the beginning

Kaisuki awoke with a start, sitting up suddenly with wide eyes and a strangled gasp. She sat in bed, gasping for air, one hand pressed against her chest, the other throwing back the blankets. She didn’t need to check to make sure her leg was still there, but she did it anyway. It was intact, as it ought to be, though there was a faint tingling below the knee.

She shuddered, trying to force the memory of the nightmare out of her thoughts.

She was shaking all over, even as she swung her legs out of bed and slowly stood up. She swallowed compulsively, feeling sick. Kaisuki briefly glanced at the clock on her wall, cursing when she saw the time. She was supposed to be seeing the Hokage in ten minutes. She was definitely going to be late. She threw on her clothes and ran out the door, not bothering to stop to eat. She didn’t want to make herself any later than she needed to be.

The black-haired girl ran through the streets of Konohagakure, dodging around civilians and shinobi alike. At one point, she thought she saw Sasuke, but she didn’t stop. She didn’t have time to fight with him this morning, as she was sure to do if she interacted with him. A few years ago, she would’ve sought him out for reassurance after a nightmare like the one she’d had, but those days had long since ended.

She took a flight of stairs two at time, sprinted down a hallway, turned a corner and sprinted down another hallway, before stopping in front of the Hokage’s main office. She took a moment to catch her breath, glancing around the hall for a clock. Only three minutes late. Not bad.

She knocked before leaning back on her heels and waiting patiently for the Hokage to respond. There was only a beat before she heard an aged voice call through the door, “Come in.”

Kaisuki opened the heavy door and stepped into the room. She still didn’t know why she was meeting the Hokage. She’d received the letter a couple of days prior, but no details about what he wanted were divulged in it. Just a request that she visit – as she was now – and that she wasn’t in trouble. It had seemed kind of suspicious, but she didn’t let it get to her.

She hadn’t seen the Hokage since she dropped out of the academy three years ago. He sent her letters occasionally, but they never saw each other, as neither of them spent much time wandering the streets in search of something to do. Kaisuki busied herself with training and sparring with the other academy dropout (though in a less literal sense), Uzumaki Naruto. The Hokage didn’t have enough spare time to need to busy himself, instead spending his days locked up in his office building, slaving away for the citizens of Konohagakure.

“Good morning, Hokage-sama,” she greeted, bowing slightly after she had closed the door. He smiled at her, beckoning her further into the room and indicating where she should sit.

“It’s good to see you, Kaisuki.” He said, and she didn’t miss the somber tone of his voice. He had been truly saddened to see her drop out of the academy. He hadn’t tried to stop her, or even convince her to rethink her decision. He’d just given her a sad smile and agreed to let her leave the academy, much to Iruka-sensei’s disappointment.

Kaisuki took her seat as it had been offered to her, placing her hands in her lap, “What did you want to speak to me about today?” She asked.

There was a pause as she watched him light his pipe. He really needed to cut back on his smoking. It wasn’t doing his body any favors, and it would be kind of lame if he died of a lung disease because he smoked too much.

“I want you to join Team 7.” He stated. He evidently recalled that Kaisuki was not a fan of beating around the bush. That was a relief. That didn’t make her feel much better about his words, though.

“I thought we had already agreed that I’m not suited for being a kunoichi,” Kaisuki said slowly, her voice strained. “You know I don’t want to, why would you bother asking?”

“I think it would be better if, rather than living in fear of Saeka for the rest of your life, you learned to control her on your own. Kaisuki, you are not the only Yurei I’ve met. Some of them were as terrified of their spirits as you are of yours, but there were others who had gotten to know their spirits and learned to… tame them, I suppose you might say.”

She was getting a headache, all of a sudden. She didn’t want to be talking to him about Saeka. She knew it had been a bad idea to agree to meet him.

“I can’t control her,” Kaisuki argued. “If you had her living inside of you, you would understand where I’m coming from. But you don’t, so you can’t.” She only barely refrained from outright snarling, instead choosing to glare at the Hokage indignantly. “I don’t want to be a kunoichi.”

