break through

“How good are you at chakra control, Kaisuki?” Kakashi-sensei suddenly asked as they trudged through the woods on the outskirts of town at some ungodly hour of the morning. “You were out of the academy long enough that the file they have on you isn’t really relevant anymore.”

Kaisuki looked up at him, blinking in confusion. How on earth was that relevant? Was he going to teach them something they would need chakra for? He hadn’t specified what the purpose of their excursion was, nor had he explained why they had been forced to roll out of bed before the sun had risen. Their instructor never seemed to want to tell them what he was planning beforehand. It was probably one of the most irritating things in the universe.

“Uh, pretty good, I suppose,” she replied, thinking about it for a moment. “I can make like, six or seven bunshin at once. I can’t maintain them for very long, though.”

“Not enough chakra?” Kakashi-sensei asked, sparing her a glance. The bit of his face that she could see still looked pretty pale. He’d lost a lot of blood, and they hadn’t been able to give him a transfusion. He was simply lucky that Kaisuki apparently had an irou-nin stashed away somewhere inside.

“No,” she answered, returning her gaze to the barely-worn path they were following. She had no idea where they were supposed to be going. They’d been walking through the woods for nearly ten minutes. “I just have a hard time maintaining control of my chakra, I think.”

“You think?” Sasuke repeated from behind her, “How do you not know?”

Kaisuki huffed out a breath and shot him a half-hearted glare. He raised an eyebrow, waiting expectantly for her reply. “I do know. I just… I dunno. I feel like it’s weird that I can’t maintain control like that.”

“It’s not weird,” Sakura chimed in. “There are some people who can’t use their chakra at all. Do you remember Rock Lee from the class ahead of us?”

“I can’t control my chakra for crap,” Naruto spoke up, and Kaisuki looked over at him. He was smiling encouragingly. He knew all about her insecurities regarding her abilities, and he tried all the time to persuade her to think differently about herself. She always appreciated his efforts, and they sometimes made her feel a little better, but in the long run it didn’t help much.

“So don’t worry about it, Kaisuki. You weren’t in the academy long enough to start learning proper chakra control technique, so it makes perfect sense that you might need to work on it.” He told her, looking determined to make her change her mind, as he often did during these types of discussions. She wanted to look away. “You should stop thinking about what you’re bad at and remember that you taught yourself how to do it. That’s not easy, y’know.”

Kaisuki nodded, frowning. She still didn’t like the fact that her chakra control was only perfect for about ten minutes, give or take a few depending on the jutsu she was preforming. She could hold a henge forever. Her record for holding a bunshin was twelve minutes and forty-two seconds. She hadn’t tried any other long-term jutsu because she hadn’t learned any. The henge and the bunshin were taught in the academy, so she’d asked Naruto to teach her. It was because of him that she was so good at the henge.

She had no real reason to feel insecure about her abilities, and she knew it. After all, she was friends with Naruto, who was a much bigger klutz than she could ever hope to be. Still though, it was thoughts like that that nagged at the back of her mind whenever she messed something up.

You never give yourself any credit, Kaisuki. You’ve worked really hard to get where you are now. And, unlike the rest of your team, you weren’t taught how.” Saeka said, sounding bored. “Also, where the hell are you guys going? Is Hatake-san leading you out to some secluded area to kill you all?

Kaisuki had to work not to laugh out loud. They’d been in Nami no Kuni for three days now, and she and Saeka had been on tense but relatively friendly terms for the entire time. She didn’t actually know what had calmed the young girl down, but she was thankful for it. Kaisuki had long since figured out and understood the reasoning behind her family’s murder, and she had mostly forgiven Saeka. She was still extremely wary of the girl, and she still held a certain amount of a grudge against her for what she had done to Kaisuki’s home life, but they were getting along now. The part of her that almost hated Saeka was quiet for once. The part of her that was terrified of Saeka barely ever reminded her that it existed anymore.

She felt better about Saeka overall, and it was a great feeling. She just wished she could know how the change had come about, because she really wanted to give whatever or whoever was responsible the credit they deserved.

Maybe. He does need a transfusion.” Saeka laughed at her quip, and Kaisuki couldn’t help smiling.

“What’s funny?” Naruto suddenly asked from beside her. She looked up over at him, working to erase the expression from her face and failing entirely as Saeka added to their little joke.

Maybe he’s gonna turn you all into human scarecrows.” She covered her mouth as she let out a laugh, wishing she could un-make the sound. Kakashi-sensei looked down at her, and she could feel Sakura and Sasuke’s eyes on her back.

“Ah, ha, um…” she mumbled uncertainly.

Just tell them that I’m hilarious.” Saeka prodded, “Go on. Hey, you can ask Hatake-san if he’s gonna make himself some scarecrows out in these woods.

