Iruka watches Hayate. He watches him so much that he misses things; things he only sees when he stops watching and starts again. It's entirely unfair that somewhere in the years since they made Chuunin together, he never quite noticed how a cough that was once intermittent gradually became persistent. Or how a slow smile that was once lazy was suddenly one day exhausted.
Or how on one afternoon a friendship with a purple-haired classmate became an engagement.
Who is he kidding? That last one... Scratch that last one. Iruka had noticed that.
He'd gotten way past drunk at their engagement party, after all.
"When I asked you over for drinks I didn't mean you get all the drinks," Hayate had teased. He'd threaded his fingers through Iruka's bound hair, loosening the ponytail holder. After awhile, his thumb had begun to caress that little indentation between skull and spine. Iruka had desperately wished his stomach would stop emptying itself of its on volition so he could concentrate on that touch. But the next thing he remembered, Kakashi was hustling him out of the house and into the muggy dawn and he hadn't talked to Hayate for weeks after.
The next time Iruka saw Hayate, the fingers on his right hand were entwined in the chain links of the schoolyard fence. The fingers on his left were whitening from lack of circulation, because the fluffy white dog on the other end of the leash wrapped around Hayate's hand hadn't quite yet figured out that their morning walk was now a morning loiter. See? Iruka watched Hayate closely.
Hayate only needed to lift his chin to beckon Iruka over, and between the practice posts and the fence Iruka had time to reflect on how Hayate was the only person who could make him to turn his back on thirty armed eight-year-olds.
"Who's this?" Iruka squatted next to the fence and squeezed a hand through. The puppy danced away from his touch at first, but submitted to petting soon enough.
"He's Yuugao's. I told her a puppy would only end up being a nuisance. We'll always have to find somebody to watch him while we're on missions. But she really wanted him, so what could I do? You know I can't refuse her."
Iruka stood up so abruptly that the dog gave a little yelp of protest.
He watched Hayate try and fail to hide a wince. There were some places the two of them just didn't go. Though Hayate sometimes forgot.
"Yeah, I do know," Iruka finally answered. He kept his voice light, a smile on his face.
"Iruka…" Hayate began. It would have been the perfect moment for one the kids to ignore his stern command and throw a shuriken. Then he would have an excuse to hurry away from Hayate and his cough and his hands with the line of dirt under the fingernails and Yuugao's damn dog. But there were no abrupt thwacks, nor were there any screams of pain. At least not outside of Iruka's own head.
"…It wasn't supposed to be like this." Hayate punctuated the sentence with a series of hacking coughs forceful enough that he had to clutch the fence to keep his balance. When the coughing subsided, and he flexed his hands open again, there were white marks there where the chain had bitten his skin.
Iruka would have kissed the imprints away. Right there in the school yard, with the kids looking on.
"Then how was it supposed to be?" he wanted to ask. But: "You shouldn't be out walking around when your cough's that bad," he said.
Forgotten at their feet, the dog yipped.
"Yeah, I guess you're right. And this guy will be wanting to eat again," Hayate agreed. "See you, Iruka."
"See you, Hayate."
Hayate stood looking through the links of the fence at Iruka for a moment, like he might say something else, but he just nodded instead, and he and the dog ambled back toward home.
Behind him, Iruka twined his hand through the fence where Hayate's had rested, squeezed hard until the links bit his palm, and hung on for dear life.
It's morning. Saturday. There's no school and he's woken up much too early. He's thinking about nothing and anything – what he'll have for breakfast, that thankfully none of his kids have gotten hurt in the Chuunin exam so far, that it's a bit warm in here. The strips of light filtering over his bedspread distort when he reaches underneath for his cock. It's already hard, but it stirs farther when he gives it a lazy tug. And then it's… oh.
"Oh yes. You again," he sighs, resigned, as Hayate's image floats up before him.
Hayate is fourteen, his tongue is poking out of the corner of his mouth like it does when he's concentrating, and he's sitting next to Iruka on his bed. Looking straight ahead, they're both as stiff and composed as the instant before a camera flash. The only difference between this and sitting for a portrait is that Hayate's hand is curled around Iruka's cock.
"Is that okay?" he asks, and his voice cracks. For once, Iruka doesn't tease him about it.
"Yeah." Iruka doesn't dare to take his eyes off the dormitory door directly in front of him. He feels himself grow hot, from blushing and something else. The feel of Hayate's hand there. Hayate's hand. There.
When he gets close, he throws his head back, half-closes his eyes. That's how he sneaks a peek at Hayate, concentrating so diligently, his own cock tented in his pants. He comes on Hayate's hand then.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" He's up instantly, presenting Hayate with one of his old socks to clean the mess.
"It's okay," Hayate tells the sock as he rubs it over his knuckles.
Present-day Iruka comes on his own hand. Back then, there wasn't much outside that tiny room that Iruka cared about. It had been the same for Hayate, he thinks. Back then. Time always tells, Iruka supposes.
He's helping Hayate move today. He and Yuugao bought one of the cheap cottages down by the Nakano River Bridge. Yuugao wanted something with a yard so the dog could run around, Hayate had told him the day he'd asked Iruka for help. Real friends help friends move, after all. And he's worried about heavy lifting and Hayate's cough.
