Without Sakura, Team 7 falls apart. Kakashi sees this all too well, and he's almost surprised that he can't accept it. [NaruSasu] [Implied KakaRin] [Hints of NaruSasuSaku]
Through the rain.
I've gotta try to keep her dry
Or I'm out of ways.
Self books, love cooks
Steal her away.
It's who you know, and where you go,
All in a day...
week one (naruto's attempt)
In one moment on that chilly Sunday, Sakura was stalking back into Konoha, bloodied but determined, dragging both her boys behind her. In the next, she was on the ground in a heap.
It took just a few seconds for her to collapse, but for all the world of difference between those two moments, it might as well have been a century.
"Chakra burnout," Shizune said.
"The hell is that and what does it have to do with Sakura-chan?" Naruto demanded. He was healing as swiftly as always, but there was something broken in his eyes when he looked at Sakura's still form on the hospital bed in front of him.
Sasuke gave him a rough shove in irritation, and there was the usual sulky anger in his stance, but there was need on his face, too. Need for what, it was hard to tell. Sakura, Naruto, simple human contact, or maybe all three.
"It's a side effect of a certain kind of overexertion," Kakashi said. Shizune looked at him in surprise; he ignored her. "Any ninja who forces huge amounts of chakra through their system at a single time is vulnerable to it." He lingered for a moment on this. Let Shizune--and Tsunade, when her old student reported to her--think that experience with Chidori was how he knew about chakra burnout. "But those who use healing chakra run a higher risk than most." He tried to go into detail, but something below his throat, closer to his heart, closed up and refused the words. Instead, he looked at Shizune and waited for her to go on.
Shizune looked like she'd been entirely too grateful to let him take over the explanation, and now she ducked her head and looked at the floor as she said, "There's a certain threshold of chakra above which the inner coils system fails. It's different for every ninja, and even then, it's different in every part of the body. Most shinobi and kunoichi never have to worry about it, but certain jutsu can occasionally go over that threshold...especially emergency healing techniques."
"Who the hell cares?" Naruto snapped. "Just tell us how we heal it!"
Sasuke said nothing. He looked like he had a feeling what the answer might be.
"You can't," Shizune said. "Every known case of chakra burnout has been fatal."
"/This/ one won't be," Naruto said.
Shizune's voice was soft. "The inner coils system manages the flow of chakra throughout the body. Chakra burnout destroys one or more sections of it, making the body incapable of the chakra cycle which normally sustains it. Victims of the condition fall into comas within hours of the damage being done. They can last up to a month in that vegetative state, but none have ever come out of it."
"Like we're gonna let that keep us from fixing Sakura-chan," Naruto said. He looked up at Kakashi, who stood near the door of the hospital room. "Right, Kakashi-sensei? You seem like you know something about chakra burnout."
"It's something I need to be aware of," Kakashi said, "since overusing Chidori has a possibility of triggering it."
Sasuke gave him a peculiar look that he probably thought was unreadable. Kakashi resigned himself to having a more in-depth discussion of the matter with the boy later.
"I've looked Sakura over," Shizune said. "I'll ask Tsunade-sama for confirmation, but I don't think she'll survive much more than three weeks like this."
"I'll snap her out of it in one," Naruto said. "One week. You wait and see. That's a promise."
"Maybe you should give yourself two," Sasuke said. He looked tired, and there was an emptiness at the back of his eyes.
"All I need is one," Naruto said. "You'll see." He stepped forward and knelt at the foot of the bed, clasping the sheets in his hands. "I promise, Sakura-chan!"
Sasuke showed up at Kakashi's apartment that night. His face was as close to expressionless as he ever got it, which was fairly close, but not close enough to fool his teacher. He was broken and afraid.
"This didn't have to happen," he said once Kakashi let him inside and closed the door after him. "We could have waited. Trained longer. If I'd been stronger, I wouldn't have been so badly hurt when I tried to take down Itachi, and Naruto wouldn't have been nearly killed finishing him off. She wouldn't have had to pour herself into healing us so much."
"That's not something you would have said a few days ago," Kakashi said.
Sasuke was silent for a moment. Finally, he said, "A few days ago, he was still alive. Everything was different. And a lot simpler." He drew a deep breath, gathering his courage. "Kakashi-sensei--"
Kakashi started at the old use of his name. Sasuke hadn't called him that since coming back from Orochimaru.
