mind.

The first issue on Obito’s list was the one concerning his will, namely chakra suppression and freedom of speech. He concluded the two matters were most likely connected, and, honestly, he did not like the implications one bit. So far the only idea that seemed plausible was the presence of an Individual Curse Tag. Sure, Obito had had one for years—courtesy of Madara—and only had it removed at the very end, but never had it actually hindered his movements of any sort. It had mainly been there so Obito couldn’t abandon the Moon Eye Plan, but since he had had no intention of doing so, it hadn’t been a problem for a good while.

But now… Obito wondered. If these occurrences could be blamed on a Curse Tag, then he could stem three theories—either his seal in this world was a modified one, or it wasn’t, and Madara simply had more control over it, seeing as how the old man was still very much alive. Or it was a combination of both.

Begrudgingly, Obito had to admit that the third one appeared most likely, given the nature of those two troubling events and how his luck had been faring so far.

So, in conclusion, getting the damned seal off was at the top of his priority list, and it was a feat that could very well cost him his life.

Obito wanted to rip his hair out.

It would be a shame to ruin Kushina’s work, though.

Since there was nothing he could do in his current state and without having a very carefully crafted plan for how to not die, Obito decided to instead adjust his story to fit this circumstance. It wouldn’t end well if he somehow appeared unable to speak in a middle of a conversation, and then have people coming to their own conclusions. Obito didn’t put it past some of them to figure out he had a seal. That was a revelation he would prefer being left unknown. Obito knew for certain there was no other way to remove this tag apart from piercing his heart, so the involvement of others would be more or less useless in that regard. It would bring him a lot of unwanted attention, though, and that was something Obito wished to avoid.

So all he had to do was not slip up. And that required a lot of planning ahead.

That was one matter.

The other was the one concerning his Mangekyou.

Minato hadn’t asked about his eye after that little conversation, nor did it seem he had mentioned it to someone. It was quite likely he had little to no knowledge on the stages of the Sharingan, given that it was the clan’s secret, after all. No doubt originally (always and forever) Minato had learned about it when Kakashi had awaked his, but, again, not even a full week had passed here since he did so, so it was probable Kakashi himself wasn’t aware of it yet, not entirely at least. But Obito himself hadn't mentioned his evolved doujutsu after that time to anyone. It would be logical and fitting to his persona to seek out Fugaku—it would seem a bit unlikely if Obito, the clan's black sheep, had vast knowledge on the infamous prowess or wasn't curious to learn about it. However bothersome that interaction may be,  Obito had to admit, it would be a necessity.

Initially, Obito had intended to keep his Mangekyou a secret. That plan went out the window the moment he revealed his doujutsu to Minato (couldn’t lie, not again, again and again), but Obito didn’t curse himself too much for that. After a while of deliberation, he had decided it had been a good decision. Or, at least, if he played his cards right, the most preferable one. For one, Kamui was his most prized technique—it was difficult to imagine fighting without it (apart from when he wanted to die), so, in this case, he wouldn’t have to hide it. Not entirely, at least. No one needed to know about his pocket dimension (it was better for them), but other than that… He saw no harm in it.

That was, however, the only clear pro. Everything else was… a bit more complex.

Like Kakashi and his own Mangekyou.

When was he not complicated, though?

Speaking of Kakashi, Obito was rather pleasantly surprised when on the day of his release, Minato brought Kakashi with him. After their last encounter, Kakashi had stayed away from the hospital, and Obito had opted to just give him space. Rushing things would bring him no good, so Obito simply hoped Kakashi would eventually face him again. Or, well, would have Minato drag him along.

Whatever the case was, Obito didn’t complain.

Minato had brought him a change of clothes awhile back from his apartment (still there? Why? Sentiment?), and Obito decided he was in need of some new ones. Apart from having slightly grown out of them (slightly, only slightly), it was… disturbingly odd to wear his old clothes. They were so painfully familiar, and yet cold, strange, unwelcoming . As if they knew he was an impostor. Someone who had no right to wear them. Someone who imposed on them. Or maybe that was all in his head. A lot of things were in his head nowadays. And in general.

''I think I need some new clothes,'' Obito spoke without thinking too much. For some reason. Talking excessively had always been a problem, but he had thought that (like everything else) had been bleached out.

(The aching familiarity felt like venom—he was becoming delusional.)

(Had he ever stopped?)

''Well, in that case, why don’t you do a bit of shopping with Kakashi right now?'' Minato suggested light-heartedly. ''I’m sure the Hokage wouldn’t mind you re-accustoming yourself with the village before heading to see him.''

Kakashi snapped his head to gape at his sensei, while Obito stared. No doubt Minato saw the tenseness between his two students and decided to attempt to at least slightly shift that. It was a sharp offer—Minato put the power of accepting it in Obito’s hands, and the way he suggested Kakashi going along was so simple, as if the most natural thing in the world, so much so that if Obito had been anyone else, he would have missed the silent tenseness. Heaviness. Desperation.

Or maybe it was all in his head.

A lot of things were, nowadays.

...Kakashi still hadn’t run off. Maybe because his body refused to move, but. Nevertheless, a good sign.

And so, Obito flickered his gaze to his tense teammate before shrugging.

''Sure, why not?'' he spoke while adjusting his plain new eye-patch. It felt strange—he hadn’t had the chance to wear one before. Obito didn’t like it. ''I’m in no rush to know my fate, either.''

He made it sound playfully grave, which caused Minato to grin almost apologetically.

''Well, I’m not gonna miss this place.'' Obito nodded, looking over the room. Then, he began making his way to the exit, glancing over his shoulder at his teammate. ''You coming, Kakashi?''

Did he have a choice? Really?

For a couple of seconds Kakashi stood frozen, disheveled thoughts seemingly raging in his mind (obvious, obvious, too obvious), before his shoulders slumped. He turned a bit to face Obito, yet failed to meet his eye.

''...Lead the way.''

It felt strangely warm. Like chamomile tea. Obito didn’t like chamomile.

He flashed his sensei a thankful smile and left the room, Kakashi loosely following.

