an old friend

Crowded places always made him paranoid.

It wasn’t as though he had a whole lot of reason to be paranoid – he was Uchiha Itachi and there wasn’t a soul in the entire Shinobi Nations who could cast a more powerful genjutsu than he. And he cast genjutsu over himself and Kisame whenever they came into contact with large populations, such as the noisy, crowded diner they had stopped in for breakfast.

Crowds were easier to conceal oneself in, but the more people that were around, the higher the chance of someone recognizing him or his chakra signature. He couldn’t disguise his chakra. He could completely mask it, he could make it feel like he had no chakra at all, but he couldn’t make it feel like it was someone else’s. That was impossible, as inconvenient as it was.

It’s so loud in here. Like, really loud.” Madara remarked for the third time. Itachi ignored him, as was protocol when in public. The spirit never knew when to shut up. He had been particularly restless all afternoon, and Itachi was getting tired of his shenanigans.

Well, Itachi was always tired of his shenanigans.

Madara leaned over, resting his head on Itachi’s shoulder and freezing the living Uchiha’s entire arm with the action. But, Itachi was used to it. He didn’t react. He didn’t twitch, or flinch, or try to inconspicuously shove the spirit off him. No one else in the entire Shinobi Nations could see Madara, so he couldn’t react to the constant jabbering and frigid physical contact when there were other people around.

The ghost of Uchiha Madara was amazingly needy, but Itachi had grown used to him. The annoying spirit had been following him around ever since they’d met in that hole in the ground in Tanigakure, back when Itachi was freshly nine. At first, it’d been hard to block out the ghost talking to him while the living people in his life were talking to him, but he’d figured it out and gotten used to it. He sometimes wondered if that was what being a Yurei was like.

But despite all his complaining about the ghost that haunted him as obnoxiously as possible, Madara and Itachi were immensely close. Madara knew literally everything about him, as he’d been a firsthand witness to everything Itachi had done since they’d met. It was a comfort to be able to be so candid with him. He had nothing to hide from the spirit. There was nothing he could hide. His ancestor had been at his side at every moment of every day for eleven years.

Madara had kept him from losing his mind to the stress of his final mission in Konohagakure.

Itachi’s eyes slid over every face in the crowd as he refocused his attention to his surroundings. He had been more distractible than usual as of late. He wasn’t sure if it was the progression of his sickness or if it was the stress catching up with him, as it sometimes did. He often made himself sick with anxiety. Kisame had been forced to take care of him while he’d been feverish and extremely ill more times than he wanted to admit.

His gaze fell on their replacement waitress, who was at a table across the diner. Their original waitress had been relieved of her duties as her shift ended and had been replaced by a pleasant enough girl. She was well-mannered and didn’t pay them any more attention than they wanted her to, which was a nice change of pace from the waiters and waitresses who seemed to think that they needed to swing by every table at least every three minutes.

People were such a hassle.

Their waitress straightened up from where she’d been explaining an item on the menu to another patron and turned around. He watched her as she looked over every face in the room while slowly walking away from the table she’d been at, eventually settling on him for a second before she headed into the back. Only a minute later, she resurfaced and made a beeline for their table, looking just as good-natured as she had since the moment she’d introduced herself.

She looks really familiar,” Madara commented as though he’d read the living Uchiha’s mind “Right? Blink twice for yes, once for no.

Itachi didn’t respond in any way. He knew that Madara knew he wouldn’t, and he knew the ghost wouldn’t be offended. It was how they did things; no one else could see Madara, so Itachi had to ignore him throughout the day to ensure that he wasn’t labeled a hallucinating psychopath. It was much easier said than done.

She did seem oddly familiar, though. Itachi wasn’t one to assume things, but he knew he wouldn’t have forgotten her. He didn’t forget anyone. He didn’t always remember their names, but he knew when he knew someone. If he had met her before, he was sure he would’ve remembered her, but aside from the familiarity of her mannerisms and smile, he didn’t recognize any of her features. Her eyes were electric blue, her hair short and messy and black, her eyes shadowed with fatigue, and her skin pale enough to look sickly. She stood out just enough to be memorable, so he was certain he had never met her, even though he’d been through the dinky little diner several times before.

“Can I get you two anything else today?” She asked them politely. Kisame hummed thoughtfully, giving the impression that he was actually thinking about it when Itachi knew he wasn’t.

Get some dango. I know you want some. You always want dango.” Madara suggested. Itachi considered it for exactly three seconds before making his firm decision.

“No, but thank you,” Itachi replied smoothly when Kisame looked over at him. His partner always did that, and it didn’t seem to matter what the situation was, or how much they’d eaten, or how much they disliked their server, or anything else. “We’ll have our check, please.”

