Gotta maintain the every two years update schedule.


The dog nosing open the hospital room door, then trotting cheerfully up to the bed to jump on his lap and lick his face, warned Raidou that Kakashi was nearby.

"When I asked you to teach the kids, I didn't expect you to end up in the hospital."

"I didn't either. Consider any future offer rescinded." Raidou scratched Guruko under the chin and the dog made happy grunting noises, flopping bonelessly across Raidou's lap. "I had to pull out of a mission I had scheduled."

"I'm sorry," Kakashi said. The apology was sincere, and Raidou accepted it with a nod. Kakashi pulled a chair up and sat down, casting a practiced eye over Raidou and the medical paraphernalia around him. "How long do they have you here for?"

"Until tomorrow, or until my vision clears completely. Whichever is last."

Kakashi hmm'd. "What happened?"

"Uzumaki." Raidou blinked against the bluriness, trying to see Kakashi's face clearly. The migraine had faded after a few hours, but he still couldn't seem to focus his eyes properly. "He got stuck in the first level. And he was...frustrated. Somehow, he drew on the Fox's chakra. It was a strong kai," he said, the obvious understatement drawing a grunt from Kakashi. "It snapped my hold on all of the illusions."

"So this is backlash?"

"The worst I've every felt," Raidou said, wry. "And the medics say the Fox's chakra scalded all my coils. I'm off field rotations for two weeks."

Kakashi was silent for a few moments. Guruko whined, and licked Raidou's face. "I'm sorry," Kakashi said again, quietly. "I had no idea he could do that."

"He didn't mean to," Raidou said. "He brought me to the hospital; he was horrified. Kakashi - you need to talk to him. Make sure he knows it's not his fault."

"And that he doesn't do it again."

"Yes, that, but what I said too," Raidou said sharply.

"I will." There was something like defeat in Kakashi's voice, the faintest tinge of exhaustion behind his usual dry tone.

Raidou sighed. "You know, I never would have thought they'd give you a team. You were a good commander, but not really a teacher."

"I know," Kakashi said, and that tone was still there, that sound like he was seeing a battlefield after the fight was over, when all that was left was to bury the dead and try not to think about the cost of winning.

Raidou kept petting Guruko. "For all that, you've done a good job. They're still alive. They're learning." Kakashi's hm was deeply unconvinced. "You've got a hat trick of tough cases, Kakashi. You can't expect them to turn into perfect little ninja overnight."

"Apparently I also can't expect them not to injure their comrades," Kakashi said. "You make two in a row."

"You can ask for help," Raidou said, quietly. "Someone needs to teach Naruto how to control the Fox's chakra. It doesn't have to be you. You've got a lot on your plate right now; I know you're still on rotation with—"

"I distinctly remember that being classified."

Raidou grinned. "Excuse me. I know you're still deburring goats in Wind country. Nice one, by the way. The point is, you don't have to do it all alone."

"I asked you for help. Look how well that went."

"Kakashi—"

"Thank you for teaching them today, Raidou. I am sorry for what happened." Kakashi stood up.

"Wait. The other two. Talk to Sasuke about dependence on the sharingan. You should be good at that lecture, considering how many times you've gotten it." When Kakashi didn't rise to the bait, he continued. "Sakura was in the middle of the RTI section when everything broke apart. She's going to need a debriefing. You should send her to a counselor."

With his coils scorched and tender, Raidou couldn't feel Kakashi's chakra with the sensitivity he was used to, but he caught the sudden souring in the air nevertheless.

"She's a genin, Kakashi. Counseling is normal. Just because you—"

"That's not relevant."

The headache was starting to come back, and Raidou's eyes were twitching. "I'm not arguing with you right now. Just think about what I said. And get that girl extra training with Takaoka or Yuuhi or someone." He closed his eyes.

Kakashi grunted. Raidou took that as the best he'd get, and rolled to his side, fluffing the pillow conspicuously. "Now go away, and let me sleep so I can get out of here."


Sakura was still five minutes away from the training grounds the next morning when Kakashi appeared from what she would have sworn was a deserted street, hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders slouched. "We need to talk."

