|Of Bedsides and Bullets
Author: NessieGG PM
[AU] [Oneshot] [KibaIno] When he is shot and infirmed during the American Revolution, British Colonel Kiba Inuzuka is cared for by a woman who knows what it is to be true or false.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Drama - Kiba I. & Ino Y. - Words: 4,528 - Reviews: 13 - Favs: 40 - Follows: 1 - Published: 08-17-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3730542
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Notes: Written for 50 Alternates, for the theme "colonial." The setting is the American Revolution, Maryland. This was simply fun. Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.
Of Bedsides and Bullets
New Jersey boiled in the ravaging heat of the evening sun, the glow on the expansive wheat field matching the bloodstains on the strips of shirt currently serving as bandages over his bare stomach. The area was open and relatively quiet when compared to the battleground he had been carried from for the past hour and a half. Carried on the summer breeze, however, the cacophony of war could still be heard, and the stench of death seemed forever upon him.
He would never forget that he was a soldier.
"What do they call him?"
The man's voice was solemn, unshakeable. He tried to open his eyes but they were crusty with dirt, and every image before him blurred with the pain in his abdomen.
"He is Colonel Kiba Inuzuka, hailing from London, so they say."
"He appears far too young to be a Colonel. Why, my daughter can be no older."
"Colonel Inuzuka impressed General Cornwallace in training."
Their words and the harsh way they spoke them made his head pound excruciatingly. He took his eyes from the men, standing too close to be properly seen, and set them instead on a figure in the distance. The soft outline was soothing to his tired gaze. A woman – barely a woman – was hanging newly-washed sheets on the line to be aired. A bright dress of violet – at once alerting him to her wealthy status for such dye to be available to her – cast the feminine form sharply against the white of the sheets.
"The bullet which entered his abdomen through the left has been removed, but he needs care. You are to see him to health, Mr. Yamanaka, if not perfect condition. His Majesty's Cavalry will require him."
"Of course. Loyalists prevail," came the murmured last, and then Kiba felt himself again hauled up in the stretcher and carried toward an excessively large farmhouse. A sheet steeped in the crimson sunset fluttered in front of the woman he watched, and the sight of her was lost as he was taken inside.
A clumsy soldier from his unit caught the toe of his boot on the bottom step leading to an upstairs corridor. Kiba felt himself jolted, heard a shout of "Careful, idiot!" that rung in his ears, and the resulting agony between his wound and his headache sent him hurtling back into welcome unconsciousness.
"I saw the British soldiers, Father. The fighting in Maryland has brought me nightmares."
She watched her father watch her. Inoichi Yamanaka was a landowner, highly respected by his neighbors but otherwise resented by his fellow Americans for his known allegiance to England. These were bad times for Loyalists as the Patriots was growing in numbers by the day. Her father was aware of that but held firm, and only few knew why.
"It is my hope that you will help me bring safety back to your dreams," Inoichi told her solemnly. "You saw the man upon the stretcher, carried by the soldiers?" At her affirming nod, he continued: "He is a British colonel. You are to care for him, Ino."
Eyebrows as light and her hair drew together. "But Father, are we suited to—"
"We have discussed it, Ino. You assured me you are capable of any task you may be given."
A wordlessness passed between them, the rustle of wheat and the flapping of cotton on the wind the most immediate sounds. Still there was musket fire on the horizon, and it spurred Ino into response.
"Of course. I will go at once." A nod indicating submission, and she strolled past Inoichi toward the manor.
Yet even as she walked into the house, she knew already that her days of simple work were done. She would stitch skin, not clothes, and she would cool fever, not air laundry. All this for a country she had sworn allegiance to.
It was humming, Kiba saw with his still-blurred vision, from the lips of the blond woman he had seen in the yard. Her hair was drawn into a high tail behind her head. She sung a tune unfamiliar to him while she cleaned the gaping wound in his side, occasionally withdrawing to dip the rag in her hand in the blend of water and alcohol. The lantern sat beside the basin, and the light set the blood-tainted water shimmering.
He could see her face more clearly as the seconds ticked by. She was apparently unaware of his growing wakefulness, continuing her ministrations without falter. The blue of her eyes stayed on the wound, and she was not disgusted by what he was sure would be a grotesque sight to one of lesser solidarity. A few strands of yellow hair fell in front of her face as she bent over him, intent on her task.
As Kiba watched her, her hand suddenly swiped at the bullet hole in his side at an angle he didn't prefer. A groan like a growl passed through his clenched teeth.
The woman instantly retreated, her eyes shooting to his dark pair. Her hand, still holding the cloth, stilled in midair above him. Silence reigned, awkwardness thick between them. He could still hear her song.
"Did I hurt you?"