I swear you’re the most boring person in the entire Shinobi Nations.” Madara groaned as though he was losing out on something. It wasn’t as though he could eat. Annoying ghost.

The waitress seemed to have been expecting that answer, because she immediately reached into the front pocket of her apron and pulled out a thin piece of paper that had been folded in half, “Then here’s your check. You can bring that to the register whenever you’re ready. Have a good afternoon.”

He nodded silently, and she didn’t wait for any further conversation. He watched her make her round through the diner, zigzagging around tables and stopping only at those with patrons who had been staring at her as she walked towards them. He turned his attention back to their check after becoming bored with watching her, only to find that Kisame had already picked it up and was staring at it rather intently.

He didn’t say anything, instead drinking down the rest of his tea and waiting patiently for the punchline. Kisame had a penchant for taking forever to answer questions, whether spoken or unspoken, despite the fact that the larger man was as impatient as they came. After a moment, his blue-haired companion slid a second, smaller piece of paper out from the fold of their check and handed it to Itachi.

“Do you know her?” He asked, eyebrows raised. “Because she knows you.”

Wait, what?” Madara straightened up from leaning on Itachi, the chill immediately dissipating. “I knew she looked familiar. Who the hell is she though, really?

Itachi slid his gaze back across the room, eying every patron, every server, every person walking in and out, but he didn’t see her. He had a clear view of the entire diner, including most of the kitchen whenever the door opened, but she was gone. His eyes narrowed as he took the note from Kisame, flipping it over and scanning it carefully. Unfamiliar handwriting, but the tone of the note was very informal and sounded very much like someone who had to know him personally.

I.U.

I’m going to be stopping by wherever you are at 5. Do us all a favor and be in your hotel room at that time. And don’t try to run away from me because I’ll just track you down again, and that’ll just be awkward for both of us.

Weird,” Madara commented as he read over Itachi’s shoulder. “I guess we should head back to the hotel then, right?

“No,” Itachi slowly replied to Kisame’s question while he slid the note into his pocket. “I don’t know her. Or rather, I don’t recognize her. She wasn’t using a genjutsu, either.”

Kisame hummed thoughtfully as they stood up, “Then she probably changed her appearance some other way. Hair dye, hair cut, contacts, weight loss… there are plenty of ways to change how you look relatively subtly.”

I don’t think that’s it, but okay.” Madara murmured, “I dunno, I feel like we’re missing something.

Itachi didn’t reply to either Kisame or Madara as he paid for their meal, and remained silent for several minutes beyond that. He was good enough with faces that he ought to have recognized her, even if she had changed her eyes and hair in some fashion or another. He supposed it was possible that he didn’t know her, even if she did know him somehow. Perhaps she knew of him through someone else. In that case, he probably ought to be wary of her, because the chances of her seeking him for help were outweighed by the chances of her looking to attempt to kill him.

Assassin? Or maybe a friend of a friend?” Madara was muttering under his breath as he strode alongside Itachi.

Abruptly, his chest began to ache, a signal that he needed to either duck into an alleyway or walk a bit slower. He was already a bit winded from the three blocks they had walked. He really was getting worse too fast. At his current rate, he’d probably be dead long before Sasuke was ready to fight him. He needed to find another treatment, another doctor, something. He couldn’t expire before Sasuke killed him.

Oh, we’re coming up on stairs,” Madara suddenly said, looking over at Itachi. “You alright? You look kind of pale.

He still didn’t reply as he and Kisame walked in the door to the hotel they were staying at, neither of them so much as waving at the front desk as they strode towards the staircases. Their room was on the third floor. He wasn’t sure he would make it all the way to their room without having to stop. The chest pain was getting worse with every shallow breath he took and he felt a little lightheaded. He wasn’t getting enough oxygen. He was never getting enough oxygen, though. Not unless he was sitting down and at rest, and even then it was only just barely enough.

They were halfway up the second flight of stairs before a stabbing pain erupted in the left side of his chest and he let out a breath that was more of a wheeze. He could feel Kisame’s eyes on him almost instantly, and he knew that his partner had stopped to wait for him to catch his breath. Madara appeared at his side, pressing an icy hand to his chest. It helped a little to relieve the pain, but not enough. He wheezed again, coughing lightly.

Madara kept one hand on his chest and one hand on his back, the cold seeping through his skin and freezing his chest, and Itachi was thankful for it. It dulled the pain a little, though only for a few seconds before the stabbing pain became about ten times worse.

