Kaisuki wasn’t entirely sure where she was. Everything seemed familiar and foreign at the same time. It was twilight, the sun just barely set and the moon on its way up the sky. She was walking down a path that she didn’t recognize, heading for a destination she didn’t know. There were lights spaced out along the cobblestone, and the path seemed to go on forever.
There was absolutely nothing off the path. Just darkness. There were tiny balls of light everywhere, though. They reminded her of fireflies. They flew on and off the path, flitting around her as though they knew her. She wasn’t bother by them at all, for whatever reason. Perhaps it was because she felt like she knew them. Perhaps it was because she knew they wouldn’t hurt her.
The path ended on an incline fairly far ahead of her. She couldn’t make out what was at the end of it, but she could see where the lights abruptly stopped. As she approached, she realized that the thing at the end of the path was a door. That was it, though. No building around it of any kind. Just a door, and then darkness.
After a few minutes, she reached it. It was an extremely aged door that looked as though it had seen many terrible things. It had burn marks all over it, and deep scratches that ran in every direction. There were nails embedded in various spots near the cracks that marred the wood, as though the door had been broken at one point and then repaired.
Ironically, she was standing on a welcome mat.
She reached out and wrapped her hand around the scratched metal of the doorknob. It felt natural, for some reason, as though she’d opened the door countless times in the past. It reminded her of the home she’d lost. It reminded her of Saeka’s whimsical temper and Izumi’s mothering nature. It reminded her of something ancient and angry. It felt as though she were being welcomed and turned away at the same time.
She’d come too far to turn around now.
In one hasty movement, Kaisuki twisted the knob and pushed the door open about halfway. She stepped into the room that had been on the other side of the door, and her eyes widened in surprise and confusion. There were three people sitting around a kotatsu, staring at her, and for a moment Kaisuki didn’t know who they were.
“Kaisuki,” the youngest looking girl asked. She’d been dead for two years. Kaisuki still didn’t know why she knew that. “You made it.”
The Tsubaki’s lips parted, a look of surprise likely showing on her face as she realized whose presence she was in. Her eyes swept over the other two faces – a brunette with soft green eyes and a sad smile (two hundred and sixty-eight years), and a blond with vibrant blue eyes that held an old, old anger. She recognized the brunette immediately as Izumi, and the girl who had spoken first was obviously Saeka.
She didn’t know the blond, though.
Izumi beckoned her over, “Oh, dear, don’t leave that door open.” She requested with a smile. “You’ll let out all the heat. Close it and come sit with us.”
She blinked, and then quickly stepped further into the room, swinging the door shut again. “It’s really cold out there.” She remarked, only just noticing how much warmer it was in the room.
“Yea,” Saeka nodded, shrugging. “That’s why we got a kotatsu.”
“Sit down,” the blond that Kaisuki didn’t know suddenly spoke, sounding impatient. Kaisuki stared at her for a moment, wondering if she should be indignant at being ordered around or if she ought to be thankful for the moderately hostile hospitality.
In the end, she decided against saying anything at all. She sat down on the side of the four-person table that was free, crossing her legs under the blanket. She then turned to the blond, a frown set on her face, and asked the burning question: “Who are you?”
The blond’s eyes narrowed briefly, before she looked to the ceiling and muttered something in a language Kaisuki had never heard before. Izumi cleared her throat loudly, and the blond sighed in equal volume, before turning her attention back to Kaisuki.
“Khrai.” She replied shortly and a little coldly. Kaisuki blinked, feeling slightly confused. Considering the fact that herself, Izumi, and Saeka were sitting in a room off a random path shrouded in night and surrounded by nothing but darkness, she felt she was probably somewhere inside of herself. It made sense up to the point of Khrai, who she didn’t know. She supposed she could assume that Khrai was another spirit that was within her, but she couldn’t feel how long the blond had been dead. It was something she knew she could do based on her prior experience with Izumi and Saeka.
“Don’t dwell on it,” Izumi said, pulling Kaisuki out of her thoughts. She looked over at the irou-nin, who was sipping at a cup of tea. “Khrai is dead like us, but she’s been around long enough to learn a few more tricks than everyone else.”
Kaisuki nodded slowly, deciding to do as Izumi said and let it lie in the back of her mind. She was still largely confused about everything, though. There was a huge gap in her memory during the preliminary matches, and while she now knew that that had been Khrai, she didn’t know why Khrai had possessed her. She faintly recalled seeing Hyuuga Neji’s battered, unconscious form in front of her when she’d come back to herself, but that was all she knew. Apparently, Khrai had beaten the hell out of Neji. She wanted to ask, but Khrai seemed so hostile towards her, she didn’t know if she felt comfortable enough to so much as speak to her.
“Kaisuki,” Saeka spoke up suddenly, attracting her attention. She was staring at the table with glassy eyes, as though she were focusing on something that wasn’t there. “You really need to talk to Hatake-san about Sasuke.”
Kaisuki blinked, confused for a moment, before she recalled what she’d promised to ask him. “Oh, crap,” she said, about ready to leap out of her seat and make a run for wherever the exit was. “I didn’t… shit.”
“We’ll remind you when you’re up and about again,” Izumi reassured her with a smile. Kaisuki smiled back at her gratefully. The suddenness of Saeka’s statement had her thinking that something was wrong with Sasuke, probably related to that mark on his neck.
“Relax, kiddo,” Khrai’s voice cut into her thoughts, and when she looked up the woman was staring at her, one eyebrow cocked. “No one’s dead or dying. Look, we collectively called you down here because we need to talk.”
Kaisuki blinked, confused. “About what?”
“About a lot of shit, you moron.” Khrai replied, rolling her eyes. “We need to talk about Neji, first and foremost.”
She nodded slowly, thinking back to Neji’s appearance when she’d come back to herself. Hopefully, she was about to get an explanation for why her fellow genin had been in such terrible shape.
