a new doctor

Itachi was in the shower for only half an hour before Kisame heard him starting to cough, but he didn’t hear the shorter man collapse, so Kisame figured he was probably fine.

He had been sitting in the chair that Itachi had vacated, brooding about Kaisuki. Izumi had said that she could help Itachi, that she could reverse the damage and stop the progression of the disease completely. She had given that disease a name that no one else had and administered a temporary solution to Itachi’s blood-filled lungs that Kisame had never so much as thought of.

And that stubborn Uchiha was flatly refusing to accept further treatment. He probably wouldn’t have let that green-eyed spirit so much as drain his lungs if he had had a say in the matter, and it was likely because Itachi apparently knew Kaisuki from before the massacre. Kisame couldn’t have fathomed why that was an important detail, though. Even if Kaisuki’s true goal was to kill Itachi, the chances of her succeeding were close to zero, even if she was a Yurei. Despite how sick he was, the Uchiha was extremely hard to kill.

She didn’t seem at all interested in killing Itachi, though. The only part of her that had seemed like a potential threat was the blue-eyed one – Kurai, if he was remembering correctly – and she (he was assuming that one was a she, mainly because the other two were girls) had very obviously been reacting with a bad temper, not pre-meditated killer intent.

He glanced at the clock. Itachi had been in the shower for about an hour, and judging by the look on his face when he’d gone into the bathroom, Kisame could figure that he’d probably be in there for another hour. He stood up and crossed the room to the table by the door, picking up the slip of paper Kaisuki had left. The hotel was only about a block away, maybe less.

He set the piece of paper back down exactly as it had been left, grabbed one of the black cloaks they used when Itachi was too drained to use genjutsu to hide them, and exited their hotel room. He threw the cloak over his shoulders and pulled up the hood, thanking his lucky stars that the hotel staff didn’t care who came and went, nor did it matter to them how sketchy the patrons looked on their way in and out.

He knew Itachi wouldn’t care that he had gone out. He might be a little suspicious, but Kisame didn’t especially care. If he could work out something satisfactory with Kaisuki, he would spend the evening convincing the younger man to not kill her on sight. If he had to, he would just tell Itachi that Izumi was now his doctor whether he liked it or not, and if he was going to be uncooperative, he was going to get knocked unconscious for every part of his treatment.

On the other hand, if he couldn’t work something out with Kaisuki, that would be the end of it. Kisame didn’t particularly like the idea of watching his partner die slowly and in excruciating pain, but he knew Itachi would never forgive him if Kaisuki became a problem and jeopardized their safety or their missions. He didn’t think that she would (at least, not purposefully), though the fact that she wasn’t a missing-nin and therefore didn’t know how that worked was unfavorable.

He was going to try and figure something out that would keep her away from that aspect of their lives altogether, though.

He walked into the hotel Kaisuki was staying at, making a beeline for the stairs. It was a rather dinky little place. Then again, Itachi and Kisame’s hotel wasn’t much better. He didn’t think there were even any other hotels in the whole town.

She was on the fourth floor – room 420 – and Kisame couldn’t help recalling to himself that Itachi hadn’t been able to make it all the way up two flights of stairs before he had to stop. He walked up to the door to Kaisuki’s room, raising his hand to knock when the door was abruptly pulled open. He stared at her for a moment – a sensory type? That could actually prove equally useful.

“Hi there,” she greeted, stepping aside immediately to let him into the room. He walked past her, listening to her close and lock the door behind him. “You can make yourself comfortable. Not many places to sit in here, but I’ve been in worse places.”

“I hear you on that one,” he replied, taking a seat on the armchair by the window. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as she sat down on the edge of the bed.

“How’s Itachi doing?” She asked right away, “Izumi wants to know.”

Kisame frowned. “He had another fit about half an hour after you left.” He conceded, “He was in the shower, though, and I didn’t hear him collapse so he’s probably fine.”

Kaisuki’s brow furrowed, her eyes switching to green and her expression alarmed. “That soon?” The Akatsuki member nodded silently. “He’s been sick for a long time, hasn’t he?”

“At least four years,” he answered. “Probably longer. He has a habit of not telling me when he doesn’t feel well, which results in either me never knowing he was sick in the first place, or him collapsing in the middle of battle.”

Izumi nodded, frowning deeply. “At his current rate, he probably won’t last the rest of the year if he doesn’t get properly treated.”

Kisame blinked, and he wondered faintly if his blue skin had lost color. The irou-nin was looking at him with sympathy in her eyes, so probably. “There’s only eight more months in this year.” He deadpanned.

“I know,” Izumi replied, “He might not last six. His lung tissue has degenerated a lot, even more than I realized.”

“I want you to be his doctor,” he stated bluntly. “He’s going to have a problem with it, but I can strong-arm him if I have to.”

Izumi pursed her lips. “If I’m going to be treating him, I’m going to need to see him at least biweekly. The doses will have to be adjusted very frequently, and that’s not even getting into how often I’m going to have to drain his lungs for the first several months. I’d be much happier if I could see him once a week.”

