loss

“You’d best be careful. Wouldn’t want to end up dead, would you?”

The halls that stretched on in every direction around him were dimly lit with torches that burned with small flames, as though they were about to go out at any moment. He could hear rushing water. He could smell rotting flesh. He looked down at his feet impulsively, not even sure what had drawn his attention. Black water was rising up out of the cracks in the cobblestone, and when he looked to the walls, he could see it oozing from the spaces between the cement bricks. He watched it carefully, wondering where in the world there was water that black.

“Of course not. I’ll be careful.”

He wasn’t sure why he wasn’t nervous about the water that was now lapping at his waist. He continued to stare at it, mesmerized. It swirled around him, reflecting royal purple and cobalt blue and blood red. It bore a crushing weight against him from every direction, continuing to rise and rise until the floor suddenly disappeared below him. He was sinking, sinking, sinking, and he could feel some kind of residual panic from long ago, a memory he didn’t remember, the feeling of drowning in more than just water.

“Then I think it’s about time you got a move on. Don’t you agree?”

Where am I?

You’re sleeping, remember?

Itachi woke with a start, instantly forgetting everything he’d just seen and heard. He knew it had been a strange dream, but he didn’t remember what had happened in it. He knew his family hadn’t been in it, and that fact was odd all by itself. Normally, if he dreamed at all, it was a nightmare that he’d have trouble waking up from quietly. He felt like it had been moderately important. He didn’t know why he felt that way, but it was officially bothering him that he’d forgotten the dream because of it.

He straightened up from where he’d been leaning against the tree he’d fallen asleep under a few hours ago. He was assuming it was a few hours ago, anyway. The sun hadn’t fully risen yet and they’d first stopped near midnight. He didn’t quite remember falling asleep, so he habitually scanned the campsite to ensure that nothing was amiss.

The first thing he noticed was that Kaisuki was absent.

Kisame was slumped up against a nearby tree, eyes closed, breathing relatively evenly. He wasn’t sleeping, so he ought to have woken up when Kaisuki had left. Madara was gone as well, and Itachi could figure that he had probably gone off with Kaisuki to see what she was up to. He wasn’t sure whether he ought to be concerned about the girl’s whereabouts or not.

“Kisame,” he called quietly, and his blue-haired partner’s eyes immediately opened. Kisame straightened up as well, looking over at him.

“What?” He immediately wanted to know.

Itachi cocked his head towards Kaisuki’s bag, “Do you know where she went?”

Kisame blinked, looking over at the spot where their resident Yurei had been, looking surprised. “I didn’t know she left.”

Itachi’s brow furrowed. She was extremely good at disappearing without waking either of them, and he wasn’t sure if it was because she was casting some kind of jutsu or if she was really just that good at sneaking around. In all honesty, he couldn’t imagine how she could possibly be good enough at either to slip away from two of the most notorious criminals in the entire Shinobi Nations, but she had done just that twice.

The only thing was that it didn’t really make a whole lot of sense for her to be able to slip away at all, let alone as easily as she did. They were trained to wake up at the slightest disturbance, and there was no way Kaisuki could cast a genjutsu that he couldn’t see through. That wasn’t even his ego talking; that was a fact. He had yet to meet someone who could cast a genjutsu he couldn’t get out of, and he had met and fought a lot of people who had first assumed they could trap Uchiha Itachi in a genjutsu.

He heard a rustling sound in the shadows just past the tree that Kaisuki’s things sat by. Madara came through first, his face ashen, and he walked over to Itachi mutely and dropped to the ground beside him, pushing his back up against the tree. His breathing was labored, and Itachi could feel the tremor in his shoulders.

Itachi had expected Madara to start spewing forth answers as to where Kaisuki had been, but he didn’t. He didn’t speak at all. He didn’t even lean over to rest his head on Itachi’s shoulder. Something terrifying had evidently happened. Madara didn’t behave like that unless something had scared him out of his wits, such as Itachi almost being killed by a psychotic demoness.

He waited patiently as the rustling in the shrubbery drew nearer, and a moment later a woman he had never seen before stepped out of the shadows. Her hair was ridiculously long and blonde, and her glaring eyes were a familiar electric blue.

