AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is kind of shippy, especially in the third/last chapter, but if you don't want to take it as such then you don't have to. But yes, I ship it. Anyway, feedback is greatly appreciated ^_^


PARTNERS

[joseph oda]

I'll admit it, I was more than a little skeptical when my partner first handed me the syringe and claimed that it would instantly heal my wounds. I had smiled as I took it from him, saying 'Sure, Seb,' and stashed it in a pocket dangling from my shoulder holsters. But now, let me tell you, I was glad that I had it. It was a hell of a lot better than adding my own body to the dozens littering the landscape around me.

My hand shook so hard on the end of the dual-needle syringe that I was sure I was gonna rip open a blood vessel with the damn thing, but I forced myself to steadily bear down on the plunger. Good God, I swore I could feel the thick greenish goop sticking to the insides of my veins, and I had to look away as I sent the rest of the nasty liquid into my bloodstream. The plunger struck home, signaling that its supply had successfully been emptied into me, and I hurriedly yanked the needles free of my arm. Glass shattered somewhere behind as I tossed the spent hypodermic over my shoulder.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting but it sure as hell wasn't this. The flow of blood from the gaping wound in my forearm steadily slowed until it ceased altogether, and then, right before my very eyes, it began to change. The sticky, yellowish beginnings of a scab formed at the edges before spreading over the exposed muscle like ice claiming the surface of a lake. Fascinated by the display of flesh literally knitting itself back together, I almost forgot I was still in the throes of a battle.

"Joseph! Move!" Sebastian's bellow echoed from outside this shelled-out building, and before I really knew what was happening, my formerly safe hiding spot was suddenly swarmed with a heavy rain of steel.

"Whoa!" I screamed, rolling to the side just in the nick of time. Hot metal tore at my clothes, ripping away at the sleeve of my white shirt but missing my skin. My outturned palm landed in something soft with a disgusting squelching sound. Looking down I realized I'd shoved my hand inside the shattered skull of some humanoid creature unlucky enough to get in my way… but it was still alive. The body writhed as its bloody arms reached towards me, fists clumsily grabbing at my waistcoat. Without a second thought to the spears pummeling the ground all around me, I jerked my gloved hand out of its bony entrapment, snagged my axe from where I'd dropped it, and whipped it forward.

In a swift arcing movement, I cleaved what remained of the creature's forehead in two.

Thick, rotting blood painted my shirtfront as I shoved the now-lifeless body away from me, disgustedly swiping my hands on my slacks as I dodged away from yet another volley of harpoons. With horror I realized I'd done a fine job at cornering myself – my shoulder contacted the wall of this shelled-out building, scraping off chunks of brick and char, and I labeled myself as a fucking moron.

The shot rang out from behind me and I ducked forward out of instinct. The harpoon-fire abruptly halted, allowing a heavy blanket of silence to fall over me as I held my breath. I was honestly expecting to be assaulted again but no such attack came.

"Joseph!" Sebastian's voice carried to me and I dared to look up, seeing his familiar figure leaning through the empty windowsill. "You good?"

"Yeah," I breathed, though I knew I didn't look it. I was absolutely smothered in blood, but most of it wasn't mine. I tore my glasses off of my face and ripped my shirttail out of my pants, and satisfied that it was relatively clean, I thumbed away the grime that had accumulated on the lenses before settling the frame back on the bridge of my nose. "You?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm… fine…" Sebastian sort of stumbled back, his silhouette leaving my line of sight as he disappeared behind the wall of the building. That was when I realized that something was very wrong. There was a muffled thud and the sound of him grunting as he fell.

I was up and running. Dodging harpoons stuck in the ground like deadly blades of grass, I threw myself down on the ground beside where my partner had collapsed. He lay twisted behind a stack of bloodstained shipping crates riddled with bullet holes, and as I sought his gaze, I noted that his skin was abnormally pale. Dark bruises purpled the soft flesh beneath his eyes, which were only half-open and feral with obvious pain. His discarded sniper rifle lay just beyond the range of his fingertips. I slid it to him, knowing he'd draw comfort from its proximity.

"Hey, Seb." I spoke calmly despite the panic that boiled in my gut. "Talk to me."

Apparently, I'd been too focused on his face to notice the true cause of his pallor, because he raised a violently shuddering arm and pointed away. I followed his gesture…

"Oh, hell!" I scrambled to my feet and launched myself down on his other side. A metal spear, one that I'd written off as being another missed shot that'd planted itself in the ground, protruded grotesquely from his right thigh. The barbs were buried deep in his flesh and the fabric around its entry point was drenched with blood. It didn't appear to have gone completely through his leg, but still, it wasn't a pretty sight. "Damn it, Sebastian," I murmured as my hand found the stalk of the weapon.