~.~

Obito’s re-accustoming with Konoha wasn’t exactly what he had expected.

Not that he was surprised, though. He couldn’t be.

The sun was already setting, casting a gentle orange over the village he was so painfully familiar with. He could remember living here—still a child, still so very young and cruelly innocent. Running around these streets, more often than not in great hurry, helping old ladies at that turn, and that one, catching a rather ferocious cat in that tree over there, oh-so-very occasionally leaping across these roofs, slipping on some, visiting shops, stands, chatting with people, looking at their blurred faces—everything was so painfully familiar, and yet.

The colors remained faded.

It was terrifying to realize that the more he wandered these streets, the more everything seemed fake. Like cardboard cutouts, moving only how the screenwriter dictated. As if a faraway dream that threatened to slip away from his grasp at any moment with such ease it left Obito shaken. Genjutsu didn’t have this particular effect—it was constructed in a way the victim wouldn’t feel it (if done correctly, of course). Genjutsu also weren’t this… detailed. He could see every crack in the pavement, every passing person’s expression, every movement, hear every sound, every chirp, every step—it was almost too much. But they also never felt this distant.

Obito was afraid to tighten his hold, focus more, for it seemed it would fade in a heartbeat. This horrifyingly serene dream.

His Konoha had been destroyed. Had been rebuilt. Had changed. His Konoha hadn’t been his for a long time.

No matter how Obito regarded the people he had vowed to protect, he couldn’t accept this place. This wasn’t… This wasn’t Konoha. Not his. Never was, never will be. These villagers were strangers, these streets were a maze, these sounds were foreign.

Seeing the place he had lost, abandoned, in all its illusionary glory pulled at Obito’s heartstrings painfully. He didn’t want to feel this detached from his hometown, however faded it might have appeared, but he just… couldn’t help it. Obito’s vision was glazed and he doubted even the Sharingan would have changed anything.

As much as he wished, Obito couldn’t accept this place as real. Not yet. He wondered whether that would change. Or even could.

So instead, he focused on the one thing that, at this moment, held him bound to Earth.

The pair had been walking in tow for around ten minutes aimlessly in absolute silence, and Obito was beginning to mildly panic (no, he was merely concerned), since now that he was actually alone with Kakashi, he had no idea what to say. Or, rather, how to start a light conversation. He knew the best approach would be something casual, something to put Kakashi at ease, and Obito figured for that goal the most fitting demeanor for him would be something to his old (very, too much) self. But nothing seemed appropriate enough, and he was quickly running out of ideas. Konoha? No. Minato and Kushina? Not… not yet. Himself? Definitely not. Kakashi was obviously not going to speak up first, either, so that left the duo in quite a bind.

Finally, Obito couldn’t take the thick atmosphere anymore and spoke the first thing that popped to his mind:

''...So how’s that eye doing?''

And immediately deliberated hitting himself.

''It's... fine,'' Kakashi answered, quieter than usually, with a weak shrug. Then, he gingerly glanced at Obito, his gaze lingering on his eye-patch, though soon enough he lowered it again. ''Do you... want it back?''

Obito swore there had been a rock in his path because he did not just almost trip over nothing. That did not happen.

''I'm sorry, what ?''

After receiving silence as confirmation that he hadn't misheard it, Obito stared flabbergasted at Kakashi, his feet moving automatically by this point. He wasn't sure where he had expected such a conversation to go, but definitely not where it went.

(Had Kakashi really been this damaged? Had Obito really damaged him so much?)

(That wasn’t difficult to believe.)

Kakashi’s expression was tense. Almost… ginger. What was he expecting?

''...You really are an idiot, aren't you,'' finally, Obito declared in astonishment. ''Why would I... It was a gift, or did you forget already?'' He moved closer and lightly punched the other's shoulder. ''You don't get to give it away, Bakashi.''

The name rolled off his tongue easily, like a long-forgotten habit. Damp, dusted, slightly too torrid, but with a sense of familiarity. One that hadn’t been there before. He tried to make it sound reassuring.

That never had been his forte.

(The feeling of the strange detachment was beginning to slowly seep into his focus, but he managed to shove it away.)

Kakashi hadn't quite managed to conceal a flinch at the unexpected contact, but didn't shrink away, either. Perhaps Obito was merely seeing what he wanted, but Kakashi now appeared faintly less rigid.

''...Sorry,'' he murmured. ''I'll keep that in mind.''

''You better,'' Obito huffed in response. ''Anyway, we'll talk more about that later. I wanna know what I missed.'' A pause. The atmosphere in the village felt different. ''The war's coming to an end, isn't it? People seem more... relaxed.''

Kakashi hummed with a nod.

Goddamn you.

''Anything big happening in celebration? Maybe the Hokage is finally stepping down?'' Obito made sure he sounded joking, anything that would kick-start a conversation that didn’t involve traumas, past or present.

Kakashi cast a weird look in his direction.

''Actually, he is.''

Obito appeared surprised.

''Well? Who’s gonna be the next one?”

His teammate actually stared at him (somewhere above, just a bit, too much, not enough), seemingly somewhat interested to see his reaction.

''Orochimaru.''

Obito froze in his tracks.

... What?

He blinked dumbly at his companion.

Kakashi had to be kidding. He had to be, but there was no way he was. This was Kakashi, the young and troubled Kakashi. He was serious.

What?

This is wrong, this is so wrong, this is so damn wrong, what the actual—

''...How the hell did that happen?'' Finally, Obito found his voice. He didn’t attempt to hide the complete aversion from his tone.

''I don’t know,'' Kakashi answered with a shrug, also stopping a bit further away. Luckily, the streets during this rather late evening weren’t crowded. Obito figured they’d be receiving a lot more odd glances if that wasn’t the case. ''They didn’t tell us why they decided on him.''

''But you… I mean, the jounin, did they already vote?'' Obito asked almost desperately, because the last thing he needed was this.

Kakashi merely nodded.

It was indeed hilarious how things here somehow kept getting worse.

''This is such bullshit,'' Obito sneered, clenching his hands. ''That bastard is nowhere near being fit to be Hokage, who in their right mind thought that’d be a good idea?''

