speak

Night fell over them like a very thick blanket. Luckily, the moon was full and out, so it was bright enough to see. Well, it was bright enough for him to see. Most of the rest of the team had been tripping practically every other step. Tazuna-san hadn’t been having much more luck. They had made a lot of progress, but spirits had fallen with the cover of darkness.

Kakashi knew they were approaching a river – one they would have to cross in the morning – so he plodded on with his company. They would camp out beside the river until morning. Hopefully, the spirits of his team would rise with the sun. They were getting close to the sea. Assuming they didn’t encounter any trouble, they ought to arrive at the docks to the Nami no Kuni sometime in the early afternoon.

He was sincerely hoping they didn’t run into any more trouble. Something was off about Sasuke, and he couldn’t put his finger on it. The kid had been even more distant that usual, often appearing as though he wasn’t entirely present in the moment. His black eyes would glaze over and his head would dip forward a bit as he slouched his shoulders. Then, after a few minutes, he would straighten up again and return to the present fairly suddenly.

He would look around as inconspicuously as he could, and Kakashi was sure he had been trying to figure out where he was, how long he’d been spacing out, and if anyone had noticed. The jounin had made a point to not look directly at the Uchiha when he was glancing about to ensure that his zoning out wasn’t being observed.

Kakashi didn’t want to bring it up in front of Kaisuki, Naruto, and Sakura. He knew the kid would be furious if he did. He’d find an opportune moment to inquire after Sasuke’s welfare eventually, he was sure. For the time being, he would concentrate on the task at hand: keeping his team alive in the face of very real danger that they were wholly unprepared for. Chuunin class ninja were one thing, but if a jounin class missing-nin came after them next, it was entirely possible that one of them could die.

And yet, they had been over-enthusiastic (well, Naruto and Kaisuki had) even after Kakashi’s very blunt warning. Sakura had tried once more to convince them that maybe they should turn back after all, whilst Sasuke had been entirely absent from the conversation. But Kaisuki and Naruto had been insistent, and after a few minutes they worked Sakura over as well. And since Sasuke had already cast his sort of neutral vote, Kakashi hadn’t even bothered to check with him again. Naruto had been overjoyed. Kaisuki had just looked extremely determined. He wasn’t sure if it was fearlessness, courage, or stupidity.

Well, he supposed it could be all of the above. They were twelve , after all.

Kakashi glanced over at Kaisuki. She seemed to have recovered well after Saeka’s episode earlier. He had been extremely surprised when the pink-eyed girl popped out and didn’t slaughter all five of them. Or, at the very least, himself and Sasuke. Saeka had a notoriously poor opinion of both Sasuke and Kakashi, though she seemed to bear much more ill will towards the Uchiha, for reasons unknown. The silver-haired man himself was relatively certain that he was disliked because of the many failed attempts to subdue her the day she’d murdered Kaisuki’s family and very nearly lit the whole village on fire.

So, really, it had startled him when Saeka protected Sasuke. He would’ve dealt with those chuunin himself if she hadn’t come to the forefront of Kaisuki’s shared consciousness. When Saeka was around, it was nearly impossible to sense anything aside from her, because the strength and quantity of her chakra was so ridiculously immense, it basically drowned out everything else for a good kilometer in every direction. When she had come out, he hadn’t even been able to sense Naruto, who also had a large amount of chakra, even though the blonde had been standing right beside him.

Sakura and Naruto and Tazuna were just extremely lucky that Saeka had sensed the approach of those chuunin, and that Sasuke had remarkable defensive reflexes. He actually had been ready to stop the one that Sasuke had killed as he saw the black-clothed man approaching, but the Uchiha hadn’t given him a chance to take a step forward.

He was quite proud of the genin for handling the situation without any of his assistance, but he also knew that he could’ve gotten valuable information out of those chuunin if he could’ve captured just one of them. And that was why he had been berating himself for letting them handle it. He could’ve stopped Sasuke from killing that chuunin easily, and he should have.