Kaisuki coughed in an effort to conceal the urge to grin. “It’s… Saeka.” She finally conceded, “We’re kidding around.”

Naruto’s eyes brightened immediately at that, and Kaisuki couldn’t help smiling at him. His face split into a wide grin, “Oh? Oh? What’s she saying? Tell me!”

The red-eyed girl chuckled, “Oh, well, Saeka was asking if Kakashi-sensei was leading us out into the woods for slaughter… and then I said he did need a transfusion, and her response to that was… ah, what was it?”

“‘Maybe he’s gonna turn you all into human scarecrows.‘” Saeka offered up helpfully.

“‘Maybe he’s gonna turn you all into human scarecrows,'” she said, thanking Saeka in her head. Naruto immediately started laughing, and she could tell he’d been holding it in for the punchline. Apparently, she hadn’t disappointed. She could hear Sakura giggling as well, and she couldn’t help but smile once she was sure that she hadn’t upset anyone.

“You four wouldn’t make very scary scarecrows,” Kakashi-sensei commented, and Kaisuki could practically hear him smiling. “I’d have better luck making rugs.”

Naruto burst into renewed laughter, digging his fist into his gut as he gasped for air. Kaisuki chuckled.

“Jeez, Naruto, don’t die on us.” Sakura teased. The blonde coughed several times, eventually calming down, though he kept laughing on and off for several minutes. His eyes were watering. Kaisuki hadn’t realized that Saeka, Kakashi-sensei, and herself were that funny. Then, she recalled that Naruto tended to overreact with every emotion, so where others would giggle, apparently he would burst out laughing for five minutes straight.

Once the blonde had sufficiently calmed himself down, he spoke up again. “I’m glad you two are getting along now. She seemed pretty nice when I spoke to her before.”

Kaisuki nodded in agreement, smiling widely. She hadn’t been in a mood this great in a long time. “I’m glad too. She’s got a great sense of humor.”

Aww, thanks.” She heard the girl say, and Kaisuki was very happy to hear that she brightened Saeka’s day further. She knew that the girl had some issues with anger, obviously, but she also knew that Saeka frequently retreated to the back of Kaisuki’s subconscious and cried for hours and hours and hours. Sometimes, she would disappear for days.

Kaisuki didn’t know much about Saeka. She didn’t know where she came from, or who had hurt her so terribly, or even who she was, really. There were a couple of small details she had known seemingly instinctively – how long Saeka had been dead, as well as what kind of vengeful spirit she was. And that was it. She hadn’t even had a good feel for the girl’s true personality until very recently.

Anytime, Saeka.” She returned, her expression softening. She had been endeared to Saeka in a very short amount of time. She wasn’t entirely sure how she’d been able to make such a turn around with her opinion, but she was very glad that she had. Kaisuki was a firm believer that everyone, no matter their history or their personality, deserved to be treated with kindness. She believed that everyone deserved to be listened to, and respected, and loved.

Kaisuki genuinely hoped that maybe one day she could find a way to offer sincere kindness to as many people as she could meet in her lifetime. She wanted to touch people’s lives. She wanted to make a positive impression on those who were lost. She wanted to help people find their way.

For now, though, she’d just have to stick with the ones closest to her heart.

“How did you calm her down?” Sasuke’s voice floated up from the back of the group. He had spoken rather quietly. Not subdued, or low enough that no one could hear him, but he wasn’t quite at speaking volume.

Kaisuki spun around and linked arms with Naruto, so she could walk backwards without running into anyone or anything. Sasuke looked troubled. He was looking at Kakashi-sensei’s heels, and he looked fairly downcast. She knew what he was thinking about. Saeka had tried to kill him seven times, and she’d put him in the hospital three of those times. Sasuke had received the brunt of Saeka’s mood swings and anger, and Kaisuki still didn’t know why.

“I don’t know, Sasuke.” She replied after a beat. The Uchiha looked up at her, frowning. “I didn’t do anything. I gather she just…”

His chakra reminds me of… someone I hate.” Saeka spoke so softly, Kaisuki almost couldn’t hear her. She stopped talking as soon as she heard the girl’s voice, straining her senses to hear what she said. She swallowed hard. Someone Saeka hated?

Would you tell me about it, sometime?” Kaisuki asked gently, “You don’t have to right now. You can wait until you’re ready.

Saeka didn’t respond to that, but Kaisuki didn’t feel her swell with anger at all. Instead, it felt as though Saeka was slinking away. She could feel the girl’s discomfort and she knew she had mistakenly upset the girl.

Saeka,” she called softly, warmly. “I’m sorry I upset you. Look after yourself, okay?

There was a long silence before she heard a quiet, barely audible reply. “I will.

