the eye of the beholder

He didn’t have a clear recollection of how he’d gotten to the thirteenth training grounds, but he was glad that he’d gotten to it in one piece, without incident (probably), and that he hadn’t gone off in some unknown direction to do something he hadn’t meant to do. Blacking out wasn’t something he normally did, and neither was strolling through Konohagakure in such a thick mental fog that he couldn’t recall anything beyond waking up in excruciating pain.

Kakashi shifted both restlessly and uncomfortably where he sat, leaning against a tree. It was seven-thirty in the morning. He’d been sitting in more or less the same spot since around sunrise, which occurred around quarter after five. He had a terrible, terrible headache stemming from the sharp, searing pain that kept flaring in his left eye.

He pushed his hitai-ate up, uncovering the Sharingan that hid behind it, and slowly cracked the eye open. He still couldn’t see out of it at all. There was what almost seemed like a muddy splotch in the center of his left eye’s field of vision, and he couldn’t see through it. He didn’t know what had happened overnight, but his Sharingan seemed to have gone totally blind.

He had thought that perhaps he should pay Tsunade a visit and see if she could find out what was wrong with it, but he had recalled at the time that it was five in the morning and she probably wasn’t awake. Besides, Izumi would be arriving relatively soon, and she was a capable irou-nin as well. If there was anything irou-ninjutsu could do to fix the problem, she’d probably be able to handle it on her own.

He also hadn’t wanted to risk missing The Update. He didn’t know if repairing whatever was broken in his eye would take three hours or three minutes. He was far from an irou-nin. He could stop bleeding and close open arteries – as per ANBU training – but that was the extent of both his abilities and knowledge. For all he knew, the problem with his eye was irreversible. He still didn’t know why it was behaving oddly in the first place. Had he done anything different or dangerous lately?

Maybe jumping into that-…no, no, no… possible but-… quiet, quiet, hush, hush… getting the feeling that… don’t worry, don’t worry…

“Kakashi-kun?” He flinched as he was wrenched violently out of a very odd train of thought and looked up, blinking his one eye at Izumi, the other kept closed. He stared at her for a long moment. What was he doing, again? Why was he out… here? Where was this?

He blinked a few more times, glancing around. Training ground thirteen. Why was Izumi here? Had he called them all together? Why? They didn’t have any missions pending, he knew that much, so it couldn’t be a mission debriefing. Had he called them all together?

“Izumi will check on him in the morning, and then we’ll all meet a couple hours after that, and we’ll give you a status update regarding his condition then.”

Oh, right.

He closed his eyes pressing his thumb and forefinger against his eyelids. His head was really killing him. He felt like he’d just forgotten something that might’ve been important. He strained his mind to recall whatever it was that he ought to be recalling, but it was gone. That made it seem more important, which was fairly frustrating. He felt like he’d been in this exact scenario already. Perhaps more than once.

“Are you alright?” He heard Izumi crouch down beside him and lowered his hand so he could look at her. He kept his left eye shut. It was hurting worse that it had been a moment ago. His head was pounding worse, too. It was eight in the morning and he was already having a bad day. He ought to go back to bed.

He cleared his throat when he noticed it was a little to dry to produce sound, and replied, “Not really.” He told her. She nodded, watching him expectantly even as she scrutinized him. “My Sharingan seems to have gone blind, and both it and my head are killing me.”

Her green eyes widened in alarm. “Do you mind if I take a look?” She requested, and he slowly shook his head, not wanting to aggravate the throbbing in his skull anymore than he absolutely had to.

“Go for it.” He permitted, opening his eyes. It burned. He ignored it, despite the fact that it felt sort of like his eyes wanted to water. Izumi looked from one eyes to the other, her lips parting slightly as she moved to sit on her knees.

“Follow my finger,” she said, holding up her forefinger and moving it back and forth across his field of vision. He followed the movement, relatively certain that his left eye was moving the same way as his right. Aside from the pain, he couldn’t really feel it at all. After a few second of following her finger, Izumi dropped her hand. She reached out with her right hand and place her thumb on his cheekbone, just under his eye, and another pair of fingers on his temple.

There was a soft glow that almost penetrated the muddy darkness in his Sharingan. Izumi’s brow furrowed, her eyes flashing blue for just a moment before switching back to green. He waited patiently for her to divulge whatever it was she was picking up for only a few moments before she sat leaned back and frowned at him.

“There’s foreign, dark energy trying to burrow into your eye, Kakashi-kun,” she stated, and he blinked. Dark energy? Burrowing into his eye? “Khrai is theorizing that you may have picked it up from the lake. I… don’t know if I can get it out, but there’s something I can try that might work. It may hurt, though.”

“I have a decent threshold for pain,” he answered simply. “Give it your best.”