His team wasn’t experienced enough to know that, under any circumstances in which the team was being attacked, they needed to spare at least one of the enemy ninja long enough to interrogate them, and the silver-haired man ought to have already known that. But he hadn’t been the instructor of a genin team that passed his test ever, and genin just weren’t expected to have the same level of skills that they did during times of war. They weren’t expected to encounter this level of battle until at least the chuunin exams.

If he hadn’t left it to Sasuke and Saeka, Kakashi could’ve found out who else might come to collect the apparent bounty on Tazuna-san’s head, or who they were working for, or what their purpose in targeting Tazuna-san was. He could’ve found out a lot more than what the older man had been forthcoming about. He knew there was more to the story than what Tazuna-san had told him a couple hours ago, but he also couldn’t just tie the guy down and start cutting off his fingers until he told them all the details.

“A-ha! Is that the river, Kakashi-sensei?” Naruto suddenly said, sounding fairly relieved. It was pretty late and they’d been walking all day without anything more than a bathroom break. Once Kakashi knew they were going to be targeted by ninja, he had decided that the faster they got to Nami no Kuni, the better.

He peered through the trees, spotting the gleam of moonlight on the surface of water. The path took a hard left up ahead, which would lead them to the narrowest part of the river, where there would be a bridge to cross. After that, it was only a couple of miles to the docks.

“That’s it.” He confirmed. “And keep your voice down, Naruto.”

The blonde clamped his hands over his mouth, “Ah, sorry.”

They veered off the path, heading into the trees to the right where the path took its left turn. Within a minute, they found a small clearing at the edge of the river. It looked dry enough, and it was sheltered enough that they would hear enemies coming through the trees. There was only one silent way to get to them, and that was by walking on the water. But Kakashi could keep his senses alert and doze instead of sleeping. That way, he would know if an enemy was coming.

“Alright, we’re gonna spend the night here.” He said after he had finished his once-over of the area. There was a collective sigh of relief from everyone (except Sasuke, who looked like he was on the verge of vacating the moment again).

Wondering if he’d be able to yank the Uchiha out of it if he spoke directly to him before he had completely disappeared, Kakashi said, “Sasuke, you have the necessities, right?” He asked, knowing full and well that he’d given them to Sakura.

Sasuke blinked a few times, looking up at the jounin with a blank look on his face. Then, he replied slowly, “No, you gave them to Sakura.” His voice sounded dulled. Something was definitely up with him.

“Ah, right.” he replied, pretending to think momentarily before he continued, “Sakura, set up a fire and get going on something to eat. Naruto, help Sakura out and do whatever she tells you to do. Kaisuki, Sasuke, you’re in charge of pitching the tent.”

“What about you?” Kaisuki grumbled, sounding a lot less displeased than Kakashi had been sort of expecting.

“I’m guarding Tazuna-san.” Was his response as he smiled beneath his mask. The older man snorted beside him, shaking his head. Kaisuki rolled her eyes, not even bothering to hide the gesture, before swinging her backpack off her back and pulling out several scrolls. When he glanced over at Sasuke, he saw the Uchiha was glaring at him. He leveled the kid with a look, watching his jaw work as he contained his fury. He knew better than to blindly attack Kakashi in a rage. After all, the last time he’d done it, he’d wound up face-first in the dirt with a full-grown man sitting on him.

After a beat, Sasuke clenched his fists and stalked over to wordlessly assist in the pitching of the tents. Neither of them spoke, which made the fact that they knew exactly what to do at any point in time fairly amusing. Sasuke claimed to hate Kaisuki, and Kaisuki claimed to not care about Sasuke anymore, but what they said and felt at any moment didn’t seem to alter the connection they had. They had been friends from ages two to ten. Kakashi supposed it wouldn’t be that easy for them to just stop knowing each other. Relationships didn’t work that way.

It did give hope for the future though, he supposed.

“Kakashi-sensei!!” The sound of Sakura’s voice was drowned out by the adrenaline rushing through Kaisuki’s veins. Her mouth was dry. What had just happened? She had barely been able to follow their movements, and now, all of a sudden, their jounin instructor appeared to have taken a serious injury.

