Aug 012007
 

Title: Corybantic Dance (Chapter 3)
Co-author: Haya
Characters: Gekkou Hayate, Shiranui Genma, Namiashi Raidou, Hagane Kotetsu, Kamizuki Izumo, Mitarashi Anko, Yamashiro Aoba
Rating: T
Warnings: Pure crack, implications of violence, expletives
Notes: We saw many High School Alternate Universes. They were all poorly written. We decided to change that. Eventual GenHaya and KoIzu. Ywain is horrified at the wordcount of this chapter.


Disclaimer:Naruto is not our toy, although sometimes we wish it was. Almost everyone you meet here belongs to Masashi Kishimoto, we just borrow them, occasionally. Hayate’s parents, Gekkou Ken’ichirou and Gekkou Shizuka, belong to Sweetbriar, and Genma’s mother, Shiranui Riza, is all Penbrydd’s fault.

Author’s Note: More cracky HSAU, and this time it’s more than just a taste! Our beta has fallen victim to the demon Real Life, so we worked this chapter over with our own hands – if you see something we missed, please let us know!

The authors would also like to announce that IC Q&A sessions are now still going on! Want to know what our characters think about something? Ask them at the Wryly Fantarding Q&A panel for Corybantic Dance located at wrylyfantarding.livejournal.com/5948.html

Warnings: Violence, expletives, eventual yaoi (KoIzu, KoIzuRai (more funny than sexy), GenHaya).


Chapter Three
Shaking his head in mild disgust and moderate envy at the Twins’ antics, Genma slipped out the back door and started the long walk home. Something was wrong with him, today, and it couldn’t all be attributed to that asshole with the blue bubblegum, although that didn’t particularly help. There was some strange internal thing that had been just a little off since that kid had first smacked into the car. Generally speaking, he wasn’t at all a scary person unless he really, really meant to be, but the kid had just taken off in holy terror. It wasn’t the paranoid alertness that he lived with — that was different; that was an early warning system for shit going south. This was just a senseless fear of two perfectly reasonable individuals trying to do a good deed. What kind of life led someone to that level of constant fear? He couldn’t figure it out. Maybe the kid had just failed to shake off the spook of having those assholes chasing him, and misfired a few reactions. A good scare could do that.

The kid perplexed him, thoroughly, and those strange and foreign behaviours weighed on his mind as he covered the first mile and a half of the trip home. It wasn’t much further at that point. He looked down from the sky to cross the street, and noticed — no, that couldn’t be. He was like three fucking blocks from home. That was the kid. Mowing a lawn, and looking like he was choking to death doing it. That was — come on, Izumo just told you — Hayate. He shrugged, attributed the meeting to fate, and leaned on the fence. "Hey, kid. Funny running into you, here."

The kid could barely hear anything over the loud roar of the old lawnmower. He turned his face away, coughing, as he shut the damned thing off just so he could hear better and locate the source of the barely audible voice. He knew his dad needed help around the house, but why he’d send Hayate out to mow the lawn when he was allergic to the damned grass was beyond him. He sniffled, resisted the urge to spit a mouthful of phlegm into the grass, and looked up.

Oh, great. It was that guy — that really weird guy who, admittedly, had really saved Hayate’s skin earlier that week, but the meeting in the bathroom had been entirely awkward, unexpected, and uncalled for. But he resisted the urge to bolt back into the house, because that wouldn’t have been very polite, and looked back at Genma with a dull, wide-eyed expression on his face.

"Um. Hi." It was obvious he hadn’t actually made out a word Genma had said.

Genma tried again. "I said, ‘Funny running into you here.’ I live about three blocks that way." He pointed off down the street. "Hayate, right? One of the guys from the chess club caught me talking about you and told me your name. Nothing important, of course, nor anything particularly rude. I was just wondering who you were, and fortuitously enough, the answer presented itself." He grinned cheekily. "I hope you’ll pardon me for saying so, but, you, ah…you look like you’re allergic to grass…" The sentence trailed off into an implicit inquiry into what in the flying fuck the kid was doing mowing the lawn with an allergy like that.

"Oh. Um —" Hayate took a moment just to process what Genma had just said. So far, everything seemed mostly harmless. Maybe that incident in the bathroom that day had just been a really weird fluke, and this was Genma’s way of trying to make amends. Why he’d really even want to bother honestly baffled Hayate, but Genma had been more or less nice to him earlier that week. Maybe he just had some sort of guilty conscience thing going on — who really knew? "I am," he said, letting out a pathetically timely sneeze, and he wiped his nose on the back of the sleeve of his hoodie. "But my dad needs help, so…" He shrugged.

"Fuck that." Genma said, rather sensibly in his own opinion. "You’re little and you’re allergic. That’s two strikes between you and the mower already." He paused, trying to pick his next words carefully, an attempt that showed clearly on his face as he chewed his lip a bit. "Look, why don’t you let me — I mean, you look miserable. I hate seeing miserable people — especially the ones I’m acquainted with. Will you let me help you with that? I’m not allergic to grass. I promise."