“Kaisuki?” She was pulled suddenly back to reality, and she blinked and looked around. They had stopped walking and she hadn’t even noticed. Naruto had pulled his arm free and was watching her carefully. Her eyes were watering a little. She sniffled a bit and rubbed them dry on the back of her sleeve.

“Sorry,” she muttered. “I was talking to her.”

Sasuke crossed his arms, and Kaisuki watched his fingers curl tightly around his biceps. He didn’t look angry, but he looked extremely tense. Whenever Saeka came up, he became nervous. Kaisuki hoped she’d be able to turn around his opinion of Saeka eventually. She didn’t like that he often seemed uncomfortable or anxious around her, as if he thought she would turn into Saeka on a dime and try to kill him again.

Sasuke was stubborn in his opinions, though. It’d be hard to change his mind about someone who had tried to kill him on multiple occasions.

“What’d she say?” The Uchiha wanted to know. Kaisuki glanced over at Naruto, who was watching her carefully, looking mildly concerned. She must’ve looked really upset.

“She said that your chakra reminds her of someone she hates.” Kaisuki replied with a slight shrug. “I don’t know who she was referring to, though. I don’t know why your chakra reminds her of that person, either. If it’s alright with her, I’ll let you know as soon as I do.”

Sasuke didn’t look happy about that. He averted his gaze towards a tree to his right and let out a huff. “It’s not like that’s my fault.” He grumbled.

“That’s probably why she hasn’t tried to kill you lately. In case you hadn’t noticed.” Kaisuki snapped at him. He glared at her, and she returned the gaze ten-fold. “She had absolutely no self-control back then. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what changed, but she’s… Look, I didn’t forgive her for murdering my family because she said ‘sorry,’ Sasuke. I forgave her because I understand why she did it. You’d get it if you could feel what she feels the way I do. You’d be less afraid if you’d take the time to try and understand her.”

Before Sasuke could snarl at her as she could tell he was about to, Naruto spoke up very loudly, “God, would you both quit it? Kaisuki, Sasuke’s not gonna agree with you or change his mind until he has a huge boatload of evidence that Saeka’s really made a turnaround. Just leave it, okay? He’ll come around eventually.”

“The hell I will,” Sasuke muttered under his breath.

Kakashi-sensei let out a mildly irate sigh, “Sasuke, that’s enough. Stop trying to pick a fight.”

Sasuke glared at him indignantly, “I’m not trying to start a fight.”

“Sure you aren’t.” Was the highly sarcastic reply. Sasuke gritted his teeth, but didn’t reply. Kaisuki had already heard the story about his last adventure fighting Kakashi-sensei. She turned her attention away from him, biting her tongue hard. She felt like she wanted to cry, and her head was pounding all of a sudden. She reached up and tightened her side ponytail, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. The throbbing was deep in the back of her head, and she did her best to block it out. She’d take a drill to Sasuke’s head to get her point through his thick skull later.

Again with the morbidity. What is wrong with me, lately?

“Are you okay, Kaisuki?” Sakura asked, and she looked over at the pink-haired girl. She smiled weakly at her.

“Yea, I just… I have a bit of a headache, is all.” She explained, “I get them sometimes. It’ll go away in a little while.”

Kakashi-sensei used his free hand (as the other was working a crutch) to adjust the mask he wore. He sighed, “Alright. Now that we’re done laughing and fighting, let’s get to work.” He said seriously. All four of them turned their attention to their instructor, listening to his every word. Naruto looked rather excited, but if they were learning some new technique, she didn’t blame him at all. She had been quite pumped for it earlier. Through her stagnant irritation at Sasuke, she could feel the small flame of excitement slowly growing.

“Today, I’m going to teach you how to walk up trees.” Kakashi-sensei stated, “If you ever payed any attention in the academy, you should know what I mean by that.”

“I didn’t pay attention,” Naruto said boldly. “So please explain, Kakashi-sensei!”

Their instructor rolled his eyes, “Mold some chakra and send it to the bottom of your feet,” he began. He looked like he was having a little bit of difficulty finding the right words to explain himself. He probably didn’t want to go into extreme detail, lest Naruto float away into his daydreaming land.

“You have to have the right amount of chakra at the bottoms of your feet to stick to the tree. It varies a little bit depending on how much you weigh. The four of you will probably end up using about the same amount of chakra.” Kakashi told them, “It might help if you mold some chakra to your hands first and see how much you need to stick. It’s always easier to get chakra to your-…”

Naruto cut him off suddenly, “Alright! I’m ready!”

“Naruto, don’t run up the tree. You’ll hurt yourself,” Sakura cut in immediately. “Figure out how to do it first and then start trying to climb. If you fall down from too high, you’ll die.”

Naruto flushed a little. His crush on Sakura was as strong as ever. “O-okay, Sakura-chan,” he replied sheepishly. She smiled a little, glancing over at the tall trees around them.

