return

“Oh, is it going to rain?” Sumi asked no one in particular, staring at the clouds that were rolling across the sky towards them.

“I certainly hope not,” Kakashi sighed heavily. And he really meant it. It’d been a hot day, and Sumi had asked to stop for a ten minute break approximately every hour since they’d left that morning because of the heat. Now it was midday – hottest part of the day – and she was barely managing to get past twenty minutes without needing to stop. Their mission was going to take a lot longer than a week at their current rate. Kakashi wasn’t sure he wanted to inflict Sasuke on their charge any longer than he had to. The Uchiha had been outright hostile since they’d met her.

Yukimura Sumi was the same age as the genin of Team 7, and she was actually a very sweet girl. Mild-tempered and nothing but polite to everyone around her. She’d had a heart defect of some sort or another, and the Tsunade-sama had been paid handsomely to fix it. Now, she was being paid handsomely again for the safe transport of the young girl back to her father in Shimogakure.

For whatever unknown reason, Sasuke didn’t like her. He’d been fairly inconspicuous during their debriefing with Tsunade-sama, which had been expected. But since they’d actually met Sumi, he’d been giving off a truly horrible vibe, alternating between scowling and glaring. He didn’t speak unless spoken to, and in those instances, he was flippant and short-tempered with whoever it was that was speaking to him. Naruto and Sakura had been periodically engaging Sumi in conversation, and as they did, Sasuke’s mood only seemed to sour further.

Naruto and Sakura were chatting with Sumi in the front of the group again. Kakashi was walking alongside Sasuke in the back. He could see the Uchiha out of the corner of his eye, and the kid looked highly irritable. No change, then. He could only wonder if Sasuke somehow knew her, or if she was reminding him of someone. Kakashi didn’t know of anyone aside from Itachi and Kaisuki who elicited such aggressive irritation from the him, and Sumi had nothing in common with Kaisuki or Itachi.

“We’re going to sit this one out, I’m afraid.”

Izumi and Khrai had elected to stay behind in Konohagakure. They hadn’t given a reason for their decision, but Kakashi hadn’t pried. He could figure that they would want to dedicate any and all spare time to searching for Kaisuki and Saeka. The two of them had been missing for almost a month. If it hadn’t been for Khrai’s constant reassurances, he would’ve presumed something terrible had happened to Kaisuki.

“She can’t be dead. Literally. She’s just lost. We’ll find her eventually.”

The ‘eventually’ that had been tacked on had kind of ruined it, but it wasn’t as though he didn’t believe Khrai. Out of all of Kaisuki’s spirits, and out of everyone Kakashi had ever known, Khrai seemed to know the most about Yurei and the Tsubaki family, the oldest theory of chakra and chakra control, and many, many other things that he hadn’t yet heard about. He didn’t know exactly how old she was, as she had chosen not to divulge that to him, but he could tell that she was older than he could imagine.

If anyone ever knew anything about what was going on at a given point in time, he would be willing to bet that it was Khrai. She had known exactly what to do when Neji had been possessed. Kakashi didn’t even know how she could’ve come by that information. To him, it was an extremely unlikely scenario. Though, he supposed, in Khrai’s lifetime, it was probably a lot more common compared to his. Not that that was saying much.

He was, despite what anyone may have thought on the subject, extremely wary of Khrai. She was hard-edged and angry and impatient and she didn’t like men. Kakashi was not an exception. She seemed inclined to be more tolerating of him than she was of, say, Jiraiya of the Sannin, but she absolutely did not harbor a soft spot for him.

He missed Kaisuki. She had a good sense of humor (just morbid enough, much like his own), and she kept Naruto in line and out of trouble. She encouraged Sakura to become stronger instead of either worshiping her or blowing her off. She seemed to keep Sasuke from sinking too far into his dark and stoic mask by fighting with him and drawing him out of his routine of being as apathetic and indifferent as possible. Her honesty was blunt and tactless, but it gave her the ability to be straight with her teammates. It gave her the confidence to do what she felt was right without worrying about what people would say and think of her. She really had a very refreshing personality.

Kakashi had to admit that he had lucked out with how his team turned out. He didn’t envy Asuma in the slightest. If he’d been given Ino, Shikamaru, and Chouji, he was certain that he would’ve sent them back to the academy. While Hinata, Kiba, and Shino had a much better chance of passing, but he didn’t think he’d have the patience for Hinata’s lack of confidence.

