Actions

Work Header

To The New Me

Chapter Text

Tobi holds the picture frame delicately in one bleached white hand, the fingers of his other smoothing over the glass. He’s seated on Kakashi’s bed, the boy in question hovering over him—and though Kakashi appears calm, there’s something anxious beneath the surface. Artificial light casts across the picture, painting it in a tinge of false gold. Four faces stare back at him. Rin is a little smaller than she is now. Minato is looking the same as ever, a face unchanged in time. Kakashi’s face is hard, eyes steely, reminding Tobi so much of the day they met when a kunai was held up by shaking hands. There was something so cold about Kakashi that day, something that he couldn’t place before. The last face is the one that he focuses on, though.

Tobi pouts. “I used to be such a pretty boy.”

Kakashi rolls his eye. “You weren’t.”

“I was! Look—” He points to his pale, unmarred skin. He does his best not to cry. “Perfect skin. Smouldering eyes. Smouldering, Kakashi!”

Kakashi covers his face with his hands and his sigh is longsuffering.

Tobi pouts down at his old photo and raises one hand to his overgrown hair. He can see himself in the reflection of the glass, sees it and compares it to the grumpy face in the photo. Admittedly, he looks like a bit of a disaster right now, between the scars, the artificial limbs, untamed hair and empty eye socket. Now he’s getting jealous of a picture, which is utterly ridiculous and he knows it, but he’s jealous anyway.

“What was my old name, anyway?” he asks offhandedly. He isn’t sure he’ll use it, not yet, not when he’s still getting used to the idea that he actually has a background, but maybe one day. Then again, to throw away the name that Swirly gave him seems like a horrible thing to do.

“Obito,” Kakashi provides easily, adjusting his crutches to lower himself down on the bed as well. “Obito Uchiha.”

“A last name, too, huh? Fancy.” He snorts and looks up from the photo. “Does anyone else know?”

Kakashi shakes his head. “I thought it would make you uncomfortable. You don’t remember, and it’s not fair to push you back into your old life against your will.”

A slow grin curls across his face and he nudges the ninja. “You’re not half-bad. I’m speechless.”

The glare he receives is worth it.

Tobi places the picture frame back on the nightstand with the utmost care and gives Kakashi’s room a cursory glance. No personal effects in here, either. Kakashi is one bland, empty human being. Not that Tobi has any room to talk; back at Grandpa Madara’s place, he didn’t own a single damn thing. “Thanks. Really. I appreciate it.”

Kakashi averts his eye, because emotional confrontation is not something that he does, and lets out a noncommittal noise.

“Let’s wait to say anything. I wanna get used to the idea first.”

“Okay.”

Tobi grins and leans over to ruffle Kakashi’s hair. “What a good ninja.” He expects it when his hand is slapped away. He also expects the glare.

Worth it.

He shifts and crosses his legs atop the mattress. It’s been a good few hours. Things have settled enough that it feels safe to start with the questions. Just a few, just to sate his curiosities. “What was I like?” is the first thing to escape his mouth. He knows he’ll probably regret it, but it’s been nagging at him consistently and he needs some answers now, before he gets too antsy.

Kakashi is quiet. Then he closes his eye and hums. “Louder,” he says finally. “Less calm. Quick to anger.”

Tobi pouts. He expected fond, rose-coloured words of praise. If he twists the words around just right, though, it almost sounds like Kakashi’s complimenting the current him.

“You were infatuated with Rin.”

“Really?”

“Ah,” he nods. “You got jealous whenever her attention was on me. A big show-off with little to back up your words. Always late, and you always had the same, stupid excuses…”

Tobi twitches. “Making me sound like a real hero there, Bakashi.”

“You were, though.”

He blinks.

Kakashi is still looking away, hasn’t dared to make eye contact once in the several minutes that make up their conversation. It looks like the words are being pulled out of him by force, which is so stupid and so familiar and so stupidly familiar that Tobi just has to sigh and accept it. Kakashi’s just like that. “Maa, you’re the reason Rin and I are still here.”

Tobi’s mind is brought back to the crushing weight of boulders. He remembers something—the flash of an enemy hitai-ate scattered across his fragmented memories. Rin was… something happened with Rin. He doesn’t know what, but there’s a lingering feeling of dread that he just can’t stamp down.

He doesn’t remember much, but he knows well enough that Kakashi has changed. Kakashi is trying to change. And that…

That means something.

 


 

Tobi is nervous. Tobi is always nervous, apparently, now that he knows that they know him. Not that they realize it, of course. And he's endlessly thankful to Kakashi for that, for keeping his word and not saying anything.

Even if the look in Kakashi's single showing eye is one of unbridled amusement.

Tobi sits on a red sofa with his back painfully straight and attention firmly on the wall. He feels the glances of the people milling about the room but doesn't address them. His mask is doing well to hide the unsteady look in his eye and the anxiety on his face, but it does little for the body language that is speaking volumes of the same.

Minato and Kushina's place is a hell of a lot bigger than Kakashi's dingy little apartment. There's a full kitchen and a separate dining room, and he can smell something heavenly waft into the living room from whatever his former sensei is preparing, something exquisit. The pink apron is a nice touch.

He’s not sure what he did to get invited to dinner or why he deserves to be treated by the head of the village. They don’t know who he is—Kakashi promises that they don’t know—and all he’s done is carry Kakashi on his back to Konoha which, while more adventure than he’s seen in a lifetime, doesn’t amount to much. When he was invited, he didn’t really want to come. Rin pouted at him and tried to coerce him into it with offerings of a free meal, but Tobi was perfectly content mooching off of Tsunade’s one-legged patient.

Then Kakashi gave him a look and he caved.

Now, he’s sitting across from Rin and Kushina who are yammering on about a new shop that opened up in the Eastern District. Kakashi is, as per the norm, off brooding in a corner of the room. Then, as the girls’ chat devolves into something meaningful, Kakashi politely excuses himself to assist Minato in the kitchen.

Tobi is abandoned. Tobi does not like being abandoned. Tobi is going to burn Kakashi’s breakfast tomorrow morning.

A long breath escapes Kushina as she sinks back into the sofa, her arms hanging across the back as she closes her eyes. There’s something so serene about her pale skin, broken by strands of vibrant, cascading red. She’s smiling, and it’s pleasant to see. “It’s so quiet these days.”

Rin twists around to stare at the pictures on the wall—half a dozen framed and neatly organized into a visible representation of the couple’s affections. Team Minato is there, centrefold—the same photograph that Tobi saw in Kakashi’s bedroom. There’s another next to it—the day Minato became Hokage. He’s wearing a stupid-looking hat and he’s smiling, Kushina’s arms wrapped around him in the tightest bone-crushing hug that she can manage. Kakashi stands next to them, face as impassive as ever, sharingan hidden from the world, and Rin is grinning wide and bright, as she always should be.

Rin is smiling now, too. It isn’t as bright, or as warm. “Well,” she says softly, “Obito was a bit of a loudmouth.”

Tobi does his best not to flinch.

Kushina laughs, loud and hearty as her head dips back and she faces the ceiling. “Understatement. I swear the deaf could hear that kid.”

Tobi’s not entirely sure he wants to sit here and be mocked. He gets enough of that with Bakashi.

“I miss it.”

Rin nods, fiddling with the fabric of her sleeve. “Hard not to.”

Oh, well now he just feels bad.

Kushina shoots forward and claps her hands together, resting her weight on her knees as she grins at Tobi. Whatever somber mood they built up is now gone, the sad memories of a fallen comrade cast to the wayside, and Tobi couldn’t be more grateful. “So. Tobi. Tell me a bit about yourself.”

Tobi is entirely, wholeheartedly, unsure of what the hell he should say. “Um.”

“C’mon,” Kushina urges, reaching out a hand to poke the artificial skin of his right arm. There’s something devious in her eyes that he’s not sure he should trust. “Stuff like, where you’re from, your family—stuff like that, y’know?”

He reaches behind to rub the back of his neck and shifts as he thinks. “I’m from, um,” he looks around. Here , technically, but he’s not ready to commit to the implications of saying that. He thinks back to that dark, empty cavern where he first opened his eye, Grandpa’s face staring down at his. “I dunno. Grandpa found me. After the accident, I guess.”

The redhead takes one long, lingering look at him, settling her eyes on his pale arm, and decides to leave it there. Tobi is immensely grateful that she doesn’t prod further because he’s not sure what he’ll say.

Rin casts a glance into the kitchen. From this angle, they can just make out Kakashi sitting at the small table there, expertly mincing vegetables. Huh. So the brooding bastard can cook, too. Tobi should have expected as much. “Mmm, what about… How did you meet Kakashi?”

“Oh, um…” This feels like a test that he didn’t study for. He thinks back to the field of bodies left behind, the weight secure in his arms, a dark eye glaring at him as they put some distance between the unconscious enemy and themselves. “He was being attacked. And he was not winning.” He grins behind the mask and puffs out his chest. “So I, valiant hero that I am, swoop down and—”

“He beat up some Kiri-nin and carried me into the middle of nowhere,” Kakashi’s voice carries from the kitchen, contained within a very clear warning not to embellish. When they look up, they see Kakashi leaning back as far as he can in his chair to glare at Tobi, unimpressed.

Tobi huffs and crosses his arms. “Such a romantic.”

“Overuse of my sharingan left me near chakra exhaustion,” he continues. “I was outnumbered and my teammates were dead.”

Oh. Tobi didn’t realize that Kakashi had anyone with him. Now he feels worse because they left some of Kakashi’s comrades behind. If he had known

Honestly, nothing could have been done. There is no way that he could have carried the dead weight of corpses on top of Kakashi’s own.

Kakashi points violently his way, and it tears him from unnecessary rumination. “I had to walk him through first-aid procedures. Forget the fact that I’d experienced substantial blood loss and chakra exhaustion left me all but unable to move. In summary: he's useless.”

Harsh…

Rin shares with him sympathies from across the table while Kushina laughs, boisterous and amused.

“Sounds like you two had quite the adventure. I wanna hear all about it.” There's a sound from the kitchen, something like a bell. “ Later .”

Kushina's to her feet in a flourish and disappears behind the kitchen wall, leaving Tobi in the solitary company of Rin. He's okay with that. He likes Rin. He won’t go so far as to say he’s infatuated with Rin the way that Kakashi claims that he used to be, but she’s good company. A good medic-nin. An amazing person.

Okay, he really likes Rin. But not in that way.

“You’re getting picked on a lot lately,” she teases with warm eyes as she arches a brow. “Are you going to let him talk about you like that?”

Tobi rubs the back of his neck and looks anywhere but her. “Well, I mean,” he clears his throat, “he’s not wrong…”

Rin hides a laugh behind her sleeve. She looks to be endlessly enjoying this. “Well, you’re honest. That has to count for something.” She nods to his latest model of artificial cells. “How’s the arm?”

Just to reconfirm, Tobi flexes and rolls his wrist. He touches the pad of each finger to his thumb in quick succession and feels a delay that’s become his norm recently. “Getting there,” he decides with a sigh. “Not half as good as the last one, but not bad.”

“And your eye?”

Immediately, his hand goes up to the left half of his mask and he thinks back to Tsunade’s offer. He shuffles through memories of his time in Kakashi’s apartment, to their heated conversation just two days ago, and grins. “I’m gonna wait for a donor,” he decides. “You better take good care of me when we find one.”

Rin raises her arm in a mock salute. “You got it, Boss.”

He laughs. He’s not sure why, but he laughs.

Kakashi isn’t the only one who’s changed. He doesn’t remember what Rin was like before, but there’s something different about the way she carries herself, the confidence that she exudes. It’s brilliant .

They're called to dinner half an hour later. A meal fit for the Hokage—fitting, as the Hokage made it—is spread out across the table, looking finer than anything Tobi's managed to put together over the past few weeks. The aroma soaking up the air is positively heavenly and Tobi can't wait to tear into it and taste everything for himself, but—

The mask. He can't.

There's no real reason that Tobi is holding off on saying anything to the rest of them other than knowing just how intense an interaction it could be. He remembers the look of abject horror on Kakashi's face the day that Kakashi made the connection of who he was and the day they had their talk. This doesn't seem the time or place for another confrontation. So, when everyone else starts filling their plates, Tobi remains still.

Minato arches a brow at him. “You're not having any, Tobi?”

Suddenly, Kushina's eyes are on him, ready to go in for the kill.

“I ate before we left?” he tries. It doesn't sound convincing, even to him. “I'm fine, really.”

Kushina disagrees. She stomps around to his side of the table and starts packing his plate with every dish they have. Soon, it's so full that the white of the plate is no longer visible. He feels sick just looking at it all. “Oh no you don't,” she hisses, her face scrunched up in several layers of disapproval. “You are not skipping meals, Mister. Look how scrawny you are! You're skin and bones. A strong breeze could knock you over.”

