Fun Fact: Keep an eye out on my Tumblr (jjgrace42), because I'll be posting a profile for Yosu and answering questions about him there soon!

Chapter Thirty-Nine - Cacoethes

[cacoethes—noun : an irresistible urge to do something inadvisable]

It was late, and the sun was starting to drop low. By the time I got the line set out and the scarf pinned up to dry, long shadows were stretching out across the yard, and the sky was fading into orange. I knelt seiza in the lingering warmth from the sunset and, listening to Konohamaru's quiet chakra inside the house as he slept, fell into my mindscape. Kurama didn't speak, and neither did I. Instead, I leaned up against his side and focused on breathing.

It was the click of the door that brought me back.

I opened my eyes and twisted to look. "Asuma," I greeted carefully.

He grunted in return, retrieving a pack from his pocket. He leaned against the wall and slipped out one cigarette, lighting it with a touch of his finger. He puffed on it and squinted at me through the smoke. "You don't live here," he finally concluded.

I turned and sat criss-cross so I was facing him. "No," I confirmed. "Ebisu is out of the Village, so Hiruzen asked me to stay here to watch Konohamaru."

"Ebisu?" He frowned, wrinkling his nose. "I know I've been gone for a while, but what does Ebisu have to do with Konohamaru?"

"He's his guard."

"Oh." He looked up at the sky, frowning. Asuma blew out some smoke and sighed. "I've never met him."

"Ebisu? He's a bit odd. I'm not his favorite person in the world, but we at least tolerate each other."

He dropped his gaze to me and squinted. "I'm talking about Konohamaru."

"Yeah." I pushed myself to my feet and shoved my hands in my pockets. "I know." I cleared my throat. "Yosu never told me much about when you actually left—or why, but I think I have that part figured out—but he told me enough that I kinda assumed it was before Kono-kun was born." I hesitated, leaning all my weight onto one foot and then the other. "Are you . . . staying long enough to meet him?"

"I'm here permanently. My transfer was already in the works, and I was supposed to be here next month." He grit his teeth loudly. "So yeah, he should've known I was coming back anyway."

"Yosu didn't. Or—" I hesitated. "He didn't mention it, at least."

"He didn't. Know, that is." He sighed and lowered the cigarette to stare at me for a second. "The letter said one of his students was badly hurt. Is he going to pull through?"

"Mozuku? Yeah." I balled my hands into fists. "He's tough. He'll be okay."

"We're here to see Mozuku."

The receptionist looked up at me, glancing briefly at my companions. "Welcome back, Uzumaki-san. Go on ahead."

"Thank you." I turned away from the desk and started leading the way down the hall.

"You think he'll like the flowers?" Konohamaru asked, walking fast to keep up with me. "Should I have gotten the sunflowers?"

"The daffodils are fine, Kono-kun."

"Yeah, but—" He stopped walking, clutching the bouquet to his chest and the too-large scarf that hung there.

I paused and turned to face him. Asuma stopped a couple feet ahead. I pulled at Konohamaru's hands, relaxing his hold on the flowers. "But what?"

"But . . . ." He looked down and scuffed a foot against the floor. "What if they don't wanna see me?"

I frowned. "Of course they want to see you."

"But what if they're angry and—"

"Why would they be angry?" I interrupted. "They have no reason to be angry. Not with you."

"But what if they are?"

I took a second to grit my teeth together, painfully aware that Asuma was watching the interaction closely. I reached out and dropped my hand on Konohamaru's head, sliding my fingers through his hair. "Why don't we go see them and find out? That's better than standing around and wondering about the what-ifs, don't you think?"

He looked up at me and rubbed at his eyes. "Okay," he mumbled. Holding the flowers tight in one hand, he twisted his other hand into the hem of my shirt.

I led them the rest of the way to the room and knocked quietly, Konohamaru at my side and Asuma over my shoulder. After a few seconds, and some overlapping voices saying something I couldn't quite decipher, the door opened. Yatogo gave me a tired smile, a book in hand. "Mirai. Konohamaru-kun." His gaze flicked past me, and all the color drained from his face. The book dropped to the floor.

"This is Asuma," I rushed to explain. I bent down and picked up the book, glancing across the spine. Fundamentals of Iryo-Chakra. "He wanted to come with us." I took up Yatogo's hand and pressed the book into it. "Can we come in?"

He swallowed, wide eyes turning to me. "Um. Yeah." He stepped aside.

I led the way in and guided Konohamaru forward. He looked up at me before nodding and stepping up to the bed. He thrust out the daffodils. "These are for you!"

Mozuku blinked with his one exposed eye. Then he grinned, the action pulling at and twisting his bandages. "Aw, thanks, Konohamaru-kun. Those are great! The ones Mirai brought aren't doing so well anymore."

I moved to the vase and removed the dry pansies, dropping them in the trash. I dumped out the remaining water, rinsed the vase, and then refilled it. "Here," I said, holding a hand out to Konohamaru. He glanced from Mozuku to me and turned, still holding the daffodils out. I took them and put them in the vase, returning it to its spot. "How's that?"

Mozuku was still grinning, and he struggled to push himself up so he could sit better. "Perfect."

"Why are you here?"

I glanced towards Zaji at his sharp tone and found him frowning at Asuma. The man straightened. "Well, partially, I'm here for this one." He dropped a hand to Konohamaru's head and, when the boy gave him a wide-eyed look, smiled. "But I figured that if you still want to do the Exams like Yosu wanted, you'll need a sensei."

"You can't skip out forever. You're supposed to be the one in charge, not me."

"I am in charge," I said, pausing in my hiraishin notes long enough to look up at him. "I sent you with the guide I'd made. And the instructions for the water-top sparring."

Shikamaru huffed, crossing his arms and sitting back from the stacks and stacks of Minato's files he'd been going through. "That's not what I mean and you know it. They were all upset before that you don't take them seriously—"

"I take them seriously!"

"—and now they're upset that you don't even think it's worth showing up for training. Like you don't need it."