He wasn’t as strict about training as Gai. He figured that the three of them would get stronger at their own pace. He wasn’t going to offer them up to the Chuunin Exams again until they decided on their own that they wanted to. He’d expected them all to do well the first run, and they had, but he couldn’t deny that it had been sort of a rigged test. He knew that they hadn’t really been ready for that level of combat. There were people who participated in the Chuunin Exams who’d been genin for ten years and simply hadn’t bothered to get the salary increase that came with being a chuunin until they were much older and had much more fighting experience under their belts.

But, despite the hiccup with Orochimaru, the four of them had pulled through strongly. Sakura hadn’t made it to the final matches, but Kakashi hadn’t expected her to. He was surprised she’d made it to the preliminaries, if he were to be honest. He knew that Kaisuki and Naruto would abort the Forest of Death the instant they came to the conclusion that Sakura wouldn’t be able to survive it. Even if Sasuke didn’t care, he could rely on Kaisuki and Naruto to look out for Sakura.

“And I know this really cool technique called the Rasengan! I’d show you but it’s super dangerous and I’m not great at chakra control. Wouldn’t want to hurt anyone, you know,” Naruto was explaining to Sumi as he brandished a thumb at his own chest in an obvious gesture of grandeur.

Sumi giggled as Sakura rolled her eyes, “Well, then I will definitely trust you guys with my life,” she told him, smiling sweetly. Kakashi had to fight off the urge to smile, had to push down the warmth that fell over his heart.

He frowned instead, suddenly every bit the well-trained ex-ANBU that he was. Every little detail that was even slightly out of the ordinary should be taken note of. The fact that he’d felt the urge to smile at all, the fact that he’d been almost overcome by the… warmth of Sumi’s gentleness was out of the ordinary. His emotions just weren’t that easily swayed by anything. He didn’t laugh easily, he didn’t get angry easily, and he most certainly didn’t cry easily (if at all). Getting a genuine reaction out of Kakashi – without any filters – was a remarkable feat.

He didn’t really think that Sumi was a threat, but it was possible that there was someone in the area who was. He had never heard of jutsu that could manipulate emotional responses, and he and Sakura (at the very least) would’ve picked up on a genjutsu in a heartbeat.

The weirdest thing about it was that everything seemed to be perfectly normal all around him. There were no suspicious shadows or animals or puddles. There were no unidentifiable noises. There weren’t even any scents that were out of place. The whole scenario was boring, and while he wouldn’t complain about not having to put his team in peril, he couldn’t help feeling like something was actually wrong.

He just wished he could figure out what exactly the problem was.

“Jeez, Naruto, you’re the complete opposite of cool,” Sakura cut into whatever conversation Naruto had been engaged in with Sumi. “You’re not supposed to brag about how strong you are. You have to just act like you know you could beat everyone in the room.”

“Really?!” Naruto exclaimed in surprise, “It’s that easy?”

“Keep your voice down,” Sakura chided, before continuing her lesson. “And yea, just look at Sasuke-kun. He doesn’t brag at all. He just beats everyone to a pulp in battle and then acts like it wasn’t a big deal, even if it totally was.”

“I don’t think he’s all that cool.” Naruto grumbled in reply, shoving his hands in his pockets. Sumi was smiling widely, looking highly amused by the conversation she was witnessing.

“That’s probably because you aren’t a girl, Naruto,” the pink-haired genin retorted. “Trust me, if you were, you’d understand.” The blond pulled his hands back out of his pockets, a smile appearing on his face as he opened his mouth to speak, but Sakura cut him off. “And if you use that dumb technique of yours to turn into a girl, I’m going to hit you so hard your head will come off.”

Naruto’s hands fell limply to his sides, and he hung his head in defeat. “I guess I’ll just never be cool, huh?” He said, forlorn.

“You don’t have to be cool to be attractive, Naruto-san.” Sumi spoke up. Kakashi once again caught himself thinking about how nice she was. Definitely out of the ordinary. “Some girls like tall, dark, and mysterious. Other girls like bright, loud, and cheerful. Being cool is kind of overrated, in my opinion.”

