suffocate

Among the few different things that Kaisuki prided herself in, there was her honesty. She didn’t lie. She didn’t white lie. She didn’t sugar-coat the truth. She didn’t try to soften blows. She didn’t feel that it was worth it to lie to someone about something and risk them finding out and feeling betrayed. She didn’t like to put herself under that kind of stress. She hadn’t told a lie since Itachi had defected from Konohagakure, and even before that, she had only ever lied about the smallest things.

Kaisuki was relatively certain that she was one of the most honest people she’d ever met.

Or at least, she had been.

She had been lying to everyone in Konohagakure since the day she’d left to find Teara. She had lied about what she was going to do. She had told Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi-sensei a variety of things to keep them from worrying about her. She hadn’t told them that she was tracking Teara, and she hadn’t told them that she was tracking Itachi and Kisame-san, and she most certainly hadn’t told them that she was traveling with the two Akatsuki members.

She felt awful about it. The guilt gnawed at her whenever she returned home to visit. Every time she saw Naruto’s smile, every time she shared a girl joke with Sakura, and every time she listened to Kakashi-sensei’s tales of how the team had been faring without her, she almost wanted to cry. She hadn’t expected to end up where she’d ended up, and she didn’t regret it at all, but that didn’t change her immense feelings of guilt about having to lie.

She supposed she could’ve just confessed to her team about it. They would’ve been furious, confused, hurt, and many other things, but they might’ve forgiven her. Sasuke had done much worse and the rest of her team (for whatever reason) wasn’t holding it against him. Naruto had kept the stray Uchiha out of the BINGO books by promising Tsunade-sama that he would bring him home.

But if Kaisuki told her team about her real activities, they would want her to stop. They would want her to abandon Itachi and Kisame-san, and she couldn’t. She already missed Kisame-san the way she missed her team when she wasn’t in Konohagakure. Even if Itachi had been forcibly keeping himself mostly out of it, the three of them had managed to become some semblance of a team. It was a bit tense (because of Itachi), but it was still a team. Team 7 was in much worse shape than Team Lying Criminals, at least in terms of dysfunctionality.

She didn’t want to have to choose between her team in Konohagakure and her team on the road. She didn’t think that she could have. Even though he was cold and unkind and harsh, Kaisuki still had a special place in her heart for Itachi. He was like her brother, and even though he had betrayed her in a horrible way, she still cared for him. Kisame-san had also gained a special place of his own, even in the few months that she had known him. It wasn’t as large and spacious as Itachi’s and Sasuke’s and Naruto’s, but it was there.

She couldn’t choose between them, so she hid the existence of her relationship with Itachi and Kisame-san from Team 7. It was a lie. It was a big lie, and she knew that it was eventually going to blow up in her face, but she still didn’t want to back out. If she lost her home, and her friends, and everything she held dear, there wasn’t anything she could do about it.

She already had a bond with Kisame-san and some semblance of one with Itachi (though she was relatively certain it was stronger between Izumi and Itachi). If her team and her village decided that she was a traitor and they all refused to ever speak to her again, there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Even if she confessed to Naruto while she was in Konohagakure that very evening, it wouldn’t change what his reaction would be.

She had no idea what their reactions would be.

Kaisuki, are you okay?” Izumi’s voice floated up from just behind the reigns. “It’s gotten pretty cold in here.

Oh, sorry,” she mumbled in reply. “I’m just… I’m thinking.

Khrai spoke next, “What about?

At first, she wasn’t sure she wanted to reply. Izumi would probably reassure her that her friends wouldn’t decide that they hated her, while Khrai would tell her that, if there wasn’t anything to be done anyway, she shouldn’t worry about it. That wasn’t what she needed to hear. She didn’t know what she needed to hear.

I… feel bad.” She finally admitted after a pause.

Izumi hummed, “Guilty?” The irou-nin inquired. Kaisuki hummed an affirmative in reply. “It’s understandable. Lying doesn’t come naturally to you.