“You’ll be done with this training when you can get all the way up the tree,” Kakashi-sensei said. “I’ll hang around for a while, but I’m gonna head back before you do. Keep at it, though.”

“Are you feeling okay?” Sakura asked concernedly. “You’re not in any pain, are you? Do you want one of us to walk back with you?”

Kakashi-sensei smiled at her a little. He didn’t look quite embarrassed by her worry, but there was something close to that reflecting in his dark eyes. Perhaps he was just extremely happy that his team was so worried about him. Perhaps he really was embarrassed by it. “I’m just tired, Sakura. I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?” Kaisuki asked, her brow furrowing, “You look really pale. Maybe I could get… Shiranai to give you a once-over.”

“I’ll be fine, you two.” Kakashi-sensei said in exasperation. “I’m going to be hanging around for a couple of hours, remember? I’ll rest up before I head back, and then I’ll probably go back to sleep.”

Kaisuki and Sakura were very obviously not convinced, and they exchanged a worried glance. They didn’t say anything further, though, understanding that their instructor didn’t think he needed their help. If he changed his mind, they’d be around. Hopefully, he wouldn’t collapse on his way back to Tazuna-san’s house.

“Anyway, you two get busy. Sasuke and Naruto have already gotten started.” Kakashi-sensei said, waving them off. Kaisuki glanced behind her, and indeed Naruto and Sasuke had their hands pressed to the truck of two separate trees, eying each other’s progress on and off. She could’ve laughed. They really had become friends.

Rivals is probably a better word, though.

Kaisuki looked over at Sakura one more time before she smiled slightly and walked over to another tree. She pressed her hands against it, closing her eyes and taking a moment to still herself as much as possible. When it came to new techniques, she always found it easier if she calmed herself and stilled her mind and body. It was difficult at times, but she managed.

Once she had sufficiently tuned out the rest of the world, she started collecting chakra to her palms. A very small amount at first, before she slowly began increasing the quantity of chakra she was pushing to her hands. It felt strange. She hadn’t used any techniques that forced her to mold chakra quite this precisely. It was extremely difficult to keep her chakra at a steady incline, and they weren’t sticking at all. Eventually, she could see smoke coming from under her hands and she yanked them back quickly. There was a scorch mark on the tree, and she had left a very visible pair of hand prints in the bark. She didn’t have a clue what she was doing wrong, but evidently Kakashi-sensei had left out some important detail.

“Ah, fuck it!” She heard Naruto holler, and she turned around in time to see him sprinting full force at the tree.

“Naruto! I said don’t-…!” Sakura’s voice cut across the field, but Naruto ignored her. He made it ten paces up the tree before he lost control of his chakra and came falling back down. Because he hadn’t been very high up, though, he managed to land it without hurting himself.

“Okay, see, it’s way easier to do it that way!” He said loudly, “This is how I’m gonna do it!”

She shook her head, “Just be careful, Naruto. I mean it.”

He shot her a grin, “I know! Don’t worry, Kaisuki. I’m really tough!”

“That’s not what I meant.”

He took several steps back from the tree again, this time going further back so he could get more momentum, and pulled out a kunai. Kaisuki watched him start running towards the tree again before she sighed and turned her attention back her to own tree.

After a moment of deliberation, she pulled out a kunai and took a couple of steps back. She started walking towards the tree, carefully placing one foot on the truck. As it had been with her hands, she couldn’t feel her chakra sticking at all, so she channeled more chakra to the soles of her feet.

She pulled her foot back and stared at the trunk. Her palms had been easy, so why couldn’t she do it with her feet? She ought to at least be able to get one foot to stick, right? Kaisuki stared at her feet, furrowing her brow. This was actually sort of annoying. She glanced over at Sasuke and Naruto. Sasuke had adopted Naruto’s method, interestingly enough. She would’ve thought his pride wouldn’t allow him to do that. They were getting further and further up the tree though, and they didn’t seem to be having any trouble.

This is what I get for dropping out of the academy. She thought in frustration. She glanced in the direction Sakura had walked, but she didn’t see the pink-haired girl anywhere. Almost dreading what she was going to see, she looking up higher into the branches. Surely enough, she was already halfway up the tree, and she was still walking with no problem.

It made sense though. Sakura had been, and apparently continued to be the best at chakra control amongst her peers. She didn’t have an abundance of chakra, but she made up for it with a precision that rivaled that of the prodigious Uchiha Itachi.

She turned away from the tree and started walking towards Kakashi-sensei. He was watching Naruto and Sasuke with an amused look in his tired eyes. He saw her approaching and looked over at her as she walked up to him.

“You left out some detail.” She stated immediately. “I missed out on the last four years of the academy. I don’t know anything about chakra control and how it works. Will you… fill me in?”