Hayate looked almost offended, and he sniffled again, wrinkling his nose. "I’m not little. I can move it fine, and I can do it myself. I’ve done it before. It’s not a big deal, really." He gripped at the handle on the lawnmower with one hand, as if staking his claim on it.

"Kid, anything shorter than me is little in my book. I’m not doubting your competence; I’m doubting your comfort." Genma shrugged lazily. "I mean why suffer when you’ve got some paper-cutout superhero trying to make your day a little less shitty? I’m nothing special, but I’m sure I can at least manage that."

"You’re not a superhero," Hayate said, though his tone wasn’t offensive or derisive, just plainly matter-of-fact. "I don’t want you to do it for me. I don’t need you to, because I can do it myself." He might have looked frail, but the set of his jaw spoke clearly of his mulish stubbornness.

"Hey, now! I specified paper-cutout! I’m not a real superhero — shit, I’m not a real anything. I’m just a tired old whore — mostly just tired." Genma grabbed his wrists, stretching up, lithely and rather attractively. "Suit yourself, kid. Do what you will. You have some need to do that is as strong as my need to offer. So be it." He finished stretching and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Don’t suppose I can talk you into coming out to dinner with me? When you’re done, I mean. I get tired of eating alone, sometimes." But somehow, this fact did not stop him from turning down Izumo’s offer of dinner company. There was just something about the Twins that made him feel more alone.

Hayate gave him a somewhat sceptical look, nose wrinkled slightly. "Why?" he finally asked, and his tone was entirely pragmatic.

Genma looked patently baffled by the question. "Why what? There are any number of things you could be questioning in my previous set of statements."

"Why do you want me to eat with you?" Hayate was waiting patiently for an answer.

"Because I’m curious. You confuse me, utterly." Genma smiled mysteriously. "And I haven’t managed to make you happy even once, yet, and this is the third time I’ve seen you. It makes you that much more interesting."

Hayate looked like he honestly doubted all of this crap about him being ‘interesting’, but he didn’t comment on it. "I don’t know if my dad will even let me just walk off with some person I don’t even know," he pointed out.

"And I’m certain my mother would worry more about you than about me. I suspect that is in the nature of mothers, though." Another lazy shrug, as though Genma were largely indifferent to the result of his offer. "I could shake hands with your father, first. Tell him I met you at school, and figured I’d take an interest in the new kid in town. Reassure him that my intentions are mostly honourable, for the time being."

Hayate narrowed his eyes slightly, and shook his head. "You don’t have to meet my dad," he said, and promptly turned to walk back inside the house. Genma stared after him, confused. Had he just been turned down, or was this the part where the kid got permission? He figured he could stand around for a couple of minutes and not look too suspicious.

Hayate returned a minute or two later, looking slightly reluctant, and coughed into his hand. "My dad said I can go when I’m done," he said, half-muttering, because even though he looked as though he didn’t really want to go, he couldn’t lie to save his life most of the time. "But I don’t have any money," he added quickly.

"So what? I asked you, I pay. That’s usually the way it works." Genma barely kept a gleeful grin off his face as he hopped up and sat on the top of the fence to wait. "Thanks."

Hayate just sort of shrugged, not even looking at Genma as he restarted the lawnmower, coughing as the smell of gas filled his mouth and nose. He made his way around the rest of the yard, coughing and sneezing the whole way, and he seemed to be taking his sweet time with it. When he was finished, he turned off the noisy lawnmower and dragged it to the beaten-looking shed behind his house — really, everything about the damn place could be described as ‘beaten-looking’. The house, the lawnmower — hell, even the kid, though it was a different kind of beaten, as he trudged back toward Genma. "Okay," he said dimly, sniffling, and paused to sneeze and spit into the freshly-cut grass. "I’m done."

Genma slid liquidly down from the fence with a lazily charming smile. "I’m a bit too lazy to walk my ass back across town, so, let’s see…there’s a pizza shop on West End and Twelfth, a Jewish deli on Fifteenth and Washington, and the sushi joint down on Eleventh and ah, what is it, Saratosa? I’d say let’s hit the Chinese place on the corner, but they go to take-out only after four." He pointed as he rattled off the nearby options. "Your choice, kid, since you’ll be the one enduring my company for the duration."

Hayate just sort of shrugged, pushing the gate open and shutting it behind him. "Pizza’s okay," he said, looking largely indifferent.

"As you wish." Genma stretched, a faintly happy smile gracing his face as he started down the block, reaching back to indicate that Hayate should follow him. The kid’s sandal-clad feet dragged audibly along the sidewalk, his hands stuffed loosely in the front pocket of his hoodie. He walked behind Genma, just barely keeping up with the tall senior’s long-legged steps, and made no move to walk beside him. His head was turned to the side, eyes on the houses and scenery they passed by; he seemed to be spacing out a little. The only sound he made besides the scraping noise of his shoes on the concrete was that of the occasional cough and sniffle. Genma, on the other hand, seemed bent on trying to keep a conversation going.

