This was not how Kakashi had pictured his day going. When he'd woken up that morning, he'd planned to see to the brats, make sure Sakura hadn't gotten cold feet at the last second, and then maybe stalk them throughout the second test (because they had better pass the first, or he was never going to let them live it down - mainly because none of the other jounin-sensei were likely to let him live it down, either). Technically, the jounin-sensei weren't supposed to stick too close to their genin during the exams, but ninja technically weren't supposed to show up a minimum of three hours late to everything, either. There were a lot of things that Kakashi "technically" wasn't supposed to do.

So, he was planning to stalk his brats through the second exam. Just for a little while, really. Just until they got to the tower and the test was over and they didn't run the risk of getting killed by overzealous suna jinchuuriki's. Not that he thought his genin were weak or anything, but ... well ... they'd probably be fine.

He hadn't really expected things to go this horribly wrong. After all, who would have expected the most traitorous of the three Legendary Sannin to have shown up in the middle of a Chuunin exam? Chasing after Sasuke, no less? There was no way anybody could have seen this coming.

Or at least, that's what he desperately told himself to stave off the guilt and shame that swept over him as Naruto got swallowed by a giant fucking snake, Sakura was tossed to the side like so much trash, and Sasuke was pinned to a tree.

I'm just waiting for the right moment, he told himself, desperately clamping down on the urge to jump in without a plan; to throw himself in-between his brats and one of the most dangerous ninja in the Hidden Countries. He'd already sent his ninken out to tell the Hokage - to tell anyone they could find who might be able to help - that Orochimaru had infiltrated the exams. Help would be coming. He only prayed it didn't come too late.

Orochimaru moved. And so did Kakashi, hands moving faster than the eye could see through one of their most familiar patterns. Barely a second later, he was standing exactly where Sasuke had been only a moment before, and a pair of fangs was sinking into the back of his shoulder at the base of his neck.

Ripping, searing, white-hot pain. A feeling like a hundred tiny worms, burrowing into his flesh, eating away as they dug deep into his muscle and bone and veins. It was all Kakashi could do to stay upright. Distantly, he became aware of someone shouting at him - or was it hissing?

"-uniquely coded for the Uchiha, and you wasted it you-!"

And then he was falling.

This may not have been how Kakashi pictured his day going, but it wasn't that far off form how he'd pictured himself dying. It kind of felt good, dying to protect someone. He'd been on the other end of that so many times, he'd begun to doubt he'd ever get the chance to do it himself.

Of course, this was assuming that the reinforcements got there in time, and were able to fend Orochimaru off before he could kill the kids anyway.

A split second before he hit the ground, Kakashi's hands jerked into the familiar seals of a kawarimi once again. He lurched to a stop on a tree branch a few hundred feet up, gasping for breath as he desperately fought off the black at the edges of his vision.

Instinct, more than feedback from any of his few still-working senses, had him throwing himself to the side of the fireball that very nearly grazed him, anyway. Kakashi's eye darted towards the source, and found a fuming Orochimaru, shouting (or hissing?) something at him. It was mildly distressing to the copy-nin that he couldn't hear a word of it. He couldn't hear much of anything, really. And that black on the edges of his vision kept creeping in closer...

Where were the kids?

The thought struck through Kakashi's mind like a bolt of lightning, but had to be brushed aside with Orochimaru's next attack which, again, Kakashi barely avoided. At least, he supposed, if Orochimaru was occupied with him, that should give the kids time to run. Although Kakashi wasn't sure how much time he could really give them, in his condition. Whatever Orochimaru had done when he bit him (poison? Snake venom seemed clich├ęd but likely), it was wearing on Kakashi faster and harder than any poison he'd ever had to fight against. He probably wasn't going to live through this.

Orochimaru was still talking, his lips still forming words, but Kakashi's vision was now blurring too much for him to even attempt reading lips. Even the Sharingan wasn't helping against the blurriness and darkening vision much. He was blacking out, and there was only so long he could hold off the inevitable.

So it was very lucky that the Sandaime and close to two-dozen ANBU chose that exact moment to appear in the trees.

You're all so very, very late, Kakashi thought, eyes curving into a smile even as he finally allowed darkness to take him.

When next Kakashi woke, it was to one of his least favorite sounds in the world: the beeping of a heart monitor.

Damn.

Reluctantly, he pried his right eye open, and glanced around the room.

Yep, just a boring hospital. Thankfully a Konohan one, at least. Without any doctors currently present. Carefully testing his limbs and finding that each of them seemed to be working just fine, Kakashi sat up. Expecting something horrible to happen, and finding that nothing had, he spent a few precious seconds just blinking at the annoyingly persistent heart monitor.

Wait for it...

There was a twinge in his left shoulder, at the base of his neck.

There it is.

Kakashi sighed, and wondered if it was worth sticking around to hear from a doctor what Orochimaru had done to him, or whether he should check up on his kids first, and make sure all the brats were still alive. A twinge in his gut joined the one in his shoulder at the thought, but Kakashi ignored them both with the ease of long practice.

Footsteps coming down the hall. It was now or never. Kakashi ran a quick assessment of his chakra levels, and found them ... surprisingly high. Higher than they'd been in a long time, really. That was suspicious. Had he really been out of it long enough for his body to regain that much chakra?

Deciding to worry about it later, Kakashi swung his feet from the bed and pulled the IV drip from his arm in one smooth motion. Letting the finger-clip monitoring his pulse slip off, Kakashi lurched to the window, finding his feet a little unsteady. By the time he'd got the window open, the footsteps down the hall were moving faster, and Kakashi had found his own feet again.

He jumped from the window and was bounding across the rooftops of Konoha only a moment later. His student's well-being the foremost question on his mind, he shunshined as quickly as he could (which was very, very quickly, if he did say so himself) to the mostly-empty Uchiha district. A quick peek into Sasuke's backyard confirmed that the kid was there, training his ass off despite having one arm in a cast.

One fear relieved, Kakashi ducked out and bounded to Sakura's house next, it being the next closest. His pink-haired student wasn't home, but the lack of concern on her mother's face helped ease his own a little.

Naruto's apartment was next, and though he wasn't home, either, the still-warm instant ramen packaging was enough to show that he'd been there recently. He hadn't been gone for more than half an hour, at most. (Styrofoam packaging just didn't hold heat that long, you know?)

Finally allowing himself a brief sigh of relief, Kakashi glanced up from the pile of trash left in Naruto's sink to eye the calendar on the wall, and blinked in reluctant surprise. He knew he'd probably been out for a while, for his chakra reserves to restore themselves that much, but ... a month? Really? What the hell had Orochimaru even done to him?

With a sinking feeling in his gut, Kakashi allowed himself to admit, if only to himself, that he probably should have stayed at the hospital long enough to find out. Ugh.

Coming down from his protective-paranoia-induced high, Kakashi also realized that he should probably get some real clothes on. A henge was all well and good, and it kept other people from seeing anything, but it didn't stop him from feeling the drafts of air that slipped through the woefully inadequate "protection" of the open-backed hospital gown.

Next stop, home.

Slipping out of Naruto's apartment without leaving any trace that he'd ever been there, Kakashi resolved to go report to the Sandaime right after he'd gotten some clothes.

...And maybe after a quick visit to the Memorial Stone.