Tobi doesn't appreciate the poke to the ribs. Or the several others that follow. He huffs and crossed his arms, sticking up his nose. “I'm fine . I was strong enough to carry Kakashi all the way here, wasn't I?”

“Oh, so now you're using Kakashi as back-up?” She lets out a loud snort, hands on her hips. “This little shit's no better than you are, Punk. Ever since he joined AN—” She frowns, cuts herself off. “Lately, he seems to think food pills are the be all, end all.”

Kakashi, in an act of rebellion, closes his eye and sips his tea. His mask is still on, pushed down a little lower to show his lips. They all know his face, apparently. And here Tobi was, thinking he was special.

The hell are food pills, anyhow?

Tobi is getting distracted. He looks past Kushina to the freaking Hokage for assistance, but all he gets is a sympathetic smile. Tobi knows, then, that he's picking a fight with the wrong person. Not even Minato is willing to help?

“I ate before I came,” he repeats in a stutter, sounding even more pathetic than the last.

Kushina smiles. It is not a kind smile. “Oh yeah, tough guy?” She leans in close and suddenly she's all that Tobi can see. “Look me in the eyes and say that.”

Tobi can't. He's a horrible liar, and it's taking everything for him not to look away as is. Kushina is a scary lady. But he's always one for a challenge. He swallows and faces forward as best he can. “I already ate!”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah!”

“Then why don't I believe you?”

“...Shut up!”

A heaved sigh breaks them of their venomous back-and-forth and they face the source. Kakashi is there, gathering Tobi's plate and his own. He rises from his seat and nods to the entranceway of the living room.

Tobi blinks. “Kakashi?”

“Come on, Tobi. It's too noisy over here.”

He doesn't wait. He's gone before Tobi can reply, and Tobi blinks back at the rest of them questioningly.

Minato and Kushina exchange unspoken words.

“He's not normally like that,” Rin explains, picking at her food. “He usually likes eating with everyone. Even if he doesn't say it.”

Oh. Kakashi is doing this for Tobi, giving him an out. He grins, not that anyone can see. But now they're worried about Kakashi, and it's Tobi's fault, and he's starting to have an intimate understanding of guilt.

Minato smiles, though, even when the others do not. “Well,” he breathes, leaning forward to rest his arms on the back of his wife's chair, “it’s been a long time since dinner was this lively. It might be bringing back some old memories.”

Kushina hangs her head.

“He'll be fine,” Minato assures, smoothing circles into Kushina's back. “Let's give him some space.”

She reaches up, tangling his fingers within her own, and sighs. “Yeah,” she says. “Okay.”

There's a strange mix of tension and calm in the air and Tobi is a coward. He excuses himself with a polite bow—Kakashi is teaching him manners because manners are important—and makes his escape into the living room. Kakashi is there, mask down, seated cross-legged on the sofa, taking small, controlled bites of his food. Their eyes meet. Kakashi nods him over.

Tobi's mask goes up and he takes his place next to his roommate, wasting no time in devouring the food Kushina piled onto his plate. It’s amazing and heavenly and everything he hoped it would be. He's not crying. There's sand in his eyes.

He's not crying, and Kakashi's not smiling.

“Is it good?” Kakashi asks, leaning back in his seat.

Tobi nods furiously and pulls off the mask to scrub at his eyes.

“Crybaby ninja.”

“Shut up, Bakashi! I’m not a ninja,” he cries, though he realizes that he used to be, and isn’t that just the strangest thing?

Kakashi doesn’t protest, his eyes falling to the picture of their team on the wall. Their team. And isn’t that the strangest, most beautiful thing?

Theirs.

“You always fought with Kushina,” he says softly. “But you liked her food more than anyone.”

Tobi sniffs and clears the last of his plate, and he’s full, so, so full, but wants more anyway. “It’s really good.”

Kakashi arched an amused brow. “Minato-sensei made that.”

Tobi blinked, looking down at the remnants on his empty plate. “Then… hers is even better? How’s that possible?!”

Kakashi shrugs and slaps away Tobi’s hand before he can steal any food.

The room is calm and peaceful as Kakashi cleans off the last of his meal, too, but Tobi is certain that the same can’t be said for those in the kitchen and that guilt is still following him like a lead weight. “They’re worried about you.”

“Ah,” Kakashi nods, wiping his mouth. “I know.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” He looks up, tapping his cheek. “It would have been a bad time for this to come off.”

Tobi stares at his roommate with big eyes, watching the soft, eased lines of Kakashi’s face. He wonders what Obito ever did to deserve a friend like that. He wonders how he deserves that friend now, when he’s done nothing but freeload and leech off Kakashi for the past few weeks. And he wonders what he can do to make it up to Kakashi.

“Soon,” he resolves, swallowing back uncertainty.

Kakashi searches his face and smiles. “Soon.”

 


 

Tobi isn’t sure why he has to attend a team training session. Sure, he’s technically a part of the team. Or was. At some point in his life. Before Grandpa Madara, the crazy old bastard who lived in a cave with a horde of plant people, picked him up and sewed him back together with gross white goo. Put like that, his entire backstory sounds absurd and he’s pretty sure Obito, at least, comes from a world that makes sense. The only one who knows his identity is Kakashi, though, so the fact that he’s Obito is a moot point.

This is team training for a team that doesn’t exist anymore: Obito is dead; Kakashi is, apparently, in this thing called ANBU or something; Rin is a medic-nin that team hops; and Minato is the freakin’ Hokage. There’s nothing left of Team Minato but remnants of the past. It’s sad, and perhaps a little sweet, seeing them get together like that despite the many roads life’s taken them down. Even if they can’t actually be a team anymore, they still are. Always will be.

Tobi doesn’t honestly know what any of that means, though, because he can’t say that he has a single damn memory of working with the lot. Oh well.

Kakashi is forced to sit this session out. His leg is healing, but he’s stuck on crutches. He sits on the edge of the training ground monument—the memorial stone—and Tobi joins him there, watching Minato dodge the torrents of water sent his way. Rin is his opponent, standing tall and firm on the field with her hands pressed together in one of those weird signs. Out of nowhere, Minato’s body just—just vanishes , just like that, and then he’s behind Rin and it’s so amazing and cool and where can Tobi learn to do that?!

His face flushes and he clears his throat when he notices Kakashi watching him. “N-not bad,” he says decisively, crossing his arms. “I-I could do that.”

Kakashi is amused, even if it doesn’t ring true through his voice. “Ah. You can.”

“Seriously?!”

“All of us can,” Kakashi shrugs. “It’s a low level technique. Any shinobi can do it; it’s how you utilize it that’s important.”

“That so?” Tobi goes back to watching the fight, leaning forward. Kunai shoot through the air and hit Rin in the stomach—and then she just vanishes, as though she was never there in the first place. Like magic. They claim to be ninjas, but Tobi is pretty sure that’s just code for ‘wizards’ by this point. It’s stunning to see, though, like a well-choreographed dance. But with more sharp, pointy objects. And occasionally, bullets of water. Or blades of wind. Or, well, uncontrollable fire . He can’t take his eye off of it.

“Do you want to learn?” Kakashi asks quietly.

“Hm?”

“Ninjutsu.”

“Oh.” He cocks his head to the side and thinks. “Mmm… maybe… It’s cool an’ stuff. But I’m not really a ninja. I don’t like hurting people.”

“You saved me, though.”

Tobi shrugs helplessly, fiddling with his sleeve. He’s wearing Kakashi’s clothes because he only has one set of his own. They feel tight, a bit constricting in comparison to the loose, breathable materials he often fancies. “You needed help.”

Kakashi sighs, but leaves it there. Tobi is grateful.

When he looks back up, Rin is on the ground with a kunai to her throat, holding up her hands in defeat. Minato smiles and helps her up, then turns his attention back to the pair seated at the monument stone, brow raised with some uncharacteristically cocky look in his eyes. Normally, Minato is a soft, kind, sensible man. Overconfidence is his wife’s department, something that Tobi is coming to know intimately well. Maybe he just wants to show off for the new addition to their team.

There’s that word again. Theirs. As though Tobi has any place on that team. It’s weird, this feeling of want that comes with that word, this desire for it to be affirmed. That little family is growing on him, he hates to admit.

Tobi realizes belatedly that it’s him who Minato’s focusing on. His eye widens and he points to himself, questioning that look.

Minato nods. “Come on, Tobi. You want to give it a try?”

“Me?”

“Well,” Minato’s grin widens, “I don’t see Kakashi up and moving anytime soon. C’mon. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Tobi hunches his back and tries to appear small, as though that would make his sensei forget that he’s there. It lasts all of five seconds before he’s sputtering, being pulled to his feet by an eager Rin, and he doesn’t have the heart to fight against her encouragement. She’s smiling at him in that warm, pleasant way that she does, with a look that says ‘I believe in you.’ How the heck is he supposed to say ‘no’ to that?

“Just try, Tobi!” She grins, “Minato-sensei will go easy on you. He knows you’re not a fighter.”

Soon, he’s standing before the rather intimidating figure of the head of the village, feeling all sorts of small. Minato’s maintaining that friendly look of his, though, cocking his head to the side. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

Rin blinks. “But he’s not a ninja.”

“Perhaps not,” Minato hums, watching Tobi curiously. “But you don’t have to be a ninja to be strong. Isn’t that right, Tobi?”

Tobi pouts. This feels like another test. “How would I know, Sensei?”

Minato laughs and ruffles his hair, giving time for Rin to retreat to the sidelines. He takes a few steps back and places his hands on his hips. “Start whenever your ready.”

Tobi shuffles awkwardly on his feet. How the heck does a spar start, anyway? Is just just—does he just throw a punch, or something? Kick Minato in the shin and run away? Tobi is very, very confused. Minato is waiting there patiently, but all he can think to do is—

His body moves before his brain does and he leaps into the air, flipping back and around. He narrowly avoids a spray of shuriken and traces their trail with his sharingan eye to the memorial stone. There Kakashi sits, looking every bit smug even with three quarters of his face hidden by cloth. Kakashi’s eye arches into a pleased smile and he waves. Patronizingly.

“What the hell , Bakashi?!”

“Oh look,” Kakashi shouts back, “you dodged. Fancy that.”

“Why you—”

Tobi blinks, his feet hitting the ground with a heavy thud. Huh. He did dodge. Muscle memory? Is that what this is? He grins and damn, for all that Kakashi pisses him off, he’s sure as hell grateful right now. Maybe he can look a little cool in front of his ninja buddies before he gets his ass handed to him.

Tobi launches forward and instinct kicks in straight away. He reaches for shuriken—except that he doesn’t have shuriken and curses. He has no weapons at all.

Rin must see him groping around because she cups her mouth and shouts, “Taijutsu, Tobi!”

What the hell is a taijutsu and how does he get one?!

Suddenly, he’s right before his sensei. It’s now or never. With a beautiful myriad of horrible words buzzing through his mind like a foul-mouthed song, Tobi leaps into the air and shoots downward with a drop-kick that’s easily blocked by Minato’s forearm. Minato smiles that pleasant, teacherly smile right before he takes one swing and sends Tobi flying into a tree.

Shit shit shit—

He twists in the air and bends his knees and lands along the side of the tree trunk, releasing an easy breath. Safe . Except that he isn’t safe; he’s standing on the side of a tree . The moment he realizes, he yelps and flails and his feet come unstuck, sending him dropping to the ground in a heap of limbs. Tobi groans, makes to rub his head, but the damn mask is in the way. His face feels hot beneath it, moist from his breathing, and a part of him just wants the stupid hunk of wood off .

Minato whistles from across the field. “That’s some pretty decent chakra control, for a civilian. Good job.”

Tobi pouts. He’s pretty sure that’s supposed to be encouraging, but it sounds somewhat patronizing. His eyes fall downwards, though, catching on the reflective light bouncing off of a shuriken in the grass. “Chakra what-now?”

“Chakra control,” Minato repeats. “You see, there’s a system—”

But Tobi is not about to wait around for a lecture. He’s launching himself again, arm reeled back, and sends the shuriken forward. Minato avoids it; no surprise there. But the moment Minato turns back to him, Tobi sends his fist forward with a triumphant grin. It lands, and he’s about to sing victory when the body vanishes in a puff of smoke.

“What the hell , Sensei?!”

Rin laughs. “Shadow clone, Tobi. Keep trying! You can do it!”

Tobi feels his face heat up and pouts as he lands back on solid ground. At this rate, he’s never going to hear the end of it from Kakashi. He needs to land at least one hit if he doesn’t want to be teased for the duration of his stay.

But now, he doesn’t even know where Minato is.

“Sensei,” he whines. “I don’t think this is very fair! I don’t know how to do all of that weird ninja crap!”