Izumi gave him a look that he didn’t know what to make of and reached out with her hand again, placing it exactly as it had been a moment ago. He could feel her chakra begin to seep out of her fingers. He couldn’t tell what she was doing. The irou-nin lifted her other hand next, daintily extending her middle finger and pointing it towards his eye. A look of concentration appeared on her face, and he felt a peculiar sensation stemming from the back of his eye.

It was only a weird feeling at first, as though there was a string attached to his eye and someone was tugging on it. But after a few seconds, it shifted into a sharp, blazing pain that shot through his skull and bounced around the inside of his head. He clenched his teeth, fighting to keep his eyes open as she did whatever it was she was doing. It seemed to be taking an awfully long time. He sort of wished she’d hurry it up.

Abruptly, his vision went completely black, and it didn’t take long for him to lose track of how many seconds or minute or hours the darkness lasted. He could faintly hear someone calling him, though he wasn’t entirely sure who it was, and there was a pressure on his shoulder that felt hundreds of miles away.

.

“Kakashi-kun! Kakashi-kun!” Blearily, Kakashi opened his eyes and lifted his head. What just happened? Did he black out? He looked up at Izumi. She looked very alarmed. Then, he noticed that he could see out of both eyes.

“What happened?” He asked tiredly, reaching up to massage his temples. His headache was certainly less intense, but it was still there. He’d probably have to nap that away later.

“You passed out,” Izumi replied, grabbing his chin and tilting his head up so she could get a better look at him. “Can you see now?”

“Yea,” he answered her question simply, offering a tired, reassuring smile. She returned the gesture, looking exasperated, and stood up. She offered him a hand and he gratefully took it and allowed her to help him drag himself to his feet. He felt a thousand times better already.

“You had me worried for a minute there.” She chided, “Are you sure you’re alright now?”

“I’m fine, thank you, Izumi.” He assured her, looking up when he spotted movement out of the corner of his eye. He tugged his hitai-ate back down as Sakura and Naruto approached. Sakura was talking to Naruto. The blond looked pale and out of it, but he was engaging her in conversation, which was a good sign in Kakashi’s eyes.

The two of them looked towards the duo standing under the tree in unison, Sakura offering a smile and a wave. Naruto imitated her, though he looked like his heart wasn’t in it. Kakashi would’ve thought that Sakura would be the one to handle Sasuke’s attempted suicide the worst, but somehow it seemed to have turned out that Naruto was the one taking it the hardest.

Then again, the five of them made up the only family Naruto had, excluding Iruka. To Sakura, they were just close friends. The difference between a friend and a family member was astronomical.

Naruto and Sakura stepped up to them, and Izumi smiled at the two of them, “How are you feeling, Naruto?” She asked, and the blond looked over at her and smiled tiredly.

“Haha, terrible. But that’s okay. I’ll be fine soon enough.” Naruto grinned, though the expression didn’t match the rest of his face like it usually did. “How is Sasuke?” He then asked, sounding nervous.

The irou-nin blinked, but then smiled warmly at him, “He’s still alive. He was a bit distressed this morning, but he’s alright now. He had a fever, so I gave him something to help with that, as well as something to help him sleep, and sent him back to bed.” She told them, and Naruto let out an audible sigh of relief. Had he thought his brother-in-arms was going to die overnight? “I’m going to visit him again in the late afternoon and see how he’s doing. He’ll probably be mad at me, but he’ll get over it.”

“Why would he be mad?” Sakura wanted to know. She looked a little confused. Kakashi had a feeling he knew exactly why Sasuke would be angry.

“He’s very contradictory.” She mused, smiling sadly, “he wants to be cared about, but he doesn’t think anyone cares, and if you try to offer him help, he gets angry because he doesn’t think it’s sincere. He won’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt, and he projects his own opinion of himself onto everyone around him, so he genuinely believes that no one would mind if he died because he’s worthless.”

Sakura gasped, looking horrified. “Why would he think that?! I never thought Sasuke-kun had such low self-esteem! It’s worse than mine was when I was little,” she looked at the ground, depressed. “Have we still not proven ourselves to him?”

“I think this episode with his attempted suicide has shaken that belief, because we came for him and we resuscitated him.” Izumi told her, expression both serious and depressed. “He didn’t expect that at all, especially because the last thing he did before that was break Naruto-kun’s nose. That incident might’ve been what sparked his suicidal thoughts.”

“About that,” Kakashi cut into the conversation, which he had mostly been standing outside of. He didn’t really like talking about Sasuke like this, but at this point, they didn’t have too much of a choice. The kid would probably be utterly furious if he could hear what they were saying about him. “Do you have any reason to think he’s going to try to kill himself again?”