The blond let out an irritated huff, “He was possessed. By the embodiment of pure evil. They’re called demons, and don’t you dare talk to me about lore like you know what the fuck you’re talking about.” She said, her eyes narrowing when her hostess raised her eyebrows. Kaisuki stiffened, before nodding in understanding. She would save her questions for the end. She obviously didn’t want to get on this woman’s bad side.
“Saeka told me his chakra felt darker than anything she’d ever felt before. I broke his arm to see how he reacted to pain, and when he, well, didn’t, I knew it wasn’t him.” Khrai told her, still scowling. “I used the chakra receptor in his forehead to funnel my chakra – which is really, really corrosive – into his chakra circulatory system. Demons possess humans by getting into their chakra, thus giving them free reign over a person’s body and, if they’re left long enough, soul. So, by pumping Neji full of my chakra, I basically dissolved that fucker into nothingness.”
She paused, eyes turning towards the ceiling for a moment before she frowned and looked back at Kaisuki. Her scowl had faded somewhat. It was a truly angry expression, and Kaisuki didn’t like to be on the receiving end of it. “Any questions?”
Kaisuki nodded, uncertain of where to start. “Why Neji? Is the fact that it was him an important detail?”
Khrai shrugged, “Not really.” She replied easily, leaning back on her hands. “The eyes are the windows to the soul, literally. People with dojutsu like the Sharingan or the Byakugan are more susceptible to being possessed, because the connection between the body, chakra, and soul is much stronger.”
Her mind immediately supplied Itachi’s face, but she squashed it down. Sure, she supposed it was possible, but she wouldn’t jump to conclusions that were that extreme until she’d had an opportunity to speak to him directly. After a moment of further thought, she looked around the table. She wasn’t sure if it made sense to ask the three of them what she wanted to know.
“Do any of you know…” she asked quietly, “what’s wrong with Sasuke?”
Saeka stiffened visibly, lowering her head slightly so as to obscure her face with her black hair. Kaisuki wanted to directly ask her, but she knew better than to press when it came to the volatile girl. She looked over at Khrai, only to see that she was staring at Saeka, eyes holding compassion that almost didn’t suit her. Finally, she glanced towards Izumi, who met her gaze. Her lips were pursed, and she was looking at the cup in her hands.
Abruptly, Saeka stood up, her face still hidden by her hair. “I’ll… later. I’ll be back later.” She muttered, before walking over to the door. Kaisuki watched her talons wrap awkwardly around the doorknob, watched her disappear into darkness. The path from before was gone, as was any form of light. Kaisuki stared after her, even after the door had closed. She had no idea what it was about what she’d said that had set Saeka off.
She could faintly hear her shrieking something incoherent in the back of her mind, but after a moment that disappeared as well, leaving a stark silence that she didn’t like. Khrai let out an agitated sigh, and Kaisuki looked over at her. She was in the process of sitting up again, briefly cracking her wrists as she settled into a comfortable position.
“She won’t tell us anything.” Izumi said, her voice soft. Kaisuki turned her way. The woman looked incredibly depressed all of a sudden, and for a moment Kaisuki thought she would cry. “I don’t know who that Orochimaru is, but I gather Saeka knows him somehow. That’s all we’ve been able to deduce, though.”
Kaisuki nodded slowly, downcast. It wasn’t that she was unhappy about not being able to learn more about whatever was wrong with Sasuke, but rather that she felt terrible for upsetting Saeka. She felt that she did it far too often. The girl was incredibly easy to upset, and when she was, she usually remained that way for anywhere from a few hours to several days.
“You guys talk to her a lot more than I do.” It wasn’t a question. It was a rather bitter statement that she hadn’t meant to say out loud. She clenched her jaw shut, swallowing down the lump in her throat. Saying it out loud always made it feel more real. But even if she hadn’t, she knew what the facts were. She and Saeka spoke much more often then they had about a year ago, but she still didn’t know much of anything about her.
“That’s right.” Khrai replied coolly. “We do.”
Izumi sighed heavily, “Khrai, you’re the only one Saeka will talk to.” She said, her voice icy. She was looking at Khrai as though she wanted her to burst into flames on the spot. Khrai rolled her eyes, her scowl returning tenfold.
“Only because you two don’t.” She retorted heatedly, expression darkening. “She doesn’t talk to you because she doesn’t trust you to not fucking hate her for the kinds of things she says and does. She assumes everyone will always come to hate her, because apparently that’s what she’s used to.” Khrai ranted, her voice gaining volume, “That’s how Kaisuki’s felt about her from day one, until I came along and ‘calmed her down’ so she could be considered manageable!”
“Don’t play the martyr when it took you seven years to decide to talk to her yourself. A lot of things could’ve been avoided if you’d been feeling helpful earlier on.” Izumi countered, her voice cutting.
A rather indignant anger was seeping into her mood and igniting her temper. It wasn’t as though she’d felt that way about Saeka because she’d wanted to. She hadn’t known any better, and no one had bothered to educate her on what exactly the point of being a yurei was, or what Saeka’s problem was, or anything, really. She’d been going blind for the past seven years because she didn’t have anything else to go on.
“If you know so much,” she suddenly said, cutting into what had become an argument between Izumi and Khrai. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me? If you’re so old, why didn’t you do anything to help me? It’s not like there’s a handbook on how to be a Yurei, so how the hell was I supposed to figure any of this out?” She snapped furiously, her hands clenching into fists on the table.
“No one’s been able to answer my questions, and trust me, I’ve been asking everyone.” she continued, fuming. “So before you start judging me for not knowing what the hell I’m supposed to be doing, maybe you should try to make yourself a little more useful!”
She gritted her teeth, more furious with Khrai than she’d ever been with Sasuke. Khrai was staring at her with a rather blank look on her face, though Kaisuki could tell that she was thinking. They maintained their staring contest for probably a minute, in complete silence, before Khrai ran a hand through her hair and closed her eyes. She looked extremely unhappy with whatever she conclusion she had come to.
