Sometimes, reading calmed his nerves. Other times, it seemed to turn into a task just mindless enough to leave him brooding in the branches of a tree.

Kakashi’s eyes were glazing over the words, barely reading any of them. He was still trying to figure out the situation with the demonic entities that seemed to be cropping up everywhere. First it had been Neji, then Sumi, who had definitely been targeting Sasuke. There was no other reason why she would have gifted him such a horrendous injury and then not so much as scratched Naruto.

The question was why she had been targeting Sasuke. What had the Uchiha done to draw the attention of a powerful demon like the girl who had claimed to be Yukimura Sumi? Had she been sent by someone else? Had she been sent by Itachi, or Orochimaru, or any of the people in between who had a grudge against the Uchiha clan? It wasn’t as though the number of people who spat upon the Uchiha name were far and few between. Many people had probably only ever encountered Itachi, and if they didn’t know anything about him aside form his relation to Sasuke, he supposed it was possible that they might try to get revenge by killing the younger brother, but…

Kakashi sighed heavily. That idea didn’t really make sense. Itachi was infamous throughout the entirety of the Shinobi Nations, and everyone who knew his name also knew of what he had done to his family.

The fact of the matter was that Kakashi didn’t have enough information to figure out what was going on. Khrai probably had a better idea than he did. He ought to ask her, even if the chances of him getting a straight answer were pretty low. She’d explained everything about possession and demons to Gai and the other jounin instructors after she’d put Neji in the hospital, but none of those details had included what they were after, why they were after it, and who was behind the whole thing.

Then again, she might not know. He didn’t distrust her word, necessarily, but he had a feeling that Khrai knew a lot more than she led everyone to believe. She didn’t seem to like taking over Kaisuki’s body so she could talk to people on the outside. During the entire month that Kaisuki and Saeka had been missing in action, Khrai had taken over the Yurei’s body exactly once, and it had only been for a short period of time. Izumi had been doing all the heavy lifting.

He still didn’t know how Kaisuki had been returned to them. She hadn’t elaborated on what had actually happened to cause her to disappear for so long, nor had she done a particularly good job explaining how she’d come back.

The Yurei had been fairly dodgy with questions and hadn’t been seen much since she’d come back a few weeks ago. She had been spending a lot of time training on her own, and when she wasn’t doing that, she was locked up in her home doing whatever it was she was doing. It almost seemed and felt like she was avoiding her team, but Kakashi couldn’t say why. He had a feeling that something was about to happen with her. He wished she’d confide in him, but he understood why she didn’t. He wasn’t exactly the kind of person one would ask for advice.

It was distressing because he could clearly see why he wasn’t confidant material, and yet he didn’t really want to do anything about it.

“Kakashi-sensei,” he blinked himself out of his thoughts and looked down at the source of the voice that had called him. It was Sasuke. He’d been out of the hospital for about four days, and as Kakashi scrutinized him with an eye that was trained to detect weakness and lies, he could see that something was bothering the kid. He wasn’t really showing any outward signs of anxiety (which was odd compared to how he’d been behaving for the past two months), but he could tell by the look in the Uchiha’s dark eyes that something was wrong.

“Yes?” Kakashi questioned as he swung his legs off the branch he’d been practically laying on, dropping out of the tree easily. Sasuke didn’t reply at first. He seemed to be considering whether or not he regretted his decision to tell Kakashi whatever he was about to tell him. “Is something wrong?”

Sasuke’s expression shifted into a scowl, but it didn’t look particularly threatening. Seemed like more of a knee-jerk reaction. Since when had he been the type to habitually glare at people? Sure, the kid did spend a lot of time glaring and scowling at people, but never as an instinctive reaction. That was more Khrai’s style.

His left eye started aching, sending pulsing pains throughout his entire head. It was pretty distracting, but he pushed down his awareness of it and concentrated on the presence of the Uchiha standing before him. Obviously, now wasn’t a good time for him to be thinking about how much his head was hurting.