Look, I get where you’re coming from. I really do. I didn’t used to hide as much as I do now. I don’t lie, but I do omit shit on purpose.” Khrai interjected, sighing heavily and sounding world-weary. It didn’t suit her at all. “You’re absolutely right; eventually, your team is going to find out what you’ve really been doing for the past two years, and I can’t say what they’re going to think about that, because I don’t know. What I will say is that, if this is really so agonizing for you, you should just tell them.

Kaisuki blinked, surprised. She would’ve expected Izumi to be the one to tell her that, and yet it was Khrai who was telling her to confess her sins. “I…” she started and stopped in a single breath. After a pause, she continued. “I don’t want them to hate me.

Kaisuki,” Izumi spoke up gently. “I don’t think that your team will hate you for this. Remember that Naruto has forgiven Sasuke, even though he’s truly defected. If anything, they’ll be angry and hurt. But it’ll be much worse if they find out from someone else.

Kaisuki didn’t reply right away, but she knew Izumi was right. Naruto would be devastated if he heard from some random person that she was traveling with a couple of S-rank missing-nin and hadn’t told him. The level of trust between the two of them was supposed to go both ways. He had told her some of his deepest, darkest secrets, and she had shared many of the same.

The only thing she had never told anyone was the fact that she was determined to get the truth out of Itachi, because she didn’t believe what he’d told Sasuke.

Kaisuki,” Saeka’s voice startled her, mainly because she hadn’t heard it all day. “You need to turn around right now.

Instinctively, she stopped on the next branch she came to. “Why? What’s happened?” She immediately asked, her mouth going dry. “Are Itachi and-…

It’s Sumi.

Kaisuki froze, eyes widening in horror. “W-what? Sumi’s… I thought…?

There’s a large cloud of demonic energy near Keishi,” Saeka replied tensely. “It’s so thick I can’t sense them, and it spans at least a couple of miles.

Kaisuki,” Khrai cut into their conversation before the Yurei could say anything further. “Go. Now.

Kaisuki swallowed, but she didn’t hesitate. She launched herself off the branch she’d been standing on, moving as fast as she could back the way she had come. Her heart was racing and her mind was buzzing with confusion. She had slit Sumi’s throat. The girl had gone down and she hadn’t gotten back up, though Kaisuki distinctly recalled the bad feeling she’d had when she’d taken the demoness out. Khrai had told her not to worry about it, but obviously the blonde had been wrong.

“We have an escort to do. Starting in Keishi.”

“They were to escort a girl named Yukimura Sumi to Shimogakure, and deliver her safely to her father.”

Kaisuki felt the color drain out of her face. It was a perfect replay of the last time the girl had appeared. She didn’t know why Sumi had come back. She didn’t know if Itachi and Kisame-san were in danger, or if they were even still alive. She didn’t want to be pessimistic, but Sumi was powerful and Itachi was sick. Kisame-san wouldn’t be able to fight her and protect his partner at the same time. If she was going to place bets with herself, she would guess that the demoness was after Itachi, just as she’d been after Sasuke previously.

But why are you trying to kill them?

Kaisuki didn’t know what the humanoid creature wanted, but she knew it wouldn’t be anything good. She just hoped that she wasn’t too late.

“Because Itachi can’t run.”

“Itachi can’t fight, he’s sick.”

“We’ll dodge around them so we don’t have to fight, but we can’t run because of Itachi, so let’s double back and…”

For the past five months, Itachi had been extremely affronted every time Kaisuki or Izumi said he couldn’t run or fight. But he hadn’t had to conduct much more active violence than an assassination, and those didn’t require much physical effort. He hadn’t had to run anywhere or engage anyone in battle, because he and Kisame hadn’t encountered anyone they had to run from or fight in a year. In that amount of time, his health had taken a severe turn for the worse, but he hadn’t thought that it would get in his way that much if he did have to engage in battle.

However, as he was sprinting and weaving through the woods with a broken arm, he was coming to understand why Kaisuki and Izumi kept saying he couldn’t fight or run. With every step and breath, a sharp pain split through his chest. He could hardly breathe. He had been consistently slowing his pace for a few minutes, not because he was trying to avoid coughing, but because he was feeling faint.

