puzzle pieces

Madara found that he was helpless to keep himself from openly staring at Itachi as soon as Kisame put him down and he had a clear view of the kid. The living Uchiha had regained consciousness shortly after they’d gotten to the hotel room (while Izumi had been setting the fracture in his arm), but his face was white and his skin was clammy and he actually looked extremely sick. The ghost was chalking most of that up to the fact that he had lost a good amount of blood, as well as the fact that he had drowned in said blood.

Kaisuki had gone out to “acquire” a pint of blood with which to give Itachi a transfusion to make up for what he’d lost, apparently already having the rest of the things she would need. She had gotten them a three-person suite, with two beds and a futon that could seat at least two people when it was in couch formation, three if they wanted to get cozy. Itachi had been stationed on one end of the futon with two pillows to prop himself up with, one of the comforters to keep him warm, and a glass of water that he had taken about three sips of.

He had been looking progressively worse and worse since Madara had gotten to see him properly in the light. The haunt was relatively certain that he was running a high fever. The kid certainly looked like it.

Kisame had been silent as the grave since they’d arrived, and Itachi had done absolutely nothing to try and get a conversation going. Shortly after Kaisuki had left, Kisame had asked Itachi if he’d needed anything. Itachi had requested the comforter and the glass of water, Kisame had gotten them for him, and that had been the end of that conversation.

It had been about forty-five minutes since they’d arrived in the hotel, probably an hour and fifteen minutes since Itachi had been revived. Madara’s nerves were still shot. He couldn’t find his sense of humor anywhere. Itachi had had brushes with death before, but never like that.

Madara was completely without words. He hadn’t said anything since Itachi had come back from the brink of death. No jokes, no quips, not even an inquiry after the kid’s welfare. Everything had been almost eerily quiet, and he knew exactly which questions had been hanging around in the air since Kaisuki had left thirty minutes ago.

Who was Yukimura Sumi? Why had she tried to kill Itachi? How did Kaisuki and her spirits know who she was? Only three questions, but the only person who could answer them had gone out to get a pint of blood and hadn’t given an estimated time for her return.

It wasn’t as though Kaisuki had been cagey or dodgy, either. She hadn’t at any point acted as though she wanted to keep her knowledge under wraps and to herself. If anything, Madara expected her to start answering Kisame’s questions as soon as she got back. He was sure that was at least one of the reasons why Kisame and Itachi had been so quiet; neither of them had answers for the other and they both knew it, so they were just stewing in their thoughts in the meantime.

What was really amazing to Madara was how patient Kisame appeared to be. Normally, he was always in something of a hurry. He wanted to know the punchline before he heard the joke. He wanted to know the answer before he had formulated the question. He was constantly filling in words for Itachi when the Uchiha was taking his time composing his reply. At first, it had been rather annoying, because Kisame often picked the completely wrong word, simply due to assuming Itachi was going in one direction with what he was saying when he was going somewhere completely different.

Of course, Kisame had stopped interrupting the living Uchiha quite so often, specifically because he’d figured out that Itachi was more likely to just stop talking rather than continue trying to finish his sentences.

Madara supposed it was possible that the blue-haired Akatsuki member wasn’t feeling patient at all, but was simply being impatient in complete silence. It was unlike Kisame to behave that way, but after the events that had transpired so far that evening, Madara definitely wasn’t going to hold it against him. None of them had been behaving like themselves since they’d gotten to the hotel room.

Except Kaisuki, as odd as that seemed to him.

Kisame and Itachi looked up in perfect unison (from where they’d been staring at approximately the same spot in the middle of the couch) when the sound of the door being unlocked sounded through the room. The door swung open and Kaisuki walked in, a black bag gripped in her hand. She glanced up at them and flashed a grin before turning away to shut and lock the door behind her.

Without pausing, she strode across the room, setting the black bag on one of the nightstands on her way to her black backpack. She rummaged through it for a moment before producing a small scroll clearly labeled “INTRAVENOUS,” which she spread out on the nearest bed and used to summon an IV stand, a package of needles, and alcohol and iodine swabs.

She grabbed the black bag off the table and pulled out the pint of blood she had retrieved (from where, Madara only wished he knew) and started assembling everything. “Before you start firing questions at me,” the Yurei began, glancing over at them as she was looping tubing all over the place. “I have one question for Itachi.”

The Uchiha in question watched her carefully with a weary gaze as she continued. “Did Sumi say anything to you between the time you walked away from the campsite to the time we found you?”

Madara glanced at Itachi, already knowing the answer to the question. “Tell her.” He commanded.

Without missing a beat, Itachi replied hoarsely, “She said it would be easier to just kill me than to kill Sasuke.”

