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Red Leaves

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Panic made the world a red place.

“I can’t,” Kakashi said. “I can’t, it doesn’t work.”

“You can,” Ryouma said, as blood spilled from both corners of his mouth. It looked like a dramatic movie death, but Kakashi knew that last fight had just punched out three of Ryouma’s back teeth.

It was the sword through Ryouma’s ribs that was the real problem.

Blood bubbled around the entrance wound, frothy with air escaping from a punctured lung. The blade hadn’t gone all the way through, but it had gone far enough. That was the dramatic death. Except there were no cameras, and no help, just Ryouma bleeding out into his own chest cavity, shivering apart under Kakashi’s hands.

Kakashi clamped gauze down hard, but the cotton just soaked crimson. Even with three feet of steel plugging the injury, the blood wouldn’t stop.

And he couldn’t do medical jutsu.

“I’ll fry you if I try,” he said desperately. “It’s the lightning—it doesn’t mix.”

Ryouma grinned at him with red teeth. “Then you better think of something fast, genius.”

Genma was a hundred miles away, running the other side of the mission with Raidou and Katsuko. The closest hospital was half that distance, but still too far. Ryouma needed someone now.

Kakashi pressed harder. Warmth ran out underneath his hands. “You’re the medical student,” he snapped. “Do jutsu. Fix yourself.”

Ryouma laughed, rasping, but there were tears in the corners of his eyes. “Can’t feel my hands.”

“Then what is the damn point?” Kakashi demanded.

“Figured I’d maybe fix you some day,” Ryouma said. He coughed, making his whole body seize up around the sword; red ran down his chin. “Guess not.”

No, Kakashi thought.

There wasn’t anything after that. Just no—flat denial so strong he could have made weapons out of it. The world was unfair, he knew that. Shinobi died every day, and ANBU died more often than most. But still—no.

Ryouma was one of his, and Kakashi was sick of letting people down.

No more death, not today.

“Hang on,” he said tightly, and scrambled around, putting his back against a broad flowering tree. He hauled Ryouma up into his lap, until the back of Ryouma’s head rested against his ribs, and Kakashi could reach down and cover Ryouma’s hands with his own.

“What’re you—” Ryouma began muzzily.

“I’m going to take the sword out,” Kakashi said. “And you’re going to heal yourself.”

“But—”

“I’ll be your hands, just tell me what seals you need.”

Ryouma licked cracked lips, leaving a streak of red behind. “That’s never going to work.”

In the Sharingan’s pinwheel vision, Ryouma’s chakra was already starting to gutter. He’d used a lot in the fight; his body was using the rest now, trying to keep his heart beating.

“Just do it, Tousaki,” Kakashi said. “First seal, right now.”

“Bird,” Ryouma mumbled. “Then, then—rabbit.”

“Good,” Kakashi said. “Deep breath.” He reached down, grasped the sword hilt, and yanked. It didn’t want to come; the negative pressure of a sucking chest wound held it tightly, but Kakashi would not be denied. His shoulder bunched, muscles locking. Steel grated against bone, Ryouma gasped, and the blade pulled loose. Kakashi hurled it away.

Blood washed like a sheet down Ryouma’s white chestplate. His hands spasmed.

Kakashi grabbed them, curling his fingers over Ryouma’s cold, white fingers, and forcing them into the first seal: Bird, then Rabbit. Ryouma’s chakra shifted sluggishly, tracing out the beginning edge of a jutsu.

“S-snake,” Ryouma said.

Then Boar, Dragon, Monkey, Monkey— The Sharingan caught the threads, pulling the future into a shape Kakashi could see. Ryouma’s chakra needed shift this way, poured down and out between his hands, sinking into massacred flesh. But Ryouma’s chakra sputtered, failing, slipping out of his control.

“Focus,” Kakashi said sharply in his ear, and ripped his own channels open, shoving white-blue chakra under Ryouma’s skin.

It was a brutal energy slap. Ryouma gasped, eyes flying open, and arched backwards against Kakashi’s chest. Kakashi held him tight, shaping Ryouma’s hands into the next seal with ruthless precision, and goaded Ryouma’s chakra forward. He couldn’t mix his energy into Ryouma’s—couldn’t risk his lightning breaking through and ruining the jutsu—but he could use his chakra to force Ryouma’s into place, spurring it like a wild horse.

Ryouma swore, breath shivering out between clenched teeth.