The silver-haired man had gone to one knee, and he was choking up blood past the mask he wore. Internal injury. When? When had he sustained an internal injury?! Could he still fight? It didn’t look like it. If he tried to keep going, he’d probably only make the injury worse and would likely only succeed in dying. Sakura had frozen solid beside her, Sasuke was tense to her left, and Naruto looked to be on the verge of panic.

The man they had been fighting, identified early on as a missing-nin from Kirigakure named Momochi Zabuza, stood before Kakashi-sensei, looking very pleased with himself. It infuriated her. The only reason he’d gotten the upper hand was because he had sneaked up on them in the thickness of the mist and targeted the four genin directly in an effort to throw off Kakashi-sensei’s guard. If he hadn’t fought dirty like a piece of trash, he would never have gotten that upper hand. Kakashi-sensei would’ve slaughtered him.

Well, she was pretty sure he would have, anyway.

There was barely a moment for her to jerk forward as the missing-nin abruptly swung his sword at Kakashi-sensei with the intent to slice him clean in half. Kaisuki felt movement beside her, and a second later Sasuke had appeared beside their jounin instructor, using a kunai to stop the swing of the huge blade. She could see his arms straining from the weight of Zabuza’s raw strength, and she knew she had to move quickly.

“Sakura, stay with Tazuna!” She barked, startling the frozen girl out of her reverie as she darted forward, drawing several kunai and shuriken. With precision that easily rivaled that of Uchiha Sasuke, she let the blades fly, knowing that Zabuza would have to move in order to dodge all eight of them. And, as she had expected he would, the tall man dodged backwards. She went in low, drawing another kunai and aiming to get behind him – he wouldn’t be able to swing his sword at her if she stayed close enough. It would put her at risk for execution-style jutsu, but she was willing to take that chance.

However, Zabuza stopped suddenly, much sooner than she had been prepared for, before he turned and swung at her while she was still far enough back that he could hit her with the wide reach of his blade. Kaisuki held up her kunai to block the swing of the sword, bracing herself for impact and fully expecting to be thrown pretty far (or, for that matter, sliced in half). That was what she got for trying to go in for a kill shot on a jounin-class missing-nin from the infamously violent Kirigakure.

Before that huge sword made contact, though, something slammed into her gut with enough force to knock all the air out of her lungs. Her back hit the ground, a surprising amount of weight landing on top of her. She had barely opened her eyes back up before she was being hauled to her feet.

Naruto didn’t stop to ask her if she was alright, and the fact barely registered in her adrenaline-fueled brain. She turned back to where she knew Kakashi-sensei was. To her dismay, she saw that he had collapsed to the ground and wasn’t getting back up. Sasuke was standing over him, and she could see that the Uchiha had a slight tremor in his hands. He had to be about as terrified as she was, as Naruto was… as all of them were. Their best chance of survival had been taken out because they were inadequate as shinobi and hadn’t had their guard up enough to so much as try to defend themselves from that dirty play of Zabuza’s.

She clenched her fist, feeling a burning anger that almost didn’t feel like her own bubbling up in her gut. She wasn’t inadequate. Neither was Sasuke. Naruto could step up when he needed to. She knew that for a fact. The shorter boy had saved her a couple of times already. She knew he would be able to step up again, as he just had moments ago.

But she also knew that she and Sasuke would work the best together as the front line. Naruto would be better suited follow their lead. She needed to get herself and Naruto over to Sasuke without Zabuza getting in the way. They needed some kind of distraction but she had no idea what she could use to do that.

Of course, you’re also making all these plans assuming that Sasuke’s going to actually listen to a word you say.” Saeka spoke up from the depths of her mind. “You shouldn’t rely on him. He’s a jerk, after all.

If he doesn’t work with us, he’ll die too.” Kaisuki argued impatiently. She really didn’t have time to fight with Saeka. Couldn’t the deceased girl see that she was busy? “He’s not so stupid that he’d refuse to work with us in the face of death. He was going to kill Itachi, remember? Not really possible if he’s a corpse.