Kaisuki jerked to a halt before looking at him again, alarmed. “That’s all she said?”

Itachi nodded, and Kaisuki pursed her lips and hummed thoughtfully, returning her attention to her task. “That’s… well, I’m definitely missing something, but I’ll figure it out later, I’m sure,” she muttered to herself. Then, glancing over at Kisame briefly, she smiled and said, “Okay, fire away.”

As if he’d been waiting for that moment his entire life, Kisame immediately asked, “Who the hell is Yukimura Sumi and how do you know her?”

The Yurei chuckled darkly. “Well, that’s a bit of a story, actually,” she began. “My team was sent to escort a girl named Yukimura Sumi to Shimogakure about two years ago. I didn’t get to go on that mission because I was… well, I wasn’t around. I was lost in my own memories, but that’s a story for another time.”

Madara blinked, glancing at Itachi briefly. He was surprised when the Uchiha met his gaze, even if it was only for a second. Itachi never looked at him around other people. That just wasn’t allowed. Aside from that, he didn’t think he’d ever seen the kid look so tired. Not even when he’d been delirious with fever, or had lost much more blood than he had that night.

Almost instinctively, he stood up from the foot of the bed he’d been sitting on and walked over to Itachi, situating himself cross-legged in front of the couch. He didn’t want to touch the kid because he knew he was freezing, so he settled for the proximity instead of contact. He could lay all over Itachi when he was feeling better.

“Anyway,” Kaisuki continued as she rolled the IV stand over to Itachi’s side of the couch. The living Uchiha extended his arm out without any prompting, and she got to work wrapping the tourniquet around his bicep and cleaning the crook of his elbow with alcohol and iodine. “Six hours after they left, Tsunade-sama got a message from the man Sumi had told everyone was her dad, stating that he didn’t have a daughter. Me and a few others were sent out as a first response team because I guess they couldn’t scramble a whole lot of people on short notice.”

There was a pause in which Kaisuki carefully slid the needle into Itachi’s arm (done with as much skill as an actual irou-nin) and started the IV drip. She then walked over to the foot of the bed that Madara had just been seated on and sat down with a sigh. “When we got there, Naruto had gone completely berserk on Sumi, Kakashi-sensei’s throat had been slashed open, and Sasuke…”

The Yurei shuddered and swallowed hard, her face paling some. “Sumi… gutted Sasuke,” she said quietly. Madara stiffened and glanced at Itachi again. The living Uchiha didn’t return his gaze that time, but the ghost could see that he had lost a bit of color. “Sakura kept him from bleeding out, but he should’ve died from shock, or blood loss, or infection. Obviously, he didn’t. He ran a fever for a couple of days after they patched him up at the hospital, but aside from that, there were no hitches. He’s a lucky bastard, that’s for sure.”

“Anyway, Khrai had sent Shizune-san and Tenten to meet up with Sakura and Sasuke, since Sasuke needed a medic more than anyone else,” She took a breath, brushing some of her hair behind her ear. “I would’ve gone myself, since I have Izumi, but we needed Khrai to deal with Sumi. So, we found Kakashi-sensei, and Gai-san took him back to Shizune-san and them, while me and Neji went after Sumi and Naruto. Neji took Naruto down for me, and I…”

Kaisuki paused again, her brow furrowing this time and a frown appearing on her face. “I slit Sumi’s throat with a kunai, and she went down and didn’t get back up, so I assumed she was dead. I had a really bad feeling, but she didn’t get back up and Saeka said her chakra flow stopped.”

“But, apparently, she wasn’t,” Kisame deadpanned. Kaisuki looked up and him and nodded, but something seemed off about the look on her face. There was something she wasn’t saying. He was sure Kisame could see it as well, and Itachi probably would’ve noticed too if he’d been looking at her, but he wasn’t.

A silence fell over them for a long moment. Madara glanced over at Itachi, who was staring thoughtfully at the IV needle in his arm. “She’s not telling you something.” He said. “Look at her. She’s hiding something.

Obediently, Itachi lifted his gaze and looked over at Kaisuki. He watched her carefully for a moment before he stated bluntly, “There’s something else, isn’t there?”

The Yurei – whose gaze had fallen to the floor – looked up quickly. After a moment, a tired smile appeared on her face, and she asked quietly. “You’ve already figured that out, though, right?”

There was a long pause, before Itachi slowly replied. “She’s not human.” He muttered, lowering his gaze again and furrowing his brow. He looked pretty disturbed.

“Not human?” Kisame blinked, bewildered. “I’m sure she used a genjutsu to make Kaisuki think-…”

“No,” Itachi interrupted. “Kisame, I put a kunai all the way through her neck. She pulled it out and almost tore me in half. I blew her up, and she broke my arm when I paused to see if I’d managed to kill her. And…” he paused, taking in a uneven breath and clearing his throat before continuing. “I’ve never felt chakra that dark in my life.”

