Characters: SEBU! Iruka and Bumblebee! Hayate
Date: January 5th
Summary: Iruka and Hayate spend what should have been a relaxing evening at home - except anything with Iruka is never quite that easy.
Iruka: For once, there was a complete lack of a strong wind, so the chill wasn't too terribly bad as Iruka sat on the balcony railing, enjoying the sunset. It had been a long day - meetings with the Hokage with Izumo, meetings with Inoichi - whom Iruka was beginning to honestly consider a friend, and the usual mountain of paperwork. But at least they were going out on mission tomorrow, even if it was as back-up for Reiko. He wasn't going back to Eros though - that wasn't an option. No, he was the Intel agent on this one, pure and simple.
And best of all? A peaceful apartment once again - still no Izumo wreaking havoc in sight.
Just him and Hayate and a quiet evening with them doing nothing more strenuous than relaxing for once. He smiled at the thought, reminded himself to figure out something really spectacular to do for Hayate to show his friend his appreciation for all that he did around the apartment - on top of his workload - and drew in another deep hit off his smoke, eyes closed. There was still a fair bit of time before dinner was ready, after all.
Hayate: Hayate set the timer, and headed out to the balcony, taking a deep breath. He'd been psyching himself up for this all afternoon...but he had finally decided something needed to be done. So, he was doing it. He didn't like it--he hated confrontations of any sort, especially with people he loved--but he'd learned to do a lot of things he didn't like. And ignoring problems never made them go away; being married had taught him that, at least. It had also taught him how to handle 'discussions' without turning it into an immediate fight....
'Yuugao, need your help,', he thought wistfully, as he pulled on his coat and stepped out onto the balcony. Iruka wouldn't have dared to talk back to his wife...or at least, if he had, she'd have given as good as she got. Yuugao was stubborn like that.
He stepped up to where Iruka sat on the balcony railing, and quietly took the burning cigarette from his friend's fingers. He stubbed it out in the ashtray with an expert hand, though he'd never smoked. (Just been around people who did.) "I missed you last night," he said, by way of starting things. Oh, he knew exactly where Iruka had been--clued in by the fresh bandages in the bathroom trash this morning--and what he'd been up to, but Hayate needed to hear it from Iruka himself.
Iruka: Mild bemusement turned into a wary kind of tension as Iruka watched his friend steal his smoke and put it out. His seemingly simple statement hung in the air between them for a moment as Iruka realized that the serious expression on the other's face indicated that it wasn't made lightly.
Apparently, his foray into old behaviors was to be the topic of discussion...
His own face took on a slightly stubborn set as he watched his friend. His voice was neither defensive nor argumentative as he stated firmly, "While I missed you, too, I didn't want to make you uncomfortable by bringing them back here. Was I wrong?"
Hayate: 'Them' was an unexpected turn of events and Hayate couldn't keep the surprise from showing. His eyebrows rose, and he looked from the view of the village back to Iruka. Hmm, there was that stubborn look, the start of a sulky childish 'I don't want you to ask' expression. Hayate was beginning to get used to that look on Iruka's face, but instead of simply walking away this time, he was going to keep going. It was the same sort of sullen resentment Izumo often showed--'and why do you care?'--and it wasn't a good attitude. Hayate had often thought it was more guilt than anything else....
"No, you weren't," he said, gently, tone and posture quiet and nonthreatening. He didn't want to make it a fight. If he had to, he would, but he didn't want it to go that far. "And thank you. But Iruka... I know it's not my business, but I don't think you should be doing this."
Now to see where that statement would prick the hardest; it wasn't aimed towards anything in particular, nor was it an attack...but if Iruka was feeling guilty already, it would get a reaction. Unless Iruka was going to sull up and play dumb, but Hayate didn't want to think of worst-case scenarios just yet.