Kisame stared at her for probably an excessively long time. There was no way Itachi was going to be able to double back to a certain location every other week. He probably wouldn’t be able to do that once a month. They were far too nomadic; their missions took them all over the Shinobi Nations, and just getting to those places could take them days, sometimes a week or more depending on how far away their starting point was.

“I have an idea.”

Kisame hadn’t even noticed that Kaisuki was back in charge of her body. He blinked, refocusing his attention on her. “And what would that be?”

Kaisuki frowned slightly, “You’re probably not going to like it. Itachi will probably like it even less. But Izumi needs to be seeing him really often, and you guys are super nomadic. I know, I’ve been inadvertently tailing you for a couple of years now.” She sighed heavily. “We could travel with you.”

Kisame was about to start telling her all of the reasons why that was a bad idea, but she cut him off, “Wait, let me finish. Obviously it wouldn’t be smart of you to drag me along on missions with you, so, instead of me always traveling with you, I could just come along when you were between missions.” She explained. “I’ll already probably be pretty close by when I’m not with you, since I’ll be tailing Teara, so you could just send me a letter with Itachi’s crow to let me when the coast is clear.”

“And what exactly would you do if we were attacked by a league of bounty hunters? That happens pretty often,” Kisame asked skeptically.

“There won’t be any attacks by bounty hunters so long as I’m with you,” Kaisuki replied, smiling slightly. “Saeka is a sensory-type. She can pick up on normal chakra signatures within a mile radius, and she can pick up really strong ones, like yours and Naruto’s, within… actually, we don’t have a number for that yet, since we haven’t really had the opportunity to test it out, but it’s a really far distance. So yea, we could easily elude them.”

Kisame furrowed his brow. It seemed as though she’d actually put a good amount of thought into it. “And what will you do if word gets around that you’re traveling with a pair of S-rank missing-nin? Your team… no, your whole village will probably have something to say about that.”

He could instantly tell that she hadn’t considered that simply by the look that crossed her face, and he almost regretted mentioning it. If he’d just let her go through with it without questioning her, he’d have snagged a doctor that could treat Itachi. However, Kaisuki wasn’t a missing-nin. She wore her hitai-ate on a glove that reached her elbow, and it didn’t have a huge scratch down the middle. If she agreed to help Itachi (and Kisame, inadvertently), she would be betraying her village. She could end up in a BINGO book for that.

Kisame was an S-rank missing-nin, but that was by his own choice. He wouldn’t force or wish his lifestyle on anyone.

“Sasuke,” Kaisuki said quietly, expression downcast. “Outright betrayed the village. He has no intention of ever returning, and he left so he could go train under Orochimaru, who killed the Sandaime Hokage. He’s not in the BINGO book because Naruto persuaded Tsunade-sama – the Godaime Hokage – to keep him out of it. I think I’ll take my chances.”

Kisame blinked, unable to hide his surprise. “Why are you so hellbent on helping Itachi-san out? What’s your angle?”

“I don’t have an angle.” Kaisuki replied after a few seconds of staring at him almost incredulously. “I came to warn him about Teara because I care about him. I want to get him healthy because I don’t want him to die. I haven’t forgiven him for what he did and what he’s done, but… I can’t stay mad at him. I can’t stay mad at anyone. I never hated him in the first place. I was just… really fucking pissed at him for being a lying fuckhead.”

The Akatsuki member was caught somewhere between complete disbelief and mild astonishment. He was trained to be able to pick up on liars. He wasn’t nearly as good at it as Itachi, but he could tell a trustworthy person from a liar. So far, Kaisuki had behaved in a way that suggested she wasn’t lying to him. She probably wasn’t well-versed in reconnaissance, so she probably didn’t know how to conceal a lie from a trained eye. If Itachi had been worried about her as a threat, he would’ve said so early on and they probably would’ve killed her right in that hotel room to prevent her from telling anyone that Itachi was deathly ill.

He was certain she was being honest, and that was interesting in and of itself.

Kaisuki was watching him carefully as he stared at the floor and considered the option. If she was okay with anything that could happen to her because she was following Itachi and Kisame around, and if she didn’t get in the way, he didn’t really see a whole lot of problems with it. “Saeka” was a sensory-type, and that could prove useful. Izumi was an irou-nin, and that would definitely prove useful, especially because she seemed to be able to take one look at Itachi and know instantly that he was sick. The stubborn Uchiha wouldn’t be able to hide it from Kisame when he was getting sick (aside from his terminal illness).

He didn’t know anything about Kurai (was that her name?) aside from the fact that she evidently didn’t have much patience for Itachi and definitely had a nasty temper. But she’d been able to restrain herself from removing his head, so he didn’t think he had to worry about her much. He didn’t know if she could be a threat if she turned on them, so he would have to instruct Itachi to at least try to not anger her.

“I suppose,” Kisame began slowly, frowning. “That if you don’t have a problem with the thousands of horrible things that could happen to you if you travel with us, it’s fine. But the instant you become a problem, you’re out.”

Kaisuki smiled at him, looking as though he’d just made her day. “Well, I’ll try not to become a problem, then. What are you gonna tell Itachi?”