“You’re right,” the vocal tone was different, and Madara immediately recognized the voice as Khrai, before he’d even looked over at the Yurei. Her blue eyes were set on Itachi. “She’s not human. There’s no human with chakra that dark.”

“What is she?” The living Uchiha asked slowly, meeting Khrai’s gaze evenly.

Khrai heaved a sigh, “You may or may not believe me, but shut the fuck up and let me explain this to you.” She demanded. Kisame and Itachi both nodded in unison. “She’s a demoness. Actually, I think she may be a step above that. But either way, she hails from the Underworld.”

An ice-cold vice grip wrapped around his throat and he sucked in a startled breath. He didn’t know what could possibly be the source of chakra that dark, but he knew it couldn’t be good news. Could the chakra of a human even get that dark? Was it a bijuu? No, it wasn’t strong enough to be a bijuu…

Madara swallowed hard, beginning to feel sick. He glanced over at Itachi, wishing they were on the road so they could take a walk and talk to each other. If there had ever been a time when he wanted to talk to the kid, it was right then. He wanted to ask him when they’d be able to get a moment, but he already knew that it wouldn’t happen any time soon.

Although, he did have some slightly game-changing things to tell the kid, and soon would be a better time than ever to tell him.

Too bad we’re not allowed to chat in public.

Kisame opened his mouth to reply to the interesting news he’d just received, but Khrai brandished a finger at him, “Shut the fuck up,” she ground out, and he closed his mouth again. “This isn’t the first time Kaisuki’s been in the presence of a demon before Sumi, but she doesn’t remember this because I knocked her ass out to keep her from asking stupid questions and distracting me. Hyuuga Neji was possessed at some point during the Forest of Death portion of Chuunin Exams. I broke his arm to see how he reacted to pain and when he didn’t, I knew he was possessed. I… dealt with that demon with a little bit of my chakra and a little bit of my knowledge of the Hyuuga clan’s branch family.”

Itachi was staring at her. “If what you’re saying is true, why on earth would a… “demoness” be trying to kill me and Sasuke?”

Good question. I’d like to know, too.” Madara muttered under his breath.

Khrai let out another heavy sigh. “Honestly? We have no idea. I don’t know what Sasuke did to piss her off and I don’t know how you fucked up. I would assume that she’ll probably try to kill you both again, though I have no fucking clue when, or how, or anything really. All we really know about her is that, wherever she is, there’s a huge as shit cloud of demonic energy, usually spanning a couple of miles. And for whatever reason, we haven’t encountered anyone aside from Saeka who can sense demonic energy.”

It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. The whole thing had to be a dream, right? Surely he’d wake up in just a moment. Surely someone would soon rouse him from the horrible nightmare that was beginning to feel a lot like reality.

“Konohagakure, eh? I’ll be sure to tear it down for you.”

Hashirama wouldn’t realize it wasn’t him.

Don’t you dare! Get back here or I swear I’ll fucking kill you! Hey! GET BACK HERE!!

Itachi cleared his throat once, and then coughed harshly, startling Madara out of his reverie. He looked over at the living Uchiha again, before turning his gaze back to the Yurei with wide eyes. Khrai’s blue eyes immediately flickered to green, and Izumi stood up and walked over to Itachi. Her hand was already glowing when she pressed it against Itachi’s chest, just in time for him to descend into an actual coughing fit.

The irou-nin’s eyebrows knitted together as Itachi’s coughing fit got worse, and Madara could see growing alarm written all over her face as the fit went on. The glow around her hands shifted to a paler shade of green. It took another minute or so before Itachi’s coughing settled down, and once the Uchiha could breathe again, he groaned around a wheeze, his expression pained.

Izumi swallowed as the glow around her hands faded away, and she pressed her palm against Itachi’s forehead. She frowned, looking deeply displeased with whatever it was she had discovered. The pulse of Madara’s soul skyrocketed, fear immediately climbing up his throat. Something was wrong. He didn’t think he could handle any more bad things happening to Itachi for the rest of the night.

I’m gonna have a heart attack if you keep this up, Itachi,” he mumbled quietly, unable to prevent himself from reaching up and taking Itachi’s hand. To his surprise, Itachi gingerly curled his fingers just the slightest bit, just enough for Madara to feel the movement. He smiled, feeling almost sick with anxiety. “I can’t even have heart attacks.

Itachi leaned back against his pillows and didn’t reply, wrapping the arm that wasn’t stuck with a needle around his middle. He looked positively miserable. Izumi had walked back over to Kaisuki’s bag and was rummaging through it again. When she stood back up, she held a small container of a familiar pale green and pink paste.