“C’mon, Tousaki,” Kakashi hissed. “You gonna let one little stab wound put you down? I thought you were a real ANBU. Village to protect, things to live for.”

“M’gonna k-kill you after this,” Ryouma managed, and thumped his head back, gasping in shallow agony as the jutsu caught. Steam poured out of the wound, underlaid by a deep sizzling sound.

For a brief, terrifying second, Kakashi thought his lightning had struck anyway, boiling Ryouma out from the inside, but it was just the cells kicking into overdrive. Blood sucked back into ruptured veins, sliced muscles knitted together. Ryouma’s mouth dropped open; a hoarse yell ripped out of his throat, covering their locked hands in a bloody mist. Deep in his chest, something popped dully.

Lung reinflating, Kakashi thought, with frantic hope.

Ryouma gasped deeply—and actually sounded like he was getting air. His chest heaved beneath Kakashi’s hands, an uneven hyperventilation that gradually settled into an actual rhythm. The chakra storm swirled, glimmering in Obito’s vision as deeper healing moved in, nudged and guided by a combination of Ryouma’s exhausted efforts and Kakashi’s unmerciful hounding. Slowly, the steam died away.

The chakra steadied, sliding back into a normal flow.

And then there was just Ryouma, covered in sweat, panting in Kakashi’s arms like he’d run a marathon, and alive.

“Thank god,” Kakashi said, and slumped against the tree. Gently, he drew his chakra back.

“Ow,” Ryouma croaked.

“Did that hurt?” Kakashi said, high on relief. “Maybe next time you should dodge.

Ryouma made a rasping sound that might have been a laugh, but was probably a groan. “Bite me. I saved your life and you know it.”

“Yeah,” said Kakashi, looking up at the breezy blue sky. “Yeah, I know. I think I just made us even, though.”

“I’m pretty sure you just filled my chest up with scar tissue,” Ryouma said, still breathless. “So, no. Because now I have to go see Hyuugas and they’re going to judge me for it before they fix it. Minus a hundred points for you, genius. Personal debt forever.”

Kakashi snorted tired laughter, feeling his own aches start to set in as adrenaline bled away. “You can bill me.”

Ryouma tipped his head back, white-faced and dark-eyed, pain creased into the tilted corners of his mouth. His teeth were still red, blood drying in the cracks of his lips. “Thanks, Kakashi,” he said.

For once, Kakashi didn’t have it in him to deflect. He squeezed Ryouma’s hands, quick and careful, and let them go. “Welcome,” he said, and got his canteen out to help Ryouma rinse his mouth clean. “Just don’t ever do that again, or I’ll have an actual heart attack and you’ll need to restart me.”

Ryouma spat red-tainted water and grinned. “Least you didn’t faint this time.”

“Y’know, I was going to carry you to the hospital, but now you can walk,” Kakashi said.

“Gonna need another minute, then,” Ryouma said. He shifted and winced. “Maybe three. If you wanted to soothe my brow, I wouldn’t stop you.”

Kakashi’s hands were solid red to the wrist, but bloody palms weren’t exactly new territory between them. He pushed Ryouma’s dark, sweat-damp hair hair back from the chalk-white forehead, leaving ragged red streaks behind.

Ryouma blinked up at him, owlish. “Seriously?”

“You took a sword for me,” Kakashi said. “Unless you changed your mind, I can afford ten seconds of brow soothing.”

“Oh,” Ryouma said, sounding punched. He settled heavier against Kakashi, both hands pulled in against his chest, covering the ragged cut in his armor. After a second, he added, more thoughtfully, “Is there a sliding scale? Would standing in front of a canon get me thirty seconds?”

“I think that would get you unrepairably dead.”

“Better not, then.” Ryouma’s eyes slid closed, lashes dark as coal against his cheeks. He was still shivering.

One-handed, Kakashi freed the emergency blanket from his belt-pouch and spread it out over the taller man, silvery material rustling slightly in the breeze. It was a warm day, but Ryouma had lost a lot of blood. In a minute, Kakashi would work on getting blood-pills and fluids into him, before he bundled Ryouma up and ran him direct to the nearest hospital. But they could afford a moment to catch their breath.

Ryouma’s chest rose, slow and even. Alive, alive, alive.

Gently, Kakashi brushed his fingertips over Ryouma’s forehead, carding back the dark hair, and let himself bask in it.