Iruka watched, horrified, as a fountain of blood and matter spewed from Akumaru's back where Kakashi's jutsu had ripped through his body. The former Konoha ninja fell across his opponent's legs, apparently dead, for he did not rise again, but neither did Kakashi. From his lookout Iruka couldn't see what had happened to Kakashi, only that Akumaru's katana had been descending towards him before the attacking ninja's body had obscured his view.
He held his breath, waiting to see if it was safe for him to emerge, desperately wanting to rush to his comrade's side. Kakashi's order, "Stay hidden, be vigilant," bound Iruka. If he went onto the battlefield too soon, if Akumaru were still alive, his apparent death a genjutsu or trap, then Iruka would endanger himself and Kakashi, especially since the crazed man had threatened him directly, and he would be in direct violation of a combat field order. He shifted nervously from foot to foot, debating his course of action.
On the field, Kakashi lay unmoving, his own and Akumaru's blood slowly pooling around their limp bodies. The first sense to return to the jounin was his hearing. The agonized moan of a mortally injured man echoed in his ears, but for the moment he could not place himself beyond an awareness that he was in a combat zone.
'Geez, why doesn't a medic do something for that guy?' he thought. He just wanted to go to sleep, and he couldn't with all that racket going on. 'Argh, shut up already!' He listened with growing irritation to the pained groans, which seemed to get louder and louder.
As his consciousness returned, so did his bodily sensations. He could smell the tangy earthiness of blood, and his inner ears told him he was lying on his back. An awkward weight sprawled across his shins and thighs, but he could not identify it. Lying still on the blood-soaked ground, Kakashi realized, in a strange sudden leap of awareness, that he was in terrible pain and that he was responsible for the unendurable noise. Clenching his teeth together hard, he stopped his voice in his throat, the wail immediately dying away to a raspy whimper.
His new level of awareness was almost enough to render him unconscious again. Pain overwhelmed Kakashi's senses, his entire universe shrinking down and concentrating into an unholy fire in his lower abdomen, a needle of ice piercing his left side. He panted through tense lips, eyes screwed tightly shut, and would have remained locked in motionless agony, but a new sensation assaulted him, demanding immediate action.
Kicking Akumaru's body off his legs, Kakashi flipped himself onto his hands and knees, yanking his mask down just in time as he began to retch, disgorging the lunch he had so recently enjoyed with Iruka. Every heave of Kakashi's torso pulsed crimson spurts from the gash on his belly, thrusting rosy pink viscera through the widening slit in his flesh. The blue-black fabric of his uniform grew wholly black as it absorbed his blood.
Iruka stared aghast, frozen with shock and astonishment. No matter how tired or injured he was, Kakashi had enough chakra control, he was sure, to manage a bodily reaction as simple as nausea, at least until he was in a safer place. If he was overwhelmed by it so easily, it could only mean one thing: Akumaru had used a poisoned weapon of some sort.
No longer caring for battle protocol, Iruka raced from the dugout shelter towards Kakashi. He used every bit of speed-enhancing taijutsu he had ever learned, covering the grassy meadow in an eyeblink. When he reached him, Kakashi had ceased vomiting and lay twisted on his back and side, his legs sprawled across Akumaru's corpse. A silk-wrapped kunai handle protruded from his left side near the base of his rib cage, and his lower abdomen was slit wide open from navel to right hip.
That sword wound was the most revolting, horrifying thing Iruka had ever seen. It was one thing to watch the innards of your enemy spill from a gaping cut, or to inspect the anatomy of a corpse in the morgue, it was quite another to see a savage gash parting the white skin, the thin and lumpy layer of yellowish fat, the twitching purple-red muscle fibers, and exposing the shiny pink intestines of your own beloved, all dripping with his own vermillion lifeblood.
Bile rose in his throat and Iruka had to turn away, fighting to control his reaction to the overwhelming scene. He concentrated on his own breathing, in... out... in... out... steadying himself. Swallowing hard, he turned back to Kakashi, who lay unmoving but for the heave of his chest with each pained breath.
Kneeling by Kakashi's side, Iruka gagged again at the stomach-turning smell of vomit and blood mingled with the odor rising from the spilled contents of the dead man's guts. He gulped and blew out a shaky breath. 'Get ahold of yourself, dammit,' he told himself sternly. 'You've got to deal with this. Gotta move him out of the blood and filth or he'll get infected.'
"Kakashi?" He placed a tentative hand on the jounin's shoulder. Kakashi seemed to hold his breath in reply.
"I'm gonna move you a little, OK?"
"Yeah." Kakashi's voice was hoarse and ragged. His face was sheened in sweat, and his eyes remained tightly shut.
