Chapter 40: The Ghost of the Uchiha

"So, that's the whole story, huh?" Shisui asked while patting my head awkwardly.

It was about all he could do since I was currently wrapped around him like a clingy octopus. I took a moment to be thankful that Kakashi had agreed to give us a moment of privacy. The former Hokages didn't need to see me like this, but I wasn't going to pass up this opportunity to get an entire lifetime's worth of Shisui-hugging in while I could.

"Most of it, but we can cover the rest later," I said.

Of course that presupposed that there would be a later, which wasn't exactly a guarantee. But Shisui didn't need to know details of my former life right now. We just had to focus on the whole Kaguya Revival…thing.

"Well, that's certainly…something," said Shisui. "But if Itachi thinks that it's necessary, then I'm inclined to trust his judgment."

"I'll send you to rendezvous with him after everything is settled here," I said.

"Does that 'everything' include Madara?" asked Shisui with a wry smile. "I suppose you'll need my eyes to deal with him."

"I'll handle Madara alone," I said.

There was a beat of silence.

"...Are you sure about that?" Shisui asked.

Not really, no.

I nodded anyway.

"If Madara makes things difficult, I'll just release the Edo Tensei," I said, trying to project an air of confidence. If Madara didn't agree to play along, things would not go well… "Also, remember to save your Kotoamatsukami for when you really need it. I've fortified your Edo Tensei with Hashirama cells, so you can use it once every 24 hours, but a lot is going to happen in that time."

"That won't be a problem," said Shisui with a shrug. "These are my eyes, after all. I can use them as often as I want."

Oh, huh. So the cooldown period was a side-effect of the transplant? That made sense, actually since no other Mangekyou ability had any such limitation. It was like how Kakashi always endured an incredible strain when he used Obito's Mangekyou, but Obito never experienced that same strain.

"Good to know," I said, frowning as I reconsidered the plan. Huh, maybe it would be better to…

"...But according to some of the old stories, Madara is a sensor," Shisui added, seeming to read my mind. "So trying to put him under a genjutsu probably isn't the best idea."

True.

Very true.

"Let's stick to the original plan then," I said. "It feels like Kakashi-sensei has finished explaining things to the Hokages, so we can go talk to them when you're ready."

Although I hadn't been listening in on their conversation, I had been tracking their chakra, and while Hashirama and Tobirama's chakra had flared once, they were both settled down now.

"Ah, I'm ready so…" said Shisui, tugging on my sleeve, a clear indication that it was time for me to let go.

But…

"Hmm…maybe ten more seconds," I said.

Shisui huffed a quiet laugh, and wrapped both of his arms around me.

"Okay, ten more seconds…"

I could have gladly held onto him for days, but unfortunately we had things to do. So when the ten seconds were up, I reluctantly let go, and we went to join the others.

"Shisui," said Hiruzen as we approached, his voice filled with surprise.

"Hmph, where is Madara?" Tobirama demanded, his eyes darting around me like I was going to pull Madara out of my pocket.

I just shook my head.

"It wouldn't be a good idea to summon him here," I said. "He doesn't like you very much. So if the first thing he sees is me standing next to you, he's probably not going to like me very much either. And things will be so much harder if he doesn't like me."

That was a bit of an understatement.

Tobirama scoffed.

"You do not understand the man you would return to this world," he said. "He is not a pawn to be manipulated and controlled by the whims of others."

Ironic since that's exactly what he was to Black Zetsu.

"I don't doubt you," I said. "But that shouldn't be a problem."

"So you intend to rely on Shisui's Kotoamatsukami then?" Hiruzen asked. He was eyeing Shisui with a frown. "His mind control is a powerful technique, but it is no guarantee against someone like Madara."

"It shouldn't come to that," I said. "I intend to talk with him first."

"Ah, I see!" said Hashirama with a bold grin. "You're going to explain the situation to him, right? Madara is a reasonable man. I'm sure he will assist us once he understands what is at stake!"

I could only stare.

Madara?

Reasonable?

I didn't know Madara personally, but I was pretty sure that no one had ever accused him of being 'reasonable'. The same was true for the rest of my clan. Most major events in Konoha's recent history could include the phrase '...and then the Uchiha were very unreasonable.'