"So, chess club, huh? You’ll have to sit down and whip my ass at a game, sometime. I’ve been spoiled playing against Rai. I know from the opening move that he’s going to kick my ass, and by the fourth move I know exactly how it’s going to happen." Genma laughed, a surprisingly soft sound from such an uninhibited young man. "Why chess?"

Hayate just blinked up at him dully as if he’d been asked why he breathed. "Because," he said, and that seemed to be all there was to his answer for a long moment. "It’s better than reading, sometimes," he said, finally, and shrugged. "It makes you think."

"I prefer to do my thinking on my feet, where possible. Tech theatre all the way. I read, mostly, to make the thinking stop." Shrugging, Genma looked back at the kid. "Read anything worth the paper it was printed on, lately? I’ve been getting a little jaded with cyberpunk."

"I dunno. I only read certain kinds of books. Maybe you wouldn’t like what I read." That was almost a lie — the truth was that when Hayate was laid up with nothing else to do, he’d read whatever he could get his hands on. That had led to what was now a rather interesting collection of books. "What do you like to read?"

"I’ll read anything with text. I read the shampoo in the shower and the cereal box at breakfast. I can probably recite everything that’s in my favourite conditioner off the top of my head." Genma shrugged. "But the things I pick up on purpose tend to be philosophy or thinly disguised social commentary. There is an art to language, and so many who write ‘serious’ and ‘academic’ works just ignore that point, but I’ve found a few writers who can both make honest and interesting points and turn an adjective with the finest poets." He smirked back at the kid. "The sky above the port was the colour of a television tuned to a dead channel…" he intoned, gesturing as though the world were his text.

Hayate shrugged. "I don’t think I have a lot of that," he said, half the sentence muffled as he raised his hand to cover his mouth in a cough, and Genma shoved his hands into his pockets, looking a bit saddened by the kid’s total obliviousness to literary aesthetics. "I have, um…I dunno. I’ve been reading books on chess lately…but I don’t know how good you are, so it might be too complicated." He wasn’t being insulting, just bluntly honest. "Why are you asking me? You could just go poke around the bookstore or the library until you find something you like. That’s what I do, when I can go myself."

"I like to learn what other people like. It says a great deal about a man what books he reads on purpose, or whether he reads at all. One player on last year’s varsity hockey team read on purpose. Only one. I found him to be a relatively interesting individual for the fifteen minutes I knew him, even if I couldn’t agree with his views on Stalin." Genma sounded almost nostalgic, but there was something else, some subtle bitterness that he was trying to cover up. "I’ve heard that you lack the interest in people that I have. Something of a shame, certainly, but I can’t say I blame you — most of them really aren’t worth knowing, and certainly not in the biblical sense, let me tell you."

Hayate locked his eyes on a flock of birds that had just been startled out of their tree by a yapping dog, watching them as they soared upwards. It was almost as though he were grounding himself with the sight, pushing away discomfort with it. He muttered something under his breath and coughed a few times, digging a crumpled tissue out of his pocket to blow his nose on. He sniffed, stuffing the dirty tissue into his pocket again, and shrugged. "I don’t read political stuff. I don’t really get it," he said, as if he hadn’t even heard the second half of what Genma had said. "I like stuff that’s less real, mostly. But half of what I read on purpose I don’t pick out anyway."

"You…don’t pick your own books?" Genma looked horrified, as if this were some kind of crime against the very nature of reality. "How do you stand it? Aren’t you curious about what else exists in the world, besides what you’re getting spoonfed? There are more things in heaven and earth, kid, than can be dreamt of in a philosophy that does not pursue its own ends." He was just starting to get serious and philosophical as they approached DiMartino’s, which was, in Genma’s exceptionally arrogant opinion, the best pizza shop in town, partially because it was a real Italian restaurant, too.

It was obvious that Genma had ceased to make any sense to Hayate about halfway through his little rant, and the kid shook his head. "I don’t think you get it," he said. "I pick my own books when I can, but sometimes I run out of stuff to read, and I can’t go to the bookstore or the library myself, and I don’t know what book I want exactly. So my dad goes for me and just tries to find something he thinks I’d like. Sometimes he’s right, sometimes not. But it’s better than no book at all."

"Ah, all right, it was your choice of phrasing that threw me. Here I was about to get all sociopolitical over nothing." Genma grinned foolishly and stepped forward to open the door, looking at the ground and gesturing for Hayate to precede him into the warm, dimly-lit interior of the restaurant. Only a few tables were full, and the people there were obviously regulars, laughing uproariously and exchanging dirty jokes and swapping stories with the two twenty-something waiters. "Best pizza in town, if you haven’t tripped over it, yet."