Saeka didn’t respond to that, and Kaisuki was extremely thankful for the lack of distractions. She needed to think. How could they-…

“Kage bunshin no jutsu!” Naruto’s voice startled her a little. Only about a second had passed since she’d gotten up, and already the blonde had figured out what needed to happen. Two dozen clones appeared out of thin air, rushing at Zabuza in a frenzy, all at once. The man rolled his eyes impatiently, but Kaisuki didn’t care. Naruto had given them a distraction, even if it only lasted two seconds.

Kaisuki wasted no time grabbing her best friend’s wrist and yanking on him hard, pulling him towards frenzy before letting go of him. He knew what she was up to though, and followed her lead as they worked their way around the crowd of Narutos. In the thirty seconds it took Zabuza to dispel all of the clones, Naruto and Kaisuki had made it to Sasuke’s side.

“Plan?” She asked him immediately, “We need to get rid of him fast, or Kakashi-sensei will bleed out internally.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Sasuke snapped in reply. His knuckles were white from how tightly he was gripping the kunai in his hand. “Naruto, hang back,” the Uchiha commanded. His black eyes were darting around the area, and she could tell he was thinking fast. “If you notice we’re about to get slaughtered, use those kage bunshins to buy us some time to get out of the line of fire. If you see an opening, exploit it quietly. Kaisuki, follow my lead.”

Kaisuki nodded mutely, her throat tight. They were about to do battle with a jounin. If they messed up, they would all get slaughtered. Everything was happening so fast, but at the same time it felt like hours were passing by.

The mist was getting thicker. A lot thicker. Before Kaisuki had quite realized what was going on, everything beyond about a foot away from them was obscured by the thick fog. She was white-knuckling the handle in her hand to the point that it hurt. She felt sick. This wouldn’t have been happening if she’d been paying attention earlier. Kakashi-sensei would’ve won if he hadn’t had to look out for his teammates, if he hadn’t had to use his body to defend them multiple times.

She felt movement to her left, immediately recognizing it as Sasuke. She glanced over at him, seeing his hands moving rapidly through two more hand seals, the end of a pattern she recognized as heat began to build up beside her.

“Katon: Goukakyu no jutsu!” Fire filled the area in front of them, stemming from Sasuke’s lips. The heat made quick work of the mist, burning it away faster than it could form. Once the fireball had died, leaving a huge scorch mark in the ground, Kaisuki’s heart dropped into her stomach.

They had lost him.

“Shit.” She heard Sasuke mutter beside her. She held her breath, listening carefully as she searched for the missing-nin. They weren’t going to win like this. They might not win at all. She swallowed hard, clenching her jaw. Now wasn’t really the time for her to be thinking negatively. She needed to be thinking strategically, and that was it.

Saeka… can you sense him?” She asked slowly, her shoulders stiffening. She didn’t like asking Saeka for help in any situation. She didn’t like relying on the unstable young girl. She didn’t really like speaking to her at all, but she knew better than to ignore her.

Saeka didn’t respond immediately, so Kaisuki let it go. If she answered eventually, she would. If she didn’t, the Tsubaki was on her own. She felt Sasuke shift beside her, could sense Naruto’s tension in the the air. The silence was deafening, and it was frightening to think that Zabuza was likely moving all over the place and they still couldn’t hear him.

Three paces back at five o’ clock.

Kaisuki’s eyes widened – too close! – and she spun around, startling both Naruto and Sasuke as she let several kunai fly in the direction Saeka had specified. One of them had an exploding note attached to it, and the fire from the paper briefly illuminated Zabuza’s position. The note exploded in midair, scattering more of the mist. Now, they could see Sakura and Tazuna a few meters away.

Sakura’s face had never been so white in all the time Kaisuki had known her. She was endlessly proud of the girl for being as alert as she appeared to be. Kaisuki had been sort of expecting her to freeze up and stay that way, but apparently reminding her of her responsibility as a kunoichi had snapped her out of it.