"They did this for me," Sasuke said. "I needed to see Itachi dead, so they pushed themselves so far so fast for me--first to save me, then to fight at my side. If it weren't for me--" He closed his eyes, biting down on the sudden flow of emotion. When he spoke again, his voice was calm and distinct. "It's my fault she's dying."
Kakashi sat down on the edge of his bed and regarded Sasuke without speaking for a moment. Then he said, "Do you really think it's that simple?"
Sasuke opened his eyes, blinked once. "What?"
"She made her own choice to heal you and Naruto," Kakashi said, "even knowing it could kill her."
Sasuke's mouth twisted up in frustration. "Do you tell yourself something like that?"
Kakashi felt the old guilt uncurl, stretch, and rise from its familiar knot in his stomach. Rather than try to push it back down, he transformed it into a small smile behind his mask. "You came here because of what I said earlier about Chidori," he said.
Sasuke lifted his chin slightly and stared hard at Kakashi. "I'm just wondering why you never mentioned it to me before, if using Chidori can do something like that to me."
"Using it at your level can't trigger chakra burnout," Kakashi said, "but using it at my level can."
Sasuke glared at him. "When I had the curse seal, I put more chakra into it than you ever did."
"When you had the curse seal," Kakashi said, "your body's chakra threshold was much higher." He paused, then added mildly, "And you were slowly turning into Orochimaru's slave."
Sasuke hissed under his breath. "It doesn't matter; he's dead now, and the seal is gone. And I'm still getting better with Chidori. When were you going to mention this to me?"
"Ah," Kakashi said, chuckling softly, "maybe someday."
Sasuke dropped his gaze and scowled. "Chidori has nothing to do with chakra burnout, does it?"
"In theory it could," Kakashi said.
"You know something you're not telling us," Sasuke said.
"I'm always going to know something I'm not telling you and Naruto, Sasuke," Kakashi said.
"About chakra burnout!"
"Where's Naruto?" Kakashi said.
"They haven't kicked him out of the hospital yet," Sasuke said. "I'm sure they will in a few more hours. Then he'll go bother Godaime. Kakashi-sensei, if there's something you know that can help Sakura--"
"Why do you think I know something that can help Sakura?" Kakashi said quietly.
Sasuke stopped. He opened his mouth, then closed it again.
"If I once knew someone who died of chakra burnout," Kakashi said, "that means I failed to help them then, and there's no reason to think I could help Sakura now."
Neither of them said anything for a long moment. Finally, Sasuke said, "I'm going to go research healing jutsu," and he turned to go.
Kakashi found himself becoming curiously aware of the passage of time over the course of that week. It was strange, because the last time he'd really noticed the seconds and minutes and hours passing had been the two weeks before Rin's death.
(He'd carried her unconscious body back from the mission, both of them covered in blood, and asked the medics what was wrong with her. That's when he'd first learned about chakra burnout.)
On Tuesday, Kakashi walked into Sakura's hospital room to find Naruto sitting on the floor, his tongue sticking slightly out of his mouth in his concentration. He was surrounded by scrolls.
("There's some kinjutsu you're holding back from me," Kakashi had accused the head medic at the time. "Something too dangerous for normal use, but that I could bring her back with."
"She's the best medic-nin of her generation," she'd said. "You think we'd hold back anything that could help her?"
"This is because she healed me," he'd replied. "It doesn't matter what it takes, I can't let her die like this. Even if I have to die to save her--"
"She sacrificed herself to give you back your life, and you'd throw it back in her face like that?"
"It's not worth anywhere near what she thinks it is," he'd said. "I know that. Besides, she had no idea she'd die from healing me.")
"Hey, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto said. "You've gotta tell us what you know about chakra burnout sometime, you know."
Kakashi smiled tiredly. "I really don't know anything about it, Naruto. Only that it's always fatal."
Naruto made a face. "You shouldn't lie."
"It's true," Kakashi said.
Naruto hesitated for a moment and looked up at him. There were tears of fear and anger collecting at the corners of his eyes; he lifted a hand to swipe them away. "Sakura-chan can't die like this," he said. "It can't be this way."
"It shouldn't be," Kakashi said.
Naruto didn't seem to notice the correction. Instead, he just frowned and looked back down at the scrolls. "I managed to get Tsunade to give me these to look over," he said. "There's got to be something in here that can help Sakura-chan."