Tobirama must have shared my same sentiments because his brow furrowed into a look of unbridled fury and his chakra flared, exploding outward in a wave of power.

Kakashi and Shisui fell into defensive stances, Shisui's Mangekyo flaring to life, but I held out a hand while shaking my head. Shisui gave me a sidelong glance, but I stood straight as I faced Tobirama.

I'd been trained by Pein. I could handle a bit of chakra and Killing Intent.

"Woman…" Tobirama growled. "I will not allow you to unleash Madara onto this world."

He raised one finger, his chakra shaping into a jutsu.

I drew a cloak of lightning around me. If it came to a battle of reflexes, I wasn't confident in the outcome. But if I could protect my vital organs from his initial attack, I should be able to survive long enough to—

"Tobirama!" Hashirama shouted, his chakra also flaring. Their chakras clashed in a violent storm of chaotic power. The ground beneath their feet cracked from the sheer force of their presence. "Lower your finger!"

The brothers remained like that for a long moment before Tobirama relented, his chakra vanishing like a candle being snuffed out. Half a moment later, Hashirama followed suit.

"Don't let your chakra get so riled up, Anija," he said, his use of the archaic form of 'elder brother' a subtle reminder that he was from a different time. A time of conflict and war when the mere thought of talking things out seemed hopelessly naïve.

We weren't as far removed from that time as I might have liked.

Hashirama let out a booming deep-belly laugh, breaking the tension with sheer exuberance. The abrupt shift in his mood was enough for Kakashi and Shisui to relax from their previous battle-ready stances. Their chakras still rippled with anxiety, but they were marginally calmer. It was actually a little startling how quickly Hashirama's attitude could take command of those around him, terrifying and soothing others by his mood alone.

He reminded me sharply of Naruto in a way that made my heart ache. Even his chakra felt the same, all sunshine and warmth.

"I appreciate your concerns," I said. "While it's true that Madara will not join us willingly, he doesn't need to cooperate. He just needs to become the Juubi jinchuuriki and not cause too much damage in the process. That's why you're here. To keep him occupied until the moon is in place. Every moment he spends fighting you is a moment that he's not killing anyone else."

"It seems that it would be easier and safer to simply use Obito as a means of reviving Kaguya instead," Tobirama pointed out.

"Obito can still be saved," I said, glancing at Kakashi, whose expression was unreadable. "And we'll need him to fight against Kaguya. I understand if you have doubts or if you don't want to face Madara. I may have summoned you here with Edo Tensei, but I have no intention of forcing you to do anything."

"It's fine," said Hashirama, waving his hand to dismiss my reservations. "It will be nice to catch up with an old friend again."

He spoke as if his last encounter with Madara hadn't been a fight to the death over their clashing ideologies.

"You're being too flippant, Anija," said Tobirama, shooting me a narrow-eyed glare. "Do you truly trust this woman with the fate of the world?"

"Nope!" said Hashirama with a grin and a shrug. "If it was her word alone, I can't say I'd believe any of it. But it's not. Saru said that this man, Kakashi, was his subordinate and that he believes what Kakashi has to say. I am willing to trust him."

I blinked.

Did Hashirama really just call the Third Hokage 'Monkey'? I mean, I might have expected that from Tobirama, whose method of speaking was pretty rude in general, but it sounded so weird to hear a nickname like that coming from the first Hokage. Like I was listening to an adult speak about a child rather than an old man.

Tobirama let out a small sound of displeasure, still not convinced.

Minato reached up to scratch his head.

"I know that we've never met before, so my words might not have much merit, but Kakashi was once my student," he said. "I am also willing to vouch for him."

Tobirama glanced between Hashirama and Minato before landing back on Hiruzen.

"You mentioned a mind control technique," he asked. "We cannot ignore the possibility that your subordinate may be compromised. Are you certain that this woman can be trusted? Not Kakashi. Her. Are you absolutely certain?"

The Third Hokage looked at me.