He gripped the banister hard to ensure that he wouldn’t fall backwards down the stairs and doubled over, pulling his handkerchief out of his pocket and pressing it to his mouth just in time for the coughing to start. He choked out a cough, which was closely followed by the standard coughing fit that wracked his entire chest cavity with excruciating pain. Madara continued to rub circles on his back, and Itachi wanted to thank him but Kisame was present and he couldn’t really breathe enough to speak.

It seemed like every time he had a coughing fit (and they were getting more and more frequent as time wore on) he was robbed of a little more of his lung capacity. The last time he’d seen his current irou-nin, he’d been told that he was working with about forty percent of what his lung capacity ought to be.

He didn’t know enough about the illness itself to satisfy him, and it was because no one else seemed to know much of anything about it. It wasn’t common enough for a cure to have been found, and the current treatment was effective only in slowing the progression of the disease to a crawl, so he could suffer for five to seven years instead of two to three.

He was probably going to be dead before the year was out.

His eyes were watering by the time the coughing fit subsided, and he could tell by the jerky movement of the spirit’s hand that Madara had reached extreme concern. There was a coppery taste in his mouth but he hadn’t managed to cough anything productive up. It seemed to be getting harder and harder to get the blood up and out of his lungs.

He swallowed, still wheezing as he let the hand that had been pressed over his mouth drop to his side. The pain in his chest was close to unbearable, and it would stay that way for at least twenty minutes. That girl was going to show up in about thirty minutes, assuming she had meant what she said. He needed to take some painkillers as soon as they got into their room.

Are you okay? Do you… well, I can’t really do anything except freeze your chest.” Madara said, sounding very helpless. Itachi sort of felt bad for Madara when he started having his coughing fits. Madara had no one other than Itachi. If the oldest of the two remaining Uchiha died, he would be completely alone once again, and it would likely drive him even more insane than he already was.

“You alright?” Kisame asked, as he always did. Itachi didn’t respond right away. He didn’t want to move. He was holding his breath periodically. Expanding his lungs with air was excruciating after his fits, and he knew that holding his breath wasn’t the best way to deal with it but he didn’t have many other options. Nothing else helped.

Itachi?” Madara called quietly, still rubbing circles on Itachi’s back.

Finally, the Uchiha nodded, extremely aware of the likely obvious tremor in his shoulders. He slowly straightened up, tightening his grip on the banister as vertigo washed over him. He didn’t protest when his partner grabbed him by his bicep and tugged him forward. The amount of time that it took for him to recover from his coughing fits was too long for Kisame to wait for him, so his partner had been charged with the task of keeping them both moving in some fashion or another (whether through guiding, dragging, or carrying him) while he was catching his breath.

Madara walked behind him, ready to catch him if he fell even though he wasn’t really allowed to. The two Uchiha could interact with each other as though Madara wasn’t dead. The spirit could pick him up and inflict violence upon him and hug him and etcetera. It was always extremely cold wherever Madara touched him, but he didn’t mind the cold anymore. It was rather comforting at that point.

He was still gasping and wheezing when he fell into the armchair in their hotel room, pressing the heel of his hand into his sternum and closing his eyes. He felt Madara sit down on the arm of the chair beside him, and let out a shaky sigh when his ancestor pressed a hand to his chest again. The whole left side of his chest was aching. He wished, as he often did, that he could just lay down, but he couldn’t. He hadn’t been able to lay down in two years, because he would drown in his sleep if he did, and it was the most miserable part of his illness.

Kisame’s got your drugs,” Madara suddenly said. Itachi didn’t respond, didn’t move, so that Kisame wouldn’t know that he already knew he was coming. In his condition, he was usually too distracted by his breathlessness and pain to notice approaching presences. He didn’t really like having to lie to Kisame constantly, but there was no way his fellow Akatsuki member would believe that he was haunted by the ghost of Uchiha Madara.

“Itachi-san,” he cracked his eyes open, staring up at his very tall partner. The blue-haired man was holding out a glass of water, which Itachi received with shaky hands. Kisame let him drink a few mouthfuls before he handed over the bottle of painkillers.

He dumped three pills onto his palm and took them immediately. His breathing and heart rate were finally beginning to settle down, and the worst of the pain had dulled somewhat. He was amazingly tired. He wanted to take a nap but he was apparently expecting company at any given moment.

He glanced at the clock. It was quarter to five. Getting to their room had taken longer than it should have. Three blocks wasn’t that far, and three flights wasn’t that many stairs.

“Do you think she’ll actually show?” Kisame asked from where he had seated himself on his bed. “Actually, I guess the better question is, do you think that note was actually from her?”

I do.” Madara stated pointlessly. Itachi ignored him.

