The absolute bottom floor of the basement was just as dank, drab, and blood-scented as the rest of the place. It reeked of misery. Even if Obito was sure Kakashi had dealt with worse during his ANBU career, it was better Obito was down here than him. If he really was a giant dog, it'd be just another layer of terrible sense-memory on top of everything else. And he still wouldn't be able to contribute anything Rin, Kei, or Obito weren't already.

Yeah, that sounded like Kakashi's version of a living nightmare. One of the milder ones.

At least the room at the bottom of the stairs was bigger. Maybe ten meters by fifteen meters, and about four meters to the ceiling. Chunks of the room were partitioned off like cells instead of cages, and someone had flipped a table loaded with restraints over to serve as some kind of cover. The hireling—whose name was going to die with everyone else on his side of the fight—stood in a corner with his crossbow aimed at the entryway. Ruzza was off in the other direction, her hand no longer bleeding, and had a look of utter vitriol aimed at the room's only entryway. Only Protto was actually hidden, but Obito had a pretty good idea of the guy's size and figured lobbing a fireball at the table would probably suffice.

Obito drifted back through stone and dirt to the very crowded chamber above, then dropped the genjutsu so he could slump against the wall in plain view. Then he explained everything he'd seen with his eye squeezed firmly shut.

"You feeling all right?" asked Caduceus once he was done. "Your eye was looking a little red there. Redder."

"Just got a headache," Obito said, feeling Caduceus's hand against his left arm anyway.

"How much have you been using Kamui?" Kei asked, and her voice was close enough to let him guess she'd leaned in to get a better look at him. It was also full of that worry-wrapped-in-judgment Obito hadn't really missed from their teenage years.

"Maybe enough that it'd be great if you don't tell Rin about it," was Obito's sheepish reply. "Clay-san's been keeping me going just fine, you know."

Kei was the only one in this group who'd tweak his ear as a counterargument, even if she didn't really let it hurt. "I'm not going to lie to Rin for you."

"You wouldn't have to lie! You could just, uh, not say anything."

Kei almost definitely rolled her eyes. "Nope."

"Worst friend ever." Obito sighed. "Once this is over, we'll all go see her."

"What are you guys talking about?" Beau asked. She was also a little closer than expected. "Is it about his eye bleeding?"

"Yep! But details can wait." As he spoke, Kei laid a pad of bandages over his eye and held it there for a few seconds. When she released him, Obito blinked his eye open and saw the cloth come away clean. To Kei's grumpy face, Obito said, "See? Fine."

"Mm-hm." She really didn't need to sound so sarcastic without making words.

Caduceus saved the day instead. He gave Obito another dose of his mossy healing magic, which defeated the budding headache in an instant. As it always had thus far.

"Huh," said Kei, but she allowed it after peering at Obito for a few more seconds. Probably reading his chakra levels with Isobu's commentary going in the background. "All right. So, you didn't see any captives?"

"Not from my view." If Obito had, he might've rushed in. And gotten shot. Again.

"And your roster is missing Fjord, Jester, Caleb—"

Then there were a bunch of voices at once.

"Ah, no, I am right here—" (That was Caleb.)

"Caleb's in front—" (Definitely Nott.)

"He's here—" (Aaaaaand Keg.)

"He's invisible," Beau concluded. She popped her knuckles illustratively. "But everyone else you can't see is either down there, or we're beating their location out of those fucks for however long it takes to get an answer."

"Fair," said Kei, though she clearly still had trouble picking out Caleb's relative direction in the clamor. Her tail was flicking around a lot, like one on an overstimulated cat.

Actually, Molly's spade-tail was doing the same thing. Maybe it was a tiefling thing.

Obito rose to his full height again and said, "Then let's get to it."

Caduceus cleared his throat. "Miss Kei, would you mind terribly taking the lead again?"

Still-invisible-to-everyone-else Caleb was already halfway down the stairs, but Obito decided not to mention it.

"Yeah, sure," Kei said, and descended into the depths like it wasn't a big deal at all.

Obito followed in time to see a crossbow bolt shoot across her path from the side of the room with the minion in it, but her step didn't falter. It passed harmlessly ahead of her nose. A second bolt was more on-target, but Kei plucked it out of the air with reflexes just a hair slower than Obito's. She didn't need backup against these losers.

