Spoilers for Hayate's fate during the Chuunin exams. If you didn't know already. You knew already, right?
I've never written a fic that made me cry while I was writing it before. I guess there's a first time for everything. Part of the inspiration for this story came from a Gackt song, "Uncertain Memory".
The medics gave him six more months, so he decided he would live to be a hundred just to spite them.
Gekkou Hayate was stubborn like that.
He'd had that grimly insistent, pigheaded attitude for as long as Genma had known him. Which, hell, had been quite a long time. They'd grown up next door to each other. Genma could barely take five steps out of his house in those days before he had a Hayate at his heels, pestering him to come train. Hayate always wanted to practice his swordfighting. Genma had never been a big fan of swords, but he obliged because it made Hayate stop whining, and also because, well, if he was honest with himself, Hayate looked pretty cool with a katana in his hand. Swinging around in katas, thrusting and parrying. Kinda like a miniature swordmaster. Hayate always said he was going to be a real one someday.
When he was thirteen they'd told him he should stop wielding a sword because it was too physically taxing, he needed to switch to something easier if he was to remain a ninja, perhaps thrown weapons. Hayate had reported to Genma later, in his matter-of-fact way, that he'd glared at the doctors and told them he was already in the middle of learning the Crescent Moon Dance, and he was going to learn all the Sword Dances and become a real swordmaster, and if they thought they could stop him they had another thing coming.
When he was fourteen they'd bluntly informed him that he was killing himself, and washed their hands of the matter. That spiteful, stubborn attitude of his had brought Hayate to Genma's bedroom that night, because at that moment he'd wanted to feel as alive as he possibly could. Genma had been twenty. They were six years apart. But Hayate was a stubborn bastard.
After that, Genma knew he was never gonna get rid of the guy. But he didn't mind too much.
At the moment, they were in the Gekkou family dojo, and Hayate, comfortably dressed in just a yukata, was practicing again. Genma was still in uniform; he lounged against the wall and watched Hayate go through the motions, once, twice, three times, and over, swinging and thrusting his beloved Tsubame. It was a familiar, soothing routine for them, to rest there in comfortable silence as Hayate did his katas. The lives of all Konoha's higher-ranked ninjas tended to be hectic, to understate wildly, and this time was an oasis of sorts. Their nightly bit of calm.
Hayate had been made Special Jounin, not because his skills weren't worthy of full Jounin status, but because Special Jounin didn't normally leave the village and his health prevented any long-term missions outside of Konoha. Genma had begged a little and been moved down to Special Jounin, not because his skills weren't worthy of full Jounin status, but because Hayate was stuck in Konoha and somebody had to be around to look after his cranky ass. For the most part they didn't hang out with the other Specials; they spent their time instead with the regular Jounin, Asuma and Kurenai and Kakashi and the crew. He thought the other Special Jounin were a little contemptuous of the two of them, since they really were more of the "jack-of-all-trades" Jounin school of thought; technically neither of them had a specialization.
If asked, Genma would've given his own as "kicking your ass six ways to hell and back."
Hayate's, of course, would've been swordfighting.
Genma had chosen to stop feeling bitter about it. When he was twenty-one, and Hayate was fifteen, he'd asked the other boy to stop. Cornered him in the dojo in the middle of the night and all but begged him. Hayate had given him a very long look and asked if it wasn't worth it, a little pain, a few years he might have lost anyway to a kunai or a jutsu, in exchange for the opportunity to create...
"Something beautiful," he had murmured.
"What the hell are you talking about!" Genma had gotten himself rather worked up by that point. His senbon had flown out of his mouth and rolled along the ground. "You're screwing up your body and it can't take that much more screwing up and for what? For a fucking jutsu? No technique is worth you throwing your goddamn life away!" he'd shouted, and done his best not to look like he was about to cry. "I know how much you love the sword, Hayate, but god-"
He'd stopped abruptly as Hayate looked away from him to stare down at the ground for a moment. The senbon needle had rolled all the way over to his feet, and he stooped to pick it up.