Is that… Khrai?

She was hurt pretty badly. She had a hand pressed to a freely-bleeding wound just below her collarbone, and there were countless lacerations decorating her arms. Her lip was split, and her entire left arm was bruised and oozing blood from various sores, in much the same way Kaisuki’s had been when she’d disappeared to handle that group of bounty hunters the week before.

Itachi didn’t move. He almost wanted to hold his breath. She hadn’t looked up from the ground yet, so she evidently hadn’t noticed that Kisame and Itachi were conscious. He glanced over at his partner, who met his gaze. He looked bewildered and very concerned, but he also looked like he wasn’t sure he wanted to speak yet.

They both returned their attention to the woman Itachi was assuming to be Khrai just as she was walking around the tree, bracing herself against it with her uninjured hand momentarily. It was then that Itachi noticed the pointed ears poking out from under her thick blonde hair. He recalled Madara telling him about them, along with her ridiculous physical strength, and found himself unable to tear his eyes away from her ears.

“She ripped a guy’s head off with one punch.”

Was she human? Was she the one keeping Itachi and Kisame from waking up when Kaisuki left the campsite in the middle of the night? Was there any particular reason for it?

More importantly, what in the Nations had happened to her? Madara had made her sound like an unstoppable force, and yet she had obviously been beaten pretty badly. He watched her hands curl into fists, noting that every bit of her body language was presenting as positively enraged. He didn’t know who she had fought, but apparently she was a relatively sore loser.

Her shoulder was still bleeding rather profusely, and the blood flow only increased as she clenched her fists to the point of shaking. He glanced over at Kisame again, and saw that his partner was about to say something, when Khrai abruptly let out a wordless snarl and drove her injured left fist into the tree she was standing next to.

There was a loud cracking sound – the sound of wood splitting – that cut through the otherwise silent little clearing. Itachi’s eyes widened in shock as the tree pitched backwards, the wood continuing to split and crack with splinters flying. The thick, old oak landed heavily on the trees behind it, the racket of branches snapping becoming ever louder.

For a long moment, even after the noise had died down, Khrai didn’t move. She just stood there, shoulders heaving, staring at the wreckage she had created, hand shaking from the damage she had worsened. Itachi had to make a conscious effort to not allow his mouth to drop open. His heart rate was rather significantly elevated, and his chest was beginning to feel tight as a result. He worked to settle himself, wondering faintly if he wanted her to know that he was awake or not.

Not like he could pretend that he was asleep with the amount of noise the blonde spirit had just made.

Abruptly, she turned around and looked directly at him for a brief second, then over at Kisame. She didn’t speak. She just leaned her back against the tree and stood there, gasping quietly, her eyes closed and her expression set in a pained grimace. Itachi glanced at his partner again, but Kisame didn’t look over at him. The Uchiha couldn’t help but notice that his partner was looking increasingly worried with each passing moment of silence.

She lost a fight,” Madara suddenly whispered, and Itachi had to make an effort not to flinch at the sudden voice. “I don’t know who she was fighting, but she lost.

He had figured that much out already, though. What he wanted to know was who she had been fighting with.

Finally, Kisame spoke, his voice somewhat subdued. “What happened? Are you alright?”

Itachi looked over at the blue-haired man again. At that point, Kisame wasn’t even trying to hide how much he cared about Kaisuki and her spirits. Even if Khrai was crass and bad-tempered, she was part of the package deal that was Kaisuki, and Itachi’s partner had come to really like her.

He really hoped no one else in Akatsuki ever found out about her.

Khrai took a couple of wobbly steps away from the tree, her eyes still closed. A a blinding white light erupted from the ground below her, swirling around her and obscuring her completely, and when it was gone, Kaisuki’s body was back.

She stepped backwards until her back his the tree again and slid down it until she was sitting on the ground, pressing her hand over her shoulder again. Her face was ashen. She was losing a fair amount of blood. She cleared her throat and looked over at Kisame, her face set in a scowl that very obviously wasn’t directed at anyone present.

“It’s been a while since I lost a fight,” she finally muttered after a lengthy pause. “I don’t think I’ve ever lost a fight to a fucking human, so that kind of pisses me off. Although I’m not sure I can call that piece of shit human.”