He snorted, “I’m gonna tell him that his opinion is invalid.” He replied as he was standing up. Kaisuki rose as well, walking with him over to the door. “We’re leaving town in the morning, probably close to eight. Meet us by the gate on the east side of town.”

The Tsubaki nodded, “I’ll be there,” she said, unlatching the door and holding it open for him. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He grinned at her, “Even if Itachi doesn’t, I appreciate your willingness to help a couple of criminals like us.”

Kaisuki’s gaze softened, “Everyone deserves compassion, no matter what they’ve done. Izumi taught me that.”

“Thank her for me,” he replied. “I’m out. Have a good one, Kaisuki.”

“You too.” She called after him as he started down the hall.

Itachi-san’s going to have a conniption, he thought with a sigh. The Uchiha would probably throw a very quiet temper tantrum. He might refuse to speak to either of them unless it was absolutely necessary for the rest of their lives. He might also test the limits of just how uncooperative he could be before Kisame did something particularly unkind.

Kisame was going to have to decide how much he would let the younger man get away with before he did something about it.

When he walked into their hotel five minutes later, the Uchiha he had been brooding about was back in the armchair, his hair still wet and his eyes closed. Even while sleeping (well, probably dozing), Itachi’s face was far from relaxed. He definitely looked like he was in a lot of pain, and Kisame could see that his breathing had become shallow again.

“At his current rate, he probably won’t last the rest of the year if he doesn’t get properly treated.”

He scowled at the younger man as he was shrugging the black cloak off his shoulders. Itachi was incredibly unreasonable when it came to himself. He would plod on for miles with a high fever and then curse himself for days when he finally collapsed. Kisame didn’t have a clue why he was so unrelenting with himself, but he was glad Kaisuki would be joining them. Izumi would pick up on it if Itachi got sicker than he already usually was. It would be a relief to not have to worry about his partner lying about his health until he was really sick.

The real relief would be that he wouldn’t have to continue watching Itachi slowly die.

If you’re not going to take care of yourself, he thought with mild annoyance, then I guess I’m gonna have to.

“How often do you get sick?” Izumi asked, glowing hands hovering over Itachi’s back.

“At least once a month, up to three times a month if we’re having a rough one,” was the living Uchiha’s rather sullen reply. “Usually just a fever for a couple of days.”

Izumi hummed in affirmation, her brow furrowing in what seemed like thoughtfulness. Madara wasn’t entirely sure if that was a good expression or a bad one. She had been occasionally making brooding faces at Itachi’s back as she conducted the internal part of her examination of Itachi’s state of health. She’d already done the external portion (which had involved a lot of attempts at deep breaths by Itachi and a good amount of tongue clicking from Izumi), and she had yet to actually explain in detail what she was discovering as she thoroughly checked the state of his respiratory system.

Madara was nervous. Izumi had said that she would be able to get him back to good health, but that had been before she’d been given the opportunity to really examine his state of health. Itachi was not in good shape. The living Uchiha himself had said to Madara on more than one occasion that he was beginning to worry that he might not live to fight Sasuke, without giving any regard to the fact that his ancestor was in a state of near-constant hysterics at the thought of Itachi dying at all.

If Itachi died, Madara would be alone again. He’d already suffered through that crippling loneliness for a hundred or so years. He’d been driven mad by it. Itachi didn’t understand what it was like to be that alone. He’d been lonely for sure. He’d been miserable because of it for a number of years before he’d found Madara in that obnoxiously deep hole in the ground. But he’d never been completely cut off from any form of contact with another sentient being.

Madara hadn’t even been able to hang out with squirrels. Nothing had been able to see him until Itachi had fallen through the overgrowth into his hole in the ground, where he’d been stuck for over a hundred years. That had been an… interesting afternoon.

“That was probably the most graceful landing I’ve ever seen. Ten out of ten.”

“Who the hell are you?”

He’d almost burst into tears.

“Okay, last question,” Izumi began as she slid her hands around to the side of Itachi’s ribs. The glowing seemed to shift to a slightly darker shade of green, and Madara blinked as he watched her forest green eyes brighten several shades. “How much time does it take between the moment you realize you’re about to have a fit and the moment you actually start coughing?”

Itachi didn’t respond right away. Madara looked over at him from where he was sitting cross-legged by the living Uchiha’s knee. His face was paler than it had been a few moments ago, and he was very clearly clenching his teeth extremely hard. The pain was coming back, which also meant that he was about to have another coughing fit. The last one had been only two or three hours ago. It was a relief that they weren’t all as horrible as possible, but the fact that they happened at all was extremely stressful for Madara. He could only imagine how terrible they were for Itachi.

You okay?” Madara asked, knowing full well that he wasn’t going to get an answer. Itachi cleared his throat, eyes slowly closing as he pressed a hand to his chest.

Izumi’s hands shifted back to where they’d been originally, “You’re about to have another fit, I see.”

Itachi didn’t respond except to take in a wheeze of a breath and immediately start coughing wetly. Madara scooted forward and pressed his hand flat on Itachi’s back. It didn’t help much, but it did soothe the soreness a little. It was all the deceased Uchiha could do to be useful, as pathetic as that was.