Iruka: There was no way Iruka could miss the surprised look Hayate shot him. What surprised him was that he couldn't quite make himself meet his friend's gaze. Instead he focused on the steady rise and fall of Hayate's chest - a comfort all its own for him - as he muttered softly, " 'S not that big a deal, Haya. I'm not married, hell I'm not even in a relationship. And it's not like I'm going out and having random one-night stands anymore...stopped doing that after I landed here."
Never before had he had someone question his actions, not really, much less express disapproval. He wasn't quite sure what to do with that. Frustration and indignation had him lifting his head to add more firmly, " 'Sides, not like I'm hurting anybody."
Hayate: "Are you?" Hayate asked, raising an eyebrow. Both his tone and the look he gave Iruka demanded an answer...even as he stepped closer and reached out, hand closing over Iruka's shoulder just tight enough to make the wounds he knew were there twinge. "Are you really?" he pressed again, hand dropping away, moving back, giving Iruka space enough so he wouldn't feel attacked.
Iruka: Iruka's breath caught with the intentional pressure, moderately surprised that Hayate didn't seem willing to let it drop this time. He watched his friend with a heavy-lidded gaze as he stated dryly, "Let me rephrase: I'm not hurting anybody and what hurts I have are both welcome and intentional to myself alone. Good enough?"
With a soft sigh, he reached up to tuck a lock of hair behind his ear and drew a knee up to rest his wrist on it. "Or is that the problem?"
Hayate: Hayate sighed a little. "Part of it," he answered, quietly. He glanced at Iruka, tried to read his body language. He looked away after a moment, watching the village, keeping his own posture and chakra as peaceful as possible. "I understand the need to let off a little stress. But there's such a thing as too much, you know."
His aunt had always told him 'everything in moderation,' and he'd found it to be very true. And besides...he was beginning to think it was less stress-relief and more of avoiding the problem...whatever it was. Iruka had been going out and coming back with blood and bruises a little too frequently for Hayate's tastes. It wasn't good for him.
Iruka: "But where do you draw that line, Hayate?" asked Iruka softly as his own gaze drifted down to the street below, watching as civilian and shinobi alike wandered the path beneath them. He was frustrated, because even Raiko had given him the subtle questioning the night before - not that what they were doing was causing any problems. His friend had simply expressed a concern for Iruka's motives.
He shook his head as he watched a child run up the street, before finally asking softly, "What constitutes the shift from just enough to too much? What makes you so sure it's not 'just enough' for me - is it your sense of moderation and values or what you see, when you look at me?" He honestly wanted to know, though for once he wasn't entirely sure just what he was really asking.
Hayate: "When it becomes an escape, instead of a help," Hayate answered, steadily, voice rasping faintly. He paused to try to find the words to express his thoughts; to change the wordless certainty to something he could share. He didn't want to hurt Iruka, or chase him away--he wanted the man to listen. Unfortunately, Hayate suspected Iruka wasn't much in the habit of listening; more used to fending off attacks before they could hit home.
"When instead of helping you deal with your problems, it's helping you to block them out."
And while Hayate was used to seeing that sort of behavior, he'd never had to deal with it from Iruka, and he felt like he was walking along a damaged tree, uncertain which branch would give way beneath his feet and which would hold steady.
Iruka: Iruka hummed a small acknowledgement, though he held back the denial that had automatically sprung to his lips. He pulled out his pack of cigarettes and slipped one out, then began to rhythmically tap it on his knee, end over end as he turned his friend's words over in his mind.
He did, however, reach out to catch Hayate's hand, threading his fingers through calloused ones to let him know he wasn't ignoring him as he did so.
The problem, he realized, was that far too much of Hayate's words applied: There was much in his personal life that he wasn't facing head on like he'd vowed to do. Instead, he'd let himself fall back into old habits...accepting a lifestyle he'd already acknowledged as self-destructive, rather than face what was hurting him in the here and now.
Troubled eyes shifted to stare at their joined hands before he finally asked softly, "What's wrong with me? Really? Why is it...dammit! Why is it I can't ever seem to get it right, then? Even here - even now - I still...but it's just so damned easy, yanno? And I understand that, the subtle shifts in power that happen in the bedroom, but outside there? I just don't get how people are supposed to..."