Kakashi looked down at Sakura in her bed. He could almost imagine her smiling (Rin had been smiling), but she wasn't. There was no expression on her face.
"I'll leave you to your work," he said.
On Thursday, Kakashi realized he hadn't seen Sasuke in almost two days. He hadn't been at the hospital, and he hadn't been with Naruto hunting down old medical scrolls.
Kakashi decided it was time to pay the Uchiha compound a visit.
Sasuke had moved back in there upon his return. He'd been kept under house arrest for a while, but after Orochimaru's death, the security on him had eased up. Kakashi wasn't sure exactly what he did in the empty estates these days. He figured it was probably time to find out.
He finally found Sasuke in an old study, paging through journals of Uchiha records. "Have you found the ones about me yet?" he asked.
"Not as many as I thought I would," Sasuke said, not looking up, "But then, we're not the Hyuuga. Eight volumes," he added. "Two on how you can't exist, three on how your existence is a disgrace and completely unacceptable, two on how to prevent you from ever happening again, and one on possible ways to assassinate you." He closed the book he was holding. "They decided not to do it."
"Oh," Kakashi said. "That was kind of them."
"The clan had dealt with chakra burnout a few times in the past," Sasuke said. "That much I was right about. But I thought we might have some secret for using the Sharingan to heal it..."
"No," Kakashi said.
Sasuke looked at him.
"I sneaked into the medical records of the Uchiha some years ago," Kakashi said, "trying to find any such methods. There aren't any."
Sasuke said nothing. He looked away, and after a few seconds of staring into the distance, he put the book he'd been holding back on its shelf.
The scene that greeted Kakashi in Sakura's hospital room on Sunday afternoon made his gut clench in worry--almost fear, even, despite the rarity of that emotion to him these days.
Naruto was kneeling at the foot of Sakura's bed, the same way he'd been a week ago when he first made his promise to her and the rest of them. His hands were fisted in the bedsheets once again--but this time, they had claws.
"Naruto," Kakashi said, letting a hint of warning slip into his voice.
Naruto's eyes were closed. He didn't seem to be hearing anything. "I won't let her die," he muttered through his teeth. "I won't break my promise like that." The marks on his cheeks were very clear. Kakashi had a nasty suspicion that beneath the lids, his eyes were red.
"Naruto," he repeated slowly and carefully.
Naruto buried his face in the sheets at Sakura's feet and sobbed.
Kakashi gingerly put a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said gently.
Naruto jerked beneath his hand. His eyes flew open, and he bared too-sharp teeth at Kakashi. "You can't make me stay here and watch her die!"
Naruto pulled away from him and darted to the window. He shoved it open with such force that the glass cracked in its panes, and then he leapt out and scrambled across the roof.
Kakashi could do nothing but follow.
By the time Naruto stumbled to a halt in a distant clearing, Kakashi was growing short of breath. Naruto didn't seem winded at all. His grief had pushed him into a realm beyond ordinary exhaustion. He fell to his knees and dug into the earth around him with clawed hands as he sobbed. It wasn't a quiet weeping but a rough onslaught of hysterical tears.
After a few minutes of this, Kakashi dropped from the trees to the ground. Not saying a word, he walked up to the boy, knelt next to him, and waited for the tears to stop.
When Naruto finally spoke, the fox still lingered in the marks on his cheeks and the red of his eyes and the sharpness of his teeth, but his voice was calm, though raw from crying. "Kakashi-sensei," he said, "if I can't protect Sakura-chan, who can I protect?"
"You still have the village," Kakashi said. "You still have your dream."
"I fought for her and with her," Naruto said. "I saw her stop laughing at me and start loving me. And seeing her happy--being with her, being her /friend/--nothing ever made me feel that way. And now all of that means nothing. Everything I do for anyone could turn into nothing just as easily. Why should I even go back to Leaf now?"
"She'll always be there," Kakashi said. "The dead never go away, in the Leaf. You'd be betraying her by leaving now."
Naruto said nothing for a minute. Then, tears slowly drying around his eyes, he nodded.
Kakashi put his arm around Naruto, gingerly, and teleported them both back to the village. When the world solidified around them again, the demon was gone from Naruto's face.
"This isn't near my apartment," Naruto said.
"No," Kakashi said.
