Aug 182007
 

Title: Cut-Glass Heart
Co-author: Haya
Characters: Gekkou Hayate, Shiranui Genma, Namiashi Raidou, Yamashiro Aoba, Gekkou Shizuka
Rating: T (this chapter)
Warnings: Expletives, flashbacks, hacking up a lung.
Notes: Hayate would like very much to just be left in peace. Genma refuses to comply.


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, and Hayate’s sensei, Kaifune Dana, belong to Sweetbriar, and Genma’s mother, Shiranui Riza, and Raidou’s sister, Namiashi Yuuko, are all Penbrydd’s fault. All quotes from the Tao are from Henricks’s 1989 translation. (Lao-Tzu. Te-Tao Ching. ed. Henricks, Robert G. New York: Ballantine, 1989.)

Author’s Note: Penbrydd frowns on simple exposition – the gaping holes in this chapter really do get filled in as time goes on, but it’s a long and twisted road from here to there.

Warnings: A bit of the old ultra-violence, expletives, eventual yaoi (GenHaya).


Chapter OneSeven years later

The timing could have been better, Hayate thought idly as he headed down the nearly empty hall, away from the office where he’d just received the official documents stating he’d been promoted to tokubetsu jounin rank. The sixteen-year-old chuunin — no, tokujou now, he reminded himself with a small swell of pride — had only just come back from a particularly nasty mission in Snow Country, on which he’d managed to catch what had proved to be not only a rare, but persistent, strain of respiratory infection. Had he been anyone else, it wouldn’t have even surfaced, but then, Hayate had some particularly acute immunodeficiency problems. He’d been laid up in the hospital for nearly a month while they’d run series after series of tests and attempted to treat the infection. They hadn’t really had that much success, in retrospect; he was mostly just lucky the infection ran its course in an almost reasonable amount of time. He still wasn’t quite recovered, just enough to be walking about without keeling over — a significant improvement over just a couple of weeks ago. He remembered getting the news about his promotion from his father as he lay on the bed, just trying to breathe without choking. His only response to the thrilling news had been to turn the other way and cough something unpleasant up into the bucket on the side of his bed before giving his father a weak smile. He’d only been released from the hospital the previous day, now largely free of contagions, but he still felt fairly sick. He probably should have stayed in the hospital — or at least in bed — another week, but he’d been too restless. Whatever the infection had been, though, it had properly fucked with his asthma, and he suspected he wouldn’t be going on missions any higher than D-rank for another week or two. After all, no one would want a mission partner who couldn’t go more than ten paces without having to stop to cough, and they sure as hell wouldn’t let him out on his own in this state. He briefly considered using his respiratory suppression jutsu just to get on a mission, but he figured the backlash when it wore off would be enough to cause him to start choking on his own lungs. It was probably better not to take that risk after all.

Hayate tried to stifle a cough low in his throat, covering his mouth, as he looked down at the scroll in his other hand. That scroll proclaimed him as a tokubetsu jounin, no longer just a middling chuunin — though he knew that tokujou were really closer to chuunin than jounin anyway; it was just their specialisations that put them above the rest. Even so, he’d managed to make it to tokujou with his specialisation in the katana; more specifically, the Gekkou clan kenjutsu. His father had been proud, he remembered, had said that Hayate was really living up to the unofficial title of Gekkou clan prodigy. He’d been officially inducted in absentia, which was all right for him as long as he got the rank in the end. He didn’t care much for ceremonies and the like (at least, not the public ones) and he was just fine with picking up the official documents at the headquarters on his own. He even almost smiled — almost, but not quite, because a real smile rarely touched the stoic, pale face — as he walked down the hall quietly.

It was a nice day to be him.

Genma yawned and stretched, striding lazily down the hall. He had intended to meet Raidou for lunch, but who knew? Half the time he just sort of got distracted and wandered off in pursuit of new amusements. His body turned heads, and he knew it. All the more toys for him to play with, he figured with a satisfied shrug. Watching this pale slip of a kid coming down the hall, though, he was struck with an urge to play rough. The little chuunin wouldn’t make him that late for lunch. He waited until the sickly little creature passed him, and then turned and slid one long finger up the middle of its back, pausing as he touched the sheath of the kid’s sword.