"I don't need it," I said immediately, a knee-jerk response. I winced. "Sorry. That's not what I—"

"You're right, but that doesn't matter. They're still upset."

I looked down at my notebook, but at the moment, none of the lines or words really made sense. I swallowed. "I can't," I murmured. "Not now."

He didn't say anything. After a few seconds of silence, he thrust a piece of paper between me and my book.

I pulled back. "What's this?"

"The first of your father's notes about shutting down Root."

"His what?" I snatched the page from him. "This is perfect. I had no idea that— Where's the rest of it? I need to look it over. I can talk to Niisan and Tenzo about it tomorrow. And Shibi will be thrilled."

"Thrilled?" Shikamaru asked, scrunching up his nose. He moved to collect the rest of the relevant documents. "I've never seen a thrilled Aburame before. Is it scary?"

I shrugged and didn't even try to suppress my grin. "Maybe for Danzo."

"Mirai-sama," Ko greeted, meeting me at the gates. "Hiashi-sama wanted to speak with you before today's session."

I paused. "Did something happen?"

Instead of answering, he turned to lead the way. But he didn't lead me to the tea room. He wound us through the garden until we found Hiashi farther into the compound, in conversation with a Hyuuga I had never seen before. Judging by his older appearance and blank forehead, I had a pretty good guess as to who he was. Hiashi glanced towards me and bowed his head. "Mirai-dono, thank you for coming. I apologize for making you late to your training session."

"It's fine. Hanabi knows our pattern well enough to get everyone started when I'm late."

"Ko, you may go. Join the group in the dojo and let them know that I'm responsible for Mirai-dono's delay."

"Of course, Hiashi-sama." He bowed low and turned away, leaving.

I watched him go and then glanced back towards Hiashi, frowning. Something he didn't want to talk about in front of Ko? That was rare.

"Mirai-dono, this is my father, Hyuuga Hinode. He was clan head before me and now serves as my advisor in all decisions."

"Ah. So you're Hanabi's grandfather." I glanced towards Hinode. "She's mentioned you." I bowed my head.

Hiashi nodded, glancing briefly away. "It is because of Hanabi specifically that I wanted to speak with you, as I believe it is best that you understand what is going on. We will be assessing both her and Hinata over the next three months in order to reach a decision."

"A decision?"

"Yes," Hinode said. "There can only be one clan heir, after all."

"Oh." I swallowed. "Of course. Thank you for letting me know."

"It's simply for practicality's sake," Hinode murmured. "And that is all we had to discuss with you. You can go join the children now."

I straightened in surprise at the dismissal, biting back a frown just in time. Hiashi glanced towards his father, his brow creasing a bit. But then he nodded to me. "Thank you for your time, Mirai-dono. A pleasure, as always."

I bowed my head to him and then glanced at Hinode with gritted teeth. "Likewise." I turned away and retraced my steps back through the garden, shoving down the conflicted feelings turning over in my stomach.

When I got to the dojo, there were six people inside. I slid the door shut slowly behind me, making sure not to draw the students' attention. I glanced at the man to my right. "I wasn't expecting him to be here today," I murmured. "He really can take as much time as he needs."

"He insisted," Asuma said, pushing himself off the wall. "But now that you're here, I'm going to head out. We ran into Izumo on the way over. I told him to keep the fact that I'm here a secret because it turns out that the promotion celebration for Kurenai is today. I want to be there as a surprise."

"You know Kurenai?"

"Know her?" He scoffed. "We were on a genin team together, though I haven't seen either of my teammates in years. From what I hear, though, she and Raidou haven't changed a bit."

"You were teammates with Raidou?"

"Mirai-sensei!" Moegi squealed. "When did you get here?" She broke off from where the group was moving through their stretches and rushed over to me. "Are we going to do shurikenjutsu today? You said we were last week."

I hesitated. "We—" I glanced to the side as Asuma escaped out the door. I nodded. "Yes. We'll finish warmups, and then we'll do some target practice."

After finishing Shiryuu's training, I stopped briefly at Ichiraku for lunch before heading to Kakashi's apartment. He was quick to answer the door. "Hey, Pup. Tenzo should be here soon." He dropped a hand to my head and guided me inside. "It really is incredible of you to do this. You know that, right?"

"I'm just glad I can." I stooped down for a moment to scratch Bisuke's ears. "I'll just need a couple minutes to set up."

"Let me know what I can do to help.

"He'll need to kneel so I can reach properly," I said, unsealing my supplies and setting them out across the table. "So a pillow would be good."

"Got it."

I finished lining up all my tags and brushes and ink and notes and turned back to face him. "And I wanted to talk to both of you about something I found in Minato's notes."

He paused. Then he looked down and nudged the pillow he'd put on the floor into place. "What would that be?"

"Did you know that he ordered Root shut down?"

He frowned at me, but exactly what that meant was lost on me given the completely unreadable look in his eye. "I didn't know that."

"It's a lot to work through, but I'll be talking to Shibi about it tomorrow."

"Speaking of things to talk about." He nudged the pillow one more time before moving to join me at the table. He crouched down—though I was tall enough that he really didn't need to do that anymore—and looked me in the eye. "I want to talk about what happened with Sasuke."

"I don't want to talk about it."


"I don't."


The door opened, and I turned. "I'm just about ready, Tenzo. I'll get some water for you; you'll need it." I moved past Kakashi, keeping my gaze turned down so I wouldn't have to look at him. "Go ahead and have a seat." I filled a glass and moved over to him. "Here. Drink up. Sai said he got really thirsty during this, so we're going to do our best to make sure you stay hydrated."

Tenzo eyed the water for a moment before taking it. "Thanks. Is it painful?"

"Not unless I do something wrong. But I know what I'm doing, and I removed Sai's just fine. And I checked; yours is the same as his, so there shouldn't be any surprises." I frowned. "Are you not ready?"

"No." His gaze flicked to Kakashi. "No, I'm ready."

"Alright, good. Take a moment, and then I'll get started."

Since I didn't have Jiraiya over my should this time, double-checking my every move, I went even slower than I had with Sai so that I wouldn't make any mistakes. So it wasn't until almost six hours later that I removed the last line.