Yuugao playfully presses a cold beer to the back of his sweaty neck when he walks through the door with a load of boxes. He's her friend too, so she thinks. The three of them had been teamed up for the Chuunin exam, after all, their first and Iruka's second. You don't forget a thing like that.
She steps in close.
"Hayate's cough is getting worse with every trip. Don't let him move any more boxes today, please Iruka. He listens to you."
He knows he shouldn't be cross with her for that. They both have Hayate's best interests at heart. He just wishes he'd thought of it first. He's never been able to bring himself to baby Hayate. That would be like admitting that the cough isn't going away.
"Then I'd better get back over to his place- his old place, I mean, before he leaves with another load." Relief in her eyes, Yuugao tosses him the beer as he's leaving.
Hayate is sitting on the stairs, head in his hands, when Iruka arrives. He stands when he notices Iruka's arrival. His eyes look glazed. Just the heat, Iruka thinks.
Iruka wordlessly offers him the beer but Hayate waves it away. "Yuugao would murder me." He hides a cough behind his palm. "If this doesn't kill me first."
"Don't say stupid things," Iruka's voice is harder than he intended, but when Hayate smiles at him his eyes are soft and brown and Iruka is reminded again what it is like to want something so much that it literally hurts.
"We better get the rest of these boxes over to the house then," Hayate's beautiful lips say. Iruka knows he's staring. And he knows Hayate knows. It's not like his feelings are a secret. Some secrets are too big for one person, he's always thought.
Hayate moves to pick up a small box marked "Books" but Iruka stops him with two fingers on his bicep.
"No wait! Yuugao said..." Iruka begins, but Hayate is looking down at the way their bare skin touches.
When he speaks, his voice is pained, and not from exhaustion.
"Sometimes, I want to kiss you so much…" Hayate says. "But I can't."
If Iruka were a real friend, he would not exploit Hayate's moment of weakness. "That's true," Iruka the Honorable would remark. "All that was a long time ago," he would say then, with a note of stern finality in his voice. "I wish you and Yuugao every happiness," he would add last. Hayate would kiss Yuugao on their wedding day with a clear conscience. Iruka would buy them an over-priced digital appliance as a wedding gift, drink moderately at the reception, and later that night jerk off into his hand while, across town, Hayate and Yuugao christened their marriage bed. That's what Iruka the Honorable would do.
Then again, what has a shinobi ever known of honor? Iruka has loved this guy almost half his life, and a shinobi takes his chances, and that cough isn't getting any better. Not really.
He finally admits to himself, there in Hayate's apartment surrounded by cardboard boxes and dust bunnies the size of tarantulas, that soon enough their big secret will be his alone to bear.
Iruka's mouth tastes of sawdust when he speaks. "If you want it then do it. No one will ever know."
He has tightened his grip on his friend's bicep without ever noticing, and now when Hayate turns to him he has to slacken up or twist Hayate's sleeve. Hayate is about to leave him here, he knows. He'll mumble, "I'm sorry," but he'll walk out just the same. Iruka's shoulders slump, he closes his eyes.
Then he feels a touch on his cheek. With the backs of his knuckles caressing Iruka's cheekbone, Hayate has that serious look on his face. He was always so serious. When he drops a hand on Iruka's shoulder for support, then leans in for the kiss, he's serious about that, too.
They stand very still at first. Perhaps Hayate is acclimating himself to kissing, again, lips that were once so familiar. Iruka is simply afraid that a sudden move will scare Hayate away. But soon enough Hayate cups Iruka's face in his slender hands, and Iruka threads his fingers through the sweaty hair beneath Hayate's hitai-ate. They hold on like that for what seems like hours.
It's not a pretty kiss, but it's an honest one.
There isn't a thing in the world that could make Iruka pull away first except a strangled sound in Hayate's throat. He sags against Iruka's shoulder, coughing.
"Sorry," he says blandly, when he regains his composure. But then he smiles at Iruka and Iruka can't help but smile back. "I'm not dead yet," he adds.
"Not until the 23rd," Iruka teases, referring to the date of the impending wedding. Hayate nods placidly and Iruka knows then that they won't speak of the kiss again. The moment has passed.
Honestly, the moment passed a long time ago. Iruka once read in a history text that the major struggles in the world occur when people refuse to let go of the past. Failure to accept change has led to genocide and war and the death of countless innocents. He thinks he should be able to incorporate this into a lesson plan somehow. "Pay attention students," he would say, gesturing with his pointer as Hayate straightens up and turns away from him, "It’s history repeating itself right before your eyes."
"I'll get the rest," he says instead. "Go home. Yuugao is waiting."
"I guess I should," Hayate's voice might have had a ragged edge. Or Iruka could have imagined that. "I have to work tomorrow," he added.
The Chuunin exam finals were the biggest event in Konoha in years, but Iruka had almost been able to forget them for one day. Some things, like gatherings of ninja villages and daimyo, were rare, it was true but – he thought back to the kiss – some were epic.
"Last day tomorrow, huh? I'll just be happy if none of the kids get seriously hurt." Iruka is stalling now, and Hayate knows it.
"Last day," he echoes.
Hayate squints into the sun when he opens the door, then looks back at Iruka one last time before he leaves.