He wasn't sure if he could find his tongue yet, so Kiba only grunted in answer.
"I'm sorry," she said hurriedly. "I'll try to be gentler." She did not blush, he noted, as some women might have upon causing a man's discomfort – and with that man shirtless. Her eyes simply narrowed as she reached for a clean cloth on the table from the edge of the basin and applied it carefully to his injury.
It was five or ten minutes later that he managed to mutter a question: "Is there water?"
"Of course!" The tone gave away that she had forgotten her intentions. She went to the other side of the room with a rustle of stiff petticoats, and Kiba was too weak to turn his head in order to watch her. He heard a pouring sound. His eyes flicked to a square of window in the wall, and the blackness on the other side told him it was well into the night. Presently, she returned, her hand now occupied with a squat glass of fresh water.
She stood over him, seemingly a bit confused at what to do. After a moment, she slipped a hand beneath his head. Kiba could feel her cool fingers through his short, matted hair as she slowly lifted his head from the pillow and tipped the glass at his lips to let the water creep into his mouth. Swallowing sent a bolt of pain from his side to the rest of his body, but he would rather ache than dry up. Kiba thought of the battle, of the number of hours it had been since he'd had food or drink, and suddenly his thirst was stronger than ever. He gasped as he drank, his right hand coming up to grasp her wrist and urge her to tilt the cup further.
Her fingers twitched against the glass, but he did not release her until it was drained. Curiously, she did not fight him. When at last his grip loosened, she pulled away as hastily as if he had burned her with only his touch. Kiba let his hand fall back onto the mattress.
She stared openly, and he again wondered at the absence of a blush as he stared right back. The light-haired woman did not offer him more water and instead reaches for a roll of fresh bandages from the table where her other care objects lay. She wrapped his entire middle, holding him up with one hand and proving she had more strength than he would have thought. Kiba was not sure if she worked quickly (and, as a result, roughly) to torment him or shorten his pain.
In time, she finished and gathered her things into the apron she wore while he heaved for lost breath. It was not until he saw her head for the open door, lantern in hand, that he gritted out: "Your name?" It was not what he had meant to say. He had intended to request food or inquire into the status of the battle he had been taken from, not ask what his nurse was called.
She turned back, surprise on her face. He figured she had expected no words from him that evening. "Inora Yamanaka," she murmured, her voice deeper perhaps than he had expected, but still obviously feminine. The woman seemed unsettled, as though she had not meant to reply to anything he would say to her, and continued to add offhandedly, "But I am usually called Ino."
Kiba could see it in her pale eyes as she returned to her proper state of mind. Her free hand gripped the door handle and shut it as she left, taking all light with her.
In the darkness, all the colonel could do was sleep.
It puzzled him because she did not seem shy or even modest, simply distant. He supposed that in a country where Patriots were the majority, Loyalists had to stay thin-lipped and secretive. Perhaps she feared she would let slip some important information, and he would mistakenly loose it among less British-friendly Americans.
On his third day in the Yamanaka manor, he could bear no more. He was used to seclusion, coming from a quiet area just outside the bustle of busy London. But this was isolation, and Kiba could not abide it. It was true as well that, being famous as a young soldier of high rank within His Majesty's military, he was accustomed to attention. Ino's brief visits caused him to feel all but ignored.
It was mid-day when he stretched out his left arm toward the porcelain water basin on the bedside table and knocked it onto the floor with a clatter, unused water spilling onto the floor rug. Predictably, his caretaker burst into the room. Her wide eyes took in the trembling table, the soaked rug, and the overturned basin for several seconds before she rushed to right it all.
But not silently.
"What do you think you are doing! Honestly, a local family not even citizens of your country takes you in, and you thank them by mistreating their possessions? Please God, you will survive this jest of a war and learn some gratitude." The basin retrieved, she took no time piercing him with her fiery glare. "And I always hear the British make such a fuss over manners—"
The look he returned halted her before she could finish her chastisement. The colonel did not look appropriately singed, in fact, he seemed far from admonished. He was positively smirking, the edge of a rather sharp-looking tooth visible from the curl in his lip.
"Well," he replied, a joke beneath the surface of his otherwise prosaic tone, "I can see it isn't that you cannot talk to me, but that you refuse to."
Ino recoiled. She returned the basin to the bedside table, but her fingers stayed upon it, tightening on the rim. "It's a wonder you did not break it. What compelled you to throw this to the floor?"
His smirk fell. "Frankly," he told her in blatant irritation, "I'm bored. And seeing as you've such a nice ability for speech, I see no reason why you cannot at least amuse me with conversation."
It was his amusement that annoyed her, for he seemed to have no shortage of it. Ino mentally admitted, however, that it must be dull to stay so long alone in this small spare room. She finally released the basin and took a seat in the wooden chair she used when cleaning his rooms. "And what will you have me talk of, Colonel?"