Hayate shook his head and followed Genma to a booth at the back of the restaurant, looking around with the same dull-eyed expression he generally had when he wasn’t terrified, apparently. He still sort of wished he was back at home in his room reading, instead of just talking about reading with the same guy who had made that perturbing and rude comment in the bathroom earlier that day. It all seemed somewhat surreal, and that unsettled him. He just tried not to let it show as he slid into the booth across from Genma. All things considered, he kind of liked the restaurant. It was warm, smelled like good pizza, and the lighting was at an easy level for his eyes. He sat with his hands in his lap, legs swinging slightly from his seat.

"So, what do you like on your pizza? I figure I’ll just get a medium and we’ll split it." Genma, obviously, did not need a menu for this place. Hayate blinked, eyebrows rising slightly.

"I don’t eat a lot. Are you going to eat most of the pizza?"

"Small it is, then. Rai and I can kill off a large from this place most nights, and if his sister’s along, we get an extra large. It’s a lot of pizza but Rai and I aren’t exactly small boys." Genma grinned. "So what’s your topping of choice? Hell, pick a couple."

Hayate tilted his head to the side slightly in thought for a moment. "Guess," he said blandly. "You seem to like trying to figure people out. Maybe you can figure out what I like."

"I’m not fucking psychic, kid. But I’m gonna call you as either a pepperoni or anchovies sort of guy. Possibly olives, never pineapple. Am I anywhere near right?" The grin stayed glued on, but the amusement in Genma’s eyes dropped a bit. Likewise, Hayate’s expression hardly changed except for the tint of mild surprise. It seemed Genma had hit the mark at least partially.

"Pineapple on pizza is weird," he said placidly. "I like olives and green peppers."

"So be it, then." Genma waved a hand at one of the waiters. "Hey, Johnny, we’re clueful if you’ve got a minute."

The waiter swaggered over, still snickering about another customer’s sister. "Lemme guess, sausage and garlic for you, and something entirely else for your friend." He waved the order pad at Hayate in what passed for a polite greeting.

"Sausage, yeah, but no garlic, tonight. I can’t be breathing garlic on someone I hardly know. Pepperoncini? And olives and green peppers on the other half. And make it a small; he doesn’t eat much." Genma waited as the waiter wrote quickly. "Iced tea for me, of course. What do you drink, kid?"

"Water, please." Hayate let his legs swing slightly as he watched the waiter jot down the order, raising an eyebrow slightly in Genma’s direction. What the hell is this kid and where’d you find him? seemed to be the general expression on his face, but he didn’t say anything.

Genma smirked at the waiter. Wouldn’t you like to know?

"Small, half sausage and pepperoncini, half olives and green peppers, one iced tea, one water. That it?" The waiter shook his head very slightly in Genma’s direction, mostly an expression of exasperation.

"That’s it. Thanks, Johnny."

"Not a problem, man." The waiter walked off to fetch drinks, and returned a moment later with glasses of tea and water only slightly smaller than the Gulf of Mexico, and vanished again to take care of a more entertaining table, where he might actually have to work for his tips.

Genma looked across the table at Hayate, contemplatively. He was running out of polite topics of conversation. "So, ah, tell me about you. I’m pretty boring, on the whole." …Says the man well-used bondage pants. Way to fuck that one up.

Hayate just sort of shrugged again, tipping the glass back toward him slightly to take a sip. He was pretty sure if he drank the whole thing, he’d end up pissing in the public restroom for a good hour, and given what had happened that day at school, he was pretty sure he didn’t want that happening. Ever. The thought made him flinch slightly.

"I don’t know what you want to know. I like chess and collecting old coins and looking at the moon and stuff. People tell me I’m boring, too." He sipped the water audibly, looking back at Genma with an unblinking stare over the edge of the cup.

"The moon, huh? I can agree with you on that one. There’s something to be said for climbing up the fire-escape to lay on the roof and watch the moon go by. Comfortable, beautiful, never so demanding as the sun and its blazing daylight…" Genma sipped at his tea, trying to conceal the touch of regret that brushed over his face. "Always something calm about the moon. I like rain, too. Cool and wet, with that soothing pattering sound. Nothing can matter in the rain."

Hayate gave Genma a somewhat blank stare over the edge of his glass, sipping at it wordlessly for a moment. "You like to make things complicated, don’t you?" he asked, swallowing.

"I have no need to make them complicated. They already are. One thing leads to another, and that leads to a memory of some other thing that maybe I should have cared about while it was going on. Complexity is irrelevant, compared to beauty. I like beautiful things. I like lazy days and warm nights. I like to have the time to just stop and watch the world go by, sometimes." Genma slipped a thin marker out of his sleeve and twirled it through his fingers, a nervous twitch if ever there was one, despite the lazily calm expression on his face.