Hayate: Hayate bit his lip as he listened to Iruka's words. He seemed so very confused. Hayate wasn't entirely sure just what was troubling him most, but he did know one thing. "It's not easy to change a habit," he murmured, twisting his fingers around Iruka's.
Iruka: "...but it's easy to let a habit change you."
Iruka offered his friend a small smile, pulled lightly on his hand to get him to step closer as he shrugged. "Hayate used to tell me that when we were younger and he was trying to get me to not get into so many fights. It applies now to, rather too well, hm?" His smile faded as his thoughts pressed forward once again, clamoring out the memory for the mess he'd slipped back into.
Iruka sighed and shook his head, eyes darting up to meet Hayate's as he smiled ruefully at his friend. "How did you do it? Make things work? I...I thought what Tenzou and I had had was something closer to real, but I was apparently, wrong. And Genma...I want that to be real too, but I'd rather find a way to let a dream go and hold him as a friend than fall into another unequal relationship. I just want something...something..."
Hayate: Hayate blinked, confused. "...things in general? Or a relationship?" He wasn't sure now what Iruka was asking about. He'd thought they had been talking about circumstances in a more general sense, but apparently not. 'Well, that's one great maker or breaker of any relationship. Communication!' he thought to himself, wryly. That still got him, as it was now. But the longing in Iruka's voice wiped away any smile, and made his heart ache for his friend. Such loneliness.... He shifted their joined hands, to clasp Iruka's more firmly in his, stepping closer.
Iruka: "Both, I guess. I think....I think, I'm still trying to figure out how to be comfortable in my own skin - to see and accept who and what I am. And while watching you helps...it's confusing too. Because there are times I feel like you're hiding something from me, or something of the sort, and I want to ask...but I don't know how. Add to that, this mess with Genma, and how I feel like I'm wanting something I can never really have, and I guess..."
Iruka sighed, then sat up to rest his forehead on Hayate's shoulder, his own slumping wearily as he continued, "I guess it was easier to slip back into old habits, instead of dealing with things. But I hadn't realized it was getting too bad, honestly."
Hayate: "Watching...me?" Hayate blinked, completely confused, and automatically shifted closer, shoulder ducking a little so Iruka could reach more easily. He decided the problem was a whole lot bigger than he had first thought, and tried to re-arrange his thinking to properly accommodate that. "Well, you're Iruka, aren't you?"
Because Iruka was Iruka. Just that. Occasionally more, but never any less. But there was at least one thing Hayate could do...he could help curb bad habits. He doubted Iruka would like or appreciate the help.... Hayate sighed a little, and absently leaned his head against Iruka's, cheek pressed against his hair. "You're so impatient, and expect so much. Be a little easier on yourself, hmmm?"
Iruka: "Sometimes that's easier said then done," muttered Iruka softly. He fell silent after that, centered himself on Hayate's steady presence, the rhythm of his breathing. When he finally spoke again, there was a smile in his voice. "And yes...watching you. You have this way of looking at things and only seeing black or white...whereas...I could look at the same thing and see innumerable shades of grey. There's this...sure, almost steady, kind of peace to you that I can't quite grasp and yet..."
Drawing in a deep breath, Iruka held his friend a little more as he pushed on, "...yet...there are times I feel like you're hiding from me, or shutting me out, but I can't figure out the how or the why of it. But it makes me think maybe...I'm leaning too hard or too much on you..."
Hayate: Hayate was confused again. It seemed Iruka was praising him for the same rigid views that had more often gotten him scolded. "Your father ruined you when he taught you those samurai morals," his teacher Genma had told him once. He was more accustomed to being told he was too idealistic and straightforward.... But that wasn't the problem that needed immediate addressing.