"So, that was a waste of everyone's time. Either come out here and die or I'll come over there and take the choice out of your hands," Obito said anyway, clapping his hands together in sarcastic applause. He grinned outright at Ruzza, watching her squirm. "Or I could take your hands off. I'm not super picky."

Kei sighed like Obito gave her tension headaches on purpose, but she didn't tell him to stop.

"For someone who can walk through walls, you're not much good at thinking outside the box," Ruzza said. A hissing underlayer of sound curled in her voice.

Obito already started to reply—someone on their team was going to try banter, and he could fill the role—when black spots exploded in his vision. He yelped more out of reflex than pain, closing his eye, and jerked away from Ruzza to clear the pathway.

"—bito, down!"

Even without using Kamui and with his eye firmly shut against that shock of pain, Obito could stay out of trouble in a pinch. Clear a path, always. Going by the near-immediate rush of air and sound of pounding feet passing him, he made the right call.

A few seconds into the melee, Obito's sudden headache left as suddenly as it appeared, and he opened his eye to find everyone pleasantly not dead. Even the people they wanted dead, which was admittedly more annoying.

Near the sad excuse for cover that was still that overturned table, Caduceus stood with his shoulder to the door of one cell and out of anyone's immediately stabbing range. It looked like he was casting some kind of spell over Beau, Molly, and Keg, which was probably going to keep everyone alive. Not that they needed the help yet; locked between so many people with weapons and grievances, Protto was as good as dead.

Even if Nott took a break from shooting the hireling to help her friends, like a good teammate—

She shot the guy again before Obito finished the thought.

Speaking of the guys whose names Obito didn't really know that well: Shakäste, meanwhile, waved his staff and dropped an entire lightning-laced statue directly onto the hireling with enough force to crush him into the floor. Somehow. Obito wasn't clear on where the hell the statue came from.

And then Ruzza in the corner, backed into it entirely by Kei. Kei, who'd already put two craters into the wall and floor with an oversized coral club and had one heel digging into Ruzza's sternum. Her tail was swinging in agitation and the club was still held ready to drop directly onto the half-elf's head; the slightest slip would make that skull good for nothing but a morbid paperweight.

With Caleb still invisible—Obito checked out of reflex—that meant everyone was accounted for. All alive, through the power of…numbers, mostly. Obito hadn't been a lot of help here!

Huzzah, though.

Except for the fact that Lorenzo was still a no-show.

Obito hopped down the rest of the stairs without touching Caleb or giving away that he'd seen him, staying right outside the swing radius of Kei's new toy. Didn't hurt to play it safe when she was showing off a jinchūriki's temper. Or a tiefling's, if that was a thing.

He was going to tell Kei to just finish the job, though, like as a friendly suggestion. His footsteps scattered mist like nothing.

Wait, since when—?

Kei and Obito both reacted more on instinct than thought.

The mist erupted upward, a glaive swinging out of thin air and dust. Obito went left, Kei went up , and Ruzza died between them as Lorenzo's sneak attack skewered her on the downswing. There was a wheeze of breath, then blood, and Lorenzo swung again.

The polearm cleaved neatly through the air where Obito had just been standing, glancing off stone. Using his Sharingan was reflex far faster than thought. Especially the thoughts of some guy who'd just killed his own teammate with a badly aimed stab.

Nice try, jackass, but not good enough. Obito stuck out his tongue with a "bleeeh!" noise.

Then Kei dropped from the ceiling like an overgrown gray bat and slammed her heel into the center of Lorenzo's horned forehead.

Because, after the mist trick, the resident shape-changer apparently decided to stop fucking around. Instead of the human shape Obito only remembered for the sex dungeon gear, he was big and blue-gray with the same super huge fangs that made an oni look legitimate. His horns weren't tall enough to scrape the ceiling even with his new three-meter height, but he held his head like they might.

"Tricksy, aren't you," Lorenzo growled, in the same weird accent. He'd staggered back from Kei's hit (and her "what the fuck" face at the sound of his voice) in such a way that kept Keg and Beau from immediately ripping out his spleen from behind. "I like it."

Wait, is the spleen even back there? Is that how oni work?