Danzou, that’s who. Not that he’s in his right mind.

That failed to explain this situation, though. The man from the beginning had wanted Orochimaru to succeed the Sandaime, but it hadn’t worked because he was the only one. What had happened in this place to change that?

''You probably shouldn’t be so expressive,'' Kakashi mused out loud. He was right, most likely, but Obito didn’t care.

''It’s not my fault the world turns upside down the moment I’m gone,'' Obito grunted in response, crossing his arms.

The look in Kakashi’s eye softened and he turned away. He seemed to shrink in a bit on himself, his crooked hitai-ate now completely obscuring his expression. In that moment, Kakashi appeared small and far too vulnerable. Obito cursed himself.

That had been a poor choice of words.

''It really does,'' Kakashi spoke in a murmur. Obito hadn’t expected such an answer. Neither had Kakashi, apparently, judging from the sudden stiffness.

A lump formed in Obito’s throat, one he couldn’t quite swallow. He told himself it was too soon to touch that particular topic, much, much too soon. That, and the other one. Those were matters that had to be left for a later time, when Kakashi was at least a little more comfortable in his presence. Now Obito had to push, push, push it down.

So after a pregnant pause, he pretended nothing had happened.

''...Anyway, I seriously don’t think that snake was chosen because of how great he is,'' Obito shook his head and started walking again.

''That’s a dangerous thing to say,'' Kakashi warned, the softness in his voice not yet completely gone, but now a tinge a curiosity painted it. ''Why are you so against him?''

''...Let's just say I have a bad feeling,'' Obito opted to answer vaguely, staring somewhere in the distance. ''When is he gonna be inaugurated, anyway?''

''In a month, I think.''

Well then.

This whole conversation had been a mess. At least Kakashi was somewhat talking to him, though. Obito took that as a win.

This new issue certainly required most of his attention now. Not only that, it shot up to the very top. As if he didn't have enough problems fighting for first place. But this one had an actual deadline for solving it, and the steps to cracking it weren't so damn obscure, unlike all the other matters. Obito really had to write his priorities down as promptly as possible.

Preventing Orochimaru from becoming Hokage certainly made it into the top three.

Perhaps the first thing Obito had to do was figuring out how exactly had this even become an issue.

(This couldn't have just been time-travel, no, of course it had to be dimensional too, because why the hell not)

Obito hadn’t been lying when he said this whole matter seemed off. He was rather certain Hiruzen had once upon a time vehemently shot down Danzou’s suggestion about choosing Orochimaru for the role of the new Hokage, so this whole matter reeked of something rotten (because there was no way the snake was actually decent in this dimension, that would be ludicrous). Obito himself had a vast amount of experience in this specific area, so he would know. But again, there was simply not enough data to go on, so the first order of business regarding this issue was just thatinformation-gathering. Also a field Obito was quite skillful in. Afterwards, adequate actions would be required. Namely those that would uncover Orochimaru for the snake that he was.

All within a month. Manageable.

Obito had definitely been in more complicated situations.

...

The two never entered a store.

Chapter Text

''And here I had hoped I'd retire quietly.''

Hiruzen gazed upon his village from out the window. It was bathing in the sun's last rays, serene after a long, quiet day. The war was nearly over—its effects would linger for a long, long time, but for now the people were simply relieved. After living in constant unease and feeling the looming danger for years, no wonder they would be enticed by the prospect of peace, however shaky it may be in this world. Konoha had always been, even during conflict, rather quiet—only now calmness accompanied it.

''Do you believe him, Minato?''

A beat of heavy silence.

The village’s tranquil atmosphere didn’t reach the Hokage’s office.

''He doesn’t seem to have a reason to lie,'' Minato answered, his voice level. Truly, whenever he wanted, he could control his exterior marvelously.

Hiruzen turned from the window to look at the other occupant of the room. Minato was standing tall in front of the Hokage’s desk, his shoulders a bit tense, but otherwise it was difficult to read what the man was thinking. Perhaps it was nothing, perhaps it was too much.

Perhaps he was deliberating how to keep the student he had regained.

''That’s not the question I asked.''

Hiruzen wanted to determine what kind of dangers his village could be facing—he doubted Obito was one of them.

Minato’s lips formed a grim line.

''Yes, I do,'' he stated. ''However impossible it may seem, more bizarre things have happened. At times like these an open mind may be the deciding factor between life and death, and this is a matter that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Besides.'' His look darkened a bit. ''Madara being alive would make sense.''

The Hokage hummed thoughtfully. Indeed, he was no stranger to outlandish events. Nevertheless, to think that one of Konoha’s founding fathers and greatest enemies might still be among the living… It caused concern beyond measure. The crease between his eyebrows deepend.

Hiruzen nodded.

''I shall trust your judgment, then,'' finally, he answered finally, observing his subordinate closely. ''However, others might not. Until further investigation proves the veracity of his story, Obito may be regarded with wary, even suspicion. Some might suggest that a more direct way should be used to extract information.''

Minato’s eyes hardened. This issue had evidently been troubling him. Hiruzen wasn’t surprised—he had seen the boy’s state himself.

Minato had probably perceived even more.

''That won’t be necessary,'' he responded, a tad of coldness leaking through—it was aimed at the circumstances more than anything. ''His mind is already shaken, it would only harm him if it was probed, and there’s no guarantee we would learn anything significantly new. It’s a risk that needn’t be taken. With your permission, Hokage-sama, I personally will watch over Obito and gather any possible information from him.''

It would be logical. If the case was any different, people wouldn’t be completely satisfied, given that Minato might appear biased. However, the situation was in his favor.

Hiruzen nodded. ''Consider this an extension to your mission, then. Treat it with the utmost delicacy.''

''Of course, Hokage-sama.''

Minato was only ever this directly bold when the wellbeing of the people he cared for was concerned. To those with Hiruzen’s title, that care extended to everyone in the village. He would have made a fine Hokage, he thought regretfully.