“Lift your shirt, please,” she requested politely as she peeled the lid of the container off. Itachi obediently pulled the covers down to his hips and lifted his shirt up. Izumi knelt down beside him after moving the IV stand over, setting the container down on the floor beside her. She scooped a decent amount of it onto three fingers and halved the amount over three fingers on her other hand.

Izumi glanced up at Itachi briefly before placing her paste-coated fingers on either side of his ribcage. The living Uchiha shivered at the chill as Izumi’s hands lit up with a blueish-green color, and Madara observed as the paste began to seep into Itachi’s skin. The irou-nin’s eyes seemed to have brightened somewhat as she concentrated.

It only took about two minutes before she was done, and she retracted her hands, covered the container, and stood up. “You’ll get your dose of whiteheart and moonwalker in the morning,” she stated. “I know I gave you a dose of lacelle this morning, but I need to get that inflammation under control quickly.”

Itachi looked over at her after he had pulled his shirt back down and his blanket back up to his chin. “Is something wrong, Izumi?” He asked quietly. The kid suddenly looked… downtrodden. Depressed. He seemed incredibly out of it, and he had to be miserable. Madara was immediately recalling how he’d looked when he and Kisame had been on their way to get Sumi.

What the hell is wrong with you? For once, he didn’t voice his thoughts out loud.

“Well,” Izumi replied with a sigh. “Firstly, you’re running a pretty high fever. Secondly… Itachi, Sumi shredded your lungs from the inside. There were multiple spots where the tears had gone all the way through the walls of your lungs. The scar tissue that we had almost completely gotten rid of is back, and it’s worse than it was before because of the level of damage she did. Basically, we’ve been sent back to square negative five.”

Madara glanced up at Itachi from where he’d been staring at Izumi with wide, horrified eyes. The living Uchiha’s face was ashen, his eyes shadowed with exhaustion and haunted with the memory of his encounter with Sumi. He looked extremely upset, Madara suddenly realized. He hadn’t seen Itachi look that devastated in a long time. He could see depression seeping into his expression, and the ghost wasn’t sure where exactly the amount of emotion Itachi was presenting was coming from.

Izumi was scrutinizing him carefully as well, a frown on her face. “If I’m going to prevent you from having a crisis of an episode within the next couple of months, I’m going to have to start giving you whiteheart every other day instead of every three days, and I’m going to have to start giving you a dose of lacelle at least twice a day.” She paused, stepping back over to Itachi’s side and placing a hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright?”

Itachi shuddered, which prompted Izumi to retract her hand. He looked like he wished she hadn’t, and she seemed to notice, because she put her hand back where it had been and gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.

“I don’t… know,” he answered her, voice monotonous and barely above a whisper. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m not usually…”

“It’s okay, honey,” Izumi crooned, kneeling down again. She lifted her hand off his shoulder and pressed it to his forehead again, looking very worried. “I think your fever may be causing some delirium. It’s gotten very high since we first got here, so I’m a little worried.”

Kisame, who had been quiet for a very long time, suddenly spoke. “Can you give him something to get it down?”

Izumi glanced up at him, frowning. “I will, but I just gave him a dose of lacelle, so I have to wait at least two hours before I can give him anything else. Lacelle doesn’t react well with other medications, which is why I never give him all three of his meds at once.”

The blue-haired man nodded, looking extremely worried. “He’s been like this for hours, though,” he said. “He had an awful fit on the streets earlier while we were on our way to pick up Sumi, and ever since then he’s been… off. I don’t even know how to describe it.”

Izumi nodded, looking perturbed. “He’s probably just been sick all day, Kisame. I’ll give him a dose of moonwalker and an anti-pyretic in a couple of hours, and then we’ll put him to bed.” She let out a huff of air and pressed her hand to his forehead again. He was looking more and more tired with each passing minute. “In the meantime, Itachi, please try to stay awake. I need to monitor your fever and your mental state to make sure you don’t catch your death.”

Madara let out a nervous chuckle. “Please don’t say that, Izumi,” he whispered.

Itachi’s hand twitched against his, and he kind of wanted to start bawling from all the pent up emotion. The day had started with Khrai slaughtering a group of bounty hunters in cold blood, and it had ended with Itachi coming within centimeters of death. Too much had happened in one day. His soul was going to evaporate from all the stress.

“Konohagakure, eh? I’ll be sure to tear it down for you.”

For the millionth time, he wished he wasn’t a spirit. At least then he could’ve been useful.

