Characters: Gekkou Hayate, Shiranui Genma, Namiashi Raidou, Hagane Kotetsu, Kamizuki Izumo, Mitarashi Anko, Yamashiro Aoba
Rating: This chapter? R.
Warnings: Expletives, groping.
Notes: One of these days, Raidou’s going to realise just how lucky he really is to have a friend like Genma, even if he would never in a million years, under any circumstances, sleep with his best friend. As opposed to Kotetsu, who is also very lucky, and would do absolutely anything to get Izumo naked. Or Hayate, who opposes nakedness entirely, and no matter how lucky he gets, will still be looking for the catch.
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 Haya Madison, and Genma’s mother, Shiranui Riza, is all Penbrydd’s fault.
Author’s Note: Penbrydd thinks this chapter is really a sneaky diatribe on the nature of friends and friendship. He would also like to remind people that despite what appears to be evidence to the contrary, there will be no GenRai in this story.
The Wryly Fantarding Q&A panel for Corybantic Dance is still located at wrylyfantarding.livejournal.com/5948.htm
Warnings: Violence, expletives, eventual yaoi (KoIzu, KoIzuRai (more funny than sexy), GenHaya).
Raidou carried Genma up the stairs — all four flights — it was just easier that way. "Is your mother home?"
"Nah, I think she’s in Michigan for two weeks. Something like that. I know she just got on a plane the other day. There’s a note on the fridge…" Genma was rambling, pointlessly, and Raidou stopped him.
"Where are your keys?"
"In my pocket."
"If you can get your keys out, now would be the time." Without explicit instructions, Genma was going to be completely useless. Raidou was exceptionally patient with his friend.
After a few fumbled attempts, Genma produced his keys. A few more ninja feats of violating the laws of physics after that, Raidou got the door open, and managed to get Genma into the apartment without whacking his head on anything. The place was almost painfully clean — not a mark on anything until one got to Genma’s room, and then it was just a disaster. Raidou pushed the door open, carefully, with his foot, and set Genma on the bed.
"Just lie down a bit. I’m going to go get you a glass of water." Raidou pushed Genma’s hair out of his face and left his friend spaced out and drooling into the pillow. When he returned, Genma was still in the same position. "Sit up and drink this. All of it. You need some liquid in you that doesn’t contain caffeine."
Genma did as he was told, by this point moving without any real sign of comprehension. Raidou shook his head and sat down on the floor to unlace Genma’s boots. "We’re not going to class tomorrow. I’m calling us both in sick."
After several long minutes, Raidou managed to strip his friend to the pants — because further than that would be naked, and he knew it — and tucked him into bed. He sat on the edge of the bed for a bit, just watching Genma drift into sleep, and remembering how Genma had come to sit with him after the accident. He found it fairly incredible that Genma didn’t blame him, never mind that he’d still wanted to be friends. Especially after Raidou saw his own face. He didn’t own mirrors, anymore.
He stood up and cleaned Genma’s room — less to be nice and more because he needed a place to sleep, and the living room was too far away, if something went wrong. He wanted to be dead sure that if Genma got up, he’d know about it, just in case the hallucinations hadn’t stopped. A few hours later, Raidou was bored with both cleaning and trying to read Genma’s latest choices in fiction, and he lay down on the floor to sleep with Genma’s trench coat for a blanket.
About six hours later, Raidou woke, stiff and dizzy from sleeping on the floor. Genma had kicked the covers off the bed, and he lay curled into a tight ball, pleading in his sleep. "No — not again. No more. Please, no!"
‘No’ was the word that almost never left Genma’s mouth while he was awake, and all the times he had wanted to say it caught up when he slept.
Raidou sighed and got up, climbing onto the bed with Genma and wrapping himself around his friend. At first Genma fought being touched, but as Raidou’s scent sunk into his mind, he settled down and curled up against the football player. Genma was the only man Raidou had ever held, and was most likely the only man he ever would hold. Rai wasn’t into guys — not that he was much into girls, either. Guys weren’t appealing at all, and girls disappointed and disgusted him. Genma, though, was his best friend. Important people got special privileges, he thought, drifting back into sleep.
After a few more hours of sleep, Raidou woke naturally and called the school, pretending to be his father. He told the attendance office that he and Genma had gotten food poisoning, and that they would be out for the day. With an expression of sympathy for the poor father who had to deal with two sick teenage boys, the woman on the phone marked them both excused. At least the day started on the right foot. That was an encouraging sign.
Raidou watched television until Genma woke up, somewhere around noon. MTV was running an Γon Flux marathon, and as much as he didn’t care for real girls, scantily clad, strong women in cartoon form were still pretty high on Raidou’s list. Genma sauntered out of his room, still clad in nothing but pants, and leaned over the back of the couch. "Yeah, I’d stick my dick in that."