All at once, a heavy weight slammed into her back, sending her stumbling and then falling a few feet forward. She hit the ground at the same time the sound of splitting flesh reached her, immediately followed by a clang of metal on metal.

Sakura shrieked, terror in her voice and panic written across her face when Kaisuki glanced her way, “NARUTO!!”

She rolled onto her back, sitting upright and taking in the scene before her. The color drained from her face all at once, her eyes widening and her lips parting in horror. Blood was spilling out of a wound in Naruto’s shoulder, and the blonde’s eyes were wide, his whole body frighteningly still. There was too much blood. Way too much blood. Zabuza’s sword was still embedded in the genin’s shoulder, and she could see that the man’s intent had been to hack at least one of them into two pieces. It had been Sasuke’s incredible reflexes that had saved Naruto’s life. The Uchiha had stopped the swing of the blade – again – with a kunai. Zabuza’s sword had sunk probably four inches into Naruto’s shoulder, maybe more, maybe less. But Sasuke had stopped it from cleaving the blonde in half.

Naruto had just taken that blow for her. He had put himself in her place to save her, intending to sacrifice himself.

A bubbling anger was beginning to seep into her mind, and Kaisuki had no idea where it was coming from. She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t furious, even if her shaking fists and gritting teeth suggested otherwise. She was terrified, but her body was reacting on its own impulses. It was reacting on a burst of hatred and rage that didn’t feel like it belonged to her. It didn’t feel like it belonged to Saeka either, though, even though the heat filling her chest felt like Saeka’s chakra. Even though she could hear the girl shrieking bloody murder in the background static of her mind. Even though she had every reason to think that it was the deceased girl.

That’s not Saeka… is it?

“I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU!!”

Before she knew was was happening, her body was moving. Flashes of color and darkness combined into something completely impossible to discern. There was noise, screaming, yelling, something that sounded like an explosion. The sound of blood hitting the ground. The feeling of wetness, closely followed by the almost painful sensation of water boiling and evaporating off her skin. There was pain, and there was numbness, and fear filled her chest. She could hardly breath. She could feel her chest heaving with breaths laced with growls. Anger. So much anger. She was so angry.

I’ll show you what happens when you hurt my friends.

“Sakura!” Sasuke hollered across the clearing. He couldn’t see her anymore. The fog had thickened again after Kaisuki had gone berserk, obscuring absolutely everything beyond about a foot away from him. He didn’t have a clue where Kaisuki and Zabuza had gone off to. The fight had been seemingly dragged away from the area, the racket of their battle eventually dying down in the distance. He couldn’t hear them clashing anymore at all, though that could mean a variety of things. He squinted through the mist, trying to locate that familiar spark of pink and red, but he couldn’t see anything.

“Sakura!” He yelled again.

“Sasuke-kun?” He heard her call back, and he let out a sigh of relief before he realized what he was doing.

“Sakura, come here! Towards the water!” He called, and he could hear her footsteps alongside a heavier set. Tazuna-san was still with her. Thank god. They hadn’t lost everything.

Sasuke looked down at the blonde laying on the ground in front of him, his heart in his throat. The damage to Naruto’s shoulder was really bad. That sword had gone in deep. He hadn’t moved quickly enough. He had been right there. He should’ve been able to prevent that blade from sinking in as deeply as it had.

Useless.

There was too much blood coming out of the wound itself. Sasuke couldn’t tell because he wasn’t an irou-nin, but he had a sickening feeling that Zabuza’s blade may have cut into the artery supplying most of the blood to Naruto’s left arm. He didn’t think enough of the red stuff was coming out to suggest that the missing-nin had sliced said artery cleanly in half, but even if he had only nicked it, that was still too much damage to an artery.

Naruto might very well bleed out right here. Kakashi-sensei might die from his internal bleeding, as well. They wouldn’t make it to Nami no Kuni in time to save either of them. They needed to deal with these injuries now, or Sasuke was going to lose two of his teammates.

No. No. No.

If we find the largest source of the bleed, we can give him more time.