Naruto, being “uncool” as he was, couldn’t hide the flush in his cheeks that appeared as Sumi smiled at him. It seemed like a normal enough response, considering who he was talking about. Sakura didn’t seem to be acting at all out of the ordinary, either. Sasuke was the only other person who was presenting obvious signs of oddness, though his behavior was leaning in the completely opposite direction of Kakashi’s. It was definitely strange.

Something was off. He just couldn’t say what, or why, or how.

The chains creaked as she swung back and forth on the swing-set, looking out across the academy grounds. It was pretty late at night. Naruto had already gone home, and she had elected to stay behind and swing lazily back and forth on the swing-set on the academy grounds. It was quiet. Konohagakure was quieter than the grave in the later hours of the night.

Kaisuki sighed to herself. She had a feeling she was forgetting something, but she couldn’t figure out what it was. She felt like she’d been sitting on that swing-set for a long time, but at the same time she was sure it had only been a couple of hours since she’d sat down. It just seemed like time had come to a complete standstill, and she didn’t know why.

The Tsubaki sighed heavily, staring at the ground. It was probably depression or something. In the morning, she was going to visit the Hokage and persuade him to permit her to drop out of the academy. Being orphaned, she was technically his charge, so she had to ask for his permission to do things as though he were a guardian.

She hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell Naruto yet. Sasuke wouldn’t care, so he didn’t matter. There wasn’t really anyone else that she would even think of telling beforehand, and it was probably better not to tell Naruto before she actually dropped out. He’d try to convince her to continue on her original path, and he wouldn’t understand when she tried to explain that she couldn’t. The kyuubi that Naruto hosted was sealed within him. That meant it couldn’t gain control over Naruto without at least some form of cooperation from the blond.

Saeka was nothing like that. Saeka had free reign to take over and attack people whenever she wanted. Kaisuki just wanted to arrange her life so that there were as few of the unstable girl’s triggers surrounding her as possible. It wasn’t cowardice. She personally saw it as a strategic retreat. She’d keep training herself. She’d get stronger on her own, and maybe eventually she’d be strong enough to hold Saeka back. But until then, it just wasn’t safe for the people around her if she stayed in the academy.

She’d find a way to tame Saeka. She would. She had to, or she’d never be able to achieve her end goal.

“Kaisuki,” the nine year-old flinched and looked up, startled. There was a girl walking towards her, pink eyes peering through a mop of black hair. Kaisuki stared at her, confused. Who was this girl? She looked moderately familiar, but…

Then, the girl came to a stop a few feet away, lifting her arm and planting the back of her hand on her hip. Like that, Kaisuki could clearly see the long talons that were her fingers. The Tsubaki’s heart leaped into her throat and started beating a vicious rhythm. Saeka was… on the outside? How was that possible? Was she hallucinating? Or was this some kind of weird Yurei spirit trick that the girl had learned?

She blinked, and all at once, everything outside of a little bubble of moonlight surrounding Saeka and Kaisuki was completely dark. The feeling that she was forgetting something was becoming stronger than ever.

“We need to go back,” Saeka stated, and Kaisuki couldn’t help but hear the undertone of urgency in her voice. “Your team needs us.”

Kaisuki blinked, a creeping bundle of memories beginning to swim around in the darker parts of her subconscious. Where was she, really? Why had it gotten so dark around them? What was she forgetting?

“My… team?” She repeated, surprised at the lack of hesitation in her own voice. She would’ve expected herself to be more nervous about Saeka’s presence than she was.

The girl stared at her for a long moment, before sighing in exasperation. “Hatake-san, Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke, and you make up Team 7. Remember?”

“This is Tsubaki Kaisuki. She’s our teammate, starting today.”

“Why do you even care?!

“She needs to recuperate. Get the fuck over it. She’ll be back.”

Kaisuki blinked, her eyes wide. The swing and tree had disappeared, and they were standing on the side of a dirt road lined with lights. Saeka was still standing beside her, watching her carefully. Suddenly, the past three and a half years came rushing back to her all at once. It wasn’t much of a jolt – just a sudden availability of information and knowledge and experiences. She stared down the path they were standing beside, feeling a bit sick. Saeka had said they been gone for a while. How long was a while?

“We don’t have time, Kaisuki,” Saeka suddenly said, and when the Tsubaki turned to look for her, she was a few feet further down the path. “We need to go help your team.”

