Iruka’s hands shook as he dug through his backpack, searching for his baggy of seal supplies. This wasn’t how his mission was supposed to go. He wasn’t supposed to run into anyone, let alone Konoha’s White Fang, Hatake Sakumo.
Now they were hiding out in a tiny cave while the man was bleeding out.
Iruka gritted his teeth and swallowed down the sourness building up in his mouth as he willed himself not to throw up.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Sakumo grunted.
“It was,” Iruka insisted hoarsely. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
It was Iruka’s ever-present bad luck that had them running into each other.
Iruka had made chuunin barely a month ago, and he took his first solo mission the minute the probationary period ended. It was a c-rank courier mission to the border, simple and easy, and was on his way back to Konoha when he crossed paths with the White Fang, who was evading pursuers.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out what kind of mission the man was on. Jounin were always assigned the most difficult and dangerous missions for a reason. The same reason genin and chuunin were taught to flee and evade s-ranked enemies at all costs—only Iruka didn’t have the chance to flee and hide. The moment Sakumo had come into visual range, one of his enemies split off from the group and rushed Iruka. He wasn’t ready for the batshit insane speed his new enemy had, or the force of impact of their first as it connected with his stomach. Iruka was left to plummet to the ground where he’d be picked off… until he wasn’t. He had been saved, only for his savior to be mortally wounded, covering for Iruka’s shortcomings in the following skirmish.
He shouldn’t be allowed to be a shinobi if he was only going to get people killed…
“You should have just left me—”
“No, I did the right thing,” Sakumo insisted, wrapping his big hand around Iruka’s scrawny arm to comfort him.
Iruka exhaled shakily as a single tear of frustration escaped and slid down his face. He scrubbed it away as he fought desperately to keep himself from totally breaking down.
“You won’t be thinking that if I can’t stop the bleeding,” Iruka told him, his voice wavering only a little as he resumed his search.
Sakumo shook with quiet, labored laughter only to groan as he jostled his body with the exertion.
“Even if I die here, it was worth saving you. I don’t leave comrades to die.”
Iruka scoffed bitterly. He hated how proud Sakumo sounded saying a deadweight like him was worth keeping alive.
“We weren’t on a mission together,” Iruka pointed out as he pulled the plastic baggy containing seal paper, ink, and brushes from his backpack. “I was just in the way.”
Sakumo sighed heavily. He sounded a lot like the Sandaime when he was exasperated and fed up with Iruka’s stubbornness.
“We’re from the same village, Iruka. We don’t need to share missions to be comrades.”
Iruka forcefully opened the baggy, nearly ripping a new hole in it for the effort. “Don’t you think saving a younger, inexperienced shinobi over a seasoned legend is short-sighted?” He argued, dumping the contents out on the rocky floor.
Sakumo was silent for a moment, clearly thinking about how to respond. Iruka could feel his gaze on him, and he was proud of himself that he didn’t squirm as he quickly organized his supplies.
“No,” Sakumo emphatically denied, still watching Iruka. He didn't seem in a rush to elaborate, even as blood leaked out between the fingers clutching his wound.
Just to cover the bases, Iruka pulled the simple medkit from his bag too and set it out. Then he shifted toward Sakumo who was propped up against the uneven slant of a boulder.
“I need to see the wound,” Iruka stated as he reached out to unzip Sakumo's flak jacket. He swallowed thickly, trying to ignore how big the gash looked as it was currently, covered by the man's blood-soaked clothing.
“It doesn’t look good,” Sakumo said unhelpfully as he began to shuffle carefully out of the vest.
“I need to see it,” Iruka repeated, voice cracking this time as his panic bled through to his words.
The front of Sakumo’s shirt clung to his skin; Iruka pulled the bottom of it free from where it was tucked into his pants and carefully lifted it. He inhaled sharply when the wound was fully revealed.
Sakumo tried to cover it again with his hand, but Iruka stopped him. “Don’t.”
The man nodded and let his hand fall away. Iruka did his best not to fixate on how lethargic he seemed to be now.