“Sorry.” Tobi nearly jumps out of his skin when he hears the voice from above and stumbles back, staring wide-eyed up at the tree branch that Minato is crouched on, smiling. Minato looks a bit embarrassed, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’ll try to go easier on you.”

When put like that, it makes Tobi feel just as embarrassed as Minato looks.

Minato jumps down and closes the distance between them. He sends his first punch forward but Tobi levers himself over his arm and vaults off to put some distance between them. Somehow, he doesn’t think a kid his age is going to have any advantage over a full-grown adult, let alone the Hokage. As he skids to a halt, his hands twitch. He thinks back to a ball of fire shooting across an unlit campfire, recalls the way that he marvelled at the sight. If he had something like that, maybe he would stand a chance. If he could use that cool fire thing, maybe he’d shock Minato into letting down his guard.

What were the hand signs for it, exactly?

Minato runs at him and he grins, feeling something pool in his gut as he shifts from one sign to the next. With one big, deep breath, he sucks in all the air that he can and then releases. Flames shoot forth and Minato’s eyes widen.

Minato leaps away, just beyond their reach, but the path they take is paved with destruction. By the time they fizzle out, there’s a line of charred earth stretching between the two opponents. Okay, so Tobi didn’t get him with it. But that was probably the coolest thing ever and he bets that everyone is super impressed—

His mask is on fire. It’s wooden. Oh dear.

Tobi throws off the mask. It lands in the dirt and the flames are snuffed out by the dew of the grass, but he doesn’t care about that. His goal still stands: he needs to land one blow on Sensei. Just one. One, and he’ll be satisfied. With determination coursing through his veins, Tobi cracks his knuckles and grins. He runs and brings his hands together in the same seal and breathes out another torrent of fire. Minato almost doesn’t dodge this time. Minato’s eyes are wide and unfocused, his jaw slack. Then he’s leaping over the flames and turning in the air, landing behind Tobi.

Minato doesn’t attack. Well, good news for Tobi, then, right? He twists around and slides, foot jutting out, and manages to get Minato in the shin. There’s a wince, but Minato doesn’t seem to care.

Tobi pants and breaks out into the widest of grins as triumphant words fall to the tip of his tongue, but they’re stuck. They’re stuck, because something is not right and Minato is looking at him strangely.

“...What’s wrong?”

His smile is gone now. All he feels is this horrible, crippling sense of foreboding. He twists around to get a look at Rin, searching for some sort of explanation. Her eyes are blown wide, hands covering her mouth, and everything feels so wrong that Tobi can’t help but take a step back.

“...Why are you crying? Rin?”

Then he sees Kakashi. Kakashi is calm, his gaze level. He’s the one constant that Tobi can latch onto, the only one that he can rely on for some sort of explanation. Kakashi is holding Rin by the shoulders, keeping her there as he nods to the grass. Tobi follows the motion, and—

Oh. The mask.

A shaky hand comes up to feel the scars on his face and for a moment, he’s pretty sure his heart stops.

“Um.” He looks between them, taking another step back, unsure of how he should tackle this situation. There's a ghost of a smile on his face. He braces himself for questions. He doesn’t have answers, doesn't know how to respond, but knows they're coming anyway.

Rin wrenches herself free and tackles him, arms spread wide. He stumbles back but manages to balance, the girl wrapped tightly around him. Quiet, shaking sobs rise up by his ear and he shivers, slowly returning her embrace.

“H-hey,” he stutters, “c'mon, why the tears?”

“Shut up!” He winces. Now his ear is ringing. “Just—just shut up, Obito. Just sh-shut up for a sec…”

“Tobi,” he corrects in a whisper, and if she doesn't hear him then that's okay. Past her head, he can see Minato's face finally settling. There's no smile, no tears, but something fond and warm in the lines of his eyes. He approaches. Soon he's towering over them, his shadow blocking out the sun, and then he crouches down.

Tobi's never had two people hugging him before. It feels weird and gross and amazing and wonderful. He can't help it if his face flushes.

Now Rin's crying even harder. Oh dear. He cranes his neck around the two bodies to Kakashi with silent pleads for help. Kakashi shakes his head, crosses his arms, leans back against the memorial stone and gets comfortable.

Kakashi's going to be eating charcoal for a week .

Minato is the first to pull back, his calloused hands cupping Tobi's cheeks, turning Tobi’s head this way and that, and he lets out a small, broken laugh. “Look at you,” he breathes. “You're so big now. What happened?”

Tobi manages to detangle one of his arms from Rin's hold to rub the back of his neck. “Um. Time, I guess? I don't…” He pleads with Kakashi again to no avail. How does he tackle this? Head-on. Rip off the bandage, get it over with. “I don’t remember nothin’. For the record. Kakashi filled me in. Um. Sorry.”

Minato nods. There's no shock, no sorrow, just calm understanding. Rin holds on tighter, if that's possible. “I assumed.”

“Huh?”

His sensei grins, sunshine bright and looking uncharacteristically smug. “Your voice. Your mannerisms, even. And Kakashi took to you awfully quickly, don’t you think? I had a hunch.”

Oh. Huh. That… that's good. That's great. That makes things so much easier .

But a hunch is one thing. Seeing it come to life is another. Tobi can see the tremble of Minato's fingers, even when Minato's voice is level and calm. He's incredibly grateful. He breathes in, deep and full, and smiles.

Rin finally pulls her face from his chest and big, watery eyes stare up at him. She sucks in a hitching breath, scrubs at her tears, and searches his face for—for something . Recognition. She doesn’t find it, but she doesn't seem to care, either. “You're—Obito? You're really…”

“Tobi,” he corrects again, but he doesn't mind all that much. She can call him Obito if she wants. Anything for Rin.

A pale hand comes up, runs through his hair, and she laughs. “L-look at you. When was the last time you cut your hair?”

Tobi closes his eye and hums, as though he needs to think on it. He doesn't, but it's worth it for her eyeroll. “When I was last in the village, probably.”

She laughs again and her hand falls back around him, her forehead resting on his shoulder. “ Sage, I've missed you. You big idiot.” She lingers there for a passing moment before shooting back up, waving Kakashi over. “Kakashi! It's Obito! It's really him!”

Kakashi gives her his best poker face and an accompanying thumbs-up. The bastard.

Tobi puffs out his chest and points an accusatory finger his roommate's way. “Yeah, Bakashi! Obito's back! Where're you're tears, huh? You heartless bastard!”

The look he gets promises death nine different ways and it's entirely worth it.

 


 

Kushina is the scariest person to tell. There are no words and no tears, no half-baked explanations or demands for where Tobi’s been and why he never came back. Kushina’s judgement is a silent one. She gathers Tobi in her arms like something precious and holds him there, tightly, and just breathes. Tobi’s there for so long that time no longer feels relevant. He doesn’t mind it, really, even if he’s spent the least time with Kushina out of the lot of them. Even if she’s more than a little intimidating, and even if he’s most worried about what she’s going to say once the questions start. He lets her keep him there for as long as she needs to, and yes, it’s awkward. Yes, he’s nervous. But he’s feeling so many other things at once, too, and it’s… kind of nice. A bit.

Not that he would ever say that.

Kushina only pulls away when her strength starts to fail her. She falls back, crouched before him, looking up with starlight eyes and a motherly smile. Tobi doesn’t know what a mother should be, what they do or how they act, but he thinks that whatever it is, Kushina is it. She brushes overgrown strands of hair from his face. The pad of her thumb traces over the bumps and ridges of his scarred cheek. She isn’t bothered by those scars. She looks them over with complete understanding, with an acceptance that Tobi’s never seen before, and doesn’t shy away. “Welcome home.”

Tobi is all sorts of shy and he doesn’t know why, but he can’t look at her directly.

When the moment reaches its close, Kushina pushes to her feet, ruffles his hair, and grins. “Well,” she sighs, “you promised to come back in one piece , but I’ll let you off the hook this time, alright, tough guy?”

Tobi swallows. Whatever promise she’s talking about, he hasn’t a clue.

“I’m grateful that you came back at all,” she says, so uncharacteristically soft that it doesn’t sound like Kushina. Then she claps her hands, the moment ends, and her eyes alight with mischief. “You better damn-well eat dinner, Tobi. Get comfy, because your ass isn’t getting out of that chair until you’ve cleaned your plate.”

Kushina still calls him Tobi. He doesn’t deserve it, but she does it anyway. And as the cheerful noise of light conversation drowns out the silence, as the scraping of cutlery against plates beats a steady rhythm across the table, Tobi looks at these people with stinging eyes and clenched fists. He’s not crying. It’s the onions. Kushina cooked onions. He’s not crying, Kakashi’s not rolling his eyes and Rin’s not teasing him about it.

This is a good family, he thinks. This is his family, and it’s one of the strangest, most beautiful things that he’s ever seen.

 


 

Tobi isn’t good at sitting still, especially with Rin staring very intently at him. He shifts and fidgets and huffs at her scoldings, sticks up his nose at her lectures. It’s not his fault that she’s looking at him with such intensity. It’s not his fault that he can’t help but stare back.

Rin rolls her eyes and moves around the chair, directly behind him. She sections off his hair and combs through it gently, getting out the nasty tangles that have been his norm ever since sometime after Grandpa died. His hair is a bit of a disaster. He knows this because he lives with it. It’s uneven and wild. He doesn’t bother to tie it back because, well, effort , and cutting it never crossed his mind.

“You ready?”

Tobi pouts at her. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

The sound of scissors cutting through the first lock of hair sends shivers up his spine. He shudders, watching loose strands clump atop the towel on the floor. Then it happens again, and again, and the more it does, the less it bothers him. He passes the time by watching his roommate. Kakashi is lounging on the sofa with one of his books in hand, looking every bit peaceful as his eye scrolls from one page to the next.

“Hey,” Tobi calls, meeting Kakashi’s stare levelly. “What do you want for dinner?”

“Udon,” Kakashi answers simply. His eye is back to reading, and that distraction from boredom lasted a whole two damn seconds.

Again ?” He sighs. He doesn’t actually mind; he just wants conversation to help carry him through the painfully awkward silence. “That’s the second time this week. Hey, Rin? What do you want?”

When he makes to look at her, he finds two firm hands keeping his head still.

“Don’t move,” she chastises.

“But Rin …”

“Do you want me to mess up? What if it’s uneven?”

Tobi raises his eye heavenward. “Hell if I care.”

“Oh,” she says flatly. “In that case, I may as well shave your head bald.”

“Please don’t.”

Rin doesn’t quite laugh, but he can tell that she wants to.

With his every movement ending in reprimand, Tobi eventually just closes his eye and tries to relax. He might be sulking. Just a bit. The motions of Rin’s hands are calming, though. He finds himself ready to fall asleep, which is bad, because if he doesn’t keep his head up he’s pretty sure this haircut will end in disaster. Even still, his head falls back. The motion jerks him awake and he opens his eye to find Rin smiling down at him.

His face is tomato-red and he looks away. “Aw, shit! Sorry!”

Rin shakes her head, pressing their foreheads together, and Tobi is pretty sure he’s about to have a heart attack.

“You’re a bit of a disaster. You know that, Obito?”

He clears his throat and glances to Kakashi for help. Kakashi is doing his best to pretend that he’s the only one there. Apparently, the first two days of overcooked breakfast wasn’t passive-aggressive enough for him. Tobi will fix that.

“Tobi,” he corrects again, and if his voice squeaks then Rin doesn’t say anything.

“Tobi,” she hums. She’s been trying to get used to that name, but it’s been hard. “It’s good to have you back.”

Tobi is not emotionally or mentally prepared for whatever the hell this is. He shuts down. She laughs at him. The whole thing is awkward and they agree never to speak of it again. Well, he agrees. She just smiles.

She’s starting to look like Kushina with smiles like those.

Rin pulls away and grins. She lifts the mirror off of the kitchen table and twirls around to the front of the chair, holding it up to him with pride. “Not too bad, eh?”

Tobi’s reflection leaves him wide-eyed, and he’s brought back to an old photograph in an equally old wooden frame, to the grumpy pale face of a goggled brat. Oh , he realizes, that’s me . It’s one thing to know and another to understand. Rin’s done a good job of copying Obito’s hairstyle. It feels weird and foreign. His head is light with less deadweight dragging down on it and he can feel the air on the back of his neck. He doesn’t… hate it, but it’s strange.

Now if only he had a left eye, he’d be back to his old self, scars aside. He’s not sure how he feels about that.

“What do you think?”

Tobi grabs the mirror by the handle and tilts his head right then left, brow arched. “...Kinda cool. But weird .” He twists around to face his roommate. “Well? Smouldering yet?”

Kakashi raises his eye heavenward and sighs. “Not in the least.”

“You’re just jealous.”

“Of you? Never.”