"Hey, roadkill, can you even lift that thing?" he purred into the boy’s ear. His arrogant smirk implied that he was convinced otherwise, and the senbon in his mouth was poised to add injury to insult, angled just under the line of the boy’s jaw like it was. Hayate shivered, though it was hard to tell if it was from Genma’s proximity or just some lingering fever. Looking more bothered than severely unnerved, he leaned his face away and then neatly stepped back, opening his mouth. But instead of words, a cough came out, delivering a small wad of something sticky and ultimately gross-looking into his palm. Making a face, he wiped it on his pants leg and sniffed.

"Naturally," he said blandly, blinking blearily at the stranger — because this man was definitely a stranger — before him. Something felt a bit off, and it wasn’t the man. It took him a moment to realize that it was the medications he’d been put on since the hospital — they were making him feel uncomfortably dazed. A little too lethargic for his own liking. That would have explained why he hadn’t reacted in time to the finger on his back, however slight. "I wouldn’t be carrying if it I couldn’t, would I?" He squinted slightly at the stranger, the dark circles underneath his eyes creasing with the gesture, and they carried a small hint of defensiveness. He didn’t much care for the unprecedented questioning of his skills, or the epithet that had been delivered, either.

"I dunno. I’ve seen an awful lot of showoffy chuunin, lately. How do I know you’re not one of them?" Other than the fact that I didn’t see your face at the last exam… Genma circled the kid, looking for an exploitable weakness. He didn’t know why he felt the need to pick on the little unfortunate — mostly he was just bored and looking for something to get his blood up a bit. "Should you even be breathing on people? What’s with the lung chunks?" He looked a little pale at his own words. Lung chunks were just something one didn’t talk about after a mission like that one up in Iwa, last year. The sickened look was clear on Genma’s face, but that was a mild reassurance to Hayate. Maybe if he got disgusted enough, Genma would stop picking at him and leave. It happened often enough.

"I’m sick," he said concisely, though he deliberately neglected to mention that he was always sick — always had been, always would be — he’d found it was a complicated issue best left untouched with complete strangers. They didn’t understand. Other people rarely did. "And I’m not a chuunin," he added, just on principle — perhaps it was the small swell of pride bubbling quietly in his chest at the scroll in his hand that caused him to bother correcting Genma. "I’m tokujou."

There was a metallic twang as Genma almost bit through his senbon in shock. He stopped behind the kid, pressing one long finger into either side of the little roadkill’s waist. "You look a little more than just ‘sick’," he murmured amusedly into one ear, careful to aim the senbon away, this time. "You look like reheated death after another round in the fridge. If some sickly little stick-figure like you just made tokujou — and with that sword, if I’m reading you right — then somebody’s got to be scraping the bottom of the barrel. How the fuck did you just meet rank with me?"

The tension only showed in Hayate’s shoulders and the corners of his eyes as he moved away from Genma, pushing the man back as passively as one could manage while still exerting actual force. He turned slowly to face Genma, and an almost defensive expression was set on his dull face. "I earned my rank," he said flatly, coughing once, "with a lot of hard work. Probably more than you can imagine. I don’t think it’s up to you to decide whether or not I deserve it." His expression turned slightly sulky for a moment before he inclined his head. "And if you’ll excuse me, I have to get home now." He moved away from Genma with a wheezy breath, heading for the door again.

Genma froze, looking more than just a little sick at the wheezing the kid was doing. In the back of his head, it reminded him of that mission to Iwa — the one he’d come back from alone. It reminded him of — NO! You’re not thinking about this! Not now, not ever! You heard nothing! — of something else. (Death rattle, his mind hissed.) Shakily, he checked the kid with one hand on his shoulder. "Wait," he said, looking down with something that might have been honest concern, "are you sure you’re all right? I mean, if you’re not all right, then I need to stop being a dick and make sure you don’t die. Sandaime-sama would have my head if I sat back and watched some rookie choke on his own lungs." The arrogant indifference came back slowly, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes, this time, and he knew it. This was why he’d never make ANBU.

Hayate’s face darkened slightly at the sudden show of concern. The kid seemed just about offended by it. He never liked the ones who so quickly changed from vultures to mother hens as soon as they started to understand that his illness wasn’t just a passing cold. There was a word for that, wasn’t there? Fair weather friend, or something. That wasn’t quite it, but it was close enough, he thought. Either way, he didn’t like the sudden change in attitude. He would have preferred it if Genma had continued on being a complete jackass about him being sick.