But as it was, Minato already had enough on his plate. While, sure, he had a team, the assignment he was tasked with was no laughing matter, and the toll it was taking on him was obvious to anyone with a sharper eye. And now his students. Just recently he had lost one, another was on the verge of breaking, and finally Obito. Returned from the dead, scorched, mutilated, and with such grave claims that it chilled everyone who would believe them. Minato certainly had his work cut out for him, and yet the man stood tall, unwavering. Awed by his charisma and unbreakable confidence, people tended to follow him without hesitation, and that was one of many reasons why he was fit to be a leader. Under his care, Konoha would thrive, Hiruzen had no doubt about it. If only the timing had been better.

But now there was no point to wallow in what-ifs, because the present demanded their full attention.

''Tell me, Minato, what was your impression of him?'' Hiruzen decided to ask out of the blue. He was genuinely curious, but more than anything wished to confirm something.

Minato pursed his lips and allowed his gaze to wander off. His expression was mostly unreadable, but he appeared thoughtful. With an underlying shade of concern. It made Hiruzen wonder.

''He seemed grief-stricken,'' he answered carefully after a short while. The Hokage nodded—that was only natural. Something about Minato’s tone peaked his interest, though, but unfortunately, he didn’t elaborate on that part further. ''And as if… he was repressing himself. Perhaps that’s understandable, given what he must have lived through, but... ''

Minato trailed off. Judging by the small frown, he must have lost himself in his thoughts. Or perhaps he didn’t wish to indulge in his observations any further. Most likely both. Hiruzen didn’t pressure him—he trusted the man, and if Minato didn’t find a need to state his thoughts vocally at the moment, then so be it.

In any case, this conversation would have be to continued at a later date.

Not a couple of moments later a series of polite knocks rang through the room. After Hiruzen expressed permission to enter, the door opened and the person of the hour walked in, bowing at the elder.

''Ah, Obito, it’s pleasant to see you,'' the Hokage nodded. ''How was your outing?''

The boy tugged his lips upwards into a mild grin.

''It was nice,'' Obito answered, a bit of warmth leaking through his voice. His gaze flickered to Minato for a split second. ''Konoha hasn’t changed all that much.''

Minato flashed a smile in return. There was a tinge of sadness behind it.

''I’m glad to hear that,'' Hiruzen commented and moved to his desk, taking a seat. He glanced meaningfully at his subordinate and Minato wordlessly placed a privacy seal. ''Now then, I believe it’s due time we discussed your future.''

''If I may, Hokage-sama,'' Obito spoke up immediately, only barely not cutting off the other. Hiruzen nodded. ''I would like to be reinstated.''

Hiruzen arched his brows a bit at the declaration. It was true that he had considered it, but there was truly no rush to throw in a shinobi with Obito’s predicament back into action, not when peace was upon them. One look at Minato told Hiruzen that he was having similar thoughts.

Besides, there were other, more delicate issues.

''I don’t see why not,'' the Hokage spoke after a short pause. He took out his pipe and ignited it. ''But there’s no need to be hasty. You should first focus on resting and re-accustoming yourself with the village. Perhaps indulge in some peaceful activities. When you’re fully recovered, you’ll be reinstated if you still wish so.''

Obito’s exterior showed a small amount of frustration seeping through at the statement. He shifted on his feet, lips pursing, fingers twitching. Quickly, though, he stilled himself.

''I understand, but with all due respect, Hokage-sama,'' he started a bit forcefully. He clenched his hand into a fist. ''Madara is still out there. I can’t rest knowing that he’s planning something and that someone could end up in the same situation as I did.''

Hiruzen straightened at those words. He surveyed the boy before him carefully, tapping the end of his pipe against his the mouth. In the corner of his eye he noticed Minato’s attentiveness rising as well.

''Could you elaborate on that, Obito?'' Hiruzen inquired calmly, eyes not for a second leaving his. ''Are you suggesting Madara may take in another person?''

Obito shrunk back slightly at the question. His eye shifted to the ground for a couple of moments and he nibbled on his lower lip. He appeared… conflicted.

''I think—'' he began slowly, lifting his gaze up. ''—that’s very possible. I don’t know why, but I think he needs someone, and I do know I didn’t react the way he had expected, so...'' Seemingly a realization dawned upon him and his expression twisted. ''If he does get his hands on someone else, he will probably approach them differently, seeing as how I didn’t work out, and, uh, I don’t think—'' He took a rather shaky breath. ''I don’t think it’d be any better. I can’t just—I can’t just do nothing.''

Hiruzen hummed thoughtfully as he pondered on the new information. Obito’s words raised considerable concern. Then again, everything about him warranted worry.

He was looking forward to his retirement.

''I understand your frustration, but you needn’t bother yourself with this matter anymore. Rest assured, it will be handled accordingly.''

Obito opened his mouth to speak, most likely in the form of a protest, but Hiruzen lifted his hand to silence him.

''If you wish to contribute, the most you can do is relay any additional, however seemingly insignificant, information to us. After you’ve recovered sufficiently, you’ll be put back on active duty, but that does not mean any of your work will be connected to Madara. Do I make myself clear?''

Obito pressed his lips into a tight line and nodded curtly.

''Yes, Hokage-sama.''

It was interesting—Obito exhibited similar patterns of behaviour as prior to his “death”, but he was also different. Quieter. More level-header. More mature, Hiruzen mused. He cast a quick glance at his subordinate. Minato’s expression was mostly unreadable—he most likely noticed some other changes, and apparently they bothered him if he had closed off in such a way. It was no wonder. Minato had been Obito’s sensei for years, while Hiruzen never personally knew the boy. He could only imagine what must be going through Minato’s head at this moment.

''But I can do more than just tell what I know,'' Obito suddenly added, just as determined as before, albeit with a hint of desperation. Before Hiruzen could interject, he continued hastily: ''I can show you where he held me.''

Hiruzen blinked. That… hadn’t yet occurred to him. Why hadn’t it? It seemed like a logical proceeding in this situation. He scrutinized the boy. Obito really was committed to being of use. This issue apparently bothered him greatly.

But Hiruzen was no fool, contrary to the belief of some. He could see Obito had ulterior motives to this preposition.