"It's not far from Iruka-sensei's place," Naruto said tentatively.
"Go stay with him for a while," Kakashi said.
As the light faded from the sky, Naruto trudged off to be with the closest thing he had to family, and Kakashi went to pay the memorial stone a visit.
week two (sasuke's attempt)
On Monday, Sasuke finally emerged from the Uchiha compound. He was carrying several scrolls and slender volumes tucked under each arm, and he made a beeline for the village records.
Kakashi stopped him in the middle of the village with a hand on his shoulder. "Sasuke," he said.
"Kakashi-sensei," Sasuke said. "I need to get to work here."
"What was the last thing you had to eat?" Kakashi asked.
Sasuke gave a slight impatient shake of his head. "Some rice last night. It's not important."
"Ah," Kakashi said, "I don't believe there's a resurrection jutsu that requires you to starve yourself."
Sasuke glared at him. "When did you become my mother?"
When I tied you up to that tree those five years ago, Kakashi did not say. "There's a decent little restaurant not far from the records hall you're heading to," he said instead. "I'll buy you lunch."
Sasuke attempted to shrug him off, but Kakashi held firm.
Over the meal (Kakashi ate little, as always; he was not much for public dining), Sasuke said, "It's been a week."
"I've noticed," Kakashi said, "with Naruto."
Sasuke stared down at his food, and Kakashi had a sudden sense that there was something going on that he didn't know about. He didn't much care for that feeling. "How was Naruto last night?" he asked abruptly.
Sasuke dropped the onigiri he'd been holding. "/What?/ I mean--" He fumbled hurriedly with his plate. "I don't know. I didn't see him last night; I just ran into him this morning."
It was far more of a reaction than he'd expected. Kakashi regarded Sasuke curiously. "What did you two do?"
Sasuke stared fixedly at his food. "Nothing," he insisted. "He freaked out at me over how he'd failed at everything he'd ever set out to do, and--that was it. Then I made him go back to where he was staying with Iruka."
Kakashi looked at Sasuke hard for a long moment. Then he said, "Well, that's good. He shouldn't be alone right now."
Sasuke let out a long breath. His relief was a little too transparent.
Kakashi decided that this meant it was time to change the subject, before Sasuke realized how much he'd figured out. "Those aren't healing jutsu," he said, indicating the scrolls placed discreetly in the seat next to Sasuke.
"No," Sasuke said. He polished off the last of the food and picked up a slim journal. "I'm not a healer."
"What are you, then?"
"I was an avenger once," he said.
Sasuke said nothing. He merely stared at the book in his hands. Kakashi had never felt closer to him, or more distant and more helpless to make things better.
Through all of Tuesday, Kakashi only saw one of his former students, and then only once. He caught sight of Naruto sitting at the foot of Sakura's hospital bed when he came to visit her himself. The boy looked more tired than he'd ever been before. That sight hurt Kakashi in places he'd long since thought sealed off from outside poking and prodding.
He wasn't entirely surprised when his dreams that night were less than pleasant.
(He was perhaps a little surprised at the odd persistence of them. Of course he was dreaming of Rin bent over him, his blood and those of the enemy shinobi he'd killed blending into one on her hands. Of course he was remembering the last moments when both he and Rin were alive and looking into each other's eyes: the strange raw electric taste in his mouth, the stinging sensation swarming his body, the ringing in his ears and the deep red darkness closing in on him as she reached for him, desperation bloodying her sweet face--
--but why did he keep dreaming of that scene, over and over again?)
The door to his room being unlocked and pushed open jerked him out of these miserable dreams. He slid smoothly out of sleep and right into battle-ready stance. Before he'd even begun thinking, he was standing up with a kunai in one hand. He would have been at the intruder's throat in less than a second if the sensory input that reached his sensitive nose hadn't so completely shut down all his reactions.
He could smell sex in the air, sex and blood and Naruto and the demon fox and--
--and somewhere beneath it all Sasuke. He blinked, let his vision focus (ignored the fact that he was wearing only boxers and dogtags and he'd just leapt out of bed with a kunai in his hand). Sasuke stood in his doorway.
"That was not your most brilliant move ever," Kakashi said, setting the kunai down.
"Sensei," Sasuke said. His voice was very cool and collected, but Kakashi detected the faintest note of apology in it. He decided it was the most he'd ever get out of the boy (who wasn't, precisely, a boy anymore, he was realizing).