He swallowed hard. He could heard Sakura approaching, but he ignored her. He needed to concentrate. He slowly peeled back Naruto’s orange coat, which he’d been using to try and hold back the flow of blood, and gritted his teeth as a fresh onslaught of the red stuff came spilling out. There had to be a nicked artery in there somewhere.

Sakura made a sound somewhere between a strangled gasp and a sob. He could practically hear Tazuna-san’s shock, even though the older man didn’t make a sound. Sasuke didn’t acknowledge their reactions – or lack thereof – at all. There was no time for emotional responses. “Light. Now.”

Sakura didn’t respond right away, and he immediately lost patience, “Sakura, light! Now!!” He didn’t really mean to snarl at her, but couldn’t she see that the situation was dire? Naruto didn’t have time for her panic and her tears and overall idiocy.

He heard her fumbling around in her bag for a moment, eventually succumbing to Tazuna-san’s assistance in digging through her bag, before producing a small candle-lantern. It would have to do. He waited, having resumed applying pressure to Naruto’s wound, as Tazuna-san silently lit the lantern for her. His hands were much steadier than Sasuke would’ve expected.

“Hold that here,” he instructed, “I need as much light as possible over this wound.”

Tazuna-san handed Sakura the lantern once it was lit, and she quickly moved it to where the Uchiha needed it. Sasuke peeled back Naruto’s coat again, uncovering the wound. He was about to go about hunting down the artery that had been gushing blood when he noticed that…

It… stopped?

Well, that’s interesting.

Sasuke stared in confusion at the gaping wound in Naruto shoulder. It had been gushing blood a moment ago, and yet now it had completely stopped. The injury wasn’t bleeding anymore at all. Naruto’s face was still pallid and drawn with pain, and the wound itself was still wide open, but it had stopped bleeding. And, in fact, it seemed to have closed some since Sasuke had started applying pressure to it.

“I don’t know why the Hokage doesn’t have him executed.”

“That brat’s nothing but a little demon.”

“He shouldn’t be allowed to live in the village.”

It felt like there was a rock in his throat. He never had figured out why everyone was so hateful towards Uzumaki Naruto. Now, however, he felt like he was seeing something without actually seeing it. He didn’t know what it was, but there was something that he was missing. Some relatively important piece that would complete the picture explaining why everyone hated the blonde.

He flinched, pulling rudely from his thoughts, when he heard movement. He whirled around as he drew a kunai, gaze darting around the area in search of a threat. Sakura had jerked back rather violently, letting out a startled sound. He heard Tazuna-san’s feet shift backwards, as if he was preparing to make a run for it. The fog was lifting quickly now that Zabuza was gone, and as whoever it was drew closer, Sasuke began to make out the person who had come through the underbrush several feet away.

Kaisuki looked exhausted. There was a tremor that seemed to wrack her whole body, and her breathing was shallow and uneven. Her bright red eyes were dulled with fatigue and she actually looked like she would pass out at any given moment. Sasuke slowly put his kunai away, staring at her uncertainly. Was that really Kaisuki? It looked like her. He could usually tell when she wasn’t herself, and he had the sense that it was her he was looking at, but…

I don’t feel like I know her anymore.

That’s probably because we don’t.

“How is he?” Her voice was hoarse and he could hear how raw her throat was. He didn’t have to ask to know who she was talking about. Sasuke glanced over his shoulder at the blonde for a moment, clenching his fists. He swallowed to wet his throat, looking back over at her.

“He’s… fine, I think,” he said slowly. “The bleeding stopped on its own.”

Kaisuki didn’t looked surprised to hear that. It sort of infuriated Sasuke, but he was so tired from all the adrenaline that had been rushing through his veins not five minutes ago, he didn’t really have the energy to demand answers. He’d find out eventually.

“Kakashi-sensei…” Kaisuki spoke again, softer this time. “I… I don’t… I mean…” She looked haunted by something. Anxiety was eating through his stomach. Something was wrong. Something was bothering her, or scaring her, or something. He couldn’t really tell. He just didn’t know her like he used to. Had Kakashi-sensei died? Was he beyond saving?

