"You know, Kashi," Iruka said, his back to the jounin, "It's almost like a vacation! When's the last time you and I got to take a hike together?"
"Mmm," Kakashi agreed. He was leaning back against the log now, smiling face upturned to the sun's warm rays.
"Here, catch!" A soft bundle landed in the hands Kakashi reflexively held up.
"Clean clothes! Iruka-kun, you are a god of thoughtfulness."
"It's not just for your sake, Stinky-chan." Iruka wrinkled his nose in feigned disgust.
"Right," Kakashi drawled, "and this isn't a ploy to get me to strip for you either, is it?"
He was delighted by the flush that immediately crept up Iruka's face.
"Well, don't waste your opportunity, Ruru!" Making sure he had the chuunin's eye, Kakashi shrugged off his vest, then raised his arms to peel the sweater over his head.
Both shinobi gasped at the same time, one in pain, one in empathy. 'Shit! I forgot about my damn ribs!' Kakashi groaned. 'Well, too late now.'
Iruka, to his credit, managed to sound, if not unconcerned, at least not overly so. "Wow, that's uh..., that's gotta hurt, huh." Kakashi's milky complexion made the bruise stand out in sickening contrast. Purple and black blotches wrapped around his left side just under his pectoral muscle, trailing off in back below his shoulder blade.
"Well, it looks a lot worse than it is," Kakashi lied, knowing that they both knew it was one.
"Got any more surprises for me?"
"No, I promise." he held up his hands in a 'trust-me' gesture.
Iruka was silent for a moment, trying to work out what to say to diffuse the tension. With a flash of inspiration, he gave his lover with an innocent smile.
"OK then, baby, drop trou and prove it."
"Yatta! I made the great pervert blush!"
Kakashi chuckled low and deep.
"Iruka-kun, you really are a devil in disguise, aren't you?"
"God. Devil. Make up your mind, which is it?"
"Heh, you got me." Kakashi did as he was told, stripping off his dirty trousers and underwear and standing naked in the soft breeze. "Got your eyeful yet?" His dark eye twinkled.
"Aaa," was all Iruka could manage. Damn that man was sexy, even when he was beat up and looking like hell!
"I'm getting dressed now, OK, Sensei?"
Not waiting for an answer, he pulled on the clean boxers and black pants that Iruka had brought him.
"It's just a clean uniform, that's alright, I hope," Iruka found his voice again once Kakashi's lower half was covered.
"Yeah, perfect. I'm still technically on the mission, you know." He reached for the clean sweater, but Iruka stopped him.
"Let me rub some ointment into that bruise first. It'll heal faster, ne?"
"Aa. Be gentle, OK?"
It was interesting, Iruka noted, how much Kakashi really responded to little bits of care-taking. He almost seemed like a little boy sometimes. "I bet you were a cute little kid," he mused aloud as he smoothed the medicine over Kakashi's abused ribs..
"Ano, what brought that on, Iruka-kun?"
"Mmm, nothing. There, all done! Ready to eat?"
ooo ooo ooo
Iruka was midway through raising a cup of sake to his lips when he simultaneously felt Kakashi's chakra flare around him in a protective cocoon and the reddish earth beneath them give way. As they tumbled underground, he was aware of Kakashi's voice chanting a jutsu, the warmth of his body pressed protectively around Iruka's own. When the movement ceased, he found they were in a vaulted chamber created by the roots of an enormous evergreen, light entering in shafts between the roots where they twisted in and out of the ground. A faintly bleeding gash across his left biceps had apparently been made by the enemy shuriken that Kakashi now held up to the light. The jounin scrutinized the weapon, then slowly and deliberately pushed his hitai-ate up, exposing his lividly scarred Sharingan Eye. Kakashi turned to Iruka, his glittering, mismatched eyes staring hard into the chuunin's.
"Are you OK?"
"Yeah, it's just a scratch," Iruka held out his arm in proof.
"Good." Kakashi stood rigidly still, a look of deadly fury on his face. In a voice tense and dangerous he said, "Stay hidden. Be vigilant."
As soon as Iruka nodded in acknowledgment, the silver-haired shinobi disappeared in a swirl of vapor.