The fit didn’t last as long as usual, likely having something to do with the paler glow around Izumi’s hands. Madara had never seen irou-ninjutsu shift color like that. He didn’t know what it meant, and he was sure it wasn’t anything bad, but it was odd to him. He supposed it was probably something to do with the way Izumi had learned irou-ninjutsu in Tsukigakure.

Itachi gasped for a moment longer before he straightened up and swallowed hard. “A couple… minutes,” he replied breathlessly to Izumi’s earlier question, his voice raspy. “Usually anywhere from… three to five.”

Izumi hummed in acknowledgment as the glow around her hands faded away. She let them drop to her side and stood up, walking around Itachi to Kaisuki’s bag. Madara observed (as did Itachi and Kisame) as she pulled a mortar and pestle from the black bag. She set both down on the grass not far from the fire, her hands moving through several hand seals before settling on the ram.

“Zenshin kirikae no jutsu.” A flash of green light swirled around her, completely obscuring her. A moment later, though, the light cleared and Kaisuki was no longer standing there. The brunette that had appeared in place of her was shorter, curvier, and her eyes were even gentler than they normally were through Kaisuki’s visage.

“I’ve never heard of that one before,” Kisame commented, attracting the woman’s attention. She smiled slyly, leaning forward and digging her fingertips into the ground.

“Khrai taught us that one,” she replied with a voice that sounded nothing like Kaisuki’s. Her fingers began to glow a dark, murky green, and Madara watched in awe as plants began to spring up from the ground around her hand, growing incredibly fast. Within a few minutes, a couple of different ferns and herbs and flowers had grown to maturity and sat swaying in the slight breeze that rolled through the woods.

Madara didn’t recognize any of them, “What the hell are those?” He asked no one in particular. Itachi was watching carefully as Izumi started plucking the petals off one of the dark blue flowers, dropping them into the mortar a few at a time.

“There’s another one I’ve never seen,” Kisame remarked with raised eyebrows.

Izumi chuckled, “Well, we do things a little differently in Tsukigakure.”

“I’ve never seen any plants like those before,” Itachi stated flatly. Madara could easily pick up on the immediate suspicion in his voice. He rolled his eyes. He was relatively certain that Itachi and Kisame had already come to the conclusion that Kaisuki wasn’t trying to kill them.

You’re so paranoid.” He muttered, wrapping his hand around Itachi’s forearm, knowing full well how cold he was to the living Uchiha. Itachi didn’t react, as he never did, but Madara knew he wanted to.

“You wouldn’t have,” the irou-nin replied, glancing up at him. “They’re indigenous to Tsuki no Kuni. They won’t grow here because the climate isn’t right. But if you’re worried, I’ll be sure to give myself a spoonful of whatever I’m giving you.”

“What are they for?” Itachi then wanted to know. The suspicion had faded somewhat with Izumi’s assurance and likely a certain amount of convincing done within the living Uchiha’s head. Izumi turned her attention back to the mortar, which was now half-full of flower petals, and started crushing them with the pestle.

“If I’m going to explain to you the plants, I’d best also explain what they’re for. Firstly, your immune system is in terrible shape. The insomnia coupled with the oxygen deficiency isn’t doing you any favors, and this flower – it’s called a moonwalker – is used to remedy that.” she answered, touching the dark flowers she’d just been picking. She then indicated a fern that had pale pink rims around all of the leaves.

“This is a lacelle fern.” She explained as she went back to grinding up the flower petals in her mortar. “This isn’t for consumption. It’s actually extremely poisonous if swallowed. Instead, I’m going to use a technique to absorb it into your lung tissue. The lacelle is an extremely powerful anti-inflammatory, so it’ll combat that for you.”

“Your nearing the end-stages of this disease,” she continued after a brief pause in which she plucked a few more flower petals. Madara stiffened, glancing over at Itachi, who was listening very attentively. His face was still a bit pale, and the dead Uchiha couldn’t tell if it was because he was finally learning just how close he’d been to death, or if he was just still in pain from his earlier episode. “If Kaisuki hadn’t come along when she did, the larger blood vessels would’ve burst sometime in the next six to eight months. Once that starts, it takes up to ten minutes for you to drown, and it’s excruciatingly painful.”

Holy hell,” Madara breathed. Itachi had to be thinking something along the same lines. Death by slowly drowning in one’s own blood was pretty high on the list of “worst ways to die.” “Well, I must say I’m glad this didn’t get to that point. Thank you, Kaisuki, since I know Itachi won’t say it.

“The scar tissue is the real problem, as it causes the degeneration of blood vessels. That degeneration is what causes the vessels to break and bleed into your lungs, which is where that stabbing pain comes from before your fits.” Izumi told them. Kisame was watching her carefully as well, the expression on his face suggesting that he was in much the same boat that Madara was in.

The “thank god for Kaisuki” boat, that is.

“This,” she ran a hand over the large, pale, heart-shaped leaves of the tall herb closest to her. “Is called a whiteheart. This also gets absorbed directly into your lung tissue, but it’s not poisonous. In fact, we used them to make salad dressing in Tsukigakure because the stems are very sweet. It’s job here is to mend the scar tissue back into healthy, normal tissue.”