He led the way to a teahouse; a silent walk, while neither looked at the other. They sat down at an outdoor table, away from the other morning customers. Kakashi broke the silence. "I spoke to Raidou about yesteday. He said you did well."

Sakura stared down into her tea, hands wrapped around the warm ceramic. She'd done well? Maybe. But she sure hadn't slept well. Every time she began to drift off, images from the genjutsu swirled through her mind, knocking her back to consciousness sweaty and gasping. She rubbed at her face. "Is he alright?"

"He's had worse. They've already discharged him." Kakashi waved it away.

"I'm glad to hear that." She knew it was stilted; she couldn't find better words. She was glad Namiashi was alright. She also wasn't entirely sure she wanted to ever see him again, someone who could create images like the ones he'd put her through.

"He said you were in the RTI sequence when it ended."

She nodded, and kept not looking at him.

"That sequence is...difficult," Kakashi said.

"Have you done it?" she asked her teacup.

"Yes. That one, and several others. It's useful training." He paused, gathering his words. Sakura turned her teacup in her hands, lifted it as if to take a sip, put it down. "Does what happened in the illusion bother you?"

Sakura's hands clenched around the cup. He knew. He knew that she'd talked to that man with the kind green eyes. That she'd been about to say anything to get them to stop hurting Naruto in that dark cell, before Naruto's chakra had freed them all. "Yes."

"They're meant to make you talk. If they didn't, they'd be useless," Kakashi said. "First you have to know what genjutsu can do; then you can work on resisting it. Finding out here is better than finding out in the field."

That...made sense. "Did you talk, when you did the Core?" Sakura asked.

"Yes."

She almost asked him what he'd seen. But she wasn't sure if she really wanted to know. "Have you needed it?"

"Yes."

Slowly, she loosened her grip on the teacup. She took a sip, letting the cup cover her face and the steam bead on her skin. Kakashi was saying that this wasn't failure. That she had been supposed to fail. Failure was the only way to learn.

Her heartbeat ticked up; she could feel her pulse under her skin, her shoulders knotting tight as she took a breath to say her next words: "I want to finish it."

Kakashi nodded. "Good." When she lifted her gaze, just for a moment, she found something like pride in his eyes.


They went to an empty traning ground, far enough away from their usual that Naruto and Sasuke wouldn't find them. Kakashi sent Pakkun to go tell the boys to do something productive and to make sure they didn't accidentally kill each other.

Then he and Sakura sat down facing each other under a tree, and Kakashi pushed up the headband covering his red eye. "If I say it's over, it'll be true," he said, as Raidou had the day before. "If you want to end it, call my name."

She dug her fingers into the grass beside her, feeling the edges of the thin blades and the damp earth and the heat of the sun on her skin. "Okay," she whispered.

"Look at me." Sakura took a deep breath, and met his eyes. The whirlpool of red spun her down, down, down.

She landed in a dark concrete room, tied to a chair.


She opened her eyes to a view of dirt and grass, the skin around her eyes swollen and the tight feeling of dried salt pinching her cheeks. Kakashi's voice sounded from somewhere behind her, quiet and gentle. "It's over, Sakura."

She sat up slowly, stiff muscles protesting. Dirt clung to her cheek. He sat cross-legged where he had been when they started, his hitai-ate hiding his sharingan.

She stretched, trying to get herself back in her skin, to shake off the feeling that she was somehow separate from her body, a mind inside a puppet of flesh.

"Five laps of the field," Kakashi ordered. She stood up shakily, and began a lurching jog. Halfway around, her legs had warmed up and she fell into an easy stride. At the end of the second lap, she pushed her pace, speeding up until she was sprinting the long edges of the field, the thud of her feet on the ground and the burning of air in her lungs pulling her into herself, the wild pounding of her heart and the fingers of wind in her hair reconnecting her thoughts and her body until she was herself again.

She slowed in the last half lap, letting her breathing settle back to normal. Kakashi had stood up, and as she walked up to him, he fell into step beside her. "What did you notice?" Kakashi asked, as they walked. "Tell me about the illusions."

She gathered her thoughts, watching the trees passing by to the side. "The first one, with the soft chair. It's an emotional manipulation, like some of the earlier levels. It changes how you feel, as well as creating a new place."