Raidou jumped. "I hate that you can do that to me."
"I’m just sneaky like that. And now I must go and piss like a ninja, but afterward, you can tell me why I’m not in class." Genma wandered off to the bathroom, while Raidou tried to convince himself to turn off the television. He still hadn’t quite succeeded by the time Genma returned.
"Man, boobs are great and all, but there are better things." Genma leaned over the back of the couch and winked saucily at his friend. Raidou rolled his eyes and grabbed Genma under the arms, hauling him onto the couch. With a muffled yelp, Genma landed face first in Raidou’s lap.
Raidou turned several vibrant colours and wheezed as Genma rolled over, with a pitying look on his face. "Hey, Rai, thanks for the offer and all, but that was a bit rough on the junk, don’t you think?"
"Not an offer, bastard. Off my junk."
Genma laughed and sat up, turning to lean back against the arm of the couch. "Yeah, yeah. I know. Who was the unlucky girl this week?"
Raidou shook his head. "Some girl from the drill team. I think her name was Natalie. It doesn’t matter; I’m not going out with her again."
"I didn’t figure." Genma stretched artfully. "What did this one do?"
Raidou rolled his eyes and shook his head, crossing his arms over his chest and wrapping one leg around the other. Genma knew it must have been pretty bad for Rai to twist himself up before he even started talking. "Well, you know, she didn’t seem as stupid as the last few. I thought maybe I’d gotten lucky. Maybe she was into me because I have a brain, you know?" Genma closed his eyes as the disgust slid into place on Raidou’s face. Neither one looked at the other. "We were going to go drink some beer out on the back lot, maybe talk about books or something. She said she was into forensic thrillers. I can hack some Cornwell, right?" Raidou was stalling, focusing on the unimportant details. "So, somewhere around the second beer, she decides to move over and get kind of touchy. I figure it’s okay, she’s a little bit drunk, and she’s still talking. It’s the talking, you know? She’s talking about the social implications of women in positions of power — something about the damage that feminism did to itself — I didn’t really catch that part. Sort of over my head." Genma could feel the couch vibrating as Raidou’s leg started to twitch. "And then — Then she’s just on me. Kissing — and the kissing I could have been okay with. She’s a smart girl, right? You know." Genma sucked in a sharp breath and one hand settled over his mouth. If the kissing was the least of it… "But then she’s… She just… Her hand. In my pants." There was a long pause. "I think my balls pulled up into my throat. I just shoved her off me and told her to get the hell out of my car. Didn’t go home for a while. Just left her there, though. I can’t seem to take enough showers."
"Ah, jeez." Genma’s eyes finally opened. "C’mere, Rai. It’s all right. You know I’m never serious." He held out his arms and Raidou turned, settling his back against Genma’s hands.
"I just don’t know how you do what you do." Raidou began to relax as Genma rubbed his back.
"Unlike some people in the room, I didn’t grow up ashamed to have a dick." Genma never minced words with Raidou. Not when he was sober and had slept recently, anyway. "In fact, I’m rather proud of mine, and I happen to love when people want to touch it. Feels really good. You’ve just got issues, that’s all. Everyone’s got a few — mine are just a little less socio-sexually crippling."
"Speaking of your issues," Raidou began, looking over his shoulder. Genma’s hands really were amazing, and he knew that it would take all of his concentration to stay on subject if Genma decided he didn’t want to answer. "What is it with this kid that’s making you so crazy?"
"I don’t know. Reminds me of someone. I have no idea who. I just keep getting these little flickers in the back of my head." Genma shrugged, tracing the gesture onto Rai’s back with his thumbs. "Dead eyed and terrified — I don’t know who else I know like that. Too resigned to be angry. Bored shitless with nearly everything… But he’s bright, Rai. I can tell. It just eats me."
Raidou remembered rather clearly what Genma had been like the previous spring, after the scene with the hockey team. Dead eyed and wasted, empty, bent on pissing his life away. He could remember how frustrating it was to watch. "It’s you. He reminds you of you, and I know exactly what kind of frustrating that is."
"You’re funny, Rai. The kid’s not a damn thing like me. I’m healthy, pretty, popular, and totally on top of my shit. Nice joke, though." Genma moved his hands down, pressing into the space between his friend’s shoulder blades. Raidou moaned quietly, trying to remember the point he’d been making, as his back informed him that he would be relaxing right fucking now.