You put him to bed?” Kaisuki asked as Izumi stepped into the room. The brunette glanced over at her as she was closing the door, indexing her hostess’ physical state. Kaisuki’s body temperature rose exponentially when Saeka took over to fight, almost to the point of becoming dangerous. It was important to make sure there were no lingering effects after their youngest sister had finished killing (or attempting to kill) whoever it was she was fighting.

Yes,” she replied, smiling reassuringly as she sat down. She actually needed some reassuring herself, but she knew she couldn’t ask for that from the non-medics in the room. “I think he’ll sleep through the night, but I told Kisame to wake us up if he had another fit, no matter how mild it may seem.

Kaisuki nodded, looking not at all reassured. She’d had the living daylights scared out of her, so Izumi didn’t blame her at all for being exceedingly worried about Itachi. The Yurei definitely overheard the conversation she’d had when she’d been informing Itachi and Kisame just how bad things were since Sumi had attacked the Uchiha. Even if the demoness hadn’t lacerated his lungs as badly as she had, pushing his body to its limit and then forcing him to keep running even at that point wouldn’t have done him any favors.

The only thing about his health that was really bothering her (or at least, that was bothering her more than everything else) was the suddenness of his fever. He hadn’t presented with any symptoms at all that morning when Kaisuki had first left, and yet Kisame had said that Itachi had started being noticeably sick when they’d first gotten to Keishi. Considering just how sick he had gotten in the past couple of hours, he should’ve been presenting with something that morning, if not the evening before. People didn’t usually spike fevers high enough to cause delirium without any other symptoms showing beforehand.

It was very concerning. He hadn’t complained about any other symptoms aside from a headache, chills, and intense fatigue. All of those things could be explained by the fever. The question was: why did he have a fever? She’d told Kisame not to worry about it, but the fact of the matter was that Itachi hadn’t been sick at all that morning, and now he was extremely sick – even though his only concrete symptom was his fever.

And if his fever got much higher, it might kill him. The moonwalker she’d been giving him helped boost his immune response, but he had lost more blood than they’d been able to replace. The pint they’d given him had helped a lot, but his body was still shot. The anti-pyretic she’d decided on hadn’t started working by the time they’d put him to bed, either. She didn’t know if it would work enough. He might very well still spike an even higher fever and “catch his death” while he was sleeping, completely unbeknownst to her. She’d have to get up in a short while to check on him.

Izumi, you’re gonna chew a hole through your lip,” Khrai’s voice cut into her thoughts and she looked up. Immediately, she noticed that she could taste copper in her mouth and her lower lip was burning. “It’ll heal hella quick since we’re dead and all, but that doesn’t mean you should do it.

She reached up and touched the fresh sore. Evidently she hadn’t quite broken herself of that habit. She hadn’t done it in a very long time. Itachi was stressing her out a bit more than she’d realized. She really needed to get that catastrophizing under better control. The worst possible outcome was never the only possible outcome. She just needed to keep telling herself that.

Even if I hardly believe it.

Is everything alright?” Kaisuki wanted to know. For a moment, Izumi considered lying to her, but given the fact that she’d just gnawed through her lip, she couldn’t imagine either of the two girls believing her. They didn’t usually catch her lies (or perhaps they just didn’t press the issues), but that was a bit too large and obvious of a fib for her to get away with.

She sighed, drumming her nails against the table. “Itachi wasn’t sick this morning,” she said, frowning deeply. “He wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms, and we already know that he can’t hide them from me. His color was good, he only had one fit overnight, and he was otherwise fine.

So, the fact that he got as sick as he’s gotten, as fast as he’s gotten, is a bit worrisome.” She conceded, noting the color draining from Kaisuki’s face right away. “Normally, you don’t just get a fever high enough to cause delirium without any other notable symptoms. He’s not even congested. Everything he’s complained about has been directly caused by his fever – chills, headache, joint pain, all of it. I just don’t know why he has it.

Khrai hummed thoughtfully, attracting Izumi’s attention. Her trademark scowl had returned (it hadn’t been present a few moments ago), and she had clenched her fist on the table. She looked to be very deep in thought, and so the irou-nin waited patiently for her to start talking. Kaisuki, of course, wasn’t as patient.

What is it, Khrai?” Their hostess asked curiously. Khrai glanced up at her briefly before returning her attention to her hand.

She muttered. “It sounds like he’s having a shitty reaction to the demonic energy in the air.

Kaisuki blinked. “Like an allergic reaction?

Khrai let out a huff and looked up at them. “Yea, kind of. Usually it only happens to people who are really hyper-sensitive to that kind of energy, but this is the first Itachi’s ever heard of demons, obviously, so I doubt he’s ever had an experience with them before. If he had, he would’ve been wearing one of those ‘oh, shit, I know exactly what she’s talking about’ kinds of faces.

