Mar 262007

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Title: Always Second Best 2+3
Characters: Shiranui Genma, Hatake Kakashi, Hagane Kotetsu, Kamizuki Izumo
Rating: M
Warnings: ANGST! …and referenced past character death.
Notes: Maa… can I please be done with this fucking AU, now?

"There were spikes in his sandals, spikes in his ankles… A spike split the wood, syringed his vertebrae. Spikes in his shins, in his chin, in his fingers… Amused apparitions hummed the Marseillaise. We had to look away, he seemed so fragile."
—The Legendary Pink Dots, "Stoned Obituary"

He perched alone on the roof, senbon in his right hand, instead of in his mouth, looking like some feral beast from a legend, eyes wide, lips stripped back from his teeth in a lip-splitting grimace, greasy hair hanging lank and tangled around his face. He wore nothing but an open flak vest and black cotton workout pants. He had the night off, and neither knew nor cared who was at the gate. It didn't matter. None of it mattered.

If anyone was listening — really listening — they might hear the thin, whispering hisses that slid out of his mouth in time to the rhythm of the senbon's point striking the flesh of his left hand, leaving small holes that trickled blood. "…not true. not true. this isn't real none of this is real not happening not true not true…" And suddenly, with a wild look around, he leapt down from the rooftop, to the next, headed for the village gate, moving just fast enough to make it unclear who he was.

And someone had been listening — listening and watching. Kakashi watched as Genma fled the village in a mad haze, and followed him. This was, after all, Genma — the tokubetsu jounin who could do more damage with less material than anyone he knew, except perhaps Gai. It wouldn't be safe to leave him alone with himself, tonight.

Kakashi caught up to the senbon specialist, and concealed himself in a nearby tree, lowering his chakra emanations and performing a low-level 'look-elsewhere' genjutsu. He was fairly certain that Genma was far enough gone that his precautions would be unnecessary, but there was no point in tempting fate. The older jounin was actually dangerous.

Genma stared accusingly into the trees for a few minutes, as if angry with some unseen opponent, before the scream tore itself from his throat. Kakashi had been blissfully unaware, prior to this moment, of the sounds one made inhaling in the midst of a scream, to keep it going. He supposed he had done it, but he never remembered, so that was okay. But now, that sound would be permanently inscribed in his consciousness — that sound of gagging desperation. And the impotent rage, the pain and the bitterness just kept pouring from Genma's mouth in a long stream of incoherent noise. He fell to his knees as the oxygen deprivation took its toll, but the noise barely wavered.

And then Genma lifted the senbon in his right hand and slammed it through the center of his left palm. And the screaming stopped, replaced by a curious, numb silence. He stared down at his hand, first as if uncomprehending, then as if he were looking at dying bird. He lifted his left hand to his face with his right, and kissed the tips of his own fingers as though they were someone else's. Finally, he leaned to the side, lowering himself to the floor of the forest, and curled into a ball, clutching the hand to his chest. Quietly, he wept.

Kakashi was horrified. Was this what it looked like when a man fell apart? Again, he was sure he had done it, but he'd never seen it and never remembered it. He dropped silently from the tree and went to kneel at Genma's side, resting a hand on the older jounin's shoulder. "Genma? Genma, come on, you can't stay like this."

Genma opened his eyes, but they didn't look right. He opened his mouth to speak, and started with a cracked hitch. "Hayate…?"

Kakashi flinched as though he'd been slapped. "No, I'm sorry, Genma. I'm just Kakashi."

Genma curled up more tightly around himself and started to cry again.
Kakashi decided, in that moment, that when he figured out who had killed Hayate, he was going to fuck him up. Not kill him, of course — no matter what Yuugao thought, that honour clearly belonged to Genma — but maybe break all of his fingers, one joint at a time, and then cut them off and shove them down his throat. Yeah, it was just a job. Yeah, it wasn't supposed to be personal. Yeah, this was exactly what he'd been warning Genma about in the Hokage's office, last month.

It was a whole lot clearer to him, now, just how easy it was to cross that line.

He pulled Genma's hair away from his face, and stroked the other man's cheek with the back of his glove. "Shh, it's alright," he lied, voice surprisingly gentle, "It's all over, now. Let me get you home — you can't stay out here all night, the onbaa will eat you, and then where will we be, hm?"

"Not home," Genma choked, "Please, not home. I can't—"

"Okay, not home. Not yours, anyway." Kakashi thought about where to take him. His own apartment had been the first thought, but it was a squalid disaster area of a place. He'd forgotten to do the laundry or clean out the fridge, before that last mission, and he was paying for it now. "How about I take you to Kotetsu's? He'll know what to do for you. And I'm sure Izumo has some wonderful tea for these sorts of occasions."

Genma didn't try to speak again, just nodded and lay limply on the ground. Kakashi smiled with a cheerfulness that had to have been fake, lifted Genma in his arms, and ran like hell for the village. He knew Kotetsu and Izumo were sleeping, but they'd get up for this.

He sprinted up the stairs at the front of the apartments and skidded to a halt in front of the door, slamming his head into it a few times, since his hands were full. He looked down at the dreamy expression on Genma's face, and proceeded to headbutt the door until Kotetsu opened it.

"Help. Please." Kakashi held out his arms, displaying Genma's broken condition. There was no need to say more.

"Shit." Kotetsu glanced back over his shoulder. "Izumo, we've got a critical! Get up!"