Yukimura Sumi was not their client. He didn’t know who she was. He didn’t know why she was trying to kill him. He didn’t know if Kisame had been killed as well, or if she was only intending to take him out. Although, he couldn’t really imagine how she could’ve gotten past Kisame without Itachi hearing them fight.

He had tried several times to call Kisame using Akatsuki’s emergency distress signal (which was simply spiking his chakra as high as it could go in a very specific pattern), but he had yet to hear or see his partner. It was beginning to look like he really was on his own, and if that was truly the case, he was almost definitely going to be killed.

I’m not supposed to die yet, though. Sasuke still needs me.

Itachi had no idea what to do. He had tried fighting her at first, but upon jamming a kunai into her throat and finding that it didn’t even come close to killing her, he had elected to make a strategic retreat into the dimly lit forest. He had tried throwing explosives at her, but it had been completely ineffective and pausing to make sure she was dead had cost him a functioning arm.

He couldn’t kill her, which meant he couldn’t fight her. He was on his own and he was definitely dead meat.

He sucked in a choked breath of the cool night air and a searing, stabbing pain – much worse than what he’d been dealing with up until then – erupted in his chest. He could feel the blood trying to rush up his windpipe, and he could already taste the copper in his mouth. He slowed down significantly, gasping and wheezing and then coughing harshly as he stumbled up to a tree, leaning heavily against it as he spat up blood.

His eyes were watering. Since starting the escort mission, every time he had a fit, it was a dozen times worse than the fits he used to have before Kaisuki had strolled back into his life. The pain was worse, the coughing lasted longer, and it seemed like much more blood came up.

Itachi, she’s coming,” Madara’s familiar, panicked voice suddenly said from somewhere to his left, startling him. The ghost had lagged behind to see how much distance was between Itachi and Sumi. The living Uchiha could hear the panic in Madara’s voice, could see the terror in his black eyes. He straightened up, wheezing, and glanced over his shoulder. He couldn’t keep running. There was no way. He couldn’t get in enough air to support how fast his heart was racing. He was sure his lips were purple, and he was already incredibly dizzy.

He needed a plan, something he could do to get some more distance between them, but he was out of ideas. He’d tried leaving traps, he’d tried hurling exploding notes directly at her, he’d tried fighting her head on and had severed several of the tendons and ligament in her legs, he’d tried flatly running for his life – he had tried everything.

She wasn’t human. That was the only conclusion he had been able to draw from what had been happening. No human would be able to walk with the damage he’d done to her legs. No human could walk through a trap like the one’s he’d laid and come out unscathed. No human could take a kunai to the throat and just pull it back out and keep going.

No human had chakra that dark.

Look out!

Itachi winced at the sudden, loud voice, and he barely had the time to figure out what was going on before he was shoved hard. He instinctively angled his shoulder towards the ground as it rushed up towards him, doing half a somersault and landing flat on his back. He choked out blood trying to make its way up his throat and rolled to the side to cough, suppressing the knowledge of the excruciating pain in his broken arm. Too much jostling.

He wheezed, stumbling to his feet and glancing over his shoulder long enough to see the shadowy wisps pulling themselves back out of the ground and the trees and drawing back into the darkness. Madara was standing a few feet away, stricken, and their eyes met for just an instant before Itachi stood up and started running again.

Itachi’s leg felt like jelly and his body was weakening from the lack of oxygen to support his level of physical activity. There were dark patches beginning to appear in his already muddled field of vision. He only managed to continue forward for a couple of meters before he stopped, his good hand fisting around the front of his shirt. He couldn’t fight. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t breathe. He was definitely going to die.

He heard Madara gasp suddenly and loudly just as something cold wrapped around his throat and yanked him backwards. He stumbled until he fell, his only functional hand grabbing at the thing wrapped around his neck. It felt cold than ice on his skin and it burned horribly, but that was irrelevant information alongside the knowledge that he couldn’t inhale at all.

He heard footsteps in the grass a few feet away and he was lifted off the ground by the shadow that was strangling him. It loosened it’s grip just enough to permit him to get in a little bit of air before blood came spilling past his lips.

Oh no, oh god, Itachi-… drop him, you psycho!” He could hear Madara’s voice, and he could hear the panic and anger in his tone, but Itachi wasn’t sure where exactly he was.

