Kakashi found himself lying on his back in the snow. It wasn't white, not like a wood block picture. Snow was blue. Cool, steely blue, in the shadow of the pines. Or gray, ominous dark gray. Where the river licked at its banks, not quite frozen. Where snow treacherously melted down to the mud.

Snow wasn't fluffy, either. It was chunky and hard, mulched up ice cubes under his fingers. Ice scraped and clumped against his hands as he dug furrows, trying to get up. Ice stuck to him, turning to ice, sluggishly melting.

And in his camouflage gear, no one would find him in this vast wilderness.

Kakashi let out a puff of damp breath into the scarf over his mouth, lay still for a moment, and then scrabbled with his thick, padded glove, trying to get it off. Need to summon…

But he couldn't get his glove off. He didn't have the strength.

His sharingan eye was blurry. His head pounded from the overuse of it.

Far away, over the gently sloping hill several yards in front of him, the snow was red and black.

I'm dizzy…and that's bad…

Kakashi sank back down in his dent in the snow, a pathetic snow angel born of struggle, and waited to die, wondering what that would be like.

But then, he heard a shout echo off the trees. "Kakashi!"

He shivered, his teeth chattering, but he smiled. Laughed, even, though he could hardly breathe for being so cold.

Even in pale camouflage gear the bounding figure was unmistakable. "I found you! I found you! I told them I would!"

And before Kakashi could even adjust to the idea that he'd live, Gai yanked him from the snow and gathered him up like a pile of feathers. Kakashi just clung to Gai as much as he could in his weakened state.

Gai bounded away in the snow, reminding Kakashi of what it must be like to ride a frog. Or Jiraiya's summons. Kakashi moaned and closed his eyes, sheltering himself against Gai's chest.

"You're safe now," Gai said, just for him. Not a shout. A warm murmur that made Kakashi's heart flutter.

Kakashi mumbled, "Hello, Gai." He wanted to be able to pull down the scarves covering his mouth and kiss Gai. But he was barely hanging on, and his fingers were all numb and clumsy. If he couldn't get off his gloves, then he wouldn't be able to pull the scarves down, either.

Gai's voice lulled him to sleep. He didn't even hear a word Gai said. Just that pleasant, smooth voice, the cheerful rise and fall. Kakashi could fall asleep to that kind of lullaby for the rest of his life.