"No, 'Ruka, never. You'd never lean too much on me. I know it." Hayate felt a little bit guilty--he'd been trying not to bother Iruka with his own problems. Apparently he'd managed that a little too well. "I'm sorry it seemed that way...but I promise I'm not shutting you out. That's the last thing I want to do."
He reached up to run a hand over Iruka's hair, and tried not to get a deep breath--Iruka had been smoking, after all, and he certainly smelled like it to Hayate's sensitive nose. "Part of it is...I just...hardly see much of you, anymore. And you're so tired when you do come home...or trying to cover up where you've been."
Iruka: The soft frown that pulled at Iruka's lips went unseen by his friend before he finally whispered softly, "How is that any different from you taking so many solo missions? You're going where I can't follow right now, with no one there to watch your back, then you're...well, maybe not shutting me out, but you haven't exactly been leaning back so..." pulling back, Iruka reached up to slide his fingers into Hayate's hair, cradling the back of his head as he searched his friend's umber gaze.
"It's like two boards leaned against each other...If one is pressing more than other, the balance is thrown and eventually they both fall. And I feel like I've been that board lately - pressing too much without being afforded the chance to offer the same support in return...and I don't wanna be the reason you fall."
Hayate: Solo missions. Hayate's gaze flickered away, down to his feet and the concrete beneath them, feeling irrationally guilty. He didn't dare tell Iruka that--by now--solo missions were his only choice outside of SEBU. Kakashi hadn't needed to say much, given how suspicious of alters the regulars were, but what little he had said had been pounced on and inflamed by local gossip. It had gotten to the point where Hayate was now something of a pariah; if not outright sneered than at least ignored, and while he'd tried it was insanely difficult to partner with someone on a mission when they didn't trust you and weren't talking to you.
"Well," he temporized, pushing up a little smile and working his voice into a lighter tone. "For a while you weren't able to run any missions, and then you could only run them with Kakashi-san.... But things will be different now."
Iruka was still friends with Kakashi, and Hayate certainly didn't want to be the one to blacken Kakashi's sterling name in the village, anyway. Hayate smiled and made it perfect, meeting Iruka's gaze so it would seem right. "I told you, silly, you could never lean too hard on me. I know it."
Because Iruka accepted him, wanted him near, and it was enough and more than enough. It was a solace that couldn't be equalled, especially now when he was in such a position. He was so used to being a "floater," someone who could be tagged on a team that needed an extra because he got along with almost everyone. And now....
One good thing had come of all of it, though. Izumo seemed to have taken up his defense, fiercely and devotedly as he ever took up anything, and Hayate was grateful for his small efforts. While they still weren't precisely friends, a bitterness had passed from between them, and though Izumo didn't have a large hand in the gossip network, he was risking what influence he did have to put forth good words on Hayate's behalf. He had also requested Hayate as a mission-partner several times now, and it had been such a relief to work again with somebody he knew and who welcomed him at their side.
The timer beeped, and with a guilty gratefulness Hayate muttered something about saving supper from burning and moved away, all but retreating indoors. He hadn't lied to Iruka, exactly, but he'd come so close to it there was a sour taste in his mouth and a sick knot in his stomach.
Iruka: Dark eyes watched Hayate's quick retreat solemnly as Iruka rested his chin on his knee. Sometimes, he thought, Hayate seemed to forget that reading people's action and measuring their words was Iruka's job.
And now that he was stopping to seriously look at his friend, he was seeing a fair bit more than he'd been able to even a few weeks ago.
"Even so...it's more clear to me now that you are not leaning back..."
Iruka sighed at the realization and shook his head. He had to fight to curb his initial reaction - to jump up and follow his friend, to push and argue until Hayate admitted it - because he knew it would probably only make the stubborn man dig his heels in even deeper. And with them leaving on a mission in the morning, Iruka didn't want them having any residual feelings of anger or resentment between them.