“Wow, that’s an awful lot of blood you’re spitting up,” Sumi’s sickeningly sweet voice reached him, and he couldn’t process what she was saying past the thudding of his heart in his ears, over the sharp pain in his chest, over the burning on his throat and hands. Occasionally, he could get in a mouthful of air – just enough to keep him conscious but not enough to regain him his strength.

Itachi stared… black thing that had… lashed out and… Sasuke by the ankle… dark water. He took off… diving into the… He swam and… Sharingan activating instinctively… too dark… continued swimming down…

He heard a dark chuckle, “Oh, I have something fun in mind,” only a split second before that icy hot feeling forced its way into his mouth and down his throat, pushing down his windpipe and spreading pain and iciness through his chest. He heard Madara make a sound that verbalized an emotion somewhere between distress and rage and panic, and he found himself wishing for the hundredth time that the ghost wasn’t a ghost.

Abruptly, searing pain that sudden tore it’s way through his chest. His eyes welled up with tears, his whole body spasmed, and he belatedly recognized the feeling of flesh being torn up on the inside. His haunt’s loud voice seemed to be getting farther and farther away. Everything was getting farther and farther away. His vision was almost completely black and his arms and legs were tingling with numbness, as though they had fallen asleep.

They would both drown… Itachi hastily… their lips together, exhaling… air he had left into his brother’s lungs… wrenched Sasuke up… let himself be dragged further down… used a pulse of chakra to… towards the surface.

The cold feeling pulled back, and it was closely followed by a rush of blood into his mouth. Sumi dropped him and he hit the ground hard, only to immediately start trying to pick himself up with his one good arm. He couldn’t seem to evacuate all of the blood that had filled his lungs, and it hadn’t stopped coming. He couldn’t inhale past it. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe.

We shouldn’t have sent Kaisuki away.

He didn’t know where Kisame was, although he supposed it didn’t matter anyway – his partner wouldn’t be able to do anything about the tears in his lung tissue. Madara’s hands were on him, though he couldn’t really tell where on him. The ghost’s frantic pleading could hardly be understood by the slowly suffocating Akatsuki member. His eyelids were fluttering shut and he collapsed onto his side, blood still flowing freely from his mouth and nose, his muscles twitching as they tried to maintain function without any oxygen to feed them.

Sorry, Sasuke. I messed up.

“…-me! …isame!” He felt like he knew that voice. “Kisame, for the love of fuck, wake the hell up!”

Kisame flinched violently into consciousness, blinking rapidly. He definitely knew that voice. He looked up blearily, his eyes meeting Khrai’s bright blue ones. Kaisuki had come back? Was something wrong? He would’ve thought that he’d have noticed if something was wrong, but he supposed it was possible that something dangerous was headed his and Itachi’s way.

He reached up a hand to rub his eyes, wondering when he’d fallen asleep. “Where the hell is the fire?” He grunted, lowering his hand.

Khrai’s blue eyes suddenly flickered back to their usual bright red when Kisame looked up at her again. Her face was white, and she looked distressed. “Kisame-san, where’s Itachi?”

He looked up at her and blinked again, before glancing around the mostly dead campfire. Itachi was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Sumi. Immediately getting a bad feeling, he stood up. His legs felt a little unsteady, but he shook them out and the feeling went away. “I have no-…”

Before he could finish his sentence, he suddenly felt Itachi’s chakra signature. It was a ways away, but the Uchiha was flaring it as high as it could go. Then, just as suddenly as it had come, it disappeared again. The same thing happened a few more times, in a pattern Kisame recognized, and he felt his blood run cold.

“What is that?” He recognized Saeka’s distinct vocal tone, and he glanced down at her briefly before he started walking in the direction he could feel Itachi’s energy coming from.

“Distress signal,” he ground out. “Which we only use if we’re fearing for our lives. Let’s go.” He didn’t wait for the Tsubaki to reply before he leaped into the nearest tree and took off through the branches.

“How did you know something was up?” He asked, looking her way again. “You should’ve been a few hours out.”