"How did you break it?"

"It was wrong. He..." Kakashi matched her pace as she sped up. "It made me trust him. But I know who I trust." Four people she trusted, and none of them was an illusory man with kind green eyes and the scent of jasmine curling in the air.

"And the next one?"

"A room. They were hurting the boys."

"How did you break it?"

"That's not what would have happened," Sakura said. "Naruto on the floor like that - he's never been helpless like that. I don't know what it is about him, but that's not what would happen." There was an intensity to her voice, an edge of something that Kakashi realized with muted surprise was faith. Was she so certain that Naruto wouldn't be captured? Or simply that he couldn't be broken?

Was it the Fox she was reacting to, the unnatural power that burned in Naruto when things got desperate? Or his indomitable spirit? "And the next level?"

"They were hurting me." Her voice wavered.

"How did you break it?" He knew how hard it was to pull your focus together long enough to even think to try kai when you were drowning.

"The itch," Sakura said.

"The itch?"

She held a hand out in front of her, spread her fingers wide. "The illusion. In the coils. It was hard to focus on, with the...water. But the chakra is there, and it itches. That's the wrong word. I don't know how to describe it."

"Hm." She can feel the jutsu, Kakashi realized with surprise. Even while being held underwater with three broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder wrenched up behind her back, she could feel the jutsu. He didn't know where Raidou had gotten that crashing wave of terror and pain and choking gasping panic, whose wartime hell he'd rebuilt thread by thread into a training level for fresh-faced chuunin. It wasn't Kakashi's. But Kakashi knew, intimately, its kind. The fractured thread of thought, lost to the glass shatter of bone. The overwhelming need for air, all focus centered on the burn in your lungs until your mind stopped thinking and all that was left was desperation to breathe. Yet in the midst of all of that, she'd found the delicate spiderwebs of chakra threaded inside her.

The thought crossed his mind that maybe it wasn't a good thing, that she handled torture so well. Even illusory torture. That maybe throwing herself in front of shuriken during a test, turning her back on a falling sword, deliberately injuring herself to practice a technique she'd never been taught, were signs of something he should be worrying about.

On the other hand, she was a ninja. He'd done worse for less reason.

"It was like there were two of me," Sakura said. "Inside my head. Part of me could focus on the wrongness in my chakra, even when I was..."

She didn't need to finish that part of her sentence. Kakashi nodded. They walked in silence, Kakashi trying to decide whether to push her, to find out what she meant by two.

"The last one was the easiest," Sakura said, before he made up his mind to speak. "It was the worst, I think, but it was the easiest too." Four levels to the RTI sequence - persuasion, hurt the team, hurt the body, break apart the mind. "I could keep part of me thinking, keep it together, even when everything else was falling apart. I think... I think I understand enough to recognize the illusions. I think I know how to get out of them." She scuffed a foot over the ground; kicked a rock so it bounced along the grass in front of her. "Thank you," she said, stopping and looking up at him. "For having me finish it."

Kakashi inclined his head. "It's good to know that you can finish these things. Builds confidence. Tomorrow we'll run through it again; it will be easier each time."

Fear flickered across her face, but she bit her lip and nodded. No one looked forward to doing something like that over again. But the more she practiced here, the better she'd get at breaking them. And, hopefully, the less real the illusions would feel. The more often she won, the fewer nightmares she'd have.

At least that had been Kakashi's experience. He wasn't sure if Raidou would agree, but the man had said to get her more training.

"Kakashi-sensei?"

"Hm?"

"What do you do if it's not an illusion? If it's real?"

Kakashi stopped, and turned to meet her eyes squarely. "If you want that training, I will make sure you get it. But it's usually not assigned until chuunin-level. You don't need it yet."

She shivered, and her voice was small. "Why not?"

"Because I'll be with you."

Sakura's shoulders squared a little, and the tension in her face eased. "Okay. I'll wait."

There it was again. That undertone to her voice.

Faith.


"Pakkun said we weren't getting a mission today and we were supposed to train and you were gonna show up eventually, but Sasuke that jerk just left and said he had better things to do than wait, so I was here all alone." Naruto paused for breath.