''That would be helpful,'' the Hokage nodded. He took a drag on his pipe and let the smoke rise, looking at Obito intensely. ''But tell me truthfully. Why do you want to go back there?''

Differently from Hiruzen’s expectations, Obito didn’t shrink away or appear uneased. Instead, his expression morphed into… mildly sheepish?

He cast his gaze to the side while his hand traveled to twiddle with the hem of his jacket’s empty sleeve on the other side. After shifting on his feet a couple of times, Obito finally spoke:

''I do really think that perhaps you could find something useful in that place.'' His words were quicker than before, and he still failed to shift his eye back from the wall. Hesitance laced his voice. ''But, uh… I had a prosthetic, y’know. It was made from the same material as, uh, the rest of...'' He vaguely gestured to his chest. ''Yeah. But I accidentally destroyed it while escaping, I didn’t really know how strong it was, really. And it would be fine, I’d live with it, but, um, I know that—that Madara had spare ones, in case I somehow lost mine, he had said. And I just, uh… I just thought that maybe, um, y’know, I could...'' Obito twisted the loose material between his fingers, his eye flickering between the ground and Hiruzen. He lightly bit his lip. ''Get a replacement?''

It was truly wondrous to witness how Obito could change from a confident young man, being able to stand his ground, to a timorous boy in a matter of seconds. Obito had always been one to shift his mood quickly and unpredictably, and Hiruzen was strangely comforted by the fact that that much hadn’t changed.

Before he could respond, however, Minato moved towards his student and placed a hand on his shoulder. Obito flinched mildly at the unexpected contact, shooting up to look at his sensei, something akin to surprise playing on his features. For a short, fleeting moment anguish shadowed his eye, but the emotion disappeared just as quickly, and Hiruzen decided he must have misread it.

''I see no harm in that,'' Minato spoke for the first time, a small, soothing smile pulling at his lips, though it appeared slightly strained. He shifted his eyes to look at the Hokage. ''The tests showed the material used to repair his body posed no danger, and only served as artificial tissue. If the prosthetic was indeed made in the same way, then it really should be fine. Besides, no matter how skilled a shinobi, having only one arm puts them at a great disadvantage, and if Obito can avoid that, I believe all measures should be taken that he does.''

Hiruzen sighed. Of course Minato would take his student’s side. After everything the boy had been through, it would be strange if he didn’t. Hiruzen almost found amusement how protectiveness radiated from the man in waves. Minato stood in a way that challenged anyone who would dare to even think about harming his student, as if he were one of his own. It wasn’t surprising at the slightest—Hiruzen knew Minato blamed himself for not being there when two of his students had faced death, even though he couldn’t have been, couldn’t have known Obito would be buried beneath rocks and Rin’s chest would be teared apart. Now that he regained one of them, of course he would do everything to prevent anything similar from happening again.

Besides, Hiruzen clearly understood the deeper meaning behind Minato’s words—someone, be it Madara or someone else, had tried to murder Obito, but, obviously, had failed. If they had decided that development was unsatisfactory, the boy could be facing great danger. It would indeed be terrible if Obito couldn’t protect himself from them simply because of this.

''Alright,'' Hiruzen conceded, surveying be pair carefully. ''I’ll allow it, but only after it’s confirmed it indeed is not dangerous. Before that, a team will be assembled which will escort you. You’ll be informed when that will take place. In the meantime,'' he took another drag. ''I trust you won’t act on your own accord?''

Obito brightened at the decision, a grin stretching across his lips. He bowed at the elder.

''Of course. Thank you, Hokage-sama.''

Hiruzen chuckled lightly at him. It was pleasant to see the endearing thirteen-year-old boy was still inside of him. Scarred, maimed, scorched, but still there.

Then, Obito sobered and his expression morphed into a thoughtful, almost concerned one. He straightened and spoke:

''If I may ask, what will happen to Kakashi?''

Hiruzen was aware that during Obito’s last mission, something had happened between the two boys, and that Obito’s “death” had shaken Kakashi to the core. Obito had always appeared jealous of his teammate, but perhaps it had been much deeper than that, and only now was it clearly showing.

''While Kakashi is still an active jounin, I’ll take him off duty for a while, given what had occurred,'' he stated after a short pause. Seeing Obito open his mouth, Hiruzen continued before he could speak. ''Don’t misinterpret me—I only have Kakashi’s best interest in mind. He is not being blamed for what had happened, and I simply believe it would be best for him to rest and collect himself. There is no rush anymore, after all.''

Obito’s shoulders slumped, a pained expression washing over his features. He nodded stiffly.

''I see. That’s… That’s good.''

Truthfully speaking, Hiruzen wondered. He knew Obito and Rin had been very close, and seeing the girl’s demise must have been absolutely devastating. And yet, Obito appeared far calmer than even Kakashi, not that the latter was anywhere near peaceful. Only when the topic drifted to her in particular did Obito show signs of sorrow, and even those were considerably repressed. Hiruzen never imagined Obito being one to conceal his emotions, but apparently he was choosing to suffer quietly. If anything, he seemed more concerned about Kakashi’s wellbeing rather than his own. It was an admirable trait, but Hiruzen knew all too well what grieving in silence lead to.

''In any case,'' the Hokage spoke up again, growing a bit more serious. ''We have one more matter to discuss. It’s regarding your Mokuton.''

Obito didn’t display any nervousness—he merely nodded.

''This certain technique is extremely valuable to Konoha, since it has the potential to restrain a Bijuu, mainly the Kyuubi, if such a need arises,'' Hiruzen explained. ''So after you’ve recovered, it will be expected of you to start honing that ability. Would that cause any problems?''

''No.'' Obito shook his head. ''I was going to do that anyway.''

Hiruzen nodded and continued:

''Naturally, you’ll be assigned someone who will oversee your progress, but since it’s mostly an extinct skill, you will need to learn from scripts left behind by the Shodaime. I don’t advise you trying anything on your own.''

''Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.''

Interesting choice of words.

''That’ll be all for now,'' Hiruzen exhaled a puff of smoke. ''Since it has remained unoccupied, will you be returning to your apartment now?''