Naruto inhaled sharply, as though the thought hadn’t occurred to him. All at once, the blond, Sakura, and Kakashi were all staring at Izumi, waiting for her verdict. The irou-nin didn’t reply at first, seemingly deep in thought. She frowned, looking somber. “I don’t. Sasuke has a great deal of issues, but since this incident, I think he’s realized he doesn’t really want to die. Your survival instinct is always stronger when you’re young.” She paused, sighing heavily and brushing her hair aside. “I don’t think he’s going to try this again. He was terrified that Kakashi-kun was going to refer him to a psychiatric ward. It took me a little while to convince him that he wasn’t, and I don’t think he really believes me at all.”

Kakashi dropped his gaze to the ground a few feet ahead of him. He’d been right to imagine that sending Sasuke to a psych ward would prove to be detrimental. He just hoped that Izumi would be able to offer him whatever it was that he needed, and that his team would be able to support him along the way. He hoped that the kid would let them.

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Naruto asked, sounding a little distraught. “Should I stop fighting with him all the time?”

Izumi shook her head, “No, definitely not. Familiarity will be more grounding for him. Don’t start walking on eggshells, or doing anything you don’t normally do. If you want to ask him how he’s doing, that’s fine, but don’t pry and don’t offer moral support when it’s not relevant to the immediate topic.” she explained. Kakashi was beginning to wonder if she was actually a child psychologist.

“Sasuke isn’t going to believe you when you tell him you’re not mad at him about Naruto’s nose. You’ll have to convince him with your actions, not your words.” The irou-nin said, “Don’t try too hard. Just be yourselves, and don’t let this incident weigh so heavily on your minds that you can’t think about him beyond it.”

Naruto nodded in understanding. He’d been following along very carefully. “Okay. Act normal. Avoid accidentally saying ‘I hate you.’ Sounds good.”

Sakura, on the other hand, seemed a bit distressed. “So, what are we doing about… I mean, are we telling Tsunade-sama? Are you going to suggest that he start seeing a counselor?” Kakashi glanced at Izumi to see how she responded. He knew that she was already basically Sasuke’s counselor, but that was supposed to be confidential outside of himself, the Hokage, Iruka, and Izumi.

“He’s already seeing someone, Sakura,” Izumi stated, and Sakura looked surprised. Kakashi supposed that was a good way to answer that question. “I asked about it, so you don’t need to worry about that. He’s being taken care of. Let his business be his business.”

She nodded, pouting a little. “Okay,” she replied quietly.

“As for telling Tsunade about his attempted suicide,” Kakashi spoke up, sighing heavily and rubbing the back of his head. “That’s my responsibility, so I’ll be handling it. Don’t worry, I don’t want him sent away either. That wouldn’t help at all.”

“It’d probably make things a million times worse,” Naruto muttered.

“Exactly,” the jounin agreed. “So if she brings it up, I’m going to fight with her about it.”

Suddenly, Izumi gasped quietly, attracting Kakashi, Sakura, and Naruto’s attention. He looked over at her, and she was staring out into the middle distance with wide, glassy eyes. After a few seconds, she blinked a couple of times, suddenly looking a little distressed.

“What is it?” Sakura asked curiously, looking out in the direction Izumi had been staring. “What’s wrong?”

“No, it’s… nothing’s wrong, I just…” she trailed off momentarily, eyes darting around searchingly. There was a pause before she continued, defeated. “I heard Kaisuki for a moment.”

Naruto’s eyes widened hugely, “You heard her? Is she gone again?” He interrogated hopefully. Izumi looked up at him and swallowed.

“I think she is, yes. But I felt her clearer than I have in days, and I could hear her.” The irou-nin said. “Khrai thinks she has a lead. I just…” She trailed into silence.

“What’s wrong, Izumi?” Kakashi questioned, and she didn’t reply right away. He waited patiently. She looked anxious about something.

Finally, she looked up at him, a little paler than usual. “She sounded… younger. A lot younger. Like a child, really.” She swallowed again. “I… am wondering if she’s stuck in a loop from a memory.”

“Could you make out what she said?” Naruto asked.

Izumi hummed thoughtfully. “She was talking to someone. Maybe arguing.” The woman’s lips parted, her brow furrowed. “I wonder if she was talking to Saeka?”

“Maybe,” Sakura said, sounding a little confused. “Maybe Saeka went looking for her and that’s why you haven’t seen either of them.”

The irou-nin nodded, “Perhaps. I think… I would like to return to Kaisuki’s apartment and lay down so I might help Khrai look have a look around.” She told them, turning slightly towards the direction she would be walking. “I’ll see you around, I’m sure.”

“Later, Izumi,” Naruto replied, smiling. “Thanks for the update. You made me feel loads better. I think I’ll be able to sleep tonight.”

Sakura nodded, “Yea, thank you so much for looking after Sasuke-kun.”

Izumi smiled, “It’s no problem. I care about him as well.”