I met his gaze levelly, my heart sinking. We'd never really interacted much while he was alive. He was mostly just the guy behind the desk handing out mission scrolls. All business. Our only real personal interaction had happened after the massacre. And it didn't really end well.

GET! OUT!

That wasn't the type of exchange to inspire confidence. Of course Hiruzen wouldn't–

"She is a kunoichi of Konoha," said Hiruzen, turning back to Tobirama with a smile. "In the time that I have known her, she has only ever sought to help those around her whether they were her family, her classmates, or even members of other villages who were in dire need of aid. So, yes. I am absolutely certain that she can be trusted."

Something tightened in my chest.

Tobirama let out an irritated huff, his chakra rippling briefly to match his mood. But a moment later he settled down and turned his gaze to me, his eyes not quite trusting but not outright hostile anymore either.

"...Then we owe it to the future generations to handle this threat now," he said. "I may not agree with the methods, but I will ensure that they are carried out."

I let out a slow breath.

"Thank you," I said. For more than I cared to admit. "Just leave Madara to me. I'll make sure that he does what is needed."

Tobirama snorted.

"I hope that your confidence is not misplaced," he said.

Me too.

Kakashi clapped his hands together.

"Great!" he said with an eye-smile. "If that's all decided, then gather round. I should be able to bring us all to the battlefield together. By now Obito is probably fighting the Five Kage, so be ready."

We all crowded together as Kakashi raised his forehead protector, drawing chakra to his eye. When he opened it again, it held the red and black pattern of the Mangkeyo Sharingan.

"Kamui!" he shouted, dragging all of us out of the Kamui dimension and into a nightmare.

I barely had a moment to register what was happening before I was moving, darting away from the giant mass of writhing gray flesh even as the ground around me exploded from the force of an enormous impact. I kept moving, tracking the chakra signatures of the others and following them out of the immediate area. We retreated to a mesa in what appeared to be a vast, barren desert.

"What is that?" Shisui asked in wide-eyed awe as he stared at the area we'd just vacated.

I turned too, trying to make sense of it before realization dawned on me, and my stomach clenched.

I'd thought we'd have more time…

"That…is the Juubi," I said blandly.

It was still incomplete, thankfully. A partial Juubi could be manifested with only a small portion of the Kyuubi's power even if the final state still needed all of it. Obito had likely gotten the sample by absorbing one of Naruto's Kyuubi-cloaked clones. Many more were still scattered at the far edges of my sensing range which indicated that the original was still fine and fighting. That was a relief.

"Shisui-nii-san, tell Onii-chan about the situation here," I said. According to Kakashi, Itachi should be with Naruto and Sasuke, and they all needed to know about this if they didn't already. Shisui nodded, and I placed my hand on his chest, sending him to Itachi.

"We'll have to deal with that before anything else," said Hashirama grimly as sage markings began appearing on his face.

True, but…

"Kakashi-sensei, you said that Obito should be fighting the Five Kage?" I asked. I couldn't see or sense any of them in the immediate vicinity. Did that mean…?

"You deal with Obito," said Tobirama. "Anija, Saru. Let's handle this thing."

"Right," said Hiruzen, and the three of them launched forward toward the Juubi.

"I can find Obito with the Hiraishin mark I placed on his back," said Minato. "I'll handle him. It's my responsibility as his sensei."

"I'll come with you," said Kakashi, his resolve clear in his tone. "I bear the same responsibility."

Minato hesitated for a moment before nodding. Their chakras felt…

"Wait!" I shouted. Minato and Kakashi both looked at me, startled. I took two steps to stand beside Kakashi and I hugged him. "Kakashi-sensei…Obito has done terrible things. He's killed people. My family…Fourth-sama, and so many more. He'll do his best to convince you that he cannot be saved. He'll fight you with all of his strength. But I promise that he can come back. I'm sure of it. So please…"

The Killing Intent emanating from Kakashi and Minato wavered briefly and then faded.

"You want us to save him," said Minato. His eyes were soft and kind. He looked so much like Naruto. It was difficult to imagine him as a ruthless shinobi with enough kills to warrant a Flee on Sight order. "This isn't just about Kaguya, is it?"