"You’re inconsistent," he told Genma blandly, coughing again. "I told you I’m fine. I’m not dying. I’ve been worse. This is close to healthy for me. Now if you’ll stop standing in my way, I need to get home." He stepped out of Genma’s path neatly, shaking his head.

"You have to get home? What are you, twelve? Mommy gonna miss her little slice of roadkill?" And Genma was rather entertained. It was writ large across his face as he kept pushing, wondering how long it would take him to get punched. He smiled wickedly and flicked the senbon with his tongue, bouncing it up and down between his teeth. "And I’m not inconsistent — I just know when duty comes before amusement. But, you know, if you’re just fine, then I’m sure you’ve got the time and the strength of will to amuse me something proper. You and me. Outside. We’ll see how good you are with that sword. Or if you’d really like to amuse me the way I most enjoy being amused, we can see how good you are with your other sword."

Hayate managed to look properly offended this time. Something on his face had flickered at the comment about his mother. "I don’t want to fight you," he said, voice retaining its dull calm. "Or anything else. I want to get home, because I’m still sick, and tired, and I have better things to do than have my time wasted by a bored bully looking to pick a fight."

"Better things to do than fuck me senseless? Hey, I guess there’s a first time for everything. First time I put it to some twelve-year-old, and the first time I’ve ever been turned down. Two in one day isn’t half bad. Of course, I doubt you even know what to do with that thing. Either of those things, really. Compensating for one with the other?" Yeah, he was going to get hit, this time. At least he kind of hoped he was going to get hit. It would add a nice story to tell over lunch.

Much to Genma’s mild surprise, the kid didn’t lash out and knock a few of his teeth in. Instead he just gave Genma a slightly surly stare, keeping his distance, though he did twitch slightly at the remark. "Sixteen," he said shortly. "Sixteen, not twelve." He was being baited, and he knew that, and that was usually enough to send him walking firmly in the other direction — but damn. This guy, whoever the hell he was, knew how to get under the skin. "I’m not compensating for anything. Everyone in the Gekkou clan is a kenjutsu specialist. We all carry katana." He frowned, just a bit, the corners of his otherwise flat mouth turning down. The look was almost thoughtful.

"But you’re the one who felt the need to mention it. Wouldn’t that make you the one who’s overcompensating?" His tone was bland, quiet, and almost inquisitive — as if he wasn’t directing an insult at the man before him.

Gekkou? Genma did the slightest of double-takes. Oh, shit. He was the right age… This was probably taichou’s son. Note to self: lay off the mom jokes. "Yeah, well, this right here —" Genma flicked the senbon. "— is a temporary cock substitute — sub for someone else’s, not for mine. I don’t get my morning protein shake and I get a little nasty." He offered a lush grin and sucked lasciviously at his senbon for a long moment. "And if you’d really like to find out if I’m compensating, you’re more than welcome to come over here and do check. I’ll tell you that I haven’t had any complaints, yet." He stuffed his hands into his pockets and relaxed into a slightly backward leaning posture that set his hips forward ever so slightly. It was also excellent for his balance, just in case the kid tried to rush him, although he really doubted that at this point. On the other hand, if the kid was taichou’s son, he had a lot more to worry about than just getting rushed. The kid’s mom — if this really was her kid, anyway — had been something just this side of batshit in her day, and that was before she’d been handed a one-way ticket to the psychiatric ward.

Hayate balked slightly at the bland offer, but he recovered quickly enough. He managed a generally disapproving look instead, and coughed again, louder this time. "You are inconsistent," he managed to say, the tartness almost — but not quite — covering up his embarrassment. "Unless you’re still just teasing me. It doesn’t matter either way though. I’m going home now."

"I’m not inconsistent. I’m just easily amused — and I found the idea of getting your hands all over my junk fairly amusing. I sure as hell wouldn’t slap your hands if you wanted to put them to a good use." He shrugged expressively and bobbed his senbon almost invitingly. "But I guess that you’ve got better places to be than on your knees, today. What a first. I’m almost ashamed of myself."

Hayate just shook his head and turned away from Genma. He was glad to have finally been let off the hook of this man’s random, uncalled-for bullying. He didn’t need anyone picking at his health, his skills, or anything else — he was just fine the way he was. He didn’t need to take any shit from anyone. He just needed to get home.