Kei bared her much-smaller fangs, muscles moving a little strangely on her face. "Obito, stay on him. Mighty Nein, you find your friends."

Obito didn't even look at the others and chirped, "Can do!"

Lorenzo floated away from them—Obito mentally recategorized him as a malicious balloon—and toward the ceiling, out of immediate reach. From the ground. Mostly because no one here was actually three meters tall besides him, and he had a polearm, and also that was vaguely relevant. The only thing that weapon would do was give him a little more space to die.

Not all of the Mighty Nein moved toward the cells at the back of the floor. Not all of them had time.

Lorenzo made a gesture and hissed something—

Beau's voice went, "Fuck, here it comes—"

Obito's entire thought process for the next few seconds was, COLD!

Seeing the expanding blue field of energy was something new in Obito's experience. It was trackable, like syrup sliding into a bowl, but then everything was ice crystals and pain. Obito's breath came out as a fog as he gasped and inhaled icy razor blades.

"Shake it off," Kei growled, even as she placed herself squarely between Lorenzo and Obito. Hoarfrost littered her sleeves like she'd used them to block the main blast on reflex. With a snap of her hands, like shaking off water, she scattered shards all over the ground.

She looked a lot better than Obito felt. There was ice in his ears.

And a lot better than some of the Mighty Nein did, actually. When Obito looked, Shakäste was on the ground and being tended by Caduceus. Beau was down, barely propped up by Molly behind her. Keg's armor was covered with icicles and looked terrible, but she was up and spitting mad. Everyone else who'd been caught in the blast kinda looked like hell and it was only after one big shot.

Which wasn't everyone, but still.

Well, shit.

Obito considered his options, then made hand seals. Even if he was running low on chakra, they needed Lorenzo dead more than Obito needed to worry about staying upright if they won.

"Everyone's fine ," Caduceus called out, and a burst of healing magic exploded out of his crystal-topped staff.

Beau gasped back to life and nearly clocked Molly in the chin with her forehead on her way back to her feet. Shakäste clambered up with the help of Caleb's off hand, probably swearing a little as his joints popped and the ice cracked off him. In both of their cases—and with Keg and Molly—the magic closed their wounds as easily as it had Obito's yesterday.

Obito exchanged a glance with Kei.

Kei summoned a Rasengan to her right hand, clearly escalating well past the point where she was okay saying anything in a fight. The blue light refracted off all the ice still on her, sending sparkles everywhere.

Closing rapidly, Beau shouted, "Time to fuck him up!"

Going by the way Keg and Molly joined her immediately in melee range of Lorenzo, but no one else did, they had decided to delegate. That left Caleb, Caduceus, Shakäste, and Nott in the back, well out of stabbing range if Lorenzo thought he was gonna go around doing that.

Lorenzo turned invisible, maybe on reflex.

"Shit!" said Keg, even though she probably wasn't tall enough to reach the balloon-oni anyway from the ground. It suited the mood of the party.

Then Obito, Sharingan still active, immediately shot a spear right through the bastard's left forearm. The weird illusion overlay flickered, and then it died because Kei leapt directly for the still-visible spear shaft, caught it, and slammed the Rasengan overhand into Lorenzo's shoulder like she was trying to dislocate it.

There was an earth-shaking wham as Lorenzo simultaneously hit the floor hard enough to kick up a dust cloud, put a crater into it, crushed the dead hireling, and turned visible again. Then he was lying in the middle of a circle of very angry people, all of whom had either weapons or jutsu.

"You're not leaving this shitty basement alive," Obito informed the winded oni cheerfully. "You already weren't, but now you're fucked."

Beau popped her knuckles loud enough to make a normal person wince.

Molly's swords lit up with gold light and crackling ice, as if in revenge for the big attack from earlier.

Keg blew a puff of smoke down into his fanged face. Her axe was already raised.

And then, in the back, Obito was pretty sure Nott finally got to work on the locks.


About fifteen seconds later, Lorenzo was super dead. Like, axed in the head, couple organs exploded by Beau, no hands thanks to Molly, and then on fire because Obito hadn't been shy about corpses since he was thirteen. Caleb got in a couple good shots with his really tiny fireballs, too, and Obito might've talked to him about it if it wasn't for the consistent aura of anxiety and exhaustion the man gave off. Obito kinda knew when he'd make some stuff worse, so he did the rest of the body disposal bits on his own.