“Fine,” she finally said, sighing heavily. “But you’d better pay some pretty close fucking attention because I’ll be damned if I’m gonna repeat myself to a brat like you.”
Kaisuki blinked, surprised by the response. Then, after a brief pause, she nodded, and Khrai started talking. At some point, Izumi excused herself, leaving Khrai and Kaisuki alone to talk. She explained everything that Kaisuki had been wanting to know about, answered all of her questions, and explained in detail the things that were harder to grasp.
It felt like hours passed before Khrai wrapped up the conversation and briefly explained to her how to wake herself up. She left the small room thinking about everything Khrai had told her, sifting through all of it bit by bit. Her memories and thoughts came to her much easier on the path that had reappeared when she’d opened the door.
“The purpose of a Yurei is to heal damaged spirits.”
It wasn’t that she felt obligated to them because of her status as a Yurei. It wasn’t because she thought of them as broken people who needed to be fixed. She wanted to befriend them because they were people, and the four of them were stuck with each other. She wanted to learn more about them, and she wanted them to be able to trust her. They weren’t broken people who needed fixing. They were just people who were hurt, and she just happened to have some band-aids laying around somewhere.
Kaisuki didn’t have a clue what she was doing. Not really, anyway. She had ideas about it, but there was a lot that she would have to figure out on her own. At some point, she’d have to do some research into Yurei and the Tsubaki clan. She’d have to do a lot of thinking on the matter. She’d probably have to ask Khrai more questions, if she was willing to answer them.
The Yurei stepped up to another door, this one less battered and tired looking. All she had to do was open it and walk through it, according to Khrai. Something about the odd metaphors in Kaisuki’s inner landscapes. She wrapped her fingers around the silver knob, pausing momentarily. She turned and looked over her shoulder, down the path and out into the darkness surrounding it.
“Saeka,” She called. The sound of her voice echoed around her. Everything was so cold and dark and vast. She wondered if it’d be possible to change that over time. “I hope you feel better soon. Take care of yourself.”
There was no reply, but she hadn’t been expecting one. She smiled slightly into the darkness, before turning back to the door and pulling it open. Light surrounded her at once, too bright to see through, and she stepped across the threshold.
“They’re taking a really long time to wake up,” Naruto complained, slumping back in his seat. Sakura sighed loudly in exasperation, but she didn’t say anything. Kakashi glanced up from his book, eyes sweeping over the room briefly before he returned to the story. He pointedly ignored Naruto’s statement altogether, as he’d said it about a dozen times over the past day and a half.
At the moment, they were in Kaisuki’s room in the hospital. Sakura and Naruto had spent yesterday afternoon watching Sasuke sleep, and so today – with Kakashi in tow (for a little while at least) – they were going to spend the morning watching Kaisuki sleep. Eventually, their two unconscious teammates would recover, but until then, there would be very boring person-watching.
Kaisuki had severe chakra exhaustion. Sasuke had a high fever. Both of them had been sleeping nonstop since the day of the preliminary matches. It’d been a day and a half since then. Kaisuki ought to be waking up soon, but he didn’t know about Sasuke. According to the nurses in charge of him, the Uchiha had woken up a couple of times, but never for more than ten minutes.
Sakura had explained what had happened to Sasuke in the Forest of Death to the best of her ability, but since she hadn’t been around for the tail end of it, there was a rather large gap in her story. He’d have to get the part that Sakura didn’t have from Kaisuki, if she knew anything about it. He had a feeling he knew what had happened, though. Or, who had happened. It wasn’t like there was a whole mess of people who gave out curse marks to willing and unwilling subjects alike.
He didn’t know what Orochimaru was after. The snake Sannin’s motives were and always had been shrouded in mystery. Once, he had indulged the masses and disclosed what he was after in the vaguest, least useful terms. He’d admitted that he wanted to found a village. Why, when, where, and how he wanted to found a village remained a mystery. So did whether he’d succeeded or not.
No one had seen him since then, and that had been twenty years ago. He’d completely disappeared off the face of the planet for that entire time, and most people thought that he had died. The Hokage had always thought otherwise, for reasons unspecified. Kakashi himself had never given it much thought. If Orochimaru was alive, they’d eventually come across him in some fashion or another. If he was dead, they’d never hear from him again. The copy-ninja wasn’t one for making assumptions.
He looked up from his book when he heard a light knock and the sound of the door sliding open. The Hokage stood there, looking moderately grave. Something terrible had happened. Excellent. He had just been getting bored anyway.
“Kakashi,” he said, nodding in greeting to the other conscious parties in the room. “May I have a word?”
He eyed Sarutobi for a moment, wondering what was going on, before standing up and shoving his book back into his kunai pouch. “I suppose you may, Hokage-sama.”
“Is something wrong?” Sakura asked from behind him, sounding very worried. Naruto was probably looking over at them as well, curious but likely less worried. Unless someone was dying, Naruto didn’t usually worry about anything.
Sarutobi smiled at her, though to Kakashi the expression looked a little strained. “It’s nothing you need to worry about.” The older man told her. Kakashi followed him out of the room and they started down the halls of the hospital.
They walked in silence for only a few feet before the older man spoke again. “Kakashi, I was contacted by one of the nurses in charge of Sasuke.”
That already didn’t sound good. He had told him about the mark on Sasuke’s neck already, and they’d had a lengthy discussion about it, so that probably wasn’t what the problem was. Unless Sasuke’s symptoms had been worsening, or something. But in that situation, a nurse would’ve come to tell him before going to the Hokage, especially since Kakashi had already been in the hospital.
“Evidently,” Sarutobi continued, letting out a sigh. He sounded rather stressed out. “There are a number of scars on his wrists that appear to be self-inflicted.”
Kakashi’s mind came to a screeching halt and he almost stopped in his tracks. Sasuke was self-harming? Since when? The kid just didn’t seem like the type, so he was having a little bit of trouble wrapping his head around it.
