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No Second Chances (Maybe One)

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The churned snow is like a crimson festival, and Ryouma’s dying in it.

It’s not Raidou’s best day, either. He cuts a Kumo kunoichi’s spine in half, leaves her twitching on the ground and moves on to the next, then the next. He’s maiming; trading accurate killing blows for as much melee damage as he can do. So long as he puts people down, he doesn’t care if they’re still breathing.

He’s fifty feet away from where Ryouma’s fallen—close enough to see the blood and the desperate scrabbling way Ryouma’s trying to haul himself back up. The way he falls again. The booted foot on the back of his neck, pressing him down.

Things get a little red for a while.

When Raidou breathes again, he’s much, much closer, and there’s a trail of bodies behind him. In the west, the world is blue-lit with screaming chakra; Kakashi’s waging war. The east is boiling fire and smoke into the sky; Katsuko’s silent somewhere in the middle, entire focus narrowed down to a needle-point. Scary in the way she only gets when there are lives she cares about on the line.

Genma’s a wraith somewhere, dealing invisible death and watching her back, ready to clamp her seal down if she gets pushed too far.

And Ryouma’s still bleeding.

The Kumo-nin standing over him has a long, delicately sharpened katana in one hand. He sets the point to Ryouma’s right wrist, and leans gently on the hilt. Ryouma freezes. Red droplets well up around the steel tip, and the Kumo-nin raises his head to grin at Raidou. His meaning is clear: Keep coming, and I’ll press down.

Losing a hand is better than losing your head, but either way, Ryouma’s career will be over, and he’ll probably call that death anyway.

“Try it,” Raidou rasps. “See how far you get.”

“Okay,” says the ninja, and he laughs. Too late, Raidou sees the gleam in his eyes. The edge of a man pushed out past the border of reason, so hard and so fast he’s still accelerating.

He moves, and Raidou moves, and the blade comes down.

But Ryouma’s left hand also moves. It wraps around the Kumo-nin’s foot, haloed in a bloody black-red glow, and it’s not Ryouma that screams. He must put half his chakra behind the hit, maybe all of it, because the leg doesn’t just melt away, it bursts, and a slag of rotted, stinking flesh rains down like snow.

The kumo-ninja screams and staggers back, leaving his sword behind, and Raidou falls down on him like the wrath of old-world gods no one still believes in.

It’s short, and bloody, and he makes sure it hurts.

When he stands again, his black-bladed sword is a flag pole in the dead man’s throat, the ninja’s sword is sheathed halfway through Ryouma’s wrist, and Ryouma’s laughing around bloody froth. “Working out some issues, taichou?”

“Shut up,” Raidou says, and drops down to his knees in the snow, clamping both hands over Ryouma’s chest. Warmth bubbles up beneath his fingers. Ryouma hisses, but he’s still laughing; his teeth are red.

“Knew you’d get to me,” he says. “Got a real— a-ah. Real savin’ people thing.”

“Shut up,” Raidou snaps, pressing harder. He can’t see actual flesh past the screen of blood, but he can feel the wreckage beneath the shredded flak jacket. The hitching check in Ryouma’s breathing. “We’re not having a moment over this.”

“We should,” Ryouma says. His eyes are dark, pupils blown out. “Not—not many moments left.”

Raidou’s done this dance before, cradled men and women in his arms and tried to hold them together while they bleed out, but not one of his team. Not someone he’s captained, trained, and watched grow. Ryouma’s just started to let his masks down—

Raidou’s eyes are hot and blurring. That’s new, too.

He doesn’t have time for it. He breaks his medic-kit open, works through the training the war kick-started and Genma’s helped put a polish on since. Compression dressing on the chest, tourniquet around the arm. He can’t take the blade out; it’s plugging the wound. But he snaps the steel in half so the weight stops dragging on Ryouma’s wrist, and tightens a bandage around it so it won’t jar. There’s nothing to do for the breathing; he doesn’t have the jutsu. He forces blood pills past Ryouma’s teeth, shoves his own chakra into Ryouma’s veins until the air around them shivers with it. Wraps Ryouma in an emergency blanket and bundles a cloak over it.

It’s still not enough. Ryouma’s white and fading, breath rattling in the back of his throat. When Raidou tries to give him morphine, he rasps, “No. ‘f I’m goin’, wanna feel it.”

“You’re not going,” Raidou says, and sits in down in the scarlet snow, hauling Ryouma’s freezing deadweight into his lap. His own armor is a blood-soaked disaster, but Ryouma makes it worse.

“D-don’t think you can order that, taichou.”

“Watch me.” Raidou reaches deep, flaring his chakra brightly as he can. He thinks he feels a flicker in return from Kakashi’s, a definite wave from Katsuko, and maybe something else fainter in the east. He tries it again, but his own is low, poured out all over the field and into Ryouma.

Ryouma’s good hand catches at Raidou’s armor, smearing blackened rot. His grip fails; Raidou catches his hand before it falls and squeezes it tight, trying to will warmth into it.

“Help’s coming,” he says. “You damn well better be alive when it gets here.”

“R-roger that,” Ryouma says. His teeth are chattering.

There’s a look in his eyes, though, like none of this is a surprise. Something dark and dryly accepting, like Ryouma always expected his life to cut out short in a snowfield, beneath someone’s damn boots.

Raidou pulls him closer, bracing Ryouma’s head against his chest, and catches Ryouma’s chin with his free hand, giving it a jarring little shake. Ryouma blinks hazily at him.

“You look at me,” Raidou orders him. “And you think warm thoughts.”

Ryouma gives a slow, uneven grin, and red spills down his chin. “Cause you’re hot?”

“Cause I’m telling you to.”