"For one thing," he growled out, reminded by her address of him, "you can refrain from calling me 'Colonel,' do you understand? My name is Kiba Inuzuka, and I'm hardly a colonel in such a state."
The look she gave him was suspicious but also accepting. "You were shot. By a musket?"
He had not been expecting that type of conversation. "I…yes." What else was there to say? "By a Patriot with dark hair of a lazy disposition."
"You know him?"
She blinked, and he recognized the realization of unknowingly speaking aloud. "We were tutored together as children. I had not realized he would join the battle."
"You are a Loyalist with Patriot friends," he remarked. "Unusual."
"You will agree, I presume, that children do not know allegiances?" The air she affected was perfectly snooty. It somehow brought a smile to his face in that he felt so aggravated by it.
"And women, too," he furthered. "What can they truly know of true or false? In England, they do as directed."
She straightened, the skirts of her dress (this time a light lavender) shifting in such a way that she reminded him of a bird ruffling its feathers. "Is that so, Kiba?"
"Well, primitive America—"
"If you find America so primitive, perhaps you shouldn't have come!"
"Do you believe I enlisted for the travel?"
"I find your accent repulsive!"
Stricken by this turn, Kiba could do nothing but rise to it. "Well, Inora, I find your voice irritating!"
"Your teeth are bad!"
"Your eyes are too wide!"
"If you didn't serve the King of England—"
"Thank God I do, so I may go back there!"
Ino rocketed to her feet and, huffing, made for the door. "I shall return tonight with your meal and to change your dressings. But be assured I will have no pleasure in it!"
This last was the loudest exclamation yet, and the door shivered in its frame when she slammed it close in her wake. Kiba stared at the plain panel for a good five minutes after her departure, feeling exhausted all over again…and strangely, unexpectedly, satisfied.
Yet he would wake from the short naps he tended to take during the day and find manuscripts upon his table, with the scent of her – honeysuckles – hanging in the air. Try as he might not to, Kiba would anticipate her visits with increasing eagerness. He told himself it was because he found the place mightily dull. At times he would hear the sounds of war beyond his walls, and he would crave action. In those moments, Ino would often arrive and distract him.
It was when his bullet wound was entirely clotted that Kiba swallowed his pride – and God, it was bitter – and spoke to her. Now that he was healing, she took less time with him, and inside he could not deny that above the boredom, he was feeling lonely. War was miserably, but at least he had had his unit for company. Books were false; words were not minds.
"I was raised on a dog breeding plantation."
Her physical reaction to this unanticipated revelation was to come to a full pause when she was at the business of filling the infamous basin with clean water, as was her habit just before leaving him for the night. Ino cast her bright blue eyes on him with genuine, if uncertain, curiosity. "Dog breeding?" she queried warily.
"That's right." He shut his eyes, adjusting as he always required to his new bandages and recalling his home at the same time. "My mother taught my older sister and I to breed dogs from infancy. My father passed away shortly after my third birthday." He felt a tension come into her, but Kiba was not bothered by it. It was difficult to miss a man unremembered. "It is a lucrative business in England. The hunt is a popular sport, and my family is not too bad at it. Our hounds are the best in Europe. Especially my Akamaru. Once we went after a stag, just us, and he nearly led me over a cliff, but he was a pup yet, and…and…"
And she was smiling, and he was not entirely sure what surged forward in him to see her do so.
"Akamaru," she tested the name. Ino did not look at him but the wall on the other side of him, as though it was a canvas that showed her the very land he rambled of. "You are very fond of him."
"I am, yes." Something about the dreamy way she gazed made him want to continue looking at her face. He noticed now the high angles, the sharp slant of her cheekbones, the fine slope of her nose. Kiba wondered if she was not descended from British nobility; it would not have surprised him much. She certainly treated him as common when they were angry with one another.
"It sounds a wonderful place. But I love America too," she went on. "There are those here old enough to have memories of England, and there is nothing such as our hills and mountains."
"Perhaps not," Kiba relented, remembered his own approval of the impressive landmarks he had seen in his time in the Colonies. "A home is a home, I should think."
The dream in her eyes ended, and their gazes met. Kiba could hardly believe it when he knew that Ino agreed with him. But the moment passed, and Ino took her hands from the edge of the mattress where she had rested him, startlingly close to his own.
"I must go," she mumbled, ungracefully catching the toe of her shoe on a chair leg and she moved away from him. "I rise early in the mornings."
"To make my breakfast, I know." It was not quite a thank-you, but Ino turned to him in astonishment anyway. "I…" Fumbling for words, he blurted, "I will sleep well, Ino."