Obito deflated a bit at that question, his expression growing somewhat grim. The prospect of going back to his previous living quarters seemingly didn’t sit too well with him. It was understandable.

Who would want to return to a cold home?

Before Obito could respond, though, Minato spoke up:

''Why don’t you have dinner with me and Kushina tonight?'' he offered brightly. ''She’d be overjoyed to have you, she wouldn’t shut up about how much you probably missed her delicious meals.''

Again, something akin to distress flashed across Obito’s stare, but in a second it had receded. He tugged his lips into a small smile and nodded.

''I did, actually. It would be...'' His breath hitched for a moment, but he quickly gathered himself. ''...Nice.''

Minato beamed at the boy. Warmth dominated his gaze, and Obito appeared shaken by it.

''And why don’t we invite Kakashi as well?'' he added. ''We shouldn’t leave him out.''

Surprisingly enough, Obito huffed.

''Yeah, sure, if he’d agree,'' he muttered. ''You know him and his… complexes. I swear, that bastard was ready to dart the moment I took my eye off of him.''

Minato’s smile turned somber and he momentarily clutched Obito’s shoulder tighter.

''I’m sure he’ll come around eventually. All we can do now is support him.''

To bystanders those words might have appeared rather strange, since anyone would assume Obito himself would rather receive support than give it, but in reality that didn’t seem to be the case. From what Hiruzen gathered, Obito was more than ready to jump at the first opportunity to help his friend.

''Right, and I’ll make sure of that.''

It really was admirable.

''I won’t hold you two anymore,'' Hiruzen spoke up, a soft smile on his lips. ''Give Kushina my regards. You may leave.''

The pair bowed at their leader and soon enough he was left alone.

Hiruzen exhaled a deep sigh and turned to look through the window. He brought his pipe to his mouth and hummed lowly. It certainly was time to retire.

Chapter Text

It felt… surreal.

In a strange sense.

Obito had thought he had managed to quiet down the cries of disbelief over the past few days, but evidently that was far from the case, since he was once again left staring at the bizarre sight before him, an odd sort of astonishment coursing through him.

In the hospital ward he had been pulled in all directions (threatening to tear), but he had told himself it was fine , this was inevitable and he’d survive.

In Konoha’s streets everything had been achromatic, so incredibly distant, only producing a dull ache, and he had told himself he’d focus somewhere else.

At the Hokage’s office he had been an almost exemplary actor, the room had been his stage, and he had told himself he needed to not think about it, this was a necessary procedure and a way to begin moving forward.

But here, in this bright, warm apartment that had been dead for years, Obito’s mind went blank.

He could remember dining here, chatting with these people, gleefully living his days away, but now the once-deeply-buried memories clashed with reality and the vivid colors blinded him. They were moving, talking, eating, and yet—to Obito, it seemed like a still image. Like a hauntingly beautiful painting, which edges had been faded for so long that now the sheer vibrance blazed Obito’s eye, all the way through his skull.

But the image was wrong. It was so wrong wrong wrong that Obito could barely breathe.

It was improper. It was disturbing.

''—Obito! ''

The image was moving and he couldn’t see.

Someone snapped their fingers in front of his face and Obito jerked backwards. He blinked furiously and forced the colors to dim, to make sense again. It required a worrying amount of energy to shift his gaze from a painting to a face, here, now, in front of him, and clearly waiting for him to respond. This was not how it was supposed to go and Obito shoved it away.

''...What?''

''Finally got back to the world of the living?'' Kushina asked cheekily, lifting a brow. She seemed mildly amused, but there was also something else, something he couldn’t pinpoint with all this haze and focus, just focus, stop it already. ''Jeez, you were completely out of it!''

''I’m… sorry?'' Obito rubbed the back of his neck, flashing a sheepish grin. ''I got distracted by the… uh… something I remembered?''

That was the truth and it was a lie, and Obito avoided Minato’s eyes.

''Tche, well I was saying your dinner’s gonna get cold if you keep staring at nothing,'' Kushina declared, pointing her chopsticks at him accusingly. ''And I didn’t work my ass off for you to leave on an empty stomach, so you better get on with it, y’know!''

Thank gods for Kushina and her intoxicating attitude. He could almost melt into it, forget the wrong wrong wrong number of people, the gaping hole in the painting next to him.

''Yes, ma'am.'' Obito mock-saluted, beaming.

Best to ignore it. He was good at that. Shove away, don’t think about it, focus.

Obito avoided Minato’s eyes.

Instead, he concentrated on the task at hand.

It wasn’t difficult to get around the food with one hand—he had enough experience with that—and the only thing he dreaded was receiving pity for it. And for everything else. It followed him like a shadow, from the nurses in the hospital to strangers in the streets to those in this room. Obito didn’t need the sympathy. Especially not theirs. He didn’t need it, he didn't deserve it and he certainly wouldn’t accept it. Not for his disfigured body, not for his scars, not for his eye, not for anything.

They had the decency to cover it—the pitying glances, the concerned smiles, the sympathetic tones. All of them were shinobi, they understood perfectly what Obito wanted, what he so desperately needed, and tried to deliver it to their best abilities.

Obito was grateful. Unfortunately for them, unfortunately for him, they underestimated him. He was not a naive, intimidated, traumatized thirteen-year-old. He was not the Uchiha Obito of this Konoha. He was not the boy they had lost.

A merciless thought invaded his mind, causing a chilling wave to wash over him.

It was so quiet. A mere whisper, and yet it rang so loudly it overshadowed anything else.

He had robbed yet another life. Not for a second had he considered this. But now the realization was baring its ugly head and Obito couldn’t look away. He was not the Uchiha Obito of this world. He had completely unceremoniously stolen their Obito’s body, mind, story, stripped him of his will, his future, his life. And now he was pretending to be theirs, playing this tragicomic charade, an actor on a stage that did not belong to him.

This was… How could I just

It took an unnerving amount of force to muffle that hissing voice.