“I… need to talk to you,” Sasuke finally uttered. He looked pretty agitated. The jounin’s eye shrieked pain at him for a couple seconds before settling back down again. He had to resist the urge to rub at the grouchy organ.

Kakashi snapped his book shut and shoved it back into his kunai pouch, where he usually kept it. “About?” He inquired patiently. Sasuke wasn’t very good at talking about things that bothered or upset him. Such was the nature of trust issues, but it could be annoying to have to press and pry and dig to get him to fess up whatever it was he was thinking about saying.

“I had a…” he faltered into silence for a few seconds before he continued. “I mean… have you ever had to… to fight with … bloodlust?”

Kakashi halted for a long moment. His eye throbbed harder. Had he ever had to fight with bloodlust? The answer to the question was no, but he wanted to know why Sasuke was even asking such a question. Was he fighting with the urge to destroy and kill and bathe in blood regularly? As usual, he found himself wondering how many of Sasuke’s well-kept secrets were going to come to light before he turned thirteen.

More importantly, why was he asking this question now?

“Why do you ask?” He questioned after a pause, ignoring the pounding in his head. Once again, Sasuke didn’t say anything. As the seconds turned into a couple of minutes, Kakashi figured that he wasn’t going to get a straight answer to that question. He sighed heavily, placing his palm against the back of his neck. His hands were fairly cold. It felt nice.

“No, I haven’t.” He answered Sasuke’s original question. The Uchiha nodded silently with an unreadable expression. Kakashi wasn’t sure what else he could even say, so he didn’t say anything at all.

“Do you know anyone who has?” His voice was quiet; monotonous, even. He sounded like he was beyond tired. The copy-ninja couldn’t help wondering how the Uchiha had been sleeping.

“Well,” Kakashi began slowly. He wasn’t sure how he could word this without it coming out horrible. “No, I don’t personally know anyone with that problem. There are some who don’t consider it a problem – people like Orochimaru and Hoshigaki Kisame, mostly. But those aren’t really people you’d want to hang out with.”

The expression Sasuke wore remained unreadable, even in the face of what Kakashi was relatively certain was bad news. After a pause, the Uchiha slowly jerked his head into a nod of acknowledgment. The jounin felt like he ought to say something more. Once again, he was without all the pieces of the puzzle. He didn’t have enough information to figure out what was going on, and he didn’t have a resource that would tell him all of those details.

“I see,” Sasuke finally said after a long pause. The look in his eyes had changed to something more agitated. “Thanks anyway,” he muttered, his tone of voice monotonous. “I’ll see you around.”

Kakashi nodded curtly. He wasn’t sure he wanted to let the kid leave, but he didn’t have any reason to make him stay. He had nothing else to say, and Sasuke had no further questions. He didn’t know what was going on with the Uchiha. He didn’t know what the kid was thinking. It was fairly distressing. He could only hope that Sasuke would be more honest with someone else. He didn’t want to see the boy slip between the cracks of his own making.

Sasuke turned away and started walking back the way he had come. Kakashi stood by the tree he’d been sitting in and watched him go until he was out of sight. He had a sort of paranoid feeling in his gut and he didn’t know what to attribute it to.

He reached up with a hand, sliding his fingers under his hitai-ate and pressing them against the closed eyelid of his aching left eye. He hadn’t wanted to show any sign of the discomfort while the Uchiha had been present, but it really was quite painful.

Probably stress. He thought to himself offhandedly. His team certainly provided him with plenty of that.

Obviously, something was wrong. Kaisuki just couldn’t figure out what could have gone wrong for her to be called to the Hokage’s office. If she’d been summoned, that meant the rest of her team had been summoned as well, and given the urgency of the message she’d received, she could figure that something had probably happened to one of her teammates.

The real question was: what?

Her first thought was Sasuke, especially after the conversation she’d had with Khrai about Sumi. The fact that he’d been a powerful demoness’ target was odd, and the extremely short-lived battle Kaisuki had had with said demoness was even odder. If the Tsubaki had been right and Sumi hadn’t been dead, she might’ve returned to finish the job.