“Saeka picked up on a cloud of dark energy near Keishi,” she replied tensely. “It spans a couple of miles. It took me three hours to find you.”

“Are you serious?” He deadpanned. A couple of miles? Who had that much chakra? He didn’t even have that much chakra, and his was comparable to that of a jinchuriki. He didn’t think anything short of a bijuu could spread their chakra out that far, but if a tailed-beast had been involved, he would’ve seen it. “How the hell did we not feel it?”

Kaisuki shook her head distractedly. “I don’t know,” was all she said, and Kisame didn’t pursue the conversation.

His heart was in his throat. Itachi couldn’t run or fight. As it was, he might be dead by the time they got to him. He was still periodically spiking his chakra, which only told the blue-haired Akatsuki member that he wasn’t dead. It didn’t tell him if he was having difficulty breathing, or if he was bleeding out while running for his life, or anything at all.

If Kaisuki hadn’t shown up to wake him, the Uchiha would probably have been killed.

He didn’t understand why he’d fallen asleep in the first place. He was an S-rank missing-nin who worked for Akatsuki. He wasn’t allowed to fall asleep unless he was in a hotel room and even then, dozing was preferred. He didn’t even remember falling asleep, or becoming tired, or anything of the sort.

Sumi (he was assuming she was the current enemy) had to have used some kind of genjutsu to put him to sleep. It had to have been pretty powerful too – Itachi had helped him practice dispelling genjutsu, and the Uchiha was the best at genjutsu in the Shinobi Nations. There wasn’t anyone on his level, at least in that aspect.

He should’ve picked up on that genjutsu before it’d had a chance to knock him out. He wasn’t on Itachi’s level, but he was good enough at detecting genjutsu to notice if he was being put to sleep. Something was seriously off with that girl. How could she be that powerful and not be on Akatsuki’s radar?

More importantly, why had Akatsuki sent them on a mission with a girl who was obviously not who she claimed to be? Normally Kisame and Itachi’s bosses made a point to contact whoever a set of Akatsuki members were delivering their charge to, in order to make sure that those people were in fact expecting someone. It wouldn’t do if Akatsuki accidentally delivered an assassin to one of their benefactors, after all.

The only thing he could think of was that the fellow who had asked them to escort Sumi to Shimo no Kuni was actually trying to kill Itachi, and had set the whole thing up. There was no way the letter had been forged – he had looked it over himself. He’d cottoned on to forgeries before. He’d never taken a mission that wasn’t legitimate.

So unless Akatsuki was trying to kill Itachi, it had to be the benefactor. He would have to contact his employers to let them know. But that could wait until after he had rescued his partner.

They had been leaping through the trees for a good three minutes without feeling anymore chakra spikes from Itachi, when said spikes started up again. This time, the pattern was off and it was obvious that he was in enough trouble that he wasn’t able to count the seconds between each flare up. Kisame cursed internally and picked up the pace, and Kaisuki didn’t fall behind. She was surprisingly fast, to be able to keep up.

“He stopped running,” Kaisuki suddenly said. “He had stopped, and then he started running again, but he stopped again almost immediately.”

“He probably can’t breathe.” Kisame replied darkly.

They broke through the trees and found themselves on a narrow path. If Kisame was placing the spikes correctly, Itachi ought to be just a little ways further down the path. The moonlight was strong, so he wasn’t having any trouble seeing since they had broken out of the trees.

“I think I see-…” he heard Kaisuki begin to say at the exact moment that he spotted a large, black mass just up ahead. As they drew closer, he saw that it was, indeed, Sumi and Itachi. The twelve year-old was standing over Kisame’s partner, the shadowy mass around her taking shape as a dozen or more thick, pointed strands, all aimed directly at the Uchiha, who wasn’t moving at all.

Kisame’s stomach plummeted and his heart jumped into his throat. Before he could pick up the pace, however, he felt a sudden burst of heat to his right. There was a bright flash of fiery light beside him, and he glanced over to see a girl with pink eyes for a split second before she launched herself forward with an enraged shriek.