Hayate didn’t look terribly convinced, set in his assessment that Genma did, in fact, like to make things complicated. "You’re weird," he said, bluntly and honestly, with a surprisingly great deal of conviction in his voice.

Genma laughed so hard he almost slid out of his seat, cackling. "You’re…" He struggled to stop laughing long enough to speak. "You’re absolutely right. Honesty — it’s a rare and wonderful thing." Pulling himself back into a sitting position, Genma sipped at his tea. "I’m mad as a hatter, kid. And I’m not the least bit sorry for that. Generally, I’m just sorry for the people who can’t see the good in the world, can’t take the time to stop and smell the roses and think ‘this is a good thing’. I think they forget to believe in good and calm and right. I think that’s what makes them such shitheads. I try not to be a shithead, you know? Sometimes, I fail miserably."

Again, Hayate muttered something under his breath — into his glass of water, a serious of near-unintelligible burbles as he sipped and spoke at nearly the same time. He hoped the pizza would come soon. "Why did you take me here?" he asked, his tone so flat that there was hardly any room for the curiosity to worm its way in there.

"Well, you said pizza, but I suspect that’s not the answer you’re asking for. I want to make it perfectly fucking clear that my motivation, here, is not pity, no matter what you may think about the situation." Genma sounded almost vicious for a moment, but the tone faded away, easily. "I’m just curious. You really caught my attention — and I don’t mean earlier today, although that certainly brought you back to my attention. I mean, just seeing you. Not, um…yeah. Hey, you know what, I’m sorry about that. I really wasn’t looking on purpose. And while that wasn’t a tactful thing to let out of my mouth, the content of the statement was at least reasonably accurate, so I’m hoping you’ll excuse me, if only on the basis of my complete and total honesty." Genma sipped at his tea to stop the embarrassed babbling. "Anyway, you’re a curiosity-inducing creature. I like to satisfy my curiosity when possible."

The honesty of the apology was, in Hayate’s opinion, almost entirely cancelled out by the fact that Genma just had to bring back what he’d said in painful detail and then reinforce it all over again. He coughed into his water, shaking his head and looking uncomfortable. He was glad, though, that Genma finally decided to drop the subject all by himself. "Whatever," he muttered, crossing one leg loosely over the other, which still swung idly. Hayate didn’t really think he was all that interesting, and part of him privately thought that Genma had some other motivation, but he said nothing about it.

The waiter returned, carrying a molten-hot pizza on a wooden board. He slid it onto the table with a wink at Genma. "Hardly know him and you’re picking fights already? This ain’t gonna go far."

"Aww, shush, Johnny. It’s not like that." Genma guzzled his tea irritatedly.

"Sure it ain’t. And I’m the Queen of Sheba." The waiter looked at Hayate and jerked his thumb at Genma. "You know he’s probably trying to get in your pants, right?"

"Dammit, Johnny! Not funny! For once, ever, in my entire life, not funny!" Genma’s voice was a pained whisper.

"Jeez, sorry. I’m just teasing you guys." The waiter shook his head and wandered off, trying to remember what it had been like to be a teenage boy.

Despite the waiter’s half-assed retraction of his statement, Hayate looked a little more uncomfortable as he sank lower into the booth, sipping his water. It just seemed to drag Genma’s insistent appreciation of the size of his cock further into the spotlight, and validate it all the more. He reached forward and carefully took a piece of pizza, pulling it onto his plate to let it cool. He reached for his water again, his eyes no longer fixed on Genma’s face.

Genma grabbed a slice and veritably inhaled it, eyes watering as he ignored the blistering as the cheese sealed itself to the roof of his mouth. At least if he was chewing he wouldn’t be talking. Gulping iced tea to cool the burn, he glanced across the table at the miserable frosh sitting across from him. "I’m guessing it would bother the living shit out of you if he were right." And this is why you need to burn your tongue more. So you’ll be unintelligible when shit like that comes out of your mouth. It wasn’t that Genma was uncomfortable with his flaming whoredom, it was more that there was something about this kid that made him want to be careful about how he went about expressing that flaming whoredom. "I guess I should have mentioned in all my rhapsodic monologuing about beauty and philosophy that I’m the district slut. Sorry. Fool of me to think it wouldn’t come up. I didn’t mean for it to come up. I promise you that."

Hayate just sort of shrugged, picking an olive off his slice of pizza and chewing on it reflectively. Genma’s reputation didn’t seem to bother him — at least when it wasn’t affecting him directly. Hayate did not consider it fair of himself to judge other people based on what he heard. That wasn’t to say he didn’t do it occasionally — he was only human — but he tried not to. "Is it true?" he asked, and his voice was a bit of a mumble, but more out of thoughtfulness than any shame or embarrassment.