The thought sent her stomach into back flips. She tried to clear her thoughts, knowing that predicting the worst possible reason for her to be urgently summoned wasn’t helpful in any way. She needed to just get to where she was going and let the Hokage tell her what was wrong.

Kaisuki took the stairs up the side of the Hokage’s office building two at a time, walking around a corner and down a hall until she reached the main office. She paused in front of the door for a moment, taking a deep breath before knocking sharply on the wood.

“Come in,” she heard Tsunade-sama’s voice, and she obediently opened the door and walked into the room.

A few things jumped out at her immediately. Firstly, Sasuke wasn’t present, despite the rest of Team 7 being in the room. Second, Sakura’s eyes were red and her face was blotchy and she looked like she hadn’t quite finished crying. Finally, Naruto’s face was ashen and he looked extremely upset.

Kaisuki stomach dropped. Had she been right after all? She stepped further into the room and let the door swing shut behind her, looking amongst the four faces in the room for someone to explain to her what was going on. Sakura had looked up when her fellow female teammate had walked into the room, but she had buried her face in her hands seconds after. Whatever had happened, it was devastation for the pink-haired girl, and it involved Sasuke. The list of things that could be wrong was getting shorter as the seconds passed.

“Sasuke’s gone,” Naruto suddenly blurted out, and for just an instant Kaisuki wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘gone.’ Then, he continued, “Sakura ran into him late last night, and he said he was going to Otogakure to train under Orochimaru. I… I was wondering if you’d come with me to go get him.”

Kaisuki froze, eyes wide. She felt a surge of emotions coming from every which way, and she had to step back from the reigns of her own body so she could turn to the three spirits standing just behind her.

He probably made a mistake and he just doesn’t know it yet,” Izumi was already saying as Kaisuki walked over to where they were standing. “We should go. We’ll be the able to bring him back mostly unharmed if we do.

What the fuck would be the point?” Khrai snapped, taking her anger out on everyone around her, as usual. “Unless we plan to lock his ass up permanently, there’s no way we can keep him here even if we do manage to bring him home.

It wouldn’t have to be permanent,” Izumi argued. “Just until he’s emotionally stable enough to think coherently. He’s got to have a reason for deciding to leave like this, and he has to at least think it’s a good reason. If I can convince him otherwise-…

And how exactly do you intend to do that?” The elf retorted heatedly, “He doesn’t want help from anyone here. If he did, I would fucking think he probably would’ve stuck around.

You’re assuming that he’s exhausted his resources,” was Izumi’s reply. “If he thinks that there’s no one here who can help him, he won’t have any reason to stay.

You’re assuming that help is what he’s looking for.” Khrai was looking more and more furious by the second. Saeka had yet to say anything, but by the way Kaisuki could feel her body temperature slowly rising, she could guess what the younger girl’s opinion would be. “Last I checked, Sasuke’s primary goal in life was getting strong enough to kill his brother. If anything, he’s probably looking for a quick fix for how pathetically weak he is. His encounters with Sumi and Itachi have probably given him a bit of a kick in the ass.

Kaisuki didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to do. She felt like she shouldn’t make the decision without consulting Khrai, Izumi, and Saeka, but if they couldn’t make up their minds one way or the other, she didn’t know what she would do. She felt like Izumi was right on the one hand, but she felt Khrai was right on the other.

Sasuke might’ve been making a fatal mistake without realizing it, but he also might’ve just decided that sticking around Konohagakure wasn’t going to make him strong enough fast enough. He may have been looking for help from the snake Sannin, but he may also have been looking for power. Kaisuki didn’t know what the status of his ambition was, as she had stopped trying to talk to him about it when they were nine.

He had seemed to be getting less and less driven towards that goal as his time with Team 7 had progressed. He’d made friends for the first time since the massacre. He’d thought about something other than killing Itachi. He’d seemed to be changing, and yet he had ditched his hometown without a word to anyone but Sakura – whom, Kaisuki would bet, only had the opportunity to say goodbye because she’d had the luck of running into him.