“What’s happened?” Kaisuki asked, dread settling in her gut as she followed after the younger girl.

Saeka didn’t respond right away, her stride picking up the pace. “Nothing yet. I noticed that-…”

Before she could finish, there was a distant knocking sound that echoed in the darkness around them, a muffled voice following soon after. Kaisuki’s eyes widened – that had to be coming from the real world. Someone was at the front door?

“We need to hurry,” Saeka said, picking up the pace again. Kaisuki kept up an equally fast pace, feeling ground seemingly disappear for a moment. It was like walking on air, but only for about five seconds. The next thing she knew, they were fast approaching the door to her spirits’ little room.

They came to a stop in front of the door, “Kaisuki,” Saeka said quickly, glancing up towards where the sky would be if they were outside. “Wake up, okay? Izumi will get out of your way when she realizes it’s you. I’m going in here. We’ll talk once you’ve answered the door.”

Kaisuki nodded, her stomach still churning. She heard Saeka throw open the door behind her, heard Khrai swearing colorfully, yelling for Izumi. Kaisuki looked up to the sky, took in a deep breath, and woke up.

.

Her body felt a little odd, a sensation sort of like putting on an article of clothing that didn’t quite fit right. She sat up, rolling her shoulders and carefully standing up. Within a few seconds, everything seemed to have settled back into place. She heard a loud banging coming from the front door and flinched, before hurrying out of her room.

Where the fuck were you?” Khrai snarled suddenly in her head.

Saeka sighed excessively loud, “Save it for later, Khrai. We have things to do.

“Khrai! Izumi! Are you home?” Kaisuki didn’t at all recognize the voice calling from beyond her door, but she hurried to it nonetheless, practically throwing it open.

“Yea, we’re all home.” Kaisuki replied, staring at the brunette in her doorway. “Who are you?”

“Your eyes are… Oh!” Shizune-san gasped, looking truly surprised. “You must be Kaisuki. I’m Shizune, I’m Tsunade-sama’s apprentice. She’s the Hokage now. You’ve got great timing. Can I come in? I need you to pack up for a rescue mission while I’m talking.”

The Yurei blinked. Evidently Naruto and Jiriya-sama had been successful with their mission to retrieve Tsunade-sama. Deciding that she’d save her onslaught of questions for a time when there wasn’t an impending crisis. She stepped aside and allowed Shizune-san to cross the threshold into her home.

You know her, Izumi, Khrai?” She asked, closing the door and heading for her bedroom.

Yes,” Izumi replied for them both, “I‘ve sort of been your substitute. Khrai came forward once or twice as well. You’ve…” The irou-nin trailed off into silence.

I’ve what?” Kaisuki pressed, but Saeka cut her off.

Pay attention,” the girl snapped. Kaisuki bit her lip, but didn’t say anything in reply. Saeka was right. She needed to listen.

“Your team was sent on an escort mission.” Shizune-san began once she had made herself comfortable leaning against the wall beside Kaisuki’s bedroom door. Her voice had regained the urgent undertone that had been present when she’d first been banging on and yelling through the front door. “They were to escort a girl named Yukimura Sumi to Shimogakure, and deliver her safely to her father.”

I bet I know where this is going,” Khrai remarked dryly. She still sounded extremely angry. She heard a few hushed whispers and murmurs in the background of her mind, but she ignored them and concentrated on what Shizune-san was telling her.

“Tsunade-sama just got a message from the man Sumi had claimed was her father, stating that he didn’t have a daughter,” the brunette explained seriously, “we can only assume that she’s a lot more dangerous than she let on. We’ve already sent out a message to Kakashi, but we don’t know if he’ll get it in time.”

Kaisuki looked up at Shizune-san as she stepped out of her room, ready to go. “How much of a head start do they have?” She asked as they walked back outside, “And who’s all going on this rescue mission?”

“They have a six hour head start,” Shizune-san replied as she led the way to the Hokage’s office building. “If they stop at nightfall – which they will, if Sumi is still acting like she’s fragile – we should be able to catch up somewhere in the vicinity of midnight. And it’s you, me, and Team Gai. That’s all we could scramble on such short notice. A second, larger team is going to be dispatched as soon as they’re able. We’re the first responders.”