Kakashi-sensei stared at her for a long moment, before he sighed and nodded, “Yea, I can do that.” He said, “For this particular technique, there’s two parts. First, you expel chakra through the soles of your feet, as I said before. At the same time you’re expelling that chakra, you have to be pulling it back in. That’s what makes you stick.”

“How do I pull chakra back?” She asked, confused, “I thought only certain people had that ability.”

“No,” Kakashi-sensei stated. “Only certain people can steal others’ chakra. Pulling your own chakra back into your body when it’s still in close proximity to you is actually quite easy. I saw you were trying the palm exercise. When you finished, did you retract the chakra you had sent to your palms, or did you just let it out?”

Kaisuki blinked. She had pulled that chakra back in, but she hadn’t let it out of her body, either. “I didn’t actually send any chakra outside of my body.” She told him.

“Ah, that’s where you’re making mistakes.” He replied. “Imagine that you’re pulling on a sock or a glove made of chakra. That’s the effect you’re looking for. You wrap the chakra around your feet, and you pull back on that sock while you’re pushing out. What happens is, as your chakra is being pulled back into your feet, it sort of creates this kind of suction, which is given mostly by your weight. That’s why the amount of chakra used is variable per person.”

Kaisuki wasn’t entirely sure she was following what he was saying. “A sock or a glove.” She repeated. He nodded at her. She sort of understood what he meant… probably. His words mostly made sense, but she was still largely confused. Iruka-sensei had been a much better teacher.

“Thanks. I’ll give it a shot.” She said after a beat.

“Good luck.” He said as she turned around. She shot him a quick smile, though it was incredibly fake, and headed back to her tree.

A sock or a glove, huh? She frowned at the truck before her. She’d just have to give it a shot and see what happened. She closed her eyes, tuning out everything around her, and started sending chakra to her feet. As Kakashi-sensei had told her to do, she let it out enough to wrap it around the bottom of her feet. That part was easy. Now, she needed to multitask with her chakra control.

She pulled back on the chakra in her feet, but she did it too fast and too hard. So she tried again, and again, and again. Just when she was getting to the brink of her patience and was getting ready to set the tree in front of her on fire, she felt her heels suddenly pull to the ground and stick. When she tried to lift her leg, it wouldn’t budge.

So she would have to let the chakra in her feet go before she could take steps. This was going to be way, way over-complicated. But she was sure that once she got it down, it’d be a cakewalk. She pulled the chakra in her feet back enough to undo the stick, and set it to the tree. She increased the amount of chakra output, and sure enough, her foot stuck to the tree. A smile spread across her face. She had done it! And unlike Naruto and Sasuke, she had done it relatively correctly!

She started walking up the truck, taking each step very slowly. Within about two minutes, though, she had the pattern down and she had made it about two meters off the ground. Naruto and Sasuke were ahead of her in terms of distance up their trees, but they were also sprinting up the trunks like madmen. She returned her attention to her task and continued up the tree. She wasn’t walking very fast, though her pace increased a little every five steps. The faster she could do the pattern, the easier it would become to do it at all.

She made it probably four meters up her tree before she lost her grip. She was simply lucky that she had fast reflexes and was able to catch herself with a shuriken and wire. But she wasn’t disheartened. The fact that she had made it up as far as she had only proved to inspire her to try harder. She was doing much better now that she knew what she was supposed to be doing, and how it was supposed to work. She could do this. She just needed to keep trying. Maintaining her chakra was extremely difficult over time, but she needed to learn how to do it, and this was probably the best way.

So, despite making many mistakes, she powered through her frustration and kept at it.

You go, girl.

Naruto and Sasuke had gotten back ridiculously late. They had made it up their trees, but they had exhausted themselves thoroughly in the process. The walk back to Tazuna-san’s had been excruciating. Naruto had never been so sore in his life.

The following morning, he felt rejuvenated, as he usually did after a night’s sleep. Sasuke and Kakashi-sensei were already up. He must’ve slept in later than he meant to. The blonde threw his clothes on and headed out into the dining area, excited to tell Kaisuki that he had mastered the skill of horizontal walking.

Walking into the room, he noticed two things right away. Firstly, Sasuke looked pretty rejuvenated as well, which surprised him. How late had they slept in? Secondly, Kaisuki wasn’t up yet. He was a little disappointed to see that his best friend wasn’t awake, but he also knew that no one ever recovered from exhaustion as quickly as he did (except Sasuke, apparently). Also, if she wasn’t awake yet, Sasuke hadn’t told her about their success yet. So, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that she had slept in.

“Morning, Naruto,” Sakura-chan greeted with a smile. “You look like you feel great.”

“I do!” He exclaimed excitedly, sitting down beside Sasuke at the table. “I got all the way up the tree last night! I mean, it took forever, but I did it! I’m pumped to tell Kaisuki.”