Immediately, Itachi noted that she had directly referred to her opponent as human, while very clearly distancing herself from that method of identification. She really wasn’t human, then, unless her semantics were meaningless. He highly doubted that, though.

“How long is a while?” Kisame asked with raised eyebrows.

A while.” Khrai ground out irritably. Kisame blinked, looking a little surprised, but he didn’t pursue the topic. The spirit then looked over at Itachi, and he could see that her breathing was a bit more labored than it had been when she’d first arrived back at the campsite. They needed to close that wound in her shoulder.

He stood up and crossed the clearing, “Let me see,” he requested. She stared at him for a long, long moment, before huffing irritably and dropping her hand from the wound, permitting Itachi to see it. He crouched down so he could get a better look at what he was dealing with.

It was a fair amount worse than he’d been expecting. The edges of the wound were jagged and messy, as though whatever she had been stabbed with had been serrated, and it was bleeding a lot. Stitching it would be nearly impossible. He would have to use irou-ninjutsu to close it as much as he could and then just bandage it.

“Did it go all the way through?” He asked, glancing up at her, only to find that she was staring at him with an unreadable expression on her face.

“No,” she replied flatly.

Itachi nodded, returning his attention to the wound. He held his hand over it, concentrating and summoning forth the irou-ninjutsu he’d been trained to use while he’d been in ANBU. It’d been a while since he’d had to use it, but he remembered how to do it.

It only took him a few seconds to stop the bleeding, and only a couple of minutes to heal the worst of the damage. Khrai had already produced a roll of gauze and a roll of tape from Kaisuki’s bag, and was handing them to him as he pulled his hands away to inspect his work.

He received the gauze wordlessly once he had deemed his job “well done.” Khrai leaned forward and lifted her arm a bit so he could start winding the gauze around her shoulder. He could feel Madara’s eyes on his back, but he ignored it. He was sure the ghost was still stressing out, and he still didn’t know why. After his encounter with Sumi, he didn’t really want to be taking late night walks in the woods, either.

Once he had finished bandaging Khrai’s shoulder, Itachi planted his hands on his knees and stood up, walking back over to his spot under his tree and sitting back down. The pain in his chest was worsening. Using his chakra always seemed to make his chest hurt worse when it was aching.

“Khrai,” he asked suddenly, looking up at her again. She was already watching him, her expression still unreadable. “What happened? And why couldn’t Izumi have taken care of your shoulder?”

For just a moment, he regretted asking. The spirit’s expression darkened momentarily, before she let out another angry huff and turned her gaze elsewhere. The silence stretched, but he could tell that she was contemplating whether or not she wanted to answer him.

Finally, she sighed. “Apparently Teara’s following you so he can keep an eye on you,” Khrai paused, chewing her tongue. Itachi felt Madara stiffen beside him. “He could have killed us, but, as he said, we’re ‘making his job easier by taking such good care of you.’ Pretty fucking sure he knows that Sumi almost killed you. So I guess he’s under orders to watch you to keep you safe, which makes sense given the fact that he’s never come within half a god damn mile of you. Got no fucking clue why he was given that order, but what-the-fuck-ever. We’ll figure that out later.”

Itachi didn’t say anything in reply (largely because he wasn’t sure what would set off her temper), so Khrai continued with an increasingly agitated tone of voice. “Izumi’s taking care of Saeka right now, so she’s a bit held up at the moment. Kaisuki blacked out from the amount of pain she’s in, and I expect she’ll be out for a while.”

“Is they alright?” Kisame immediately asked. Khrai looked over at him, her lips pursed.

“Kaisuki will be fine, but Saeka’s all kinds of fucked up right now,” she replied with absolutely no tact. “She’s always like that after we have a run-in with Teara.”

Kisame hummed in acknowledgment. “Give her our best.”

The same unreadable look crossed Khrai’s face for a moment, before she turned her gaze away and replied quietly. “Will do.”

Itachi had only half-listened to the exchange, as his mind was in other places. Teara had been given an order to keep an eye on him to ensure his safety? Why? Who would have given that order? Obviously it wasn’t Sumi, she would’ve just taken the opportunity to have Itachi killed. They were up to at least two sides, one wanting him dead, the other wanting him alive.