“I hadn’t heard about her hating Kakashi,” was his reply, and for a moment Kaisuki wanted to hit him. “How about we make a deal, then? You won’t go on any missions that involve any kind of violence or have the potential to become violent. No capturing, no recon, nothing like that. You can go on escorts for unimportant persons at the most. Do you think you can work with that?”

Kaisuki stared at the Hokage for a very long time. She was getting a little suspicious of his motives. “Why do you want me to join Team 7?”

“I think it would be good for you,” he said calmly. He didn’t look at all bothered by Kaisuki’s likely obvious suspicions. “I think it could mend your relationship with Sasuke, and he needs you as a friend for a variety of reasons, whether either of you realize it or not. Have you heard? He’s even become friends with Uzumaki Naruto, of all people.” At that, Kaisuki raised her eyebrows in disbelief. “Neither of them will admit it until the other is dead, I’m sure, but it doesn’t change facts. Working together with him on a team could fix what you two have broken.”

Kaisuki stared at the floor past her knees. No violence-related missions? She might be able to do that. And she did want to make amends with Sasuke, but she didn’t really think it was possible. Not when their difference in opinion was about Itachi. He’d never forgive her for not hating the defected Uchiha. If he did, she would be very surprised.

“Kakashi has already said he would be happy to take you in,” the Hokage spoke again. “The only thing in question here is whether you’re willing to get out of the house every now and then.”

“I get out of the house plenty, thank you,” she grumbled quietly. Sure, she didn’t have any friends, but she didn’t need more than what she had. Naruto was good to her, and he was always available when she wanted to spar with him. That was all the getting out she really needed.

The silence following her comment stretched as she thought about all her options, all the pros and cons. She wouldn’t have to get involved in anything that might turn violent. She didn’t have to do anything she wasn’t comfortable with, in other words. She would be able to hang out with Naruto more often, and maybe she’d be able to repair her damaged relationship with Sasuke.

On the other hand, Saeka really did loathe Hatake-san. Kaisuki wasn’t entirely sure why. She didn’t think that the deceased girl would try to kill him or anything, but she wouldn’t be able to spar with her team leader. And while she didn’t really mind that, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to risk Saeka encountering Hatake-san again.

But, like the Hokage had said, it would be better if she could learn to, at the very least, calm Saeka down when she was mad or panicking. And one of the better ways to do that would be to amass some self-confidence, like the kind she could find after a job well done. And joining up with Team 7 would certainly give her plenty of opportunities for that.

She sighed, smiling ruefully. It sort of figured that she could be talked into more or less returning to the path of a kunoichi. It had been her dream to be an amazing kunoichi, like the incredible Lady Tsunade of the Sannin, or the legendary Princess Mononoke of Tsukigakure. She had wanted to go down in history as one of the best. And her dream had been all but robbed from her the day Saeka slaughtered her family.

But maybe she could build up to it. Maybe she could start doing the little D-rank odd jobs. Maybe she could work towards being able to spar lightly with Hatake-san. Maybe she could get to a point where her first feeling towards Saeka wasn’t fear.

“Okay, I guess.” Kaisuki said softly. “I’ll give it a shot. But if it doesn’t work out, I’m done.”

The Hokage looked infuriatingly delighted by the news, though it only showed in the twinkle of his dark eyes. “Good,” he said with a smile. “I’ll let Kakashi know, and you’ll hear from him when and where he’s going to want to introduce you to the rest of your team.”

She nodded silently, “Is that all you wanted me for?”

The Hokage nodded, “Yes, it is. You’re free to go, now.”

“Thank you,” Kaisuki replied offhandedly, standing up. She offered up a weary smile before exiting the office. She wasn’t sure if she was happy about everything that had transpired or not. She wasn’t sure if she really wanted to do this. Although, if she really hated it, she could always sabotage the effort, she supposed.

Kaisuki looked towards the sky as she walked outside, sighing heavily. She hated that she had been talked into doing something she didn’t entirely want to do, but she was glad to have been talked into it. She did want to become a kunoichi. She was afraid of the path itself, not the end result.

Well, she thought bitterly. Better now than never.