Tobi huffs. The mirror’s left forgotten on the table, the stray hairs are brushed from his shoulder, and he hops to his feet. Between the loss of his mask and his haircut, Tobi’s field of vision has increased significantly. He marches over to the couch where his roommate sits, arms crossed and grin smug. The dull glare sent his way goes ignored.

The book snaps shut and Kakashi twists around. “What?”

“Rin tells me you’re seven months younger than I am.”

He sighs. “And?”

“Nothin’,” he grins. “It’s just so satisfying .”

Kakashi smiles. It’s a smile that says ‘I want to pull your bones right out of your skin and shove them down your throat.’

What a cute kid.

 


 

Hokage Rock is a monument that means nothing to Tobi. He and Rin sit atop Minato’s head—which is as funny as it is absurd—and take in the warm glow of the dipping sun. The wind is harsh and unrelenting so high up, but the cliffside acts as a small buffer. He’s grateful for that; Rin just showed him how to walk up vertical surfaces and he is terrified of falling off. Man is not meant to defy the laws of physics like this. Someday, somehow, this is going to kill him. He just knows it.

“What were you like?” Rin draws her knees up to her chest and wraps her arms around them. “You’re… softer now, I guess. Timid? Maybe, just a little? Before, you were so… loud.

Tobi twitches. “So I’m told.”

“You couldn’t throw a shuriken straight,” she grins. “You were a clumsy, boastful little half-pint with no skills to backup your words. When it came to Kakashi, you had a short fuse. Really short. Always talking about how you were going to surpass him… but Kakashi had better technical skill.”

Unbelievable. No matter who he asks, he always ends up insulted. He tries not to take it to heart and distracts himself with a thought that’s been nagging him for the better half of a week now. “Did we hate each other? Me an’ Kashi.”

Rin stretches her arms and hums. “It felt like it. Sometimes.”

He makes a face. As infuriating as that high-and-mighty ninja prodigy can be, Tobi’s never hated him. Kakashi is… well, Kakashi. He’s a brooding brat with a lot of arrogance and no people skills. He’s good at everything he does and knows it, has no qualms about rubbing it in Tobi’s face . But that’s just Kakashi. That’s how he is. As infuriating as it is sometimes… it’s never felt malicious.

“But I don’t think you did.”

Oh.

Rin laughs at his face. He rolls his eye. “Kakashi would get you from home on mission days—so that you wouldn’t be late. And you fought a lot, but that just made you try harder. You were rivals.”

Rivals, huh? He likes the sound of that.

His whole body tenses when Rin leans against his shoulder. Her weight presses into him like a warm bundle of security, and after a while, he eases up.

“You were a bit terrible,” she teases. “But you were my best friend, Tobi. And you still are.”

“Even if I don’t remember you?”

“Even if you never remember,” she corrects matter-of-factly.

Tobi isn’t sure he deserves everything she’s offering him right now, but he can’t bring himself to deny it.

Rin is amazing. Has he told her that yet?

 


 

The worst thing about Kakashi’s apartment is just how bland everything is. Perhaps Tobi’s spoiled, though; they’ve been spending every day over the past week outside of the house. Oftentimes, Kushina drags their asses back to her and Sensei’s place for dinner. Their house is vibrant and full of light and warmth, pictures of their precious people lovingly displayed on the walls and shelves of their living room, a centrepiece of flowers on the coffee table. But Minato is the Hokage, Kushina is—well, he’s not sure what Kushina is, but she’s something—and it’s unfair to compare their rose-coloured home to Kakashi’s dingy little hole-in-the-wall, especially when Tobi’s pretty sure that he’s the reason Kakashi’s spending so much time at home. Even Kakashi’s looking a bit stir-crazy.

It’s thoughts like those that distract him from dark hole his mind is falling down.

Tobi stares up at the slate-white ceiling with a contemplative frown. The room is too hot, the moonlight too bright. He can feel the fabric of the blankets in painful clarity as they shift across his skin with each inhale, every rise and fall of his chest. His days have been a clutter of people and sounds and noise and do you remember—

No. He doesn’t. And he feels guilty enough on his own without it getting rubbed in his face by the plastic smiles of relics of the past.

Tobi covers his face with his hands and groans. No, he thinks, it’s not their fault. He’s on edge. Tsunade’s words from his last visitation sent a bone-chilling reality down to his core, and he’s scared.

“Just wait ‘til you hear this, Kid.”

He squeezes his eye shut tight and bites his lip.

“We’ve got a donor.”

He thought he had more time.

Tobi knows that he could always just… stay, even after they transplant his new eye. But he can’t. He can’t because he made a promise. Tobi doesn’t break his promises.

He’s coming to think that Obito doesn’t, either.

“You promised to come back in one piece.”

He winces. That one. That one he broke.

It’s thoughts like these that keep him up that night. He lies atop the futon in Kakashi’s spare room, staring up at the ceiling, watching moonlight stretch further and further across the bleached white void above him until the warm glow of sunlight peeks in through the window. Dawn seems all too early to wake up, not that he was ever actually asleep . He contemplates closing his eye and trying to get at least a bit of rest before he has to be at the hospital for the transplant—he’s told the sooner, the better—but it feels like worthless effort.

He told Kakashi last night. About the eye. Rin probably knows, too, and if Rin knows then so does Sensei’s family. There’s no one left to tell. That’s a relief, but it also cements how real this is.

Tobi is a selfish grandson. He’s actually thinking of abandoning Grandpa Madara’s last wish to stay with the super cool ninja friends he’s made. He won’t, though. He made a promise.

Groaning, Tobi sways himself into an upright position like a half-dead zombie. He doesn’t want to know how red his eye is or how pale his skin; his imagination is supplying him with ideas very easily. He drags his broken body to the door and out into the hall, yawning and feeling the pull of exhaustion pulse throughout his muscles. He feels weak. And miserable. And weakly miserable.

A scent hits his nose the moment he’s in the hall and all of that is cast aside as his mind tries to place it. It smells… not bad , but off, and it’s coming from the kitchen. Tobi follows his nose to see Kakashi standing over the stove, a pan sizzling atop the burner. His crutches have been cast to the wayside, and he’s moving around the small space with little more than a limp. If he notices Tobi gawking, he doesn’t say.

Tobi swallows. This is the first time he’s seen Kakashi so… not broken . He’s not sure what to think of it. “Um.” He clears his throat. “You okay to be doing that?”

“Maa, I can’t baby it if I want it to heal properly.” He looks over then, a dark eye finding Tobi. “Plates.”

“Oh. Right.” Tobi shuffles over, rummages through one of the cupboards and pulls out a pair of plates. He sets them on the counter by the stove and watches with interest as Kakashi clears the pan and displays his meal. Fish. So that was the smell. Strange, kinda bad, but also… Also…

He doesn’t know what dish this is, but he’s pretty sure he’s had it before. He’s feeling that distinctive tug at the back of his mind that he’s coming to associate with nostalgia.

Before long, they’re seated across from one another at the small kitchen table with a humble meal set before them. Kakashi’s mask goes down and he wastes no time in taking his first bite.

Tobi stares down at his plate. This is nothing like the fish they shared on their journey home; these fish are seasoned and glazed and looking like a world-class meal. Damn it all, Kakashi is better at cooking, too. That’s okay. This is one skill that Tobi can definitely appreciate.

There’s a comfortable silence while they eat. He’s coming to understand that this silence is a distinctly Tobi thing; Obito was a loudmouth who talked through meals, mouth running a mile a minute. But Tobi has trouble thinking of enough things to say to fill a conversation. And Kakashi’s quiet; Kakashi appreciates quiet. And Tobi appreciates Kakashi.

“Will you come back?”

Tobi stills. He stops, chopsticks midway to his mouth, and looks up. Kakashi won’t face him, but even still there’s something hard-lined about his face then, even retaining that dull-eyed stare. “Huh?”

Kakashi’s eye narrows. It looks like the words are being forced out—like he doesn’t want to say them but feels that he needs to. “You’re leaving, aren’t you?”

“Oh. Um. Yeah. I guess…” He shifts. “Guess I am.”

“I see.”

Oh. Oh . It clicks, then, and a slow-forming grin stretches across his face. He’s leaving, and Kakashi doesn’t want him to. Kakashi’s going to miss him . Oh, this is brilliant. Beautiful.

Tobi leans forward, chin in his palm, probably looking as smug as he feels. “ Adorab—

A shriek of terror escapes him as a shuriken flies past his eye, embedding itself in the wall. He… he probably deserves that. He most definitely does.

“Hey!” Tobi hisses, “You tryin’ to take out my other eye, too, Bakashi?!”

Kakashi leans back in his chair, arms folded, eye looking anywhere but Tobi. “Maa, it’d be a good look on you.”

“What a rude little brat!”

“You’re only seven months older .”

“Seven months is more than enough!”

They both stick up their noses with matching grunts of annoyance before Tobi laughs, loud and obnoxious and uncontrollable. Kakashi stares wide-eyed at him, but he just can’t bring himself to stop. Soon there are tears in his eyes, his lungs burn for air, and he isn’t even sure what he finds so funny in the first place.

He catches his breath and leans across the table, hooking an arm around Kakashi’s neck and pulling him in. “I’ll be back,” he decides then, quiet and breathless and feeling like that night’s worth of sleep he lost just wasn’t worth it. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

Kakashi closes his eye and hums. “Pity.”

 


 

The smell of the hospital brings forth a bubbling unease. He tries to force it down. It works, for the most part, until Rin walks in, uniform-clad with a covered face. She’s smiling—he can tell—and if it’s supposed to be reassurance, it’s not doing all that good a job of it. Her hands guide him down to lie flat on the bed and he closes his eye against the blinding overhead light. The other medic-nin follow Rin in. He hears the clatter of metal and the ring of tools sliding along a tray and this suddenly feels like a very bad idea.

There’s a hand in his and he squeezes it.

“You scared, Tobi?”

“No.”

“Liar.” The hand squeezes back. Tobi’s heart rate evens out and he’s able to breathe a little easier with her there. “It’ll be just like last time.”

“Yeah. I know. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Tobi has memories of that day. They’re scattered and spotty but they’re there, ever-present since the moment he walked through those doors. Obito wasn’t scared, no. Obito felt accomplished—felt satisfied with the way things had ended. He accepted darkness in the last moments of his life knowing that he’d found a friend in the shinobi carrying his eye. Even if it was too late. Even if he wished that he had more time.

Tobi remembers the darkness more than anything right now. It’s stupid, he knows—he’s getting an eye, not giving —but he can’t help it anyway.

They hook him up to machines. He doesn’t ask. He’s not sure he wants to know. One starts beeping in time to his heartbeat, though, and he decides that he hates it because now a whole room of medic-nin can hear how nervous he is. They’re polite about it, at least, and don’t say anything.

Absent conversation amidst the ladies dies out and he knows this means bad things to come.

“Um.” They’re looking at him. “I change my mind?”

Rin looks at him. “Tobi.”

He flinches.

Relax .”

“Right. Yeah. Okay.”

“You’re such a baby. Honestly.”

He is. He knows Obito wasn’t, not about this, which is a bit of a jab to the gut. It won’t be like last time, he tells himself. He won’t feel it now the way that he did then. He won’t be so intimately aware of everything that’s going on. This is a hospital, not the cave. It’s a planned procedure. They’re not on the battlefield with no time to spare. They’re not making hasty decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.

Tobi closes his eye and breaths. He focuses on the sounds of his breath as he feels the warm glow of medical ninjutsu washing across his skin and allows himself to rest.

 


 

The first thing to come to him is sound as he rouses from rest into wakefulness. Voices breach the fog of sleep slowly dissipating from his thoughts. They bring with them comfort in the form of familiarity. A woman’s voice, strong and firm. A man’s, soft and kind. For a while, he thinks that he’s okay with just letting them talk, using their voices as background noise to help him fade back into sleep.

They notice he’s awake. He knows this because he feels a persistent, mildly annoying poke to his shoulder and groans. When it doesn’t stop, he submits to the fact that it’s only ever going to go away if he opens his damn eyes. Alright, fine. Tobi is too weak to keep playing this game. His eyes flutter open to Kushina’s smug face and he sighs.

“Mornin’,” he slurs.

“Why, good morning, Princess,” Kushina grins. She pulls back, out of his face, and Tobi can see Minato standing behind her, his sympathies showing through the crest of his smile. “How you feeling there, kiddo?”

“Tired,” he complains with a pout. “Thirsty…” He coughs and it’s only then that he realizes how disgusting his mouth feels—dry like cotton and bitter with something else. His head hurts, he’s vaguely aware of that.

Minato helps him sit up, eases a cup of water to his lips, and the cool, wet relief as it trails down his throat is immense. Soon, the cup is empty and he’s still thirsty, but it’s enough to help him register just what else is going on. He’s in the hospital. He’s there because…

His eye.