Instead, Iruka focused on the actual injury. He ignored the leaking and looked closely at the torn flesh. It was not as big as he had first thought, but something had definitely been nicked. The blade went in cleanly, and the tear itself wasn’t jagged so he didn’t have to worry about anything on the inside being shredded. Good.
Iruka took a calming breath, and for the first time since entering the cave, he felt mildly relieved.
“So, I’m not going to die?” Sakumo asked, grinning at him.
Iruka gave him a baleful look and placed his hands around the hole in Sakumo’s abdomen, pressing a little harder than necessary. Sakumo let out a pained grunt even as he laughed. “It’s still a possibility. I need to check for poison and then I need to find where you’re bleeding out from.”
“I can’t tell if this is Tsunade’s influence or not.”
“You better hope it is, or you really will die,” Iruka grumbled and shut his eyes.
Iruka built up his chakra and let it flow steadily through his hands into Sakumo’s body. After a minute of concentration, he let out a relieved sigh when he detected no poison in the wound or his bloodstream. The nick was a little harder to find; the sword had gone deep, deep enough that it was a big possibility the aorta was cut. If that ended up being the source of the bleed, then there wasn’t anything Iruka would be able to do to save Sakumo. Iruka frowned and bit his lip as he tried to get a hold of his anxiety.
“Saving a young, inexperienced shinobi will always be worth it,” Sakumo said suddenly. It almost broke Iruka’s concentration. “You may be young and inexperienced now, Iruka, but you will grow up and gain that missing experience. You will learn new things and come up with better and more efficient ways to deal with problems. More importantly, you will learn from the mistakes of those that came before you.”
The sadness in his voice was unmistakable. It had Iruka wondering what kind of mistakes the man was referring to.
“Even if they get people killed?” Iruka rebuked instead.
“I’m not dead yet,” Sakumo pointed out, sounding smug. Not dying immediately wasn’t really an achievement.
There. The sword had skewered the shit out of his liver, but the angle of the blade’s insertion had it missing the important arteries. Unfortunately, Iruka wasn’t skilled enough to heal this kind of damage yet, it was too deep.
Iruka cut his chakra off and opened his eyes. “It’ll take you longer to die, I can’t heal this.”
He expected Sakumo to look sad, but the man just smirked at him. Iruka wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him stupid.
“You’ll think of something. Tsunade practically sings your praises when we go out drinking. You are her star apprentice, after all.”
Iruka snorted derisively and grabbed the medkit. “A star apprentice that can’t fix you.”
“You don’t have to fix me, Iruka. You just need to make sure I stay alive long enough for backup to arrive.”
Iruka glared at him hard then. “No one knows where we are, and we’re more likely to get picked off—You’re mortally wounded and I’m useless.” Don’t get my hopes up, Iruka added silently.
Sakumo still didn’t seem bothered. He was slowly bleeding to death and he still smiled at Iruka like everything was going to be ok. Like they were both going to make it home alive. Iruka hated it. He hated that stupid reassuring smile.
“My mission was an important one. If I don’t check in at the way station by nightfall, a team will be dispatched to find me.” Sakumo explained. Or your remains, Iruka tagged on. “I’m confident you can patch me up until then.”
There was something he had been working on for months now...
Iruka had loved seals since he was a kid. A love born from watching his mother craft her own. She had begun teaching him the basics of fūinjutsu before she had died, and Iruka loved every second of it. He loved how bewitching the designs were, and how versatile they could be for all kinds of situations. Then he decided to learn medical ninjutsu after a botched mission a few months after he graduated from the academy. It turned out seals had an incredible amount of use to keep people from spilling their insides out everywhere, among other things. It was how Tsunade noticed him and took him on as an apprentice.
During the probationary period after making chuunin, Iruka had been working himself to exhaustion on a theoretical barrier seal that would keep people from bleeding out due to wounds similar to Sakumo’s. The only problem was that it wasn’t a normal barrier seal, and Iruka still hadn’t gotten it to work.
Iruka sighed defeatedly. “There’s something I can try, but it’s a treatment we haven’t been able to successfully test.”