Kakashi picked up his undershirt and pulled it on, quickly tugging the mask into place. Then he walked around Sasuke, stopping when he saw his old student's back. "Why aren't you at the hospital for this?"
"The medics there know nothing," Sasuke said in a low, raw voice. He limped further into the room and closed the door behind him. Kakashi made some internal bets to himself about how many days Sasuke would spend with that limp.
"You're overreacting," Kakashi said, rummaging in his drawers for first aid materials. He took out some disinfectant-treated bandages. "You don't want to tell them how you got those wounds."
Sasuke glared at him over his shoulder. "And how do you think I got them?"
Kakashi looked down at the clawmarks scoured into the younger man's back. "You got into a fight with Naruto, obviously. Funny how knowing what he has inside him hasn't stopped you from doing that."
Sasuke relaxed slightly, then winced as Kakashi started going over the gouges with a damp cloth. "He could have all the demons in the world behind that stupid grin of his, and he'd still be Naruto."
Kakashi said nothing more until he was cleaning out the fifth of the seven wounds. Then he said, "Before or during?"
Sasuke paused. "What?"
"The sex," Kakashi said. "Did he scratch you up before or during the sex?"
"You asshole," Sasuke said. "When did you figure it out?"
"When you came in here stinking of it," Kakashi said, carefully applying a bandage to one deep scratch. He neglected to mention the suspicions he'd had since their lunch the day before. There was no need to let Sasuke in on all of his secrets.
Sasuke scowled at the floor. "I don't remember when the pain stopped and the pl--no, that's a stupid thing to say. The pain didn't stop. I don't remember when the fighting became the sex."
Kakashi frowned at Sasuke's back.
"Monday morning," Sasuke said, "he grabbed me and pinned me to an alley wall and swore at me and kissed me. I wasn't sure then why I didn't stop him." He was silent for a moment. Then he said, "When he showed up at my house tonight, he started by kissing me and then by touching me and then we were punching and scratching and biting and--" He shuddered. "He said things, and..."
Kakashi did not ask what the things Naruto had said had been. There were some things he'd let his students keep to themselves. Besides, he had a good enough idea of what they'd been, in essence if not in exact detail. "Why didn't you stop him?"
Sasuke was silent for a moment. Then he said, "Because I liked it." He shut his eyes. "I liked it, all right? He grabbed me with one hand on my shoulder and he dug into my back with the other and he fucked me in the ass and it hurt and /I liked it/." A beat. "Is that what you wanted to hear?"
"More or less," Kakashi said. He applied the last bandage. "One more thing, Sasuke."
Sasuke hobbled around to face him. He was sulking.
"Make him use lube next time," Kakashi said.
As the second week wore on, Kakashi saw less and less of Naruto and Sasuke, and, he suspected, they saw more and more of each other. By Thursday Sasuke had either stopped limping or learned how to hide it.
If he had learned to hide it, he was the only one doing a good job of hiding anything. On Friday, Kakashi caught a glimpse of the two of them in an alley. Naruto was the one on his knees in front of Sasuke, but from the way Sasuke flushed and whimpered, Kakashi had a suspicion that Naruto was using his teeth.
He didn't look closer to check. His former students deserved that much privacy, at least, even if they weren't going out of their way to look for it.
It wasn't until Saturday that Kakashi realized that Sasuke hadn't let sex with Naruto entirely distract him from his goals. In retrospect, of course, he should have figured it out sooner. Sasuke had always let Naruto get in the way of his goals, but he had been surprisingly stubborn about actually giving them up.
As it was, Kakashi didn't realize something was still wrong until he was visiting Sakura in the hospital on Saturday. He was about to leave for the day when something twinged at the corner of his eye. He looked down. Then he said, "Genjutsu kai."
An ordinary spot of floor beneath the bed faded to reveal a small, neat set of scrolls. Kakashi knelt down, took them out, and started reading. When he realized what it was he was looking at, he felt his stomach start to squirm.
The notes on the scrolls were in Sasuke's handwriting. Kakashi slid them back into place, put the genjutsu back on, and then wrapped himself up in a genjutsu in the bare shadows of the room. That done, he waited.
Sometime after nightfall, Sasuke slipped in through the window. He walked up to the bed, crouched down, and calmly dispelled his genjutsu. Then he took out the scrolls and studied them for a long moment before he stood up again.