Kaisuki hummed in reply. “Okay, Saeka, talk to me. What’s going on?

I noticed this… smog, I guess, of dark energy starting to expand near your team.” Saeka explained, sounding impatient. “It’s gotten so thick that I can’t even sense Naruto.

How dark?” Khrai asked immediately.

We’re talking demonic-level darkness.” Saeka clarified. “It’s really strong. I don’t know how anyone could not notice it.

Kaisuki and Shizune-san walked into the Hokage’s main office, where Team Gai was waiting for them. Neji was with them, his arm evidently back to being fully functional, but Rock Lee wasn’t. Kaisuki looked over at the woman sitting behind the desk. Tsunade-sama of the Sannin. She was a kunoichi of legend.

The Hokage stared at her for a long moment, “You’re… Kaisuki?” She said slowly, and the Tsubaki nodded.

“Yea, that’s me.” She replied, smiling half-heartedly. Tsunade-sama nodded curtly.

Tell them what I just told you.” Saeka suddenly spoke up, sounding close to commanding. Kaisuki blinked, a little surprised, but she hummed internally in acknowledgment.

“Saeka says it’s demonic.” Kaisuki unintentionally cut off Gai-san before he could speak. He looked over at her, eyes widened in alarm. “She said there’s a cloud of demonic energy around them that’s so thick, she can’t sense them through it. She can’t even pick up on Naruto, apparently.”

“A demon?” Tsunade-sama repeated. Kaisuki nodded. “I guess I should probably send someone along with you who…”

“No, it’s fine,” Kaisuki replied. “Khrai knows what to do. She can direct us, if nobody else minds.”

The Hokage glanced at all the faces in the room. No one said anything, but Kaisuki couldn’t help but notice that Neji’s face was a fair amount paler than normal. After a brief pause, Tsunade-sama nodded, “Alright. Gai, I’m putting you in charge officially, so you make the final judgments, but if Khrai is anything like what everyone’s been telling me, I’d say you should, at the very least, trust that she knows what she’s talking about.”

Khrai snorted. “Suck up.” Kaisuki declined to reply.

“No, I agree with you, Tsunade-sama.” Gai-san sighed heavily, sounding as though all the life had been sucked out of him. Kaisuki could only imagine that it had something to do with not only their current situation, but also Rock Lee’s current state of physical health. “I know her well enough to be willing to trust her in these kinds of scenarios.”

Not that we encounter these scenarios particularly often, mind you.” Khrai muttered in the background. She was very talkative compared to normal, but the red-eyed girl didn’t comment on it. She could tease Khrai later.

“Alright, then,” Tsunade-sama sighed. “Good luck, and be careful.”

The Tsubaki nodded, worry eating at her stomach. She followed her rescue team out the door as they hastily made their way to the main northern gate, no one wanting to speak until it became necessary. Kaisuki could only hope that the palpable pessimism in the air was unwarranted, that they would get there in time to avoid any critical injuries or deaths.

Emphasis on the “hope.”

The night was so much quieter out in the middle of nowhere. He could only hear the crickets. There were no late-night roamers, no gamblers in alleys, no drunks in bars. The noise level was so different. It left him with a lot more of his own thoughts.

Sasuke wasn’t entirely sure if he liked it or not.

It was pretty late and he couldn’t sleep. Sakura and Sumi were sleeping silently in their tent, Naruto was snoring in the one he was supposed to share with Sasuke, but wasn’t for obvious reasons. Kakashi-sensei had gotten up about thirty minutes ago or so to do a perimeter check. He’d been only mildly surprised to see that Sasuke wasn’t asleep, but he hadn’t pressed to find out the reason, which was a good thing because the Uchiha was relatively certain that he wouldn’t have been honest.

It seemed like his parasomnia was actually getting worse. Now, he couldn’t sleep most of the time, and when he did, he’d have a nightmare or night terror within a couple of hours. He ought to see Izumi. He was supposed to tell her when her concoctions weren’t working. He just… didn’t really want to see her.

He hadn’t really wanted to see any of the members of his team.

And for good reason.

They were all acting normal, but he was sure that they were just pretending that they didn’t detest him because he was their teammate, and they kind of had to work with him. He could see Izumi telling them what to do since he’d attempted to… to drown himself. She would’ve told them how to behave so as to not send him back into that lake, because she was his counselor and it was kind of her job to make sure that his mental condition was at least partway decent.