“Ugh, how far away is this place?” Naruto complained loudly, his fingers interlocked behind his head.

“It’s in another country, Naruto.” Sakura answered in exasperation. “This trip will take several days.”

They were only midway through the second day of their trip to Nami no Kuni, and already Naruto was complaining. Sasuke didn’t comment, but Kaisuki hadn’t expected him to. He had gotten much quieter since she’d joined the team, according to Naruto. The blonde had informed her that he and Sasuke used to fight like cats and dogs constantly, but now the other boy hardly looked in his direction. Kaisuki knew he was just being a brat, but it still stung. She knew he had every right to feel the way he did, but that didn’t mean he was being any less of a jerk.

He didn’t want her on the team. He was the only person who had a problem with it. She hadn’t been surprised when he’d been furious and then refused to speak to her. He had already decided on his own that the two of them weren’t going to be friends anymore, but Kaisuki hadn’t thought he was going to never speak to her. She’d figured he’d be civil, because she was a member of the team and he had to deal with it. He’d done the exact opposite.

He refused to work with the others, and that was fine when they were pulling weeds or chasing hounds, but if they ever – for any reason – wound up on a battlefield, Sasuke would either have to get over himself, or he would likely get his teammates hurt or killed. He never spoke to Kaisuki, rarely spoke to Sakura (though that had been the case already), and spent most of his time replying to Naruto with nothing more or less than a murderous glare. He obviously knew that Naruto and Kaisuki were friends, and apparently having Kaisuki on the team had changed his perception of the blonde, even though Kaisuki and Naruto had already been friends in the first place.

The blonde and her were close friends They told each other everything. They trusted each other with their lives. Naruto helped to ground Kaisuki, and he succeeded in making her feel safe and secure. He let her cry, even though it obviously made him exceedingly uncomfortable. He enjoyed ranting about Sasuke with her. He took her to lunch or dinner almost every time he went to Ichiraku’s, so long as she was easy to find.

And in return, she looked out for him. When the boy was in danger of making a fool of himself, or doing something wrong, or utterly misunderstanding the task that had been set before them, she would pull him aside or otherwise find a way to head off his mistakes early. She hadn’t let him rip out all the flowers in any of the gardens they’d been pulling weeds for. She had prevented him from capturing Akamaru – one of the Inuzuka clans dogs – instead of the pet they had been looking for.

And evidently, their closeness had succeeded in ruining the friendship the Hokage had claimed was blooming between Naruto and Sasuke. Kaisuki had yet to see any evidence of said friendship, but that was because she had apparently ruined it the moment she joined the team. The stupid, irrational brat that Sasuke was. Sometimes, she genuinely just wanted to rip his stupid face off. It wouldn’t make him bond with Naruto again, but it would be a successful way to make him stop being a dick.

Woah, Kaisuki thought, her brow furrowing as she walked. That was a little over the top, brain. Settle down.

She didn’t really want to rip his face off. She actually had no idea where that train of thought had come from. Usually, if Saeka wanted her to know what she was thinking, she’d just start talking. It was sometimes inconvenient, and if she ignored the girl she would inevitably become angry with her. And if there was one thing Kaisuki wanted to avoid, it was infuriating Saeka.

She had no idea why the girl hadn’t seemed to have a real problem with Kakashi-sensei. Their first encounter had nearly resulted in the jounin’s doom. The one after that had involved a lot of shrieking and incoherency.

So, now that the silver-haired jounin was her team leader, she would have thought Saeka would’ve been angrier. It wasn’t as though the girl wasn’t angry – Kaisuki could feel the coils of irritability and agitation unwinding like an angry snake. She could feel it when Saeka wanted to flay the jounin alive. Often enough, Saeka would start cursing his existence venomously in the back of Kaisuki’s head, but she had yet to do anything rash.

Even I have the capacity for getting over it, Kaisuki.” The red-eyed girl stiffened at the sound of Saeka’s voice. She sounded agitated, but it was a different kind of agitation. Saeka had been extremely quiet as of late. Actually, she’d been quiet since Kaisuki had joined Team 7 five weeks ago. It was something Kaisuki considered “odd behavior.” It wasn’t as though most of Saeka’ behaviors weren’t odd, but rather that the Tsubaki was used to them. So when the girl started doing something different, Kaisuki noticed quickly.