“I knew you—” Sakumo began to say, but Iruka cut in.
“It will either not work at all and you will still bleed out slowly, or it will make a bigger hole and you will bleed out in a couple of minutes, and it will be an agonizing death.”
Iruka would need to use his chakra to draw the barrier seal directly around the affected area. Inside Sakumo’s body. He never attempted this in a living, breathing person before. He shouldn’t be attempting it at all.
“Do it,” Sakumo told him.
He shouldn’t be attempting it at all, but he really didn’t want Sakumo to die.
Iruka set his jaw and got to work.
It was hours later when Iruka was startled out of his light doze.
He was propped up against the boulder next to Sakumo, who was supposed to be resting properly, but it was hard to break carefully trained habits apparently. Sakumo tensed suddenly and reached for the tanto still strapped to his back. Iruka watched in fascination as the man moved so fluidly, and without showing discomfort despite his injury. Having a barrier seal inside of you as you move couldn’t be a pleasant feeling either.
“Someone is coming,” Sakumo whispered.
Iruka nodded and shifted as quietly as he could, reaching down to his thigh holster as he went. It felt like the longest two minutes of his life.
Outside of the cave, twigs snapped and there was a loud bark. Maybe it was a wild dog or a wolf…
Then the cave entrance suddenly went dark, and a shadowed figure loomed over them.
Sakumo relaxed instantly and dropped his hand back to his lap. He sounded relieved as he muttered “Kakashi.”
Sakumo’s son had come to save the day.
Or rather... Iruka’s massive crush had come to torture him.
“You haven't kicked the bucket yet. That’s a good sign.” Kakashi commented casually as he stepped into the tiny cave and crouched next to Sakumo.
Sakumo must have read something in his son’s expression because his own softened. He reached up and affectionately ruffled Kakashi’s hair, who didn’t seem to be bothered by the action.
Iruka wondered what expression Kakashi even had since the lower portion of the teen’s face was hidden by a mask and a slanted headband covered his left eye.
“Iruka saved my life,” Sakumo told him, his small smile growing into a proud grin.
Iruka blushed hard, to the point where he thought he was going to combust when Kakashi’s curious gaze shifted to him.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Iruka grumbled and looked away in embarrassment.
Sakumo snorted and ruffled Iruka’s hair like he had done to Kakashi only a moment ago. “You used a theoretical seal you haven’t successfully tested to keep me alive. It’s a huge deal, Iruka.”
Even as they hauled Sakumo out of the cave and prepared to leave, Kakashi’s eyes hardly strayed from Iruka. Once Iruka gathered his gear and exited the cave to join the small group a short distance away, Kakashi intercepted him.
Iruka expected Kakashi to thank him for saving Sakumo, but what he got instead was one-hundred times worse… or better depending on how you looked at it.
Kakashi walked into Iruka’s personal space and hugged him—tightly even.
Without Iruka’s permission, his arms reflexively curled around Kakashi and returned the embrace. He would very much like to blame the action on the fact that he had gone through such insane emotional turmoil over the last twelve hours that his body would accept any form of comfort at this point. Even a hug from Kakashi.
“Thank you for saving him,” Kakashi murmured against Iruka’s ear.
Iruka shuddered. “Y-you’re welcome.”
Then as quickly as the moment had happened, it was over and Kakashi was walking toward the group. Iruka followed him, slightly dazed from the interaction.
But not dazed enough to miss Sakumo’s teasing comment directed at Kakashi. “You look cute together.”
“I swear I will kill you and make everyone believe it was an accident,” Kakashi threatened.
“That isn’t a very nice use of the Sharingan, Kakashi,” Sakumo laughed at him. “I would hate for Iruka to have to save me again, he is very tired. I doubt you’d be able to get him to go out with you after that.”
Iruka’s cheeks were positively burning, but it was impossible not to laugh at the strangled noise Kakashi made. It was a good imitation of an angry goose.
While things didn’t go as planned, Iruka was grateful toward Sakumo for his unwavering faith in him, and his guidance. He still felt bad, but the burning pride he felt in achieving the impossible radiated within him.