"Okay," I sighed, sitting back and letting my shoulders slump. "How do you feel?"

Tenzo worked his jaw for a minute. "Normal."

"Yeah, well, I'm mostly trying to make sure you don't feel sick or like you're dying."

His eyes narrowed at me. "Were those options?"

"Only if I did something wrong. Let's make sure it's all gone. What's something you couldn't say before? Say it now."

He hesitated. Then he looked towards Kakashi. "Before he told me to take yours, Danzo tried to find the sharingan lost during the Kannabi Bridge mission, but none of the people he sent could find the site of the fight."

Kakashi's visible eye widened, and his face drained of the little color it had. I turned away and focused on cleaning up my supplies, doing my best to look like I wasn't paying attention to the conversation. But past that, there wasn't much to say. I could feel the shift in Kakashi's chakra as he withdrew.

"Oh," he finally said. And that was it.

"That's . . . a lot of blood."

"For me to get any sort of practical durability like I'm wanting, this is what I've found I need." I sighed in relief as the seal tag drained the last of the set blood amount from the cut on my arm. Kurama's chakra and my own immediately began stitching my skin back together. "It definitely limits how frequently I can use it, and how many I can use at a time, but I can still use kage bunshin if I absolutely need to."

"Still, if you're draining a cup for each use, you should probably max out at around three. For the month. It takes that long for blood to replenish, right?"

"Somewhere around that for a normal person. I'll get mine back faster, but you're right. I'll limit myself on them." I smoothed my thumb over the healed skin. "It limits my practice, too."

"Feeling dizzy?"

I shot him a look. "No. Ready?"

"Uh, hold on." He scrambled up from his spot on the ground and shuffled back until he was standing at the very edge of the training ground. "Alright, go for it."

"It's not going to explode," I grumbled. "Have some faith."

"I have no faith," he said flatly. "Are you going to try it or not?"

"Yeah. Give me a second." I took a deep breath, held the tag in one hand, and made a one-handed ram sign. I activated the seal, and poured chakra into it. After all, the blood-requirement wouldn't be the only limitation to this jutsu. The seal activated with a puff of smoke and the smell of blood, and I dropped the tag.

When the smoke cleared, another version of myself was standing there. She looked down at her arms and then up at me. "I feel solid enough."

"That's good." I settled into my stance. "Ready?"

"Yeah." She mirrored my stance.

"Great. Maru, call it."

"Got it." He climbed to the feet, glancing between the two of us. "Hajime."

It was odd, fighting someone whose moves matched and mirrored mine equally. But there were differences, and those were enough. One moment, she used my angle facing the sun to her advantage, drawing my gaze up and then using my half-second of sun blindness to nail me in the face with her fist. In the next, I responded by snapping a chain around her arm before she could pull back. I grabbed the kunai at the end, pulling to tighten the chain and then snapping the chakra blade into her chest. At least, I would have if she hadn't responded with a chain and chakra kunai of her own. I had to shatter my chain and lean back to avoid getting slashed across the face.

I snapped out another chain, trapping this one around her leg and yanking hard as she moved so she hit the ground. I unsealed my tanto and stabbed down. She rolled, but not fast enough.

"Uh, matte?" Shikamaru called. "I feel like we should stop before you . . . kill yourself? Or get killed by yourself. Either one."

I released my chain and pulled my blade from her shoulder. There was blood, but not anywhere near as much as there would be from stabbing a real person. She didn't dispel. "Huh. Durability is definitely better."

"You know," the ketsueki bunshin said, "you're going to remember all this pain when I disappear."

"Yeah, I know." I rubbed at my wrists. It didn't hurt quite as much to use the chains anymore, but the soreness would probably hang around for another half hour at least.

If you want it to hurt more, your mother's chains were spiked.

More pain is exactly the opposite of what I'm hoping for here.

I'm talking about for your opponent.

Oh. Huh. I offered my clone a hand and pulled her to her feet. "We need to test how long you can hang around. If we can hit twenty-four hours, I'll be happy. So go," —I waved a hand— "do some sealwork in my room. We might as well get more done while we can."

"Got it."

As she headed off, I stepped over to Shikamaru. "I have the plans for Saturday. I can go over them with you." I glanced past him when the house's door opened.

Shikaku leaned to the side to let the bunshin pass. He frowned, turning his head to look at her. "Mirai, are you—" His gaze flicked to me and narrowed. After one more look towards where the clone had gone, he stepped to the edge of the porch. Hands in his pockets and shoulders slumped, he raised an eyebrow at the two of us. "Do I want to know?"

"I made progress in my bunshin work."

"I see." He tilted his head back towards the still-open door. "Yoshino just started in on dinner. One of you needs to help."

Shikamaru turned fully so that he could squint at his father. "Did she ask for one of us to help?"

"She asked for me to help. So one of you will take my place, and I'll get a game of shogi in with the other." Shikaku raised an eyebrow as he said it, as if unimpressed with the question. "Well?"

I rubbed at my wrist one more time before bumping my shoulder into Shikamaru's. "I'll head inside. Have fun losing!"

"I'm not gonna lose," he muttered. Nevertheless, he straightened. "You're on, old man."

"It's not too late. You can still come and relieve me of my suffering."

"You're not suffering." I didn't even deign to look at him as he complained, focusing on the chakra between my chains. Or rather, the lack of chakra between them. "You have my notes and directions; you'll be fine. And if you really don't want to do it, just give my notes to Sakura."

"Are you insane?" Shikamaru asked, pressing into the side of my vision and yanking on a chakra chain. "She cannot be trusted with authority. She was a team lead in the game last week, and it was terrifying."

"Fine. Then you do it."

He huffed, hand tightening on the chain as he leaned his weight into it. "Fine," he echoed, pitching his voice comically higher. "You do it. You take on all my commitments and responsibilities." He narrowed his eyes at me, voice going back to normal. "That's you. That's what you sound like."

"You're being dramatic." I released my chains, making him stumble. "And you're already late."