“Still,” Kakashi agreed. “Even if you would do it anyway, I really appreciate all you’ve done for him, and for the rest of the team.”

“Of course, Kakashi-kun,” the irou-nin’s smile widened a bit, and she turned away and started walking back towards the streets of Konohagakure.

“Well, I’d better go see Tsunade-sama,” Kakashi said, letting out a heavy sigh. “Wish me luck.”

“Good luck, sensei!” Naruto hollered, and he couldn’t help but smile a little. Sure, three-fourths of his team was nearly irreparably damaged, one of whom was actually a danger to himself, but they seemed to be doing an excellent job making it work.

He wasn’t going to let Tsunade send Sasuke to a psych ward. It just wasn’t happening. There were a thousand different reasons why that kind of treatment wouldn’t help, but rather make the situation worse. He didn’t want to alienate the kid by labeling him insane and shipping him elsewhere so he could be someone else’s problem. Sasuke needed stability more than anything else. He already didn’t trust pretty much anyone, so for them to do something that extreme… he’d never extend any measure of trust to anyone again.

He stopped in front of the door to the Hokage’s main office twenty minutes later, bracing himself for the storm that was sure to come. He didn’t know how she was going to react at all. He’d only met her yesterday. There was just no way he was going to be able to judge what she might do depending on how he worded things.

Well, he thought with a sigh. Not like it’s the first time you’ve hade to bullshit your way out of something.

He rapped on the door, before grabbing the knob and opening it when he heard her call, “Come in.”

She was reading a file very carefully. Upon closer inspection, Kakashi realized it was the file that Izumi had been keeping on Sasuke’s condition. The blonde woman stared at him for a moment, eyes narrowed, before returning her gaze to the papers she was reading.

“Yes?” She asked.

“I need to talk to you,” he stated bluntly.

She set the file down and dug her knuckles into her closed eyes, rubbing them vigorously. “I’m a little busy.”

“I know.” He acquiesced, “I apologize, but this is important.”

“Get on with it, Kakashi.” The woman said impatiently, “What is this about?”

“It’s about Uchiha Sasuke. We had an… incident yesterday.”

The word ‘anxious’ didn’t really do it justice.

‘Terrified’ was much more accurate.

Izumi was running several minutes late. Sasuke had no idea why, but his mind was providing a colorful array of as many worst case scenarios as it could think of. Maybe she had completely forgotten. Maybe she was talking to the Hokage about him. Maybe they were discussing which psych ward they were going to send him to. Was he going to be sent to a psych ward? He had tried to… to kill himself. That was an undeniable fact. In reality, it made sense for them to send him away.

That knowledge didn’t make him feel any better. If anything, it made him feel a thousand times worse. If it made sense for them to send him away, that meant they were probably going to do just that, right? What other options were there for people who attempted to drown themselves?

He picked at his nails, looking up at the closed door every time he heard a pair of footsteps walking down the hall outside it. His hands wouldn’t stop shaking and he was having some difficulty remembering to breathe. He had torn his wrists up again. The first night after he’d… after he’d awoken from his coma, he’d managed to get through the night without having any nightmares. Needless to say, the following two nights had not been as pleasant. The remedy Izumi had given him seemed to have stopped working, for reasons unknown.

Was she going to refer him to “a specialist?” He didn’t want to start talking to anyone else. Talking to Izumi had been hard enough, and he’d just started to get used to telling her things he’d been holding in for four years. She had told him that Kakashi-sensei was going to advocate for him to prevent him from being shipped off somewhere, but he wasn’t sure he believed her. Kakashi-sensei and the Sandaime Hokage had been the ones to force him to start seeing Izumi. Why wouldn’t they take the next step and force him into a psych ward? Obviously what he wanted wasn’t what anyone considered to be his “best interests,” so his opinion on the matter wasn’t being counted. If it was, someone would surely have asked him for it by now.

Silence.

It was so quiet. He didn’t understand why. That snide peanut gallery that normally commented on pretty much everything he thought about had been absent since he’d tried to… since… since he’d…

Normally, you’d say something about that. Something berating, I’m sure.

No response.

It’d been utterly silent on the inside since he’d… since he’d tried to drown himself. He distinctly recalled hearing it while he’d been underwater, but since he’d been resuscitated, it hadn’t said a word. He didn’t like the deafening silence. He’d been amazingly lonely without it. He hadn’t seen his team since then, either. Kakashi-sensei hadn’t called them together for anything, though he had been told by Izumi that the team had met to get an update on his condition the morning after… that very exciting Tuesday.

He felt like he’d been cut off from them, and it was agonizing. He’d broken Naruto’s nose, though, so it was his own fault that it’d ended up like it had. Sakura was probably going to end up being afraid of him at the rate he was going, and Naruto surely hated him. Kakashi-sensei might want him off the team.