“The moonwalker and whiteheart are extremely potent plants, but given how far along you are in the progression of this disease, you’re going to be started on very high doses every three days.” Izumi glanced up at Itachi, who was still watching her closely. “The lacelle is the one you’ll be on for the rest of your life, and you’ll be getting a dose of it every day to start. The dose is permanently unchanging, but over time you’ll need it less and less often, until you only need it every two weeks or so.”

Itachi looked like he wanted to say something for a few minutes, before he diverted his attention back to the fire. Madara instantly recognized his brooding face. The living Uchiha was probably contemplating the pros and cons of Kaisuki walking back into his life. It certainly meant that he’d live to fight Sasuke, which seemed to be his only concern in life at that point.

Madara reached over and prodded his arm, “Can we go?” He asked, scooting a little closer, “Please?

Itachi stood up smoothly, and Madara grinned and followed his lead. “I’m going for a walk,” he told Kisame monotonously. The blue-haired swordsman nodded offhandedly as he stirred the embers of their slowly dying fire. When Madara spared Izumi a glance, she was glancing over at Kisame as if to confirm that Itachi’s behavior was normal.

Then, after a moment, she smiled. “Be safe.”

Itachi hesitated for a split second before he hummed in acknowledgment and started off into the trees. Madara followed after him, practically bouncing with every step. Itachi and Kisame had been in that village for three days, so he hadn’t gotten a chance to converse with his distant relative in that amount of time. They walked into the darkness of the trees, Madara’s eyes adjusting in no time at all. He knew Itachi’s would take a bit longer to get used to the lack of light, so he hooked elbows with him and guided him along to ensure he didn’t walk into anything.

Itachi’s eyes were pretty bad. They were much worse when he had his Sharingan activated, but without it, his eyes didn’t dilate well and his vision was cloudy. Madara knew all about that part of the Mangekyou Sharingan, and he sympathized with the discomfort of not being able to see well. He would also sympathize with not being able to see at all when Itachi got to that point.

Because Itachi would definitely live to that point. Madara would make sure of it.

After about five minutes of walking, he knew the living Uchiha could see just fine, but neither of them were ever keen to let go of each other when it was just the two of them. Itachi didn’t get much physical contact outside of violence. He never had. Not since his father had realized just how much of a prodigy he was, according to the Uchiha in question.

Madara had hated Fugaku from approximately the moment he’d met him. It wasn’t as though the man hadn’t cared for his son, but rather that he had put the wellbeing of the Uchiha clan before his own flesh and blood. To Madara, that was positively revolting. He couldn’t possibly imagine doing such a thing to his son. He hadn’t been able to do that to his brother. Madara had fought with Izuna for days when he’d offered up his eyes to his elder brother.

When they were fifteen minutes away from the campsite, Itachi started talking and pulled the ghost beside him out of his musings. “I don’t want her with us.”

Yea,” Madara replied dryly, though he was unable to remove the smile plastered on his face. He always missed talking to Itachi when he couldn’t. “I noticed.

Itachi came to an abrupt halt, pulling his arm free so he could turn and face Madara. “Really, Madara,” he said, distress etched into his face. “She’s going to get hurt. Or killed. Or something’s going to happen and I’m going to have to kill her.”

Madara’s smile faded, replaced by a frown. “How can you be that sure?

“She’s not a missing-nin. She doesn’t know how this works.”

She’s not an idiot either,” the dead Uchiha retorted. The living of the pair wrapped his arms around his middle, something he usually did when he was upset and alone. “Itachi, I know you’re worried about her, but she’s not going anywhere unless she’s forced to, and Kisame isn’t going to vote her off the island until she proves to be a hindrance, and I doubt that’s gonna happen. I think he likes her, actually.

Itachi didn’t say anything in reply to that. He looked very upset. Madara sighed in exasperation, taking one of his wrists and pulling him over to the nearest tree, where he sat down, dragging the living Uchiha down with him. Once they had situated themselves comfortably, with Madara leaning against the tree and Itachi more or less sitting in his lap, leaning back against him, Itachi spoke again.

“I think she has an ulterior motive for showing up like this,” he muttered. “I’ll believe that she wanted to help get me back to full health, and I’ll even believe that she also wanted to warn me about this “Teara” person, but I think there’s something else to it.”

Well, she’s not mad at you,” Madara replied, wrapping his arms around Itachi’s waist. He shivered slightly from the immense amount of cold, and Madara unthinkingly squeezed him tighter. “So I doubt she wants to kill you-…

“Do you think she’s going to try and get me to tell her why I…?” Itachi interrupted, pointedly not finishing his sentence. He still didn’t like talking about the massacre. “She was never the kind of person to just go along with whatever anyone said if she didn’t think it was true, no matter who said it or why they said it. I knew Sasuke would believe me, because it’s Sasuke… but if she thinks I was lying to him…”

Well,” Madara replied, “that was the worst lie you’ve ever come up with in your entire life. To test yourself? I mean, come on, that’s a terrible reason. ‘The ghost of Uchiha Madara told me to’ is slightly more believable than that.