Kakashi held his breath, bracing against the torture of being moved. He searched deep within himself for the strength to direct his chakra towards the source of the pain, even while every fiber of his being screamed for him to pull his awareness as far from it as possible. He subsumed himself in the torment like an ocean swimmer diving under an approaching wave, seeking for the open vessels, slowing and redirecting his blood-flow away from the site of the injury.
Averting his eyes for the moment from his partner's gaping wound, Iruka wrapped his arms under Kakashi's armpits and around his chest, lifting his upper body as steadily as he could and cradling his head. He pulled his comrade a few meters across the grass towards a small rise, away from the nastiness of his own vomit and spilled blood, then lowered him gently, taking care not to let the open wounds come in contact with the ground.
While he held him, Iruka could feel the jounin's chakra flooding towards the grisly breach in his belly, stemming but not stopping the exsanguination. 'It's not enough,' he thought. 'He'll bleed to death unless I do something to control it.'
"I think I've got coagulating bandages in my kit. Can I leave you for a minute?" he asked
"Nnh, go," Kakashi replied.
Almost as soon as Iruka had turned his back, the poison in Kakashi's system made him retch again, the jerking motion sending waves of agony through his savaged abdomen. He fought the toxin's effects, but his already severely taxed chakra was waning, and the poison was strong and unabating.
Iruka dashed to the fallen log where they had shared their merry picnic only a short time before, and grabbed both his and Kakashi's packs before sprinting back towards his suffering partner. Kakashi lay curled on his right side, arms wrapped protectively around his slashed belly, coughing and gagging convulsively. When Iruka knelt beside him he flicked his eyes briefly in the chuunin's direction.
"Uhn... go... away..." he ordered before another spasm racked him.
"What the fuck? No!" Iruka retorted. What could Kakashi possible be thinking? He delved through his knapsack, seeking the same first aid kid he had used before their lunch to dress Kakashi's wrists, and pulled out a paper-wrapped parcel. His hands shook as he tore the package open and withdrew a large, faintly-greenish gauze-wrapped sponge. Squatting behind Kakashi, he slid one hand under his heaving side and with the other reached around, lifted his slashed sweater, and quickly unfastened his blood-soaked trousers. With the cloth out of the way, he pressed the sponge against the exposed wound, directing his own chakra into his palms, forming the best healing jutsu he knew for managing catastrophic injuries such as this one.
Kakashi continued to retch and cough, bringing up bile from his stomach and blood-tinged froth from his lungs, but his situation was improving. Iruka's chakra supplementing his own actually began to close the edges of the long sword wound, and the clotting jutsu and herbs on the bandage slowed the bleeding to a manageable ooze. Eventually the vomiting attack relented, and Kakashi lay gasping, pale and sweating in Iruka's arms.
"Uungh, sorry," he groaned.
"Sorry? What in hell are you talking about?" Iruka continued to hold the bandage in place with the hand he had wrapped under Kakashi's side, but used the other to pull a handkerchief from his pocket and gently wipe the jounin's face and lips. "And what was that 'go away' crap? Shida's dead; you can't be on me for violating the stay hidden order."
"No. It's just... it's gross. Shouldn't have to see that," Kakashi mumbled. His eyes were glazed with pain and his breath came in shallow pants.
"Yeah, and you shouldn't have to keep breathing it," Iruka replied with feigned lightness. "I'm sorry, but I have to move you again."
"Yeah. Not so far this time. Hurts." Kakashi shut his eyes again, and Iruka could feel him tense in preparation for the movement.
"I'm gonna wrap this first, OK?" Iruka dug a wide roll of bandage out of the still-open backpack one-handed without waiting for an answer. "Can you hold the compress in place?"
Kakashi pressed one blood-covered hand over the sponge in reply, and Iruka wrapped the roll of bandage around him, fastening it tightly over the wound He pulled Kakashi's hand away when the dressing was finished, squeezing his fingertips before letting go.
"OK, I'm rolling you onto your back and then moving you." Somehow talking through his steps was keeping Iruka calm, as if he were teaching a class on field first-aid. He looped his arms under Kakashi's again and dragged him to a clean patch of grass, not wanting to risk picking him up yet, knowing how badly it was going to hurt him to flex his abdomen if he did.
Once he had the injured man settled as comfortably on his right side as he could make him, Iruka studied the kunai sticking obscenely out of Kakashi's ribs. He touched it experimentally making Kakashi flinch and grunt a curse.
"Leave it..." the jounin said between gritted teeth. He was starting to pant again, as pain and nausea rose.
"You're still feeling the poison?"
"Nnh," came Kakashi's inarticulate reply. He shut his eyes and swallowed, desperately trying to keep from vomiting again.
"Kakashi, I think it might be in the kunai," Iruka said, his fingers again brushing the handle of the weapon.
"Aaagh! Leave it!" Kakashi gasped, before his whole body convulsed in a spasm of dry heaves and choking coughs.
