Iruka straightened his back and stared at the carnage around him. A few meters away lay the corpse of one of the most notorious shinobi criminals in Konoha's history, a gory hole blasted through his chest the obvious cause of his demise.
To Iruka's left were his and Kakashi's knapsacks, the jounin's turned on its side and spilling its contents in a tangled heap where Iruka had dumped it searching for the little phial of life-saving liquid he knew Kakashi kept there.
In front of the chuunin, Kakashi lay on his back, breathing shallowly but steadily for the moment, his closed eye creased under a furrowed brow, and his mouth a grim line. His face was so pale it made his usually bright silver hair seem dark. The black banded hitai-ate covering his forehead and left eye looked as stark as an executioner's mask, and his lips were stained a garish crimson.
The stretchy fabric that usually covered his nose and mouth was crushed down in folds around his neck, wet with blood and vomit, as was his heavy uniform sweater. Shockingly white bandages soaked red with blood wrapped around his chest and belly, the pale skin of his torso between them smeared with drying crimson.
Kakashi's right cheek was mottled green and purple, swollen with the remnants of a blow to the face he'd received some days ago, reminding Iruka that there could be more complications to manage beyond the obvious effects of the jounin's fight with Shida Akumaru. The drug he'd given Kakashi would buy him some time, but what he really needed was a healer-nin, a hospital, someone with medical skills far beyond the first-aid Iruka could provide.
There were no words to express the utter helplessness and desolation that overwhelmed the chuunin. He stared unblinkingly, deep chocolate eyes riveted to the blood- and bandage-covered torso of his lover, hearing over and over in his head Akumaru's toxic words, "... your pretty little boy-toy led me straight to you..." His jaw quivered while stinging tears blurred his vision and ran down his cheeks.
He jumped at the sound of his name. Kakashi's blood-covered hand reached for his own.
"You OK? Bastard cut you." Kakashi grunted wetly, then continued, "Shuriken wasn't poisoned was it?" He coughed, and the metallic tang of hemoglobin filled his mouth.
"What? No. Don't talk so much, Kakashi. That kunai nicked your lung, I think." Iruka's voice was shaky and emotion-filled but in control. He held Kakashi's hand tightly and dabbed at his lips with his now blood-soaked handkerchief.
"I'm sorry, Ru-chan. Should've protected you." Kakashi coughed again and grimaced in pain.
"Please Kashi, don't..."
"No. Gotta take advantage... of the time the drug..." Kakashi's words choked off in a gurgling wheeze and he gagged, then turned his head and spat a slimy clot into the grass.
Iruka winced, feeling Kakashi's suffering as acutely as if it were his own. "Kashi..." he started, not knowing what he was going to say, just needing the reassurance of speaking his lover's name.
"Can you carry me?" Kakashi interrupted him.
Iruka was astonished. Hurt almost beyond repair, poisoned, and in a daze of shock, Kakashi was still trying to manage the battlefield, still thinking like the genius ninja commander he was.
"Of course, but where..."
"Old field station... few kilometers from here..." Kakashi closed his eye again, and panted open mouthed, fighting pain and nausea the drug couldn't touch.
Iruka watched tensely, wishing there were something, anything he could do to ease Kakashi's distress.
Kakashi shivered. "Cold, Ruka..."
"Aa, I... can you stand it for me to change your clothes? Yours are all wet..." '... wet with blood, 'Iruka finished to himself, not wanting to admit aloud the gruesome truth. 'Gods, how much blood has he lost? How much can he lose and still survive?'
"Nnh, do it," Kakashi replied. "Then get Shida's... mask and..." he trailed off again into a fit of gagging coughs, groaning painfully when they abated.
"OK, but stop talking for now." Iruka rubbed Kakashi's hand with his thumb and waited for his breathing to ease before turning to their knapsacks and pulling out the pants from his lover's earlier striptease. That happy, playful moment seemed a lifetime ago. He bent over Kakashi and started to lift his hips to remove his bloodied trousers, but the jounin stopped him with an agonized cry.
"No..." he gasped, "Just the sweater..."
"Aah, I'm sorry!" Iruka was shaken by how much the small movements seemed to have hurt his comrade. "I don't see how doing your top's going to hurt any less, Kashi." Iruka bit his lip in frustration and anxiety.
"Not, but... Need it more. S'more wet..." Kakashi replied. He opened his heavy-lidded eye and looked pointedly into Iruka's tear-stained face. "It's OK, Ru-kun..." He started to cough again, but bit it back. "I know it's gonna hurt. Just do it."