What do you think, Sae-…?” Kaisuki blinked, jerked herself out her thoughts when Khrai turned in her direction, looking over her shoulder. Her eyes widened, recalling in that instant that she had let go of the reigns so she could talk to the three spirits residing within her. She whirled around, finding Saeka standing at the front, her hot, red chakra swirling around her in an angry, unbidden aura.

“No,” she heard her voice – just a little higher than normal – say. The Tsubaki lurched forward, intending to pull her away from the reigns, but she stopped herself. The level of rage she could feel coming off of Saeka was at dangerous levels. She was as angry as she used to get at Sasuke when she’d tried to kill him those several times. She was as angry as she’d been the first time she’d seen Kakashi-sensei after the day she’d murdered Kaisuki’s family.

Kaisuki probably wouldn’t be able to get her to step back, and even if she did, the girl would fight her about it and she’d probably win.

“W-what?” Naruto’s voice was uncertain. There was a barely noticeable hint of fear in his tone. He’d never seen Saeka that furious. He’d seen her angry enough to throw a knife at Sasuke and purposefully miss, but he’d never seen her angry enough to kill the Uchiha. “Why not?!” He looked and sounded so distressed, Kaisuki wanted to pull Saeka back just so she could hug him. She had a feeling she wasn’t going to get a chance to.

“He made his decision,” Saeka replied, her voice deathly calm. Sakura had lifted her head to look at the girl as she spoke through Kaisuki, her expression stricken. “Whatever he gets at this point, he deserves it.”

The look on Naruto and Sakura’s faces was enough to make Kaisuki look away. She felt terrible, but Khrai and Saeka were right. Izumi was possibly right too, but the point was that Sasuke had made a choice. It may have been the wrong choice, and he could potentially decide that he wanted to take it back, but the point was that he had made a decision. He would have to live with whatever consequences came his way, if there were any. For all she knew, Orochimaru wouldn’t do anything particularly horrible to the Uchiha. She just didn’t know, and she couldn’t possibly expect to be able to figure it out.

She felt herself moving and looked up again in time to see herself pulling the door open and leaving the room. She watched as Saeka walked around the corner, down the hall and then the stairs, before breaking into a run. Kaisuki looked back over at Khrai and Izumi, both of whom had fallen completely silent during the whole ordeal. Izumi looked like she was close to tears, and Kaisuki wanted to say something to comfort her, but there wasn’t really anything to say. The brunette stood there for only a few seconds longer before she turned and disappeared into the darkness behind them, likely to find herself a spot to sit and cry.

Khrai had watched the irou-nin go until she had fully disappeared, before she turned her attention to Kaisuki. “What are your thoughts? I guess it would’ve been nice to ask you, huh?

The Tsubaki didn’t reply at first, listening to the door of her apartment slam shut as Saeka walked her back to her bed, laying her down and closing her eyes. The truth was that she agreed with Khrai and Saeka, but she felt guilty about it. She felt like it was a testament to how little she must’ve cared.

What is it?” Khrai asked as Saeka walked past the two of them and disappeared into the darkness without a word. The feeling of her chakra and her rage slowly faded away, leaving a strange hollowness behind.

I… I agree with you and Saeka,” Kaisuki finally replied softly. “I really do. You’re both right; he made a choice, and he should deal with the consequences of that choice. If he changes his mind, we’ll all still be here.

But?” The elf pried gently.

She hung her head, “I feel terrible. Naruto and Sakura are so upset, and Kakashi-sensei’s probably really upset too, and I didn’t even tell them what I thought. I let Saeka speak for me, and even though she said what I wanted to say in fewer words… it should’ve come from me.

It’s not like she gave you much of a choice,” Khrai replied with a sigh. She brushed her hair out of her face, only for it to immediately fall back into place. “And that’s not really what’s bothering you, is it? You don’t have to lie to me, you know.

I don’t… I mean…” She stumbled over her words before falling silent again for a moment. “Should I… care more?