But, he supposed, the ones who hurt themselves like that took great pains to ensure that no one suspected anything. Sasuke spent a lot of time pushing people away. Kakashi had always assumed that it was because the kid had the mother load of all trust issues, and that probably was part of the reason, but the fact that he was hurting himself put things into a whole new perspective.
If Sasuke was pushing people away because he didn’t want anyone to know about his self-harming, that had to mean that he didn’t want help, right? It had to mean that he was trying to isolate himself for whatever reason. Did the kid hate himself that much? He sure acted the part of ego-maniacal brat, but if he was hiding the fact that he was hurting himself from people who cared, it had to mean that he thought he deserved it. How could the kid be carrying around that much self-loathing without ever showing any signs of it, from the time that he was eight until now?
What could they do about it? They couldn’t force him into therapy. That would be nothing more than a waste of time. He was sure that they wouldn’t be able to persuade him to go, either, because Sasuke was stubborn in his belief that he was fine. Even if all evidence pointed to the contrary (as it currently was), the Uchiha would never admit that he wasn’t okay.
Throwing him into a psychiatric unit would only guarantee that he never speak to them again, and it would likely do a lot more harm than good. He’d probably also do everything in his power to escape, and then likely run away from the village, never to return again. The last thing anyone needed was for Sasuke to feel so jaded that he wanted to leave Konohagakure when he was more of a danger to himself than to anyone else.
Although, Kakashi didn’t even actually know how much of a threat Sasuke posed towards himself. It would depend on the depth of the scars, he supposed. If Sasuke was carving deeply, he was likely suicidal and needed to be in a psychiatric unit of some sort. If the scars were shallow, it would mean he probably wasn’t really a danger to himself. That was an important distinction to make. It wouldn’t do for them to overreact to whatever state Sasuke’s wrists were in. If they did, it’d only serve to push the kid further away.
Sarutobi walked up to the door that Kakashi knew was the Uchiha’s room and slid it open. He froze in place for about a half of a second, eyes widening. Sasuke was lying on his side, facing the door, his eyes squeezed shut. He was sleeping, face white and streaked with tears. His lips were moving but there was only sound coming out every so often, halves of words and broken sentences that didn’t make any sense.
And he was scratching at an already bleeding wrist as though he were trying to peel all the flesh off of it.
Kakashi’s gut twisted and he crossed the room in record time, grabbing the hand that had been doing the scratching and wrenching it away. He’d expected the motion to wake Sasuke up, but it didn’t. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect. The kid seemed to delve deeper into whatever mess of a nightmare he was having, his broken sentences and half-uttered words turning into panicked cries of increasing volume.
“Stop, please, Itachi, please…! I don’t want to see it again, please, stop, please, please…!!” He sobbed, writhing and then thrashing about. Kakashi’s stomach lurched. He was dreaming about the night of the massacre. How often did he have nightmares about it? Moderately desperate to wake the kid up at that point, he grabbed Sasuke shoulders and shook him hard.
“Sasuke, wake up!” he called loudly. He didn’t know if it was some awful part of the nightmare that did it or if it was really the sound of his voice that roused Sasuke, but the kid’s black eyes flew open. Kakashi pulled back quickly as he sat up with a strangled gasp, one hand pressed against his chest, the other fisted around the blankets at his side.
“Sasuke,” Sarutobi addressed gently as he walked up to stand beside Kakashi. The Uchiha in question stiffened visibly, frozen solid for a good five seconds before he slowly looked towards them with wide, horrified eyes. His face was ashen, and for a moment Kakashi was sure he was going to throw up all over them. “Are you alright?”
Sasuke didn’t respond. He stared at them for a long, long time, before turning his gaze back to his lap and hunching his shoulders. He didn’t seemed to notice that his wrist was bleeding, which Kakashi found odd all by itself. Although, he supposed it was possible that Sasuke had noticed and simply wasn’t concerned about it.
“I’m fine.” He finally muttered, voice barely above a whisper. His tone was enough to tell Kakashi that he wanted them to leave immediately, but he wasn’t about to obey the wishes of a twelve year-old that was scratching up his arms in his sleep.
“Hokage-sama, would I be able to persuade you to find a nurse to look at his arm?” He requested. Sarutobi looked at him, but Kakashi didn’t meet his eyes. He wasn’t sure if he was angry or horrified or moderately panicked or any number of other things. His mind was racing. Somehow, this was much worse than the idea of him slitting wrists with a razor. Kakashi didn’t even know what they were supposed to do about self-mutilation during sleep, or if there was anything they could do.
Itachi had left Sasuke much more damaged than anyone had realized.
“I’ll take my time,” Sarutobi replied after a very brief pause. Kakashi nodded stiffly, but didn’t say anything. The Hokage vacated the room quietly, and left them in complete silence. Kakashi wasn’t entirely sure where to start. He felt very unsettled by what had transpired thus far. He wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to keep a cool head at that point.
“How long have you been doing that?” Kakashi asked after a pause. Sasuke didn’t respond right away. After a couple minutes of silence, Kakashi started considering his lengthy list of interrogation tactics. He didn’t want to hurt him. That was a fact. But he wasn’t going to drop the subject just because the kid wanted him to. He wasn’t Iruka.
“It’s really none of your business.” Sasuke said, still refusing to look at his jounin instructor. Kakashi wasn’t entirely surprised to hear the answer, but that didn’t make him any less irritated by it. He understood (more or less) what Sasuke’s problem was. But couldn’t he see that Kakashi wanted to help? Or was it that he really didn’t want any? He couldn’t imagine why. Surely Sasuke didn’t enjoy waking up to bleeding arms?
“I beg to differ.” He replied dryly. Maintaining his poker face was extremely difficult. He was not in a good place for this kind of interrogation. “How long have you been doing that?”