“What do I do if she asks?” Itachi asked, completely ignoring Madara’s comments. The dead Uchiha frowned, leaning to the side slightly, which prompted Itachi to look at him. When it was just the two of them, the younger man was a completely different person. He was raw and open, and the pain and misery that clung to him wherever he went was never more obvious.

In the scarce amount of light from the moon, Madara could clearly see the panic, the distress, and the unadulterated emotional agony in Itachi’s eyes. He looked like he was close to a breakdown. Every once in a while, the kid would have a full-on meltdown in the privacy of a twenty minute walk from the campsite (wherever it was in the world) and Madara would spend an hour or two doing his best to hold him together. The stress he was always suffering through coupled with the act he had to constantly put on was more than a normal person could remain sane through. It was more than any person should have to deal with alone.

If Itachi had been a lesser man, and if he had never met Madara, he would surely have thrown himself off a cliff years ago.

Madara absentmindedly squeezed Itachi’s shoulders. “I know I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but I’m going to anyway, because you’re not thinking straight,” he began, noting that the kid seemed to be having some difficulty maintaining eye contact, and he was looking more and more upset with every passing second. Definite sign of impending meltdown. He was probably working himself into hysterics.

She won’t ‘just ask.’ Kaisuki knows better than to just come right out and ask you a question like that. She grew up with you, so there’s no way she doesn’t know how dodgy you are.” Madara told him sternly. “If anything at all, she’ll wait until you tell her yourself, and if you don’t, that’s that. Not to mention the fact that she can’t possibly know for sure whether you were actually lying or not.

His living friend directed his gaze elsewhere and took in a shuddering breath, leaning more heavily against Madara. There was a noticeable tremor starting in his shoulders. “I want to tell her.” He said, his voice barely above a whisper.

Then tell her,” Madara replied promptly. He knew already that Itachi wouldn’t, that he had convinced himself that he absolutely couldn’t under any circumstances, but he also knew that the secret he had to kept was quite literally killing him. If there was anyone in the world who wanted Itachi to spill the beans more than the living Uchiha himself, it was probably Madara.

“I can’t, and you know that,” Itachi replied tiredly.

Madara sighed in exasperation. “Actually, you can. There is nothing stopping you but-…”

“But what?” Itachi snapped, leaning forward and twisting around to face him. “But the knowledge that if I tell her, of all people, that I was assigned by the village elders to slaughter my family, she’ll definitely go straight home and tell everyone? She’d tell Sasuke, and I’ve been living like this specifically to avoid that! Look at all that he’s done with the intent of killing me; could you imagine what he’d do if all that hatred was directed at the village?”

Madara didn’t say anything in reply, just waited knowingly. Itachi stared at him for a moment with wild eyes before he turned away and buried his face in his hands, taking in several shaky breaths. Over the course of the next couple of minutes that he stayed like that, Madara began to hear that he was getting close to hyperventilating. The dead Uchiha leaned forward enough to wrap an arm around Itachi’s shoulder and drag him back over until he was leaning against his ancestor again. The tremor in his shoulders was being greatly exacerbated by his shallow gasping.

He hated seeing Itachi distressed to the point of a meltdown. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was agonizing to watch. It wasn’t like Madara could snap his fingers and make all of the kid’s problems go away. He couldn’t even find the right words to soothe him most of the time. All he could really do was be a constant pillar of support and curse Konohagakure’s elders with every fiber of his non-corporeal being.

“Madara, the only thing that would make all of my problems go away is death.”

But you can’t die. You can’t just leave me like that.

He didn’t think he would’ve ever used the words “suicidal” to describe Itachi, but the fact of the matter was that, when he thought about it, that was exactly what the kid was.

“Why did it have to be me?” Itachi whispered thickly. Madara tightened his grip somewhat, knowing full and well that the kid had to be positively freezing. “I never wanted to be this… perfect. I should’ve told them to just kill me with the rest of the clan.”

Without a second thought about it, Madara’s hand shot out and grabbed a fistful of Itachi’s hair, yanking his head to the side and ignoring his grunt of pain. “Don’t even say that.” He snarled, pulling harder. Itachi’s hand came up and grabbing his wrist tightly, trying to resist the pull.

“Madara,” the kid forced out. “Let go.”

No,” Madara hissed in reply. “We’ve been over this a hundred times, Itachi. You’re not gonna die on me, do you understand? I won’t allow it.

He pulled harder and Itachi made a thin sound of distress, but Madara ignored him. “I won’t, just let go.” The kid implored around a harsh wheeze.

For just a moment, Madara was too angry to register that the kid whose hair he was yanking on was beginning to have difficulty breathing. But when Itachi followed up another wheeze with a choked, agonized sound, the ghost realized that he had gone a little too far, as he often did. He released his grip immediately and Itachi doubled forward, coughing and hacking.

The fit didn’t last long, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as the ones the kid usually got, so Madara didn’t feel particularly bad about inducing it, even though he was sure he ought to. After a moment of labored gasping, Itachi fell back against him, shivering and taking measured breaths.

“Are you okay?” Madara asked a little belatedly. He was sure that, had they been facing each other, Itachi would’ve leveled him with a glare. Instead, however, the living Uchiha didn’t respond except to nod his head slightly, and that was good enough for Madara. Itachi knew better than to lie to his haunt about how he was faring.

