The morning was waning fast. The sun grew brighter and stronger, and Iruka's forehead dripped in a sweat that had nothing to do with the heat.

Panic consumed his mind, gnawed at him until he felt he would go insane with it. He had never run so fast before; he was pumping all his chakra into his feet and legs and still he felt that he would be too late. Somewhere in this old, abandoned section of town (it had once housed the jounin with families before the days of apartment complexes) stood the late White Fang's house; in that house stood Kakashi—possibly with a kunai at his throat already—and Iruka had no idea where that house might be.

Focus, Iruka, he growled to himself as he hit the roof of the first run-down house. You won't do Kakashi any good by panicking.

He paused for a moment to try to gather his wind and his bearings. Crouching, he splayed his fingers over the loose shingles for balance and willed himself to concentrate.

Kakashi had no chakra signature, Iruka knew that for certain. What he didn't know was how he was supposed to go about finding the injured jounin if his chakra wasn't registering.

He scanned the ground below, and saw no sign of bloodstains; Kakashi was supposed to be covered in blood.

"That jibes with what the Hokage said, then," Iruka was thinking out loud; the sound of his own voice in the stillness kept the panic at bay. Tsunade had told him that after turning in his blood-splotched mission report, Kakashi had teleported, an action which had likely taken the very last of his chakra.

"If I can't see the blood…" the chuunin muttered, closing his eyes tightly, "Maybe I can smell it."

Iruka took his chakra focus away from his feet and legs, redirecting it toward his senses. His hearing sharpened; his closed eyes rolled in their sockets; the tar paper under his fingers suddenly felt painfully abrasive; the spit in his mouth grew metallic and sour; his nose was assaulted by the smell of dust and rot…and the very faint smell of blood.

Iruka leaped down into the street, landing a little roughly. The house he landed in front of was labeled above the door in faded letters: Aomori.

Iruka swore loudly as he began to run in the direction of the smell. He was only in the A's—how long would it take him to make it to the H's?

All the dusty colors of the houses faded into one grey-brown blur as Iruka followed the coppery perfume of blood. Every now and then he would slow down just enough to check the lettering above the doors of the houses to make sure he was going in the right direction; he would hate to discover that he was actually only following the smell of a wounded animal.

The houses, already dilapidated and falling apart, grew steadily worse as Iruka ran on. The last house with a nameplate above it was Harada—and the lettering was in such bad shape that Iruka couldn't be certain that was even what it said.

Harada…Harada…fuck.

Iruka ran into the first house after Harada, noted that the only thing he could smell was decay and bat piss, and promptly ducked out. He did the same in the next house, and the next, and nearly fell through a rotten place in the wooden porch of the next one.

Please, let this be it, I'm running out of time…

Iruka burst through the door of the next house, splintering the rotted wood into pieces. This time, instead of being assaulted by the smell of mildew and rot, he smelled blood—the stench was so thick he could nearly taste it.

It took all the shinobi training Iruka had ever received to control his mind as he forced himself to slow down and look carefully in each room of the house. There was no one on the bottom floor, but there were boot tracks in the dust; the left print was dragging a little, and there were tacky maroonish splotches surrounding the tracks. They led up a staircase that looked as if it had seen much, much better days.

Panic threatened to spill over the wall of control Iruka had built as he carefully tiptoed up the ancient staircase. The wood felt soft and weak beneath his careful tread, and he found himself wondering how Kakashi ever could have made it up without falling through.

There were only three rooms on the second floor. The doors to two of them were open, revealing a bathroom stripped of its toilet, tub, and sink and a large, empty room that must have been the master bedroom. The last door was closed, and the house was ominously silent.

I'm too late, Iruka thought suddenly. The thought came so abruptly, so forcefully, that he all but knew it was true. He would walk in that room and find Kakashi sprawled on the floor, his throat hewn open in a gaping red wound with blood already clotting and drying around the ragged edges of the gash and his body would already be cold and stiff and the blood around his head would be congealed and sticky and Iruka would throw up, he wouldn't be able to help it, he'd throw up and then faint and then die himself…

Iruka's imagination was so in overdrive that when he finally did open the door, he actually saw the body—saw the sticky blood puddle, saw the open wound in Kakashi's throat, felt his gorge rising.

Then reality assaulted him and he saw Kakashi, standing with his back toward him, staring out the dirty, broken window. He was bringing his hand upward, his hand with the kunai clutched in the dirty, bloody fingers…

Iruka leaped, tackling the broken man in the legs without any thought for any injuries he might have. Iruka grabbed the arm that Kakashi had lifted upward and wrenched it behind the jounin's back, snatching the kunai and throwing it across the room where it clanked into a pile of similar weapons.

Kakashi lay stunned for a moment, his bare face pressed into the dusty old floor. He was so still that Iruka began to get off him, fearing that he had knocked him out—but when Iruka let up the pressure he was holding on the small of Kakashi's back, the man began to twist and buck and jerk like a trapped animal. He managed to turn over on his back, and Iruka felt his heart clench when he saw the jounin's face.

Kakashi's Sharingan eye was uncovered, bloodshot and weepy, the tomoe spinning madly as the eye rolled in its socket. The other was swollen shut, bruised and bluish with a clotted cut beneath the lower lid. His lips were split, his nose seemed to have shifted to one side and there was a rim of dried blood around his nostrils.

Kakashi actually snarled; it was a crazed, feral sound that sent chills down Iruka's spine.

How can he ever recover from this…? He's completely insane…

"Kakashi, can you hear me?" Iruka asked tentatively.
Kakashi raised his hands and tried to claw at Iruka's face; Iruka caught both his wrists and pinned the jounin's arms to the floor, stretching his body out over Kakashi's to try and keep him from jackknifing around; but Kakashi's head lashed from side to side, his temples smacking into the floor with sickening thuds.

"Kakashi, please, if you can hear me, if you know who I am please stop! You're hurting yourself!"

The skin at Kakashi's temples split; bright, fresh blood blotted the floor and streaked into the jounin's dirty hair.

"Please, Kakashi," Iruka nearly sobbed, his fingers tightening around his lover's wrists, "It's me, it's Iruka, don't you remember? You have to remember!"

Kakashi showed no signs of remembering anything. He tossed his head harder, his one visible eye rolled back in his head and his body began to shudder and tremble beneath Iruka's own.

Iruka let go of Kakashi's wrists and took his head in his dark hands, holding it steady as he could. Instead of speaking, Iruka pressed his mouth against Kakashi's dry, split lips and prayed.

Let him remember. Let him live. Let him be okay. Please, let this madness stop…

Kakashi's body relaxed ever so slightly; his lips moved beneath Iruka's, but no sound came out.

"Try again, 'Kashi," Iruka whispered, "I'm right here."

Kakashi's voice was small and frightened when he spoke, but it was his voice nonetheless: "Who…who are you?"

Iruka felt relief flood him from head to toe. He rested his forehead against Kakashi's and answered, "It's me, 'Kashi. It's Iruka."

"Iruka…" Kakashi laid his head back against the floor, gently, and closed his Sharingan eye. "Take me home."

"As fast as I can, 'Kashi, I promise," Iruka said quietly. He slid his arms beneath Kakashi's body, carefully gathering him up for the trip back to the apartment. He began to channel his chakra toward his arms and legs. The doctors are just going to have to come to him this time, he thought, He asked to go home…and that's where I'll take him.