Forgive me for not knowing you very well.” She replied with her inner voice. The deceased girl didn’t respond. Kaisuki sighed aloud, lifting her gaze to the back of the jounin walking ahead of her. Her eyes drifted then to the drunkard walking a step behind Kakashi-sensei, on the right side. Tazuna was an older man. He didn’t look very strong, but he didn’t look very important or wealthy either. She had no idea why he’d needed an escort. It wasn’t as though a band of thieves were going to steal from a broke drunk, let alone try to kidnap him for ransom. He probably didn’t have anything worth more than five hundred yen in his pockets.

So why the escort? She frowned, looking around her surroundings briefly. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She didn’t sense any extra presences following them. She didn’t see anything strange. She couldn’t hear anything odd, or smell anything weird. It was just a dirt road that would eventually lead them to the waterways that they would take to get to Nami no Kuni.

She lowered her gaze to the ground a few feet ahead of her, thinking. If Tazuna had neglected to mention that his life might be in danger, and the rank of this mission was an unfit match to the team it had been assigned to, she could very well be walking into an extremely dangerous situation, and not just for herself. If she was forced to engage an enemy ninja, would Saeka-…

Let me take over.

Kaisuki stopped dead in her tracks, eyes widening. She clenched her fingers around the straps of her backpack and swallowed hard.

Why?” She responded nervously. Would she be usurped, even if she said no? There was a strange hush in her mind, and it almost sounded like someone was whispering to someone else, but she wasn’t sure. She had only encountered Saeka thus far, and though she had been able to feel one other presence, she hadn’t spoken to them yet.

Saeka didn’t reply to her question at all.

“-suki! Oi, shinobi to Kaisuki!” At the sound of Naruto’s voice, she jerked, startled by what she was suddenly hearing, and looked up. She felt out of sorts. Her whole body didn’t feel right. Saeka was going to steal the reigns. She was going to take over and kill someone, and Kaisuki wouldn’t be able to make her stop. Why did she even ask if she was going to take over anyway?

“S-…” she began, her throat locking up.

“S?” Sakura said slowly, uncertainly. “What’s wrong, Kaisuki? You look like you’re gonna faint.”

Kaisuki took in a shaky breath, directing her gaze to the ground. Her vision was getting hazy. This was all the warning she was going to get, and if she didn’t tell the others that she was about to turn, they would be woefully unprepared and would be that much more likely to get killed.

“S-Saeka’s… coming.” She managed to say. Even her throat felt like it was beyond her reach. It felt like she was sliding out of her own body.

Kakashi-sensei’s one visible eye widened, his shock showing. Sasuke’s hand jerked towards his kunai pouch, his whole body stiffening as he moved between Kaisuki and Tazuna. He still had the mission objective in mind. That was a good thing, she was pretty sure. Naruto looked startled, but not frightened. She knew already that, if anyone would be able to settle Saeka, it would have to be Naruto. He would be the only option for a diplomatic conversation.

Kaisuki, let me up front.” Saeka’s voice came again, this time sounding less annoyed and more urgent. There was an undertone of hostility that she didn’t miss, but the urgency in her voice was what confused Kaisuki. The girl blinked, trying to push back, trying to resist Saeka’s intruding person.

Tell me why and I’ll consider it.

Her whole body was suddenly enveloped in a powerful heat, and she gasped in surprise. Her vision blacked out completely as she was thrown into the back of her own mind and then held down.

Saeka, no! Don’t kill anyone!” She screamed, sitting in complete darkness. Her heart was hammering in her throat, and she didn’t know what was going on. Someone was going to die, she just knew it. Maybe all of them. What would she do if Saeka killed all of them? Angry tears spilled down her cheeks as she somehow found the capacity for hate and rage.

Let me back up! LET ME BACK UP!” She shrieked, looking around in the darkness desperately. There had to be an out. There had to be something she was missing. There had to be a way for her to forcibly take her body back. There just had to be.