Your mental condition has never been farther from “decent.”

He didn’t think that seeing her was helping at all. Sure, it was nice to have someone he could talk to, but he couldn’t see how it was helping, assuming it was helping at all. His nightmares just kept worsening and fighting their way past her medicinal concoctions. He didn’t understand why. They had been working fine until he’d seen his brother again.

Was that what it was? Had seeing Itachi just dragged all of the things that had come with that day back to the surface? He’d pushed a lot of it down and away, smothered some thoughts with others, purposefully forgotten certain details so as to prevent himself from actually having a nervous breakdown.

Sasuke scowled at the fire crackling in front of him. Everything that had gone wrong and was going wrong in his life could be traced back to Itachi. If Itachi hadn’t come looking for Naruto, Sasuke wouldn’t have seen him again, thus ensuring that he wasn’t reminded of everything he had lost. If Itachi hadn’t killed their family, he’d be living happily with his mother, father, and beloved older brother. If Itachi wasn’t a prodigy, Sasuke would’ve been able to catch up to him, thus earning some form of actual attention from their father.

He really just needs to die.

No kidding.

He deserves to be tortured into insanity before being killed, really.

That’s not really my style, but it is kind of appealing at times.

And it was appealing, too. He would hurt Itachi. His brother deserved that kind of end. He deserved to be beaten and broken. He ought to be tortured into insanity. And thinking about it now, Sasuke was beginning to desire that outcome. If he could capture Itachi alive, he would be elated. He would have the opportunity to physically inflict every moment of mental agony he’d suffered since the massacre. The only question was: where would he start?

Before he could follow the train of thought, though, the sound of rustling shrubbery reached him. He slowly slid a hand into his thigh holster and pulled out a kunai as he silently moved to a kneeling position. He needed to stay low but still be able to move as quickly as he might need to. He sent a small burst of chakra to his eyes, his Sharingan blazing to life in his irises and spinning the tomoe in the appropriate direction to give himself the ability to see chakra.

All at once, everything went pitch black.

Sasuke stiffened, looking around searchingly, but he couldn’t see at all. He tried to look down at his hand, but he couldn’t even see that. Had he gone blind? Or had just his Sharingan gone blind? He swallowed, before reversing the ability to see chakra. Instantly, he could see again. The fire, his hands, the tents, the edge of the shrubbery, all of it was visible again. He swallowed hard, not liking the implications of what he was sure was going on.

Everything had gone dark as soon as he activated the ability to see chakra. For it to have gone completely black like it had, there would’ve had to have been a thick fog of energy so dark, it was black. He’d never seen anyone with chakra that dark. The closest he’d seen was the dark violet that Orochimaru had given off. How could anyone’s chakra be that dark?

There was more rustling in the darkness, much closer this time. He opened his mouth, about to yell for Naruto and Sakura, when he saw a young girl step out of the inky blackness of the night. His eyes widened, his lips remaining parted in surprise, as Sumi stepped out of the shadows and looked up at him from where she’d been watching her feet so she could step carefully through the woods.

Sasuke’s mind was racing. He’d been awake and sitting by the fire all night. He had seen Sumi go into her and Sakura’s tent, and he hadn’t seen her come back out at any point in time. And yet, here she was, standing in front of him, dressed in a much darker yukata than the one she’d been wearing earlier.

“Sumi,” he greeted, lowering his kunai and standing up. He didn’t want her to suspect that he knew something was wrong. He could play it off. “What are you doing up?”

He decided to leave the fact that he hadn’t seen her step out of that tent alone. He needed to at least wait until Kakashi-sensei was back from his perimeter check before he could attempt to go on the offensive. If that powerful chakra he’d seen was hers, he was in for a rough night.

The smirk that spread across Sumi’s face was positively evil. Sasuke felt his stomach drop like a stone. “Nothing much,” she answered in a sickeningly sweet tone. “Just killing a pest.”

He stiffened as he tightened his grip on his kunai. He didn’t like the look in her eyes at all. She had to have purposefully waited for Kakashi-sensei to be at least thirty minutes out before showing her true colors. Who was her target? Naruto was the most likely, but if that were the case, she would’ve just gone into Sasuke and Naruto’s tent the same way she’d gotten out of Sakura’s tent undetected.