Tobi’s flesh hand goes up to touch the skin of his eyelid and he doesn’t know what to think when he sees his own fingers enter his line of sight. His field of vision is wider, and something about it all feels slightly… different . He’s not sure how it’s different, but it is. What does he look like now, with this new eye? What colour is it?

“Where’re Kashi and Rin?” He asks before he even realizes what he’s saying. They said they would be there, said they would wait for him to wake up, and he’s a little disappointed when they’re nowhere to be seen. Not that he’s disappointed in Kushina or Minato or anything—honest! But he feels a little bad, having someone as busy and important as the Hokage waiting there for him. And Kushina, well… He’s not entirely sure what Kushina’s job is. She’s probably a ninja or something, though, so she’s taking time out of work for him, too. And now he just feels like a burden. Damn it all.

Kushina rolls her eyes dramatically and flicks his forehead, earning a wince. “Getting food, per our request, you little dork. Getting them to leave was a task and a half, but they need food. Especially Kakashi, if he wants that damn leg of his to heal.”

“Oh.” He’s relieved, relaxing into the bed, knowing that they’re there, somewhere. The cafeteria, probably. A slow-forming grin crosses his face as he turns from Kushina to his sensei. The world seems so much… bigger . The glaring blindspot on his left side is filled in by the new eye. Everything seems just a little bigger, a little more there . “How’s it look?”

Minato arches a brow and takes a seat on the side of his bed, drumming fingers against the stiff bed sheets. “How it feels is more important, I think.”

“Are you saying it’s bad?”

“No,” Minato laughs. “It looks fine , Tobi. But it’s how it affects you that’s most important.”

“How it affects me, huh?” Tobi looks down at his hands and marvels at the fact that the people at his bedside are still within his line of sight. It isn’t the remarkable change that he expects it to be—the boost to his depth perception, so far, hasn’t made all that much of a difference, and it isn’t like he can see clearer—but it’s there. It’s something. And he’s happy to have gone through with it.

He feels whole, for the first time since he woke up with Grandpa Madara looming over him. He feels whole and complete, like this is what he’s meant to be. It feels good .

A knock at the entrance pulls his eyes up, to Rin’s smiling face, Kakashi brooding behind her in that angsty fashion he always does.

“Rin,” he greets with a smile, and then the smile falls to a pout when it settles on his other teammate, the one being aversive and disconnected in the background. “Bakashi.”

Rin holds up a paper bag, and dangles it in front of her face. “You hungry?”

Tobi opens his mouth to say no, he’s never hungry, he just eats because he can, but there’s a distinct turn in his stomach at the mention of food that he’s never had before. He places a hand over his gut and makes a face. “...No,” he admits begrudgingly. “Not at all.”

Rin nods. She enters the room and places the bag on the side table. She’s not surprised, meaning she expected as much. What he’s feeling, maybe it’s normal after surgery.

“You’ve got dinner for later, then,” she says matter-of-factly as she leans over him, watching him with starlight eyes and thinly contained glee. “It’s perfect .”

Tobi’s face heats up and suddenly the bedsheets look very interesting.

“Isn’t it perfect, Kakashi?” she asks, looking over her shoulder at the ninja still dragging his feet. “Not one new scar. Not a bad job, don’t you think?”

Kakashi shrugs vaguely, retreating to a corner of the room because he’s Kakashi and being anything other than distant is a task and a half for him. He really should sit, though—he’s still limping, still struggling to work his leg normally, and over-exertion is only going to make it worse.

Kushina agrees, apparently. She drags his moody ass over to them and forces Kakashi down onto her previous chair. Kakashi decidedly does not face any of them.

“Ugh,” Kushina grunts, looking impossibly put-out, “stop tryin’a act macho and remember that your leg was in pieces a few weeks ago . Sage-damn, kid. You’re as bad as Obito ever was.”

Tobi isn’t sure whether he should take offense to that. He does, for the record, if only because she glances at him when she says it.

Kakashi releases a sigh but doesn’t protest.

Minato rises up off the bed and spins to face his students. He reaches out, patting their heads, acting like they’re the same eleven-year-olds that they were when their team first formed, and smiles. “Kushina and I have other things to attend to,” he states, “so we’ll be heading out first. You two.” Kakashi and Rin look up at attention. “I’m counting on you to look after him for me.”

Kakashi nods. Rin grins, salutes, her back straight and eyes bright. “Roger that.”

Kushina slides in close, jabbing at Tobi’s chest with her finger. “And you .” She narrows her eyes. “Don’t be getting any stupid ideas, alright? We’ve had more than enough of those.”

Tobi pushes the hand away, his face scrunched up and displeased. “What the hell did I do?!”

He receives a look, a wave, and a goodbye as Kushina stomps out of the room. Minato laughs. It’s a vaguely tired laugh, a laugh of sympathy, and so, so awkward. “She’s gotten a bit protective over you, hasn’t she?” Minato slips beyond the door before any more can be said, no doubt chasing after his wife.

Tobi shifts in his seat, wondering why that could be.

 


 

Tobi stands in the apartment bathroom and grins, turning his head in front of the mirror, taking in his new eye from every possible angle. It's green, so the colours don't match, but he'll choose mismatched eyes over a sunken-in socket any day.

Kakashi passes in front of the doorway, sighs, shakes his head, and continues on toward his bedroom.

Tobi pokes his head out into the hall. “What d'you think? Smouldering yet?”

“Not in the least,” Kakashi calls back from beyond the threshold of his room.

Well, Tobi thinks it's close enough to smouldering to celebrate. He takes another peek at himself, grins, and then races down the hall to the kitchen. He pries open the fridge door and rummages through, wondering what he could possibly make for dinner tonight worthy of the occasion. After all… this will be their last. For a while.

Tobi is coming back. He wants to. He's made that decision. These people are like family to him, even if their interactions are awkward, even if he's tired of the routine ‘do you remember’ and ‘what about this?’ It's the decision to return that pushes all doubts from his mind. He'll keep his promise to Grandpa Madara. Once he does, he can go home. Maybe he won't ever pick up where he left off. That's okay. He's not even sure he wants to.

All he knows is that he doesn't want to lose these precious bonds he's formed.

His eyes settle on a familiar paper bag and he smiles, snagging it out of the fridge. He peeks inside, wondering what it is that Rin got for him from the hospital cafeteria. He immediately regrets it. He's not sure what tasteless, colourless thing is sitting in the bowl at the bottom of the bag and he really doesn't want to know. Back in the fridge it goes, to be dealt with by Kakashi at a later date.

When it comes time to make dinner, Tobi finds himself observing from the chair in the living room. Kakashi moves deftly across the kitchen, practiced motions mesmerizing. For someone who's perfectly content surviving off of food pills, Kakashi knows his way around a kitchen. The spread he makes is comparable to Minato's. Tobi wonders if he picked up those skills from Sensei and Kushina, but he doubts it. Lone wolf Kakashi is more likely to teach himself those sorts of skills. They eat together at the table. It's delicious, not that Tobi says that it's delicious, and at the end of their meal they sit across from one another, empty plates and picked-clean bowls piled in the sink.

Tobi thinks that now is as good a time as any to announce his departure. He really doesn't want to. If anything, he wants to leave without a word. Goodbyes seem… hard, knowing where he comes from. He suspects the rest of the team finds them hard, too. But he won’t. Tobi is a great many things but a coward is not one of them. He sucks in a breath, opens his mouth, and—

“Have you told Rin?”

Tobi deflates. Kakashi already knows, huh? Typical genius. “I was hoping you could?” When he sees Kakashi's eye narrow, he raises placating hands. “She'll never let me leave if I tell her. You know she won't.”

Kakashi heaves a sigh and slouches back in his seat. “Tonight, then?”

“Sooner I leave, sooner I can come back.”

There’s something there, then, in the hard edges of Kakashi’s body. He flexes his hands, shifts in place. They’re minute tells, but tells all the same. It’s nice to think of Kakashi worrying over him. It’s nice to be missed.

There are people waiting for him to return, too. Or maybe ‘people’ isn’t quite the right word. Tobi remembers that all the same.

“Okay.”

Tobi grins. He leans on the table with his chin in his hands, watching his roommate with a curious glint in his eyes. “You know,” he laughs, “you’re not so bad. For a ninja.”

Kakashi cocks his head to the side, brow arched and arms crossed. “Neither are you. For a civilian.”

A civilian, huh?

That’s fair.

 


 

There are a great many things that Tobi misses about his former dwelling. No , he thinks, that’s a lie. He squeezes past the boulder at the entrance to be met with the bold, inky blackness of an overshadowed cave. The air is humid and thick, like taking a breath underwater. The ground is hard and unforgiving beneath his feet. As he steps in, he recalls his time here spent barefoot. Now, he can’t imagine that. The outside world’s left him spoiled. He’s not hungry but wants food. He’s not cold, but he could still use a blanket. The cavern is dark and stretching and could do with a few more lights. A kitchen, a bathroom. It could do with a great many things that, in the village, are seen as necessities. To Grandpa, though, nothing was ever really needed. So long as they had a place to rest their heads, it was enough.

The scent hits him first. It’s faint, a lingering odour on the breath of the cave that carries over to him from the bed, soaked up by dirty sheets and a worn mattress. Though not overpowering, he still gets the urge to cover his nose, to reel back. There’s something innately wrong with that scent.

Tobi wants to leave.

He takes an unplanned step back and braces himself for what he might see. He closes his eyes, breathes—as Kakashi always says, it’s important to breathe—and then, when his mental fortification reaches a crescendo, he—

“Tobi? Tobi !”

The moment he opens his eyes, he’s hitting the floor with a heavy force bearing down on his chest. Gangly, white arms wrap themselves around his neck, holding him steadfast. It’s those arms he has to thank for saving his skull from an unpleasant meeting with the ground; they press him against the pale, synthetic flesh of a narrow chest and keep him there. Tobi sputters, shoving at the arms as he regains his bearings, but the hold never ceases. Swirly , he thinks, hiding a smile. Over Swirly’s shoulder, Tobi can make out similarly formed white bodies crawling out from around the Gedo Statue like albino spiders on a web. The image itself makes him scrunch up his nose in distaste.

“Wah, Tobi! You’ve come back!”

“Damn straight,” he grumbles, shoving uselessly at the larger body surrounding him. “Now get off of me, you asshole.”

Swirly pulls away, holding Tobi at arm’s length. The black hole that makes up his ‘eye’ bores into Tobi like a never-ending void, unsettling and yet so positively right . It’s nostalgic. There’s a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of his chest, spreading warmth from his core. “We thought you would never come back!”

Tobi rolled his eyes— eyes , because he has two of them —and slaps the hands away from him. At some point, Zetsu approached and now he’s being picked at and prodded by two . “I said that I would.”

“But it’s been so long!”

“It hasn’t been been that long…” Tobi isn’t really sure how long it’s been. It feels like forever ago, even with all of the chaos and excitement in his most recent months.

When he finally manages to get to his feet again, Tobi braces himself and steps towards the bed. The closer he gets, the easier it is for his vision to cut through the darkness, to make out more than just its faint silhouette. He wishes he had a light—and just like that, one of the Zetsu lights a torch. Orange hues warm the chill of the cave with their soft glow, and the bed is unoccupied save a dark stain on the sheets.

Tobi turns on Zetsu. “Please tell me you didn’t eat him. Please .”

Zetsu considers it, the jerk. As though it’s a brilliant idea that’s never crossed his mind. “That would have been simpler,” he acknowledges. “He began to smell unpleasant, and so we disposed of him.”

A whole host of vile, graphic images sweep through Tobi’s mind and he gags at the words, covering his mouth and looking away. There are so many ways that they could have ‘disposed’ of Grandpa Madara’s corpse that Tobi doesn’t even want to consider. The outside world taught him so many things about death and saying goodbye—too many to ever need, he hopes. Too many to put to use. In Fire Country, it’s common for bodies to be cremated—which is, apparently, burning a body into ash. It’s also common to bury the dead. According to Rin, they dig holes in the ground. Once they’re really, really deep, the body is dumped inside. Or something. Then, the hole’s covered back up like nothing ever happened and the mourners go on with their lives.

He may be misinterpreting it, just a bit.

Tobi covers his face with his hands, groans, and then allows them to fall limp at his sides. Ah, he hadn’t done any of that for Grandpa, had he?

Tobi is a terrible, horrible, no-good grandchild.

He sighs when he feels the heavy weight of Swirly’s body pressing in around him— again— and pushes forward. The sheets reek something foul and horrible and disgusting, the stain is nasty and disturbing, and the world around them is dark and cold. He pulls them off the mattress to crumple into a heap at his feet. With them, he feels the return of a life with no food and no warmth, the days blending together in the darkness of a forgotten cavern, left to wilt away into nothing.

Tobi bends down, picks up the sheets by their hems, and drags his feet towards the entrance. “There’s a stream nearby, right?”