Sasuke jerked back, his eyes widening as fear tore through him. He had met Saeka before. He didn’t want to meet her again. His hands were shaking, so he clenched his fists tightly, trying to get a hold of himself. He wouldn’t freeze up like he had on that night. He wouldn’t freeze up. He would fight. He would protect Tazuna, because that was the mission. He absolutely wouldn’t die. Not yet. Not until he killed Itachi.

The atmosphere changed suddenly with the temperature. There was a visible aura of fiery red chakra surrounding Kaisuki. Saeka’s chakra. He swallowed hard, trying to remain as calm as he could. There was only one person besides Itachi who had ever managed to scare him like this, and that person was Saeka.

He blinked, and the whirlwind of fiery red chakra was swept away by the light breeze that rolled through the trees. Sasuke’s heart rate was through the sky, his breathing erratic and shallow. The air cleared, and he could tell just by looking at her that it wasn’t Kaisuki anymore. She was very still, her eyes closed, her whole body relaxed. She didn’t look nearly as maniacal as that last time she had possessed Kaisuki.

It was, of course, the idiot Naruto who spoke.

“Saeka-chan?” He didn’t speak quietly, but he kept his voice surprisingly level and he sounded impossibly calm. It infuriated Sasuke, which helped to crush his fear. Why wasn’t Naruto afraid? He hung out with Kaisuki so much, so he probably knew who Saeka was, and what she was capable of. How could the blonde… how could anyone not be frightened if they knew who Saeka was? Saeka was the psychopath that had killed Kaisuki’s family. She’d almost killed Itachi. She’d attacked Sasuke before. He’d heard about her assaulting Kakashi-sensei and injuring him badly enough to render him hospitalized.

So, why was Naruto so calm? He wasn’t a good actor, so his current show of stillness had to be genuine.

“Saeka-chan, is something wrong? Is that why you came out?” Naruto asked the question as if he was talking to anyone else. As if he was talking to one of his teammates. As if he was talking to a friend. Sasuke deliberately worked to settle his physical reaction to Saeka’s presence. He carefully crushed his panicked thoughts, and settled his heart and breathing. He just needed to still his mind.

She’s just like Itachi.

His fists clenched tightly, anger beginning to seep through his calm. That was more like it.

“Saeka-…” Naruto’s next statement was rather rudely interrupted when Saeka slowly turned towards Sasuke. He clenched his jaw. He couldn’t find his words. He had nothing smart to say, nothing that might calm her down or whatever. He just stood there, extremely still, as if he thought maybe her vision was movement-based.

“Don’t move.” Saeka said, her voice eerily calm, her pink eyes void of emotion. She spoke directly to Sasuke, her gaze shifting to the drunk standing behind him. He heard Tazuna make a throaty, nervous sound. Apparently both of them were a little freaked out.

He flinched backwards, his hand going for his kunai pouch, when she suddenly launched herself at him. A kunai came up, panic and reflexes replacing rational thought. He should be dodging, not standing his ground. He should be tackling Tazuna to the ground so she’d just fly over their heads.

Sasuke never closed his eyes, but Saeka still blinked out of sight for a split second. He felt a weight on his shoulder push him forward, and he stumbled a bit, whirling around with wide eyes, expecting to have to protect Tazuna.

The sound of blood hitting the ground wasn’t what froze Sasuke. The sight of the body wasn’t what startled him. No, what startled him was that it wasn’t Tazuna who was dead. It wasn’t Kakashi-sensei, either. It wasn’t Naruto or Sakura. It wasn’t even Sasuke himself. His eyes were wide as he stared at the missing-nin that had evidently tried to ambush them from behind.

They were in danger. Danger! Danger! Protect yourself! Defend the team! Watch out for Tazuna-san!

Kill someone.

He felt a presence darting in from his right, and he immediately went into battle-mode. He spun around with the kunai he had pulled out to protect himself from Saeka, lashing out violently with the blade. He felt it when the blade connected with flesh long before he saw it and registered it visually. The missing-nin’s throat spilled blood all over the ground, all over Sasuke’s hands. The droplets of blood would surely stain his shirt and shorts, but he didn’t care.