The Uchiha looked over at Kisame tiredly. “I do think it was from her, and I do think she’ll show, and…” He frowned slightly, turning his gaze towards the door and staring hard at it.

“And?” His partner pressed impatiently.

“I don’t think her intentions are hostile,” he answered slowly, after a pause. “At no point did she ever present as though she despised me for some reason, and that’s strange all by itself.”

Yea, I noticed that too. Well done, Itachi, you’re observational skills aren’t fading with your eyesight.” Despite his urge to punch the ghostly peanut gallery, Itachi continued to ignore Madara.

“No kidding,” Kisame agreed. “Usually when people recognize you, sharp objects come out.”

He glanced at the clock again. Five minutes to five. She hadn’t said she would be there at five, but rather that she’d be there around five. She obviously wasn’t the early type, so either she was going to knock on their door within the next five minutes, or she was going to be a while longer. She had looked like the punctual type, but people behaved differently when they were dealing with notorious criminals. Even if she was usually punctual, she may have required extra time to talk herself into actually showing up.

Kisame, Madara, and Itachi all looked at the door at the same time as the sound of someone rapping sharply on the old wood reached them. His partner looked over at him, and the Uchiha merely nodded, not moving from his seat on the armchair. Instead, he adjusted the way he was sitting so he looked less like someone who had just run a marathon and more like the ice cold Uchiha Itachi he was famous for being.

Oh boy, this should be fun.” Madara bounced in his seat, and Itachi resisted the urge to sigh irritably. He was too tired for his haunt to be as energetic as he was.

His partner was very clearly ready to grab Samehada, which was leaned against the wall by the door, as he slowly opened the door partway. Itachi watched his partner’s back, noting that his shoulders seemed to relax just slightly, indicating that – as the Uchiha had suspected – she wasn’t presenting as a threat.

“I’m unarmed, so you can calm down a little,” he heard her voice float into the room. “But you can pat me down if you want.”

“Kisame, let her in.” Itachi stated, not at all commandingly. Madara muttered something, but Itachi wasn’t paying enough attention to make out what he said. He wished he could tell the dead man to be quite for a moment.

His partner glanced over his shoulder at him, and their eyes met for just a second before Kisame stepped aside and opened the door to let her in. She walked into their room, glancing around curiously before her gaze fell on the Uchiha himself. Kisame shut the door behind her and walked past her to stand beside Itachi. She hesitated for a split second before she crossed the room, stopping at the foot of the bed closest to where he was sitting. She sat down on the bed, sighing heavily before looking at Itachi again.

“You look terrible.” She said bluntly, her lips pulling into the ghost of a sad smile. Itachi pointedly didn’t respond, his gaze hardening instead.

I like her,” Madara announced obnoxiously.

“Who are you?” Kisame asked for Itachi, “Obviously you’re not a waitress.”

She turned her gaze to Itachi’s partner, before returning her gaze to Itachi. “I had kind of hoped you might recognize me, but I guess the blue eyes kind of take away any possibility of that.” She quietly admitted.

Itachi’s eyes narrowed, confusion beginning to wear at his patience. Who was she? He didn’t recognize her at all, and yet she spoke to him as though he had known her personally. He felt like he did know her in some way, but he couldn’t figure out where he’d met her, the circumstances behind whatever interactions they’d had, or anything else for that matter.

Then, she blinked and her eyes were suddenly vividly red.

Holy shit, is that…?” Madara breathed, and Itachi could practically hear him grin beside him.

Kaisuki.

Madara had always liked Kaisuki, but Itachi stiffened at the immediate recognition, consciously making the effort to not let his eyes widen. Her eyes had been blue. That was a spirit he was unfamiliar with. If she’d come up to him with Saeka’s hot pink eyes, he would’ve recognized her instantly. But, he supposed, if she’d wanted him to recognize her, she would’ve just come up to him with her own red eyes.

“Kaisuki,” he stated blandly, masking how breathless he still was with practiced ease. “What are you doing here?”

You’re still pretty pale,” Madara commented quietly. “Are you okay?

“Nice to see you too, Itachi.” She said sourly, glaring at him. There was a pause in which her eyes flashed green for just a split second. Three spirits, then. Or had more than that awakened?

“Who the hell is this, exactly?” Kisame grunted, sounding impatient. “Kaisuki who?”

“Tsubaki Kaisuki,” the red-eyed girl supplied, offering a sheepish smile to the swordsman. Kisame raised his eyebrows slightly. He knew more about the Tsubaki clan than Itachi did, as that lineage originated from Kirigakure. “I grew up with Sasuke and Itachi. They’re… well, they were like brothers to me,” she explained with a huff. “Until they both decided to turn into dicks.”