He wrinkled his nose at me, glancing down at the scroll in his hand. "Yeah, fine. Alright. If Sakura decides to take over and I die in the mutiny, it's your fault."

I snickered and watched him trudge off before refocusing on my barrier work. I'd already been working for a couple hours by that point, so it was only ten more minutes before my hands began to shake. I shattered my chains and took a deep breath, trying to rub feeling back into my fingers.

In the same moment, I felt the cold chakra flash against my coils and saw the slight movement just on the edge of my vision.

I whipped around, hands still pressed together. "Niisan?" I shunshined to stand at the edge of the Nara Lands with him. "I wasn't expecting you!" I reached out and curled my fingers in his sleeve.

"Pup," he murmured, turning his arm so he could catch my hand in his. "I'm leaving for a mission in the morning. I'll be gone for . . . a few weeks. At least. I wanted to talk to you before I go. Can we do that?" As he asked, he frowned visibly through his mask, and his hold on my hand tightened. "Maybe somewhere . . . not here?" He cast a glance up at the house where I could feel Yoshino's chakra moving about inside.

I frowned at the nervous thrum in his chakra. "Yeah, of course. Where do you want to go?"

Instead of answering, he tugged me closer and adjusted his hold on me into something more secure. He activated one shunshin, then another. After the third, we were in front of his apartment. He let go of me so he could open the door and wave me in.

I stepped in and turned to frown at him. "What's wrong? You're acting . . . odd."

"Sorry," he said immediately, closing the door with his foot. "Do you need something to eat? I gave all my perishables to Gai since I'll be gone, but I still have some rice and—"

"No, that's okay." I stepped around Bull so that I could sit on the edge of the mattress. "What did you want to talk about?"

He took a deep breath, already tugging his hitai-ate free. "Sasuke."

I paused. I shoved myself to my feet. "I don't want to talk about it."


"I said I don't want to talk about it," I insisted, talking over him.

"I don't care," he said, his voice firm and rising. "We're talking about it. Now."

I snapped my head up so I could stare at him, my mouth going dry. He had never— I closed my mouth and pressed my lips tightly together, sinking back down onto the bed. My hands hadn't quite stopped shaking from my training earlier, but now I wasn't sure how much of the trembling was actually from the chakra chains. I curled my hands into fists and dug my nails into my palms until it hurt. "Okay," I murmured. "What do you want me to say?"

He yanked his mask down. "No, I don't— I just want to help, and you never let me. But I need to, and I— So—" He took a deep breath and stepped forward. He crouched down in front of me, his brow furrowed. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "But we need to talk, whether you like it or not."

"Okay," I repeated, keeping my hands closed. "But I don't know what you want me to say."

He nodded, gaze flicking to the side. "That's fine. That's okay. I, I'll talk first. That's probably best." He cleared his throat loudly and pulled back, turning away to begin pacing. But despite what he'd said, he didn't start talking.

Initially, I decided it was best to just let him take his time and start when he was ready. But then it had been long enough that even Kurama commented on it, and I was afraid that Kakashi was going to wear a hole into the floor. "Niisan—"

"I know that you're more afraid of the fact that you're capable of hurting him than you are that he'll react negatively to you being around him." He didn't stop pacing. Didn't even look at me as he spoke.

"That's not— No. That's not what's happening."

At that, he did dart his stare over to me for just a half-second. "I know what I'm talking about, Pup, so please don't lie to me." He reached the end of his track and, instead of turning back around, stopped for a moment to start at the wall directly in front of him. He seemed to come to a decision because he nodded and turned to face me. "My teammates were Nohara Rin and Uchiha Obito. I know you know that, and I know you probably already know what— I haven't exactly talked to you about them before, but I know others might have."

I hesitated, not sure exactly where this was headed and not sure that I was going to like it. "Somewhat," I admitted carefully. "Shisui talked about Obito, but he only mentioned Rin a couple times."

He flinched. "Right. Okay." He tapped his thigh and stared at me, worrying his lip. Then he closed the distance between us in two steps and sat down next to me. "By the time I was your age, I was a chunin. Not that— I like that you're not, you know. You could be, if you wanted, but you have no idea how much I—" He caught himself and took one long, measured breath. "I made jonin when I was twelve and was given my first mission as captain shortly afterward. It . . . didn't go well. That, I'm sure Shisui had to have mentioned. It— It was—"

"Yeah. I know about it."

He nodded, and his shoulders slumped. As if a weight has been lifted and they could finally relax or as if something heavy had just settled there, I wasn't sure. "I made some decisions and mistakes that I shouldn't have, and Obito was the one to pay the price for it. It was— I became paranoid about Rin staying safe. She didn't need me to stay away, but I was afraid that if I didn't, she would get hurt again. Sound familiar?"

"That's not what's happening."

"You can stop saying that, because I know it's not true. Rin had lost her teammate just like me, and the last thing she wanted was for me to stay away. But all I wanted was to pretend I could keep her from getting hurt again by guarding from a distance." His gaze flicked away for just a half-second, and he tapped his knuckles against his knee. "Turns out, if I had stuck closer, then she might still be here. And even if not, I would actually have memories with her as opposed to a year of avoiding her." He cleared his throat, and I could see him work his jaw. "How do I— Kiri—"

"I know what happened," I interrupted, keeping my voice as soft as I could. "You don't have to talk about that."

He glanced at me, relief and frustration alike in his eyes.

"You don't have to talk about any of this."

"Yes," he said without room for argument. "Yes, I do. Because I'm trying to— I know what it's like to feel guilty for hurting someone you love. And I know what it's like to reject or not get support while you struggle with that. I know that when I tried, Jiraiya-sama wasn't . . . exactly interested in helping. Which, he really had no reason to, and I know that, but I didn't feel like I had many options. Even your— Minato-sensei definitely tried to help. He did."

And just like that, he was up and moving again as he dragged a hand through his hair. I shifted in my spot and pressed my hands into my knees. He took another moment to collect himself.

