Madara knew he was strong. He knew that he was looked at as unbeatable, that his very presence kept his clan safe from attack just because enemies feared coming up against the wrong side of his gunbai. He knew that even amongst his clan he was hailed as the greatest Sharingan user in recorded history. He knew that the only opponent who had come close to defeating him was Hashirama and their fights were seldom serious.
He is haunted,
Chased by mourning ghouls,
Ghosts of a past that doesn't exist,
A past untethered in truth.
He is haunted,
Stalked with every breath,
Because the boy who fell through time,
Is closer than the ghosts to death.
He is haunted,
Crying out for mistakes past,
His spirits follow the one they left,
And pray that each breath will last.
Madara knew very well that he was strong. They say that the wise fear wisdom, because they know the price of knowledge but the strong fear being abandoned by that strength because they don't know how to fight without it.
Madara was a prolific fighter and a cunning military mind but as an old friend on the riverbank could tell you, his greatest fear had always been being too weak to save his brothers. He had risked treason to build castles in the air, or more accurately a village in the air, just so that he could keep his last little brother safe from the cruel world that reached hungrily for his innocence. He had been prepared to sacrifice everything for the fraternal bonds with his sibling and even when he hesitated to follow through, it was only because his brother counselled against it.
Suffice to say, Uchiha Izuna was the centrepoint of Madara's life and when he felt chills down his spine and a painful sinking in his gut, he turned immediately to the side of the battlefield where Izuna was fighting Tobirama. He couldn't care less about his own fight, deadly vines reaching for him even as Hashirama's eyes widened in horror.
As he leapt across the clearing, knowing instinctively with a dawning sense of hopelessness that he would not reach in time, he watched as Tobirama materialized behind his brother, sword raised in offence, directed at his unprotected back and let out a howl of agony. He had never regretted his bloodline more as the perfect recall of the Sharingan captured the moment he knew would be etched in his nightmares to come.
Until suddenly Tobirama froze mid action and the clearing echoed with a cry that made Madara wince in pain for the speaker's throat.
The man who followed the cry out of the copse of trees was shirtless, chest bound with blood soaked bandages and wore a band around his waist with the characters for shinobi. His pants were ripped in places and his sandals were almost worn through and caked in a dark brown that seemed more like blood than mud. What froze the breath in Madara's throat and Hashirama's too, from the choked gasp he heard was the hitai-ate on his forehead with a stylized leaf.
The same leaf the two of them had adopted for the village they planned to build together.
"Shadow possession complete, Zetsu. Do you want me to drag you out?"
Madara had barely managed to drag his brother away when horrifyingly, Izuna's shadow moved. It writhed like the surface of a river and with a sickening squelch, and deposited a creature beside the brothers.
It was vaguely humanoid, despite its crouched position with putrid yellow eyes and a gaping maw, stretched into a grimace.
"Get the hell away from the Uchiha, you damn weed. Hunting you down again will be far too troublesome." Despite the bored tone, Madara could see the hatred burning in the shinobi's hazel eyes. Eyes which when combined with the characteristic catchphrase and spiky ponytail spoke volumes about the clan he belonged too.
The Nara were a relatively smaller clan, one that despite their shinobi status was more focussed on medicine and agriculture than fighting. They were one of the few entirely neutral clans, supplying both the Uchiha and Senju and despite their borderline narcolepsy, one of the more tolerable clans to deal with. The creature confirmed his realisation almost immediately.
"Nara Shikamaru, so you are the one they chose to sacrifice to time?" It straightened slowly. "An odd choice, I must say. Why on earth would the chess master choose to step on the board when he could send the pawns before him?"
The Nara, Shikamaru, flinched violently at the words before twisting his wrists in a mockery of handseals that set the shadows of the entire clearing alive as the swirled around their weilder.
"You have nowhere to hide, Zetsu. The shadows are my domain, the Earth is the Senju's and the Air the Uchiha's. Knowing that you directed Uchiha Izuna in today's fight, that you ensured he would die, you have already lost the Uchiha's support."
Madara gasped and ignoring the way his heart froze at the words, 'he would die', turned to his brother and spoke harshly.
"Is that true?"
Izuna ducked his head. "I didn't know it was there today. It spoke to me before, though." He muttered shamefully. "It told me that the Senju were just preparing to betray us if we chose to follow their peace. It said that it was a failed experiment by them so it knew of their plans. It has Mokuton, brother! How else could it have that technique if not from Hashirama?"