The blonde blinked, her eyebrows knitting together. “What? Do you honestly think that your decision to let Sasuke fuck off and do whatever he wants is a reflection of how much you care about him?” It wasn’t a rhetorical question, and while that wasn’t how Kaisuki would’ve worded it, it was exactly what she thought. So, she bobbed her head slightly in reply. “Are you kidding me? Kaisuki, you care just as much as they do. But you’re not such a hopeless fucking control freak that you’d force him to stay here when he obviously doesn’t want to.

Kaisuki nodded mutely, the slightest smile gracing her expression. Khrai smirked at her, glancing over her shoulders into the darkness behind her. “I don’t know where those two went, or when they’re coming back, but they’ll get over it. Even Izumi. Besides, we have better things to be doing that chasing down a pubescent brat.

The Tsubaki chuckled at that, stepping back up and resuming control of her body. Khrai was right. Saeka and Izumi would both eventually come back. And even if Izumi was angry with the three of them for a while, she’d get past it. She and Khrai fought rather frequently, as they usually had completely opposite opinions, and they were equally stubborn. There wasn’t really anything to worry about regarding that.

Her eyes ghosted over her bedroom, coming to settle on the desk where she’d started writing a letter to Naruto and Sakura, explaining that she was leaving and that she would eventually come back. She had originally decided to leave them a letter, only to change her mind and decide that she’d see them in person. However, after the what had just happened, she wasn’t sure she wanted to see them before she left. She was sure that Naruto would be very angry with her for it, but she was coming back. She didn’t know when, but she would definitely return home to visit every now and then.

She walked over to her desk, sitting down and looking over what she had already written. Khrai’s presence had faded into the background – she’d probably gone to make sure Izumi and Saeka were okay, or had returned to that little room with the kotatsu. Either way, she was left alone with her thoughts. It was a nice change of pace. She admired Izumi, and Khrai was refreshingly direct, and she positively adored Saeka, but their presences were very conspicuous. Moments where they were all in the back and being very quiet were definitely cherished.

The letter she’d started wasn’t up to par, so she crumbled the sheet of paper she’d been writing on and pulled out another to start fresh. She would lie about why she was leaving. She could say that she had decided to go out and see if she could learn more about her clan and their Yurei. A journey of self-discovery, so to speak. She would reassure them so they didn’t lose sleep thinking about her being out on her own. They didn’t need to worry about her; she had Khrai and Saeka and Izumi, and she knew she could rely on them to prevent her from dying.

Most importantly, she would promise them that she’d return. After all, Konohagakure was her home, and she had no intentions of replacing it with somewhere else.

Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi-sensei,

I’m really sorry that I didn’t do this in person. After what happened with Sasuke, I wasn’t sure I wanted to come up to you the following day and tell you that I was leaving, so I arranged for you to receive this after I’d already left.

Before you panic, no, I’m not running away from home. I spoke to Tsunade-sama about this already. I want to learn as much as I can about the Tsubaki clan and Yurei. I don’t know how long I’m going to be gone. The Tsubaki clan was around for a long time, and for all I know, I’m not the only one left.

I’m gonna miss you guys a ton, so I’ll be sure to come home every now and then to see you. I’ll send you letters when I’m out, too, just so you know I’m not dead. Feel free to write back, I’d love to hear from you.

Naruto, don’t you dare get inaugurated as the Rokudaime Hokage while I’m gone!! If you do, I’m gonna be so mad that I don’t think there’s a word for it. If you’re gonna get inaugurated, send me a letter so I can come home super fast and see you!

Sakura, keep your chin up. I know you’re probably still devastated, but don’t let that misery consume you. If you’re going to bring him back, you’re going to have to be strong enough to take him out. I’m sure Tsunade-sama will be happy to pass on more than just her medicinal knowledge. Make sure you spend more time training than you do on your hair, okay? But don’t let it go too much. Split ends are terrible.

Kakashi-sensei, I don’t even know where to start. You’ve been so good to me and you’ve really helped me grow as a person and as a kunoichi. I’m so grateful for all that you’ve done for me and the rest of the team. Take care of Naruto and Sakura while I’m gone, but don’t neglect yourself! I know you don’t sleep enough. It shows on your face, and I have a lot of experience with insomnia.

I love all of you so much! See you later!