Kakashi sighed quietly. Couldn't his students have problems one at a time? What did Sasuke think he was doing? He glanced at Pakkun and flicked his gaze towards the path. Pakkun disappeared into the trees. "Alright. Naruto, I heard that you had some problems with the release jutsu yesterday." The boy flushed, biting his lip. "Tell me what you know about how to do it."

"Raidou said to find what was wrong," Naruto said. "He said that focusing on something that you knew wasn't real would guide the chakra burst."

"And then?"

"Then just push chakra at it, I guess. I don't know. It's all so hard! It never worked, until..." Naruto's shoulders hunched, an arm pressed against his stomach.

Kakashi's neutral expression didn't shift, but inside he cursed himself for ever asking Raidou to teach them genjutsu. He should have just gotten another idiot chuunin to babysit. He should have let them have the lazy, easy first year of genin status that Konoha had fought wars to make possible.

Well, too late now. He'd created these problems; now he had to fix them. "Sakura, cast an area illusion."

She startled, snapping her attention back from whatever far away place it had drifted. "What kind?"

He shrugged. "Anything."

A moment later, the field blossomed with flowers. Red and orange blooms swayed in a gentle breeze; a hint of lavender tickled Kakashi's nose.

"So what's wrong?" Kakashi asked Naruto.

Naruto reached out to touch a flower by his knee. His fingers passed through it. "There are fake flowers everywhere?"

"Alright. So release it."

Naruto's eyes went wide. "No, I can't, I'll hurt Sakura!"

"Why do you think you'll hurt Sakura?"

Naruto gave him a disbelieving look. "Namiashi-sensei is in the hospital."

"True."

"So I don't want to do the same thing to Sakura!"

"You won't," Kakashi said. Sakura herself sat very still, focused on them both. But her illusion didn't waver. "For two reasons. One: this is an area illusion. There won't be backlash; it's a one-way flow of chakra. What Raidou was doing was much more complicated. Two: you're going to do this without getting frustrated or scared. You're going to do it with just your own chakra." Kakashi held Naruto's wide blue eyes. "I trust you."

Naruto's throat bobbed as he swallowed. He looked to Sakura, and his voice quavered. "Do you trust me too?"

She smiled at him. "Yes."


At the end of the day, Naruto and Sakura left together, walking side by side back towards the village. Kakashi ran a hand through his hair as he watched them leave, messing the tangle up worse. Naruto was starting to figure it out. He wasn't a quick learner of subtleties, but he was determined. Most importantly, he'd released the illusion four times, without harming anyone. His fear of repeating what he'd done to Raidou was fading. Kakashi still had to sit him down and talk about the Fox's chakra, but it was a start.

Sasuke hadn't shown up at all. Kakashi waited for the other two to disappear between the trees. When they were gone, Pakkun came out of the shadows. "He went to the compound," the dog rumbled.

Kakashi took a deep breath, and let it out slowly between his teeth. The soft fabric of his mask billowed slightly against his lips. Then he headed off at an angle through the trees, Pakkun at his heels.


Sasuke heard the scrape of the door sliding open, and turned around, gathering his anger onto his face and into his voice to send away whatever fool thought they had the right to disturb him in the Uchiha's personal grounds. The words fell apart in his mouth, as Naruto's wide, concerned eyes peeked through the gap, followed by Naruto's bright hair and colorful jacket and the contained buzz of energy that was so purely Naruto.

"What do you want?" Sasuke asked, but the snap in his tone had no teeth to it.

"We came to see if you were okay," Naruto said.

"We?"

The door slid open wider and Sakura stepped through. Sasuke stiffened. She took a step to the side, and leaned up against the wall in the shadow of the eaves, looking around the courtyard at the draping branches of the red maple, the pools of yellow lamplight, the battered training post set in the center, anywhere but at him.

Naruto sat down on the edge of the porch, dangling his feet to kick at the untrimmed grass. "You left practice today and didn't come back."

"We had no mission. I trained on my own."

"Are you okay?" Naruto asked, because he had no subtlety and no tact and thought he had a right to everyone's state of mind just because they had to work together.

"Why wouldn't I be."