"You didn’t look in the mirror — ahh! — for a few months — mmgh — in spring." Raidou struggled to remain coherent as Genma worked to distract him. "Think back to it. He’s —" The sentence ended in a pained grunt as Genma’s fingers found a tight knot and pressed in mercilessly. As the knot released, a nearly sexual sound of absolute gratification spilled from Raidou’s mouth. Genma smiled in wicked satisfaction and worked his fingers outward to make sure the tension wouldn’t rush back in as soon as he removed his hand, and he was rewarded with more noises of a similar nature. "You’re vicious," Raidou panted, searching for his previous train of thought.
"You wouldn’t love me if I were anything less," Genma teased as he started to work on another knot.
"Point is," Raidou said, fighting with himself to remember the point, "he’s just like you were in spring. Don’t think I don’t remember."
"I’d really rather not remember, thanks." Genma continued to work, an unsettling calm enveloping him as the static started up in the back of his mind.
"Yeah, I can tell. That’s why you’re so sick." Raidou pulled away and turned around, grabbing Genma’s shoulders. "You have to do this, or you’re going to kill yourself, and I don’t want to see that happen. Even if I don’t see it, it will still piss me off in whole new ways. You have to get your shit together, Genma. Something about this kid is fucking up your sense of self-preservation, and I am not leaving you alone with yourself until you figure out why. I swear to god, I’ll find an excuse to take up residence."
"Fucksake, Rai." The static was getting louder. Genma had to really concentrate to extract the content from what Raidou was saying. "Fine. I’ve got a bottle of Jamie. If I’m going to do this, I’m not doing it sober." He stood up and started to leave the room. "Have I mentioned, lately, that I hate people?" His voice was tight, strained. The last thing in the world he wanted to talk about or think about was the afternoon he’d ditched rehearsal, last spring, to take care of a little problem the Twins were about to have. And if the kid was like he’d been after that, he really didn’t want to think too hard about that either. Shit like that should not happen to people, he thought. Ever.
Raidou just leaned back into the corner of the couch, rubbing his face with both hands, and prayed that he was doing the right thing.
Days passed and Hayate just kept getting better at anticipating the needs and mistakes of the people around him. Frankie and Ches were relieved to have someone other than Anko to go to when something was wrong, and even Anko had begun to treat the kid with some amount of grudging respect. He was competent — for a freshman. Genma was getting better, too — being back to sleeping and eating regularly had really done a lot for his disposition, and by the middle of the next week he’d stopped snarling at the crew every time they moved, and at the cast every time they didn’t. The resentment and regret had mostly washed out of his eyes, and he was back to being the stage manager that everyone loved and only feared when they’d been extraordinarily stupid and irresponsible. He’d even managed to get a few slightly less than frightened greetings from Hayate.
One early evening, mid-week, Genma walked down the road, headed home from rehearsal, happily singing sad songs to himself. "Watching her, these things she said, the times she cried, too frail to wake this time…" He wondered where Hayate had been, today. The kid was always there, stoic and distrustful, but almost as functional as Anko, herself — but today, he’d been curiously absent. Block after block, he travelled, dancing with himself and singing, wondering what had become of the kid. He hoped it was nothing serious. Maybe he’d drop by and see what was up. As he crossed the street, there, as two weeks ago, sat Hayate, beside his door. "What if I were Romeo in black jeans, what if I were Heathcliff, it’s no myth, maybe all he’s looking for, is someone to dance with…" He sang loudly enough to attract attention, if there were attention to be attracted, and dropped to what looked like one knee, but was actually the toe of a boot and very good balance, with the last line, sliding up to meet the gate with his face, in a dramatic and romantic gesture. Then Genma just stood up and stuffed his hands in his pockets, like he hadn’t just been making a giant dork of himself. "Hey. Missed you, today. What’s up?"
Hayate didn’t even look up, his eyes fixed dully on some patch of grass in front of him. His knees were drawn up to his chest as he sat against the wall of his house, arms resting forward on them, and his chin, in turn, on his arms. "Nothing," he said dimly, his response curiously delayed, as if he’d been distracted by whatever it was he was staring at. That, though, seemed a little absurd, as all he was staring at was grass.
"Nothing, huh? Is this like really nothing, or nothing like it’s something and you’re not going to tell me?" Genma leaned on the gate, refusing to open it unless invited. The kid must have been pretty fucking distracted by something to miss a dramatic performance of the chorus of ‘No Myth’.
Hayate just gave a noncommittal shrug, but he didn’t move other than that. It was getting dark and a little colder out, but he didn’t seem to be paying any attention to that, either.
"Locked yourself out, perhaps? I can probably fix that with the contents of my pockets, alone." Genma studied Hayate, carefully. "That’s not it either, is it. Come on, kid. It’s getting cold. It’s sneaking up on Halloween, and you’re out here in —" He waved his hands demonstratively. "You look like me when I’m sick." The sentence just slipped out, and his mouth snapped shut after it, just a moment too late.