“That’s hot,” Ryouma informs him, like Raidou’s being a little bit dim for not realizing, and Raidou has no idea what he’s going to do with a world that doesn’t have this aggravating, smart-mouthed kid in it, but it feels like someone is stripping pieces out of him.

“Hey,” Ryouma says, soft. His filthy hand lurches up and drags roughly over Raidou’s cheek; comes away wet. “N-never seen you do that before.”

“Yeah, well,” Raidou says, and recaptures that hand. “Don’t get distracted. Warm thoughts.”

“Sunshine and daisies,” Ryouma agrees, and turns his face against Raidou’s chest, hacking blood all down the rot-slicked armor. “P-puppy d-dog tails.”

“Damn right,” Raidou says, and tightens his grip. Drops his head down and pulls up everything he has left, stripping his chakra out in hot, thrumming vines to wrap around Ryouma’s shaking, fading signature. It’s not safe, but he doesn’t care. They just need time, Ryouma just needs to hang on, and Raidou will use anything he can as an anchor. Whatever might keep Ryouma warm.

The field is quiet now, softened by snowfall. Most of the fallen ninja have stopped screaming.

There’s one crying somewhere, quietly, but after a while he stops too.

Ryouma stops shaking, goes quiet and still in Raidou’s arms, heavier, and Raidou gets colder. The chakra threads between them spiral out, narrowing down until they’re fine as a hair. The light starts to darken. Can’t be night already, but maybe another snow storm’s rolling in…

Hands close around Raidou’s wrists, hot as furnace. “—et go.”

Raidou jerks, but he won’t relinquish Ryouma. The hands wrench, and every muscle screams at him with the sudden, burning awareness of overdrawn chakra. He chokes and punches the person trying to interfere. The hands vanish.

“—taichou—”

“—move them—”

“—have to break this—Ueno don’t—”

A sunburst of chakra explodes in Raidou’s face, blinding him with familiar light. He falls back, and someone else’s quick, clever hands yank Ryouma away from him. Raidou scrambles, but there’s no strength in him; he makes it to a staggering crouch and falls, arms collapsing beneath him.

Katsuko catches him. He can make sense of her chakra now, like a maelstrom bending the skin of the world, and her small, strong hands; the exploding tag smell that always follows her after battle.

“You’re an idiot, taichou,” she says, low and tense against his ear.

He’s fairly certain that’s his line, but what he manages to croak out is, “Ryouma.”

“Lieutenant’s got him,” she says. “Hatake’s about to touch you. Don’t punch him again.”

A shadow moves in the corner of Raidou’s eye, then calloused fingertips press against his forehead. He gets half a breath, then lightning and frost hammers into his skull. A chakra transfer, he realizes, over the blinding migraine. Of course Kakashi’s water nature feels like ice.

Katsuko can’t do it. If she tried, she’d blow the back of his head off, and Genma is busy.

Which means, pleasebuddha, that Ryouma is still breathing.

Raidou claws himself away from Kakashi’s touch, and tries to get up again. Katsuko shoves a shoulder beneath his arm, and Kakashi hauls him up on the other side. He staggers, stands, staggers again, and finds something like the edge of balance between the two of them. Blinks hard and looks down.

Genma’s hands are on Ryouma’s chest, blazing green, and his face is blank with the acute focus of a medic looking inwards. Beneath the rucked blankets and matted blood, Ryouma’s ribs lift faintly.

Ryouma’s eyes are open.

He tips his head slowly back, and looks up at Raidou. His mouth curves a tiny, bone-tired arc. “Hi.”

Raidou swallows. “Hi.”

“You’re gonna have so much paperwork,“ Ryouma says, and his voice is a slip-slide slur, but the words are clear enough.

“Don’t tell me that was your warm thought,” Raidou says, fighting to stay on his feet.

Ryouma’s eyes slip closed, but the curve stays. “Gonna watch you do it all.”

“Coffee first,” Katsuko says.

“And some stitches,” Kakashi says.

Ryouma hums soft agreement, as if his entire chest isn’t flayed open. Raidou stares at them all, and then down at Genma. “Shiranui?”

“Nearly dumped your entire chakra system,” Genma mutters, sounding like he’s halfway through a thought that Raidou’s question made audible. “Stupid, reckless— Sit down, Namiashi. Tousaki’s going to be okay. You saved him, even if you nearly killed yourself doing it.”

“But—” Raidou begins blankly.

“Let me work.”

“You scared the lieutenant,” Katsuko whispers, like there isn’t a faint tremble in her hand against his side. “He thought we’d lost you both.”

She’s covered in soot and dried blood; none of it looks like hers. Kakashi’s armor is scratched and blackened, and he smells like ozone. Somewhere, there’s a massacre waiting to be cleaned up. But they’re both breathing, standing, bracing him between them, and—

“He’s going to be okay?” Raidou says.

“For a given value,” Kakashi says, and that level, sardonic drawl is almost a comfort. “Sword got one tendon, but the cold’s helping. Get him to a hand surgeon, lieutenant says he’ll probably recover.” He raises his voice. “Tousaki, this wrist-cutting thing is getting to be a habit.”

“Bite me, Hatake,” Ryouma says comfortably, without opening his eyes.

Sitting down seems like a choice worth making. Raidou lets his knees unlock, and drops ungracefully down into the crimson snow, taking Kakashi and Katsuko with him. They keep him upright, burning warm against his sides, and say nothing about the way his hands shake, or his breath stutters once. He says nothing about the way Kakashi is rigid stiff, so hyper-alert that snow falling from a branch makes him twitch. Or the way Katsuko won’t take her eyes away from the fallen Kumo-nin.

The way Genma works, frantic-fast but competent.

Only Ryouma is peaceful, with his team circled around him, and when Genma finally lets him, he reaches out with his good hand to wrap his fingers around Raidou’s again.

This time, they’re warm.