Izumi frowned. She hadn’t even thought of something like that being the case. Neji hadn’t gotten sick from his exposure to Sumi’s energy, and he had been possessed before. “Are there any exceptions to this rule?” She wanted to know.

The elf shrugged offhandedly. “Even people who have been possessed don’t usually get as sick as Itachi’s gotten.” Khrai sighed heavily, leaning back on her hands. Izumi didn’t really like the sound of that. “We’re probably just over-thinking this. Maybe it’s just because she used that energy to tear holes in his lungs. That shit would poison me too.

That explanation was far too simple for Izumi’s taste, but she didn’t push the conversation any further. Khrai didn’t know, and if Khrai didn’t know, there was nothing more for them to discuss on the matter. All she could do was keep the boy alive through his most recent bout of sickness and help her sisters-in-arms keep him safe in the future.

As it was, they could toss around conjectures all they wanted, but without all the pieces, they wouldn’t be able to put together the puzzle. It was just beginning to seem like the puzzle was getting bigger and bigger every time they took another look at it.

Abruptly, she saw Kaisuki flinch. She placed her hand on her shoulder and looked towards the door to their little kotatsu room, before turning her attention to Izumi. “I think Kisame’s trying to wake me up.

Izumi nodded and stood up right away, “Then, I’ll see you both at the front?” Kaisuki nodded, Khrai shrugged noncommittally, and the irou-nin smiled and left the room. Two steps with a destination in mind sent her right to the front, and she took over Kaisuki’s body, feeling herself settle into Kaisuki slighter frame. It wasn’t quite uncomfortable, but rather like putting on an article of clothing that didn’t fit quite right. She’d gotten used to it, but it was always there.

She opened her eyes and, as Kaisuki had predicted, Kisame was standing over her. He looked extremely concerned. Something had definitely happened, but she noticed right away that she couldn’t hear Itachi coughing. Had he gone into respiratory failure? Was she going to have to resuscitate him again?

She sat up quickly, “What is it, Kisame?”

“Itachi’s gone,” He replied, the slightest tone of haste betraying his concern. “I have no idea where to, but he’s not in bed, or in the bathroom, or anywhere else in this suite.”

She could hear the underlying tone (aside from the mild fear) in his voice – could you ask Saeka to find him for me? Izumi reached out internally and called out to Saeka. “Saeka, I need you. Are you alright now?

I’m here,” Saeka’s voice answered within a few seconds. She felt the girl come up behind the front seat. “What’s wrong?

Itachi’s missing,” she supplied, blinking herself back into reality. Reaching out like that required her to take her attention off the real world for a moment. It was easier to just yell into the vastness of Kaisuki’s mind when they were on the move or in battle, but Izumi preferred the quieter methods of doing things, if they were available to her.

Saeka was silent for about ten seconds before she said, “He’s on the roof.

Izumi blinked again, this time in surprise. She looked up at Kisame briefly and stood up, “Apparently he’s on the roof.” She told him. He stared at her, looking bewildered.

“Why the hell… whatever. I’ll go get him.” He assured her.

“I’ll come with you,” Izumi returned, her face set in a frown. Was it the demonic energy that was making Itachi behave so oddly? It was probably still permeating the air, even after as many hours as they’d been in that hotel room. A smog of energy as thick as Saeka had previously described had to take a while to leave the area, right?

Saeka,” she asked, glancing over her shoulder at the girl. It was better to just ask than to try and figure it out. “Is that smog of energy still in the area?

Saeka blinked, and then shook her head. “No,” she replied. “That smog’s been gone for a couple hours. It never sticks around long. I think it goes away with Sumi.

The irou-nin wasn’t sure what to think or say, so she simply answered, “I see. I was wondering if it was still getting to him but… well, we’ll see what he’s up to when we get there. Thank you very much, Saeka.

No problem,” the youngest replied in a quiet voice.

Izumi returned her attention to the world in front of her, glancing up at Kisame and nodding at him. He held the door for her on their way out of the room, and they started down the hall towards the stairs that would take them to the roof.

Itachi really was behaving very erratically, and she didn’t know why. If it was “demonic energy poisoning” (assuming that was even the right term for it), was there something she could do to manage the symptoms? What could she give him that might combat it? She couldn’t think of any plants off the top of her head that had purifying properties that actually worked – Tsukigakure had done away with “magical” practices of that sort a couple of centuries before Izumi had been born, in favor of advances in medicine and irou-ninjutsu.

Setting aside the issue of demonic energy poisoning, if Itachi wasn’t in the suite, she and Kisame couldn’t keep an eye on him. He could’ve had a massive fit and asphyxiated from the amount of blood he was coughing up. He could’ve been in respiratory failure. His heart could’ve stopped. He could’ve burned out from his fever. He could’ve fallen off the roof because his delirium convinced him that he wasn’t as close to the ledge as he really was.