Kisame snorted, “How the times change.”

Yea, really,” Madara grunted.

“No kidding,” Kaisuki muttered in reply. Itachi resisted the urge to sigh heavily at the people in the room who seemed to be momentarily acting as though he wasn’t there.

“What are you doing here?” Itachi repeated, staring at her icily. She turned her attention back to him again, and he watched her gaze soften slightly. It threw him off guard somewhat. He would’ve expected her to have been angry with him.

He had taken away the few people that she had called family after her own family had been slaughtered by Saeka. He had killed off his parents (they had basically become her parents) and abandoned the village (he had been the older brother that replaced her older sister), which in turn caused Sasuke to also leave Konohagakure to pursue power (they had been so close when they’d been little).

Wow,” Madara quietly interjected. “She… did she forgive you?

Itachi didn’t react visibly, but his heart rate went up a few beats per minute. He didn’t want to think that she had forgiven him. He didn’t deserved that.

After a brief pause, Kaisuki sighed, her expression turning serious. “You’re being tailed.” She finally stated, “Actually, let me rephrase that. You’ve been being tailed for a very long time by a very powerful asshole.”

She didn’t used to curse at all.

“Oh, really?” Kisame retorted disbelievingly. “And who might that be?”

Excellent question, Kisame.

Kaisuki’s eyes flashed blue briefly, her expression darkening for just a moment before her eyes flickered back to red and she reached up to massage her temples. She cleared her throat, taking in an irate breath, and replied a little hotly, “His name is Teara.” She turned her attention back to Itachi, “He’s one of Orochimaru’s, I gather, and he can take out Saeka easily. And if you’ll recall, Saeka almost killed you twice. I don’t know which of you two he’s following, but he’s definitely following you.”

Itachi didn’t respond immediately. Teara? He’d never heard of such a name.

Who the hell is Teara?” Madara asked no one, as only Itachi could hear him.

“How do you know that?” The living Uchiha asked, his tone still frosty.

There was a lengthy pause, and Itachi watched Kaisuki’s eyes glaze over momentarily before they switched to pink. His middle finger dug into the palm of left hand, an instinctive response to the immediate burst of anxiety. It wasn’t so overwhelming that it was a problem, but his heart rate definitely increased by a few more beats per minute, and it was definitely making his chest hurt again. He swallowed inconspicuously. He hadn’t spoken to Saeka in years. The last time he’d seen her, she had been trying to kill Sasuke. He had protected his little brother from her, and she had responded to that by impaling him with all ten of her talons.

He’d very nearly died. She’d ripped a hole right through his spleen and if his mother (she had been an irou-nin) hadn’t heard Sasuke shrieking, Itachi would’ve bled to death long before he made it to the hospital.

Woah, shit, hi Saeka.” Itachi really just wanted to punch the ghost. He was being extra fidgety, extra talkative, and most importantly, extra annoying. Something had to be bothering him. Or perhaps he was just in one of his moods. He did occasionally have odd mood swings.

“Teara is my older half-brother,” Saeka said softly. Kaisuki’s voice was higher when Saeka spoke through her, and it sounded a little strange coming from the body of a fifteen year old. “We share the same mom. He was… he is an attempt at a homemade Yurei.” Itachi’s eyes narrowed. He hadn’t heard about any such experiments. He would’ve thought that a supposedly uncontrollably powerful force like “Teara” would have been slightly more common knowledge.

Madara fell silent at that point, leaning over onto Itachi again and freezing up his entire arm in the process. The living Uchiha didn’t react, just paid close attention to what Saeka was saying. He supposed he would heed their warning, but he didn’t need or want their help. He really didn’t need or want it.

“He wasn’t born with any spirits residing within him, though, and Orochimaru-sama labeled that as a failure until he discovered that Teara could pull in the spirit of anyone he killed. But instead of hosting a number of spirits, it would appear that he’s… hosting the embodiment of pure evil instead.” Saeka trailed off, and Itachi could tell she wasn’t going to explain any more of that. Madara had stiffened beside him, and he wanted to ask what was wrong, but he couldn’t.

Saeka cleared her throat, and continued. “The last time you saw Sasuke,” she began. “I picked up on Teara when he came into town, and I went after him because I wasn’t sure if he’d followed you or Sasuke. I didn’t know how long he’d been tailing whoever it was he’d been tailing, so I didn’t want to take any chances. I was going to chase him off, and…”

Once again, she trailed off into silence. Only this time, she didn’t speak again for several minutes. Itachi waited patiently. He had never actually had a full-length conversation with Saeka. She was… more meek than he would’ve expected. Her anxiety while talking about Teara was clear as day, and she didn’t seem to be working to hide it at all. He would never have imagined her to be so anxious. He had always thought that – if she became coherent at any point in time – she would be angry and hateful.