"That I’m the district slut? Absolutely. Love every minute of it. That…about the other? Well, I’d be lying through my teeth to say it hadn’t crossed my mind at least once." Genma kept his eyes fixed on the table, sipping at the glass of tea and trying to maintain the unshakable calm façade.

"Is that why you asked me here?" It was almost as if Hayate’s suspicions were being confirmed, but the kid maintained an impressive poker face. He just kept on picking at his piece of pizza, eating like a mouse, waiting for Genma’s answer.

"Dammit, no. I told you already. You interest me in other ways — unfortunately, I’m built so that any interest I have is going to spark that reaction — that thought — at some point. Sure, I’m insatiable, but mostly it’s just curiosity. If I’d meant to ask you out with something like that in mind, I’d have been relatively honest about that point from the first time you asked about it." A trace of desperation visible in his eyes, Genma gave up on talking and tore into another slice of pizza.

Hayate just shrugged. He seemed to do an awful lot of that. "I didn’t say you were being dishonest," he pointed out, lifting the piece of pizza to nibble at the end of it. "You were just being vague."

"I honestly didn’t think you’d want the level of precision with which I tend to view the world. Few people do." Genma looked perturbedly at his slice of pizza for a moment, and then reached for the shakers at the end of the table and added red pepper and parmigiana to the slice. Nodding thoughtfully, he took another bite before continuing the thought. "I wonder why you’re so frightened all the time. I wonder what sort of music you like, what you think about when there’s no one to interrupt you. I wonder what you look like when you smile. I wonder what you’d look like in clothes that fit. I’m a rather curious individual, and yes, I do mean that in both ways it can be taken."

Hayate just sipped at his water, staring at the ice cubes so close to his nose that his eyes just about crossed. It hurt his eyes to keep doing that for long, though, and he blinked them back into focus, staring at the table instead. Genma’s intense curiosity in him also discomforted him, for reasons he couldn’t quite name. It wasn’t even that Hayate was an intensely private person (even if, in some ways, he was); it was simply that he wasn’t very inclined to talk about himself. "You should wonder about other things instead," he advised placidly, picking up the pizza to take a real bite out of it for once.

Genma reeled like he’d been slapped, the room making a quick revolution around his head as the shock set in. "Because you’ll never give me those answers. I see." Genma finished off the second slice and reached for a third, this time remembering to season it before he tried to eat it. "It’s difficult not to be curious, though, considering you about landed in my lap. How are your knees, by the way?"

Hayate knew that the answer to that question was more complicated than Genma probably could have guessed, but he shook his head slightly. "They’re okay. Scratches aren’t a huge deal." He picked a pepper off his piece of pizza and munched it appreciatively.

"I don’t suppose they are, at that. Just making sure that’s all they turned out to be. You bounced off the road pretty hard." The third slice of pizza rather rapidly shrunk. Genma really did eat quite a bit, when there was food to be had. "So, was I right? Is the pizza good?"

Hayate nodded wordlessly, taking another bite out of the piece of pizza. He was a remarkably slow eater compared to Genma. He turned his head to swallow and cough, reaching for his water – he gripped it with both hands, just to be safe, in case the condensation on the glass made it too slippery, and took a long draught from it.

"I guess that’s the other thing…what’s with the coughing? Is it just really bad allergies or what?" Genma took another large bite of pizza. "I mean feel free to tell me to fuck off. I’m just curious."

Hayate seemed to consider his answer carefully, a thoughtful look dominating his subdued features as he chewed the mouthful of pizza and washed it down with water. "It’s complicated," he said at last, and though it wasn’t much of an answer, it didn’t seem defensive or guarded.

"Complicated." Genma suddenly understood in ways he really wished he didn’t. "By which you mean chronic, incurable, non-contagious, and probably fatal. That’s usually what that means in a context like this."

"It’s not fatal." Hayate almost seemed to be trying to reassure Genma, but it was hard to tell under all the subdued stoicism. He took another bite of pizza. "It’s just a cough."

"Point the first: Good. I’m sure I have longer to get to know you if you’re not going to die in the middle of it. Point the second: Bullshit. It is not, as you say, ‘just a cough’. If it were, god forgive me for saying it, you wouldn’t look like that. I mean, you’re kind of pretty in that really gothy way, but I know that’s not makeup." Genma finished the third slice, washing it down with a large gulp of tea.

Hayate gave him a slightly skeptical and weirded out look at that last comment, but he just shrugged again. "Can we talk about something else now?" he asked, his tone almost a complaining one — a childish sort of complaining, really.

"Yeah, sure." Genma shrugged back. "How about the thing where I’m struck to the very soul that you don’t believe me." He struck his chest melodramatically. "Have you seen the girls that follow around the Caffeine Twins? They look like fucking raccoons. I like the natural look better." Genma sort of offered the next sentence directly to his glass of tea, wondering if it was best left unsaid. "You have nice eyes, even if you do just sort of glare at me in terrified suspicion half the time."