Muscles went taut as the wounded man tensed. He made a feeble grab at me, streaking my wrist with crimson before his hand thumped back into his lap. I pursed my lips and drew my eyebrows together. I knew what he was worried about.

"I'm leaving it there, Seb. Just want a look," I murmured in a soothing tone. I didn't know if the weapon had punctured Sebastian's femoral artery and I wasn't willing to find out. Sickening as it was to see that thing jutting from his leg, we both understood that once the obstruction was removed, it would allow the blood to escape freely. He could bleed out in a matter of seconds. That was a risk I didn't want to take.

Still, there was an alarming volume of blood seeping from the wound. A heavy feeling of dread made itself at home in my stomach as I fumbled around for the buttons on my waistcoat and tossed it to the side before going for my white dress shirt. I didn't even care that I left bloody fingerprints on every fastener, and I cast that to the side as well. Reaching behind my head, I grabbed at my thin white undershirt and jerked it free of my body. Cold air broadsided my bare midriff, but honestly, after the heat of running around in battle, it was a welcome relief.

A practiced motion had my pocketknife flipped out of my pants pocket, the blade glittering in the swiftly fading sunlight. I slashed at the undershirt, stripping it into thin bandages until nothing remained but a pile of scraps. Sifting through them, I tugged out the longest I could find and descended on Sebastian. "Easy," I muttered as I pressed the makeshift dressing to his wounded thigh, causing him to flinch. I pursed my lips and lightly touched a hand to his shoulder before carrying on.

Tightly, but not too tightly, I twisted the slim strip of sliced-up shirt around the entry wound, wincing when even more fresh blood seeped into the clean cloth. I wasn't sure how much the bandage would actually help but I reasoned it couldn't be worse than leaving the gash exposed to the air. Had to be better than nothing, right?

"That should hold for a little," I said, mostly to myself. I turned to look at Sebastian's face and grew even more frightened when I saw that his eyes were closed. "Seb! You still with me?"

"Yeah." His voice was audible, but barely. He was losing color by the second, no doubt a reflection of the blood loss. He coughed and made an effort to speak again. "Do… do you have a…" His sentence was lost to a moan as he repositioned himself on the ground. I tilted my head with a questioning gaze as he weakly thumped the inside of his left elbow with two fingers, face screwed up in pain. What was he…?

"Oh. A syringe," I translated. "I'm sorry, Sebastian. I just used the one you gave me." I lifted my arm to study the partially healed gash, which now appeared sticky and slightly green, not unlike the substance I'd forced into my bloodstream.

"I… had one but… I don't know where…" Seb's voice trailed off again and he let his head fall against the ground. I frowned, jerking my soiled white dress shirt over my shoulders and clumsily doing up the buttons. The fabric slid beneath my gloved hands, slick with Sebastian's blood and God knows what else. I carefully did up my tie before going for my waistcoat. Satisfied that everything was back in order, I stood and smoothed out the wrinkled fabric as best I could.

"I saw a med kit in that barn about a half mile back." I jerked my head over my shoulder. "I was getting shot at so I didn't think to grab it. Should still be there unless one of them took it." I stooped to pluck my black leather holsters from the ground beside Seb's feet and slid my arms through it, tightening the straps at my armpits. Everything was still in place, and I drew my hand cannon. "I'll go see if I can find it. Wait here."

"No." At first I thought Sebastian spoke because he was afraid of being left alone, but looking down as I heard the scraping of wood and metal, I saw that he was nudging his sniper rifle towards me. "Does more damage. Take it."

"You sure?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. He nodded and I knelt to pick up the weapon, but not before I'd placed my revolver in his lap. "I'm not leaving you here defenseless. It's got five rounds in it and I don't have any more, so don't go using my bullets."

A weak half-smile crossed his paled face, but it quickly collapsed into agony once more. The white bandage on his leg had started to turn red at the center, so dark it almost seemed black. I was suddenly reluctant to leave him. I couldn't bear the thought of him dying alone, waiting for my return. But, I reasoned, the longer I stood here doing nothing, the more likely that outcome.

"I'll be right back," I said, almost sadly, forcing myself away from his side. Breaking into a jog, I started on my way, slinging the sniper rifle over my shoulders. My axe was still stuck in the head of the creature I'd slain earlier, so I yanked it free and held it firmly across my chest. Sebastian had saved my ass more than once today and it was high time I returned the favor.