Sasuke’s hands clenched into fists in his lap, and Kakashi saw him turn his wrist slightly. He was probably inspecting the damage. The bleeding hadn’t quite stopped, but it had slowed considerably. The bed sheets were flecked with blood, and Kakashi wondered if Sasuke’s sheets at home looked the same. The thought made his skin crawl.
The kid spent another lengthy period of time not answering the question before he spoke again. “I’m not…” He halted before he’d really even begun his reply, and Kakashi wished he could see his face. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not a big deal.”
A bit of unrestrained fury appeared out of absolutely nowhere and Kakashi grabbed the kid’s injured wrist, yanking it up above his head. Sasuke tried to pull away, but he was nowhere near strong enough to get his jounin instructor to let go of him. He didn’t understand why the kid was fighting with him about it. He didn’t understand why Sasuke didn’t want help. He didn’t get it at all. But he’d be damned if he let the brat chase him away. That might’ve worked on Iruka, but it wouldn’t work on Kakashi.
From where he had pulled Sasuke’s wrist to, he could better see the damage the Uchiha had wrought upon himself. It was actually quite bad. He’d managed to scratch all the way through his skin and probably a half a centimeter into the meat of his arm without waking up. He could see the other scars that the nurses must’ve been talking about. All of them looked like the work of scratching, which was a tiny bit of a relief. It meant he wasn’t also taking razors to himself.
It was a small comfort, but at this point, Kakashi would take it.
“This isn’t what you’d call a big deal?” Kakashi contested icily. His heart hurt. Sasuke still wouldn’t look at him, and he was still trying to pull his arm back. He was sure his grip was hurting the kid, but he decided it would be best not to let the fact deter him. He didn’t enjoy hurting people he cared about, but in this situation, he wasn’t sure he had much of an out. “Answer my question, Sasuke.”
Sasuke didn’t answer right away. As the seconds turned into a couple of minutes, he still didn’t speak. Kakashi clenched his teeth, frustration bubbling up inside of him. He twisted the kid’s wrist about halfway to dislocating it, maintaining his cold demeanor. Sasuke let out a pained sound, trying harder to pull away. “I’m not going to play this game with you. Answer me.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Sasuke insisted, and for a moment Kakashi thought he was going to start crying. He really didn’t like this. “There’s nothing anyone can do.”
“It matters to me. Answer my question.” He repeated, smothering the ache in his chest. There was no room here for him to be sentimental or caring or compassionate. If Sasuke could get through half a centimeter of his wrist without waking up, who was to say he wouldn’t claw open an artery one day? Being nice now wasn’t going to help anyone.
He told himself that over and over, but it really didn’t make him feel any better. It was enough to keep him from backing down, but it wasn’t enough to make him feel any less sickened. It was one thing to leave bruises during a sparring session or something. It was completely different when he was using interrogation tactics on his subordinates.
He tightened his grip and twisted Sasuke’s wrist further, trying not to react to the pained sound the kid made. If he had to twist it much more than he already had, he was going to dislocate it. He wished with all his heart and soul that the kid wouldn’t make him actually dislocate it. He waited patiently for Sasuke to decide whether he was going to cooperate or not, wondering if the kid was honestly going to try to out-stubborn him.
“A while,” was the quiet reply he finally received. Kakashi gritted his teeth. It almost seemed like Sasuke was trying to make this as hard on himself as he could. As though he were testing Kakashi to see if he really would dislocate his wrist. He was probably thinking that maybe the jounin would back down if Sasuke pushed him to that point. He obviously didn’t know his instructor very well. Kakashi hated the situation he’d unwittingly put himself into, but he couldn’t step down now. If he issued an ultimatum, he had to follow through with it.
“How long is a while, Sasuke? A month? A year? Five years?” He further questioned, chewing his tongue. He felt sick.
Sasuke sunk further into his shoulders and stopped trying to pull his arm back. When he eventually replied, his voice was small. “Since a couple…. months after the… after the…” Kakashi knew exactly what he was trying to say, but he didn’t finish his sentence for him. “The… m-mass… massacre.”
The fact that it was that difficult for Sasuke to say the word “massacre” spoke volumes by itself. Kakashi let go of him, and watched as he drew his arm to his chest and held it there. The jounin stared at his subordinate for a long time, uncertain of what to say or do. Sasuke had been scratching up his arm in his sleep for a little under four years. How had no one noticed before?
Because he doesn’t let anyone get that close, he reminded himself, recalling the look on Sasuke’s face when he’d realized he had company. He must’ve been planning to take it with him to the grave. He would’ve just eventually scratched through his arteries and died in his sleep, and no one would’ve known why he did it.
“I’m going to talk to the Hokage,” he informed the kid decisively, though his voice was lowered. He shoved his hands into his pockets, still feeling very unsettled. “And we’ll figure out what we’re going to do about it from there. If you refuse to come when you’re called, I’ll hunt you down myself, so don’t even think about it. Are we clear?”
Sasuke didn’t say anything. He just nodded, still staring at his lap, still hugging his injured arm to his chest. Now was the point in the conversation when he was supposed to turn around and start being kind, but Kakashi didn’t have it in him to try. He was sure any such behavior wouldn’t be appreciated anyway. Sasuke was a proud person. He was probably stewing in humiliation because he’d been caught having a nightmare. Kakashi was sure he had been planning to take it to the grave, idiot that he was.
He heard a knock at the door and it slid open, revealing Sarutobi and the requested nurse. Kakashi nodded at them both in greeting, meeting the Hokage’s eyes. The nurse saw the blood on the sheets and immediately bustled into the room, walking up to Sasuke’s bedside and quietly asking to see where he was hurt.
Kakashi tuned it into background noise and walked over to the door, deciding it would be best not to say anything further to his subordinate. Sarutobi stepped aside and let him out of the room, eyeing him with an unreadable glint in his dark eyes. He wondered if the old man could tell how distressed he felt. He wasn’t going to be able to join Naruto and Sakura back in Kaisuki’s room. He was probably just going to disappear for the afternoon. He needed time to calm himself.