Swirly nods. “Are you going?”

“Yeah,” he snorts, stepping into the ray of sunlight slipping past the rocky walls and feeling all of the warmth of a spring day there to greet him. “To the stream. To wash the stink off this crap because you idiots couldn't be bothered. C’mon. Let’s get this place cleaned up.”

 


 

Tobi is never brave enough to ask what, exactly, happened to Madara's body. He decides that he's better off not knowing because he isn’t sure he can stomach the answer. But there's something that he can do, even without the body.

He recalls with chilling clarity the name Obito Uchiha scrawled across a smooth, polished rock at their usual training ground. He remembers running the artificial skin of his left hand along the grooves of the engraving, the feeling of the rock beneath his fingertips little more than an echo. Names were carefully carved alongside his, names of shinobi who never made it home. Names of fallen heroes, or missing friends.

Obito Uchiha.

Tobi likes to think that he does a pretty good job, for someone inexperienced in this sort of thing. The rock he uses is large, but not particularly smooth. Carving into it proves a task and a half. He gives up, at some point or other, because this isn't a skill that he’s gifted with. Instead, he scratches Grandpa’s name in chalky white across the front of the stone. He gathers flowers through the forest outside the cave and places them at the base where it stands, basking in the streams of sunlight passing through the treetops.

Tobi plops down before the rock and takes a breath, hands on his knees, staring at the crude lettering of his grandfather’s tombstone. The world is quiet. It’s not the comfortable quiet he came to know through his time living with Kakashi. There’s no warmth to this silence. It’s harsh and cold, and perhaps a little unnerving.

“Um…” He rubs the back of his neck. “Sorry for not burying you,” he continues. “I didn’t know.”

He waits, as though the rock will answer him back with words of comfort—a short ‘it is okay’ to fill his guilt-laden heart. It doesn’t, and his eyes fall to the budding spring offering neatly arranged in the dirt. “Sorry I left. I know I should have…”

Tobi’s voice fades, his lips purse and brow furrows. That’s not right. When he looks up at Madara’s name next, he steels himself. “No. I’m not sorry. I’m glad I left. I’m grateful to you, Grandpa, really I am. But…”

He lifts his eyes to the leaves, to the warm sun kissing his skin, and smiles. His world was so small when Grandpa Madara was in it. He never knew the cool touch of the breeze or the bubbling calm of the stream. Where would he be if he stayed there, in the darkness of that cave? No, he knows. He’d be right where he started. Stuck. “But there’s so much more to the world than what you told me. People are—they’re good . And maybe the world isn’t perfect, and maybe there’s a lot of fighting, but it—that doesn’t mean it’s bad .”

It feels good to get that off his chest. He grins. “I’ll grant your wish. I don’t break promises. But after that, is it okay if I leave? I want to go home.”

Tobi’s not sure he wants an answer. He’s glad when the only words he hears are Swirly’s, calling him back to the cave.

Home, he thinks, where they are. It’s comfort enough.

 


 

Grandpa Madara had plans. Tobi sits atop the clean sheets on a mattress too stiff and worn to be comfortable, a fact he only ever realizes after his time in Konoha. He tries to ignore the springs digging into his thighs as he listens intently to Zetsu’s explanation. World peace is looking like a lot of work. He figured that it would be, but having it all laid out before him is making the task look all the more daunting. His head is spinning with a vast array of new terms—tailed beast and rinnegan and jinchuuriki. Mangekyou sharingan. It dawns on him that by the time world peace is achieved, years may pass. He tries not to let that weigh on him as he listens intently to the artificial human’s explanation.

“Hey, hey,” Swirly interrupts, leaning uncomfortably close which, ironically, makes the whole situation feel natural. Tobi would be lying if he said that he didn’t miss the rubbery bastard. “Did you know? We can grab the nine-tails soon!”

Tobi arches a brow. “Oh yeah? Don’t think its jinchuuriki will take it lying down.”

“But!” Swirly’s arms go up, flailing his excitement. “But but but, the seal will be weakened! It’s the perfect chance!”

He sighs and crosses his arms, conceding to the fact these guys know more about what they’re doing than he does. From what he gathers, the tailed beasts are powerful chakra constructs. Their power is needed to bring about world peace, but each one is sealed within a human vessel. To bring them together, the bonds with their hosts will need to be severed. Tobi doubts that anyone with one of those things sealed inside them will just willingly give it away. They’ll have to take the tailed beasts by force.

His stomach knots and he hunches his back. Words of regret are already fronting his thoughts, long before the need for them arises. He doesn’t want to fight. He doesn’t want to hurt anybody, or take away something so integral to their character.

He doesn’t want to, but he will. For the greater good and all, right?

 


 

Tobi curls in on himself in the dead of night, the lumpy mattress digging painfully into his side. He shivers beneath the thin sheet drawn up to his shoulders, thundering winds whipping past the entrance of the cave. His stomach is empty and has been for several weeks now, and though he doesn’t feel hunger, he does feel something else, this void within him growing stronger by the day. When he closes his eyes, he finds himself in a warmer place, staring at the stars through the bedside windowpane. A candlelight glow caresses the walls of the room, flickering life into the dead of night. He takes a breath and soaks up the memory, warm and comfortable and right .

But the moment that he opens his eyes, the illusion is broken. He’s not in Kakashi’s apartment, he’s nowhere near Konoha. He hasn’t been in a long, long time.

Tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow, he sets out to Konoha—not to see his family, but to fulfill a promise. Tomorrow is the start of everything, the beginning of the end, one step closer to his goal.

Tomorrow, Tobi leaves that cave to set Grandpa Madara’s plans in motion.

Knowing that, how could he ever sleep?

 


 

It’s been several months since he last donned a mask. Tobi stares at the painted wooden hollow, at the two eye holes and the grass viewed beyond them. He smooths the pad of his thumb over the rim and sighs. He’s pretty sure what he’s about to do is a crime. Getting arrested would put a pretty big wrench in his plans, and this is Konoha. The risk of being recognized is all too real. But … Well. He thought he’d moved passed hiding his face. Some things never change.

Tobi takes a breath and brings the mask up, fitting it against his face, securing it to his head and pulling the hood of his cloak over his hair. Beneath the moonlight, he wonders how visible that mask really is.

He steps forward, the toes of his shoe touching the edge of the cliff and he looks down into the ravign below. Three guards stand watch, their faces hidden away beneath white animal masks, stark against the blue-grey backdrop. It’s just as Zetsu said it would be. Deep breath. Keep steady.

Tobi launches himself down. Their heads snap up, bodies twist around, hands reaching into their weapons pouches, but before they gather a single shuriken or kunai in hand, they’re falling. He catches the one nearest him, the soles of his feet firm against the water’s surface, ripples fanning out from beneath them like waves. “Sorry,” he whispers, her limp body heavy in his arms. “Just doin’ my job.”

He carries her over to dry land and sets her down, then goes back in for the other two. Soon, the guards are set down next to one another, breathing unconscious breaths. Tobi rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. He’s surprised that went as smoothly as it did; when he practiced with Swirly, he’d had a lot more trouble. “Er, I’ll… make it up to ya. Promise.” Tobi cocks his head to the side. “I mean, a headache is a small price to pay for world peace, right?”

They don’t answer. Obviously. He pouts and looks up, hands on his hips. Clearing the outside was the easy part. Now he’s going to sweat.

The jinchuuriki is having a child. Childbirth is a strain on the seals used to house tailed beasts. That’s his opportunity. That’s what all this planning, these past few months training with Zetsu and Swirly, have led up to. This is what it’s for.

Tobi is ready. He has to be, because there won’t be a second chance.

With steady strides, he walks his way up the side of the cliff and soon stands before the cavern entrance. Voices echo from deep within, reverberating against the walls. He can’t make out the words over the loud, angered screams of the jinchuuriki bellowing out like a ferocious demon. Whoever’s stuck in there with her, they have his sympathies.

The moment he lifts his foot, the air beside him shifts. He looks down at the shuriken now embedded in the ground, mere inches from the sole of his shoe, and he hums. There’s another? Tobi makes to turn his head when another flies by, narrowly missing the fluttering hood of his cloak.

“Stop,” commands a voice, calm and flat at the mouth of the cavern. “Hands up.”

“Or what?”

“Or you’ll find out what.”

He rolls his eyes. Slowly, Tobi raises his hands heavenward and holds them there. “You know,” he sighs, shaking his head. He can feel the presence behind him now, a presence masked until a moment before. “I really don’t have time for this.”

“Funny.” Something flickers behind him, a bright, pulsing blue light. It lights up the cavern walls, stretching long shadows across the rock. There’s something electric in the air, buzzing with heat and something else, something powerful and strange prickling the hairs on the back of his neck. “Neither do I.”

Steps echo behind him and he twists, forming hand signs as he moves, sucking in a breath, gathering chakra in the pit of his stomach, and the moment he’s facing his opponent all he sees is silver and white. Silver hair, a white mask. Blue-white lightning. His eyes widen, but it’s too late. Fire’s already spinning in his chest with nowhere else to go. He breathes out, sending a torrent of flame the ANBU’s way moments before the condensed lightning can connect.

The ANBU dodges to the right, but by the time he does, it’s too late. Tobi is gone, down the hall and towards the screams, his mind a flurry of racing thoughts. In that moment, that one brief, flickering second, it was his own sharingan staring back at him.

That was the moment everything went wrong.

 


 

Soft words whisper comfort into the room. They go ignored by the hissing woman in the centre of the room. Tobi watches from above. He’s not the best at masking his chakra—he only started learning that a month before setting out—but the party below is too preoccupied to notice. He tries to focus on what he’s seeing, tries to wait for that one, perfect moment, but his mind is a cluster of that was Kakashi. Kakashi is ANBU, he knows. Those guards are ANBU . It only makes sense. Still, what a terrible fate that Kakashi is one of the ANBU here tonight.

Tobi can’t let this distract him. He needs to get to work. The sooner he does, the sooner it’s over. Like ripping off a bandaid. He forces back lingering regrets, and the moment he hears a new set of cries, the small, hiccuping gasps of breath from the jinchuuriki’s child, he’s ready.

From the shadows of the entrance, he slips in. The midwife goes down without a struggle, and he slips the baby into his arms before she falls. The moment her body hits the floor, there are eyes on him.

“Lady Biwako!”

Tobi holds the child close and reaches for the paper bombs hidden in his cloak. But he stills when he looks up, at the father—the Fourth Hokage —staring back at him.

Oh. Oh no.

He knows what this means. Nausea swells in his gut as he pries his eyes away from Minato-sensei, to the long red hair cascading over the edges of the table in the centre of the room. Tired, dark eyes force themselves up to his, unsteady, filled with fear and desperation as a pale hand reaches out to him.

Kushina.

“Wait! Calm down!”

Minato’s voice sounds so far away. Tobi doesn’t register it at first. He looks down at the child, crying and wriggling against his arm, and it’s only then that Tobi realizes he’s holding the sharp edge of the kunai to the child’s tiny body. Oh, he thinks. Right. That was the plan, wasn’t it? To scare the father into putting distance between himself and the jinchuuriki.

“Naruto,” Kushina rasps out, hoarse and desperate and so, so tired. She bites her lip, tears stinging her eyes. “Give. Him. Back .”

Tobi swallows the bile in his throat and takes a step back, watching his sensei tense. He feels the paper bombs in his pouch, ready to be applied, and…

What am I doing?

The tiny body in his arm continues to wail, loud and scared and echoing. Tobi curses. He can’t.

This is for a better world, something nags at him. For Grandpa Madara.

He spins the kunai around, blade pointed away from the infant, and releases his hold. It clatters to the floor and he watches some of the tension leave Minato’s shoulders.

You don’t want to break a promise, do you?

No. I don’t. I…

But what is he doing all of this for? What happens to Kushina when the nine tails is extracted? Where would he go from there? Those were things Zetsu never told him about. That Madara never told him about. Those answers were omitted. He didn’t know.

For a better world, eh?

He laughs, broken and jaded, running a hand over the smooth surface of his mask. The Hokage flinches at the sound but is too cautious to risk moving. “What am I doing ?”

Minato relaxes his shoulders, a stern frown on his face as he scans the hooded figure with a critical eye. “Tobi.”

His breath hitches when he feels the cool rush of metal against his throat, and it’s only then that he notices the slightly breathless, very angry ANBU taking purchase behind him.

“Put him down,” Kakashi warns, tightening his grip on the kunai. “Now.”

Tobi closes his eyes and accepts his fate. “I would,” he says, “but y’know, that’s a bit hard to do with you wavin’ a kunai in my face. Sensei?”

Something flashes across Minato’s eyes as he hears the title, but he complies, crossing the room to take his son into his arms. He wraps the baby securely and holds him close, letting out an uneasy breath. It’s a strange sort of comfort, watching that, seeing Minato-sensei holding his newborn child.