“And?” Kisame suddenly prompted. Itachi glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, noting that he actually looked fairly interested in the story. There was a measure of seriousness on his face that wasn’t usually present unless the situation was actually proving to be dangerous.

“I asked him what he was doing, and… he said he was ‘doing a friend a favor and stalking the pretty one.'” Saeka swallowed, looking up at him with eyes that held nothing but shame. He wasn’t sure what it was she was so ashamed about, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter. “I wasn’t sure if he was talking about you or Sasuke, but when I felt him follow you out of town, I… Itachi, he’s following you. If he was doing it for Orochimaru-sama, he would’ve mentioned him by name. There’s… someone even stronger than Teara pulling some strings. And Teara…”

She took in a shuddering breath. “I was unstable because I had more chakra than my body could handle. Teara… Teara’s the one who killed me. I was violent and sporadic enough that he couldn’t do it slowly, but… Itachi, he wouldn’t just kill you. He breaks people for fun. He’d have a ball with someone like you.”

Well, shit.” The ghost beside him straightened up as he commented. “Itachi, this actually sounds kind of serious. What are you gonna do?

As was protocol, he completely ignored the spirit sitting beside him. “You don’t need to concern yourself with my welfare.” Itachi responded icily after she had finished her explanation.

Really?” Madara was going to hit him later. He was the kind of person who would hang on to the urge to hit Itachi until he was given the opportunity. At least he had the common sense not to smack the living Uchiha in the presence of Kisame and Kaisuki. “You’re such a child.”

In immediate response to Itachi’s reply, Kaisuki’s eyes flashed blue, and then back to pink, and then green, and then back to blue, and at that point they didn’t switch again. The teenaged Yurei stood up, her fists clenching tightly and her expression shifting into one of pure rage.

“You fucking piece of shit,” she snarled, her voice slightly deeper. “Kaisuki didn’t need to tell you that you’re being stalked by a guy who could easily rip you apart, just like I don’t need to take your head off your fucking shoulders, even though I really want to.” Her shoulders had begun to shake, and Itachi felt Kisame stiffen beside him, ready to spring into action at any given moment. “We came to warn you because we care. We all care. Even though you’re the biggest, baddest dirt bag in the entire fucking Shinobi Nations.”

Ah, so that’s where the profanity is coming from.

Who… is this one?” The dead Uchiha beside him breathed. “She’s kind of scary.

Itachi let out a soft sigh. “I appreciate the gesture,” he lied, “but I really don’t need you, or anyone else, looking after me. I can take care of myself.”

Kaisuki looked like she was actually about to hit him when her eyes suddenly glazed over again. This time, almost five minutes passed before her eyes switched back to red and she slowly sat back down, reaching up and pressing his hand to her forehead for a long moment. She took in a shaky breath, one hand still clenched into a fist, her pain very evident.

She sighed again, straightening up and returning her gaze to his. She suddenly looked extremely tired, “Thanks,” she said sardonically. “For pissing off Khrai. You’re lucky she and Saeka are matched in a battle of wills, because you just almost lost your fucking head.”

“Kaisuki,” Itachi ground out. “You don’t need to be here.”

“Well, no, you’re right. I don’t,” she agreed, scowling. “I’m here because I want to be. There’s no “need” about it. You’ve got it all wrong. And I didn’t just come here to warn you about Teara. Izumi… well, I’ll let you talk to her for a minute, and then I’m gonna go. So… try not to piss anyone else off, would you?”

He wanted very badly to roll his eyes, but he resisted the urge. “Who is Izumi?”

“Green eyes,” Kaisuki replied. “She’s an irou-nin.”

Oh.

Oh,” Madara repeated Itachi’s exact thoughts. “Do you think she noticed that you’re sick? She must be really good, then. Are you gonna not be a dick?

Kaisuki’s eyes flashed to green, her smile disappearing and her expression becoming grim. “It’s called Inflammatory Lung Syndrome,” she stated, getting straight to the point and blatantly changing the subject without warning. Itachi was unable to prevent himself from blinking in mild surprise. “The tissue of your lungs repeatedly becomes inflamed, and over time it causes excessive scarring. Eventually, blood vessels begin to wear down and break, and that is what causes the bleeding and the coughing fits. It’s only going to get worse from your current state. I’d say you’re working at thirty percent of your lung capacity. You’re lips, fingertips, and toes are tinted purple – cyanosis, which is caused by your cells not getting enough oxygen. You’re pale as a ghost, and by the way you’re breathing, I’d say you’re about to have another coughing fit.”