They sat in silence for several minutes, Madara’s moment of anger forgotten. Itachi’s incessant shivering was the only thing disturbing the stillness and silence. When he was wrapped up in the frigidness that was Madara’s non-corporeal body, it was impossible for Itachi to conceal how cold he was.

Do you think we should be heading back?” Madara asked, leaning to the side and resting his chin on Itachi’s shoulder. “Kaisuki and Kisame might be getting worried. We’ve been out for over an hour.

Itachi sighed softly. “Yea,” he muttered. “I guess so.”

So, I have a question,” Kaisuki stated as she stepped into the small kotatsu room. Khrai scowled at her, but didn’t say anything. “Why are you in such a pissy mood? Be honest with me. I promise I won’t yell at you.”

She watched Khrai’s fists clench on the table, her expression darkening. Kaisuki only raised an eyebrow. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. What the hell is your problem?

Saeka was absent, likely still frightened of Khrai’s agitation and unsure of whether that foul mood was directed at her or not. Izumi was still making Itachi’s medication. In that moment, it was just Kaisuki and Khrai, and the latter’s bad mood hadn’t yet faded from where it had flared the previous evening when they’d first met with Itachi and Kisame-san.

I mean,” Kaisuki continued when Khrai didn’t reply. “You’re always scowling. You’re also almost always cranky. But you’re never this pissed for this long. Usually you’re over it pretty quick. We have that in common and I’ve always appreciated it about you. So for you to be hanging on to this much anger… it’s weird. What’s wrong?

Khrai’s scowl had faded somewhat as she directed her attention to the table, her expression somber. Kaisuki waited patiently, understanding fully that, out of the three of them, Khrai was the least likely to tell her anything about how she was faring. Khrai didn’t seem to trust much of anyone with herself, and while the Yurei was a little disappointed that she hadn’t yet earned the elf’s trust, she didn’t press. Khrai was also the most likely to lash out violently when she was angry, and her fury gave Kaisuki the worst headaches.

I guess I forgot how pissed off I was at him,” the blonde elf finally said after a long pause. “I really liked Itachi. He was a sweetheart, and I could see how miserable he was. I thought… I thought that maybe, when you were older, you’d become a pillar of support for him. He’s never really had that.” She let out an irate huff. “And then he goes and murders his entire family, lies about why he did it, and then traumatizes his little brother to the point of being beyond help.

Kaisuki nodded, thinking over Khrai’s words and staring at the elf’s clenched fist where it sat on the table. A pillar of support for Itachi? “Well,” the Yurei slowly began. “In this situation, I don’t know how supportive we can be, all things considered. But,” she looked up at Khrai, who was watching her carefully. “I think that the longer we stick around, the more Itachi might be willing to open up a little. I… don’t know what kind of person he’s really turned out to be, but he didn’t decide to kill me the instant I revealed who I was. So far as I know, he still hasn’t decided to kill me. I don’t want to say that we should trust him, but I will say that we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

Khrai nodded silently. “Why is he such a dick now?” She muttered.

I don’t think he believes the story about Teara,” Kaisuki conceded with a sigh. “I would bet you anything you like that he thinks that we made it up in an effort to worm our way into his life. And following up the Teara story that he didn’t believe with Izumi’s diagnosis probably didn’t help our cause.

At least Kisame has some fucking sense,” the elf muttered heatedly. “Do you think he believes us about Teara?

The Yurei nodded in reply. “I do. He was very attentive when Saeka was talking to them about it.

Khrai hummed thoughtfully. She already looked less irritated. Kaisuki glanced towards the door, wishing that Saeka would come back. She looked back over at Khrai, who was still staring at the table, and sighed heavily. The noise attracted the elf’s attention, and she looked up and met Kaisuki’s gaze.

What?” She wanted to know as she raised an eyebrow.

Kaisuki smiled, suddenly feeling extremely tired. “I think you should go look for Saeka.

Khrai stared at her for a long time before a frown settled on her face. She looked down at her hand where it was resting on the table for a moment before she replied. “I will. I figured I’d give her a little more time before I went out to find her.

The younger of the two of them nodded. “Saeka’s your favorite, isn’t she?” She asked curiously, a sly smile appearing on her face. Khrai looked up at her and blinked, looking surprised. After a moment, her expression softened and she sighed lightly.

She is, yea.” The blonde conceded, sounding only slightly embarrassed. “I dunno, I… get really attached to the broken ones.

Kaisuki’s eyebrows rose. “Oh? This has happened before?

It’s happened a lot over the past… I dunno, eight hundred years or so? I… met someone a very long time ago. He was fragile and weak and kind of a mess, and I…” Khrai trailed off into silence, her expression sobering.

The quietness lasted a good two minutes. Khrai looked as though she debating telling her hostess something. Judging by the tempest of emotions in her eyes, Kaisuki could figure that it was probably something she didn’t normally tell people.

Finally, after the pause had reached about three minutes, Kaisuki spoke, “You don’t have to tell me if you’re not comfortable with it, Khrai. We’ve only known each other for a couple of years, after all.