Plan after plan of attack filtered through his mind, each dismissed as quickly as it'd come, until he finally settled on what he hoped would be the best, most effective approach. A slow, confident smile slipped onto his lips as he hopped down off the rail and slipped into their apartment. Silent steps carried him across the living room to the kitchen, just in time to see Hayate pull down their plates. As soon as they were safely set on the counter, Iruka moved in.
Strong hands wrapped gently around Hayate's wrists before Iruka crossed his arms in front of his friend, gently forcing Hayate's arms to fold against his own chest as Iruka pulled him back firmly against himself, effectively hugging his friend and holding him in place. "I love you, Hayate. You've been more than a friend, more than a brother to me since you arrived in this world, and while I know...it's not been easy to watch me fall apart, you've always held me up. You've been my strength and my center and I've not done everything I could to let you see that, but no more. No more harmful escaping for me and no more hiding for you. So please...let me be there for you. Let me be the one to catch you when you need to fall."
Hayate: Warned by chakra-sense, though not by sound, Hayate did not jump out of his skin or stab Iruka. He was a little surprised by the restraint, however, and tested it gently. Iruka's grip was firm but not confining, and after the first little push Hayate leaned back against his friend. The steady warmth and touch, the enfolding embrace, and he let out a heavy sigh as a load of tension dropped away from his shoulders. He couldn't have said why he suddenly felt better; only that he did, relaxing back against Iruka. The touch mattered most, Iruka's words secondary....
The tension twitched back up between his shoulders as he realized Iruka wasn't going to drop it. But as distressing as it was to walk into the missions-room now, Hayate didn't want to say anything. He didn't want to incriminate Kakashi, or villianize any of the native ninja. It wasn't as if they'd really done anything. Just...said nasty things, just ignored him. And Iruka would get upset, and Hayate didn't want him to; it wasn't really worth it. Iruka had better things to worry about. Hayate bit his lip, hands folding closed, and bowed his head.
"It'll be alright," he murmured, half-hoping, because surely it couldn't last, could it? Though he knew better. "It...it's nothing, really. You've got....other things...." He trailed off, uncertain, and with a growing feeling of bewilderment and dismay. He fidgeted, but didn't pull away, or stop leaning against Iruka. He craved the contact and didn't want to leave the security of the embrace. "We should...eat before it gets cold," he murmured, hesitantly, a feeble attempt to redirect.
Iruka: It'll be alright? It's nothing? What the... "What'll be alright, Hayate? What's nothing? Are you--you're not still being harassed in the mission room are you? Because after Izumo ran off at the mouth I went to Tsunade-sama herself to discuss the problem about natives not willing to team up with us alters..." Iruka frowned, the faintest hint of anger darkening his gaze as he leaned over enough to look at his friend's face. "That's not it, is it?"
He tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, because if that was the reason Hayate was so stressed out...he was going to have to go back and have words with both his silver-haired friend and the Hokage.
Hayate: And now Iruka was upset and Hayate squirmed miserably. He hadn't...how had this all turned around? From his concern over Iruka to this and it wasn't supposed to be about him. It wasn't as if it was a big enough problem that Iruka needed to fix it. He'd dealt with worse, after all...it wasn't like it was ANBU-hazing, after all, and he'd survived that just fine.
He knew he should say something, but he didn't want to lie and he didn't want to tell the truth, and why couldn't Iruka just drop it? It wasn't the issue here. He'd be fine, but it was Iruka who was struggling still and he needed attention more than Hayate did.
"S-s-supper's getting c-cold," he managed, and realized with horror that he was stuttering. He hadn't stuttered in years! Certainly not after he'd turned ten! He bit his lip hard and looked down at the floor, shoulders hunching and cheeks heating with embarrassment and shame.
Iruka: Whatever was bothering Hayate was obviously something that his friend wasn't willing to share with him. And the more he pushed, Iruka realized, the more his friend got upset. Which, really, was the exact opposite of what Iruka wanted.
Swift to follow the realization was an unexpectedly sharp spike of hurt at the knowledge that Hayate was, for whatever reason, still shutting him out.