"What I needed," he said slowly, his tone not at all matching his pacing, "was for someone to sit and listen and tell me that I couldn't just shove things away and not think about them. What I got was Sensei putting me in ANBU because he thought it would help. But of course it wouldn't. I needed real help, not orders to kill more people."

I couldn't help the way I lurched to my feet, a hand half-raised towards him. "Niisan . . . is— Do you want to leave ANBU?" I asked carefully.

He jerked around to look at me. "What? Mirai, that's not the point."

"Okay." I dropped my hand. "What is the point?"

He rubbed a hand over his face. "I'm not explaining this well," he muttered. "Okay. Here's what I'm trying to say: I know what guilt feels like. And I know what it's like not to get the help you need while dealing with it. I didn't get it, and you're refusing it, and I don't want you to be like me."

"I don't think—"

"—that's a bad thing. I know. You've said that before." He sighed and knelt down in front of me, hand cupping my chin to make sure I was looking at him. He kept his voice soft. "But I mean I don't want you to spend every day with as much hurt and guilt and regret as I do. I know you're scared, but you're going to make things worse if you keep avoiding the problem and pretending nothing is wrong."

I clenched my jaw and looked away. At least I would have if he hadn't tightened his hold on me, still gentle but definitely not letting me leave. I flicked my gaze to the side instead and took a breath. It wasn't as steady as I liked. "You didn't see what I did to him."

"No," he agreed. "I didn't."

"I could have killed him." My voice broke over the word, and I looked back at him. "I didn't mean to hurt him, and he wasn't able to stop me. How am I supposed to take care of him when I'm a danger to him. What if it had been Sai? Or Naruto? At least where I am now, I know I'm not going to cut Shikaku or Yoshino open during a nightmare. It's not like I want to stay away from Sasuke. I want to get better. I'm trying."

"I believe you," he murmured. He moved his hand to cup the back of my head, and he tugged me forward so he could wrap his other arm around me. He held me tight against his chest—almost too tight—and brushed his thumb over the back of my neck. "But you're not doing either of you any favors by keeping yourself away."

I didn't have a response ready for that. As it turned out, I didn't need one because Kakashi didn't do anything other than hold me as I gave up and sagged fully into his arms, resting my head against his shoulder. Finally, eventually, I mumbled, "I'll make it worse if I'm around him. Just like how I had to keep Genma away for a while."

He sighed and shifted, though he didn't pull away. "Sasuke isn't you, Pup. You're different. This whole situation is different."

"I know. Genma didn't actually hurt me. I actually hurt Sasuke."

He sighed again, but the sound was heavier that time. He finally did pull away, sitting back so he could frown at me. "No. That's not what I mean. When you couldn't even look at Genma, you still talked to me. And kami knows who else, right? Inoichi, Shikaku, even Yo—" He flinched and glanced away. "You talked to people. You had people to talk to. Sasuke has you, and that's it."

I frowned, leaning back until his hand dropped from my head. "Yeah, but you've been at the house."

"And? Mirai, he doesn't talk to me. He doesn't trust me, so why would he? Honestly, I'm amazed that you trust me."

"What?" I rasped. "What do you mean? Of course I trust you."

"I mean exactly what I said. After what happened with Itachi and Mizuki, we should be thankful that Sasuke trusts you and Naruto, even if he doesn't trust anyone else. But Naruto isn't exactly . . . in a position to give him the support he needs. I don't think he has any idea that Sasuke needs it."

I dropped my stare. Kurama had retreated from the conversation completely, silent in the back of my head. I took a deep breath. "I . . . don't want to hurt him again," I said carefully.

"I know. And we can come up with ways to avoid that, right? A plan. You're good at those." He shifted and turned so he could sit beside me. "You need to be around him, but you can take precautions too." Kakashi turned his hand to me, palm up.

I put my hand in his and sat down, biting my lip. "A plan," I echoed. "I can do that."

"I can stay."

"You said you have to leave early," I pointed out. "And you should get plenty of rest for your mission."

He huffed, poorly suppressing a smile, and dropped a hand to the top of my head. "Alright, I will. There's no need to mother me." He stooped and kissed my forehead. As he straightened, he tugged up his mask.

I opened the door and followed him out onto the steps. "Be safe."

Kakashi nodded and disappeared in a shunshin. I sighed and sat down, listening as his chakra drew farther and farther away. I retrieved my notes for Anko's seal and flipped to my most recent page.

By the time I felt the boys' arriving, I hadn't written a single thing.

I sealed the notebook away and tapped my knuckles against my knees, carefully measuring my breathing. I could hear their chakra getting closer and closer, but I kept my stare on my hands.


I finally tore my gaze away and managed a smile. "Hey, Nato," I said, getting to my feet. And just in time, it seemed, because Naruto threw himself at me. "Sorry for being gone so long."

"That's okay. Sasuke is actually pretty good at cooking. He only set the kitchen on fire twice!"

"Once," Sasuke grumbled, stopping at the bottom of the stairs and staring at the ground. He scuffed his shoe against the bottom stair. "Only once." He looked up at me. "Sorry for making you leave."

I straightened. "You didn't— That's not what—"

"It's okay," he said, moving up the stairs. He went straight past me, pushing open the door. "It won't happen again. I'm going to take a shower."

I frowned, but then a familiar smell itched at my nose. I sniffed. "Sasuke?" I yanked around and followed him inside. "Are you hurt? Is that blood?"

He paused with one hand on the handle to the bathroom. "Just a scratch from training. It's okay."

"From what? There wasn't anything today that should have injured anyone." I took a step towards him and hesitated. "Today was supposed to be mostly tactics and medical."

His eyes narrowed. "How do you know that? You weren't even there." He frowned. "Never mind . . . . Should've known Shikamaru wasn't putting all that together himself."

"What happened?" I pressed a finger to my forearm and unsealed some first aid supplies. As I set the box on the coffee table, I said, "Let me fix it."

He eyed the box. "I was sparring. It got a little out of hand. Sakura-chan already patched me up." He looked back at the door handle and hunched his shoulders. "You don't have to worry."'