For a while, he did nothing; he merely looked at Sakura's still form. Eventually, he said, "This isn't how it should have been, Sakura. I should have married you and given you twenty children at least and beaten up Naruto every day while you watched and laughed." He tucked his chin against his chest as he stared down at her. "I stopped believing in the should-have world a long time ago."
Liar, Kakashi thought.
"And I got by all right all the same."
And a bad liar too.
"But Naruto, it would break him to have to give that up. If I bring you back to him, someday the two of you will be able to go back to that world, even if I can't join you there."
Also an idiot, Kakashi added to himself.
"I don't know if I'll survive this," Sasuke said. "It's a new kinjutsu, and I didn't exactly get a chance to test it. I think the odds are against my survival, but that's all right; even if I did survive, I'd get kicked out of the village for using it. I know you're going to hate me for this, but I have to do it. For you, for Naruto, for the should-have world, where I could be what you thought I was." He reached out and trailed his fingertips over her forehead. "Thank you. And good night."
Then he lifted his hands to each other and began to perform handseals.
Or he tried to. Kakashi was suddenly holding his wrists firmly in place.
Sasuke went stiff with fury. "What are you /doing/, Kakashi! Let go of me!" He started struggling. "I have to fix this!"
"/Edo Tensei/?" Kakashi asked, letting some of his incredulity leak into his voice. "Orochimaru's resurrection jutsu?"
"A variation of it," Sasuke said. He slackened slightly, let some of his fight be replaced by pride as he went on, "My personal modifications. Instead of reviving a dead body, it restores a damaged and dying one...or it would have if you hadn't stopped me!"
"How do you know it would work?" Kakashi said. "You don't use new kinjutsu like that. You could have killed everyone in this hospital. Nobody even knows how that jutsu truly works--you could have summoned demons to devour the souls of the entire village, for all you know."
"It wouldn't have mattered," Sasuke said, "if it brought her back. I could have been dead and everyone else could have been dead but it wouldn't have mattered if she survived."
"I didn't think you were still this much of a selfish coward," Kakashi said.
"Coward? Selfish? I was going to die for her!"
"But it's the still living part," Kakashi said, "that's always the hardest. Dead people don't have to decide what to do next." He let go of Sasuke, if only in order to backhand him hard across the jaw. The boy stumbled back, tears springing to his eyes. "Go home," Kakashi said. "Go home and never consider this again, or I will tell the Godaime what you've almost done."
Sasuke reached for the scrolls, but before his hands touched them, Kakashi had made a swift series of handseals, and the papers fell to ashes. "No," Kakashi said. "Go home."
week three (kakashi's attempt)
Twelve days after Rin's initial diagnosis of chakra burnout, Kakashi had finally stopped yelling at the medic-nin and storming through the hospital halls. Instead he'd sat at her bedside, not eating and not drinking and not, in fact, moving at all.
Rin had died fifteen days after Kakashi had woken up to find her sprawled comatose over his bloodied body, smiling faintly. When she finally stopped breathing, he'd passed out himself and woken up to find himself hooked up to various tubes and needles. Which he had then ripped out so that he could flee.
Kakashi spent the fifteenth day of Sakura's coma sitting at her bedside, not eating and not drinking and not, in fact, moving at all. He was kind of surprised at himself for this. After all, he had cared about Sakura, cared about her deeply, but he had never really understood her (not that he'd ever understood Rin either, not really), not the way he understood Sasuke. He hadn't seen the hope of the future in her, the way he did in Naruto. She was just a girl, and she was too much like Rin whom he'd loved (too caring, too devoted, too deeply and quietly loyal) and too little like Rin whom he'd loved (too strong and too loud and too determined) for him to be able to cope with her.
Actually, he hadn't meant to admit that last part to himself, but when he was sitting in a chair at her bedside, not eating and not drinking and not, in fact, moving at all, it became hard to lie to himself.
On Monday, Kakashi noticed that Naruto and Sasuke weren't coming to visit Sakura in the hospital anymore. On Tuesday, when he'd finally started moving from her side once more, he thought that maybe this was because they couldn't think of any other way to move on. On Wednesday, he realized that they couldn't move on.
On Thursday, Kakashi fell asleep in his chair at Sakura's side, and he dreamed again of Rin's last conscious moments.