Kill more.

There’s no one else to kill, his rational mind countered. That pushy, violent side of his psyche settled down quickly, slinking back into the furthest reaches of his mind. Since the massacre, he’d had a hard time settling down during a fight. Once he went into battle-mode, it was hard for him to come back out of it. Even those skirmishes during the academy had often resulted in someone getting really hurt.

It was like he didn’t have control over his actions, sometimes.

Sasuke let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Blood pooled at his feet, and he took a few steps back from it. He looked at his blood-splattered hands, frowning. It felt nice, for some reason. He’d never felt blood on his hands before. It wasn’t a bad feeling. It was exhilarating. Sasuke had faced death before, but this was his first kill.

He liked it.

“-ke. Sasuke?” He blinked, looking up from his hands. He felt a little… delirious, almost. But not as though he would faint, or be ill. He was just extremely discombobulated. He took in a shaky breath as he stared at Kakashi-sensei, who had walked over. How long had he been staring at his hands? How long had Kakashi-sensei been talking to him? He felt like it’d only be a few seconds, but at the same time it felt like it had been a couple of hours.

“Sasuke, are you alright?” He asked, looking concerned. Sasuke blinked, confused. Of course he was fine, couldn’t they see that? He hadn’t been injured in that fight at all. Had no one been paying any attention?

“I’m fine,” he said quietly, frowning as he looked away from his instructor’s piercing gaze. He didn’t want the man to see that he was a lot better than fine. He knew, on a morals level, that enjoying the feeling of killing wasn’t good. He couldn’t help how he felt, though, and he knew everyone around him would judge him.

Kakashi-sensei didn’t look like he believed Sasuke’s response. His words confirmed that. “You’ve been spacing out for five minutes.”

Sasuke stared at him for a long time. Five minutes? It hadn’t been that long, had it?

“I’m fine, really,” he repeated. “Really. I’m just… I dunno. It’s nothing, really. I’m fine.” He clamped his mouth shut. He felt sort of like he was on some kind of high. He took in a deep breath, looking down at the corpse laying a few feet away.

Movement caught his eye and he glanced in that direction.. Naruto had walked over to Saeka and was talking to talking to her. She didn’t seem at all bothered by the conversation, or the person she was talking with. He didn’t understand. Was she really the same Saeka? Had Kaisuki done something? What was going on? The Saeka he had met on numerous occasions had tried to kill him more than once, and usually wound up shrieking in rage at one thing or another.

And yet…

Saeka nodded at Naruto, offering a small smile before her eyelids fluttered. Suddenly, those hot pink eyes switched back to the usual bright red that told Sasuke that Kaisuki was back. She stood completely still, and when Naruto called her name, she didn’t respond. It looked like she wasn’t entirely present. Catatonia, or something. Kakashi-sensei watched her for a moment, but seemed to get the impression that Naruto had it under control. Sasuke didn’t know when Naruto had been a responsible party, but he wish it hadn’t happened. It had been a better dynamic when he had been the best on the team. It at least meant that Sakura and Naruto didn’t usually get in his way.

Sasuke tore his gaze away from Kaisuki’s blank face and looked to Kakashi-sensei as he started to speak to Tazuna. “These guys were chuunin from Kirigakure. They are ninja known to keep fighting, no matter the cost.”

Tazuna’s eyes narrowed, “Why would you let your students fight if you knew that already? Why would you put them in that kind of danger?”

“If I was up to it,” the silver-haired man said, his tone calming somewhat. He still seemed pretty irate. “I could’ve killed these two in the blink of an eye. But,” he paused briefly, “I needed to know who their target was.”

Tazuna stiffened noticeably at that. Sasuke saw him swallow what was likely a lump in his throat before he spoke in his gravelly voice, “What are you trying to say, Kakashi-san?”

“We haven’t heard anything about you being a target, Tazuna-san. Your request was to protect you from armed gangs and robbers.” Kakashi-sensei answered, his expression darkening. “Our job was to support and guard you until you completed the bridge. If ninja are our enemy, this mission should’ve been an expensive B-rank. It looks like you have your reasons, but it only troubles us if you lie in your request details.”