The only real question was: why? The side wanting him dead wasn’t as much of a big deal to him. He was sure that Sasuke was going to come looking for him soon enough. What worried him was the side that wanted him alive. Would they go after Sasuke to keep him safe? Would they kill Sasuke to keep him safe? He didn’t want to even imagine it.

All he could really do was hope that Sasuke would start looking for him soon, and that they would be able to get their final battle over with before his little brother was put in harm’s way.

Following Khrai’s spat with Teara, Kaisuki became abnormally quiet.

It wasn’t as though Kaisuki wasn’t normally quiet, but rather that she wasn’t normally that quiet. Kisame had been having a certain amount of trouble drawing her into conversation over the past three days, and he’d noticed that she’d been spacing out a lot and acting very distracted. He didn’t know what was going through her head, but he was sure that she would tell them as soon as it pertained to them.

He just wished it would pertain to them already so he could find out what it was. He wasn’t exactly known for being patient.

He glanced up at the duo he was traveling with, frowning slightly. They had stopped to take a break because Itachi had been struggling to breathe for the past quarter mile or so (though he hadn’t said anything, as usual), and Izumi was giving him a dose of lacelle. She had elected to give him a smaller dose every time he started feeling chest pain, highlighting the importance of keeping the vessels in his lungs from rupturing as much as possible.

“Itachi, if you want to avoid dying, you need to stop hiding it when your chest starts to hurt.”

The Uchiha hadn’t said anything in reply to that.

His partner was in pretty gnarly shape. He couldn’t walk for long periods of time before he started having trouble breathing, though he didn’t always say anything about it. He’d plod on for an extra two hours before he admitted that he was feeling lightheaded and needed to sit down. Izumi had been handling mini-crisis after mini-crisis for a little over three weeks, and it didn’t seem like he was getting any better.

Their resident irou-nin had already informed them that it was going to take a few (if not several) months before Itachi was back where Izumi had had him before Sumi happened. The situation was as close to dire as it could be without Itachi actually being in the process of drowning in his own blood. Kisame understood just how bad the damage had been, and how severe the situation was, and he understood that Izumi was doing everything she could to get Itachi back on track.

Unfortunately, he’d never been known for his patience, and he wasn’t really the type to go through the trouble of making a new name for himself.

As Izumi drew her hands back from Itachi’s chest, eyes flickering back to red as she stood up, a familiar screech cut through the otherwise silent air. Kisame looked skyward, spotting the hawk that was circling overhead and almost flinching when Kaisuki suddenly whistled ridiculously loudly. He looked down at her, and a moment later a scroll landed on the ground in front of her, and she stooped down to pick it up.

She turned it over and unrolled it silently, eyes scanning the note. Kisame glanced over at Itachi, who met his gaze for a moment before he turned his attention somewhere near the middle distance to his left. That was his silent way of telling Kisame not to ask Kaisuki to read them her mail.

When he looked back over at the Yurei, however, he saw that she had frozen and her eyes were wide in shock. He was about to say something when she lowered the scroll somewhat and glanced at Itachi, and then Kisame, and then back at her letter.

“Sasuke’s…” she spoke quietly, and Kisame wondered briefly if he was about to hear an obituary. “Sasuke’s killed Orochimaru.”

Well, that took an unexpected turn.

“He’s on the move, I guess,” Kaisuki continued. Then, with a roll of her eyes, “Probably out hunting Itachi. Fucking twat.”

Kisame snorted before he could stop himself. Kaisuki smiled wryly at him before returning her attention to her letter. She walked over to the tree she had dumped her bag next to, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet for a moment and clicking her tongue.

“Naruto wants to see me,” she muttered. “He’s probably going to try and persuade me to help him pummel Sasuke so they can drag him back home.”

“You sound a bit less than enthusiastic about that,” Itachi commented disinterestedly.

Kaisuki looked at him, frowning and then shrugging. “I mean, what’s the point?” She muttered after a moment, looking highly irritated all of a sudden. “Sasuke’s fucked in the head in a lot of different ways. I don’t know why Naruto and Sakura couldn’t see that before he left, let alone now. No one wants to put him in a psych ward or prison – even though he belongs in both – so there’s no chance that they’ll be able to keep him in Konohagakure. Assuming they can get him there in the first place.”