My shoulders tensed. "Of course I'm going to worry," I murmured. "I'll always worry."

"You shouldn't have to, though." He finally snatched his hand back from the doorknob and turned to face me. "Like you shouldn't have had to leave. You don't have to take care of me."

"Of course I do." I curled my hands into fists, my chest tightening.

"You don't!"

"But I promised him I would!"

Sasuke drew back, eyes going wide. "What? Promised . . . ." He swallowed, and his voice broke as he said, "Promised who?"

Any possible words got choked in my throat. I couldn't get an answer out. I couldn't think of one. So instead, I looked down at the box and picked it back up. "If Sakura treated you, that's fine. I just want to make sure you're okay because I'm supposed to take care of you. That's . . . why I left. Because I hurt you." I forced myself to look back up at him, tightening my hold on the box to keep my hands from shaking. "And I don't want to hurt you again. Ever."

Sasuke's gaze flicked away from mine, and I could have sworn I saw red in his eyes instead of black for just the briefest moment. He stepped towards me, twisting his fingers in the loose material at the thigh of his shinobi pants. "Are you . . . ." He cleared his throat, but his voice stayed at a whisper. "Do you only care because you promised my father?"

Kurama snickered. Close.

I swallowed. "No. I care because I love you, Ke-kun. You're family."

He sniffed and nodded. "Okay," he mumbled. "Um, it's just my leg." He shuffled past me and sat on the couch. Sasuke rolled up his pant leg to show the bandage on his shin. "Sakura gave me a couple stitches. She said it'll be alright."

I crouched down, setting the box to the side and leaning in to look. The bandaging was neat and precise, and his visible skin was clean. I took a deep breath and pulled his pant leg back down. "Okay. Thank you." I shifted to the side to let him up while I sealed the first aid kit back away. When I stood, he caught me in a hug. I reacted instinctively, wrapping my arms around him. "I missed you," I murmured.

"Can I stay with you tonight?"

I winced and sighed, lifting one hand to tug on his ponytail. "Sorry. I don't think that's a good idea."

He pulled back and leaned away to frown at me. "I can take care of myself."

"I know." I curled my hands into fists until my nails cut into my palms. "I just don't want to risk hurting you again."

He dropped his gaze. "I'm going to take that shower now," he said quietly, moving past me. "Sorry."

I hadn't slept. At all. Hours upon hours of just lying in bed awake, trying not to break over the anger boiling in my chest. I'd long since bit my lip open in frustration, and the taste of iron felt permanent on my tongue. Kurama had given up on trying to get me to talk and had instead resorted to the occasional quiet rumbling in the back of my mind.

Are you okay?

The question stabbed through my ribcage, and I scrambled to get the coin off. Every touch of his chakra just reminded me that he wasn't here. Was I okay? I didn't have Shisui, I didn't have Yosu, I had hurt Sasuke, I had—

Are you okay?

I closed my hand around the hot coin and let it burn into my palm.

Are you okay?

No. No, I was anything but okay. Everything was breaking around me, and almost all of it was my fault. Why couldn't I just fix things? Why was I constantly making everything worse?

Shisui reached out through the coin again, but this time it was steady and focused. I looked down and opened my hand so I could run my thumb along the engravings. He was asking to come to the house. Was he nearby? There was no reason for him to be close enough to justify sneaking into Konoha.

He pulsed the seal again, and I swallowed. I confirmed the request with a touch of my own chakra, and his chakra disappeared. I curled my hand around the coin and my body over my hand. I looked to the clock, and my chest tightened uncomfortably. How long had it been? It was long past when I'd first tried to go to sleep, but that couldn't be right. How could it possibly be that late? Or, at this point, early?

He shouldn't be coming here. There's no reason to risk it. I should tell him to stay away.

You should, Kurama agreed.

I stared at the coin. I didn't have a way to tell him that. I closed my eyes and waited.

I didn't feel Shisui's chakra enter Konoha even though I was ready for it. It wasn't until my wards bent to allow entrance to an unfamiliar chakra that I realized he had his distortion seal on. I scrambled up from the bed and watched the window closely. But there was no clear sign. Just the shudder of the curtains over the window, and then Shisui was there, dropping his toton.

"You shouldn't be here," I said immediately. "There's no reason you should be here. You can't just." I dug a hand into my hair, casting about for the words. "Being in Konoha is a risk that we can't take lightly!"

Shisui didn't say anything to that, just frowning at me. His brow was stained with sweat, and the rough stubble along his jaw gave me the sinking feeling that he hadn't rested. The dark bags under his eyes told me it had been days, at least. He dropped his hand from the curtain he was adjusting, ensuring it covered the window, but he didn't drop it fast enough for me to miss the trembling in it.

"What happened?" I asked, taking an abortive step towards him. "What's wrong?"

"You weren't answering," he finally said, his voice raw. "I waited for over an hour, and you never answered."

"But I did." I frowned. "I said you could come here. But I shouldn't have. Every time you're here, the chances of someone catching you—"

"Not then. Before that." He leaned back against the wall, pressing one of his shaking hands to his middle. "You weren't answering, Mirai." Slowly, almost painfully so, he sank to the ground. He dragged a hand down his face, eyes squeezing shut. "Why weren't you answering?"

I swallowed. "I'm sorry," I rasped. My heart twisted as I said, "I didn't want to lie to you." I sat in front of him and pulled my knees to my chest. "I'm sorry," I said again. "You didn't have to come here."

"Of course I did." It sounded like the words had been punched out of him, and he dropped his hand from his face. "I need you to be okay, and you're not. What happened?"

I pressed my lips together and looked away, shaking my head. "There's no point in talking about it. That wouldn't achieve anything." I curled my hands into fists against my knees. "I can't do anything about it," I spat. "So no use thinking about it."

"Too late. I'm thinking about it, and I don't even know what I'm thinking about. So you might as well tell me."