In the end, Obito decided to bury the basement in an avalanche of earth, slaver corpses and all, because it'd be less of a ventilation problem. Just needed everyone out of the immediate area.

There was much more important stuff to care about.

Obito stayed in the middle of the room and hucked broken bits of table and torture instruments into Lorenzo-the-pyre to get rid of them, while everyone else gathered more in he middle of the room for triage. They got all the cells cracked open and pried their friends' chains off of at least a few walls, helping (or carrying) them to Caduceus's improvised clinic for check-ups.

Just emergency -emergency checkups. Rin was still upstairs with her own healing space ready to go, so they'd be heading up soon. Caduceus was great in the meantime.

Two of the patients were even awake, which cut down on some of the worry.

"I think I've got it," Nott said anxiously, kneeling next to her tiefling friend with a full set of lockpicks in hand. "Just a second, Jester."

Jester mumbled something in a vaguely affirming tone behind the gag.

Next to her, the half-orc gentleman (introduced in an undertone by Kei, since no one else was going to bother) leaned heavily back against the nearest wall. He looked a little like he had a headache, which was probably the least of today's problems. And probably a little less instantly solvable than the gag thing.

"And Yasha?" Molly asked into the general aura of adrenaline crashes. He'd allowed Obito to haul his friend out of her cell, and Shakäste to clean up some of the blood, but otherwise hadn't let the Tsunade-muscled woman out of his grip. At the moment, he sat with her head in his lap and didn't look like he was going to move for the next week if she didn't.

Obito could relate. His eye ached.

"Exhausted, maybe cursed," Caduceus said, after he'd had a chance to check Yasha's pulse. His brows pinched together for just a moment. "Now, let's see what I have left…"

"Not just you, my friend," Shakäste added, and twin blooms of healing light swept over the group.

It was, again, really nice not to feel like someone'd stolen Obito's (remaining) bones, stuffed them in a freezer for an hour, then put them back. Or poked him in the eye repeatedly. The Sharingan was going to give him problems tomorrow, he just knew it. Chakra exhaustion fucking sucked.

Caduceus's magic helped a lot with the more acute symptoms, though. Shakäste's magic was sorta tingly, which was also pretty neat, and definitely also made things hurt a bit less.

Yasha didn't wake up, but Nott finally got the gags out of everyone's mouths.

Before Obito could get cheerfully swamped by conversation, Kei's hand snaked out and grabbed his ear. "Ow!"

"You're going upstairs to see Rin right now." Kei's exasperated face didn't leave a lot of room for negotiation.

Obito tried anyway. "But what if they need my help—"

"They don't."

"What about traps?"

"There aren't any left."

"There might be!"

"Obito."

"Keeeeeiiiiii."

"Rin's been worrying about you since the day we arrived. Don't keep her waiting any longer," Kei concluded, and shoved him away by his shoulder. Clearly done arguing with him, she shucked her coat and turned her attention to drying her clothes after the ice incident. "She's already seen me, after all. This?" She waved in such a way to encompass Obito's entire green self. "This isn't going to even surprise her."

Obito pouted only while she was still looking his way. Then he turned on his heel and fled up the stairs.

Probably wasn't really fleeing if he was running toward something.

The next floor up was empty, since they'd cleared out the captives and the captors on the first sweep. Same with that first basement, though Obito took the time to kick the corpse of the torturer into a burning torch as a courtesy for all the damage he'd caused. And he swung the trapdoor open nice and loud, so nobody was taken by surprise.

In a wacky mirror inversion of the moment he'd reunited with Kei, Rin was there waiting for him, right at the threshold of the trapdoor room. She grabbed him by both forearms and dragged him into a hug faster than anything.

There was definitely a technique to physical affection. Whether someone went for Gai's method of hanging off someone's neck until they gave in, Kei's total willingness to just be used as a pillow, or the arm Obito could sometimes throw over Kakashi's shoulders (if he didn't duck), Obito figured he was a bit of a connoisseur.