"I am sick," Hayate pointed out dully, and left it at that. He was dodging the subject at hand spectacularly. So far, the only person he really talked to at school who knew about that — or, in Genma’s case, had guessed correctly — was Genma.
"Is that it then? Is that what bothers you so? Because you are bothered. I know that look. I know you won’t be sleeping tonight." Genma spread his hands, elbows still supporting him on the top of the gate. "I’ve done everything I know how to do to make things more pleasant for you. It’s not, perhaps, the most convincing example of my intentions, but it’s all I have. I don’t tell your secrets — the one or two of them I know — because it’s simply wrong. But I do what I can afford to do, because I actually like you. There is something bugging the living shit out of you, and even if it’s something I can’t do a single thing about, I want to know that for myself. Foolish? Yes, that too. But determinedly so."
Hayate drew himself up tighter, as if trying to retreat into himself, and shuddered visibly. He was silent for a long while, and it really looked like he was just going to sit there and ignore Genma entirely. Finally, he spoke, even though the words were muffled by his arms as he buried his face in them.
"I went to see my mom today."
"Your mom, huh? I have one of those, too, even if she is in Michigan at the moment. I take it your mother is not in Michigan." Genma tried to keep the tone at least somewhat light. "What’s wrong with your mom? Is she sick like you are? Or, dare I ask, is she sick like I am? Or is she not sick at all, but some other thing entirely?" As the sky grew darker, Genma seemed to fade into the background, like the Cheshire Cat, wearing tight black jeans and an equally fitted black thermal. A black scarf kept most of his hair off his face.
Hayate took an inordinate amount of time with his answers. Getting dark, it was hard to see why — but it was just as easy to hear. He swallowed, drawing in a shaky breath, and pressed his forehead against his forearms. "She used to be a soldier," he said thickly, and it was clear from his voice that it was getting harder to talk about. It just wasn’t something he talked about with anyone — except his dad sometimes, but never someone he only just knew. Someone like Genma.
"Oh, shit. Oh, no." Genma’s voice was heavy — not with pity, but with disgust. "I heard what happened, there. My mother’s friends would come over and talk about it. She’s got that soldier sickness thing, doesn’t she. I never understood why we made our own people sick, just to get at something that could never reach us." Genma stopped just shy of politics and philosophy. "Listen, do you want to come take a walk with me? I walk sometimes to clear my head. Maybe it would do you some good too?" He held out his hand, too far away to reach, but maybe close enough to make a difference.
Hayate hiccuped thickly and looked up. His eyes glistened in the dark. "Walk where?" he asked, voice croaking and wet.
"I don’t know, just around the neighbourhood for a while I guess. Maybe sit somewhere and just watch the moon for a bit — I’ve got a favourite place for that. No one goes there but Raidou and me." What Hayate wouldn’t know, of course, was that Genma was offering an exchange of secrets. The location of his roof in exchange for the story of Hayate’s mother.
Hayate didn’t say anything, this time, just shuddering and shaking for a moment before he got to his feet, grass and clothes rustling. He turned and leaned against the house for a moment to cough and spit into the grass he’d just been sitting on before he shuffled slowly to the gate. He swallowed again, unlocking the gate, and stepped out to meet Genma. He didn’t look up until he’d locked the gate behind him, letting his arms fall limply to his sides. He looked miserable — his hair was mussed, his face splotched with pink. His head and hands ached, and all he really wanted to do was lie down and fall asleep. But he knew Genma was right — that wouldn’t happen. Not the way he wanted it to.
Before anything else, Genma lifted one of Hayate’s hands, gently, and looked like he was about to kiss it. Instead, he touched it with his forehead. "Thank you." He released the hand and waved for Hayate to precede him, or at least to walk beside him. "Tell me a story, beautiful beast, and I will show you my favourite place in all the world."
Hayate couldn’t even manage to give Genma a look or tell him he was weird. He just hiccuped instead, his breathing shallow and shaky as he dragged his feet along beside Genma on the sidewalk. He was shivering slightly now that he was upright and walking, but his hands stayed hanging at his sides.
"You’re cold." It wasn’t a question. Genma stripped off his shirt and draped it around Hayate’s shoulders. It wasn’t like he was going to get cold any time soon. Hayate just shrugged, an accepting sort of gesture, and looked up at Genma. It was a strange look, a cocktail of confused emotion that usually wasn’t there. Something like skepticism and hurt and fear of misplaced trust, and a frightening kind of neediness.