Sasuke obviously didn’t value his life very much, even if he wasn’t interested in killing himself. Kakashi didn’t know the implications of self-mutilation during sleep. He didn’t know if it meant that Sasuke was subconsciously suicidal, or if the act was a manifestation of anxiety, or if there was something else wrong with him. He’d never come across to the jounin – or his teammates – as particularly depressed or anxious, but Sasuke was so skilled at acting, Kakashi didn’t think anyone would’ve been able to tell.
And now that he’d learned about the self-harming, he was beginning to think he didn’t know anything about Sasuke at all. How much of who he claimed to be was a lie? How many other ways was he self-destructing in the privacy of his home? Kakashi didn’t know what to do, but he supposed now probably wasn’t a good time to be trying to figure that out.
He stepped outside and glanced at Sarutobi. “We’ll talk later,” he said, his voice strained. “I need a bit of alone time.”
The Hokage looked a little surprised to hear that, but he nodded nonetheless. “Of course.” He agreed. “I’ll be waiting.”
Kakashi didn’t say anything else, instead starting down the street in the direction opposite of the Hokage’s office building. He knew where he was going. He didn’t spend much time anywhere else in the village. He didn’t have to look up to know where to turn. He didn’t have to glance around to figure out where he was at any point in time.
He found himself standing in front of Konohagakure’s memorial stone for the second time that day. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He didn’t know what he could do. He hadn’t expected to be put in charge of a kid like Sasuke. Kurenai was better equipped to handle the situation. She didn’t have to worry about doing more harm than good, like Kakashi did. Asuma would be able to remain calm and think rationally enough to get him through the situation without having to issue any threats.
Gai probably would’ve noticed that something was wrong long before today.
They were going to need a specialist of some sort. An irou-nin with some experience and knowledge in mental health. He wondered if Izumi would be able to help in any way. He didn’t really want to go spouting the Uchiha’s business to Kaisuki, because it really wasn’t his place, and he was sure that Sasuke would never forgive him if he did. But if Izumi could help, or even if she had some kind of helpful advice to offer, he wanted to know about it. He’d mention it to the Hokage as a last ditch effort and nothing more. He didn’t know how many mental health specialists were on hand in Konohagakure.
Rain began to fall from the sky, soon soaking him through his clothes. He didn’t move. He stared at the memorial, eying the names that were familiar to him, the names of those he had known personally. His stomach was still churning, and if he had been capable of it, he probably would’ve started crying right there in front of the memorial. He certainly felt like he needed to.
In situations like the one he had found himself in, some people would be begging for some kind of sign, for some kind of message to tell them which way to go. Many would call upon gods and goddesses for divine intervention. He was not that desperate, nor was he the kind of idiot that relied on anything he couldn’t touch.
Kakashi only asked if those of his friends that rested amongst the stars would watch over his team. Evidently, he wasn’t doing a very good job on his own.
Sasuke stood in front of the door to the Hokage’s main office, his hand poised to knock. He already hadn’t been looking forward to be seeing them, but now that he was actually in front of the door, he wanted nothing more than to crawl under a rock and never resurface. He’d been skillfully avoiding his team and Iruka (because Kakashi-sensei would surely have told him). He honestly never wanted to see his jounin instructor again, but he didn’t really have a choice in the matter.
He felt sick.
His hand was still shaking. He’d only gotten out of bed about ten minutes ago, after being roused by a night terror unlike any he’d seen in a while. His wrist had been bleeding again when he’d woken up, in the same spot that he’d scratched up the previous day in the hospital. Now it looked like a disaster zone. He hoped they didn’t ask him to show them his wrists again. They wouldn’t be happy to see how much worse it had gotten.
It wasn’t like he did it every time he had a nightmare. If that were the case, he’d probably have ripped through his arteries ages ago. He woke up to bleeding arms about once every week and a half, sometimes more often, sometimes less often. For him to scratch two nights in a row was odd. It wasn’t that big of a deal. He wasn’t actively trying to end his life. He wasn’t having suicidal thoughts. He didn’t know why he did it, so there really wasn’t anyway to make him stop. So he honestly had no idea what they were expecting to accomplish by dragging him out to see the Hokage.
Sasuke scowled at the door, gritting his teeth, and rapped on the wood. “Come in.” He heard the old man call, and he opened the door. He stepped into the room, glancing between the few faces in the room. The Hokage, Kakashi-sensei, Iruka-sensei, and a woman he’d never seen before. Probably a “specialist.” He lowered his gaze, deciding that he didn’t really want to make eye contact with anyone in the room, and let the door swing shut behind him.
“Have a seat,” the Hokage requested. Sasuke didn’t say anything, just crossed the room and took the seat that had been offered to him. He felt like he was in trouble. He sort of was, he supposed. Though he was relatively certain that the adults in the room would disagree with that assessment.
“How did you sleep last night?” The old man asked, and Sasuke could hear the good intentions in his voice. It was disgusting. “I know you left the hospital against the will of the nurses and doctors in charge of you.”
He felt sick. “Fine.” He lied, scowling at a small burn on the dark red carpet. The Hokage hummed thoughtfully, and Sasuke could feel that he was being scrutinized. He didn’t care if they caught him lying. The whole thing was so annoying and stupid, he sort of wanted them to know that he was so displeased with it all he was willing to lie about meager details like how well he slept.
“I’m sure you’re lying,” the Hokage stated frankly. “But I’ll let you have it. Iruka, do you want to start us off?”
The man managed to sound both serious and lighthearted at the same time. Sasuke wanted to hit him.
“Of course.” Iruka-sensei replied politely, sounding rather upset about the whole thing. The guy was ridiculously compassionate, and obnoxiously interested in the well-being of his former students. Sasuke didn’t really care if he maintained a working relationship with Naruto, or Kiba, or Sakura, or anyone else. The Uchiha didn’t want anything more to do with the guy who wanted to be everyone’s father figure.