Am I her target?

Judging by the context of the situation, I would say yes.

“A pest?” He repeated, and she chuckled lightly.

“That would be you.” She drawled patronizingly, stepping forward. He instinctively moved backwards, just enough to keep the distance between them. Sumi only stepped up to the fire, however, so the only tangible thing between them was the burning wood. Sasuke adjusted his grip on his kunai, his mouth dry.

He needed a plan. Leaving Naruto and Sakura alone wasn’t a good idea, so running away (or trying to, at least) wasn’t a good idea. She’d probably kill the two of them as soon as he was out of sight, before chasing him down and killing him at well. He could try flaring his chakra to call Kakashi-sensei back, but once he did that, Sumi would surely attack. But if he waited until she already had attacked, he could very well be killed before he got a chance.

Sumi’s smile widened slightly, the expression shifting into more of a malicious smirk. The shadows around them twisting and distorting in ways that shadows weren’t supposed to, as though they were coming to life. He was instantly reminded of the black chakra that he’d seen with his Sharingan. Sasuke’s eyes were wide as he watched thick tentacles of inky blackness rising out of the ground around the girl’s feet.

The glint in her eyes shifted just slightly, and he recognized the look of someone about to strike. He barely caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and he turned towards it in time to see a single thick strand of darkness rushing towards him, the end sharpened to a point. He brought his kunai up as quickly as he could to try and block, but it split into a few dozen different parts, all of them twisting in different directions, all of them heading straight towards him.

“Sakura!! Naruto!!”

At almost the exact moment that he was yelling for Naruto as he tried to block those strands of darkness, there was a sound like ripping flesh that split through the air. A white hot, searing pain tore through his abdomen and he stumbled backwards, his kunai falling to the ground and his back hitting the tree. He slid to the ground, eyes wide, mouth open and wheezing as his brain tried to process the amount of pain signals it was receiving. He coughed, blood rushing into his mouth and spilling past his lips.

He bowed his head as he coughed the crimson liquid up. There was blood everywhere. He could feel it spilling out of whatever horrible wound had been inflicted on him. It was flowing fast. The damage was critical, potentially fatal. He couldn’t stop the bleeding himself, he couldn’t get up and keep fighting. He wasn’t even sure that he would be able to yell for Naruto and Sakura again if they weren’t awake.

The breaths he was taking in were excruciating. Every slight movement sent wave after wave of pain through his body. His fingers and toes were numb, his breathing fast and shallow. He was already beginning to feel chilled and there was a hazy grayness around the edges of his vision that was slowly spreading across his field of vision.

He heard a yell, a scream, the sound of something hitting the ground, someone running towards him, a shrill laugh, an enraged roar. Someone’s hands pressed against his cheeks and tilting his head back so they could see his face.

Sakura.

“Sasuke-kun, oh my-… okay, okay, it’s okay, I can… I can stop the bleeding. I can stop it…” He couldn’t tell who she was trying to convince. She let go of his face quickly, and he tilted his head back so it leaned against the tree behind him. Warmth was curling around his abdomen. It only seemed to highlight the pain, and he made a thin, weak sound to express his opinion on the matter. Sakura had stopped talking, and he wished she hadn’t. It was quiet. The fighting was gone. He couldn’t hear Naruto anymore.

His eyes slid shut on their own accord.

“Sasuke-kun,” Sakura called for him again and he fought to open his eyes again. He turned his head a little so that he could see her. Her eyes were streaming tears, her face was pale, her shoulders shaking. Everything was darkening. He wasn’t sure if there was still a point to keeping his eyes open.

“Please don’t fall asleep,” the pink-haired girl beside him was saying, “S-Sasuke-kun, please, please don’t fall asleep. You need to… to stay awake. You’re g-going into shock, and if you fall asleep now, you might…” A choked sob. “You might never wake up.”

… So pathetic… I always… everything… clearly don’t…

He couldn’t even hear himself think over the ringing in his ears. Everything had stopped making sense, and the grayness bordering his vision was on the verge of consuming his sight altogether. He could faintly hear two separate voices, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying and he couldn’t tell who they were.

His eyes were slipping shut, and he didn’t have the energy to try and fight it anymore.

You’re not going to die yet.

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