Too many things could be going wrong. Too many things could have already gone wrong.

Wait, she stopped herself then, taking in a breath as they started up the stairs. You’re getting ahead of yourself, Izumi. Calm down. Don’t panic until you have a concrete reason to panic.

It wasn’t good of her to start jumping to conclusions that extreme when she didn’t have all the facts. It was equally possible that he had just gone up to the roof to get some fresh air, and that he was perfectly fine.

The worst possible outcome is never the only possible outcome.

I don’t remember much,” Madara continued after a lengthy pause. “I don’t remember how I fell into that hole, for example. But I do remember freaking out and I do remember the pain.

Itachi was still catching his breath (four flights of stairs was horrible) after almost an hour, but he listened carefully. Madara had been tense and quiet since they’d arrived in the hotel, but he’d been even more so for the past two hours. He had requested that they go to the roof after Kisame and Kaisuki had been in bed for an hour and a half, and Itachi had obliged. He had already figured that Madara would ask for them to ditch the hotel room at some point during the night.

I was on a mission for… some reason,” he was saying. “At some point during said mission, I blacked out. I know that there was something going on in my head, but I can’t remember any details about it. I remember that it was night when it happened, and when I came to, I was in that hole where you found me, it was sometime in the mid to late afternoon, and I wasn’t in my body anymore.

Itachi halted in the midst of absentmindedly petting Madara’s head, which was resting on his thigh. He looked down at the mop of black hair, frowning. “You didn’t die?”

Madara sighed, “No, I didn’t die. I think… I dunno, there was this hollow feeling for a really long time, but it was separate from the weird feeling of not having a body. I think… I think I split my soul, if that’s a thing.

“I’ve never heard of something like that.” Itachi muttered, clearing his throat. His chest was hurting, and breathing was harder than it should’ve been. The pain was sharp and centralized enough that he had a feeling he had sprung a small leak in his lungs. That would also explain why he was having a progressively harder time breathing. He’d had two three-minute coughing fits in the past forty-five minutes. “I would ask Khrai about it, but…”

Don’t want her asking why you’re asking?” Madara concluded his sentence for him, and Itachi nodded in reply.

“I don’t think she wouldn’t believe me, necessarily,” he said quietly. “I could just have you pick me up to prove it.”

But?” Madara pressed, rolling onto his back so he could look up at Itachi.

Itachi sighed. “I have a bad feeling about this whole business with Sumi and demons. Khrai said that she couldn’t think of what I could possibly have done to warrant that kind of attention from a demoness that powerful, but I haven’t told her about you.” He explained. “The only thing I could think of that might draw attention to me is my connection to you, because I’m the only person in the entire Shinobi Nations who can see you.”

Madara frowned. “You think I might be involved in this, somehow?

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Maybe. I don’t know why you would be involved, if you were, but… you’re the only anomaly in my life that gives me any kind of tie to the supernatural.”

The ghost hummed thoughtfully, but didn’t reply. Itachi could feel the urge to cough rising up his windpipe, and he cleared his throat again. He was freezing. He ought to head back downstairs and go to bed.

Of course,” Madara suddenly said, drawing him out of his thoughts right away. “Your theory doesn’t explain Sasuke’s encounter with Sumi.

Itachi nodded, “If she had wanted to get Sasuke in order to get to me, she wouldn’t have tried to kill him. Capturing him when he was twelve would’ve been easy for her. And it’s not like he can see you, so I can’t think of how he’s relevant at all.”

It’s weird,” the ghost remarked. “Very weird. Unless he’s got a haunt that we just don’t know about.

Itachi didn’t even consider the possibility. “I feel like the statistical likelihood of Sasuke being haunted by a ghost that I can’t see, while I’m being haunted by a ghost that he can’t see, has to be next to nothing.”

Madara hummed in agreement, “You have an excellent point.

The conversation lapsed again. Itachi found himself wondering about Madara’s story of being possessed within only a few moments. He’d been possessed, not killed. He had somehow injured himself in his battle to retain control over his body. Then, the thing that had possessed him went and made history by betraying Konohagakure and attempting to kill the Shodaime Hokage. It had ruined the reputation of the entire Uchiha clan in the process, and that had ultimately led to Itachi being asked to exterminate his family.

He had no idea if that had been the intent, or if that was just an unintentional result. Maybe it was just some demon deciding that he wanted to destroy something in a methodical, cruel manner. Maybe someone downstairs had wanted to get rid of the Uchiha clan, or maybe they’d just wanted to ruin Uchiha Madara. He wouldn’t be able to figure it out without asking the demon in question, but he doubted he’d ever be able to find that exact one.