Kisame’s eyebrows had risen throughout her tirade, and he continued to observe her as she rolled the scroll back up with a scowl on her face. She seemed to be pretty angry with Sasuke. Kisame obviously didn’t have the whole story, but he could sympathize with the bit of the story she had just given him. If the kid didn’t want to be in Konohagakure, why were people trying to force him to go back?

Whatever, he thought indifferently. Not my friend, not my problem.

“What are you gonna do?” Kisame asked. “Are you gonna go meet up with what’s-his-name?”

Kaisuki didn’t respond at all for a moment, still staring at the scroll in her hand. Abruptly, she looked up, appearing as though she had only just realized that he’d asked her a question. She opened her mouth and closed it again, before actually starting her reply. “Oh, I’m… I guess I’ll meet up with Naruto,” she conceded after a brief pause, very obviously distracted. “I’ll probably be back in a few days, a week at the most, I think. Dealing with my team while they’re obsessing on Sasuke is really…”

Kisame nodded understandingly when she trailed off into silence. “I can see why that would be tough.”

“Yea,” she replied halfheartedly, dropping the scroll into her open backpack. “I’ll get Izumi to prepare some of those herbs and then I’ll be on my way. Sorry for this.”

He smiled at her. “Nah, don’t worry about it. Teams are a pain, I get it,” he said with a wink, knowing that she would understand he was specifically referring to Itachi. She smiled at him in response, though the expression didn’t look genuine.

An instant later, her eyes were green. Izumi looked every bit as worn out as Kaisuki had. He had never spoken to her about Kaisuki’s team, so he didn’t know what her views were on the whole mess with Sasuke. He wondered if she was at the same standpoint as her hostess, or if she felt differently about the subject.

He would’ve asked, but it really wasn’t his business. He tried not to be nosy, but he really liked to learn all the things he possibly could about the (very few) people he cared about.

Once she had done the zenshin kirikae, it took Izumi no more than ten minutes or so to grow the three plants, pick their leaves and petals, and grind them up into separate containers. The three of them didn’t speak the whole time, Kisame simply watching Izumi and Itachi brooding about something. Kaisuki and her spirits seemed to have quite a lot on their separate and shared minds. He sort of wished that he was closer to the four of them so he could offer a bit more than just moral support.

At the same time, of course, he was glad that he had the distance that he did. It was one thing for him and Itachi to be somewhat close – they worked together, they were both missing-nin, and neither of them had anything to gain by doing something horrible to the other (except perhaps bounty money, which wasn’t really worth the trouble). Kaisuki wasn’t a coworker, wasn’t a missing-nin, and Kisame could actually gain a lot for Akatsuki by using her as bait for the kyuubi’s jinchuriki.

It would’ve been best for him to not get to know her as well as he did. Although, he supposed that knowing her that much had kept him from selling her out to Akatsuki. That and Izumi’s usefulness as Itachi’s doctor. So really, the situation was as good as it could be, given what it was. He ought to stop worrying about it. So long as his employers didn’t find out about her, it would be fine.

Izumi clasped the lid on the last container, a swirl of green chakra surrounding her as she switched back into Kaisuki’s body. She used a cloth that she unearthed from somewhere in Kaisuki’s bag to wipe off the mortar and pestle, before putting all three items away. Kisame glanced at his partner, noting that the Uchiha’s attention had been drawn back to Izumi. He still seemed to be deep in thought, even as the irou-nin walked up to him and handed him the three containers.

“This will last you the week,” she told Itachi. “Don’t take more than four doses of lacelle per day, and don’t take them closer than four hours apart.”

Itachi nodded stonily, and Izumi smiled at him as she straightened up, eyes switching back to red. Kaisuki walked back over to her bag, picking it up and slinging it over her shoulder. “I’ll see you guys in a few days,” she tiredly said. “Don’t get killed by the legions of the Underworld while I’m gone.”

Kisame snorted, “You should know by now that I am more powerful than any legion, Kaisuki,” he grinned. “After all, I can put up with him.” He cocked his head towards Itachi, who he was sure was rolling his eyes through the sky.