"...No," I admitted. I couldn't claim to have any real affection for Obito. Not after everything that he had done. "A sensei shouldn't have to kill his student. And a friend shouldn't have to kill his friend. But even more than that…I want you to save Obito because Obito saved me…"

He'd agreed to let Itachi shelter me in the Akatsuki when Konoha was no longer safe. He'd given me clothes and he'd taken me to a festival to make me feel at home. And when my intended self-destruction with the Hashirama cells had nearly gotten me killed, he was the one to pull me back from the brink of death.

I held no delusions that he'd done any of it out of the kindness of his heart, but I also couldn't just ignore everything he'd done for me either.

"I can't make any promises," said Kakashi. "I know you believe in him, but…"

"Even if you can't convince him, if you can remove the seal on his heart, that will be enough," I said. "Naruto will handle the rest. Because Obito is the person Naruto would become if he lost hope. And Naruto is the person who can return that hope to Obito. Please give him a chance."

"...We understand," said Minato gently. "Kakashi?"

Kakashi's chakra rippled briefly and then became calmer. Less lethal.

"...Right," he said.

I gave him one more squeeze before letting go and stepping back. Minato placed a hand on Kakashi's shoulder, and the two of them vanished. I'd just have to trust that they would handle things on their end.

Now it was time for my part in all of this.

Finding a White Zetsu wasn't hard. They were scattered all over the battlefield. It was a trivial matter to snare one in a genjutsu and lead it to a relatively quiet location. There, I placed the sample of Madara's DNA into its body and stepped back.

I wrapped a blanket of Positive Intent around my heart, calming its racing beat. Madara respected only power. I couldn't afford to show the tiniest hint of fear. I also activated my own Sharingan as proof of my lineage. I didn't expect it to amount to much, but against someone like Madara, I would take whatever small crumbs of consideration I could get. Like all Uchiha, Madara had once loved his family. Of course, he'd also abandoned and betrayed them, but if our shared bloodline bought me even a moment of extra time to talk, then it would be worth it.

Preparations complete, I slammed my palm into the ground.

"Edo Tensei no Jutsu!" I shouted.

A jutsu formula spread from my palm to encircle the White Zetsu, which writhed and twisted before it released an explosion of chakra. I anchored my feet to the ground and raised an arm to shield my face from the scattered dust and debris. The chakra wasn't an attack, just the overwhelming force of his power, not entirely unlike Hashirama's.

"Finally," said a deep, sinister voice from within the cloud of dust. "It would appear that he's managed to successfully groom that brat Nagato."

As the dust cleared, Uchiha Madara stepped onto the battlefield.

This was it.

"Nagato doesn't have anything to do with your resurrection," I said, my voice surprisingly even.

Madara's gaze, already red with the Sharingan, turned to me, and if I'd thought that Hashirama's presence was stifling, it was nothing compared to the man that stood before me now. Just his focused Intent was enough to make my mouth run dry, though my Positive Intent shield held strong.

"Oh?" Madara asked, his eyes narrowed in suspicion. "And just who are you supposed to be?"

He hadn't attacked yet. That was a good start.

"My name is Uchiha Kiyo," I said. "I'm the one who brought you back with the Edo Tensei jutsu."

Madara's eyes widened briefly as he looked down at his hands.

"Did you say Edo Tensei?" he asked. "Isn't that the technique known as a complete atrocity against the concept of life and death?"

Huh, could he really not tell how I'd brought him back?

"There's been a change of plans," I said. "Nagato betrayed Obito, and Obito has unleashed his army of White Zetsus along with an incomplete Juubi to handle the combined power of the Allied Shinobi forces."

"If the Juubi is still incomplete, then he's summoned me early," said Madara. "Things must be going very poorly indeed. It doesn't matter. I will resolve things easily enough."

"Obito isn't the one who arranged for your return," I said. "Although he was able to recover one of your eyes from Nagato, Obito had no intention of resurrecting you. You're here because of me. I brought you back because I have a...request."

"Is that so?" Madara asked, his lips slowly quirking into a small, sardonic smile. "And what would that be?"

He was humoring me. That was a good sign.