Sumi flinched visibly and looked up just in time for Saeka to slam into her, sending them both flying down the path, and into the darkness. The air felt like it had warmed several degrees in just the few seconds between them spotting Itachi and Saeka and Sumi disappearing into the night. He could faintly hear more shrieking and fighting from the duo, but he ignored it as he came upon Itachi’s still form.

He dropped to his knees beside his partner, grabbing his shoulder and turning him onto his back, and his stomach dropped again. There was blood everywhere, and it was still oozing out of the Uchiha’s nose and mouth. Kisame placed a hand on his chest to see if he was breathing, but he wasn’t, so he pressed down on Itachi’s chest just a little, and a fresh wave of blood spilled out of his mouth.

Kisame froze. He was bleeding in his lungs so badly that they were overflowing? He looked up, searching through the darkness for Saeka for only a moment, before he bellowed, “Izumi!” at the top of his lungs.

In an instant, Saeka appeared before him, switching back into Kaisuki even as she was dropping to the ground on Itachi’s other side. Her eyes were already green, and Kisame saw them light up brighter than usual as she pressed her hands to Itachi’s chest. They started to glow immediately, and he watched her lips slowly part and her eyes widen in horror.

“What-…” he began, but she cut him off.

“Put your hand on my neck,” she suddenly commanded, failing to answer the question he hadn’t finished asking. “I need your chakra, now.”

He knew an important order when he heard one, so he immediately reached over her and placed his hand on the side of her neck. The glowing around her hands intensified greatly for about thirty seconds before it lessened. She then rolled Itachi onto his side, placing one hand on his back and one on his chest, and started draining the blood out of his lungs. The amount of crimson liquid the flowed out of his mouth was disturbing, to say the least.

As soon as she was done, Izumi swiftly rolled the Uchiha back onto his back, wiped his mouth with Kaisuki’s sleeve, and started chest compressions. One, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe. She worked methodically, her expression nothing short of concentrated as she administered CPR. Kisame had never seen her with such determination on her face, nor had he ever seen her on the verge of tears.

He didn’t like it. Itachi was going to get an earful after they had revived him and gotten to safety. Kisame was going to yell at him for almost getting himself killed, almost making Izumi cry, almost giving his partner a heart attack, and anything else he could think of in the meantime.

The seconds that Izumi spent trying to revive the Uchiha turned into a minute, and then two, and they kept ticking by. Supposedly, Itachi wouldn’t go brain dead so long as Izumi was still giving him CPR, but he was reasonably certain that the chances of him actually waking up got smaller and smaller with each compression.

C’mon, Itachi-san, death by one-sided battle is a lame way to go and you know it.

Ironically, Itachi chose that moment to suck in a wheeze of a breath, which immediately transitioned into a raspy coughing fit. Izumi dug her hand underneath him and hauled him upright, letting him lean against her, the hand she had left on his back beginning to glow a softer, paler green.

Kisame let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, running a hand through his hair. He didn’t think he’d ever been as stressed out as he was in that moment. His hands were shaky, and for some reason, he was having significant difficulty keeping himself from grinning.

Itachi continued to take in shaky, uneven breaths, and Kisame could see how much he was trembling. He had to be freezing, what with how much blood he must have lost. The glow around Izumi’s hand slowly faded away again, and she wrapped that arm around Itachi’s shoulders and pulled him closer, soothing away his tremors somewhat with comfort.

In that moment, Kisame could tell she had been a mother.

She looked up and met his gaze, smiling at him with gratitude. It wasn’t an expression he was used to seeing. It looked odd and foreign and he wasn’t entirely sure how he’d even recognized the expression at all. He didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone look at him like that.

“You scared the hell out of me, Itachi-san. Are you alright?”

That had been the first time he’d ever seen Itachi smile. It had only lasted a few seconds, and the then sixteen year-old had been wholly delirious. “Sorry,” he’d whispered hoarsely. “I think… I’m dying.”

“Thank you for your help,” Izumi said softly, as though she were trying not to disturb the likely-unconscious Uchiha.

Kisame snorted, “I really didn’t do anything.”