Moving as delicately as he could, Iruka eased Kakashi's upper body off the ground and pulled the blood-soaked sweater over his head. He could feel the jounin shaking with effort, fighting to hide the torture Iruka was putting him through. He was stunned at how cold Kakashi's skin was, and at how truly strong his lover must really be to hang on to consciousness despite what must be overwhelming pain and shock.
Iruka gently eased Kakashi's arms out of his uniform top, then pulled off his soiled mask and tossed both garments aside. He balanced the injured ninja between his thighs, his silver-haired head lolling against Iruka's waist.
"You smell sexy, Ruka," Kakashi said in a horse whisper. "Wish I felt better."
"Oh gods, just stop, Kakashi," Iruka sucked in a breath that could have been a sob.
"What?" Kakashi tried to lift his head, to look into Iruka's face. "I mean it."
"I know, Ka-chan, I know," Iruka managed. 'And that's why it hurts,' he thought. 'Seeing you struggle to pretend this isn't so bad, to try to take care of me, when you're the one who needs it and I'm the one who got us into this mess.' He reached for the crumpled sweater that had been Kakashi's pillow, shook it out, then pushed it over his head and slid his arms into the sleeves. He hesitated before pulling the material down over the bandaged torso, feeling Kakashi flinch and whimper as he did.
"I'm so sorry, Kakashi-kun."
"Don't have to be..." Kakashi painfully dragged one arm up and around Iruka's waist for a weak embrace. "Gonna be alright, Ruru-kun."
Hearing the pet name just made the lump in Iruka's throat tighten. He turned to action to master his unruly emotions. "We need to get you warmer, and I need to deal with... him..." Iruka glanced at Akumaru's body.
"Blanket in my pack," Kakashi offered.
"Mine, too. I'll use both." Iruka dug out two thin, camouflage-patterned, fleece blankets lined with heat-reflecting blackened foil. He spread one on the grass and gently half-rolled-half slid Kakashi onto it. "Are you more comfortable on your back or side?"
Kakashi didn't answer right away, lost in a world of torment. His face was contorted in an open mouthed gasp, his dark eye wide but unseeing. A tiny sound escaped his throat, a sound containing more pain in it than if it had been a full-blown scream.
"I.. Oh..." Iruka pulled the second blanket over Kakashi and cursed his helplessness. He could think of nothing to do that he hadn't already done, and time was running out. If the ANBU elixir would last at most two hours and he had to deal with Akumaru's body and somehow get Kakashi to the field station he mentioned, one Iruka didn't even know how to find...
A sharp, rattling intake of breath from Kakashi snapped Iruka's attention.
"Ruka?" he started, then coughed. When he could breathe again he continued, "Need you to... warm me for... a minute... then deal with Shida."
Iruka stared, astonished by the sudden leaps Kakashi kept making from near unconsciousness to full command.
"You're... amazing, love," Iruka said as he lay next to Kakashi, pulling his shivering body close, trying to fill him with his warmth, his life. "I can't believe you're still in control..."
"Well, I'm... ranking officer..." Kakashi mumbled, but under the circumstances it was too true for Iruka to rise to the bait of what would ordinarily have been a sly dig from his lover.
Kakashi's head pounded miserably and his vision remained blurry, further effects of Shida's poisoned blade, he guessed. The drug Iruka had given him made the pain of his injuries and the toxic nausea tolerable as long as he didn't move, but the effects of the blood loss were beyond its compensation. He was nearly unbearably cold, short of breath, and every heartbeat seemed to shake his whole body. He was so very, very tired, and he dreaded the journey that was coming. Kakashi gave up trying to stop his shivering, letting go the tension in his limbs and letting his autonomic reflexes take over. Iruka's strong arms and torso radiated warmth into him, warmth and love and courage. He closed his eye and drifted into sleep.
When he felt Kakashi's shivers subside and his body relax, his regular if raspy breathing a reassuring sound, Iruka rose. The jounin did seem more stable now, sandwiched between two thermal blankets and having absorbed the heat of his comrade's body. Still, he felt a looming dread of what the next hours would bring. Silent tears slid from his swollen eyes as he stared at the strongest of the strong rendered so very frail. He carefully repacked their knapsacks, stuffing Kakashi's bloodied sweater and mask into the bottom of his own pack, and making sure the first-aid supplies were immediately accessible at the top.