"We both want the same thing: a world that knows only peace, only love," I said. "Obito began this war to kill anyone who stood in his way. But what is the point of the Infinite Tsukuyomi if the ones who need it most are too dead to appreciate it? I want to help you achieve your goals…and I want to ask that you do it without killing anyone. Someone with your power and resolve should be more than capable of saving everyone in this broken world, including those currently fighting against us."

"Impudent brat," he said. "Those currently fighting against us? Are you including your other summons among them? Or do you think that I cannot feel Hashirama's chakra? Or that yours also flows through his veins?"

Damnit, Madara could sense that from here!?

"Of course," I said, thinking fast while my voice remained blessedly calm. "Half of the Kyuubi is sealed within the Fourth Hokage, and resurrecting him required resurrecting the other three Hokages as well. I simply set them loose to defend the Alliance against the Juubi until I could talk with you."

Madara chuckled.

It was a sound filled with razor-sharp Killing Intent, so much that it sent a spike of raw terror down my spine, almost shattering my blanket of Positive Intent. Madara's cracked face twisted into a grin completely devoid of anything but malice.

"So you're using them as you wish to use me," said Madara. "You, a weak woman who cannot fight her own battles and must rely on the strength of others. You think that you can control me?"

Not good.

"I'm simply working in everyone's best interest," I said, spreading my hands as though to show that I had nothing to hide. "They want to protect the people of this world from being slaughtered by the Juubi. I want that too. You want to bring about world peace. So do I. I'm not opposed to working with others when our goals align. Besides, you're hardly in a position to criticize my decision to delegate. If I hadn't, you wouldn't be here. I'm simply providing you with the opportunity to personally bring about the world you've always wished to see. All I ask is that everyone else gets to see it too. Whether or not you accept my offer is your choice."

"Hn, and I suppose that as my summoner I cannot simply kill you without undoing the technique?" he guessed.

No, actually. Edo Tensei was designed to keep the targets active even if the summoner was killed. In fact, killing the summoner just released the targets from their control.

"Yes," I lied, because if Madara didn't know any of that already, then I certainly wasn't going to tell him.

"Hn," said Madara, his gaze searching. "There's something I want to test. Summoning Jutsu!"

He slammed one palm against the ground, but though there was an incredible burst of chakra, nothing appeared. Madara's expression was displeased but not surprised. He straightened.

"You said that half of the Kyuubi is sealed within the Fourth Hokage," he said. "Where is the other half?"

Ah, so he'd tried to summon Kurama.

"That's what this war is about," I said. "It is within a boy named Naruto. Blond hair, blue eyes, and whisker marks. He's the type of person who will run straight at you, screaming all the while, so you won't have to search for him long, though it might be difficult to find him among his Shadow Clones. Once you extract his half of the Kyuubi, you'll need to inject him with a small amount of chakra from all nine of the tailed beasts. That will be enough to keep him alive, and you'll still be able to complete the Juubi."

"You've certainly put a great deal of thought into sparing one single life," said Madara. "Why?"

Ah, now this was risky.

"...Because he's my best friend," I said. "And I want him to see a brighter world where he will not suffer for being a jinchuuriki."

Understanding flickered across Madara's face.

"...So instead of fighting me, let's work together," I continued. "That way, before the sun sets one final time on this world of hatred and pain, I can save my closest friend and you can have one last dance with your rival Hashirama."

Madara's chakra flared briefly before he gave a small laugh.

"Very well, then," he said, turning toward the battle. "Try to keep up and stay out of my way."

He leaped into the air and body flickered away at incredible speed. I followed close behind.

"You don't have to worry about that," I said, matching his pace with a body-flicker of my own. He was moving fast, but not faster than I could manage. "Despite what you may think, I am not weak."

"Hn," said Madara. "We shall see…."

AN: Sorry these last few chapters have been a bit short. Since coming back from the last break, each chapter has been stubbornly difficult to write. I think it's because I'm planning a bit too much for this arc and am getting bogged down, so I'm going to take a slight break to revamp the outline for the rest of the war arc to simplify it a bit. I'll probably move the completion of some of the character arcs to the post-war arc and instead focus on the actual fighting to keep things a little more straight forward.