"Mokuton?" Hashirama gasped. "What- How- I mean-"
"It's not Mokuton." The Nara spat bitterly. "Not yet. It's a perversion of your technique because it was created out of nature chakra so it has a connection with the trees."
"You would know all about bastardizing techniques, wouldn't you?" Zetsu said mockingly. "Whose chakra are you using right now? Ino chan? Sasuke kun? Te- ma- ri?"
The shadows lurched towards Zetsu, inky tendrils creeping across the grounds and though Uchiha and Senju leapt out of their path, the Nara seemed to have eyes only for the creature.
"Mind your words, kin-slayer!" Shikamaru growled as Zetsu managed to avoid all of his attacks.
A startled gasp flew through the clearing. Kin-slayer was a terrible accusation and a heinous crime. Clan was everything, from home to family to sustenance. To be named kin-slayer, it meant that you had turned your back on everything that it stood for.
"What about Sasuke killing his brother? Or Kakashi killing his teammate? You would call me kin-slayer and let them be free?"
"Don't you dare twist their actions to fit your accusations. Sasuke's brother was declared traitor and dying far before Sasuke landed the fatal blow and Kakashi's teammate commited suicide to protect her people. You on the other hand, manipulated your brothers into killing each other, spewing filth into their ears until they had no choice but to turn on each other."
In ordinary circumstances, Shikamaru would never engage in such a battle with an opponent. He was a Nara and the shadows were their shelter but as Naruto had told him, Zetsu was much like a Nara in that sense. He manipulated Indra and Ashura's reincarnations into achieving his goals. Therefore the easiest way to combat him would be to remove his foremost weapon- his words. If he could ensure that neither the Uchiha nor the Senju would pay heed to his words, it would make a lot of plans far easier to complete.
Zetsu seemed to realise that too, if the hateful curl of its mouth was any indication. "Are we trying to discredit the other then because I have plenty of stories too." It spat harshly.
"No." The man said, the shadows responding to his snarled words. It was strangely ethereal. Most of them had watched Nara in battle and when they fought, it was like they weilded a weapon only they could hold. Somehow this man's weilding of the shadows seemed so much more right. The shadows were an extension of him, a limb instead of a weapon and it was awe inspiring to behold. "I'm trying to kill you."
"Konoha Hiden: Kageshibari no Jutsu!"
There was the name again, and Hashirama gave him an unreadable look at the technique.
Zetsu was faster than the shadows however and Madara finally saw what his brother meant when reaching branches flung themselves at the Nara, aimed at vital points, ugly and grasping. But he did not seem fazed, crouching lower and taking a deep breath almost as if.... No way.
"Katon-Gokakyou no Jutsu!"
There was a palpable wave of shock that ran through the shinobi in the clearing. The Great Fireball Technique was an Uchiha Technique. It was considered a rite of passage for the clan and to watch an obviously non Uchiha perform it so effortlessly was mind boggling.
The giant plume of fire engulfed Zetsu's Mokuton and left the creature glaring hatefully at the Nara. It twisted it's wrists slightly and more creatures peeled themselves out of the ground. Similarly built but white in colour, they charged the man in a silent assault.
Madara had known intellectually that the Nara were a shinobi clan and as such were killers, dangerous and powerful in their own right. But the veneer they veiled their viciousness with, their laziness, was so complete that he had never truly feared the clan's neutrality.
He sure as hell feared them now.
Shikamaru moved like an assassin. Swift and unforgiving, each attack calculated to strike the destabilizing points first. If not fatal, each strike, be it with kunai, shuriken or bare-handed, was aimed to take the opponent down. While the army of white Zetsus weren't letting up, the man was just as tireless in his defense.
Madara noticed the black Zetsu attempting to escape in the confusion and he instinctively opened his mouth to warn the other before shutting it with an irritated frown. He had no stake in this battle and he owed nothing to the unknown nin despite the protection he lent Izuna. It turned out that he didn't need to do so anyhow.
A single kunai flew past the hordes, landing in front of the fleeing creature and the next instant Shikamaru was standing in its place in a flash of green, his shadow already reaching out to grab his adversary.