Sakura-chan chuckled lightheartedly, “I’m glad you feel so much better.”

“Thanks, Sakura-chan,” he replied, his face heating up a little. God, he was so uncool. He really need to take a page out of Sasuke’s book. Maybe he should dye his hair black and stop wearing orange. Maybe then Sakura-chan would notice him the way he wanted her to.

The lady of household, Tsunami-san, casually walked over to the table, smiling as she usually did. She placed a heaping plate of breakfast in front of Naruto, “My father is going to start working on the bridge again today. You should be well-fed if you’re going to be protecting him.” She said, winking. Naruto blushed helplessly with a wide grin on his face.

“Ah, thank you, Tsunami-san!” Naruto said gratefully, digging in immediately. He was starving. Tazuna-san’s grandson, Inari, was nowhere in sight this particular morning, Naruto noticed. Usually he was already up by the time Naruto arrived in the dining and living area, sitting around waiting for the opportune moment to start acting like a brat.

Hopefully, he had talked some sense into the kid the other day. He hadn’t really seen him since then, though Tsunami-san had already told him not to worry. Inari had apparently been taking long walks in an effort to avoid him. He sort of felt bad, but then he would remember the nasty things the kid had said and his regret would ease up. Inari would get over it in his own time.

“Kaisuki’s sleeping in pretty late, today.” Sasuke remarked as he glanced towards the clock on the wall. Naruto followed his gaze. It was pretty late in the morning. He had slept in a lot later than he’d meant to. Kaisuki was usually up ridiculously early – often enough, she woke up before Kakashi-sensei. So for her to be sleeping in this late was worrisome.

Having finished his breakfast, Naruto swiftly leaped out of his seat and washed his plate off. “I’m gonna go check on her,” He proclaimed. Sakura-chan and Sasuke raised eyebrows at him, whilst Kakashi-sensei just watched him attentively. He flushed slightly. “What? She runs fevers sometimes, so I want to make sure she’s not sick!”

Sakura-chan blinked at that, “Oh,” she said slowly. “Does she get them a lot?”

He shook his head, “Not really? She gets them when she’s stressed or she’s exhausted herself too much. It’s ’cause she doesn’t sleep well.”

“Oh,” Sakura-chan replied, looking a little concerned. “I didn’t notice anything was wrong with her when I got up… I thought she was just tired from all that hard work yesterday.”

“It’s alright,” Naruto said. “She’ll be fine in a day or two if she’s sick. I just want to make sure she doesn’t need anything.”

Sasuke turned his gaze to his hands. He’d been staring at them more or less since Naruto had walked into the room. He’d probably been doing it all morning, and the blonde had no idea why. “Well, if you’re gonna check on her, go check on her.” He said, waving his teammate away. Naruto glared at him.

Naruto rolled his eyes, “Shut up, Sasuke.” He grunted, “I’m going, okay?”

“Let me know if anything’s wrong,” Tsunami-san spoke up from where she was washing up plates in the sink. He looked over at her, blinking. “I have some home remedies that can help a fever.”

He nodded enthusiastically, “Thanks, Tsunami-san.”

The blonde stepped out of the living area and into the hallway towards the back of the house, turning left to head for the room the girls had been sharing. He didn’t hear anything coming from the room, so she probably was sleeping. He hoped she wasn’t in a state of undress. That’d be awkward as hell, and he’d probably get punched.

Well, actually, Kaisuki would probably laugh instead of hitting me. He reasoned with himself, Sakura-chan is the one who would hit me.

He walked up to the door and knocked. After a moment of not hearing anything, he slowly eased the door open and peered inside. He couldn’t even see her anywhere. She must’ve been on the side of the room behind the door. He stepped into the room as quietly as he could on the creakiest floorboards in the history of floorboards, and looked for the second bed. Surely enough, Kaisuki was lying on the bed on the side of the room that had been hiding behind the door.

“Kaisuki?” He called quietly, “Kaisuki, are you feeling alright?”

He heard her make a quiet sound that wasn’t quite a sob, but wasn’t necessarily not a sob. Immediately growing more concerned, he walked up to the bed and slowly peeled back the blankets. “Kaisuki?”

She was curled up in fetal position under the pile of blankets, and she was shaking. He could hear her making thin, pathetic sounds of emotional distress. He knew what Kaisuki sounded like when she was in pain, and this wasn’t that. She was hurting in some other way.

“Kaisuki, can you hear me?” He said, pulling the covers down enough so her head was exposed. He placed a hand on her shoulder and shook her as gently as he could. “Hey, you in there?”

Her shaking stilled for a moment, and she slowly started unraveling herself a little. When she lifted her head to look at him, his heart dropped into his stomach as anxiety washed over him. He knew immediately what was wrong.