Obito's personal favorite was being allowed to wrap himself around his favorite people like a four-limbed octopus, though he didn't get to do it all the time. A close runner-up, though, was Rin's ability to hoist him right into the air and squash him against her front like a favorite stuffed toy. Being taller, he could then apply the octopus maneuver at the same time and still not worry once about falling.

Obito hugged her back just as hard. He buried his face and his suddenly swimming vision against her shoulder, clinging for dear life.

"Missed you," Rin said into his ear. "Don't ever disappear like that again."

Obito's laugh was barely a breath. "I promise I won't. Once was definitely enough."

"Not once," Rin corrected him. She probably felt Obito's wince at the reminder of Kannabi. "But please, never again."

Obito nodded wordlessly against the side of her head, feeling his throat click as he swallowed any other assurances. Right now, they'd all ring hollow.

Rin squeezed him just a bit harder, then let him gently drop to the floor again. Disarmed by the gentleness and frankly not seeing too clearly right now, Obito slid all the way down to the ground, taking her with him by the hand.

Rin settled in front of him without a word. Instead, she took both of her hands—thrumming faintly with chakra—and cupped them around Obito's face. She peered at him with purple eyes instead of dark brown, but the change wasn't nearly as jarring as Obito's reflection this morning. The tip of Rin's tongue poked out of her mouth as she ran her fingers, feather-light, over the long sweep of Obito's new ears.

Not a hint of revulsion in her face or her body language, even as she turned to tracing the flower that made up for his missing left eye. She didn't even really seem surprised.

Obito could've cried from sheer relief. Also maybe sleep deprivation and chakra exhaustion, but he wasn't saying that aloud.

"I was so afraid we wouldn't find you," Rin admitted, resting her forehead against his. She had to lean up a little to do it, even when they were both sitting on level ground. "We'd never give up, but Obito, given how strange everything is—" She pulled her face back far enough to kiss his forehead. "But you're here."

"You're a bit less surprised by all of this than I thought you'd be." Obito caught her free hand and brought it back up to his cheek. "This isn't too weird?"

"Well, you've already seen Kei," Rin huffed a faint laugh as she sat back. "Kakashi's even worse. But I have a million questions for you already."

"I bet," Obito agreed. He might even be able to stay awake long enough to answer tonight.

"Are you two going to just block the stairs forever?" Kei's voice asked from the base of the stairs.

"You have an unromantic soul," Obito told her with only a little bit of struggle, Rin's hands felt nice and he was so tired.

"My boyfriend is a giant wolf, and I have a deadweight bigger than I am on my back right now, so don't even," was her sharp reply, and Obito could just imagine her grumpy face. Then, "Rin, three more patients for you."

"On it!"

And like that, the moment was broken.

The entire group Obito had left behind spilled out into the first floor, in about the same state as before. Maybe a couple fewer gashes, healed up by someone's magic or other, but mostly everyone looked tired and very done with the evening. True to Kei's word, she had Yasha slung over her shoulders in a fireman's carry with Molly steadying her steps, which at least boded well for everyone else if the unconscious person was the only one not walking.

Rin led everyone to her makeshift infirmary pretty quickly, since a couple of doors were now mysteriously splinter-fied. All of the captives from the basement were sitting around on their very dead captors' furniture in various states of shock, pain, or just uncertainty. A lot of them had bandages that were almost definitely from Rin's kit. Still, better than being in cages or chains, and Rin wouldn't let anything get infected. Obito spotted Nila handing out little red berries like they were steaming bowls of okayu. Her family sitting against a big fur rug or something, which looked comfy.

It took him a couple of seconds—Sharingan off, to avoid giving Rin too many reminders—to realize the big white blob was alive. Then there was a snort and a pair of ears flicking in their direction, and a tail wagged.

"You really weren't kidding about the dog thing, huh?" Obito said, right before a big, wet tongue licked a stripe from his neck to his hairline. "Gross! Stop that, you jerk."

He did not stop.

"That went up my nose!"

Kakashi, having shed firbolgs and fur and dignity all at once, put dinner plate paws on Obito's chest and nearly bowled him over with the force of the affection onslaught.

"You've caught him on a bad night. He doesn't understand words right now." Kei got Yasha laid out on the floor pretty quickly with Molly's help. Kei backed away when he shucked his coat to fold it into a pillow and, without missing a beat, said, "Speaking of bad nights, though, you have been overusing your eye again."