I let out a long and carefully measured sigh, lowering my knees and sliding one foot out until it bumped against Shisui's. Not anything solid, but at least a point of contact. "Yosu's dead," I whispered. "There was no point in trying to protect him because it didn't even work. There's not even anyone left for me to be angry with. There's no one for me to go after, to punish, because they're dead. And I'm left with all, all—" I tensed my jaw and shook my head again, tapping a finger to my chest. "All this," I finished poorly. "And nothing to do with it."

He didn't say anything to that, and I could count the loud beats against my ribcage. Then his leg moved, his ankle pressing against mine. "You could cry about it," he said softly. "Have you done that yet?"

That ripped an indignant breath from me. "I do that enough as is. It never helps."

"It never hurts."

I choked on a laugh. "It always hurts, Shisui." My eyes were burning. "Between that and Sasuke—" I stumbled over his name.

"Sasuke? What happened to Sasuke?" His foot withdrew, and Shisui shifted onto his knees. "Hey." He tapped my chin. "Talk to me. What happened to Sasuke?"

"I hurt him." It was a fact, and facts were easy to say. That didn't mean that it didn't make guilt and nausea alike stir in my gut. "He has his sharingan, now, and the first thing he's ever going to remember with it is me slicing him open." I finally looked up at him to find that his own sharingan was on. And wasn't that just right? His own eyes would forever store what I'd done. Kami knows there were plenty of my other mistakes that he'd turned a blind eye to or forgotten.

"What happened?"

"I told you; I hurt him."

"You would never hurt him," Shisui said firmly with a surety that I couldn't summon about the situation. "Not on purpose. What happened?"

I flinched, and a shudder wound up between my vertebrae. "He woke me up from a nightmare. They've been getting worse. I . . . think. I don't really remember them, but I have the feeling that they are. And when he woke me up, for a second I thought—" My throat closed up. "I thought he was Madara," I forced out. "By the time I realized, it was too late."

"Is he okay?"

"Tenzo healed him," I murmured. "And Kakashi showed him how to turn off his sharingan."

"So he's okay." Shisui's shoulders slumped. "He's fine."

"He's not fine. How could he possibly be—"


"I hurt him!" My voice cracked. "He's not—"

"On accident. You're all he has, Mirai. He's not going to hold it against you." He took one of my hands in his and started working my fingers free from where they were digging half-moons into my palm. "We should talk about Yosu."

I shook my head. "I really don't want to. Please don't make me."

He took up my other hand and did the same there. Once he was done, he focused on me. "If I asked you to . . . would you tell me anyway?"

He was looking at me so earnestly, his brow creased with worry and his sharingan turning slowly, that it hurt to look back. I forced myself to anyway. "Yeah," I mumbled. "I would."

Something in his expression shifted at that, and he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, his sharingan was finally off. "Okay. Do you want to tell me about your nightmares, then? Is there anything I can do to help?"

I lined my nails up with the marks they'd left but didn't press down. "Shikaku told me—" My voice caught, and I cleared my throat. "Shikaku told me that my experience controlling my mindscape should help. It worked once, I think. But since then . . . ."

"Inoichi could help. Right?"

I flinched, snapping my stare up at him. "I'm not letting him in my head."

His eyes widened, and his mouth twisted with offense and something angry. "Of course not. I wouldn't let you if you wanted to. But I mean . . . asking him what you can do to control your dreams better."

"Right. That makes more sense." I dropped my hands and curled my fingers uselessly into the hem of my pants, knuckles knocking against my ankles. "I'll do that."

"Thank you. Um, and I brought something for you." He shifted, digging in his kunai pouch. "To replace the one that broke." He held out his hand.

I caught my breath, staring at the rabbit foot in his palm, all brown fur with a tuft of white by the chain. I reached out and brushed my fingers over it. "Shisui, I—" My eyes were itchy and hot, and I yanked my hand back to rub at them. My fingers came away wet. "I can't. I told people you gave me the last one, and they know it's gone, and if someone sees me with this—" I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes and forced a breath. Despite that, the tears wouldn't stop. I huffed a weak laugh. "Why can't I stop crying?" I asked. "This is stupid."

"It's not. C'mere." A hand wound around my wrist firmly, kindly, and pulled me forward. He fit me into his side, and his chakra—his—pressed into my skin. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his voice shaky. "I hadn't thought about that, and I should have. I just . . . knew you liked the other one."

"I did," I mumbled. "Thank you." I closed my eyes and focused on his chakra. "Sorry for saying you shouldn't have come here. I needed you."

"I know the feeling."

Something in his voice gave me pause, and I was reminded that he'd been the one asking if I was okay in the first place. I twisted to look up at him. "What's wrong?" I froze. "Shisui, you're—" I scrambled out of his hold, slamming my knees against the floor as I turned. His eyes were red, his sharingan was off, and his cheeks were wet. I'd never seen him cry before, and it opened something empty inside of me. "What happened? Shisui, what—"

He shook his head and scrubbed a hand across his face before pulling me back down to his side. "Nothing like that," he assured me, but there was a tremor in his voice. "I've just been . . . homesick."

That emptiness got a little louder and yawned a little wider. "Oh. I'm sorry."

"It's alright," he murmured. "I'm better now."

"You're working in the wrong area."

"Wrong . . . area?" I asked, frowning. "A mindscape is a mindscape, right?"

"Yes," Inoichi mused. "And no. A mindscape has parts. There's the conscious part of your mindscape, where I would guess you spend most or all of your time, and there's the subconscious part. It's in the subconscious where dreams take place. If you really want to take this approach, you need to become more familiar with that part of your brain. It operates differently, and control over your conscious mindscape doesn't mean control over your subconscious. However." He frowned and tapped his pen against the table. "I wouldn't recommend it. It's dangerous, and the subconscious is something that even we Yamanaka tend to avoid if we can. It doesn't operate like the conscious mind."

"If it's another part of my mindscape, and I've been in the conscious part, then . . . ." I frowned. "How do I get there from where I am normally?"

"It takes some searching. You'll be able to tell the difference. The conscious mind operates by clear rules with clear content. Memories, the senses, and so on. The subconscious is different. Some of the things we've been talking about, that have been giving you trouble, dwell there. All the more reason for you to stay away."