Sometimes, Kaisuki would have fits of mild to severe hysteria. She’d cry, and sometimes she’d pull her hair and Naruto would have to keep her from hurting herself. Sometimes, she would snarl and yell at him for no reason, only to immediately go to pieces on the floor of her apartment. These fits had only started within the last nine months or so, and neither of them knew what caused them.

She was shaking again as she looked up at him, but then he realized it wasn’t her he was looking at. Her eyes flickered green for a second before returning to their normal red, and she let out an agonized sound and fisted her hands into her hair. She sobbed again, curling back into herself tightly. Naruto gently reached over and grabbed her wrists, squeezing them to get her to let go of her hair.

“Can you talk to me?” He said as gently and kindly as he could. “What’s wrong?”

She whispered something completely unintelligible, and he leaned in a little closer so he could hear her better. “I can’t really hear you,” he told her carefully. She somehow curled into herself even tighter, her shaking exacerbated by the stiffness of her muscles. Naruto’s heart ached. He hated seeing her like this.

There was a pause before she slowly started unraveling herself again. She looked up at him, her eyes filled with tears that streamed down her face, her lower lip trembling. The look in her eyes reminded Naruto of a trapped animal begging to be saved, or someone who was in a lot of pain.

“It hurts,” she whispered, her voice hoarse. She sounded as though she’d been screaming all night, but Naruto knew she hadn’t been. “It hurts.”

“What hurts?” He inquired softly.

“My… chest…” she mumbled. More tears started spilling down her cheeks, and she sobbed again, pressing her face into her hands. Naruto crouched down beside the bed, gingerly reaching over and touching her head, stroking her hair.

He opened his mouth to say something, but she cut him off when she wailed, “I’m dead! I’m dead and it hurts! It isn’t…” she choked on a sob, crying louder than she had been before and digging her nails into her face wherever her fingertips touched. Naruto quickly grabbed her hands and pulled them away from her face, and she didn’t resist him at all.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” he said, feeling rather helpless. “I know it hurts, but you’re okay, I swear it. You’ll be okay.” He paused, trying to think of what he could talk to her about to try and take her mind off the evident pain in her chest. “What’s your name?”

She looked at him again, stricken. She sniffled a little, and her eyes flashed green again. This time, though, they stayed green. “M-Miyamoto… Izumi.” She whispered, her voice cracking.

“Are you the one who helped Kakashi-sensei? The guy with the mask?” He questioned, watching her carefully. She swallowed, looking like she felt a bit sick, but she nodded.

“Is he… alright?” She asked softly. “He is, right?”

“He’s fine,” Naruto said quickly, smiling at her. “Thank you for saving him. Are you an irou-nin?”

“Yes,” she replied quietly. “I’m from Tsukigakure.”

Naruto blinked. Tsukigakure was in Tsuki no Kuni, an island in the southern parts of the Kaijuu Ocean. Supposedly, they were an isolationist state that had nothing to do with anyone around them. Several excursions had been made to establish contact with them in the past, but no replies had ever been returned. It’d been one of the few fascinating stories the academy had had to offer.

He talked to Izumi for a while before she showed signs of starting to calm down. The tears slowly came to a stop, and instead of crying uncontrollably, it seemed like she couldn’t keep herself from falling asleep. So he softened his voice more and more until they were whispering very quietly to each other, until she was no longer kept awake by the sound of his voice, and fell asleep.

He glanced at the clock in the room. He’d been talking to her for almost forty-five minutes. He hoped the rest of his team hadn’t left without him. He quietly left Kaisuki and Sakura’s room, closing the door behind him, and stepped back out into the living area. Tsunami was standing outside – he could see her through the window over the kitchen sink. It looked like she was watering her small garden. The rest of the team was nowhere in sight. He sighed loudly. They couldn’t have just waited for him, could they?

“They left already.” He turned at the sound of Inari’s sulky voice. He raised an eyebrow at the kid, daring him to be nasty like he had the other day. He’d punch him in the head again if he had to.

But Inari didn’t look particularly agitated. He looked up at Naruto. He still looked bitter and unhappy, but there was a shine to his eyes that hadn’t been there two days ago. Naruto smiled at him, which only persuaded the kid to look at him like he was insane.

“What’s wrong with that girl?” He wanted to know. Naruto blinked, then frowned.

“She’s… sick, sort of. I want you and your mom to leave her alone.” Naruto told him seriously. The kid looked surprised. He must’ve thought Naruto was always an over-excited idiot. If only he knew. “If anything happens, you come running to the bridge to let us know, okay?”

Slowly, Inari nodded. “Yea, okay.” He mumbled, “Is she going to be alright?”

Naruto grinned reassuringly, “She should be fine. She just needs to be left alone, so don’t worry.”

“I didn’t say I was worried.” Inari grumbled, and Naruto snorted, shaking his head.