"Have not!" Obito tried, but couldn't exactly get away without activating Kamui. And he wasn't going to do that while Rin was watching, which meant Kakashi's huge bulk pinned him to a wall.

"Liar," said Kei.

Rin, though, turned her attention away from her new patients and back toward him. "Obito? Is that true?"

Uhm.

"Sit down, you're a patient too," Rin concluded, correctly. Damn it.

Obito made one last effort to escape, which went exactly nowhere when Kakashi sat on him. Not completely—being the size of a horse, that'd probably be at least bone-breaking territory—but he couldn't get his leg out from under those snowshoe paws by the time the flailing was over.

Obito only sneaked a look through his active Sharingan once before Rin caught him and scolded him, but it was enough to confirm that the big dog was Kakashi in kind of the same way Nila was a crocodile earlier. Though he didn't really need the mental image of Kakashi, dressed in his usual jōnin uniform, lounging on top of him like he was possessed by a haunted throw blanket. The whole giant wolf overlay was arguably easier to look at.

"I'm not sure why I thought you were even slightly cool," said Beau, who'd helped her group get out bedrolls and simultaneously compounded Obito's misery by being totally unsympathetic to his struggling.

Pretty much the only one who even attempted to "help" was Asar, who gave Obito a berry as a goodbye before Shakäste started herding people out. They were thoroughly unhelpful people who would let one of their rescuers suffer. Obito was being abandoned to the merciless twin traps of canine affection and medical expertise.

Sure, the Mighty Nein were busy setting up a huge post-trauma cuddle-pile in the middle of the room, and they hadn't kicked Team Minato out in sheer paranoia, but still.

"I haven't had dignity since I was half your height," said Obito, because it was true. "Ask anyone."

"Oh, I will."

"The dog is new, though," Obito added, because he was starting to lose feeling in his foot. "As is not being the tallest." He propped his head up on his hand and surveyed Kakashi's new body with some apprehension. "Where'd all the extra mass even come from? Humans're bigger than wolves, but this is like someone tried to use up a small whale."

Kakashi, oblivious to his words and probably hungry, gnawed on the ham bone Fjord had found for him before the guy disappeared upstairs. Obito wasn't sure Fjord should've been walking around either. Also, he wasn't entirely convinced that bone belonged to a pig.

Beau just shrugged. "It's magic."

"Starting to hate that explanation, honestly."

Seeing Jester, Molly, and Yasha, all conked out on the floor together, kinda just reminded him that they'd pretty much fucked over everyone's entire sleep schedule to pull off this night mission with any efficiency. That went double for the twitchy ones. But really, if one night's work got their friends back and their enemies super dead, that was a good use of their time.

Nott let out a whistling snore against Caleb's leg that made Beau wince.

"She get hit in the face?" Obito asked, around a yawn of his own.

"Not that I saw," said Beau. "She's just like that sometimes."

"Huh. Okay then." Obito turned his attention to Kei, who was busily digging through her pack. Not sure what for; the good stuff was still in Obito's pocket dimension. "Kei, you let your hair grow out a bit. Haven't done that since we were kids. What changed?"

Kei glanced up at him, a little less grumpy than before. Her bangs fell over her eyes, so she blew them out of the way with a little huff. "So, you know how I don't have long hair because it might get snagged in fights—"

Obito blinked. His thoughts ran a bit slow, like syrup. "Wait, you told me it was because you were too lazy to deal with it. Is it really because I burned you that one time?"

Did Caleb wince? Or maybe Obito's vision was already swimming. Would've earned it.

Kei shook her head. "Uh, no. Anyway, these are a consideration." She pointed at her horns, then shrugged. "And they're longer than my hair anyway. So I just borrowed one of Rin's clips."

Obito rolled his eye. "That was a really long way to say my 'laziness' theory was right."

And then Rin's voice cut through the teasing with a sharp, "He's been what?!"

Rin and Caduceus had kept to one side of the room once the adrenaline crash really set in and people started sorting themselves into groups. With Shakäste leading most of the former captives to safety elsewhere, Nila's family officially departing, and the glow of victory fading, there'd been a lot of other things to worry about that kept the healers from talking shop.