“He’s… okay. I think.” The black-haired girl finally conceded.

His mind blanked out briefly. Kakashi-sensei was going to be alright? It was a relief to hear, but he couldn’t help being suspicious. It couldn’t have been Saeka. He couldn’t know for sure, but he didn’t think she knew irou-ninjutsu. Nothing about her suggested that she might be able to heal injuries. She had the appearance of something that had been created for the sole purpose of fighting.

Someone else must have awakened within Kaisuki.

“What happened?” Tazuna-san, whom Sasuke had momentarily forgotten about due to his quietness, asked the obvious question at that moment. He sounded a bit confused, a bit wary. He couldn’t have seen Kaisuki’s rampage, but he had likely heard it. The girl hadn’t exactly been quiet about it.

“I just…” she replied, tightening the pony-tail on the side of her head. She looked like she was having trouble stringing her sentences together. “He’s… uh… he’s been healed, a bit. Not… all the way, I don’t think she had enough… uh, enough chakra for that,” Kaisuki explained in fits and starts. Sasuke’s eyes narrowed – his teammate had identified the mystery irou-nin as a “she.” Wasn’t really enough information for him to go anywhere, but no piece of information was useless, in his book.

“But… but he’s out of danger. He’s not bleeding internally anymore, and…” The girl started to trail off, “And the wound shouldn’t reopen, even if we move him. That’s… what… she said…”

“She?” Sakura questioned, her voice wavering a little. Sasuke resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

Kaisuki’s gaze lowered to the ground. “I… haven’t gotten a name yet.”

So, it was someone new. If this incident was any indication, “she” didn’t seem to have any ill intentions, but Sasuke wasn’t about to start trusting the vengeful spirits residing in a Yurei. Especially a vengeful spirit residing in a Yurei alongside Saeka. He felt Naruto shift beside him, listening to the shorter boy groan softly. His teammate still had a gaping wound in his shoulder, and both he and Kakashi had lost a lot of blood. They both needed more comprehensive medical care.

“We shouldn’t stay here.” Sasuke finally said, “Tazuna-san, how far are the docks from here?”

The older man looked up from where he’d been staring at Naruto with a strange look in his eyes. He blinked for a moment, slowly processing the question. He seemed to be coming out a minor case of shock.

“Not far,” the older man said slowly. “Less than a… uh… about a quarter mile up the bank, that way.” He indicated the direction with a finger, and Sasuke nodded, standing up.

“Kaisuki, Sakura, stay here and keep an eye on Naruto and Kakashi.” He told them, pulling back on his commanding tone of voice as much as he could. “Me and Tazuna-san will go get a boat. We’ll be back as fast as we can.”

Kaisuki nodded silently, looking downcast. He had no idea why she looked so unhappy. Whether she had intended it or not, she had chased away that missing-nin and saved all of their lives. Even if it had been Saeka who had done the fighting… they were alive because Kaisuki had gone on a rampage.

He wasn’t endorsing her rampages by any means, but he knew that he’d be dead if it wasn’t for her.

Kaisuki walked over to Naruto and knelt down beside him, “Sakura, you have the medical supplies right?” She asked, and the pink-haired girl nodded, understanding quickly. Sasuke watched as she pulled her backpack off and tore into it, pulling out the medical scroll and summoning forth their rather expansive supplies. Everything from sutures to gauze to tape and hemostats.

He should’ve thought of the medical supplies. Naruto was impossibly lucky.

“Ready?” Tazuna-san asked. He sounded a little shaky. Sasuke nodded silently, and the older man started walking towards the bank. He wasn’t really ready. He needed a nap. A twelve hour, uninterrupted nap in which he didn’t have any nightmares or night terrors.

Wouldn’t that be a treat.

“Be safe,” he heard Kaisuki call after them. Sasuke bowed his head, slumping his shoulders a bit as he lifted a hand and waved over his shoulder. Tazuna-san turned around to wave at them, calling out a promise to return. Sasuke smiled to himself before he could tell himself not to, and he was eternally grateful that none of his teammates could see him.