“Yea, okay, Inari.” He said, winking. The kid glared at him, and he laughed. “I have to head out to the bridge. I’ll see you later!” He waved on his way out the door, and Inari waved back.

“Are you leaving now?” Tsunami-san asked when she looked up and saw him, “How is Kaisuki?”

“She should be alright,” he replied. “She just needs to be left alone. I told Inari to let us know if anything happens. She’s not sick, she’s just… not well.” It was hard to explain Kaisuki’s condition without telling anyone that she was Yurei. She had specifically asked the team not to tell anyone about it when they left the village.

“If they find out circumstantially, that’s fine. But if they don’t see it, don’t tell them.”

He sort of understood where she was coming from. He didn’t go around spouting that he was the Jinchurikki of the Kyuubi. There were some things that people just didn’t need to know. Tsunami-san looked a little confused, but also understanding. She simply nodded at him, waving him off, and he grinned at her before taking off at a dead run.

He had a feeling he was missing something interesting, so he sprinted full speed to the bridge.

This was bad.

Kakashi didn’t know where Sasuke was. He didn’t know where Naruto was. is He had no idea what had happened to them during their fight with that masked boy, evidently named Haku. The injuries he had sustained during his last battle with Zabuza felt as though they had reopened. He felt sick and dizzy, but he had to keep fighting. He had lost a lot more blood. There was a huge, gaping gash from his right shoulder to his left hip, and his gut was burning.

This was really, really bad.

In the distance, he thought he could hear Sakura crying, but he didn’t know why and he couldn’t exactly just go find out. Naruto’s chakra had turned dark and become almost overwhelming for a brief few minutes earlier, but since then it had gotten eerily quiet over there. He had been able to hear Sasuke and Naruto hollering and yelling for various reasons, but now he heard nothing.

They aren’t dead, he told himself rather stubbornly. If they were dead, that masked boy would’ve come over here to slaughter you by now.

But it had been so, so quiet, he couldn’t really be sure. He knew he had heard Sakura crying earlier. He was sure at one point he’d heard Naruto calling for him, but he hadn’t responded because he’d been busy. Sasuke’s voice had been silenced for nearly twenty minutes.

For once, Saeka would be a welcomed sight.

The mist was thicker than water. He couldn’t see anything. His Sharingan was only so helpful. It was much easier to see in the dark than it was to see in fog. He had managed to trap Zabuza with his hounds earlier, and he’d landed a decent blow, but he wouldn’t be able to catch him off guard with that again.

If he was going to kill the swordsman, he was going to have to do some quick thinking. But that was much easier said than done when he’d lost probably half the blood in his body and was continuing to spill it onto the ground beneath him.

“Kakashi… you seem a bit worn out.” Zabuza’s voice floated out from seemingly every direction.

I wouldn’t be this worn out if you didn’t fight like a lowly thug.

He gritted his teeth, white-knuckling the kunai in his hand. His vision kept going in and out of focus. He was exhausted. He was actually beginning to think he was going to pass out. He’d certainly lost enough blood for it.

It came on suddenly. One moment, he’d been standing there, trying to feel out Zabuza’s presence and not doing a very good job. Then next thing he knew, his vision was going gray around the edges. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear his field of vision. He couldn’t pass out now. This was the worst time to pass out. He dug a finger into the wound across his torso, trying to use pain to bring himself back to reality, but it wasn’t working. His limbs were quickly becoming numb. His whole body was tingling, but it didn’t feel like he was fainting. It didn’t feel like he was losing consciousness.

It felt like he was falling asleep.

He tried to muster his strength and fight back against the sudden attack of sleepiness, but he couldn’t shake it off. He didn’t know where Naruto was. He didn’t know what had become of Sasuke. He didn’t know why Sakura was crying. He didn’t know if Tazuna-san was even alive. There was too much at stake here. He couldn’t afford to… to…

Kakashi went to one knee, catching himself on his hands and dropping his kunai. He couldn’t maintain consciousness. He just couldn’t.

He could faintly hear the sound of someone singing. It sounded distant, but still clear as day. It seemed to seep into his mind and clog his consciousness with its oddly comforting tune. He didn’t recognize the voice or the song, but he could feel the energy laced through it. It didn’t feel like chakra at all. It had to be some kind of genjutsu, but even with his Sharingan, he couldn’t see through it. He couldn’t break it. He couldn’t get around it.

Kakashi’s consciousness spiraled away suddenly, never giving him a chance to fight back. Everything went dark, and he collapsed to the ground, his eyes closing and his whole body relaxing. In the back of his head, all he could think was my team, my team, my team my team my team my team my team my team my team…

They’ll be fine.

He didn’t want to believe in the strange voice, but he didn’t really have a choice. It wasn’t like he could do anything anyway.

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