Sakura, who had been watching the conversation closely, spoke up before Tazuna could respond to Kakashi’s statement. “This mission is out of our league. We should quit it… we’re not qualified for a mission like this.”

“No.”

All of them turned at the sound of Kaisuki’s voice. She had been standing so still for such a long time, Sasuke had briefly forgotten she was with them. Now, she stared at Kakashi-sensei, her eyes showing a strength that he hadn’t ever seen before. Something had changed, but he didn’t know what. He didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, and it pissed him off.

“W-what?” Sakura stammered, unable to contain herself. “Kaisuki, we’re not qualified for this mission. We won’t be able to successfully complete it. We’ll get killed-…”

“No, we won’t,” Kaisuki interjected smoothly, looking oddly relaxed for someone who had just been possessed by what Sasuke would call an embodiment of evil. “And besides, what kind of ninja are we going to turn out as if we walk away from every mission that seems difficult?”

“This mission doesn’t just seem difficult!” Sakura protested. She looked terrified.

Pathetic.

“I agree with Kaisuki,” Naruto proclaimed. “I think we should just do the mission. Kakashi-sensei is supposedly this legendary ninja, so we have nothing to worry about! We can handle chuunin-class ninja, apparently, so we’ll be able to handle anything they throw at us! Right, Sasuke?”

Sasuke blinked, startled at being so suddenly included in the conversation. He didn’t want to answer. He didn’t care what they did. He’d honestly rather continue the mission, but if they didn’t, he wouldn’t be upset or anything. He just…

I just want to feel more blood on my hands.

He tried and failed to be inconspicuous about wiping the blood on his hands onto his shirt. Sakura looked stricken. Naruto looked exceedingly hopeful. Kaisuki wasn’t even looking at him. He scowled. He didn’t want to reply. He didn’t want to break down and start talking to them again, even though he kind of missed fighting with Naruto.

He was far too stubborn to give in, though. If he was going to never speak to them again (at least until Kaisuki was off the team), he had to stick with it, or it would be meaningless.

“Sasuke,” Kakashi-sensei spoke next, sounding sort of resigned, if not a touch annoyed. “Do you want to keep going, or turn back?”

That one he would answer. He looked deliberately at Kakashi-sensei, completely blowing off Naruto. “I don’t really care,” he said coolly. “I don’t like leaving things unfinished, but if there’s a scaredy-cat who wants to go home, that’s fine too.

Sakura flinched as though she’d been struck. Sasuke ignored her.

“Don’t be an asshole, Sasuke!” Naruto shouted, and he ignored him as well.

Kakashi-sensei sighed, shaking his head. He looked like he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with the situation. Sasuke saw Naruto abruptly turn to Sakura, his blue eyes earnest and determined.

“Sakura-chan, I know you’re afraid, but I swear on my life that I’ll protect you, and I won’t let anyone die! I won’t leave anyone behind for anything, okay? I’ll protect you. It’s a man’s promise!”

Sakura stared at him with wide eyes. She looked like she might cry. Sasuke couldn’t help that his attention was drawn towards the exchange. Naruto looked very desperate.

“But…” Sakura said, looking helplessly for something that would definitely make everyone decide to go back. But there was nothing, because everyone wanted to go on this mission, with the possible exception of Kakashi-sensei.

“I’ll even look out for Sasuke, even though he’s a jerk and can probably take care of himself, okay? No one’s gonna die on this mission, I swear on my life!” Naruto reiterated, speaking faster than usual. He really wanted to continue this mission. He probably just had the scare of his life, but now that he’d gotten past that and realized how interesting the mission was, he didn’t want to back down. Sasuke had gotten second blood, first if you didn’t count Saeka as a member of the team (as far as Sasuke was concerned, Kaisuki and her spirits were a packaged deal). Naruto would surely be vying for third, assuming he could summon the courage to actually kill someone.

Sakura buried her face in her hands, breathing noisily and mumbling to herself angrily. Kaisuki walked over to her side, touching her shoulder lightly. The pink-haired girl looked at her, eyes watering.