He stepped back into the apartment, scratching his bare chest with one hand and holding the door open for Kakashi with the other. "Just lay him on the cushions in here, so I can get a better look."

Kakashi nodded gratefully and carried Genma into the living room, arranging the cushions from around the table in a more useful fashion while Kotetsu closed the door. As he set Genma on them, he realised he was still wearing his sandals. "I'm sorry about your floor," he offered, walking back toward the door, to remove them.

"Fuck the floor. Is he alive?" Kotetsu waved his hand dismissively and walked to where Genma lay.

"If he were dead, we'd still be in the forest, and I'd be wearing a mask. One that's not part of my face, already." Kakashi returned to Genma and Kotetsu as Izumo entered the room carrying a black box stuffed with assorted medical supplies.

"Living? I think we can handle it if he's still breathing." Izumo looked relieved and gestured with the box. "You end up with a hefty repair kit when your two best friends are tokubetsu jounin."

Kakashi shook his head. "I'm not really worried about his hand…"

Kotetsu was examining the hand in question. "That's pretty nasty. Did it himself?"

"Yeah." Kakashi's skin crawled at the memory.

Kotetsu held out his hand and Izumo placed a bottle in it. He cupped Genma's hand and poured the liquid into it. "I don't want this to hurt more than it did going in."

He held the bottle back out to Izumo, and had it replaced with a gauze pad, which he used to soak up a bit of the fluid, and then he impaled it on the part of the senbon that stuck out the back of Genma's hand. Kotetsu closed his eyes for just a moment and took a deep breath before gripping the senbon and pulling it out in one clean jerk. The pad pressed anaesthetic into the open hole as the senbon was removed, and more drained down through the puncture from his cupped palm. A brief shout escaped Genma at the sudden pulling-burning sensation, and he tried to sit up, but Izumo pressed a foot firmly into his shoulder.

"Stay down, Genma. You've really done yourself one, this time. Just stay put." Izumo looked sadly at his dirty, slightly less than human friend, bleeding on the floor and handed Kotetsu another pad and a roll of tape.

"Just let me die!" Genma wailed.

Izumo lifted the foot from his shoulder and kicked him sharply, but not hard, in the side of the head. "Baka. You're not going to die. You're going to take a bath, and I'm going with you so you don't drown."

Kotetsu smiled beatifically at Kakashi, who raised his eyebrows and nodded approvingly. There was more to Izumo than one might expect.

Kotetsu turned his eyes back to Genma, and pulled the man upright by his good hand. "You fucking moron. What, four becomes three, three becomes two? I'm going to punch you in the teeth as soon as I'm sure you're sane enough to understand why I'm doing it. Go take a fucking bath with Izumo. It'll be good for you. You stink."

Izumo led Genma out of the room, and the sound of running water could be heard. Kotetsu turned back to Kakashi. "How did it happen?" he asked, gesturing for Kakashi to follow him to the kitchen.

Kakashi shook his head and followed. "I just came in a couple hours ago, so I was taking out the trash — I swear this is why I don't buy food — and I saw him up on the roof. You know, he's only the next building over from mine."

Kotetsu stopped fishing around in the cabinets and held up his hand. "You forgot to clean out the fridge? I don't know which one of you is stupider, tonight."

"Gee, thanks. I hope Izumo sneezes again and bites it off, this time." That one had been all over the mission room, when it happened. Especially since it had happened in the bathroom there.

Kotetsu covered himself reflexively before he went back to looking for the good tea. "Maa… don't joke about things like that! Go back to the part about why Genma's here."

"Well, I didn't know it was him, at first, so I went for a closer look. I don't think he's been home in a couple of days. Not properly home, anyway. He was whispering to himself, 'not true' and 'this isn't real'. Poking at his hand with that senbon. Then he took off like a jackrabbit, so I followed him." Kakashi stared at a wall for a few seconds. "I don't really want to talk about the rest. I'd much rather forget I've seen it. Let's just say he stabbed himself in the hand, and I carried him here."

Kotetsu stopped making the tea and tidied it away, except for one cup, which he sat aside. He took a bottle of sake down from on top of the fridge and set it in the middle of the table before extracting two tall glasses from the cabinets and filling them. He handed one to Kakashi. "Drink. If you don't want to talk, I don't think I want to hear it."

Kakashi took the glass. "Indeed." He saluted with the glass, then turned his back, lowering the mask to pour half the sake down his throat.

Kotetsu sipped his glass and watched the ritual in amusement. Sharingan Kakashi, the Copy-nin, the man who consisted almost entirely of one blue eye and an Icha Icha novel. Standing in his kitchen. Drinking his sake like water. And still remaining faceless. It was impressive, really.

"Kakashi, one more favour?" Kotetsu sounded unsure, and Kakashi turned back around with interest.

"Maybe. What is it?"

"We'll keep him. Would you go clear out his apartment? I'd do it, but, you know, he lived with Hayate…"

Lived with Hayate. That had been the piece Kakashi was missing. The one thing that had slipped his mind. Now he knew why Genma hadn't been home, recently. "Sure. I'll even filter out what I can tell isn't his, and give that to you separately. No sense in bringing trouble to him along with his clean laundry."

Kotetsu smiled. "Thanks, Kakashi. Really."

Kakashi turned his back again to finish the glass of sake. "Shh," he held a finger up to his covered lips as he turned back around. "It's alright."

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