Mostly of the packing variety. Everything the Iron Shepherds owned was now up for grabs, in a "to the victor go the spoils" kind of way. Most of the food walked off with the groups who'd already left. It was going to a good cause.

But that meant that, now that everything was quiet, Obito's reprieve was over.

"I take it he's not supposed to be running around all over the place like that."

"No, he's not."

Rin turned to him with such a look of disappointment that Obito flailed again in an attempt to get away. Not using Kamui, because he knew when he was already in trouble.

Kakashi surged up from Obito's captive leg—briefly freed—and then fixed his teeth in Obito's wooden arm like he'd been planning to do that all night. Even if it didn't hurt, the sheer mass of the hairy beast kept Obito from moving one centimeter further, because his arm wasn't a prosthetic in the normal way. He really had no idea how it would act if he pulled really hard while it was made of wood.

Obito gave an experimental tug anyway. "Drop it, boy."

Kakashi jerked his head like he was trying to kill something. Maybe Kei had been letting him eat squirrels or something.

"You traitor. This is why I'm not a dog person," Obito said mournfully. "A cat would never do this to me."

Kakashi's tail thumped happily against the floor.

Jerk. Just wait until we can both think again.

Frumpkin, on Caleb's shoulder, gave a plaintive little meow that thankfully didn't draw the wolf brain's attention. Unless Obito was wrong, it was basically the cat equivalent of quietly protesting the presence of such a damn big dog.

"Obito, that's enough," said Rin's voice. When Obito looked up, she was sitting on her heels next to him, slightly out of range of Kakashi's teeth. With a sigh, she reached down and pried Kakashi's crocodile-sized jaws loose from Obito's arm without so much as a pause.

Ah, shit. Obito knew that look. "But Rin—"

Rin's left hand cupped his jaw while her right settled on his cheekbone and the deep whorls there. "It's all right, Obito. I've got you."

Obito closed his eye. Between her and Kakashi's weight and Kei's sheer stubbornness, Obito fought a losing battle. Might as well give up now. "Then maybe I should lie down first?"

"Good idea."

Obito was allowed to wiggle out from directly under Kakashi's bulk as long as he stayed in Rin's grip. He even settled against all of that ridiculous winter fur of Kakashi's ruff, which smelled mostly like dirt, without trying to get away from the inevitable. And someone—almost definitely Kei—dropped a blanket over him.

"If you hadn't been overusing your eye, you wouldn't need a crash mat," Rin said, but her voice was fond.

Obito mumbled something partly incoherent as Rin's healing took hold. The ache in his bones eased into a cotton-soft flood of exhaustion that plagued him for days at a time. Even resting didn't take the edge off. But here, in Rin's hands, Obito slipped silently into sleep.


Kei sat cross-legged on the floor, leaning against her backpack's bulk as though it might qualify as a pillow. It didn't, but it was better than the bare floor. Knowing what this place had been used for made the entire structure repulsive down to the basement's foundations.

But there was a roof. They could burn the place to the ground in the morning.

"How long has he been awake?" Rin asked the room at large, once she'd tucked Obito more firmly against Kakashi's side. He half-disappeared into the fur and didn't move when Rin briefly ran her fingers over his forehead.

"Fourteen hours, thirty-one minutes, and six seconds," said Caleb, sitting atop his bedroll with his cat in his arms.

"Thank you for the precision," Rin told him, completely earnest.

"It is accurate," Caleb went on quietly, "but as an elf, he did not sleep in the same manner as a human might."

"He didn't?" Rin started to get that look in her face again; it lurked under the concern like a shark. Its name was Science and it needed barely any prompting. "That's very interesting. Is there anything else I should know?"

"Ah, perhaps…" Caleb began.

Kei rubbed her temples as she tuned him out. There were too many levels to this problem to tackle effectively in one conversation. She didn't know where to start. Maybe… I think Rin would kill for a full medical suite right now.

And I would kill for many other things, Isobu put in helpfully.

I take it that "standing watch" is boring.

Since you killed every acceptable target here, yes.

One, if Rin was a better liar, she might have tried to play off the new information as something already learned by hanging around Obito. Who was currently an elf and, from Caleb's perspective, had always been one. Two, Kei had literally no fucking idea how elves worked once they passed the pointy ear threshold. It was less a problem of too little information and more the reality of too many fantasy stories having elves, and thus each universe inventing its own rules. Now, they were all interfering with Kei's preconceptions.