It took every ounce of his effort to not completely lose control of his temper then, because the man had just denied doing that, then went and did it anyways. In his effort to keep from lashing out, his eyes hardened slightly, became a shade guarded as he sighed and placed a soft kiss to the other's temple, murmured gently, "Trust and communication is a two-way street, my friend...nevermind. Let's eat."
He started to step back, to let it drop for the moment, because he had the feeling if he pushed any more right then, he might do or say something he'd regret.
That didn't mean he'd let it go though. Not by a long shot.
Hayate: Hayate flinched, as if he'd been struck, and stood perfectly still for a long moment; head bowed, eyes closed, arms still crossed over his chest where Iruka had left him. He fought with the bewildering urge to turn and run--and for an absolutely terrifying moment he didn't know if he wanted to run to Iruka or away from him and he shuddered. He just didn't...everything was all wrong and he didn't know how it'd gotten that way or why and he certainly didn't know what steps to take to fix it.
He bit his lip hard enough to pinch a corner open to the blood, and forced his eyes open. He forced himself steady and his hand didn't shake when he held out a plate for Iruka...but he couldn't bring himself to look at Iruka at all and he didn't know why. Words died in his mouth and it was all he could do to move mutely to serve supper, shaken and confused. He had the distinct feeling he'd disappointed Iruka, maybe even hurt him somehow, but he couldn't have said anything and he wouldn't lie to Iruka and he just didn't know....
He was sick of not-knowing and so tired of trying to fumble his way along, hardly knowing what he should do, and for a moment the feelings he kept tamped down so tight swelled up and threatened to grab him; the eerie feeling of dislocation and the homesickness longing for what he'd known and the grief for what he'd lost still lingering sick and bitter in his heart. His hand on the serving spoon shook and he had to swallow hard, bite his lip, and suck in a sharp breath before he got everything back under control. He would be calm, he would be steady, and he would try his hardest not to give Iruka any more cause to be upset or disappointed.
Iruka: Iruka tried to let it go for the moment, he really did, but when he saw the way Hayate started to show some form of emotion, only to hide it once again, Iruka finally snapped. The plate in his hand was slammed down on the counter as he grabbed his friend's shoulder and spun him around to face him.
He gave the man a light shake, both hands wrapped about the other's shoulders firmly as he ground out, "Stop that! Stop hiding everything from me! Stop pretending everything's fine. Obviously it's not - obviously something is hurting you so if you're mad, say you're mad! If you're upset, say you are, but just...just stop shutting me out like that!"
Hayate: Gasping in utter shock, dropped plate rattling 'round as it settled on the floor, Hayate could only stare round-eyed at Iruka. The anger in Iruka's tone and in his eyes hurt, and Hayate stammered out the only thing he could at the moment.
"I--I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
Even as the jumbled apologies left his lips he knew it wasn't what Iruka wanted but he didn't know what Iruka wanted or how to give it to him. All he knew was he'd made Iruka upset, disappointed him again--again and why couldn't he stop? Iruka deserved so much better, needed someone better, because he kept trying but he couldn't seem to get it right.... His head ducked and his hands rose, splayed in supplication between them.
Iruka: Iruka shook his head and shifted his hands up to cradle Hayate's face, gently lifting it up so that Iruka could see his eyes. "Don't say sorry Haya...I don't need you to apologize. If anything, I feel like I should be the one to do so, seeing as you don't seem to feel the same security with me as I do with you...It's just...this, what you're doing now... this polite 'nothing's wrong', not talking bit...it's what Bumblebee did with me, once we were older."
Iruka paused, sable eyes searching umber ones as he added softly, "So please...I'd rather you say 'Yeah jackass, something's bothering me but I don't wanna talk about it' than try to pretend everything's fine. I know I've been messing up again, Haya, I do. So I promise to...try not to. But with you, I just want to...just wanna at least have the chance to try to be there for you, as much as you've been for me...even if I mess it all up in the attempt."