He coughed again as he headed off for the door once more, wetly this time — he gagged, a little more loudly than intended, as he felt a wad of phlegm creep into the back of his mouth. This was a nasty one, he could feel it — his breath was rattling noisily, an ugly wheeze.

The sound of the coughing just pushed Genma’s buttons — leaned on them, really. It was just too close to a sound he was already very familiar with — the sound he’d heard two teammates make as they’d coughed themselves to death in a pair of hideous and godforsaken places, one bleeding from an enormous chest wound and the other regurgitating his acid-damaged lungs. He still wasn’t sure he’d been lying when he’d told them they would be fine. After all, the pain stops when you die from it.

Taichou’s son is making those sounds — is still standing and making sounds like that. Genma moved like rushing water, swift and generally unstoppable. He swept the kid up in one arm, as the blood drained from his face, and held the boy before an open window. His other hand stroked the kid’s back gently. "Spit. Don’t worry about hitting anyone. Just get the shit out of your chest before you choke." His voice was still trying to be apathetic and unconcerned, but it had taken the hard edge of a man who didn’t want to watch another death, even if it was a purely irrational fear. He’d held enough dead men’s hands while they resigned themselves to their new condition; the last one had been enough to leave a permanent scar across his perpetual calm.

"No fair dying on my shift. I’ve had enough of that." He didn’t think the words had actually made it out of his mouth, but he wasn’t paying as much attention as he might have been.

Hayate didn’t quite have the chance to protest or even be offended. Instead, he compliantly bent over the window and hacked the phlegm out of his throat and mouth. He shuddered as it slithered up his throat with every cough — that slimy sensation was one that still succeeded in making his stomach turn. It wasn’t just the texture, he knew, but also the taste — preprocessed mucus with a dash of reheated death. He pulled away from Genma as soon as he could, stumbling back with a few extra wet coughs. He stuck his head out the window once more to clear his throat and spit, but he stepped away just as soon, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.

"I’m fine," he said with an inconveniently placed wheeze. "I wasn’t dying. Just stuff coming up. That happens a lot. More so now since I’ve been sick." He shook his head, still clutching the official scroll in his hand. "I’m fine. You’re overreacting."

Genma looked down at the kid, almost blank-faced, except for the unsettled gleam that lurked in his eyes. From one of the multitude of pockets on his vest, he produced a small, green candy and held it out to the kid. "Melon candy? It has to taste better than your lungs."

Hayate just stared down at the proffered candy in Genma’s hand. He didn’t take it. It even looked like he might spit again, but he didn’t — if only out of a sense of propriety and politesse. "I’m fine," he repeated flatly. "Thank you, but I’m fine. I don’t need the passing concern of a random bully who decides he needs to cover his own backside just because we’re in HQ. I can take care of myself."

Genma nodded sagely before attempting the most awkward apology that had ever come from someone other than Yamashiro Aoba. "I’m not covering my ass. Our rank permits an awful lot of horseplay, even in the halls. You know, if you can amuse me of your own volition, I will stop being an asshole. Unfortunately for both of us, I’m generally a dick, on principle — it’s easy to be amused by the discomfort of others — well, up to a point, anyway. Some things just aren’t funny, but most of them are. I’d be short a best friend if Raidou hadn’t punched me out the third floor window of the hospital, that one time. I cannot for the life of me remember what the fuck I said to him, either. It’s a damn shame. It was a good line." He rubbed the back of his neck and stared out the window. "Seriously, though, that can’t be a pleasant taste. You’re sure you don’t want something for it?"

Hayate eyed him with some degree of sulky scepticism, never moving closer — but he didn’t turn and bolt, either. "Why should I provide entertainment for you?" he asked, and the blank, neutral tone was back in his voice. "You don’t like me, and I’m not really sure I like you, either, and I could walk out the door and we’d never have to look at each other again."

"Why should you amuse me? Maybe because I’m easily amused and far more pleasant when I’m pleased." He wasn’t looking at the kid, just sort of staring out the window, addressing the birds in the trees as he rubbed the back of his neck. "And what do you get out of all this? You get somebody with a mouth like an automatic crossbow, who in exchange for the occasional mild amusement will go out of his way to be a dick for you, instead of to you. It’s really the best I can offer, aside from my usual round of offers, but you’ve already declined interest in sucking and fucking. Oh, and the nearly limitless supply of melon candies — I don’t leave home without them." He looked down with a short laugh. "Socially inept? Me? …Maybe. I’m just in it for the kicks. I’ve got better uses for my tongue than talking, most of the time."