He didn’t want to be thrown off Team 7. It was the only family he had, anymore.

Sasuke flinched when he heard the click of the doorknob being turned, and looked up in time to see the door swing open. Izumi stepped into the room, looking only slightly sour as she took in what looked like a stabilizing breath before looking up and into the room. Her gaze fell on Sasuke, before darting over to the clock on the wall.

“Oh my,” she spoke, her tone apologetic as she returned her gaze to him and walked further into the room. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t intend to be this late, I assure you.”

He barely heard what she said, his gaze having fallen on the woman who had followed her into the room. His heart leaped clear into his throat, which then decided to constrict until he could hardly inhale. His eyes were wide as they darted from Izumi’s face to the blonde flanking her, confusion and fear wearing at him.

She had come in with the Hokage.

Why? Why had she brought the Hokage in with her? Were they really planning on sending him away? Was this just a courtesy before some orderlies came along and dragged him, kicking and screaming, to some psych ward to be locked up for the rest of forever? He could only barely feel his blunt nails beginning to dig into his palms as his fists clenched impossibly tight in his lap.

He felt sick, and a little lightheaded.

The two of them crossed the room towards him, Izumi taking her usual seat, the Hokage – Tsunade-sama – sitting down on another couch across the coffee table from him. He found himself shrinking back, his shoulders rising and his head lowering a bit.

“Sasuke, are you alright?” Izumi asked, and he couldn’t bring himself to look up at her. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words would come out, so he closed it again. He took in a sharp breath when he realized that he had actually stopped breathing again. “Sasuke?”

“W-…” His voice immediately died in his throat. It took him a moment to figure out how to work his vocal cords, but he eventually managed, “Why… is the Hokage here?”

His voice came out much quieter than he’d been intending. It could barely have been considered a mumble. He could feel the two of them staring at him, probably each doing their irou-nin scrutiny. He wanted to disappear. He hated people staring at him, and he especially hated it when they were doing so out of concern.

“Oh, is that it?” Izumi sounded only slightly exasperated. “Tsunade-san is here to meet you, Sasuke. She’d been over your file a dozen times, and she spoke to me just now about you. I suggested that she come and meet you herself so she can understand what’s going on with you a bit better.”

He wasn’t sure he believed that. “I don’t…” want her in here.

“Sasuke,” Tsunade-sama herself spoke this time. She sounded very much like a no-nonsense kind of person. “You tried to drown yourself a couple of days ago,” he had to resist the urge to wince. “And since you’re an orphan, you’re legally my responsibility. I don’t want to do anything extreme, but I need to know all the details before I start making decisions.”

“Start making decisions.”

Obviously, she meant that she figured she ought to know whose fate she was sealing when she made the call to lock him up. That was what they did with suicidal people, after all. And it didn’t matter if he told them that he didn’t actually want to die. His attempt on his own life couldn’t be ignored.

He squeezed his eyes shut and spent a moment concentrating specifically on breathing, because he was beginning to feel light-headed again. Forgetting to breathe probably wasn’t good for his first impression. This whole situation wasn’t good for his first impression.

“She’s not going to send you to a psych ward.” Izumi said firmly. He wanted to look up at her, but he couldn’t make himself do it. “I personally won’t allow it, because I know that it will very quickly prove to be counter-productive.” She paused, before letting out a frustrated breath and commanding, “Sasuke, lift your head and look at me.”

Excruciatingly slowly, and with extreme care to not look towards Tsunade-sama, Sasuke lifted his head and met Izumi’s gaze. It was difficult to hold. He didn’t like making eye contact. Itachi had managed to train him out of that in a grand total of maybe five minutes, spread out over two separate occasions.

Izumi scrutinized him for a few seconds before her gaze softened. “You still don’t believe me, do you?” And just like that, his gaze dropped to the corner of the coffee table that came between the two of them. She sighed softly, and he let his gaze dart up to meet hers for another split second before it returned to the corner of the table. “You’re not going to believe me, or anyone else, until she actually tells you with certainty that you’re not going anywhere, right?”

He didn’t respond. “Well, alright then.” The older of the two irou-nin conceded. “We’ll just have to resume business as usual, so that Tsunade-san can tell you herself that you’re not going anywhere. I’m sure you’re not going to believe me before that, after all.”

It wasn’t like he didn’t… trust Izumi. He trusted her a lot compared to everyone else in his life. But it wasn’t like it’d be the first time he trusted someone and they wound up abandoning him and otherwise betraying that trust. He wanted to believe that Tsunade-sama wasn’t going to send him away, like the brunette had said. He wanted to believe that Kakashi-sensei really would advocate for him to not be carted off to a psych ward. He wanted to believe that his team didn’t either hate or fear him.