Iruka sorted through the pockets and crevices of Kakashi's pack and vest, pleased to discover a second vial of the chakra-restorative that Tsunade made up in tiny batches and delivered to those shinobi facing the most dangerous of missions. There were drawbacks to using the stuff, he had heard, but in dire emergencies it could be a lifesaver, as he had just seen.
With the bags packed, Iruka turned to gathering the fallen weapons. He picked up the poisoned kunai he had pulled from Kakashi's ribs, shuddering as he touched the deadly instrument. His lover's blood stained the blade and soaked into the silk wrappings on the hilt, but he did not dare clean the instrument, lest he wipe away the poison and any chance of formulating an antidote. Next he retrieved Kakashi's and Akumaru's katanas, re-sheathing Kakashi's, and placing them with the knapsacks. Finally he found the mantis-faced ANBU mask on the ground where Akumaru had thrown it - it was dirty and cracked near the chin - and placed it on the pile.
Satisfied that all was in readiness, Iruka turned to the unpleasant task of divesting Shida Akumaru of his clothing and the last remnants of his mortal body. He bent over the dead man, his grotesquely scarred and leering face unsoftened by the passing of life. The blood-spattered cavity through his chest and armor was a horrifying sight. Iruka had never before confronted the results of Kakashi's signature jutsu, the chidori. The hole was exactly the size and shape of Kakashi's palm; a remnant of gauze ripped from his bandaged wrist fluttered on a ragged edge of rib bone within the wound. In a single blow he had ripped the man's heart out with the chakra-filled force of his thrusting hand, an austere testament to the jounin's awesome power.
Shuddering, Iruka removed the traitor's Konoha hitai-ate and fished from his neck the chain and tags that still marked him as one of the Fire County's elite shinobi. Next he unstrapped the kunai pouch from one thick leg, then unbuckled the heavy katana sheath and reunited it with its weapon. Iruka was surprised to find the man had been using a long sword: there was no sign of the infamous wakizashi that Akumaru had used in his decade-old crime.
He wasn't sure whether to attempt to remove the rest of Akumaru's clothing, but something about the story he remembered hearing about Kakashi's escape from him ten years ago made him want to try to at least retrieve the chest armor. He studied it, looking for buckles or ties he could unfasten to facilitate removal, swallowing his disgust at the gore that spilled from the hole through its middle.
At last freeing the garment, he tossed it onto the pile of Akumaru's belongings, then turned back to the stiffening corpse. The sun was lower, casting long shadows, and a cool breeze had sprung up, tossing the evergreen branches in the trees ringing the meadow. Removing one last item, the weapons pouch around the dead man's waist, Iruka decided he was as finished as he could be. He checked on Kakashi, relieved to find him still sleeping somewhat peacefully, then turned back to his undertaker's task.
He knew he dared not leave Akumaru's corpse for any enemies of Konoha to find, especially as close to the borders of the Sound and Cloud countries as they stood, but he had no time for a proper dismemberment, nor could he bring the dead body back to Konohagakure, so burning would have to suffice. He dragged the heavy corpse into the stone-paved road and covered it with handfuls of dried grass from the meadow, then retrieved a small bottle of fire-starter and a lighter from a pocket of his vest and dumped the accelerant over Shida's remains. As he prepared to set the corpse ablaze, the ANBU tattoo on Akumaru's upper arm caught his eye, looking so much like Kakashi's, but marred by a scar that puckered and folded above it.
'You don't deserve to wear that symbol,' Iruka thought darkly. He was filled with a sudden hatred for the sick, twisted bastard that had hurt Kakashi so badly not once but twice. "You won't win, you hear me?" he raged at the dead man. "I won't let you have him!"
End Chapter 7
ooo ooo ooo
Author's Notes and Thank-yous:
The aftermath of the battle taking a lot longer to write than I had once imagined. Also, I've flared up my wrists pretty badly, but I'm writing as much as I can. Damn body won't get the best of me!
Thank you to all who are reviewing as they read, I get an enormous boost from reading your comments, encouragements and even the occasional threat, though I prefer the encouragements. Please do continue to write specific comments if you are able, as they spur me to the greatest creative heights.
Especial thanks to L-Lamb (aoshi-sama77) for providing me with unflagging support and DVDs - I've finally seen my characters in color and motion! And to HikaruxYuki for priceless review, research, and encouragement.
I hope you will continue to read, review, and enjoy my writing.
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