Hayate gave Genma a long, blank look before he finally cocked his head forward slightly and squinted at him. "Did you…just ask me to be your friend?" His voice was pure bafflement. "Because that’s the most stupid and roundabout way of asking I’ve ever heard, if that’s what it was."

"I might have. It’s easier to ask for cocksucking than for friends — I mean, watch: Hey, you’re pretty; you want to suck me off? Easy." Genma shook his head. "Friends, though…I only have one friend, these days — two if you count Yamashiro, and I don’t count Yamashiro. That man’s not so much a friend as he is a social disease. There’s a distinct lack of shinobi my age, you know. Funny thing about war, it thins the field." He looked back at the kid. "But, hey, you just made even rank with me, and that’s gotta be worth something in the grand scheme of things. How about we try this again from the top, and I open with: ‘Good job, kid. Let me take you to lunch.’ What do you eat, anyway?"

Hayate regarded him with something close to wariness for a moment before he pulled back, seeming to relax. He sniffed, wiping his nose on his sleeve. "Hot things. Like noodles. Hot liquids, because they’re easy on my throat." His head tilted to the side slightly as he studied Genma again with that unnervingly unblinking gaze. "You want to take me out to lunch?" It seemed the kid still needed further clarification on that fact, however obvious Genma tried to make it.

"Yeah, actually, I do." Genma looked out the window again, holding up one hand and squinting at the sun as he counted time. "Rai’s running late, and I’m bored. And you seem fantastically interesting. I know this little noodle shop up the block a piece. Mizu-chan — I know the girl whose family owns it — makes an awesome bowl of udon and a better cup of tea."

Hayate gave a noncommittal shrug. Part of him wanted to contest what Genma was saying — interesting? Him? He was fairly certain there were moss-covered rocks more interesting than him — but he dropped it. He didn’t particularly have the energy or desire to get into an argument. "Okay," he just said instead, quite placidly. He still wasn’t sure he terribly liked this man, but he was being offered free food, and if it was poison — well, this guy would have to be crazy to try something like that.

Genma blinked. That had been just a little bit too easy. He’d just make sure the kid never got behind him, just in case the boy was as crazy as his mother. He held out his hand to the boy, invitingly. "Brilliant. Let us go then, you and I…"

Hayate didn’t take Genma’s offered hand, just staring at him blankly.

"You’re not going to introduce yourself?"

The hand lifted, then, in an arc of Newtonian motion — the equal and opposite reaction to the question — which ended as it met Genma’s forehead, palm first, with a sharp sound. "Shiranui Genma. Also known as the town bicycle." He figured the kid would understand the reference, and it was, of course, absolutely true. He had turned down one person that he could remember, and that was Anko. One, she was too young, and two, the girl with the freaky snake hands did not get a ride. Snake jutsu did not belong anywhere near his pants, he’d decided.

Hayate gave him another blank stare, though this time it seemed to be tinted with surprise. He studied Genma’s face for another long moment, even squinting a little, before he straightened up and shrugged. "Okay. Which way is the noodle shop?" To have said that he wasn’t in even just a little awe that Shiranui Genma — the Shiranui Genma — was talking to him and taking him out to lunch would have been a lie. But, he reasoned, people were people, and it was nothing to make a huge fuss over.

Genma pulled the door open and pointed to the left. "Up the street a piece." He raised an eyebrow at the kid. "Do I get the rest of your name, Gekkou-san, or shall I spend the rest of the day trying not to hear your mother’s voice in the back of my head every time I address you?"

Hayate started to move forward, but jerked immediately — like a puppet whose strings had been yanked — at the mention of his mother. He looked back at Genma with some degree of alarm flashing in his eyes, but he still didn’t bolt. "Hayate." He eyed Genma again. "You know my mom?" He almost didn’t ask — he almost stopped himself. Plenty of people knew his mother, he was well aware, before she’d been permanently confined to the psych ward. She’d been a talented shinobi as well as an experienced member of ANBU. But this man before him, looking just in his twenties — it seemed odd.