Kaisuki laughed, the sound much more genuine. He didn’t know what she’d been talking about while Izumi had been making up Itachi’s meds, but it seemed to have cheered her spirits. He was glad to see it. “Of course, of course. What’s a legion of demons compared to Itachi’s unparalleled stubbornness?”

He winked at her, and she offered one last wave before jumping up into the trees and taking off through the branches. He watched her back until he couldn’t see her anymore, glancing over at Itachi. The Uchiha returned his gaze, his eyes the only thing betraying his amusement. While he didn’t let it show, the fact that he could see that much in Itachi’s expression came as a bit of a surprise to Kisame. Itachi didn’t show much. He only laughed or smiled when he was delirious with a high fever.

Kisame smirked at his partner, and in an instant, the spark of amusement in Itachi’s eyes disappeared. He was only slightly disappointed.

Itachi sighed heavily and got up, prompting Kisame to follow his lead. The Uchiha glanced towards the sky briefly to see which direction was which based on the position of the sun, and then started walking towards the southeast. He didn’t know what was in that direction that his partner wanted to go to, but he supposed he’d find out eventually. Itachi sometimes didn’t tell him things. Actually, Itachi didn’t tell him things all the time.

They walked in silence for nearly an hour before his partner spoke in a subdued voice, as though he thought someone might be listening:

“Kisame, I need to ask you for a favor.”

It sort of upset him to think that waiting for Kaisuki to arrive at a meet-up location had become an anxiety-inducing activity.

Naruto frowned at his nails and started picking his cuticles. She would be arriving in a short while, and he felt like he was about to have a heart attack. Sakura-chan and Kakashi-sensei weren’t with him. They were out scouting the area, looking for any clues. They had tracked Sasuke to the spot where Naruto was waiting for Kaisuki with one of Kakashi-sensei’s dogs, but the trail had completely disappeared. So, they were looking around to see if they could find where it started up again.

He was more anxious because he was alone.

He felt like every time he saw her, they grew further apart. Naruto used to tell Kaisuki everything, and she used to tell him everything. Since Sasuke had left, they’d basically stopped talking. They still exchanged letters, but the frequency of those letters had been getting scarcer and scarcer as time had worn on.

Kaisuki didn’t approve of Naruto’s mission to bring Sasuke home. That was all there was to it. She had told him on multiple occasions that it wasn’t right for them to be trying to force him to be somewhere that he obviously didn’t want to be. She had told them that whatever happened to him was his problem, and they shouldn’t be sticking their noses where they weren’t wanted.

His responses had been something along the lines of “don’t you care at all?” and “but what if something terrible happens to him? What if he gets killed?” He couldn’t tell if she cared at all. He couldn’t tell if she was worried about Sasuke the same way Sakura and he were. He had a feeling she wasn’t, but he didn’t want to discredit her. He knew that she had cared for the Uchiha just as much as the rest of the team, so how could she disregard the issue of his safety so easily?

Did she really not care anymore? He’d been asking himself that question ever since she’d told him that she wouldn’t help him bring Sasuke home when he’d first left almost two years ago. He’d only met up with Kaisuki a handful of times since she’d left Konohagakure for her “journey of self-discovery” (those were her words, not his), and just about every time he’d seen her, they’d gotten into a fight over Sasuke.

He picked on his finger a little too much and it started to bleed. He frowned and stuck the appendage in his mouth, adjusting the way he was sitting on the ground and scowling at the grass. She had said she ought to make it to their meeting spot in the early afternoon, so she ought to be arriving soon. The knowledge wasn’t helping his nerves at all.

There was a rustling in the trees and he looked up in time to see Kaisuki land on one of the branches above him. He quickly got up as she dropped to the ground, looking exceedingly worn out.

“Hey, Kaisuki,” he greeted. She smiled tiredly at him.

“Hey, Naruto,” she returned. Then, after the briefest pause, she asked, “So, are you going to try to convince me to help you track down Sasuke again?”

The bluntness was scathing, and Naruto almost wanted to wince at her tone. He wasn’t even sure what to say for a long moment. She waited patiently, her face set in an unreadable expression. He didn’t want to admit that she was right, but she was. Or at least, she was partially right.