The slightly skeptical look was back, and Hayate’s shoulders rolled again in a careless shrug. "How you look isn’t very important anyway," he said before taking a considerable chunk out of the pizza crust.

"It’s less important than how you think, but it is the first point on which most of the world passes judgement." Genma ravenously set upon the last slice of his half of the pizza. "You still don’t believe me. Why?" He grabbed the napkin dispenser and spun it, looking for a shiny enough side, but found none. "I’d tell you to put down that pizza and come to the bathroom with me, because it has a mirror, and I could point out exactly what I’m talking about, but after this morning, I know that wouldn’t go over well."

"I don’t think it’s that important anyway." Hayate finished off the crust and licked his fingers almost diligently, sitting back in the booth. "I’m all done."

Genma blinked. One slice? One? "You mind if I kill that off, or do you want to take the rest with you?"

"You can have it. It’s your money anyway." Hayate pulled his feet up onto the booth, sipping at his water. His eyes were back on Genma as the senior devoured the rest of the pizza.

Halfway through demolishing the second of the three remaining slices, Genma looked up and pointed across the table at Hayate. "I still insist you have nice eyes. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. And I’m going to get Izumo to take a closer look and tell me if I’m right. He’d know. He’s the one with all the raccoon girls following him around."

"Izumo?" Hayate blinked at Genma dully. "You know Izumo?"

"Of course I fucking know Izumo. I did Kotetsu some favours, last spring. The Caffeine Twins are totally going to be the new hot shit when Rai and I graduate." Genma continued to demolish the pizza. Hayate frowned briefly in thought.

"Who’s Kotetsu? Is he the one with the weird hair who comes to pick Izumo up from chess club sometimes?"

"Yeah, he’s the one. Looks like he never brushes his hair and has a band aid permanently attached to his nose? They’re so cute it makes me nauseous some days. I’ve got bets that Izumo’s going to be trying not to limp, tomorrow." Genma guzzled tea, trying not to keep the kid longer than was strictly necessary. Not that he’d started minding the company; it was just that Hayate had looked annoyed by the entire affair from the first minute he’d asked.

Hayate looked vaguely confused by that last statement, but he decided not to ask. "How do you know them? I thought they were sophomores."

Genma shrugged. "They are. We’ve got an elective together." He didn’t specify which one as a fantastically bad plan began to unfold in his head. Yes…he’d be calling in a favour from Izumo.

Hayate was blissfully unaware, sipping his water, and finally put it down. He muttered something about being right back as he slid out of the booth, shuffling off in the direction of the restroom. Genma waited, patiently, wholly absorbed in his tea and his wicked schemes. Izumo was in the chess club, and they really did need more props crew on this year’s show, but no one had really taken an interest, probably because it was such an obscure play. He’d get Izumo to convince Hayate to take one of the open props slots. It gave him warm shivers to consider the things one could get up to in the green room while no one was looking.

Genma was done with his iced tea and Johnny had dropped the check off by the time Hayate returned to the table, discreetly hitching up his baggy jeans. He slid back into the booth, watching with almost no trace of guilt as Genma pulled a few bills out of his wallet and tossed them down on the table. The kid didn’t move, waiting for Genma’s cue.

"Shall we out, then? I’ll walk you home — it’s on my way." Pleasant and respectable. Pleasant and respectable. "I mean, unless you’ve got some —" wholly unfathomable "— desire to spend more time in my presence…" Genma’s elbows rested on the table and he gestured broadly with one hand, twisting it from the wrist.

Hayate felt like he’d been put on the spot, and he looked uncomfortable for a brief moment. "I have stuff to do at home," he said vaguely. "I should go home now." There was a brief pause. "Sorry." He wasn’t sure exactly why he was apologising, but he felt the situation might call for it.

"As you wish." Genma rose gracefully and held out his hand to help the kid up. It was one of those useless but reflexive gestures that generally did more good than not.

Hayate looked at Genma’s hand for a moment, as if debating whether or not to accept the offered gesture. Finally he put his hand out, most of it covered by the too-long sleeve of his hoodie, and allowed Genma to help him to his feet. He coughed, pulling his hand back to cover his mouth, and followed Genma out the door of the restaurant.

The walk back was quiet for the first couple of blocks, until Genma had a moment of complete idiocy — at least that’s what he told himself it was while it was happening. "Well, that wasn’t entirely appalling — actually I kind of enjoyed it." He reached out and grabbed Hayate’s hand as they waited for the light to change, stretching his arm out and pulling the kid around to face him. "Can I ask you to do that again with me, some night?"

The offer — request, really — seemed to catch Hayate off guard a little, and his hand twitched in Genma’s grip. He didn’t answer for a moment, peering at Genma’s face with that dull, almost blank expression that was nigh unreadable — as if trying to judge whether or not Genma was just messing with him. "Um. Maybe." He figured he wouldn’t actually see Genma much again, and that the senior would forget about it soon enough anyway.