"I know her well enough to have called her taichou. I am assuming, of course, that you are actually Shizuka-taichou’s son, and not just a cousin or something. My son this and my son that. She used to get on Raidou’s case all the time about how her nine year old son could mop the floor with him. Rai’s the other swordsman. It used to be me and him and Yamashiro. Now it’s mostly him and Yamashiro. I get sent out alone." Genma shrugged, looking just a bit bitterly nostalgic.

Hayate had stopped walking altogether, staring at Genma. He hadn’t even heard most of the second half of what Genma had said. I know her well enough to have called her taichou.

Hayate had only been a little boy when his mother had been discharged from ANBU, but he remembered it all the same. He remembered the aftermath of her last bloody mission and the four-month stay in the psych ward that had ultimately resulted in the termination of her membership. He knew that in the two-year period between her discharge from ANBU and her final trip to the psych ward, she’d headed a three-man cell of tokujou at least part time. She’d never mentioned their names — she’d never really talked about them much to Hayate, really, but he’d heard her talking to his father about it. She’d always used snide, derisive nicknames in reference to them — but he did remember mention of another kenjutsu specialist, at least, as well of a good deal of other things. He stared at Genma unblinkingly, in some kind of twisted, wistful disbelief.

"You were on my mom’s team?" he finally managed to get out.

"Bloody nose," Genma replied, raising one hand and rubbing his face with the other. "It’s nearly perfect, now. I’ve got one favourite medic who got really good at setting it, and now you can’t even tell how many times taichou broke it for me." The answer wasn’t quite a complete non-sequitur, and if the old gate team were still around, they’d have recognised the reference. Unfortunately, the gate team had been the first men down in — that thing — the Fire. His fingers twitched as he pushed away the sound of flames. He hoped it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that if Hayate didn’t know him by name, the kid would at least know him by Shizuka-taichou’s favourite thing to call him.

Hayate was peering at him again, studying him with that unsettling sort of curiosity, but something seemed to have shifted in the way he looked at Genma now. It was something less guarded, more open — almost childishly hopeful. "That was you?" He’d heard that particularly epithet more than once — it definitely had seemed to be his mother’s favourite thing to call that particular member of her team — but there was something so deeply unnerving about actually seeing that person’s face and talking to him. Somewhere along the line, his mother’s teammates — that he’d never even seen — had stopped being people so much as they had been characters in a story that was part of his mother’s life. Until now, he’d never met them, never seen them, never even heard their proper names. They hadn’t ever completely felt real to Hayate, and the fact that he’d heard about them during a bout of fever more than once had never helped to push away the surreal sense he’d associated with them. His mother was so far removed from reality at times that it wouldn’t have surprised him all that much to have learned that she’d made them all up in the end.

But she hadn’t, because here was one of them standing right in front of his face, taking him out to lunch just minutes after he’d so blatantly bullied the kid, talking about his mother like he’d known her — because he had. He’d known her in a way that few other people had, and even though it wasn’t the same way Hayate knew her, he couldn’t help but think that there was still something deeply intimate about it. He kept on looking at Genma, hardly blinking. It felt so jarringly real it was unreal. He sucked in a breath, still wheezy.

"Let’s go to lunch."

"By your will, kid. You’ll forgive me, I expect, if I don’t want you behind me?" Genma could see the reality of who he was settling into the kid. He, himself, was, of course, trying very hard not to think about who Hayate was — there was no reason to assume Hayate was as crazy as his mother, but there was no evidence to the contrary, either, and honestly, that made him more than a little nervous. He eyed the sword for a moment. "My left. You should walk on my left." With a nod, he gestured for the kid to precede him out of the building. Hayate gave him a dull blink, but didn’t protest or argue, moving around to Genma’s left. He seemed to understand, at least vaguely, Genma’s precautions. He knew he wasn’t as crazy as his mother, but not everyone knew that, and he supposed he could understand that. Few people treated him like they did his mother — many people just treated him like something to be avoided, if they didn’t overlook him completely or even praise him for his skills with his sword — but it wasn’t the first time.

"I guess I can use the sword after all," he supposed to Genma as he started for the door, and if he had not sounded so serious it would have been an entirely snarky remark.

"I don’t take unnecessary chances. Someone wants to take issue, I need to be able to reach my weapons —" Genma tapped the slim pouch on his thigh. "— and you need to be able to draw without inadvertently decapitating me. This is the sensible solution." He let the door close behind them.