“Yes and no,” Naruto finally conceded after a lengthy lapse in the conversation. “I… before I wanted to ask you for a favor, I wanted to know if you’d heard anything about him while you’ve been out and about. Ever since he killed Orochimaru, I hear he’s been popping up randomly without any form of a pattern. I think he’s probably looking for Itachi now, but… I dunno. Have you heard or seen anything?”

Kaisuki’s expression darkened momentarily at the mention of Itachi, before she directed her gaze towards the ground for a moment. With a slightly annoyed sigh, she looked up and replied, “No, I haven’t heard anything at all.”

Naruto’s mood was immediately dampened. Not only was it impossible for him to tell if she was lying or not (her answer had seemed harsher than he felt was necessary), it seemed like it didn’t matter who he asked or where he went, no one heard or saw anything about Sasuke. His missing teammate was better as eluding people than anyone Naruto had ever heard of. And his pattern of movement didn’t make any sense at all. It seemed like he was wandering about aimlessly, but Naruto knew he had to be looking for Itachi.

But even that was a dead end. If there was anyone better at avoiding attention than Sasuke, it was probably Itachi. He wondered faintly if Sasuke would ever be able to find his brother, in much the same way he wondered if he’d ever find his teammate.

Kaisuki frowned at him, though the expression almost looked like a scowl. “You’re really going to keep looking for him? Even though there’s no way Orochimaru will be able to do anything horrible to him? He’s as far out of danger as he could be at this point.”

“Yea,” Naruto replied a little more heatedly than he’d wanted. “I’m gonna bring his ass home one way or another. I called you out here because I wanted to know if you’d heard anything, but also because I wanted to ask if you could-…”

“No,” Kaisuki cut him off before he could even make his request, glaring at him. “We’ve been over this a thousand fucking times, Naruto. I’m not going to fuel your obsessive stalking. I refuse to have anything to do with it.”

“And you still haven’t given me any form of a reason why!” He snapped angrily, “Are you really so selfish that you don’t care at all about your teammates?”

He knew that was the wrong thing to say the instant he said it. Kaisuki’s expression stilled for a moment, her eyes glazing over for just a second, before she clenched her fists, gritted her teeth, and exploded at him. “I’m selfish!? If anyone’s selfish around here, it’s you and Sakura! You don’t care about Sasuke, you care about yourselves!” She snarled with increasing volume. “You don’t want to deal with the fact that he wants nothing to do with you lot, so you’re going to force him to come back? How can you call yourself his friend if you can’t even respect his fucking decision!? That’s basic, Naruto. If you can’t respect his decisions, you’re not his friend; you’re another one of his fucking fangirls.”

Kaisuki looked like she wanted to hit him, but Naruto already felt like he’d been slapped. He stared at her, dumbfounded, for a long moment. He was furious with her, but he couldn’t find his words. They had been fighting a lot, yes, but Kaisuki had been very clearly holding herself back from yelling at Team 7 about Sasuke. Apparently, for whatever reason, she had decided that holding her tongue wasn’t worth it.

Was something going on that he didn’t know about? He wouldn’t have been surprised. She had stopped telling him things a while ago, so he didn’t know what was really going on with her. For all he knew, there was some kind of crisis going on that he had no idea about. He didn’t know. He couldn’t possibly know if she didn’t tell him, and he’d been getting the feeling since she’d left Konohagakure that she’d been hiding a lot from him.

Before he could reply, Kaisuki’s eyes suddenly flashed pink and widened hugely. She turned around, looking back the way she’d come, her whole body stiffening. Naruto stared at her, confused.

“S-Saeka-chan, what’s-…”

“They’re fighting,” she whispered so quietly he almost didn’t hear her.

Naruto blinked, his stomach dropping. “Who’s fighting?” He asked, even though he was relatively certain that he already knew the answer.

“Itachi and Sasuke,” Saeka-chan muttered, still speaking very quietly. Naruto was just leaning in so he could hear her better when she suddenly growled furiously, “I’ll kill him.

Without another word, she took off. Without knowing who exactly she was going to go kill, Naruto couldn’t possibly just let her go off without him. He took off after her, running at a full sprint just to keep up, and even then she was pulling away.