Genma reached out and turned Hayate to face him, taking a moment to tie the arms of the thermal together, so it wouldn’t fall off. "You have nothing to fear from me. I’m just a worn out toy." He touched Hayate’s cheek, briefly, with one thumb. Hayate’s shoulders shook for a moment, but he sucked in a shuddering breath and pulled himself together. It seemed to take conscious effort. He didn’t say anything, still — because he didn’t trust himself to. He didn’t think he could open his mouth and have the right things come out. He couldn’t even promise they’d be words. He swallowed and squeezed his eyes shut. Entirely disregarding the fact that he stood shirtless in the middle of the block, Genma put his arms gently around Hayate — just a simple reassurance that he was still standing there and not going anywhere.
Hayate hiccuped again, and then he started shaking again, and then it all went downhill from there. The fact that Genma was shirtless bothered him — it definitely bothered him, though he refused to consider why — but that was shoved to the back of his aching head just then. Right then, he just cried. He hadn’t meant to, but it happened anyway. It was always like that. Genma pulled Hayate closer, holding him at least firmly, if not quite tightly, and one hand rose to stroke the boy’s hair, gently. He could feel the snot running down his chest, soaking into the waistband of his jeans, but it really didn’t matter. What mattered was that there was a boy in his arms, crying. Resting his lips atop Hayate’s head, Genma began to whisper the usual assortment of things one says to a crying person, but with the lies removed. Not ‘it’ll be okay’, but ‘I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere’.
It was hard to tell if Hayate registered the words or even heard him. It was unsettlingly comforting to have Genma helping him like this, and his shaking and sobbing grew louder, more violent, until his breath was catching in his throat and he was hiccuping and coughing. He felt sick. He felt positively sick. He wasn’t even sure he could say what it was that was making him sick anymore, but he felt sick. Finally, after some length of time that was elusively indistinct to his aching head, he pushed away from Genma and bent over, vomiting on the side of the road. It wasn’t much, but his throat burned with acid as he spat bitterly onto the pavement, still shaking and sobbing hoarsely.
Inspecting the boy as he finished barfing in the gutter, Genma noticed that Hayate still had a spot on him. "Going to touch your face for a second. You’ve got a bit on your chin." He remembered to give warning, this time, remembered that Hayate didn’t like his face touched. One quick swipe of a thumb, and the vomit was cleared away and rubbed into the inside of Genma’s back pocket, in which nothing really fit, anyway. "Come here. Let’s get you off the sidewalk, at least." Genma bent, draping one of Hayate’s arms around his neck, and swept Hayate into his arms. He half-expected to be vomited on. "You can cry all you need to. I’m not letting go." He kissed Hayate’s forehead, gently. Hayate flinched, mostly because he was twitchy and in tears, but he was too weary to otherwise protest. He kept on shaking in Genma’s hold, feeling considerably less sick since throwing up, but still sick.
"Where are we going?" he croaked, as if he wasn’t still crying, but it was just spoken around the hiccups and sobs. He was staring at Genma’s face in some sort of vague confusion, as if trying to figure out what had just happened.
"To the top of a tall building, to watch the moon and the city. Just another block or so, and then I’ll have to put you down to pull down the end of the fire escape." Genma walked, not particularly slowly, but certainly easily. "Objections? I seem to recall that you like to look at the moon…"
"I can — I can walk myself," Hayate said, teeth chattering, but he couldn’t seem to bring himself to do much more than shake and cry and gurgle in the back of his foul-tasting throat.
"I’m not doubting your competence; I’m just providing a comfort. Besides, we’re almost there." Genma gestured with his chin, pointing up the street a half block. "That tall-ass building there. That’s where we’re headed."
Hayate shivered, trying not to swallow. "Why?" he hiccuped, though belatedly. It simply struck him as odd that Genma would want to go out of his way to help him, despite everything that had happened in the past two weeks.
"You remind me of someone. Someone I could have liked if he’d turned out a little differently." Neither a lie nor the whole truth. Genma tended to be very careful when he didn’t want to give an answer. "I’ve got to put you down for a sec. Just stay put while I get this down." After setting Hayate very carefully on his feet, Genma leapt up and grabbed the bottom of the fire escape, hauling himself up onto the first platform, while the kid himself coughed and spat on the grass, trying to rid his mouth of the sticky, bitter taste of bile. As quietly as he could manage, he lowered the ladder, which he then climbed back down. It might have been easier to take the kid through his apartment, but that would have involved confessing that he lived there. He wasn’t quite ready for that, yet. Walking back to where Hayate waited, Genma made an offer. "We can do this one of two ways: you can climb ahead of me, or you can hang on to my back, and I can climb for both of us. It’s all the same to me, but I think it might not be to you."