The list went on, but he couldn’t bring himself to trust any of them. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to give another person that level of trust. He wanted to, but he just couldn’t. Whether it was a matter of fearing that he would be betrayed, or it was because he would or wouldn’t think a certain way if he was in that person’s shoes.

He knew that his distrust pushed people away, even when he didn’t want those people to leave him.

I don’t want anyone to leave me.

Continued silence.

“Tsunade-san,” Izumi’s voice dragged him out of his thoughts and he chanced a glance at the other inhabitants of the room. Tsunade-sama was slowly turning her attention away from him and towards Izumi. The deceased woman wasn’t smiling like she usually did. She looked fairly serious, and Sasuke was actually getting the sense that she wasn’t happy about the current situation. “You had a number of questions you wanted to ask him, yes?”

The Hokage nodded, letting out a sigh as she looked back to Sasuke. He immediately diverted his attention back to the coffee table. He wanted to close himself in the closet-room he knew was behind him, hide in a corner, and maybe sink into the wall and disappear. “Izumi tells me you have a lot of trouble sleeping.”

He knew he was expected to respond, and he could tell that, unlike Kakashi-sensei and Iruka-sensei (and even the late Sandaime Hokage, actually), Tsunade-sama wasn’t going to put up with him ignoring her. So, he nodded jerkily, occasionally allowing his gaze to dart up to her face before falling back to the table.

“How are your eating habits?” He froze, looking up briefly. Those two questions hadn’t seemed related at all, and he was still against the idea of telling people about his terrible eating habits. It wasn’t like they’d been getting any better since the incident in the Forest of Death, either. If anything, they’d gotten worse. He’d already been skipping breakfast daily, but now he was starting to skip dinner more frequently as well. He was down to one meal a day most of the time.

He was pretty sure he’d lost about ten pounds in the past month and a half.

Sasuke chanced another brief glance at Tsunade. She was still watching him, though her gaze had become scrutinizing again. He swallowed. “Not… great.” He finally muttered, staring at the table intensely.

“What does that translate into?” Izumi wanted to know, “How many meals are you eating on average per day?”

Sasuke brought one of his feet up onto the couch and hugged his knee to his chest. He was still trying to persuade himself to give Izumi – at the very least – the benefit of the doubt, but it was hard. He didn’t know what Tsunade-sama was going to ask him, and if she started questioning him about things that raised a lot of red flags, that was just going to be several more reasons for him to be sent away.

She’s probably looking for any excuse she can find to get rid of me.

His eyes were stinging and he blinked several times to fight back the storm of misery threatening to choke him. He looked up at Izumi briefly. It looked like she was eying the way he was sitting. He had no idea why, so he watched her for a few seconds before she lifted her gaze to meet his. Her green eyes looked saddened again. That was probably his fault.

“Um…” He couldn’t find the right words. It wasn’t even like he was about to lie. “Just… lunch.”

Izumi’s brow furrowed, and she frowned. “Is this a recent development, or has it always been like this?”

He turned his attention to his knee. “Since the… Forest of Death. I used to… I used to eat dinner, too.”

“But you’ve always skipped breakfast?” The Hokage questioned. He nodded slowly.

Izumi hummed, and he could see Tsunade-sama look over at her in his peripheral. “You’re nauseous in the morning, aren’t you? From the nightmares?” The brunette clarified.

Sasuke nodded again, bringing his hand to his mouth and starting to chew on his nails and cuticles. It didn’t help. If anything, it fueled his anxiety, but he didn’t want to stop. His hands still felt shaky, and his stomach was doing somersaults.

“You’ve been taking something for the nightmares, right?” Tsunade-sama wanted to know, and he nodded once again. “How has that been working for you?”

He didn’t respond immediately. He was sure Izumi would’ve asked him the exact same question if this had been one their regular sessions, especially given his recently reinforced trauma. “It… stopped working.” He mumbled. “The… the night before last, it stopped working.”

“I expected that would happen, after you saw Itachi again,” Izumi spoke with a nod. Sasuke looked over at her, and she smiled reassuringly at him. “I’ve already prepared something for you. Don’t worry, we’ll get this under wraps. How are your arms?”

“They’re a mess.” Was his quiet reply. There was a brief pause. When he looked up, Izumi and Tsunade-sama were exchanging a rather loaded look. He had a feeling he knew exactly what the next thing either of them was going to say was.

“What have you been prescribing him, exactly?” Tsunade asked. Apparently, he’d been wrong. “It doesn’t specify in the file.”

Izumi chuckled, “I didn’t write it down because you wouldn’t recognize four of the five ingredients, as they don’t grow here in the Shinobi Nations. One part ioleaf and kailiac buds to four parts ailedil root and three parts blue eagrane.” She recited the odd names with ease. They didn’t sound anything like any language Sasuke had ever heard of in his entire life. “They’re native only to Tsuki no Kuni. The climate here just doesn’t support them.”