Hayate: Hayate managed to look Iruka in eye--but they weren't the right eyes. They weren't blue with the pale crinkles at the edges Iruka got from laughing and squinting at smiling in the sunlight like he did. Hayate struggled with a lump in his throat, everything roiling and bubbling up in him. "It's not...." Hayate bit back the words. He looked away and back at Iruka.
"This....this isn't where I'm supposed to be," Hayate said. None of this was right. Hayate was so used to people trusting him. He missed that. His missed his wife. He missed his kids. He missed his Iruka with his flashing blue eyes and quick laughter. He missed his Itachi. He missed them all and more. He wanted to make Iruka happy. He wanted to put them both at ease, but he didn't know how to make that happen. He didn't know how to take care of this Iruka.
"And I...I don't..." He trailed off, closing his eyes, because he just didn't know what words to say. His hands closed over Iruka's wrists, holding him near. It wasn't...it wasn't a rejection of Iruka, and he didn't want Iruka to think that, not at all.
Iruka: It was a sharp reminder for him that this Hayate, this gentle creature before him, had lost so much more than Iruka, really. Yes, he'd lost friends, a lover, a boy who was like a son...but he hadn't had someone back in his village who was a soul-mate, hadn't fathered any children...hadn't had the strong bonds the man before him had.
Sometimes, to Iruka's shame, he forgot that not-so-little fact.
Gently, Iruka pulled his wrists out of Hayate's grip, then wrapped his arms around his friend's shoulders, pulling him in close. "...I'm a poor replacement for all you've lost Hayate, but until we can find a way to get you home, I'm here for you to lean on. So please, when you start to get like this...lean on me instead of trying to shoulder your grief alone."
Hayate: At first he was afraid the hands sliding from his grip was the start of rejection, but even as he opened his eyes, Iruka was pulling him close. Hayate shut his eyes again, relief rushing through him, and his head bowed until his cheek rested against Iruka's shoulder, arms folded and trapped between them, but he couldn't care. He shivered, fighting the rise of the emotions, so shaken loose, breath running ragged and uneven against Iruka's shoulder.
He was so confused, trying to get back under control, but the forced calm eluded him and he couldn't seem to capture it again, everything scattered loose and he shouldn't have to fight so hard for it, and he shouldn't have to fight at all here held close and his hands fisted helplessly in Iruka's clothes, searching for the anchor he so desperately needed. His balance was so fragile...when had he become so breakable? He didn't know and it scared him. He couldn't...he couldn't afford to be so weak, not when Iruka needed him to be better than this, to be stronger. Iruka needed him to be in control so he could...so he could....
When the thoughts had taken into voice, he didn't know, a harsh ragged whisper like a mantra under his breath, dissolving into what tasted too much like tears and he gasped, trying so hard to hang on and stay together, burying his face against Iruka's shoulder.
Iruka: As Iruka listened to the softly muttered words, rough and gasping, his eyes closed on the sharp prick of tears. One arm tightened as the other rubbed lightly along the smaller man's spine, gently reassuring words, meaningless sounds, breathed into Hayate's hair as Iruka held him close.
It was his fault Hayate had become so worn down, pushed to the point of breaking so that Iruka could have someone safe to lean on while he selfishly fell apart. The sharp realization that he'd leaned too hard and too far without offering the same in return, that he'd brought his friend to his knees in the process of finding himself once again twisted painfully in his chest.
So he listened and let every word brand itself into his heart, a sharp reminder of the damage he could inflict so easily and so carelessly to someone he claimed to love, until he could bear it no more.
One last shuddered breath ghosted between them from him, then Iruka was pulling Hayate impossibly closer, sable eyes opening to cut to the side, looking at his own hand pressed between his friend's shoulder blades. "I'm through with falling down and falling apart on you, Hayate. I'm tired of being the mess you have to clean up and I refuse to hurt you anymore with my stupid selfishness. No more excuses. No more hiding. No more self-destructive habits. I'm not that man anymore, not gonna be that burden that drags you down. I'm taking back control of me, finally, so that you don't have to shoulder our burdens alone. So please...please stop trying to pretend everything's alright...and I'll promise to try not to hurt you anymore. Please."