Hayate straightened up, shivering a little, and shook his head. "I can make it by myself," he gurgled, voice low, and let his hands drop back to his sides instead of hugging himself. He stepped toward the fire escape, blinking at it in the dark, and reached forward with slightly shaking hands.
Reflexively, Genma rested his hands on the kid’s hips. "First step’s the hard one. I’m just making sure you don’t slip. Call me paranoid, but…" He rolled his shoulders in a silent shrug. Hayate just shuddered and wrapped his cold hands around the cold metal and pulled himself up.
"I’m okay," he croaked down at Genma, dropping his head down instead of calling over his shoulder. He started to pull away from Genma, sniffling. His throat and head were quickly stuffing up in the aftermath of the messy tears, and his eyes already ached, but he didn’t slow down, pulling himself up the fire escape even with shaky hands. Genma followed the kid up to the first level and pulled the ladder back up, before leading the way up the stairs to the roof.
"I can see your house from here." With a lazy grin, Genma pointed down at a house a few blocks away. "Best view of the sky and the city for miles."
Hayate glanced in the direction that Genma was pointing, nodding in acknowledgment, then sniffled and turned his eyes upwards. Looking up was always easier. There was nothing up there to block you, to confuse you, to threaten you. His eyes were fixed on the moon so intensely it seemed as though he might burn holes in it, but it was still just that dull-eyed gaze all the same.
Stretching out on the tar of the roof, Genma sighed quietly in what sounded like relief. "I love this. It’s beautiful here." He gazed up at the kid and the moon and all the stars. "If you lie down, it’s warmer and more comfortable. The tar holds the heat. Oh, and you can totally blow your nose on my shirt sleeve, if you need to. It’s going in the wash, anyway."
Hayate just shook his head and drew his knees up to his chest tightly. He looked like he was trying to shrink into himself again. His breath rattled on every inhale, but aside from the tightening of his body, he didn’t move. He just stared up at the moon. It was a strange kind of meditation in itself. If he just focused on that one thing and let the day’s weariness take him over, then eventually, everything else would stop. Genma watched the kid shut down, and quietly poured himself to his feet so he could re-settle behind him, kneeling. He just put his arms around the boy and looked up at the moon, as it continued its indifferent journey across the sky. There was nothing to say, and that was just what he said.
Hayate flinched at the touch as it snapped his focus, and instinctively he moved away from it. Genma seemed to be a particularly touchy person in the literal sense of the word, and while a more rationally thinking Hayate might have reasoned that it was just Genma’s way of showing comfort or something, right now he could mostly only identify that it made him a little uncomfortable. Not enough to say something, but enough to know that he just wanted his space. Not being a stupid child, Genma had let go and poured himself to his feet in an instant. As he backed up a few steps, he apologised.
"I’m sorry. You just looked…sad. Tired. Alone." Like me. "I didn’t think." He stretched back out on the tar, a few feet away. Hayate coughed and actually looked back at Genma over his shoulder this time.
"You don’t have to apologise," he said. "I’m not mad." It was probably the longest string of words Genma had managed to get out of him that night.
"Good. I’d really prefer not to piss you off, if it’s all the same." Genma’s eyes never moved from the moon. "And I did have to apologise. Anything else would have been impolite. I made a mistake." He raised a hand and played connect the dots with the stars, tracing new constellations in the air with his finger. Hayate turned his attention back to the moon, resting his chin on his slightly drawn knees. He still wasn’t sure why Genma had brought him out here, or why Genma thought it was so important that they be on good terms. He supposed it could have had to do with tech and keeping everything together, but that wasn’t the right answer. A tired sigh escaped him, and he sank a little bit. He was weary and resigned and still just a little bit scared. Just fix everything. I want to go home. I want my mom. You can’t blame me for any of this. I’m still just a kid.
Genma was silent for a long while, just trying to process what was going on and what to do about it. He was almost afraid that if he asked Hayate any questions, he’d offend the kid. Innocuous was probably the way to go. "Are you warm enough?"
Hayate nodded even though he was still shivering, but that, at least, didn’t seem to be from the cold. Some part of him still wanted to ask Genma why, but he wasn’t really sure he wanted to hear the answer. Watching the kid’s back, Genma could see him shivering — if the kid wasn’t lying to him, then there was some other thing wrong. "You seem a bit spooked. Something up besides the obvious?"
Hayate just gave a noncommittal shrug — no real answer. Genma just shrugged himself and went back to staring at the moon. Hayate’s shoulders sank slightly right along with his stomach — it was like some heavy weight had dropped from his throat to his stomach, pressing down as far as it could go.
"Why are you trying so hard?" His voice was cracked, squeaky and irreparably quiet.