The elf smiled, every feature of her face suddenly lined with exhaustion. Kaisuki had never seen her look quite so tired. “You’re a good kid, Kaisuki. I really appreciate you. I haven’t been with a Yurei I liked in a couple hundred years.

Kaisuki felt her cheeks heat up at the praise, and she had to resist the urge to hide her face. “Thanks for the compliment,” she mumbled.

Khrai laughed, “Anytime, you dorky dumpling.

Hey, don’t judge me. I’m weird about praise.” Kaisuki giggled in response. “Also, ‘dorky dumpling?’ What the hell kind of name is that?

It’s your name, is what it is.” The elf teased, pulling a more genuine laugh out of her hostess.

Before they could continue their banter, the door to the kotatsu room opened and Izumi stepped inside. She saw the two of them and smiled at them in greeting, sitting down at the end of the table closest to the door. “Itachi-kun is back from his walk,” she stated. “He’s running a slight fever.

Kaisuki nodded, her good humor fading into the background. “How’re his lungs?

He said he had another fit while he was out, but only the one.” Izumi replied. “I gave him a dose of the lacelle, and I’m going to start the rest of his medications tomorrow morning.

How did you grow those plants so fast, anyway?” Kaisuki suddenly wanted to know. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.

The irou-nin smiled, “In the Shinobi Nations, I suppose it would be called a kekkai genkai. Where I come from, we’re called druids.” Izumi explained. Kaisuki listened attentively, while Khrai simply observed the interaction. The Yurei wouldn’t have been surprised if the blonde had already known about it. “My heritage grants me exceptional closeness to the intricate workings of nature, and the ability to create any plant-life with nothing but soil. Almost all of us druids became irou-nin, as our ability to generate plant-life made it very convenient.

That’s amazing,” Kaisuki said softly, eyes wide. “What is it? Dorui… Doria…?

Druid,” Izumi corrected with a chuckle. “There were a lot of us when I was coming up. I don’t know if that’s changed. I haven’t been home in a very long time.

The red-eyed girl nodded, fascinated. “That’s badass. Just sayin’.

Well,” Khrai suddenly spoke up with a sigh. “Sorry to cut this short, but I gotta go find Saeka. I’ll see you two later.

Kaisuki and Izumi nodded in unison, “Yea, for sure. Good luck.” Kaisuki replied. Khrai nodded curtly at the two of them and left the room, the door swinging shut harshly on it’s own.

The Yurei yawned widely and slowly stood up, “I’m gonna go try to get some sleep.” She told Izumi, and the brunette smiled and nodded.

Good night, then, Kaisuki. I hope you get some sleep tonight.

Kaisuki smiled back at her, “Thanks, Izumi. I’ll try. Good night.

She stepped out into the cool darkness and started down the path that she knew would take her to the reigns of her body, and within only a few minutes she was back in the front seat. She let herself settle back into her own body, keeping her eyes closed even though she wasn’t sleeping yet, and shifted slightly to make herself a little more comfortable. Khrai, Izumi, and Saeka (if she was found) would be able to keep their senses alert in case something happened or someone was nearby.

She let herself sink into a doze. It’d been a long time since she’d been able to rest as deeply as she wanted to. Usually, her body would get to sleep but her spirit would be exhausted. When normal people slept, their soul and mind got to rest as much as their body did. But with a Yurei, the person would be that much more in control of their spirit and their inner landscapes, so they could keep their soul awake while their body slept.

Unfortunately, Kaisuki rarely let her soul sleep because she was always talking to her spirits. She didn’t mind too much, but it meant that she was chronically tired. If her soul was still doing things, it meant her mind wasn’t resting, and that in turn meant that her body wasn’t getting to sleep as deeply as it was supposed to.

She was basically a spiritual insomniac, on top of being a regular insomniac.

“…-ou’re worried about her. Any particular reason why?”

And, of course, being a chronic insomniac often made it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.

“I’m not worried about her,” she recognized Itachi’s voice, which meant that the first one had to have been Kisame. She hadn’t been quite present enough to really identify him by the sound of his voice. “She’s a liability.”

“You don’t know that yet, Itachi-san.” Kisame replied, sounding very annoyed. “She’s a Yurei. Yurei were used for hundreds of years as weapons in war, and that was against their will. Most didn’t live to be twenty. We have one of the last few Yurei in the entire Shinobi Nations willingly on our side, and all you can think about is how she might become a hindrance. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here wondering just how useful she’s going to make herself.”

Itachi didn’t reply for a long time. Long enough that Kaisuki was falling back asleep before he finally responded, his voice quiet and his tone uninterpretable. “You seem to really like her.”

“She’s interesting, but…”

She wanted to keep listening, but she really needed to rest. So she let her mind float away from awareness and sink into the cool darkness of her inner landscape. She could faintly hear Khrai calling for Saeka, but she ignored it, instead concentrating on the darkness that surrounded her.

It was only a few extra minutes before she managed to quiet her mind enough to block out everything going on around her, and only seconds after that before she managed to slip into a deeper-than-usual doze.

Fuck you, Itachi. At least your partner has some sense.

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