"For someone that wants me to stay away, you're giving me an awful lot of information." I leaned forward, propping an elbow up on the desk and resting my chin in my hand.

"You're going to look for it no matter what I say. It's better for you to be prepared."

"Alright," I said, stepping back and lifting a hand instead of my tanto. "We can take a break before we keep going."

Sasuke paused and slowly lowered his tanto. "What?"

"A few minutes for a break," I called, raising my voice so the others could hear.

"What?" Shikamaru asked, echoing Sasuke. For once, he looked more confused than tired. "Again? But we only started five minutes ago."

"I don't want to wear anyone out."

He wrinkled his nose. "Look, I like a good break as much as anyone else."

"Or more," Sakura added in.

"Or more," he agreed. "But if we keep stopping every five minutes like this, training will take forever."

"Running ourselves ragged won't get us anywhere either," I countered.

"You don't have to baby me." Sasuke cut in, angry and defeated all at once. "I'm not going to break."

I turned back to him and swallowed. "I know that," I said, softening my voice. "I just—"

"You're doing it again!" He clutched his tanto tight and squared his shoulders. "Stop doing that. Stop acting like I don't know what I'm doing. Stop acting like I can't work hard or I can't take care of myself."


"Stop acting like I'm not good enough just because you're ahead!"

I flinched, more from the bite in his voice than the actual content of his words. Before I could say anything, however, someone else spoke up.

"He's right, you know," Sakura said, crossing her arms. "We know you're ahead, so it's stupid for you to keep pretending you're not. But it's stupid for you to stop pushing us, too. We've been working hard, and it's not fair for you to expect us to stop just because you don't recognize it and you're feeling bad."

"I know," I said because it was true. "I'm sorry."

Sakura frowned. "Yeah, but you still don't see it." She looked over her shoulder at Sasuke, hesitating. Her expression grew to reflect stony resolve. "We'll show you. One by one, if we have to. Sasuke, you're fighting me first."

I straightened in alarm as she turned to face him fully, already directing Shino to call the time and Ami to lay a perimeter. "Sakura—"

"Neechan," Sasuke interrupted. He wasn't looking at me, instead staring down at where he'd let his blade dip towards the ground. "Let me show you. Please."

I swallowed and stepped back. "Yeah," I rasped. "Okay."

Shino called for them to get ready, and Sakura settled into her stance. Sasuke gripped his tanto tight against and lifted his head.

His sharingan was on.

The tournament was over, and Sasuke was standing over his final opponent as Shikamaru complained loudly about having never wanted to fight in the first place, despite having beaten out everyone but the Uchiha for the winning spot. Sakura stopped next to him, her first aid kit in hand, and told him to stop being a baby as she began poking at his bruises with green chakra. Sasuke had barely sheathed his tanto before Naruto tackled him, screaming about how close they'd been to fighting each other if it hadn't been for the Nara's shadow and that he totally would have won if they had actually fought. Sasuke responded with a laugh and comment on how he'd seen Naruto fall out of bed that morning. He followed it up with a sweep of Naruto's feet and a pin that my brother quickly wriggled out of.

"Are you okay?"

I jumped, but I identified her quiet chakra before I even looked at her. "What? Yeah. Of course."

Hinata frowned, tapping her hands together and worrying her lip. She nodded towards the pure chaos that had taken over the makeshift sparring ring. "Sasuke-kun's been working even harder than the rest of us. Which is amazing, because we've all been working hard." She took in a long, slow breath and let it out, just as long and slow. "We're good, Mirai-chan."

"I know. I know that."

"Maybe. But sometimes . . . ." She hesitated.

I glanced at her. She was staring past Naruto and Sasuke's fight and past where Sakura was prodding Shikamaru with iryo-chakra. She was staring out at . . . nothing? I cleared my throat. "Sometimes?" I prompted.

Hinata jumped and threw me a small smile, her cheeks burning red. "Oh, I, I, I think that you're just so far ahead of us that . . . when you look back, we all look the same to you. And we're not."

Sakura had had enough and, with Ami at her side, was trying to drag Naruto and Sasuke apart. Shikamaru had climbed to his feet and was watching them with some level of bemusement. He caught me staring and raised an eyebrow. I didn't give him a smile, but I did manage a nod. "No," I murmured. "I suppose you aren't."

ANBU HQ's halls were far behind me, and I didn't recognize the trees surrounding me. A root snagged around my foot, and the icy water of anxiety started to twist its way up my shin bone. I yelped and tore myself free. I tumbled to the ground and hit it hard. Gasping for air, I rolled onto my back and stared up at the translucent canopy above me. "Kurama?" I called, but my voice was weak and tired and didn't carry very far. It didn't matter, anyway. I hadn't gotten an answer since grey walls had changed for jagged brick. Then soft clouds. Then white, concrete, the Void, and finally bark. I closed my eyes and heaved a tired sigh, but that only welcomed a jolt of fear.

I scrambled up, heart pounding both in my chest and simultaneously somewhere off in the distance. The vine winding about my calf retreated like it'd been struck, and Not-Genma's soft whispers left with it. I twisted my hand in the front of my shirt, didn't close my eyes this time, and measured my breathing, something that really shouldn't be as hard as it was without Kurama there to guide me. As I finished my third set of breaths, I saw something flicker in the distance.

Carefully considering each of my steps, I drew closer and closer to the flickering source. I broke through the trees into a clearing where the fire in front of me was desaturated and inverted, burning along a forest floor that seemed to have a mind of its own.

No, that's not what I was looking at.

"Kurama," I whispered uselessly. I tried again. "Kurama!"

Because those flames weren't colorless, they were black. And the floor they were burning along wasn't a floor at all but an eye. And eye that turned, red and triple-bladed, until its pupil laid at my feet. I reached a shaking hand towards the fire, feeling the heat but not touching. I wasn't that stupid. I just needed to feel it, so I did.

I snapped back to the real world with pain burning in my eyes and Itachi's chakra burning in my bones.