Itachi’s jaw was tight. She knew a lot more than he’d been expecting. And she was absolutely right – the ache in his chest was returning, once again towards the left side. He swallowed and cleared his throat, glaring at her. He was about to have another fit, and he couldn’t prevent it at all.

“I can treat it,” Izumi stated seriously. Itachi froze, his tongue sliding between his teeth and he was biting down on it before he knew it. He didn’t want her help. He didn’t want Kaisuki to have anything to do with him. That was too dangerous. He didn’t know what she really wanted, but he didn’t want her following him. He didn’t want her in his life. Especially not now. Especially not now.

Itachi…” Madara said quietly, prodding his shoulder. Itachi ignored him. His chest was really, really tight. He wasn’t sure he would be able to talk in a few more moments.

“I can’t cure it, though. You’ll have to be on medication for the rest of your life. But I can reverse the damage and make those episodes of inflammation stop,” the irou-nin stated. “I can also drain the fluid out of your lungs right this second and get you back up to at least seventy percent capacity. It won’t last unless you let me treat you, obviously, but it’ll give you an extra year, I’d say.”

“Wait,” Kisame suddenly interjected, “How could you possibly treat this?”

“Kisame,” Itachi cut in warningly.

“No, be quiet, you,” Kisame snapped in reply, startling the Uchiha in silence. “How do you know so much about this illness? You’re dead, not from the future.”

Yea, go Kisame!” The dead peanut gallery added. Itachi bit down on his tongue harder as the pain in his chest began to flare up further.

“Kisame,” Izumi directed an icy look towards his blue companion. “I hail from Tsukigakure. This disease plagued Tsuki no Kuni for decades. I died about ten years after we had discovered an effective treatment. They probably have a cure by now, but I can’t exactly walk over there and get it. But I can treat him, and if I do, he’ll be able to live a long and healthy life. Like I said, he’ll be on medication for the rest of that life, but he’ll be alive and not drowning in his own blood.”

He heard Kisame swallow beside him, “Itachi-san.” He didn’t actually ask, he just reintroduced Itachi to the conversation. Itachi cleared his throat again. He was feeling lightheaded and he couldn’t get in enough air to form a full sentence.

He took in a shuddering breath and, once again, a sharp, searing pain erupted on the left side of his chest and he pressed a hand to his mouth and started to cough. He hunched forward, wheezing harshly as he tried to get in air past the blood that was trying to come up his windpipe.

He felt someone grab his hand, directing him towards the edge of something that he quickly recognized as a wastebasket. Madara was speaking rapidly to him but he couldn’t hear him past the hacking and wheezing and coughing. He was beginning to think he was going to pass out from lack of oxygen (and possibly die) when he heard Izumi speak over his coughing, closely followed by Kisame.

“I can drain his lungs, right now. He’ll be able to breath and-…”

“I don’t care about that, just do it,” his partner’s voice was basically a snarl, and there was a brief pause, more voices, and a warm hand pressed against his chest, just over his diaphragm, while another was placed on his back in approximately the same spot.

“Itachi,” Izumi called. He was still wheezing, but the coughing was subsiding, “I’m going to drain your lungs. This is going to hurt. You’ll feel the urge to swallow – don’t. Cough it all up.”

He didn’t respond at all, still wheezing. After a moment, he felt Izumi’s hands heating up – irou-ninjutsu – and almost immediately an immense pressure crushed against his lungs. Pain shot through his chest and he gasped. As the pressure slowly began to travel up his chest, alongside the movement of Izumi’s hands, blood rushed into his mouth and he coughed it out harshly. He couldn’t breathe past it, and the pressure began to move up his chest a little faster, forcing the blood that had collected in his lungs to evacuate.

His eyes were watering. The pain was completely unbearable, and he couldn’t breathe at all. Izumi’s hands continued up his chest and back, stopping at the base of his throat. The last mouthful of blood flooded his mouth and he spat it out, sucking in a breath immediately, which had him wheezing and coughing almost as soon as he took it in.

Izumi took her hands away from the base of his throat, and the pressure disappeared. He remained hunched over the wastebasket, his eyes hooded, his skin clammy, and his whole body shaking uncontrollably. He felt impossibly weak and sick and the taste of blood in his mouth was too strong. He was beginning to feel as though he was going to throw up when a pair of hands grasped his shoulders and pushed him upright, leaning him back onto the armchair.