That reaction was more than enough to convince Iruka that it was indeed the kunai blade buried in Kakashi's side that was continuing to inject him with poison. He shut his eyes and visualized the anatomy the knife might be penetrating - lung, diaphragm, spleen, kidney - before grasping the handle firmly and pulling the weapon with a sucking shudder from Kakashi's body.
Bright blood immediately welled through the cloth of Kakashi's sweater. If only he had put his vest back on after he changed, had it on when Shida attacked, Iruka fretted, it might have deflected the knife point, or at least not let it penetrate so deeply. But it was much too late for that now. He pulled the edge of the sweater up, exposing again Kakashi's creamy skin and the ugly bruise that had shocked him before, now slicked and smeared in liquid crimson.
"Oh, your ribs!" Iruka breathed.
Kakashi lay in miserable silence, panting shallowly. His face was eggshell white and the edges of his lips were dusky, though his mouth was glossy and brilliant red with coughed up blood. In addition to the excruciating pain from the wounds from Akumaru's blades, his head was beginning to ache as if he had been struck between the eyes, though he could recall no such blow.
He dimly felt Iruka pressing something over his throbbing side, then the sharp jab of fingertips compressing his subclavian artery at the juncture of his neck and left shoulder. 'Must be bleeding bad,' he thought muzzily, unable to focus his mind through the shock, poisoning and pain. He was starting to drift, his chakra control shot and his stamina at an end when he felt himself shaken and heard Iruka's frantic voice shouting his name.
"...kashi! Kakashi! Wake up! Talk to me!" Iruka was panicked. He had managed to stop the bleeding and bandage the kunai wound when Kakashi had started to shake, his eyes rolling back in his head.
Kakashi struggled to the surface of consciousness, following Iruka's voice like a lifeline. He could hear the fear in his lover's voice, and that more than anything gave him the strength to pull himself back, to defend Iruka from whatever threat he faced.
"Nn, Ruka... s'wrong?" Kakashi's words came out breathy and slurred, and talking made him cough, bloody spittle filling his throat and oozing from the corner of his mouth.
"Gods, Kakashi! Don't pass out on me!" Iruka cradled Kakashi's upper body.
"M'OK... S'nothing... to worry 'bout..." Kakashi wheezed. "Jus' wanna... rest... little..." He closed his eyes again.
"No! Don't rest!" Iruka's voice was harsh, insistent. Kakashi had never heard such urgency from him before. He felt something hard shoved between his teeth, and a cold, fiery liquid filled his mouth.
"Swallow!" came Iruka's voice, again with that strange edge.
Kakashi swallowed, feeling the icy blaze burn down his throat and into his stomach. Almost at once he felt more alert, pain receding and consciousness returning.
"Where did you get... ?" Kakashi started to ask, but began again to cough.
"Your pack. You showed it to me once so I knew you had it," Iruka replied, applying his handkerchief to Kakashi's face once more. "It's ANBU stuff, right? How long will it last?"
"About an hour or so." Kakashi's voice was steadier, his thinking clearer, though his head and injuries still throbbed and he was having trouble focusing his eyes. He started to reach a hand toward his face, but the movement sent a jolt of pain through his body and he hesitated.
"What do you need?" Iruka asked.
"Cover my Sharingan. It's using chakra."
Iruka immediately slid Kakashi's hitai-ate down, hiding his left eye. "I should have done that sooner." he groaned.
"You were busy," Kakashi deadpanned.
Iruka stared at Kakashi unbelieving. "You... you're making wisecracks now?"
"What better time?"
"I don't believe you! You're on the brink of fucking death and you still tease me."
"Cuz I love you, (cough) Ruru-kun." Kakashi started to laugh but the chuckle quickly turned to a groan.
"Please just... conserve your strength. Rest for a minute" Iruka took the rolled up sweater Kakashi had taken off earlier from his knapsack and placed it under the jounin's head.
"Oh, now I can rest?" Again a tiny chuckle escaped Kakashi's lips before turning into a grimace of pain.
Iruka looked at Kakashi with horror plainly shining in his eyes.
"I just want... to see you smile... Ru-chan," Kakashi whispered.
"I can't." Iruka brushed his palm across Kakashi's face, smoothing back stray strands of silver hair.
"S'OK." Kakashi shut his eyes.
END Chapter 6
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Author's Notes and Thank-yous:
Didn't mean to leave this as a cliff-hanger again, but I can only write so much in a chapter and this one is full.
Thank you all for your reviews and encouragement -they definitely keep me going. Especially thanks for the compliments on my dialogs, my poetic use of language - a special effort of mine, and on my action and fight scenes. If only you could see how I agonized over them! Please continue to give me specific review feedback if you can, as it really fires my desire to write. I hope you will continue to enjoy this story.
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