“I heard about everything from Kakashi.” The teacher began, and Sasuke could hear the tension in his voice. “How often are you having these nightmares, Sasuke?”
His hands curled into fists in his lap, and he gritted his teeth. He didn’t move, didn’t speak, didn’t do anything for a couple of minutes. He didn’t know what to say. On the one hand, he was perfectly happy with the idea of telling them “approximately once a year” but he knew they wouldn’t believe that. They probably wouldn’t believe anything less than “a couple times a week,” which was also a lie.
On the other hand, he had a feeling Kakashi-sensei would threaten to break his wrist again if he started lying about “important details.” He was relatively certain that Iruka-sensei would have words to say about such a thing, but he was also positive that Kakashi-sensei wouldn’t listen to a word he said, and the Hokage probably wouldn’t try to intervene much, if at all.
Sasuke swallowed, his stomach churning. He felt sick.
“A lot.” He replied shortly, wrapping his arms around his waist. He didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to be talking to them. He didn’t want to have anything to do with any of them ever again.
“Sasuke,” Kakashi-sensei addressed in warning. He sank into his shoulders and started chewing his lower lip.
The difference between “every night” and “every other night” is pretty negligible.
I don’t want to tell them that I’m having nightmares and night terrors interchangeably every single night.
We’re really not that great at lying, and these guys are a little out of our league. There’s no way we’d get away with it.
I lied for years about all of this, and no one suspected anything. And now you think I can’t get away with it?
Well, I mean, we can try, but considering the size of the lie we’re going to tell, I still think we’ll get caught. It’s harder to lie when you’ve already been caught. Obviously.
I don’t-… I…
“Sasuke?” Iruka-sensei called gently. He blinked and looked up before he remembered where he was. The look in his old teacher’s eyes was nauseating, and he already felt sick. He quickly dropped his gaze again. He didn’t want to answer them.
He decided at the last second what he was going to tell them. “A couple nights a week.” It was a lie and a half, but he didn’t care. If he didn’t look them in the eye, they would probably have a harder time being able to tell that he wasn’t being truthful. Maybe. He couldn’t be sure about that.
There was a pause, the adults in the room probably trying to tell if he was lying or not. After a moment, Kakashi’sensei spoke up again. “He’s lying.” He stated, and Sasuke wanted nothing more than to punch him in his stupid face.
“How can you tell?” Iruka-sensei asked.
The silver-haired man replied, “I can’t. But if you honestly think his first answer would be the truth, you’re an idiot. He said a couple nights a week, which has to be better than the truth. I’d put money on every night.”
There was a pause before the Hokage spoke. “Is that true, Sasuke?”
Sasuke didn’t reply. He sunk further into his shoulders without meaning to, wrapping his arms tighter around himself and swallowing hard. He gritted his teeth and glared all the hate in his being into the burn on the carpet. He didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to be talking to them. He wanted to go home and throw up.
“That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?” Kakashi said dully after about two minutes. Sasuke wanted very badly for him to spontaneously combust.
There was a pregnant pause before the Hokage spoke again. “Sasuke, you already know Izumi, of course.” His heart stopped, and he looked up at the Hokage, and then at the woman he hadn’t recognized. She was watching him carefully. Kaisuki was in there somewhere. They just told her without his permission?
“Kaisuki’s in the back with Saeka and Khrai.” Izumi stated evenly, still scrutinizing him. Sasuke had no idea if that was supposed to make him feel better or not. “They can’t hear or see anything that’s going on. They don’t even know we’re here, and I won’t be letting Kaisuki back in control until I’ve gotten back to her apartment. You have nothing to worry about it.”
Sasuke didn’t really believe her. He didn’t even know what “in the back” meant. He couldn’t imagine how it was possible for Izumi to be chatting with him without Kaisuki being able to just listen in. Sure, he didn’t know a whole lot about Yurei, but that didn’t mean he was wrong.
“Sasuke,” Kakashi-sensei spoke up as well. He’d likely been watching all the color leech out of Sasuke’s face. “We went over this with her extensively long before we spoke to her about you. Relax.”
“How?” He demanded to know. Kakashi sighed heavily, looking over to the irou-nin for the answer.
Izumi sighed heavily. “She’s in the depths of her subconscious. She may as well be in another nation.” The woman stood up, smoothing out the folds in her black dress as she went. She strode over to Sasuke, looking as though she had run out of the patience required to deal with his stubbornness. “Let me see your arms.”
Sasuke stiffened. This was exactly what he’d been hoping wouldn’t happen. He wanted to get indignant, to find some way out of showing them his arms. He knew they were going to be extremely upset with him when they saw how much worse his wrist had gotten overnight. At that point, they’d probably just assume that he did it every night, or at least a lot more frequently than he really did. He couldn’t imagine being believed anymore. Not when his answers to the first two questions had been lies.
“Your arms, please.” Izumi reiterated. Sasuke bit his lip. There really wasn’t any way around it, was there? Even if he tried to plead his case, they were going to make him take his arm warmers off anyway. He lowered his head, jerkily undoing the belts that held the accessories on, and slowly slid them off his arms. Izumi knelt down in front of him as he turned his wrists up so she could see them.
Iruka-sensei’s eyes widened as he eyed the damage, and Sasuke directed his gaze instead to Izumi’s face. There was a sad look in her eyes, but she didn’t look horrified or distressed. She just looked saddened by the damage he’d wrought upon himself.
“You did it again last night,” Kakashi-sensei remarked quietly. Sasuke met his gaze for only a second. He didn’t know what emotion he was looking at, but he didn’t like it, so he looked back down at his arms and didn’t let his eyes stray again. He didn’t say anything. Kakashi-sensei knew he had done it again let night, because he’d seen the original damage, and by saying it out loud, those who hadn’t known now did. There was no need for him to speak.