This was… this was good. If anything, he had saved the Obito of this world the agony he would have lived in until the very end, until he would have realized he had wasted away everything. He had saved him the crushing burden of murdering the people he had once cared about in cold blood, and then facing guilt so suffocating he could hardly breathe. If anything, fate had been merciful on this young, foolish boy. And by default, everyone around him, too. So shut up, be quiet, don’t say a word

(Obito refused to entertain the thought that perhaps his counterpart would have trekked a different path. One with less blood, one with less pain, one where he hesitated, one where he refused, one where he returned. It would have been so cruelly unfair, and at the same time nothing would have been more just. Obito’s whole life had been one giant absurdity, and he refused to entertain the thought.)

Only did his tightened jaw betray his sudden distress, and even that Obito was quick to cover with his lukewarm dinner. Vaguely, he registered the many spices, sauce, texture, the way his taste buds responded to the colorful array of flavors, but he only felt cardboard.

Fitting, for a body of not his own.

What the hell did I just say

Such a simple thought.

Nausea settled in his bones, and for a moment he couldn’t swallow. He feared bile would rise once the flavorless lump reached his stomach, as if this body would regard it as inedible, as if it would recognize the impostor nestled and would refuse to obey. All commands abandoned him, senses began dimming, dark strings twisting at the edge of his vision, and with horror he realized he was beginning to silently suffocate.

His body was protesting against its mind that finally realized it held no right to inhabit it.

I won’t— Not here, not with them, not with— Not here, I refuse, they’re looking, I refuse, they’re looking, I refuse—!

Obito grabbed the screeching by its throat, pushed it under the murky water, hoping it would drown,

and swallowed.

''Ahh, this is absolutely amazing.'' He grinned at Kushina. ''I swear, one day I’ll get that recipe outta you.''

''Heh, you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead hands, brat,'' she responded with a smirk of her own and a flip of her hair. ''It’s my most prized one yet, y’know!''

She almost managed to hide the concern so evident to anyone with Obito’s sight. His earlier episode most likely hadn’t gone unnoticed.

No, it certainly hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Obito avoided Minato’s eyes, but under their burning gaze he could barely control his squirming.

Even Kakashi was staring at him. Sometimes. He was probably worried. Something else, too. Obito couldn’t think. He pretended not to notice. Like everything else.

It took all his focus to breathe, to smile, to imitate.

This is ridiculous this is ridiculous get out get out it’s unsafe

''Awh, but you gotta teach me something ,'' Obito persisted, his voice playfully pleading. ''It’s unfair to keep all those heavenly skills to yourself!''

It was disturbingly easy.

''Alright, alright, jeez.'' Kushina waved her hand at him, giggling. Then, she sighed as if in resignation, grin never leaving her lips. ''Don’t listen to what anyone tells you, compliments will get you everywhere.''

Was Minato still looking? Like before?

''This sissy right here can attest to that,'' she added, motioning to her partner with her head. ''How do you think he roped me into this whole “wife” thing?''

They were married? They were married. He couldn’t feel Kakashi next to him.

Minato had already finished his dish.

''I remember you being just as enthusiastic about it, though,'' Minato responded with a chuckle. He placed down his chopsticks and reached for a napkin. His eyes had wandered off for a short while, but Obito could still feel them.

''Tche, I guess there were other pros to it,'' Kushina commented nonchalantly, shrugging. Her mischievous smirk at Minato’s slightly warmer cheeks indicated something else, though. Then, her gaze once again settled on Obito, eyes narrowing. ''Don’t think I don’t see you not eating, twerp.''

He didn’t want to anymore.

The thick lump laid uncomfortably in his stomach, and he only barely managed to keep it down.

He didn’t want to eat anymore.

He felt sick.

''For your information, I’m savouring it,'' Obito declared with a huff.

''Yeah? Well savour it quicker, I ain’t gonna reheat it for you later.''

She would have.

His bowl was the only one that was full—even Kakashi was able to eat half. Or perhaps less. Obito couldn’t tell. He didn’t look. So with an eye-roll, he dug in once more.

Just don’t think about it, don’t feel it, talk, distract, keep it down, get out

(His body protested, he chatted, his body rebelled, he smiled, his body fought, he pretended, his—)

(distract distract distract )

Kakashi is silent. He’s silent, he’s

Throughout the whole evening, Kakashi said the bare minimum. He was never the most talkative one, but now it was almost ridiculous. Or, at least, it would have been if the case had been any different. Sometimes, they tried to engage him in a conversation, but most of their efforts bore no fruit. Truthfully speaking, Obito was baffled why Kakashi even agreed to come. Or perhaps not that much. He couldn’t think clearly, maybe it actually made sense. Maybe Kakashi himself was so flooded with emotions that his mind failed him, too. Maybe they were not so different.

No, stop, that wasn’t—no, shut up, stop

Obito had to escape this haze. He couldn’t hear what he was saying anymore.

The cardboard didn’t make it any better.

This would have been absolutely perfect if he wasn’t—

He had to get out.

''Ahh, this was really nice, but I think I’ll go already, it’s getting late,'' Obito announced after what felt like forever with a light stretch to emphasize his point.

''You can stay the night here, if you want to,'' Minato suggested without missing a beat, Kushina nodding in agreement. ''You too, Kakashi.''

Obito froze for a fleeting moment.

''Nah, don’t wanna be a bother,'' he refused with a dismissing wave. Seeing how the two were ready to protest, he quickly amended his words. ''Forget what I said, I meant, uh, I’ll be fine, really. Thanks for the offer, though.''

Kakashi also mumbled some excuse. Something about dogs? Perhaps he misheard it.

''Well, if you’re sure...'' Minato didn’t sound convinced.

Another wave of nausea coursed through him and he shivered. He had to get out.

''Stop worrying so much, Sensei.'' Obito flashed him a reassuring grin, standing up. ''I’m an adult, y’know.''

Whoever decided children became adults once they reached genin was a twisted bastard.

Minato lightly slumped his shoulders, responding with a smile of his own.

''We’ll see you out, then.''

Kakashi was quick—he barely murmured his goodbyes before darting out the door, and Obito didn’t attempt to match his speed. Besides, he needed a bit more time to get those (damn) sandals on, even if it was by just a little, and it would have appeared more than a little concerning if he showed too much haste. There had been enough attention on him this evening as it was.