Iruka shivered. It hadn't been his friend and lover Kashi-kun speaking those words, but Konoha Jounin Hatake Kakashi, his superior officer, issuing a field order. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. He didn't like the implications of Kakashi's second command. "Stay hidden" was Konoha code for, "Stay out of this fight for now," and might be given in many circumstances, especially when one wanted to keep troops in reserve. But "be vigilant" was special; it meant, "This enemy is too strong for you to fight yourself and too dangerous for me to protect you from. Watch this fight but do not interfere; be prepared to destroy my corpse and report in detail what has happened here to Hokage."
Iruka was stunned by how quickly Kakashi had recognized and reacted to the threat, one he hadn't himself even perceived. He couldn't even be sure where the enemy had thrown the shuriken from, and had certainly not felt any threatening presence, but something had alerted Kakashi. Though he didn't doubt him, he didn't see how the jounin could have come to the conclusion that the enemy was too much for Iruka to handle with so little data, unless - did he recognize the enemy's weapon? Perhaps this foe was associated with the mission the jounin was returning from, though that implied a sloppiness on Kakashi's part that Iruka could not credit as real. He might seem lazy and laid back to the casual observer, indeed, that was part of his charm, but Kakashi was nothing if not thorough when he was on the job. You don't get to be jounin, let alone ANBU, without possessing a frightening competence as a ninja.
Looking around, Iruka realized he was in an old lookout bunker. 'Probably a relic from the Cloud War,' he thought. He peered between the gnarled roots of the tree where they rose from the soil, creating a ground-level peep hole for the hidden chuunin. Kakashi's enemy was standing in the clearing, looking like he had stepped out of a Konoha history book. He wore an old-style ANBU uniform, with articulated armor over his torso. His hair was covered by the scarf of his hitai-ate, the ANBU animal mask concealing his face a stylized mantis. Iruka shuddered in recognition. He hadn't heard this man's name in years, but there could be little doubt who it was. As if to confirm Iruka's dread, the man removed his mask and threw it at the ground, exposing his scarred face.
"Don't you fucking run from me, Hatake! You've already done that once before!"
"Shida Akumaru-san." Kakashi's voice seemed to come from nowhere, the honorific sounding cold and deadly. "It's been a long time."
Shida Akumaru. The name itself was enough to make most Konoha ninja's blood run cold. He had been a well-respected, if deadly, leaf-jounin. An ANBU captain. And then, one October night ten years ago, while on a mission with his squad, he had snapped. Massacred all but one of his teammates. The lone ANBU who escaped the slaughter, survived to tell the tale, had been so traumatized by the event that he hadn't spoken a word for the first two weeks he was back. That survivor, Iruka realized with ice in his guts, had been Hatake Kakashi.
"What are you doing here, Shida-san?" the edge in Kakashi's voice was unmistakable.
"Don't '-san' me, you motherfucker! I know what you think of me!" Akumaru's voice was tight and crazy sounding.
"Oh? And what would that be, Shida?" Kakashi stressed the naked syllables of the madman's name.
"I wasn't good enough for the great Hatake-sama! Oh no, not ugly, scarface Shida."
Iruka was confused - it almost sounded like Akumaru had been in love with Kakashi.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Shida." Kakashi's voice came from somewhere overhead. He seemed to be moving through the trees, circling the killer in the clearing.
"So I just don't get, it, Kakashi," Akumaru spat out the name as if it were a curse. "If I was too disfigured for you, what are you doing with him?"
Iruka blanched, did Shida mean him?
"Oh, your pretty little boy-toy led me straight to you. And he's got a scar across his face as plain as day. You know what I'm gonna do?" Akumaru's voice dripped with acid hate. "I'm gonna disable you, then make you watch while I cut that little prick into mincemeat!"
"He's got nothing to do with this!" Kakashi drew a shrill breath. Then in a calmer, more deliberate voice, "You're not talking sense, Akumaru. I never liked nor disliked your face. You were my captain."
"Don't pretend you didn't know I wanted you, Kakashi. Everyone else did."
"Is that why you killed them?" Kakashi's voice was shaking with controlled rage.
Iruka heard the whistle of a barrage of kunai flying from several directions at once, aimed for the man in the clearing. His heart was pounding uncontrollably. The steel weapons thunked into the ground, a swirl of vapor dissipating where Akumaru had stood only seconds before. Before he could track the rogue jounin's movements, Iruka heard the ringing clash of steel blades. He turned towards the sound to catch a glimpse of the two ninja locked motionless, their blades kissing above their heads. He thought he saw Kakashi spring back, but the blur of both shinobi's motion was too fast for his eye to trace.