“No,” Izumi disagreed. “Kisame, I wouldn’t have been able to heal him quickly enough to save him if you hadn’t lent me your chakra. He would’ve been brain dead by the time I finished. I don’t have much chakra to work with. Anyway, we shouldn’t stick around here.” She continued, looking around the area carefully. “I highly doubt that Sumi is dead. Can you carry him?”

Kisame paused for only a second or two when she identified their client by name. He hadn’t told them who their client was, had he? He was positive that he hadn’t. How did she know Sumi? Had they encountered her in the past?

Deciding to interrogate her later, he nodded jerkily, shifting so that he was kneeling instead of sitting on his knees. Izumi pulled her arm back from around Itachi’s shoulders, leaning him back somewhat and gingerly crossing his arms (one of them was broken) over his stomach before shifting back so Kisame could scoop the Uchiha up.

They both stood up, Itachi secure in Kisame’s arms, and Izumi’s green eyes flickered to Kaisuki’s familiar red. “I think we should head to Keishi,” she said immediately. “It’s crowded, and she doesn’t seem to be interested in killing anyone she doesn’t have to, so she probably won’t follow us there.”

Kisame, still bewildered as to how Kaisuki knew so much about Yukimura Sumi, nodded. “Yea, you’re probably right. I’d be dead already otherwise.”

The Yurei nodded silently, and they started up the path, in the direction of Keishi. It was only an hour or two away if they walked, but Kaisuki moved off the path and jumped into the trees. Kisame followed her lead, already knowing that it would be smarter to stay off the main footpaths. The girl wasn’t a missing-nin, but she had all the sensibilities of one, and that was actually fairly interesting in and of itself.

He didn’t know what Kaisuki had been doing up until she had first met up with the two Akatsuki members. He knew she had been tailing Teara, but there seemed to be a lot more that she’d been up to than that. He suspected she’d been keeping bounty hunters off their trail, but he felt like there was another side to that story, as well.

He liked Kaisuki a lot. They got along really well, and she was kind and considerate, but she was also smart and very clever. She really did have the mindset of a missing-nin, even though she sometimes returned to her hometown and frequently exchanged letters with her friends.

Kisame knew there were things she hadn’t told him about herself, but he felt like he had learned enough just interacting with her. She was easy to get to know and very open with her personality. She had been the same person from day one: there was no leveling up in friendship to unlock certain aspects of who she was.

And yet, even though he felt like he knew her so well, there were huge gaps in his knowledge about her. He’d asked Itachi a few questions when she’d been gone. The Uchiha hadn’t been able to answer any of the questions he’d really wanted to know about (such as, “who the hell is Khrai and why is she so angry all the time?”), but he had given Kisame enough details to satisfy him.

Kaisuki was fundamentally the same person as she’d been when Itachi had defected (honest, considerate, and open), but she had still changed in a lot of small ways since Itachi had last seen her. She didn’t bare her soul as openly anymore. She didn’t like tomatoes anymore. She never used to curse.

The old, patched up scarf she always wore around her waist was a present from Itachi on her fifth birthday. The insomnia was far from new. Itachi and his family used to babysit her when her parents were away on longer missions. She had always been very self-sufficient, and she’d only gotten better at it after Saeka had killed her family (that bit of information had come as a surprise). She was also extremely close to the kyuubi’s jinchuriki, Uzumaki Naruto, and she used to be very close to Itachi’s little brother, Sasuke.

He had learned a lot about her between interacting with her and talking about her behind her back to Itachi, and there were still loads and loads of things he had no idea about. It was probably better that way, though. If she bared her soul to him, he would likely end up with a lot of valuable information. As it was, he ought to be using her as bait to get hold of the kyuubi’s jinchuriki. He was going to be in a lot of trouble if his bosses ever found out about Kaisuki traveling with him and Itachi.

Kisame sighed softly as they raced through the trees, branch after branch. He could faintly see lights shining dimly through the trees, so they would be walking down the streets of Keishi within the next few minutes. He was relieved that they had made it all the way without running into Sumi again. He wouldn’t have been able to fight her and carry Itachi at the same time.

He still didn’t know why she’d been after Itachi.

You’d best be dead, Sumi. He thought darkly, I don’t really want to find out what I’ll do to you if I see you again.

Next Chapter

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