His mouth tasted like there was a current running through his tongue and his right arm was stinging like it never had before from where he'd pushed Chidori through it and the ringing in his ears drowned out all other sound and his vision was going red and then black--
She was bending over him with that lovely smile hesitantly replacing the desperation on her face and her hands were flying through the seals and--
He opened his eyes and he said, "She wasn't using a medical jutsu."
Then he went to see the village's medical records.
"The missing medical records," Kakashi said. "I'd like to see them."
"What?" Tsunade said, looking up from her paperwork.
"The records of Rin's death," he said patiently. "They're missing."
"Oh," Tsunade said. "Those." She pulled open a drawer and reached for a small volume within. Then she hesitated. "I hid these records back when Naruto was going through them all. They're some of the most unusual cases of chakra burnout, and there was one account that I thought would really upset him and do nothing to help him."
She took out the book. "There was one victim who was on a mission with a Hyuuga who manipulated his inner coils system to keep him conscious for long enough to explain the initial symptoms of chakra burnout. He still died afterwards, of course."
She held out the book to him, and he took it. Only afterwards did it occur to him to wonder why Rin's case was in there.
He did not open the book and read until he was sitting at Sakura's side once more the next day.
(He kept stealing glances at her, expecting to see her smiling. But she was still somberly expressionless.)
Kakashi paged through the brief volume of records until he came to the page marked discreetly with Rin's name. He read:
This case of chakra burnout--if it was chakra burnout after all--is particularly interesting not because of what it has but because of what it lacks. The patient had all the symptoms when examined with medical jutsu, and she died in the predicted manner. But she lacked a discernible cause for the symptoms.
Chakra burnout is ultimately about damage. The overload of chakra concentrated in a specific part of the body--in the case of the medical ninja who suffer from the syndrome, the hands--damages a section of the inner coils system to the point where it can no longer properly cycle chakra throughout the body. The imbalance swiftly builds up to the point where the victim can no longer maintain consciousness [cf. Hyuuga Yojin's account of the death of her teammate], and then over a matter of days or weeks the body fails as the chakra slowly bleeds out of it.
The patient Rin had some hints of damage to the inner coils system around the right hand, wrist, and lower arm. However, it was not nearly enough to have triggered chakra burnout on its own.
"The right hand, wrist, and lower arm," Kakashi said to Sakura's unmoving form. He closed his eyes and, for a moment, attempted to picture the last jutsu he'd seen Rin using. He couldn't place it exactly, but it looked familiar. Of course, when one got to know as many jutsu as Kakashi did, all of them started looking familiar in one way or another.
He opened his right eye and flipped through the book again until he came to Hyuuga Yojin's account. Then he flipped another couple of pages to get past the emotional bits that would have upset Naruto. In doing so, he nearly skipped the part listing the initial symptoms of chakra burnout. Nearly.
He stopped. He read it again.
The taste of electricity in one's mouth.
The sound of ringing in one's ears.
The sensation of stinging first originating from the hands or wherever else the inner coils system has been overloaded, then spreading to the rest of the body.
The sight of red before one's vision fades to black.
He got up and went to return the book.
Kakashi didn't sleep that night. Instead, he paced through the village and tried to remember many things, but mostly the jutsu Rin had used.
He walked by the Uchiha compound. There were lights on in Sasuke's house and shadows moving behind the window. Kakashi had a feeling that a visitor would not be welcomed. He let them be.
He spent the hours as dawn approached sitting by the memorial and having a rather one-sided conversation with Obito. In the end, he was pretty sure that Obito understood.
The sun had already crept over the treetops by the time he figured out what Rin had done. The jutsu she'd used had been an adaptation of one he'd copied from an enemy earlier in the same mission. It had been designed to steal the enhanced performance of opponents who used drugs to boost their abilities, without actually risking the side effects of those drugs. Rin had seen him dying when he put too much chakra into a use of Chidori and overloaded his inner coils system. So she'd taken that jutsu and altered it to steal his chakra burnout from him.
She always had been a brilliant healer. Fortunately, Kakashi had seen her use the modified jutsu, and since it was not, technically, a healing technique, he was fairly sure he could repeat it.
Late that Saturday morning almost three weeks after Sakura was diagnosed with chakra burnout, Kakashi returned to her hospital room with a plan.
When Sakura woke up, Kakashi looked like he was smiling in his sleep.