"Hiraishin?" Hashirama gasped, looking fruitlessly from his brother to the Nara and had it been another day when Tobirama had not nearly killed his brother, Madara might have found the albino's gaping maw humourous. As such he just felt a slight satisfaction that the jutsu thief hadn't just stolen from the Uchiha.
"Isn't that a brand new technique?" Another Senju, Touka he thought she was called, said worriedly.
"Yes. I barely finished it yesterday." Tobirama replied now eyeing the Nara with something indiscernible in his eye.
His theory was interrupted by the sound of cracking branches and they collectively winced as Shikamaru pulled himself from the wreckage of the tree he had been thrown into. His wounds were bleeding obviously and his limbs were trembling faintly from chakra exhaustion.
"You look to be in bad shape, Shika kun." Zetsu crooned maniacally. "No Sakura chan to help you. I guess useless fangirls don't change too much."
If it was intended as bait, the Nara didn't take it. Instead he laughed fondly. "Sakura was as far from a fangirl as you can get. She punched Sasuke through a tree when he dared to avoid the medical tent." The laugh turned more sharp. "She would have enjoyed destroying you, so I'll just have to do it in her place." If his words sounded more bitter than sweet, none of his audience called him out on it.
"It's funny. Sasuke said the same thing when he faced Mother after Sakura died. It wasn't very successful. He died on his knees, bleeding from his eyes." It's lip curled into a cruel mockery of a smile. "Why don't you tell the Uchiha that? That you burnt out the eyes of one of their own because you couldn't afford him a funeral? Will they stand behind someone like that?"
"You bastard!" Madara wasn't sure which of his clansmen said that but he stood behind the sentiment entirely. Denying their comrade a funeral, destroying an Uchiha's eyes, what the hell was this man playing at pretending to be after the Uchiha's best interests? His Killing Intent soared and he felt it concentrate on the trembling form in front of him.
"Uchiha Sa-Sasuke." Shikamaru gasped through the overwhelming Killing Intent, "di-died fighting the white clones of Zetsu and the Rabbit Goddess, Kaguya when they attempted to take over the village. He was the only one who could save time enough for the ci-civilians to escape. We had to burn all bodies in the battlefield because the enemy could raise the dead but because of the attack Sasuke was the only one there. His last words were for us to burn out his eyes at least so that the Zetsu wouldn't get it."
Shikamaru remembered how he had given the command to launch the flaming arrows at the bloodstained figure in the distance as they ran through the trees around Konoha. He remembered the message brought by one of the snake summons and how he had known with a sinking heart that there was no way Sasuke was going to outlive the rest of Team Seven by much longer.
The Killing Intent stopped almost abruptly and Shikamaru found himself able to breathe again.
Madar was dumbfounded. An enemy who could raise the dead, an Uchiha who begged for his eyes to be destroyed and if he was remembering the names right, the same Uchiha had murdered his brother, a traitor? All without any of them having realised this?
A picture was starting to form in his mind. A few pieces short of a theory but if it was true, it was starting to make even less sense than before.
"You've lost, Zetsu. I have destroyed the Gedo Mezo. The Rinnegan had already been destroyed. The Bijuu have chosen to return to the Pure Lands with the Sage of Six Paths. Indra and Ashura's reincarnations have been warned about you. The Juubi will never rise. And my Shadow Bind is complete. Kaguya will never be awoken again."
"Don't kid yourself. I was given life by a Goddess. You can't just destroy me and as long as I live, I will find a way to awaken Mother."
Shikamaru's lips quirked as if he wanted to smile but couldn't draw up the strength to do so. "It was Naruto's idea and Kurama helped. The Bijuu couldn't be destroyed either but you managed it." His fingers glowed with chakra as he suffused the air with it. "The Jinchuuriki seal. It seems to humanise the Bijuu and will do the same to you. Once the vessel is broken, the spirit will ascend." The slightest laugh, broken and bewildered as if just realising a dream might be in sights. "Or in your case, descend."
He carefully traced a seal in the air, Zetsu having no choice but to copy his actions. At the last minute, he pulled out a sealing scroll from his pouch and opened it. "You asked me whose chakra I was using. Here's your answer."
Madara gasped as at least fifty chakra signatures emerged from the scroll. He had heard the whispered acknowledgement of the seal to be an Uzumaki one and knew that implied it's authenticity but he had never imagined this. It was a heady rush of chakra, comparable to the amount on a Bijuu but entirely pure and without the hatred of the Tailed beasts.