Tsunade-sama stared at her for a long, long moment. She was probably debating whether or not she believed that. “How did you get a hold of them, then?”

“I grew them myself.” Izumi stated as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Anyway, Tsunade-san, we can discuss herbology and medicine later. Was there anything else you needed to ask Sasuke?”

He wished that they could’ve forgotten that he was sitting there and simply continued on with their discussion on plant life. Apparently making himself look particularly small wasn’t enough to make him at all inconspicuous. He stared at his knee intently, still chewing on his thumb.

“I need a genuine, truthful answer from you on this, Sasuke,” Tsunade-sama stipulated gravely. “I would hope that you’ve been honest all along, but this is particularly important.” He glanced up at her. He didn’t at all like the look in her eyes, so he turned his gaze to the coffee table instead and lowered his head somewhat.

“I need you to explain to me why you tried to drown yourself in that lake.” He froze at her question, eyes wide. He didn’t dare look up at that point. His heart had skipped several beats and now it was hammering away in his throat.

No, I can’t tell you that. Please don’t make me tell you that.

He couldn’t possibly explain to her – to anyone – that he didn’t always have complete control over himself, and how he got a sick rush out of killing and the feeling of blood on his hands. He couldn’t tell her that he absolutely hated himself and knew better than anyone else that he was worthless.

He couldn’t recount to her the number of times Iruka-sensei had been forced to come between him and a student because he’d broken bones or left gashes or sprained wrists and ankles and then found himself unable to stop. He didn’t want to admit that he’d been like this for as long as he could remember, since before Itachi’s betrayal.

He couldn’t explain how he felt that now he’d crossed the line into lashing out at his teammates with violence, there was no telling whether or not he’d try to kill one of them some day. He couldn’t tell her that he had already seriously considered killing Naruto, Sakura, and Kaisuki on multiple occasions. It wasn’t like it was the run-of-the-mill irritation and entertaining the thought of shoving kunai down their throats. He had plotted exactly how he would kill them, before. He had.

He couldn’t say for sure that he would never do it, and he couldn’t tell Tsunade-sama that.

Sasuke curled into himself tighter, feeling his shoulders beginning to shake. What was he supposed to say? What could he say? He didn’t want her to have him locked up, but if he admitted to being essentially insane, she wouldn’t have much of a choice. She was the Hokage. It was her job to protect the village and it’s people, and if there was a risk of him turning out like Itachi, what choice did she have?

“Sasuke?” Tsunade-sama’s voice cut into his thoughts and he abruptly clamped his hands over his ears before insistently shaking his head in denial. He felt sick. His lungs decided at that moment to force him to inhale (something he apparently hadn’t been doing), which resulted in a strangled sort of wheeze that hurt his throat.

Sasuke felt a hand on his shoulder and he jerked away from the contact, realizing a little belatedly that he was still shaking his head. He drew his other knee up to his chest, beginning to sway back and forth. It was only slightly comforting. Whoever had attempted to touch him walked in front of him and crouched down so he could see her face. It was Izumi, and he drew back from her, continuously shaking his head.

I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t…

He could feel his mouth moving but he couldn’t hear himself speaking through his hands and over the pounding of his heart. Izumi was staring at him, looking very alarmed, before she suddenly turned away from him to face Tsunade-sama, who had stood up at some point. The two of them exchanged a few words before he heard Izumi snarl actually very loudly at the Hokage – “He trusts me and not you, so get out!

There was only a few seconds worth of a pause before Tsunade-sama nodded curtly, looking both angry and upset, and walked out of Sasuke’s field of vision. He coughed harshly, wheezing several times before he resumed saying whatever it was he was saying. Izumi had turned back to face him, her hands gripping his wrists and yanking them away from his head.

Now, he could hear himself. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…”

“Sasuke, Sasuke, shh,” Izumi was speaking over him, which wasn’t very hard because his voice was barely above a whisper. “It’s okay, it’s okay, you don’t have to do anything. Just breathe, alright? Listen to what I’m saying and breathe.”

He managed to shut himself up, but he couldn’t stop rocking, nor could he bring himself to get his feet off the couch. Izumi let go of his hands and he immediately wrapped them around his legs and buried his face into his knees. He felt the cushions depress beside him as Izumi sat down next to him, placing a comforting hand on his back.

“Breathe, Sasuke,” she reiterated. How could she possibly be so calm? He’d just had a panic attack and now Tsunade-sama was surely going to refer him out to a mental hospital so he could suffer through intensive therapy for the rest of his life and he’d probably never step foot outside again they were going to lock him up they were going to lock him up and throw away the key and…

“Sasuke,” Izumi spoke again, her voice a little firmer. “You need to focus on your breathing before you pass out. Trust me, I’m a doctor.”