Hayate: Guilt stabbed him at the hurt in Iruka's tone, but all he could do was hang on and press his face into Iruka's shoulder. He was so pathetic, falling apart like this...he should be better, and stronger, and Iruka shouldn't have to apologize, because he was the one who wasn't good enough, even when he tried to be. Iruka...he deserved someone so much better, who wouldn't be so weak, who could stand strong. Not him, who didn't have the courage to stand up to the hissing whispers and staring eyes, who couldn't seem to conquer the soul-stealing grief or ever forget that nothing here was home and never could be. Iruka needed someone who could be so much more, not a coward and a weakling and a selfish brat who couldn't get over himself and hold it together to help Iruka....
And even now, he could barely get the words out, when it was so important.
"S'not y-you...not y-your fault, you d-didn't do an-anyth-thing...."
Iruka wouldn't hurt him. He knew that. It was a truth he clung to even as he held onto Iruka now, shivering and trying to block away the tears because it was stupid to cry and he shouldn't and why couldn't he just get it back together and smile so everything could be okay again?
Iruka: A soft sigh slipped out of Iruka as he wrapped his arms more firmly around Hayate's shoulders, across his friend's too thin back, before he finally pressed soft lips to the other man's temple in an unmistakably affectionate kiss. "No, I didn't do this by myself...we're both to blame for this Haya. No one is made purely of steel...no one is by themselves a stone fortress...blindly, I leaned on you beyond what you could endure on your own, but at the same time, you failed to speak up - to let me know that you needed some more support in return..."
Strong arms tightened as dark eyes closed. Another light kiss was pressed to Hayate's cheek, then Iruka was murmuring gently, "I know I can't replace all you've lost, nor would I want to...but do not forget, Hayate, that while we are here, you are family. You are the brother I never had, the friend I longed for, and I hope for your own sake, you can one day trust in me enough to let me be your strength, as you have been mine. Let me stand strong for the both of us, so that you don't have to do so all the time...Lean on me when you can't fake the smile anymore Hayate, and trust me to not let you fall."
Trust me to spend the rest of my life trying to get you back to those you miss...to get you home. It was an impossible thought, but one that Iruka couldn't quite shake. Hayate didn't belong here, in this shadow of home. He belonged with his wife and his children. He belonged with his family and friends.
Yuugao. Itachi. His children.
They were all waiting for him to return, he knew it, so maybe it was time for Iruka to grow up a bit and thank them all for giving him a chance to know such an amazing soul. It was time Iruka got serious with his research and start devising a plan to get the man back where he belonged.
Hayate: No, Iruka couldn't replace all of that. There was no replacing something like that. This Iruka was nice, good--he was kind, and he cared, but he wasn't Hayate's Iruka. Iruka deserved to have someone try to help him, yes, not enough people had. He had his own problems, and enough trouble to deal with without Hayate adding to them.
Hayate didn't really need to add to that burden.
And it wasn't....it wasn't Iruka's fault, not at all. None of it was. He didn't need to feel as if he had to try so hard. And he could never lean too hard, just as he wouldn't ever hurt Hayate.
But Hayate didn't know how to say that, how to get it across.
Blindly he reached up, fingertips ghosting over Iruka's lips, silencing him, and his own lips pressed against Iruka's cheek--not scarred by fire and life, smooth and wrong but right and Hayate tasted salt and life and didn't know how to make any of it take on words. He didn't know how.... His arm slipped around Iruka's body, fingertips still resting featherlight over Iruka's lips, pulling him closer, and wishing he were better, different, so he could explain it, make Iruka understand....
....but the only thing he could ever offer was himself, broken and weak and useless, and the tears on his face told only of how short he fell of what Iruka deserved.