Tobi wonders, what was I going to do?

The warm, fuzzy feeling that he gets when watching Minato hand off the child to Kushina is cut short when he feels the kunai digging deeper into his skin. He’s suddenly very aware of the man watching him from behind, of the deadly glare settled on the back of his head.

“Tobi,” Kakashi hisses out, his voice cracking in the middle, “what did you do ?”

He closes his eyes, takes a breath.

“I wonder.”

 


 

It turns out that there isn’t much difference between a prison and a cave. Everything is cold and damp. The walls are made of weeping stone, old and aged, and the whole room gives off an unpleasant musk. The bed is, somehow, not as bad as Madara’s. Tobi is thankful for that, at least. He’s given regular meals, too. They’re bland and sad, but it’s food, and he misses food.

When they arrested and detained him, he never put up a fight. ANBU threw him in a cell and he spent the night counting the stars through the small, barred window directly below the ceiling. A man called Ibiki came for him in the morning, took him to another cold, damp room. Tobi told him whatever he wanted to know, any and all—about Grandpa’s dream. About his plan to unseal the tailed beast. He complied. Ibiki didn’t believe much of it. That was fine.

The day after that, another man came. Inoichi, he said his name was. He was soft and pleasant, up until he entered Tobi’s mind—to ‘confirm your story’ he said. Tobi read between the lines—they didn’t believe him. That was fine. Inoichi saw firsthand.

He spends his days in solitude. He’s not sure how much time has passed, and the only indicator of day or night that he has is the small square of sky visible through the window.

A tray sits on his lap, food untouched and long cold as he presses his back against the cool stone wall and stares out the window. Tobi isn’t sure what he feels. What scares him most is that a part of him always knew that Madara was a bad person. He knew, but he didn’t care. He remembers watching Ibiki’s face go pale at the mention of that name— Madara Uchiha —and realizing then that there was more to his Grandpa than just being a senile old man.

“Your food’s getting cold.”

Tobi blinks, lulling his head to the side. Through the torchlight, he can make out the pale hair and skin of a long since nostalgic face. This is the first time Kakashi visits him. He smiles but it comes off weak, and he turns his head back to the window. The sky is on fire with oranges and pinks and the approaching dusk.

There’s shifting beyond the bars. When Tobi looks next, Kakashi is seated cross-legged on the floor, hands on his knees, fixing Tobi under a stern glare. Tobi lets out a soft snort and closes his eyes. The world fades to black, and he doesn’t have to think.

“You left the ANBU alive,” Kakashi states.

“I don’t like hurting people.”

“And Naruto?” Kakashi pauses, allowing the name to soak in. Naruto. The son of Minato and Kushina. The jinchuuriki’s child. “What about him?”

Tobi groans. His arms go up to card through his hair and his sleeves slide down, revealing the chakra suppressors sealed onto his skin. The mark of a criminal, he supposes. Fitting. “I wasn't going to…” The sound he makes next is one of pure frustration. “It was just—nevermind. It doesn't matter.”

“Tobi,” Kakashi breathes, “ please.

Tobi looks— really looks —at him then. Kakashi's eye is dark and tired, hazed with the burden of sleepless nights. His skin is paper white, sickly pallid in a way that knots Tobi’s stomach. Oh, Tobi muses. He’s worried about me. Despite the chill of the prison and the stone against his back, Tobi feels warm, fuzzy. A feeling he hasn’t felt in many long, miserable nights.

He knows, then, the gravity of what he tried to do.

His arms fall limp at his sides. “...Sorry, Kashi. Really, I am. But I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

Kakashi fists the fabric of his pants. “You were trying to release the nine tails.”

He nods.

“You would have killed her,” he grits out behind clenched teeth.

Oh.

For world peace.

He swallows the bile in his throat and curls in on himself, drawing his knees up to his chest.

For a better world.

What a load of crap .

 


 

Kushina towers over him but he can’t bring himself to face her. His eyes are on the ground at his feet, head hanging low. When he opens his mouth, the words stick in his throat. A myriad of excuses are running through his head but he swallows them. ‘If I knew it was you’—So, what? He would have done it to someone else? Would have killed someone else?

Tobi is coming to understand why adults are so jaded. The world isn’t as black and white as it appears.

There’s nothing he can say, so he bites his lip and clenches his fists and waits.

Kushina folds her arms, one over the other. “You know how long you’ve been in here?”

He shakes his head.

“Five weeks.”

It felt longer.

“I’m trying to understand what the hell was going through your head, Obito.” He flinches at the name, at the tone—all of it. He thinks back to the warmth of her embrace, the grinning support she showed him from the first day they met. Tobi doesn’t know what a mother is, but Kushina is it. She’s the closest he’ll ever get to it. “What were you going to do?”

Obito purses his lips. No doubt, she’s heard everything from T&I. But she wants to hear it from him. So, he twists around, eyes scanning the near-empty room until stopping on his bed. He steps back, sits down on the edge, and props his elbows up on his knees.

“After the Kannabi Bridge incident, I was rescued by Madara Uchiha,” he says. “He supplemented the unsalvageable parts of my body with artificial cells. Then, he died.”

Kushina shifts on her feet. “Madara has been dead for—”

“I can only tell you what I know,” he shrugs. “He called himself Madara Uchiha. He saved me, he died. That’s what I know, okay?”

She nods, a reluctant sign to continue.

“Before he died, he kept talking about this… dream he had. For world peace. I’m indebted to him, y’know? So I thought…”

“You thought you could fulfill his dream.”

“Yeah.” He clasped his hands together, smoothing the pads of his fingers over the artificial skin of his right arm. “The zetsu told me what to do. These artificial humans he kept. Told me that if I could gather all of the tailed beasts, I could do it. I  had to try. Look at me. Where d’you think I’d be without him?”

Kushina steps forward, curling her fingers around the bars. “And for that, you—”

“I didn’t know ,” he snaps, lifting his head. “I didn’t know. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. They never told me it’d hurt you. If they did, I never would have…”

And that was why. That’s why they never told him. They knew.

Tobi is a pacifist, but the things that Tobi wants to do to the zetsu do not reflect his beliefs very well.

“I wanted to scare you so that I wouldn’t have to fight you to unseal the nine tails. They never told me anything would happen to you when I did. I don’t want you to die. I don’t want anyone to—”

Tobi sucks in a breath, levels out his voice, and steadies himself. He’s not mad; he’s frustrated with himself. He was too naive to question the stories that he was being told. He put too much trust into Madara and the zetsu, simply because they were there when he woke up. They saved him. They had to be good people.

What garbage.

Tobi’s so wrapped up in his thoughts that he doesn’t hear it when the cell door lets out an ear-splitting screech. He only realizes the door is open when he feels arms wrap around him, pulling him close. Kushina is warm. Kushina is everything that this cell is not, and it’s hard for him to keep his eyes open. He tries, but the more he fights it, the harder it gets. Kushina runs a hand through his hair, shuddering breaths passing by his ear.

“You—you need to stop scaring me like this, y’know?”

Tobi swallows and slowly, cautiously, he brings his hands up to wrap around her back. “Sorry.”

“I can’t—” Her breath hitches and she shifts, scrubbing at her eyes. Oh no. Tears. Tobi hates tears. “I can’t keep d-doing this. If something happened to Naruto—or to you —”

Tobi never knew guilt could sting this bad.

“But,” she sniffs, pulling back. Tobi mourns the loss of her heat and allows it when she stares back at him, her hands on his shoulders. “But you didn’t hurt anyone. You didn’t go through with it.”

Tobi’s not sure what to say. He’s having trouble looking at her and, honestly, he’s not sure what to do with all these emotions she’s offering him. Kakashi’s confrontation was a lot easier to deal with. Anger is easy. Frustration is easy. Sympathy muddies the waters.

“I could have,” he muses. If it wasn’t Kushina, if it wasn’t Minato, would he have gone through with it? The thought plagues his mind and when he closes his eyes, he starts to wonder. Someone would have died by his hand, all for the dream of a dead man. For that, he deserves to be locked up. Even if he didn’t go through with it, even if he stopped himself. He made the attempt.

“But you didn’t.”

As he’s brought into another hug, Tobi wonders just how Kushina can be so strong. He sits there, allowing her to dote on him however much she wants, as his eyes find the sky, inky black settling in beyond the bars. Tobi watches the stars and for a moment, he allows himself to forget the world. Just for a moment.

 


 

Tobi doesn’t know what to think when he wakes up the next morning to see a paper bag sitting inside his cell walls. He drags himself over to it and narrows his eyes. There’s a faint smell wafting across the stale air of the prison, a smell that he recognizes, and he unfolds the opening to peek inside. At the bottom of the bag rests a set of chopsticks and a styrofoam cup. He pulls it out, peels off the lid, and within lies lukewarm ramen. He arches a brow. Most of the heat has escaped it, so it must have been placed there a while ago. He looks around, peeks down the hall, but the guard must have already made his rounds because there’s no one in sight. Somehow, he doubts this is his prison food for the day. That stuff was gross and tasteless and he stopped eating it… at some point. He can’t be entirely sure how long ago it was. Keeping track of time has been hard, even with his little window acting as a guide, but he hasn’t touched a tray of food in a while.

He takes his first taste and instantly he recognizes it. Ichiraku. The first time he had it, Minato-sensei and Kushina were treating him for becoming a chunin. The old guy manning the bar acted like he and Kushina were the best of pals. Come to think of it, Kushina did always have a strange love of ramen. She even named her kid Naruto, of all things…

Tobi smiles. The cup is empty in less than four minutes, and he’s left wishing that he savoured it.

 


 

 

He’s starting to make a game out of these mysteriously arriving meals. At first, they would be there whenever he woke up. So, he decided to stave off sleep to catch them in the act—Kushina, most likely. During the two days—probably two days, it’s so hard to tell—that he stayed up, nothing arrived. Then, he stopped staring out the window just long enough to glance at the front of the cell only to find a package there, waiting. Tobi scrabbled over to it and opened it up. It was a box. Inside was a neatly stacked bento. He didn’t cry. Those weren’t tears. There was dirt in his eye—er, no dirt in the cell. Allergies. Had to be allergies.

From there on, the gifts became a little more varied. Food became books. Soon, he had a pile of twelve stacked under his bed. If the guards noticed, they didn’t say anything. At some point, a title called Icha Icha crossed his path. The contents were a little more… mature than the rest.

If anyone asks, he didn’t read it.

Tobi’s starting to wonder if it’s Kakashi bringing him all these books. Kakashi certainly reads more than Kushina, and Kushina has a baby to care for. A tiny little runt with chubby hands and blond hair, with a ridiculous pair of lungs on him.

He wonders how Naruto’s doing, wonders if the little alien is starting to look more like a human. Toby doesn’t know a thing about kids, honestly. Babies, even less so.

When the next gift arrives, Tobi eagerly tears open the bag and holds his breath. A picture of four, a grumpy goggled brat to one side, and arrogant prodigy to the other. A smiling medic-nin in the centre, an exasperated Hokage hovering above. He remembers that day, vaguely. He doesn’t know what they were fighting over, but they were always fighting. And maybe it was his fault that they were like that. Whenever Kakashi was there, Kakashi had Rin’s attention. Kakashi didn’t even want Rin’s attention, which was probably the most frustrating part. So, in order to compete, Tobi had to show off. Except, well. He had nothing to show. But he tried hard. Harder and harder, until he could do whatever he set out to do. The learning curve between himself and Kakashi was vastly different, almost laughably so, but that was exactly why he needed to prove himself. And maybe… well, maybe the frustration he felt towards Kakashi was misdirected frustration with himself.

It didn’t help that Kakashi was a cold, heartless bastard.

No, that isn’t right. Kakashi lost his father, and…

Kakashi was just trying to do what he thought was right.

Tobi realizes belatedly that he’s staring at the wall. He shakes himself free of his stupor and smiles down at the picture, sliding it between the pages of one of his books.

 


 

“You could at least pretend you want to be here.”

“Mm?” The soft thwip of sliding paper fills the silence. “Ah.”

An exasperated noise fills the room and Tobi stirs, his evening nap interrupted by a loud bunch of voices. He rubs his eyes and gathers himself up off the hard mattress, rising from the dead like a zombie. When he blinks away his bleary vision, it takes him a moment to register the two prone figures seated on the other side of the bars. Rin smiles at him sunshine-bright, as though they aren’t sitting on the hard stone floor, stewing in the dank prison air.

Tobi yawns. From down the hall, he can see one of the guards silently glaring at the children.

“Morning, Sunshine,” she greets, then gives her companion a forceful nudge to the ribs.

Kakashi is silent despite the incessant prodding of his teammate, one lazy eye tracing Tobi's movements with critical precision.