He nodded at first, but then he started shaking his head again. “Sh-sh-she’s… she’s g-gonna… s-send m-me…”

Izumi cut him off before he could finish his sentence. “Enough,” she commanded. “Sasuke, if you can’t get yourself under control, I’m going to have to put you to sleep. Do you understand?”

He wasn’t sure if that was a threat or another option she was offering, so he simply nodded again, taking in a shuddering breath. He noticed that he was still rocking, so he made a point to stop. It was surprisingly hard, but he managed it. Giving himself control over that – even something as little as that – made him feel a little better. Sure, the rest of his life might not be up to him at all, but at least he could control his movement.

“That’s better,” Izumi encouraged gently, her arm wrapping around his shoulder. He purposefully closed his mouth so he could force himself to breathe through his nose. It helped him to get a better handle on his breathing, and he spent the next several minutes remastering the art of inhaling and exhaling correctly.

He reached up a hand and rubbed at his eyes. His throat was aching and his head was starting to throb. “I’m tired,” he mumbled softly. Izumi pulled him over, rubbing his shoulder for a moment before letting go of him.

“You just had a major panic attack,” she replied. “If you weren’t thoroughly exhausted, I’d be surprised.” He nodded silently. He wanted to go home and sleep. “Stay here a moment, alright? I need to go speak to Tsunade-san for a moment. I’ll be right back, and then I’ll give you your medicine so you can go home.”

He looked over at her, still anxious. “I doubt she’s gone far, Sasuke. Give me just a minute, okay?”

Sasuke could find anything to say to that, so he simply nodded. She smiled at him before standing up, smoothing her dress and leaving the room. Almost immediately, he could hear the quiet sound of the two women talking right outside the door. He couldn’t make out what they were saying. Izumi had said that she wouldn’t let Tsunade-san send him away, but what could she do if the Hokage decided to?

No, he told himself forcibly. Don’t even start. Just… shut up and wait.

So he did. He sat and chewed on his nails and stopped every attempt his mind made to catastrophize the potential outcome. The two irou-nin stood outside the door and talked for long enough that he was beginning to think that Izumi was busy persuading Tsunade-sama to change her mind. He wrapped his arms around his knees again and rested his chin on them, eying the potted plant in the corner across the room. It was very hard not to think about what might be going on.

After ten minutes of interchangeably staring at the potted plant and the clock, the doorknob slowly turned, Izumi stepping partway into the room as she continued to talk to Tsunade, who evidently wasn’t going to be coming back in. He heard a light chuckle from the brunette before she turned around and walked the rest of the way in, the door swinging shut behind her. He immediately noticed the sheet of paper she was holding in one hand as she walked over to him.

“Sorry that took so long,” she apologized, smiling at him warmly. “I needed to explain to her why you had that panic attack. She was quite concerned.”

He swallowed, nodding. “What… did she say?”

Izumi’s gaze softened, and she leaned over to hand him the piece of paper she’d been holding, and he reached out and took it from her, moderately confused. “I’m going to go grab your medicine while you’re reading,” she informed him as she was standing back up. He watched her until she had walked past him, before turning his attention to what he was assuming was a note as he turned it over so he could see what had been written.

Sasuke,

I’m sorry for triggering that panic attack. I know how awful those can be. I hope you’re feeling a bit better by the time you’re reading this.

I have decided that I am not going to be sending you to a psychiatric unit. As Izumi said, and from what I’ve now seen, it would only make things that much worse. In exchange, I expect you to keep working with Izumi until you both agree that you’re “all better.”

Team 7 is going to be debriefed tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll see you then. Make sure you get a nap in when you get home.

Tsunade

He stared at the note for a long, long time, unsure of what, if anything, he ought to say. His feet slowly slid off the couch, returning him to a slightly more age-appropriate position. His fatigue was suddenly a thousand times stronger, as if a a huge weight had been lifted and he could finally relax. He raised his gaze as Izumi returned, sitting down where she’d been moments ago. She looked up at him once she had finished screwing the top on the wooden flask in her hands, and smiled knowingly.

“Feel a bit better?” The irou-nin asked. He couldn’t find his words, so he just nodded. She chuckled lightly, handing him the flask.

“Same drill – a tablespoon of this into a cup of green tea before bed. It’s not the same concoction,” Izumi explained. “It’s much more potent, but it should have the same effect. If it doesn’t, tell Tsunade-san immediately.”

“Okay,” finally, his throat had decided to start working again. “Thank you, Izumi.”

Her smile broadened, “Your welcome, Sasuke. You can go now. I want to see you a week from tomorrow, alright? We didn’t get to have our usual session this time, after all.”

Sasuke nodded, managing a tired smile, and left. He was definitely ready for that nap.

Next Chapter

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One Response to the eye of the beholder

  1. Pingback: August 3, 2015 | My Rendition of You

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