"I told you. You remind me of someone." Genma knew that wasn’t enough of an answer, and he tried again. "It makes me feel like I’ve at least tried. Besides, sometimes I do some good. Kept Kotetsu out of the hospital. Kept Raidou alive. Probably kept Aoba from getting punched in the face a few times, but I think I may have undone the benefits, there, all by myself. I don’t like to watch good people in pain."
Hayate didn’t turn to face Genma, but his brow knit and his eyes fell away from the moon. "So you’re really just doing it all for yourself," he said, quietly and hoarsely, but his voice was surprisingly clear. "You’re just doing it to ease a guilty conscience. So when everything falls apart, you can at least reassure yourself that it wasn’t your fault." He drew his sweatshirt around himself closer, as if cold. "Well, that’s not fair to me. I didn’t ask for your help, and you didn’t ask if I even really wanted it. And if you’re just doing it out of pity, or to just make yourself feel better, then you’re just cheapening the act."
"You’re at least half wrong. Don’t put words in my mouth. I’m doing it out of respect. I’m doing it for the person I might have been if the world weren’t such a sick and shitty place. You —" Genma sighed and sat up. "— you’ll probably be offended, and you’ll probably be right to be — you remind me of myself in a lot of ways. So, yeah, in some ways this is about me. You’re obviously not stupid, and I think you could really do something potentially interesting and important. And I just don’t want to watch that get beat out of someone else." He scratched his chin with his shoulder, muffling the next sentence a bit. "Hurt enough the first time."
Hayate coughed into his knees and shivered. "It still comes down to the same thing," he said. "You’re still doing it because of you. Not because of me. I’m just another you, just sort of different. So no matter how much you go on about respecting other people, it doesn’t mean you like those other people, and you’re still doing it because of you. If you don’t want to watch, you can always just look the other way."
"Like you? Do something just for you? I don’t even know who you are, because every time I try to find out, you show me that you don’t want me to know. I can’t perform on command with no context. I can’t even perform from the heart with no context! I don’t know you at all! I just know that I want to. And if I didn’t look out for me, who would? Raidou? For all he may care, he has his own problems." Genma was finally beginning to slide away from the bored and philosophical tone he usually maintained. "And if you’re so offended by my desire to know you, and my desire to help you, then why did you come out with me? Why did you let me hold you while you cried? Why do you keep letting me in just far enough to slam my fingers in the door!?"
The shaking was getting worse. "I don’t know," Hayate said, but now his voice was thick and warm and wet. His breath was wheezy and sputtering, and he bit at the cloth of his sweatshirt. "I don’t know," he mumbled again, muffled but desperate, and maybe just a little panicky. He pulled his mouth away from his arm, and it felt dry and swollen. "I don’t know. I’m sorry. I didn’t — " He hiccuped. "I didn’t think you really wanted to help. I don’t know."
Genma managed to resist for a long moment, fighting the pain in his chest and the urge to move, trying to hold on to the bitterness and the sudden anger. In the end, though, he failed, covering the space between them in one fluid movement that never quite involved getting up. He rested one hand on the kid’s shoulder, unwilling to hold him again without an invitation of some sort. "Shh. I didn’t mean to scare you. You just — I’ve got a few sore spots. Most people can’t even touch them, but you actually interest me, and that appears to give you full button-pushing access to my soul. Who knew?" He shrugged, the stone Buddha within wrestling with the wild-eyed demon of the pains he’d been ignoring. "I do want to help you, even if it is just because I want to see what you can do with yourself. Even if it is just because I want to see what happens when all the potential doesn’t burn away at the hands of assholes with no more wit than a flaming dungheap."
Hayate hiccuped again, loudly this time, and sniffled. He turned his head to look up at Genma with wet eyes, the red around the edges sticking out starkly against the smeared black of the bags under his eyes. The tears were smeared messily all over his pink-splotched face, and his nose was running, and Genma had to keep himself from reaching out to him, from trying to fix what he could already see was wrong. Hayate looked so small in that moment that it looked like the dark of his hair and under his eyes and everywhere else would swallow him up, but he remained there, despite the shaking, with all of the tenacity Genma knew he had. "Then what does that make you?" he asked, and his voice was too small and he seemed like he was afraid of what answer he might get and might not get, but the question was there and he couldn’t have stopped it even if he’d wanted to.
"Burnt out. I’m just a broken toy. Overused and a little ragged at the edges." Genma sighed and partially gave in to the screaming urge in the back of his head. He draped one arm across the kid’s shoulders. "Enough of me left to stop a stupid jock and still look hot in a mini-dress, though."
Hayate hiccoughed and shook, but he didn’t pull away or take his eyes off of Genma’s face. "That wasn’t what I meant," he said, feeling sick. "I didn’t mean you all by yourself."