He started flaring his chakra to let Kakashi-sensei and Sakura-chan know that he was on the move. They would probably catch up soon enough. Probably. He didn’t know, he was moving pretty fast in an effort to keep up with Saeka-chan. He was pretty sure that she could move with unmatched speed. She was very clearly not moving as fast as she possibly could (it looked like she was jogging), which implied to Naruto that she wanted him to keep up.

Maybe. She was still getting further away. Maybe Kaisuki’s body just couldn’t move as fast as Saeka-chan’s.

Whatever.

His heart was pounding. Sasuke and Itachi were fighting. What if Sasuke lost? Itachi was pretty amazingly powerful. Although, Sasuke had to have gotten really strong over the past three years. Otherwise he wouldn’t be challenging Itachi again… right? He didn’t know. Sasuke had been impatient enough to almost get himself killed fighting Itachi in the past. He’d killed Orochimaru, though, so that had to mean that he was much, much stronger than Naruto was giving him credit for. Maybe he could beat Itachi.

More importantly, if he did beat Itachi, would he return to Konohagakure? If he achieved his goal, he’d have no reason to stay away, right?

“How can you call yourself his friend if you can’t even respect his fucking decision!?

She was right, in a way, and he knew it. He’d known it from the start. He’d understood from the get-go that he was being immensely selfish, that he and Sakura were being terrible excuses for friends. But that didn’t change anything to him. He just wanted his friend back. Kaisuki and Sasuke had grown very far apart, so it made sense to Naruto that she could distance herself from his poor decision-making skills, but that didn’t change anything for him and Sakura. They couldn’t just take a step back and accept that Sasuke… that Sasuke…

“You don’t want to deal with the fact that he wants nothing to do with you lot, so you’re going to force him to come back?”

His eyes were burning, and he wiped them in frustration. Saeka-chan was still pulling away. He couldn’t move any faster than he already was. He couldn’t keep up with her. If she got there first, which of them was she going to “kill?” Was she going to actually kill either of them, or would she just break up their fight? How would she go about doing that? The last thing he wanted was for Saeka-chan to freak out and kill Sasuke, but knowing her opinion of him, that was probably exactly what was going to happen.

Why would she defend Itachi over Sasuke, though? Itachi had done a horrible, horrible thing to their teammate. Itachi was a notorious criminal. Everyone knew his name, and everyone knew him as the scum of the earth. He wasn’t a good person. He was a cold-blooded murderer, and he had traumatized Sasuke almost beyond the point of repair.

Naruto just didn’t know what Saeka-chan was thinking, and he couldn’t possibly figure it out without talking to her. Unfortunately, she was way ahead of him and he couldn’t keep up. What was he going to do? How far away were Itachi and Sasuke? Would they get there in time? He didn’t really know what Saeka-chan’s sensory range was. For all he knew, they could be a couple of miles away. If that was the case, they definitely wouldn’t get there in time.

Well, Saeka-chan might.

He suddenly noticed that the girl he’d been following had stopped moving. He stopped on a branch just behind her, looking over her shoulder at the duo standing in their way: Hoshigaki Kisame and a masked man that Naruto had never seen before.

His blood ran cold. He hadn’t laid eyes on Kisame since the day he’d met him. He didn’t know if he would be enough to take him out. Would Saeka-chan be enough? And who was that man in the mask? Were they actually blocking their path? He cursed internally. What were they going to do?

He saw his friend’s hand clench into impossibly tight fists, and he swallowed hard. He had a feeling Saeka-chan had switched out with Khrai. The younger spirit didn’t clench her fists because she was used to having ten inch talons for fingers. She usually splayed her fingers, instead.

Kisame straightened up from where he’d been leaning against the trunk of a tree, cracking his knuckles and glancing at the man standing beside him. Something about the one with the mask was giving him the chills. He didn’t know what it was, but he didn’t like it.

“Get the fuck out of my way,” the voice that came out of Kaisuki’s mouth definitely wasn’t Saeka-chan’s anymore. Even though he hadn’t heard it in a long time, Naruto still recognized the sound of Khrai’s voice.

“Sorry,” the masked man replied in a sing-song voice. “No trespassers!”

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