'Kakashi's got his katana,' he thought numbly. 'How did he manage that?' The remains of their picnic was still visible, next to the barkless log at the edge of the clearing where they had rested. 'He must have had the presence of mind to pick it up before he did that earth jutsu.'
The fighting shinobi materialized within Iruka's field of view again. It was the most terrifying thing he had ever watched: two equally matched, elite shinobi killers turning their skills on one another, but one of the combatants was his lover. Akumaru's words echoed in Iruka's head, "... your pretty little boy-toy led me straight to you..."
A flutter of white cloth next to his dropped knapsack caught his eye. The bandages. Kakashi was fighting injured. And tired from his just completed mission. As if to prove the point, Iruka saw Kakashi stumble, heard him grunt as a kunai struck home between his already injured ribs.
If I can't have you, then no-one can, Kakashi-chan." The madman's voice sounded almost tender, in the most terrifying of ways.
"It is not your place to make that decision, you murdering traitor," the silver-haired jounin's voice grew angrier with each word. Iruka watched his lover power up his chakra, hands flying through seals. Suddenly three more Kakashi's surrounded Akumaru. They circled in on him, chanting in unison, red Sharingan Eyes glowing threateningly.
It was going to be over, Iruka felt a glimmer of hope. But it turned to sour despair before his eyes. The Kakashi clones began to waver and shimmer, then disappeared. The real Kakashi was flying through the air across the field. He landed with a sickening thud on his chest, right arm twisted awkwardly beneath him, feet flying up behind. His katana flew glittering from his grasp to land in the grass beyond his reach.
Akumaru was already running towards the fallen jounin, his own katana raised high above his head, ready to strike the killing blow. Kakashi flipped himself over onto his back, a bluish light crackling in his palm. As Akumaru's sword fell upon him, he thrust his chidori-charged hand towards the man's chest.
Kakashi realized with a sickening jolt what his Sharingan Eye could easily see: there was no way to evade the descending blade. 'Niku Katameru no Jutsu,' flashed into his mind, and with what little chakra reserve he had left, Kakashi invoked the flesh-hardening taijutsu, protecting his internal organs from the cleaving blow. The blade struck just below his navel, slicing a long, shallow diagonal towards his right hip. The black cloth of his uniform offered no resistance to Akumaru's chakra-charged blade. Skin and muscle split asunder, but Kakashi's countering jutsu worked; instead of continuing through his body and ending his life, the blade bounced and skittered away as if it had struck stone.
END Chapter 4
Jutsu invented for this chapter:
Niku Katameru no Jutsu - Flesh Hardening Jutsu - When a weapon is approaching and can't be dodged, target diverts chakra to the area of the body about to be struck to reduce the damage from the blow. A potential killing blow from a sword aimed at the abdomen cuts through skin and muscle, but internal organs are spared. Sword strike that would have lopped off an extremity instead stops at the bone, bone may fracture, but it won't be severed.
Baka - idiot, fool
Katana - Japanese long sword, blade 24 inches or longer
Kunai - Basic ninja weapon. Double-edged dagger with a ring handle used for throwing, hand to hand combat, etc.
Shuriken - Basic ninja weapon. Multi-bladed throwing star, comes in many sizes.
Yatta - I did it!
Names and Honorifics:
Name order is Asian-style, with family/clan name first, personal name last.
Honorifics: Japanese honorifics are often translated as Mr/Mrs/Miss etc, but that isn't quite right, as honorifics are used with given names as well as family names. They serve to indicate the degree of familiarity and level of hierarchy or respect between people. When a character addresses another without the use of an honorific, it implies either a high level of intimacy (best friends, lovers, family members) or a high degree of contempt.
san - basic honorific. Even an enemy might be addressed as -san.
sama - indicates that the speaker has high respect for the addressee.
sensei - used for teachers, artists, and doctors
kun - used between male friends and peers or by a superior to a subordinate.
chan - used for children, sweethearts, pets etc. and by close female friends
Thank you once again for your reviews, I am truly honored. I think I understand now why some authors have likened reviews to highly addictive drugs. I very much appreciate any specific praise or criticism, as I attempt to hone my craft. This is both my first fanfic and my first major work of fiction. Prior to this I was a poet and essayist.
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