"Oh, you mean if you’re what I could have been, what does that make me? Probably a failed prototype." Hugging the kid one-armed, Genma smiled down at him. "I’m whatever you want. It’s all I know how to be, anymore. I’d like to be your knight in shining armour, but I think Rai’s kinda got that position reserved, already. I’ll settle for friend."
Hayate’s wide eyes stared at him for one long moment before he ducked his head and buried his face in the front of his hoodie, hiccoughing and sniffling and shaking. He didn’t pull away still, looking like he was trying to shrink into himself again, but he was doing it against Genma. He felt sick in his stomach, but it was a cold, relieved kind of sick, and some of the tension was gone from his body.
"Hey, kid — Hayate? Would you mind terribly if I just hold you for a bit? You look about like I feel." Genma waited, half-expecting to be shoved away and perhaps snapped at, again. But to his mild surprise, Hayate shook his head slowly and lifted his head. He looked, if possible, even more of a mess now, but it was an entirely different kind of mess.
"Will you really be my friend?" he asked, hiccuping, and in that moment he looked entirely vulnerable.
Genma swallowed hard and pulled the kid close, both arms wrapping around his thin back. "Oh, good god. Of course I will." He rocked gently back and forth, one hand stroking the boy’s back. "Of course I will." Genma looked down at the boy in his arms and then up again at the moon. Why are people such horrible creatures? He’s just a freshman! It’s still only October! There hasn’t been time for this to happen, yet, but somehow it’s already there. I hate people. I really, really do.
Hayate, for once, didn’t even flinch. He sank against Genma tiredly in some kind of relief, letting out a heavy, wheezy breath. "Thank you," he mumbled, feeling his head fuzz over, and let Genma do what he would. He was too tired to argue, to put up walls now, and he found that he didn’t quite want to now. Now that Genma said he’d be Hayate’s friend — now that he’d said it — everything just felt so much easier. Genma just held on tight, quietly singing a song his mother used to sing when she sat by his bed at night. "Lullaby, the north winds cry. Northern lights begin their ballet…"
After a few long moments, Hayate stirred away a little, to turn his head and cough wetly. He shuddered reflexively at the taste it recalled and pulled Genma’s shirt off of his shoulders. "You should take your shirt back." There was a quiet tone of thanks in his voice.
"Are you sure? I’m not cold at all. And if I was, I’d just go downstairs and get another shirt." Shit. He’d been trying to avoid letting that get out. Genma flinched like a man who’s just gotten sugar in a cavity, but accepted his shirt and put it back on, trying to forestall the inevitable bad something that was due any second. "I guess I’m warm enough for both of us."
"It’s okay. I’m not that cold." It was a little bit of a lie, but Hayate was pretty sure he’d live, and shirtlessness seemed inappropriate for the time of year. He coughed again for a moment, sniffling, and spat over the edge of the roof. It was a vulgar thing that he normally wouldn’t have been much given to, but necessity was a commanding thing. He sat back up and readjusted his hoodie, looking back up at Genma with slightly drier eyes now. "What floor do you live on?" he asked, mostly out of idle curiosity than anything else.
Genma looked at anything but Hayate. "Fourth. Two flights down."
Hayate nodded, still peering up at Genma in mild curiosity. Something seemed odd, but then Genma was an odd person altogether. And Hayate knew, perhaps more than most, the kinds of skeletons that could inhabit one’s closet. Some of those skeletons could be shared, for sure, but there were others that stayed buried deep in the back of the closet. Those weren’t supposed to be dug up. Hayate knew what it felt like to have someone else digging up your skeletons, picking and pulling at them. He wasn’t going to dig up Genma’s skeletons.
"You, ah, want to take the easy way back down, later? Maybe stop for a cup of tea on the way through?" Genma looked back at Hayate, schooling his face to remain calm. The kid looked curious, perhaps a cup of tea and the grand tour would sate that curiosity. Wasn’t like he hadn’t already mentioned living in the area.
Hayate nodded, wiping his nose on his sleeve, and for a moment it looked like he might have been smiling, even just a little, behind his arm. "Okay," he said placidly. It felt like things had been fixed, or renewed, or altogether replaced in the best sense of the word. Instead of the vast awkwardness and discomfort that had previously hung between them, sticky and cloying, there was now some sort of tentative camaraderie. Hayate, at least, felt less guarded, more comfortable around Genma now that the senior called himself friend. "I probably can’t stay out too long, though," he added after a moment. "Um, my dad won’t know where I am when he gets home from work, so…"
Genma smiled and poured himself to his feet where he stood, holding out a hand to Hayate. "Well, then, I suppose there is tea in your near future. Shall we? I’d hate to make you late."