“Madara,” he said quietly, and the ghost turned his attention to Itachi. “Did it… say anything to you? Anything at all, that you can remember?”

A strange, unreadable expression crossed Madara’s face for just a moment before he directed his attention towards the door to the roof. “It said it would tear Konohagakure down for me.

“For you?” Itachi immediately asked for clarification.

I didn’t, don’t, never have and never will want to tear down the village,” the dead Uchiha muttered, sounding a bit annoyed. “I think it just wanted to see me suffer, but I don’t actually know what the end goal was. I don’t know if it accomplished that goal, or anything.

Itachi nodded, clearing his throat again and resuming petting Madara’s hair. His fingertips were frigid and his entire leg was numb, but he barely noticed it compared to the steadily worsening pain in his chest. He probably ought to go back downstairs.

We should probably head back,” Madara suddenly said, looking up at him again. “You don’t look too well.

He was sure that he hadn’t been looking well the entire time they’d been outside, but he didn’t comment. Madara sat up, the area his head had been resting immediately regaining it’s warmth. The ghost stood up and extended a hand to Itachi, who gratefully took it and allowed himself to be hauled upright.

Of course, immediately after standing up, his chest erupted into a horrible stabbing pain. Almost instantly, he started coughing and had to seek out the fencing that went around the entire roof. He braced himself against it with one hand and found his handkerchief with the other. His timing was good, too, because within seconds after clasping his hand over his mouth, he started spitting up blood.

He could faintly feel Madara’s cold hand on his back as the coughing fit subsided. For a long moment, Itachi didn’t move. He concentrated on breathing for a few moments before he slowly straightened up and wiped his mouth.

You okay?” The ghost wanted to know. He nodded and cleared his throat again. He probably shouldn’t have let Madara talk him into going up to the roof. He wasn’t really in any condition to be wandering around unsupervised.

Just the thought of it irritated him. He didn’t like being dependent on others for anything.

He crossed the roof and opened the door to the stairwell, finding himself face-to-face with Izumi’s familiar green eyes and Kisame’s very irritated expression. He stared at them, momentarily uncertain as to why they would have been walking up to the roof. Then, he remembered that he was “extremely sick” and didn’t know how long he’d been out. They had probably woken up and found that he wasn’t anywhere and freaked out.

“Good evening,” he greeted, reaching up a hand to rub at his tired eyes. “I was just heading back.”

Izumi was scrutinizing him carefully, “How are you feeling?” She wanted to know.

“Horrible,” was all he could think of to reply with. “I regret coming up here.”

Kisame snorted, “As you should, brat.”

He stared at his partner for only about three seconds before he diverted his attention back to Izumi’s eyes. Kisame hadn’t called him a brat since he was fourteen. He must’ve given the guy a worse shock than he’d originally thought.

He hummed absentmindedly in reply and started walking forward, Madara right beside him with a hand on his back. Izumi stepped out of the way and followed the living Uchiha down the stairs, and he could feel her eyes on his back. He didn’t mind it. He was beginning to feel a bit on the lightheaded side, anyway. The interior of the hotel was extremely warm compared to the outdoors.

When they finally reached their suite, Itachi felt like he was about to collapse. He made a beeline for his bed, which he fell into with absolutely no grace, and was crawling under the covers before Kisame had even finished latching the door. Izumi came around the corner a moment later, looking bothered. He wanted to ask what was wrong, but he knew he wouldn’t remember what she said.

Izumi pressed her hand to his forehead as soon as he had settled in, and he closed his eyes. Her hand was cool, and it felt nice. “Your fever has gone up, but only a little,” she stated, sounding like she felt a bit better about what she’d found.

That’s a relief,” Madara muttered from somewhere near Izumi. “I think.

Itachi nodded slowly, “Can I go to sleep?” He asked quietly, his eyes already closed.

He could practically hear the smile on the irou-nin’s face as she gently replied, “Of course you can, honey. I’ll check on you in a couple hours.”

He was already falling asleep when he faintly heard Izumi exit the room, a distinct click of a lamp being turned off. He could hear Kisame and Izumi (or perhaps that was Kaisuki) talking from the next room, but he didn’t pay any attention to the sound.

He felt Madara wordlessly lay down behind him, draping an arm over Itachi’s side and burying his face into the back of his neck. To anyone else, it would’ve been uncomfortably cold and intimate. To the living Uchiha, it was a soothing feeling that only made it that much easier for him to fall asleep. He’d been sharing a bed with Madara since he was ten, so he was very used to the frigid temperature and intimate contact.

The ghost had been touch-starved for over a century, and Itachi wasn’t about to complain about being treated with affection instead of hostility.