He stared up at the ceiling, breathing erratically and shallowly. Kisame appeared in his line of vision, holding up a glass of water. His arms felt like spaghetti. His head was spinning and he couldn’t really move.

Izumi then appeared, a cloth in her hand that she used to wipe the blood off his chin, before she took the glass of water from Kisame and held it to his lips, “Drink. It’ll help.”

He managed to muster the weakest glare ever, which she didn’t respond to at all. Nevertheless, he parted his lips and allowed her to carefully pour some of the liquid into his mouth. She was right, it helped a lot. He took a few more gulps before she pulled the glass away and set it somewhere out of his sight.

The same petite pair of hands pressed against his chest again, and warmth flooded his chest cavity. The soreness and the pain faded away quickly, and within minutes there was no pain at all. Not even a dull throb.

The warmth from the irou-ninjutsu dissipated, and Izumi spoke again, one hand still pressed against his chest, “Take a deep breath, Itachi.”

He hesitated for a moment before he took in a shaky breath, as deep as he could. Immediately, he noticed how much deeper he could inhale. It felt like he had regained almost all of his lung capacity. It didn’t hurt to breathe. The pain was gone. His head began to clear as he continued to take deep breaths, relishing the feeling of being able to inhale.

Izumi leaned back and smiled gently at him, “Feel a bit better?”

His gaze hardened. Now that he was back in his right state of mind and no longer suffocating, he was actually quite furious. He hadn’t wanted Kaisuki to see him like that. He could picture her pity, her sympathy, her worry, and he didn’t want that. He didn’t want any of it. He was supposed to have left all of that behind. It was supposed to go away so he could die peacefully when the time came. He was supposed to have no more ties to the mortal world, so he didn’t have to feel bad about dying.

H-holy shit,” Madara suddenly said, and Itachi almost jumped. He’d forgotten momentarily that the ghost was present. “Are you okay?

Izumi’s smile disappeared abruptly, and her eyes flashed blue and she scowled darkly. It only lasted a moment more before her eyes turned back to red, a sign that Kaisuki had returned. She took a step back from him, and Itachi didn’t see a hint of pity or sympathy or concern in her eyes at all. In fact, she just looked… calm. Content, almost.

She’s so confusing.” The ghost beside him commented pointlessly.

No kidding.

Kaisuki turned her attention to Kisame, apparently deciding that she wasn’t going to talk to Itachi anymore. “Well,” she began, sighing yet again. “I’m gonna go, then. Good luck, you two.”

He felt his blue-haired companion shift slightly, as if he was going to say something, but changed his mind. After a moment, his tall partner let out a breath and replied, “Yea, you too.”

Kaisuki smiled at him, sparing Itachi only a glance before she turned away and headed for the door. She paused by the door, looking at the short table that sat there rather pointlessly. She glanced over her shoulder, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a small piece of paper.

“I’ll be leaving town whenever Teara does, but for now…” The Yurei stated as she set the piece of paper down on the pointless table. “This is where I’m staying, in case you convince him to stop being a stubborn ass.”

Itachi scowled, but Kaisuki wasn’t paying any attention to him. She smiled at Kisame once more and walked up to the door, opening it and leaving the room in silence. Itachi clenched his fists and stood up out of the chair. His chest didn’t hurt. He didn’t know how long it would be before the “inflammation” returned and he started coughing up blood again, but for now he felt fantastic, and it infuriated him.

She wasn’t supposed to see that.

I feel like you’re overreacting a little bit. Are you just flatly refusing to listen to her because it’s Kaisuki and not some stranger?” Madara suddenly asked, sounding agitated. “She can help. Why the hell won’t you let her?

“I’m going to shower,” he muttered to Kisame as he walked past him. His partner grunted in acknowledgment as he was stepping in the bathroom, closing the door silently. Madara didn’t follow him, apparently understanding that the living Uchiha was furious beyond imagination and didn’t want to deal with his peanut gallery comments.

Once he was under the hot spray of the water, he clenched his fists until his nails dug into his palms and chewed his tongue until it really hurt. He should’ve ditched town. He should’ve just left before she got to their hotel room.

And don’t try to run away from me because I’ll just track you down again, and that’ll just be awkward for both of us.

And Teara… he wasn’t sure how much of that story he believed. However, Kaisuki was honest to a fault. She always had been. She wouldn’t lie to him about something like that, he didn’t think. But if she was trying to get an angle to worm her way into his life, it was possible that some of her story was fabricated. He couldn’t be sure until he confronted “Teara” himself.

For now, he would heed her warning and keep a close eye out, but he was going to take her words with a grain of salt.

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