"What is it about me, hm, that prevents you from taking me seriously?" Genma’s other hand reached out, gently catching Hayate under the chin with two fingers as he leaned down the couple of inches it took to put the kid at eye-level. "I assure you that I am not joking. Perhaps next time I’ll have the courage to ask for a real date. Probably not, though. I’ll probably just want to take you out for dinner again."

Hayate flinched, jerking his head away from Genma’s hand, and rubbed at his chin. "I don’t like it when people touch my face," he muttered, and his tone seemed partly apologetic for the sudden reaction. He felt even more uneasy now that Genma had more than alluded to his intentions. "I can walk home by myself from here." He pulled his hand away from Genma’s, turning to cross the road as the light changed. He shuffled on ahead, hands shoved loosely into the front pocket of his hoodie.

Genma dashed across the road, turning to walk backward as he reached the middle so that he could offer a few more sentences before having to accept that he’d just been completely blown off by some frosh. "I’m sorry about your face. I didn’t know. It appears I interact with people in a very different way than you tend to." He easily dodged a car trying to make a right into the lane he was walking across. "And the date — I was hoping to make you laugh…you haven’t laughed all night. Not even at me." He hopped backward onto the curb. "And if you wish me to leave you in peace for the evening, I’ll do it. Just let me precede you so you know I’m not following. I have to go the same way that you do. I just go a bit farther up the road. It has not been my intent to discomfit you, even if I do seem to be exceptionally good at it."

Waiting for some final word, as it was exceptionally rude, in his mind, to assume that you had the last word that needed to be said, Genma continued to walk backward, easily avoiding minor obstacles that would have tripped a less graceful and attentive individual.

"I know," Hayate said dimly. "I didn’t say I was mad at you. I just can’t tell when you’re being serious or not. I’m not good at that." He shrugged, watching the ground below him as he tread over the sidewalk toward his house. "I don’t laugh a lot. It’s not a big deal or your business. I don’t know why you care or why you bother." He wasn’t being condescending or insulting, simply vaguely inquisitive.

"Would it, perhaps, be in some way comforting if I told you I didn’t know why I cared, either? I bother because I care, but I can name no earthly reason why. You simply have my attention." LIES! ALL LIES! — Really? You tell me why, then. His head filled with static as his mind tried to explain itself, and Genma leapt backward over a jutting piece of the sidewalk, where it had risen over a tree root. He wasn’t getting an answer, it seemed, because some sort of subconscious self-protection mechanism had kicked in. "Tell me, why do you object so much to the idea that someone might want to help you and spend time with you for nothing more in return than a few smiles and a passing impression of friendship?"

Hayate shrugged again, looking distinctly more uncomfortable now. "Because," he said, but he didn’t seem to know what to say. He stayed silent, coughing quietly into his hand.

"Brilliant! Some pair we are, eh? I don’t know what I find so interesting about you, and you don’t know why you object to me!" Genma stepped to the side to allow a man with a dog to pass him. "Good evening, sir," Genma offered, cheerfully, raising his fingers to his forehead as though he had a hat to tip. The man merely grunted in response and kept walking. "And every man a machine, in this world," Genma muttered to himself, still walking backward.

"You do too like to make things complicated," Hayate said, quite placidly and with a surprising amount of conviction, and turned onto his street. He wasn’t sure where Genma lived, but either way they’d be parting ways soon.

"Maybe it’s you who likes things too simple — stripping away the flair and the beauty of things so that only the core remains. What beauty is left in a rose when all the petals are stripped away? What beauty will be left in you or me when we’re only bones?" Genma shrugged at the kid’s retreating back, and turned to walk him down the block. He had promised, after all, even if, at this point, his own home required one less turn of the corner and three more blocks down the way.

Hayate didn’t answer, just huffing out a slightly wheezy breath. He sniffled and wiggled his hands in his pockets, his feet dragging noisily on the pavement. It was the only sound he made then besides his breathing, noticeably quiet now.

Sighing, Genma skipped he couple of steps it took to put him even with the kid, and rested his hand on the boy’s shoulder. "Don’t answer me, but consider your answers well. Why are you so bothered by complexity? Chess is complex, and I have no doubt that you are, as well. Why does my perpetual prattling about the beauty of all things disturb you so? And perhaps, most of all, what do you have to fear from me? I’m just a pretty toy." He opened the gate to the house for the kid. "Thank you for a lovely evening. I’m sure I’ll come to claim another from you, one of these days."

Hayate didn’t say a word as he shuffled into the yard, not expecting Genma to follow him in. As he turned to shut the gate and lock it, he looked up at Genma. "I think you try too hard, Genma," he said, and turned to head back for his house.

"I know I do, Hayate." I try because it hurts not to. Without another word, Genma turned away, quietly, and made his way solemnly back to the corner, heading for home.