"That's what I'm asking." Naruto jumped off the porch, walked over to Sasuke, and glared, nose to nose.

Sasuke glared right back. "And why should I answer you?" The answer came from habit, the anger like ruts on a well used road. He turned the hurt and the helplessness tangling inside him into anger, and followed that path like it led home.

Naruto bristled. "Because we care about you! Because we're your teammates! Because you're our friend!"

"I don't need you to care about me!" The words tore out of him, spittle flecking onto Naruto's face. "I don't need you on my team, and we're not friends!"

Naruto reeled back like Sasuke had hit him. "I thought-"

A hand between his shoulderblades stopped him. Naruto went still and quiet. Sakura had come down off the porch without Sasuke noticing. She stood beside Naruto, her touch supporting him, her eyes locked on Sasuke.

"What do you want?" Sasuke sneered at her. "Are you here to brag about how many people you've killed? About how good you are at genjutsu?"

"No," she said, softly. "But I'm not apologizing for that."

He opened his mouth to tell her that he didn't want her apologies, but she cut him off. "On the mission to Wave Country - without you, I'd be dead. Naruto would be dead, several times over. And without Naruto, without me, you would be dead too.

"But we're all still here. We're a good team. We are. And if you don't want to be friends, that's okay. I can live with that. But I can't live if we aren't working as a team. None of us can. None of us would have.

"When we were working the fields, I didn't tell you what was going on with me. And it got in the way of us being a team." She took a deep breath. Too surprised by her speech, Sasuke did not interrupt. Naruto stared at her wide-eyed; he obviously hadn't expected this.

"My dad's in the hospital. He overdosed on chakra suppressants and nearly died. He's an alcoholic; he's got a drug problem. The Village is sending him to rehab once his chakra levels stabilize and his heart is a little stronger. This is the second time he's gone through the program; he relapsed after a couple months last time. I don't talk about this because it isn't anyone's business except mine. But you two are my teammates. And I think that I want you to know," she said, and her voice started to shake.

Naruto reached out, hesitantly, and threaded his fingers through hers. Startled, she stiffened briefly. Then she squeezed back.

Sasuke crossed his arms over his chest. What was he supposed to do with that information? Did she want sympathy? Because at least her father was still alive. "So?"

She smiled, lopsided and hopeful, a little sad. "So, come back to us. You've got skills we need. We've got skills you need. You want to kill your brother? We can help. Tell us what's wrong, and we can help."

He covered the shock on his face quickly. "I don't want your help."

"Too bad," Naruto said. "Sakura's right. Every time we work together, we do better. And every time we don't, we get hurt. We're not going to let you get hurt anymore."

"That's what f— what teams are for," Sakura added.

Sasuke studied them, backlit by the open door, faces dappled by shadows. Holding hands and stumbling over words that might have been friends, might have been family. He didn't have either, but his teammates were here, offering to help him kill his brother.

They were right, that the three were stronger together. But they weren't strong enough; if Sakura and Naruto tried to help him, they'd just die too. He had to stop this now, before —

Sakura took a half step forward and gently laced her fingers with Sasuke's before he could pull away. In the moment of distraction, Naruto grabbed his other hand. That was too much, and Sasuke snatched his hands back, crossing his arms tightly over his chest and scowling. But Naruto and Sakura both smiled, then laughed, then Naruto was grabbing for Sasuke's wrist again and dragging him back up onto the porch and through the house. "Dinner time! Let's get ramen."


Kakashi sat on a slate-tiled rooftop, draped in shadows. Curled in his lap, Pakkun gave a grumbling little huff. "Too cute. I'm going to be sick."

Kakashi scruffed the dog's ears, then let his hand settle warm and heavy on the soft fur of Pakkun's head. The smile he turned down to the dog was raw and honest and fond.

Pakkun snorted again. "Girl reminds me of you. Making friends by promising murder."

"He did say that was his dream for the future," Kakashi murmured. "And it's a sanctioned bounty, not murder."

Pakkun stretched, paws scrabbling across Kakashi's thighs. "Semantics."

"Law," Kakashi returned.

"Stop arguing, pup." Pakkun said, standing up. "Let's go home."