''Thanks again for dinner.'' Obito beamed at the two, his hand on the doorknob. ''I really enjoyed it.''

He tried to keep the trembling away. His body was refusing the food.

Kushina smiled endearingly at him, and for a moment, everything was still. Then, without warning, she reached out and embraced him tightly.

Only during the last second did Obito managed to control his impulse to let her phase through. Instead, he allowed the contact, and in response felt moments away from retching.

He feared he’d ruin her pretty dress if he didn’t get out right now get out get out

The hug ended as quickly as it began, leaving behind something cold. Kushina backed away and her smile was replaced with a grin.

''Be sure to come by anytime, ‘cause I’ll drag you here myself if you don’t.''

Obito started at her frozen for a couple of beats before his (much-too-shaky) lips arched upwards.

''S-Sure, I’ll keep it in mind.''

Obito avoided Minato’s eyes as he left the apartment too quickly.

Get out, run, go, go, run, I feel sick

Vaguely, he noted he was not alone in his jog through the dark streets. He couldn’t be—of course there would be ANBU following him. Just a precautionary measure, he understood. For the village and for himself, that he knew as well. But that still didn’t mean he appreciated it. Not when he doubted he’d be able to keep his stomach at bay for long, not when the last thing he needed was spectators. He didn’t want this to get back to anyone—Minato especially. He didn’t want—He didn’t—

I can’t do this anymore, I can’t

Obito stumbled into a deserted alleyway and leaned against the cool stone. His breathing had gotten ragged, his vision swam. Intense nausea rolled over him, causing a shudder to shake his frame, and he couldn’t keep it in anymore.

At least there weren’t anyone else to watch as he threw his dinner up onto the grey ground.

After the heaves subsided, he spit the lingering acid out and brought his shaky hand to wipe his mouth with his sleeve. The cold air now caressed him gently, and he let the feeling wash over him, closing his eye. He placed his head against the wall and began taking deep breaths. At least now, after emptying everything out, his senses were beginning to return, even if the tremble stayed. He’d prefer to never having to repeat that experience again.

Obito exhaled a shuddering sigh and moved to lean against the wall on his back. A frown crept onto his lips. This hadn’t happened before. While he had used to eat quite rarely, never had his body reacted in such a violent way. Perhaps it was merely a one-time thing. Perhaps all he had to do was get— get used to this body. Or have it accept him. Or just not think about it.

Obito groaned quietly and made a move away from the stone. He still felt a bit shaky all over, but he was confident it would soon pass. All he needed was to lay down for a bit, and calm down.

A scoff left his lips. Whatever had happened during dinner was absolutely ridiculous. Since when did he allow himself to surrender command so easily? Since when did he let himself be swayed on the first occasion? Since when was he not in control?

Since coming here, it seems.

Right.

He rubbed his eye with a sigh. It would require some work, yes, but Obito was certain after a while he’d hold himself in an iron grip once more, and these episodes would not repeat. He would make sure of it.

Other matters required more of his attention. Obito was already pondering on what he would say if someone asked him about tonight’s events.

~.~

Good thing his home (ridiculous) was located at the edge of the Uchiha compound, so Obito wasn’t required to journey too far in. Even merely stepping in his clan’s territory was enough to feel suffocation closing in. Once upon a time he would have done anything to be regarded as an equal in his family’s eyes, but then he helped kill that family. Some (you) would argue he indirectly doomed them all to begin with. He didn’t wish to walk among this place’s streets, not anymore, never again, but his body moved regardless. At least in his apartment he’d finally find some peace. In that cold, dead, uninviting apartment. Obito smiled ruefully.

It didn’t take him long to reach it.

True to Hiruzen’s word, Obito’s place had remained unoccupied and even completely unchanged. It was somewhat strange—had the need to house someone there really not arise in a year? Obito had never thought about it before. Perhaps there was something else at work here, but Obito realized he didn’t particularly care. Even if maybe a different apartment would have felt more nonchalant.

Like his body, the place felt… unwelcoming. As if sensing Obito didn’t belong there. He didn’t find it in him to disagree with a damn room.

For a good while he stood in the doorstep unmoving. Then, with a resigned slump, entered the apartment, closing the door behind him. The place was drowning in dark shadows, a small ray of moonlight breaking through the gap in the closed curtains. Obito didn’t bother turning the light on. Instead, he let a trickle of chakra to flow to his eye, causing an immediate response. The Sharingan spun into existence, and Obito sighed in content. After spending a great amount of time with the doujutsu active, Obito had grown quite used to it, so with it hidden, he felt almost vulnerable. Now, the familiar sensation was the only thing that comforted and grounded him. Everything suddenly appeared sharper, clearer, made more sense , and Obito hummed quietly.

Finally, he could see.

He kicked off his shoes, hung his jacket and found his way to the bathroom. There, he flickered the light on and moved to the sink. Without lifting his gaze up, he filled a conveniently placed cup there with fresh, cold water and used it to rinse his mouth. Finally, the lingering disgusting taste was gone.

Then, Obito shifted his eye to the mirror.

For the first time since ending up in this place, Obito took a good look at his reflection. Back in the hospital he had avoided mirrors, hadn’t spared them a single glance. Now, he chose to fully study his new, much-too-young face. Every inch was familiar—the eye, the lips, the nose, the scars, and only did his paper-white hair stand out as something unfitting. He knew every single part, every single feature, and yet, Obito couldn’t recognize the boy that stared back. He was someone just above his reach, just a step away from familiarity, but to Obito the distance was infinite, and he couldn’t recognize the boy that judged him with his own eye.

Then, his lips curved into a scoff and he turned away.

There was no point in this.

He should focus.

He should not think about it.

He should shove it down.

A shower sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Obito agreed. Something to wash away the day indeed seemed appealing. After that, he would need to finally sit down and sort his thoughts out. Somewhere amidst that chaos were the beginnings of various ideas, and Obito knew he couldn’t keep pushing the inevitable planning away any longer.

He would need some paper, he decided.