I thought we weren’t talking to them anymore.

It wasn’t like he was going to be able to keep that up. It wasn’t like he could just never speak to the people he was going to be stuck with indefinitely. It wasn’t as though Kaisuki was going to disappear just because he had wanted her to. He wasn’t even sure that he did want her to. At least, he wasn’t sure anymore. He’d been so furious at the time, he’d been completely blinded by it. Now, he was just angry that he’d given in and started talking to them again.

But, in reality, it wasn’t as though he would’ve been able to just never speak to them again. They were his team. He couldn’t just switch to another team, and he wasn’t going to quit the path of a shinobi. He was going to have to deal with it. He didn’t have to like it. He didn’t have to enjoy Kaisuki’s company. He didn’t have to make amends with her, as he was sure the Hokage had intended. But he had to work with them.

So we’re giving up, then.

He didn’t have a choice. Especially in the circumstances that had been presented to him by this mission. He couldn’t just not work with Naruto and Kaisuki when he was being faced by a jounin-class missing-nin who could slaughter him as though he were a five year-old. He had to work with them. He had to. The more he thought about it, the more he felt he didn’t really mind working with them, but the fact that he didn’t really mind sort of infuriated him.

As it should.

He hated the idea that he had lost the battle. He hated the idea that his hand had been forced in the way that it had. He hated Kaisuki, or at least he had convinced himself of that when she’d tried to tell him that maybe Itachi had a different – if not better – reason for murdering his clan. He had spent the past four years refusing to talk to her because of that. He had spent the past four years hating her. He didn’t want to give in now. He had sort of committed to his current course, and if he backed out of it now, he was going to feel like an idiot.

I suppose there’s worse things in the world. Like dying, for example.

And being fundamentally betrayed by your best friend days after your whole family is killed off by your older brother.

He didn’t really think the rest of the team would hold it against him, considering how hard two out of the three of them had been trying to get him to stop ignoring them. He didn’t think Kaisuki would refuse to forgive him, because that really just wasn’t her style. He didn’t really believe Naruto would turn into an unbearable jerk, because he just wasn’t like that. He couldn’t imagine that Sakura would change in any way, because she harbored the most ridiculous crush on him. Kakashi-sensei would probably be rather relieved if he woke up from almost dying to find that his almost-death hadn’t been in vain.

So, what, you’re really going to just start talking to them again? Pretend as if nothing ever went awry?

No, I’m…

What kind of naive idiot are you? They’re not your friends. They’re your colleagues. People on a quest for vengeance don’t need or want friends, remember? You decided that years ago. Are you going to back out already?

No! I’m not… I’m not giving up. I just…

He didn’t want to be alone anymore.

Pathetic.

Sasuke clenched his fists in his pockets and jerked himself out of his thoughts. He couldn’t really afford to be up in the clouds right now. He was Tazuna-san’s only escort at the moment. If he flaked out and they were attacked by someone, the two of them would be dead in an instant. The Uchiha straightened his back, looking around. How far had they walked? How much time had passed? He glanced towards Tazuna-san out of the corner of his eye, but the older man was a step ahead of him and therefore couldn’t see him.

He needed to stop spacing out. It was becoming problematic. He didn’t know how much time he was losing, and he didn’t know how much of his environment he was missing. It wasn’t exactly smart for a shinobi in a dangerous situation to lose track of where he was and what was going on. He would get himself killed doing that. He’d get everyone killed doing that.

“There are the docks,” Tazuna-san said, his voice lowered somewhat. Sasuke looked up, spotting the docks in question right away. There were people standing around them, though none looked particularly threatening. He could likely take out any of the four people standing around on the docks. It looked like most of them were leaving the area anyway. Tazuna-san waved as they approached, an act which only furthered Sasuke’s tension. Obviously this guy didn’t have a clue what “target of missing-nin” meant.

He had probably lost about half an hour of their trip.

Yea, because you keep talking to yourself. Pay attention, you moron.

Shut up.

Next Chapter

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