“How often do you do this?” Izumi was inspecting his uninjured wrist first, running her fingers over the ugly scars that marred his arms. She was analyzing them very carefully, it seemed. He wondered what she was seeing when she looked at them. He wondered how much she could figure out just from touching them and looking at them.
He worked his jaw for a moment before quietly replying, “A couple times a month.”
They were hideous scars. All of them were raised, knotted patches of skin. The old ones were white. The new ones were a blotchy, ugly reddish-brown. They almost looked like scars from burns. They overlapped and spread over almost every inch of his wrist. They were a symptom of weakness. They were a reminder of how broken he was.
He hated them.
Izumi let go of his right arm and moved over to his left. She furrowed her brow as her eyes swept over the wound he’d left on his arm. The room was deadly silent, and it was making him want to look up again. He felt sick.
The green-eyed woman hummed thoughtfully before letting go of his hand and standing back up. The Hokage looked at her questioningly while Sasuke hastily pulled his arm warmers back on. He could feel at least one pair of eyes on him, and it was making him exceedingly uncomfortable. He wrapped his arms around his middle again and hunched forward, staring at the carpet. He wanted to disappear.
“What is it, Izumi?” The Hokage asked. He sounded fairly curious. Izumi didn’t respond right away, and he wondered what she was thinking. He flinched when something cold touched his jaw, and looked up. Izumi’s fingers slipped along the length of his jaw to tap the underside of his chin, encouraging him to look up a little, so he did. He didn’t really have anything against her. He actually quite liked Izumi. What he hated was the current circumstances. She’d probably never look at him the same again.
He was relatively certain that she was looking at the dark shadows under his eyes. There was a brief pause before she removed her hand, and he looked back at the carpet. He saw her step out of his peripheral vision, likely returning to the seat she’d been occupying when he’d first walked in.
“I don’t think it’s depression,” Izumi stated after a period of silence. He wanted to throw up. He wanted to go home. He wanted to disappear. “It looks more like anxiety. But I have no idea why. I suppose its possible that the nightmares are triggering panic attacks in his sleep, and his subconscious’ way of handling that is to, well… scratch his wrists until they bleed.”
“What can we do?” Iruka-sensei immediately asked. He sounded distressed. Sasuke swallowed a lump that had come up his throat. His stomach was doing acrobatics.
The irou-nin sighed heavily. “There are a few things we can try, but if none of those things work, this will be beyond my abilities. At that point, he’ll need to see an actual specialist.”
Let the lies begin.
“Sasuke,” the Hokage addressed, and he looked up. He was exhausted all of a sudden. “I want you and Izumi to be meeting regularly. I’ll set up an office here for the two of you to use, and I want you to see her as often as she tells you to.” The old man then looked to Izumi, “I think it would be best if you started with bi-weekly meetings, considering his time frame for the scratching. Please monitor the state of his arms and work on finding a solution.”
“Of course, Sarutobi-san.” Izumi agreed with a nod. “I think that’s a good idea as well.”
Sasuke stared at him, indignant. They were really going to treat the whole thing like a crisis. The Hokage raised an eyebrow at him, expectantly awaited his reply. He wanted to yell at them and burst into tears at the same time. He wanted to kill all of them. His eyes were burning and he wasn’t entirely sure why he was so much closer to tears than he was to a raging tantrum. He was tired. He felt sick. He wanted to go home.
He wanted to disappear.
Sasuke stood up abruptly, surprising the other inhabitants of the room. He walked around his chair, turning his back to the Hokage and Iruka-sensei and Kakashi-sensei and stalking towards the door. He threw it open so hard it slammed into a wall, and he heard someone move.
“Sasuke-…!” He barely heard his name come out of Iruka-sensei’s mouth before he took off at a dead sprint. He heard several people shout at him to not run in the halls of the office building, but he ignored them. He wasn’t entirely sure where he intended to go. Should he expect to be followed and harassed further? Would Kakashi-sensei or Iruka-sensei come looking for him?
He slowed down after he’d run several blocks, pausing to catch his breath. He glanced over his shoulder, ignoring the sting of his eyes. The sky was dark. It was going to rain. He stalked down the street for a few minutes before making a hard left. He climbed over the permanently locked gate to the Uchiha Estate and briefly glanced around, as though he expected someone to come out of one of the houses.
As usual, no one did.
He crossed his arms as a strong breeze rolled down the road, shivering. He felt a droplet of rain land on his head and started jogging. The house he was looking for looked as it had four years ago, when the area had been full of the hustle and bustle of life. His eyes were watering, so he wiped them agitatedly as he stepped up to the front door.
Sasuke stepped into his parents’ house just as it started actively raining. The door fell shut behind him, and he leaned against the wall beside it, pressing a hand to his stomach. He felt sick. He slid his feet out of his shoes, leaving them by the door, and walked into the house. It was disturbingly quiet as he made his way to the back of the house. The second door on the left was ajar, because he always forgot to close it.
He wandered into Itachi’s old room, looking around. No one had been around since the last time he’d been there, and that had been three weeks ago. He crossed the room, sitting down underneath the window and drawing his knees to his chest, as he always did.
He sat there for a moment, staring at the emptiness of the room. Even when Itachi had actually been living there, his room had always been rather barren, so it wasn’t hard to imagine the sounds from the rest of the house. It wasn’t hard to imagine that he was waiting up for Itachi because he was due back from a mission. It wasn’t hard to picture his mom cooking dinner, or the sounds of his dad coming home from work.
It wasn’t hard to pretend that the massacre never happened, that Itachi hadn’t destroyed everything he’d ever held dear. He’d be in bad shape when he woke up later, but he didn’t care. There were many things that he didn’t let himself have because he felt they would infringe upon his path to power. Most people let themselves get away with quite a lot. He couldn’t do that. If he let himself get soft, he’d never come back from it.
There was only one lie Sasuke ever let himself have. It was easily extinguished, and it only added to the driving force behind his determination.
“Sasuke, aren’t the fireworks nice this year?”