Tobi arches a brow, crossing his legs beneath him, and waits. When things continue to go unsaid, he decides to take the first step. “Stopped in for a visit?”

Kakashi’s eye falls to the ground.

“They wouldn't let us before,” Rin pouts. “Minato-sensei is trying to convince the council to put you on probation, but they're being stubborn.”

No visitors, huh?

He grins at Kakashi, who is decidedly not looking up. What a cute kid.

Rin crosses her arms over her chest in a stern, scolding gesture. It makes Tobi feel small and wilted. The last thing he needs is her judgement. “You left us a big mess to deal with, you know. The elders are still throwing a fit. They're saying this is a direct attack against Konoha’s people, and that if we let you go, it'll be a blow to the village's integrity.”

“I did attack the jinchuuriki.”

“You're not helping,” she says. “Kushina and Minato-sensei are doing everything they can to get you out of this place, you know.”

“So, what?” Tobi leans back, his weight on his palms. “Do you want me to get mad? Insist I shouldn't be here, or something?”

“Tobi—”

“The intent was there,” he says, “even if I didn't follow through. I’m not upset they're holding me accountable. You shouldn't be, either.”

That isn't what Rin wants to hear. She scrunches up her face, purses her lips and cast her attention to the bento resting beside her. Oh, he thinks, that was her.

Just how many people broke the rules to see him, he wonders?

The bento slides through the small gap between the bars and Rin is to her feet. She casts one more look his way, her eyes conveying all the unpleasant words going through her head, before she snaps around and storms off. The guard, previously glaring, steps aside to let her pass. Watching her go, Tobi can't help but smile. Seeing Rin worry over him gives him the strength to make it through the day.

“What about you?” he asks, arching a brow down at his teammate. Kakashi is still here, his back pressed against the wall of the prison, a book nestled lazily between his hands. “Am I in for another lecture?”

Thwip. Another page turns. Kakashi's cool indifference is back in place, burying beneath it whatever emotions were fighting to the surface. “Maa, I’m not the type to kick a man when he's down.”

He feels mildly insulted.

“You're beating yourself up about it enough on your own, don't you think?”

 


 

Tobi doesn’t think of himself as much of a ‘cards’ man but, by this point, he's just going to have to reconsider. It's unclear just what Kakashi was thinking when he brought the deck in—they could have fit a shogi board through the bars just fine. Then again, Tobi doesn't know the rules of shogi. He fans out the cards, getting a good look at his hand, biding his time. It takes a while for a plan to formulate in his head. Then, he plucks a card from amidst the rest and slides it atop the pile between them.

The moment his fingertips break away from the card, Kakashi’s there, making his move, foiling Tobi's plan, looking as bored as Tobi is frustrated.

“You're doing this to spite me, aren't you?”

“Is it working?”

Tobi snorts, contemplating his hand yet again. He doesn't have much hope in winning the game, but he's beyond the point of needing to. His pride allows him to take the loss with grace.

The company is enough.

“Kushina was more sympathetic.”

“Kushina's a saint,” Kakashi says, simply. “I don't have the patience.”

“That's fair,” he laughs, leaning against the cool stone wall to his side. “You didn't back then, either.”

Kakashi's eye flicks up, and he says nothing.

Another card is placed on the pile and he waits, lowering his hand into his lap. There are only two cards left in Kakashi’s hand. One wrong move, and it’s over. But that’s okay. The day is long, and there will be plenty other opportunities for Tobi to have his ass handed to him in cards.

This isn’t the first time they’ve played together. There was a mission a long time ago. C-ranked escort to Wind, or something like that. The journey there was long, void of conflict, and the nights stretched infinitely. It was Minato-sensei who waved the deck in front of them one night, and Minato-sensei who dealt their first hand. Tobi was the last one left each and every damn time, and with every round his bitterness towards Kakashi grew. Because with every round, Rin’s smile would widen. Her gushing became all the more obvious. Kakashi, the winner of just under half the rounds they played. Sensei won the rest. And Tobi— Obito —well.

To say that he never won around seriously downplayed how terribly he lost.

Kakashi takes a while to make the next move. One card remains. “They’re sending a team out to investigate the Mountains’ Graveyard.”

“The wha?”

Kakashi sighs, resting his chin in his palm. “The location Inoichi Yamanaka saw when he probed your mind.”

“Oh.” Tobi blinks, hums. Considers that. They’ll find Swirly, then. And the zetsu. There’s a part of him that doesn’t want that, that still clings to the bonds that he formed with them, but he bites it back, swallows his protests, and accepts it. He knows better than to object. “Sensei tell you that?”

“I’m on the team,” Kakashi states simply, throwing down his last card. Just like that, the game is over, that grey eye levels on Tobi, and cards no longer seem all that interesting.

So that’s it. Tobi discards his hand and folds his arms, staring at the chakra suppressors visible just beneath his sleeves. “You leaving soon?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Ah.” It gives their day of mindless card games some purpose. “It’s a long journey. You up for it?”

The dull glare Kakashi fixes him under is answer enough.

Tobi kicks off the ground and turns to his bed. He crouches down, army-crawling his way under, stretching out his arm to reach the line of books stacked in neat rows along the back wall. He snatches one between his fingers and pulls himself out, presenting it to the boy on the other side of the bars. “Then you’ll need a distraction.”

Kakashi takes the book with some hesitance. Icha Icha is scrawled across the front. He turns it over in his hand, scrutinizing the symbol on the back cover. It takes a moment for him to register just what he’s being given, and when he does, there’s the faintest show of embarrassment on the small square of visible skin on his face.

Tobi wraps his arms around his middle and laughs. All he can do is laugh.

 

 


 

A lot can happen in the outside world, even when one is left standing still. Tobi can see the changes in the people who visit him even if they, themselves, do not. He sees it when Kushina stops in, her hair tied back, a rapidly growing child in her arms, flailing and laughing, all bright-eyed and eager to see what the world has to offer. He sees it in Rin, in the practiced meals that she brings him. Each dish is a little more complex than the last, each new recipe an experiment. One day, maybe she’ll be as good as Kakashi. Maybe she’ll be as good as Kushina.

The only change in himself that Tobi sees is the lengthening of his hair. His bangs fall into his eyes and he sighs, reminded of a time that now seems so far away. The world is moving on without him and here he is, stuck repeating the same, empty routine. Day in, day out. Counting the stars and falling asleep.

There are no stars left to count.

Tobi spends much of his time wondering. He wonders about the rest of his class, the blurry faces that sometimes flit in and out of vaguely-recalled memories. He wonders if Guy every managed to beat Kakashi in a challenge. He wonders, too, what happened when Kakashi’s team made it to Madara’s hideaway, how the zetsu reacted and if Swirly is okay. How the team reacted to the zetsu.

When the Fourth Hokage pays him a visit, Tobi wonders when he never did before.

Minato’s presence is daunting in the wake of their time apart. He feels like the larger than life figure that the Hokage is always made out to be and it’s intimidating, just a bit, the way he stands there, donning his white and red robe. His blue eyes look down at Tobi. Tobi has trouble meeting them.

Then Minato smiles. It’s a pathetic, sympathetic sort of smile, filled with unspoken apologies. Then it’s gone. Minato puts on his stern ‘village head’ face. “Do you know why I’m here, Obito?”

“To see my pretty face?” Tobi gets no response, not even the faintest of grins, and feels a bit silly. “No, Sir.”

“The council has decided to pardon you,” he says.

Tobi lifts his head, the thrum of his pulse quickening beneath his skin. “Then—”

Minato holds up a hand, halting his words before he can celebrate. “Under the condition that you leave the village.”

“Oh.” Banishment, huh? Minato doesn’t say it outright, but that’s what it is—punishment to a different extreme. It’s a hollow comfort. Tobi sucks in a breath, steels himself, and nods. “I understand.”

Minato falters then, hunching his shoulders. “I’m sorry. I really did try.”

“I know.” It’s a bitter feeling, one that he buries down deep, the corner of his mouth tugging into a half-hearted smile. “Thank you, Sensei. For everything."

 


 

The send-off is a humble one, a handful of familiar faces waiting for him at the gate. It’s enough. He breathes in deep, braces himself for the beginning of the end, and puts on a grin. Tobi finds it hard to ignore the shackles on his wrists, weighing him down. The chain rattles with every step he takes as a harsh reminder of where he’s come from, and where he’s going.

Minato leads him to the gate, accompanied by one of the prison guards who looks all too happy to see him go. That’s fine. Tobi didn’t like the guy, anyway.

Kushina stands along the side of the road, Naruto dead asleep on her shoulder. She sways, rocking him absently as she greets Tobi with a nudge and silent sympathies. Tobi’s going to miss her cooking. He already misses her cooking. She walks behind him, adjusting the child in her arms to free her hands. They card through his hair, gathering it at the back of his head. She ties it back for him, a silent parting that means more to him than it probably should.

Tobi opens his mouth to say something when a sudden force slams bodily into his chest. He blinks, eyes flitting over Rin’s trembling shoulders as she hooks her arms around him and squeezes tight. Rin has more strength than he gives her credit for. He’s trying not to ruin the mood, but there’s very real concern that she’s going to fracture a bone in her crushing show of affection and he’s not willing to deal with that on the same day he’s being kicked out of Konoha.

“You idiot,” she mumbles into his ear with watery words and hiccuping breath.

Tobi arches a brow. “You cryin’?”

“Shut up,” she hisses, pulling away just enough to fix him beneath a scolding glare. And yes, she is. “You better eat properly. No skipping meals, you hear me?”

“But I don’t need t—”

“I don’t care!”

“Alright, fine!” He rolls his eyes.

“And be careful,” she continues, scrubbing at her eyes. “The war’s over, but it’s still dangerous out there.”

“Yeah, yeah…”

“Especially ninja. Steer clear of them, okay?”

“Uh-huh…”

“And don’t forget—”

“Rin,” he laughs, steadying his hands on her shoulders. “It’s okay.”

Rin doesn’t seem to agree. Still, she bites her lip and shoves a large, cumbersome book against his chest. The pages are yellowed and worn, the cover frayed at the edges. Tobi cocks his head to the side and searches the spine. Konoha Recipes.

That’s the sweetest, most embarrassing gift he’s ever been given. Not that he remembers enough gifts to back that up.

Rin finally backs away and Minato takes her place, gesturing Tobi nearer. Tobi complies, arms up, and the shackles around his wrists fall to the ground. The skin beneath is rubbed red, achy and tender, and his burden feels just a little bit lighter. Minato says nothing. He smiles, flicking Tobi’s forehead, and that is enough.

Tobi cuts his goodbyes short, like ripping off a bandaid. Casting one last glance across their faces, he smiles and steps forward, beyond the threshold of the gate.

Kakashi is there, waiting for him on the other side.

“Don’t come back.”

“Wasn’t planning on it.”

“Good riddance.”

“Shut up, Bakashi. You know you’ll miss me.”

The silence is enough. It’s comforting.

Tobi sets out that day with nothing but the clothes on his back and a book hugged to his chest. He walks along the dirt road until Konoha’s walls are almost out of sight, until the village is nothing but a speck along the horizon. He doesn’t allow himself to turn back. It won’t do him any good.

It’s funny, he thinks, how he wishes that he had more time. He wishes that now, just as he did in the darkness of the cave, just as Obito did with the fading of his sight.

Oh well.

His steps falter, his shoes digging uncomfortably into the balls of his feet. The sky before him bleeds orange with evening’s approach, reflecting warmth along the clouds.

It’s fine like this.

Tobi isn’t sure where to go. Grandpa’s dream is no longer something that he wants to see through and, without that, he has no direction. What comes next? He looks down at himself, at the blanched skin of his arm.

What is it that he wants?

Hokage, he thinks. I want to be Hokage.

Tobi laughs. That’s stupid. Impossible, too, now. He’s not entirely sure where the thought comes from, or why he’d ever want it in the first place.

To prove myself, he answers. To make Rin proud. And Kushina. And Sensei.

To see the look on Bakashi’s face.

All his life, he’s been walking in the shadows of others. He drowned beneath the burden of the Uchiha name and swam against the current. But, no matter how hard he tried to break free, that name dragged him back down. He could fight and struggle and scream and it wouldn’t matter. No one would hear. Overshadowed by his family, by his teammate, his companion, his friend—and that was okay. It was okay.

It’s okay, because there’s still time.

One day, he thinks. One day, he’ll prove himself. To his family, to his village, to the world. And maybe that’s a meaningless statement. Maybe it’s too vague a goal. Maybe it is, but that’s okay, too.

It’s okay because it’s his .

Obito scrubs his stinging eyes, puts on a brave face, and turns around. The village has long since faded from sight, but he stares anyway. He looks back and he has regrets, and that’s okay. He’s made mistakes. He’s only human.

He’ll pick himself up, dust himself off, and keep moving forward.