“I don’t want to go,” she mumbled. “We could die.”

“Sakura,” Kaisuki said softly. “There will be a chance of us dying on almost every mission we go on once we become chuunin. There’ll be no avoiding it. Being a shinobi is dangerous. If you’re this scared of death, you should either quit being a kunoichi, or get strong enough that you don’t have to worry about it.”

The girl stared at Kaisuki for a long moment. Finally, she lowered her head, wrapping her arms around her middle. Everyone was oddly quiet for a long moment, waiting for the verdict. If Sakura couldn’t handle the mission, it was entirely possible that Kakashi-sensei would send her home alone. They hadn’t left Hi no Kuni yet, so she’d probably make it back on her own without much problem.

Assuming she had learned anything at all about combat in the academy.

“Fine,” Sakura muttered, glancing towards Sasuke briefly. He saw her out of the corner of his eye, but he didn’t look towards her. “I’m going to become a kunoichi. So I… I won’t back down.” She sounded very determined all of a sudden.

Kaisuki smiled sincerely at her, whilst Naruto leaped into the air and pumped his fist towards the sky. Sasuke turned his attention away from the three of them when he saw Sakura start looking his way. He deliberately looked everywhere but towards them.

They had gotten used to him ignoring them enough that, at this point, they functioned as a team as though he weren’t present. He knew that they wanted him to participate… well, he was relatively sure that at least Sakura wanted him to quit being “a jerk.” He didn’t actually know about Naruto, and he definitely didn’t know about Kaisuki. She had taken his ignoring her, and had returned the favor. They now ignored each other so intensely, it was sort of ridiculous.

But… it hurt, too. Part of him had been hoping that his behavior – however childish – would get at least Sakura to help him attempt to boot Kaisuki off the team. But Sakura had taken a fair liking to Kaisuki, and was perfectly fine with her presence, even though the fact that they associated with each other was enough to keep Sasuke from interacting with Sakura ever. She ought to have realized that by now.

Maybe he just didn’t matter that much as a member of the team.

You don’t belong here.

He diverted his gaze to the ground. Kakashi-sensei was talking, and then they were resuming their path along the road to Nami no Kuni. He felt extremely out of sorts, and not at all like himself. He wasn’t sure if it was because his limbs seemed to be hundreds of kilometers away, or if it was the throbbing in his eyes. He just didn’t feel right.

Maybe it was the blood still caked around his fingers. He was still trying to scratch and scrape it off, wiping his hands vigorously on his shirt, and rubbing the dried blood with the pad of his thumb. There was so much of it. His blunt nails dug harder and harder into his skin, until it was starting to hurt. But his limbs still felt so far away, and were so hard to control, he was digging into his skin before he realized what he was doing.

When he did notice, however, he immediately stopped. The next stream they passed, he would ask to stop so he could wash his hands. He didn’t want to rip all the skin off of them. He didn’t want to freak anyone out. He didn’t want to peel all the flesh from his hands. He needed to stop. Stop. Stop.

I thought you liked the feeling of blood on your hands.

Sasuke buried his hands into his pockets, trying to imagine that there wasn’t crusty blood caked between his fingers. He tried to imagine that his clothes weren’t splattered with red. He tried to pretend to himself that he hadn’t just killed someone. That he wasn’t covered in their blood. He tried to pretend he didn’t feel disgusting, he tried to pretend that he wasn’t disgusted with himself.

I’m not supposed to enjoy killing.

He shuddered at the sensation of his limbs returning to his body, his head clearing, and everything settling back to where it was supposed to be. He didn’t know what had just happened, but he didn’t care. It didn’t matter. No one would care, anyway.

He dug his nails into his palms to take his mind away from everything. He recalled to himself why he was so angry. He forced himself to remember why he was ignoring the rest of the team. He reminded himself that this was Kaisuki’s fault. She sympathized with a monster. Any sane person would hate her for caring about the person who murdered their family.

But what are you going to do when you have to work with them in a battle?

Sasuke couldn’t answer.

Next Chapter

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