Understanding touched her expression for only a moment. "I will as well," she replied, and then left him without a backward glance. The door shut with barely a sound.
After the second day of this training, he proposed to Ino that he would return to the battlefield the following day. Even if he was not permitted to fight, Kiba reasoned, he could stay in the camp and offer support to his men. At this notion, Ino was overtaken with an iciness he had not seen in her since his first few days in her care. She did not come to visit him a second or third time that day, as she would have done in days before.
In the hour before dawn, Kiba determined to dress and present himself at the breakfast table to the family who had been so good as to see to his health. No matter what Ino had said, he did know gratitude – his mother had brought him up by hand and had personally seen to it. He had just finished buttoning his uniform, thoughtfully laundered by hosts, and was reaching for his saber slung over a bedpost when the door to his room opened.
Ino stood there, dressed for bed, her hair shimmering like spun silk as it fell long and loose over her shoulders. Kiba was admittedly distracted by the pale nightgown over her trim figure, made substantial by a pale violet dressing robe of satin. Yet it was neither her hair nor her dress that caught his attention nearly so much as the gun in her hand.
It was a little thing, no more than a dueling pistol of ivory color, elegantly decorated with gold swirls around the barrel. Pretty as it was, it looked entirely out of place in Ino's delicate hand – especially when she raised that hand and aimed the pistol at his heart.
He could see the outcome as easily as if he was able to read the future; Ino would fire, he would be shot again with a far less dangerous weapon in a far more dangerous spot. He would fall, defeated, to the floor, and that rug he had spilled water on would then be stained with his blood. The blast from the pistol would not be loud enough to stir the house, if indeed there was one there who would lose sleep over his death.
Kiba tried to focus on her face (a trifle too pale against the still-lovely blue of her eyes) and not on the pistol, on what it represented (betrayal, deceit, she had never cared for him apart from tending to his wound). His mind raced, harrowed by this sudden turnabout.
"You are a Loyalist with Patriot friends. Unusual."
Ino was the model of a steeled, hardy woman on the outside, but the innermost parts of her were in chaos. She felt aflame and frozen at once, and her heart trembled while her lungs would not move. The pistol should be reasonable heavy, she knew, yet she felt nothing in her hand. No chill of metal. No hateful weight.
There was only the weapon and the man whom, with it, she was to kill. Ironic, was it not, that she had saved him from a near fatal bullet wound only to hurt him again with a fully fatal one?
His quiet forming of her name, so unlike the harsh way she was used to from him, nearly undid her. But she thought of her father and held firm. "It is my task," she told him coldly, "to see that you never walk American soil again. It is the honor I was charged with."
Ino saw the query in his eyes: Honor in killing one young soldier in the guise of a Loyalist? But just one, she had been promised, would make a world of different in America's fight for independence. And a colonel…
"You were wrong, Kiba. I am a woman who knows of true and false. Yet I also do as I am directed."
His expression was fully open, and she saw a man fully rendered apart. But he squared his shoulders, as part of her had known he would, and he stood erect. "I came to America expecting this," he told her honestly.
Her hand trembled, and she felt her spirit waver. It was small, but enough. Ino was soon blinking back tears, the image of him blurring in the candlelight. "You do not know what it is to be in a country enslaved. To have so little for a country that already has so much."
Her words made Kiba feel like an oppressor, but Ino could not know that. She pressed her free hand to her mouth in the second just before she lowered the pistol. "Go, Kiba." The whisper reached him between her fingers.
Kiba sprang forward just as her knees buckled, and he caught her with expert ease. "Do not let it pass this way," he demanded softly in her ear. "Kill me if you will retain your honor."
"Fool!" she seethed, pushing at his chest. "Moron! My honor is in danger, my soul is in danger, but even if you die, it will not be by my hand!"
He didn't know what to feel other than in that moment when his departure from the Yamanaka house mattered most, he did not wish to leave. "Ino. Is this country so much to you, but still you won't see me dead?"
"Never." And she did not know why, God help her, but she had seen so much of his blood already.
Kiba took her face in his hands, half of him horrified to feel her tears run over his fingers, and pressed his lips to hers so fiercely that he thought for a second her grief would kill him anyway. He lived when the kiss ended, however, and extracted himself from her against his will.
"Go," she ordered him again. "Go, go…"
And he tore out of the room and down the stairs until he found the unlocked western door, feeling blue eyes watch him from an overhead window as he half limped, half ran toward the battlefield again. And those eyes, he knew, would still let fall tears.
One year later, a man whose face was scarred with a red, triangle-shaped burn on each cheek, returned to a manor in the state of Maryland, and married the house's daughter on July 4th, 1776. They were joined by his dog, Akamaru, and all became citizens of the United States of America.