"I don't need the Uchiha to stand behind me. Nor do I need the Senju or even the Nara. My village stands behind me, Zetsu, and the might of the entire Shinobi Alliance! Hundreds of men and women that you cut down fruitlessly and then forced to fight their friends. They are the ones who stand behind me. They are the ones who direct my hand."
He let his own chakra into the mix, ignoring the pain as it scraped deep into his nearly empty reservoirs and called out,
It was as if a vortex grew, drawing the black Zetsu and the remnants of the white Zetsus into the scroll along with the chakra that engulfed them. The enormity of the Jutsu seemed to hang in the air for a long second and then the scroll fell onto the ground with a soft thud, rolled slightly forward and just... stopped.
Shikamaru was on his knees, but he forced his fingers into the handseals and tried to create a fireball. His breath wheezed out pitifully but his chakra system was empty. He inhaled once more, pitifully less but the result was the same. "Fuck."
He felt frustrated tears gather in his eyes but he refused to let them fall. Just as he was about to grab the scroll and burn it later, he felt a hot stream to his left. To his amazement, Madara spat a fireball at the scroll, keeping up the jutsu until all that was left of the scourge of the shinobi world were a few pitiful ashes.
"He hurt my brother." Madara said imperiously.
"Heh, that was ironic." Shikamaru said, trying and failing to grin. "What a drag."
"You are most certainly a Nara." Tobirama said with no small amount of amusement.
"Hmmm? Yep Nara and proud of it." He said falling back to look at the sky. Around him, Uchiha and Senju were slowly moving forward to see what their clan heads and heirs were talking about. "Damn, the sky looks good without the moon bright red."
"...Bright red." Tobirama said slowly.
"So Konohagakure exists in the future." Hashirama said, giddily, darting knowing glances Madara.
Madara sighed, pinching his nose to ward off the headache that accompanied any interaction with Hashirama. "Look we-"
"Yes." The Nara interrupted.
"And you belong to it. The Nara clan. And the Uchiha and Senju clans."
"And the Hyuuga, the Yamanaka, the Akimichi, the Aburame, the Sarutobi, the Inuzuka, the Hatake and a dozen other small clans that eventually died out over the years. I can't be bothered to remember them all."
Izuna couldn't keep quiet any longer. "What on earth are you talking about? Are you suggesting time travel?" He asked incredulously.
"It's the only logical conclusion to the statements that he uttered." Tobirama began. "The only other source of such prophylactic knowledge-"
"Yes, they are talking about time travel." Shikamaru said impatiently.
"But that's impossible!"
"I just alluded to a creature built out of nature chakra, one that you thought was human by the way, a war in which the Rinnegan, the Juubi and the Rabbit Goddess played a pivotal role in and called your brother the reincarnation of the Sage of Six Paths's son and time travel is impossible to you?"
Izuna just gaped.
"I'm the Sage of Six Paths's what?" Madara said, horror struck.
"Then Anija must be the other son's reincarnation, correct?" Tobirama said, ignoring the Uchiha clan head.
Shikamaru just nodded, with his eyes closed. Perhaps he could sleep for a while. He wasn't ready to deal with the emotions flashing through his mind at that minute, choosing instead to lock them away to look at later. Yes, sleep sounded excellent at that moment... Huh?
"Are you seriously sleeping right now?" Madara said, sounding terrifyingly like Ino.
(He ignored the pang in his heart that he wouldn't hear her berating again. Emotions later.)
"Yes, I'm sleeping. Do you have a cigarette?"
"What the hell is wrong with you?" The clan head asked scornfully.
He sat up gingerly, feeling every wound on his torso twinge in sympathy and aimed his most hateful glare at the Uchiha clan head. He was only slightly mollified when said Uchiha took a step back. "I've slept two hours in the last week chasing that damned weed in this godforsaken time. Before that I had been roaming an endless Genjutsu of my worst nightmares come to life. I'm tired, I'm pissed and I just killed the creature that tricked you into killing your entire clan so do me a favour and either find me a cigarette or fuck off."
He did not stick around to see what effect his threat had on his audience, falling asleep faster than he had ever done before. Sleep brought nightmares but what were they but memories at that time and he had always spent far too much time in his head. He had taken his revenge, and ensured his friends would live better this time round and if he couldn't be bothered to do anything else for the timeline then who would hold it against him?
He was a Nara after all.