It may be better to ignore them all, Isobu grumbled. He was outside, and therefore free of any risk of actually interacting with people. He and Kei had agreed he was best on watch before her descent into the torture cellar, so a beast that didn't sleep could just keep doing that.

Or just surrender to the fact that we have the operational security of an ongoing trash fire?

What is the point? It is not as though you have seen a single other shinobi besides your team since arriving.

"He has been transporting us hither and dither," Caleb added, careful now that he had Rin's attention, "all of today and yesterday. I understand that was reckless behavior."

"Oh, it was. Overuse of Obito's special abilities leads to blindness and death. Usually in that order, but not necessarily." Rin's voice was entirely clinical. After all, she'd been dealing with Obito's bullshit for the last decade and a half, even before developing the technique to undo the Mangekyō Sharingan's degenerative effects.

Well, that was one cat out of the bag.

"Ah. That is...good to know." Caleb glanced at Obito's snoring form. "We will not ask him to do so in the future?"

"It's not really a matter of asking. Obito takes risks like this all the time. He shouldn't, but short of sitting on him, it's hard to make him stop." Rin flapped a hand at Kakashi, who had moved his head in such a way to pin one of Obito's legs. Again.

"Separation anxiety," Kei suggested at last, grimacing. Her tail whipped around and hit her own thigh as she thought, so she put a hand down to keep it still. She thought she'd managed to get that under control for the last month. Extra appendages were a hassle. "We had each other, but he was on his own."

"True. If there's one thing Obito isn't, it's a lone wolf."

"No, but…" Kei gestured at Kakashi like Rin had, with more intent. The punchline was right there. His tail was still wagging occasionally.

"You stop that," said Rin, because Obito couldn't.

Kei held her hands up in surrender.

They were going to have so much to talk about in the morning. If that elf sleeping schedule was actually a thing, that might be sooner rather than later.

Kei let out a sigh and looked around the room again. With some exceptions, such as Beau and Keg (and Fjord walking down the stairs even now), most of the Mighty Nein were sprawled out on a combination of whatever passed for furniture and their bedding. They'd had a long…however long this situation had lasted.

They'd all actually talk in the morning.

"Mind if my group takes first watch?" Kei asked Fjord, once he was close enough that she could whisper and still be heard.

Fjord sat down among the bedrolls and managed to dig out his own after a few heartbeats, setting up with his back firmly to a wall. His mouth had scabs at the corners from the gag, and the skin pulled and split as he said, "That's mighty kind of you. Don't think any of us are really up for it now."

Seemed about right, really. If the Mighty Nein only carried physical reminders of their captivity here, they'd be uncannily lucky.

She didn't really think they were.

And Kei was going to get over that Texan accent at some point. Probably whenever she found out where the hell it came from, and how the fuck Fjord's and Lorenzo's voices sounded anything alike. Preferably before she had to make up her own answer and offend someone by accident.

He is still waiting for an answer, Isobu prodded her.

Kei sighed again and said, "Good night, then."


Notes:

1. Lorenzo had less than 200 HP, and was capable of dealing between 20ish and 40ish damage per turn, depending on if he got turns. Unfortunately, underestimating Obito's bullshit was never going to work out well for him. Instead of relying on Invisibility like in canon, he seeped down to the basement level as a Gaseous Form (1/day), which Obito couldn't recognize. The spell he clocked half the crew with was Cone of Cold (1/day), so by the time that first round was done, he was out of game-changing abilities.
2. Obito, running on chakra exhaustion and strung-out nerves, faces about the same mechanical consequences as a player character who starts skipping their union-mandated sleeping hours. He failed two saving throws in the opening rounds of the fight, but Ruzza going with Vicious Mockery was lowballing and failed to meaningfully dent his HP pool. Lorenzo's Cone of Cold, on the other hand, hit him for full damage.
3. Kei, meanwhile, has cold resistance and a CON save of like +11. She's fine.
4. There were entirely too many people in this goddamn basement.
5. As a member of the Golden Grin, Shakäste is contractually obligated to ghost his way in and out of situations like Robin Hood, but chill.