"I thought you understood, Genma," he had murmured, casting his eyes on the needle in his hands, rolling it slowly between his fingers.
Genma had sucked in a breath. He'd been so afraid of seeing those eyes turn on him with a look of betrayal. Afraid and angry and worried and thoroughly agitated.
"I always told you, when I was a child, how I wanted to be a swordmaster." Hayate had just kept playing idly with the senbon, and did not look up at him at all. He smiled a little, a tad bitterly. Genma rarely ever saw him looking sorry for himself. "Children will have their dreams. Whether or not they're realistic ones."
He had paused for a long moment, just staring at the needle in his hand. Genma hadn't had a clue what to say, and just watched his face. Hayate smiled again, a ghostly soft smile that made him look very young somehow. His dark eyes turned upward to meet Genma's. His voice was a whisper, carried to Genma more by the echoes of the wide-open dojo than by Hayate's mouth.
"But I... I have to keep just one dream for myself. I want to leave behind something beautiful. Something perfect. Even if it's only in my mind... I will know that I did it."
He had stood there smiling, in the pale blue moonlight filtering through the windows, and after that day Genma had never again asked him to quit.
Right now the present-day Hayate was finishing the last of his kata, and of course neither of them was thinking about six months or anything of the sort as he walked over to grab a towel, wipe the sweat off his brow, and prepare to go through the motions of the Crescent Moon Dance. They turned toward the door as a quiet knock reached their ears, and Mika slid the rice-paper paneling open to step inside, carefully crading a tray. Her long purple hair was tied back tonight, and she looked tired; Genma supposed she'd probably been on a mission, or maybe just patrolling. Usually she came in earlier than this.
"Evening, boys," she greeted them. "I made some tea. And here's your medicine, Hayate."
"Mm. In a minute." Hayate's sword was half-raised, and he had an absent look on his face that said inside his head he was already dancing.
"No, how about now." Mika smiled, picked up the small cup that held Hayate's medicine, and walked over to hand it to him. Genma couldn't help but grin a little as he went to pick up one of the cups of tea for himself. Hayate was the king of stubborn, but his little sister was the queen. Genma guessed it ran in the family.
Hayate gulped the substance quickly, not quite managing to hide his grimace of distaste, and handed it back to Mika with a quiet thanks before he took up position again. Mika slipped out to leave them their private time, and Genma sipped tea and settled against the wall to watch. They hadn't sparred much, lately; Hayate was spending more and more of his nights caught up in the rhythm of the Crescent Moon Dance.
It had hurt to watch it, at first. But it helped that he was so desperately beautiful.
A slash there. Mold the chakra like so. Turn, step, slash, step. Hayate repeated each little movement over and over, working his way slowly, ever so slowly, up to the finale. Back. Forward. Back. Forward. And... now.
His body made a graceful arc, yukata flapping, as he leaped.
Genma thought to himself that he would like to see Hayate perform it under the moon someday. When it was perfect.
He made a flawless landing, but the next step in the dance was cut short as he suddenly doubled over, coughing. Genma rushed over to catch him before he could fall, and Hayate leaned his head against him, taking deep, shuddering breaths. The katana fell from suddenly nerveless hands.
It hurt. But it was beautiful.
"You don't have to push it so hard," he murmured, keeping his tone as soothing as possible, trying to stomp the worry out of his voice. He stroked slow circles over Hayate's back with one hand, holding him as the other man quieted. "Maybe you should take a break for tonight. You've been busy lately, what with the Chuunin exam and all."
Hayate didn't speak for a moment.
"It has to be perfect," he whispered. "I want it to be perfect."
"I know," Genma replied, wrapping his arms around Hayate a little tighter. "You'll do it someday. I know you will."
The creator of the Crescent Moon Dance took twenty years to perfect it.
They weren't thinking about six months.
Genma felt cold when he went home that night. He wrapped himself in three blankets, but the feeling didn't go away. He hadn't really expected it to.
When he was twelve, and Hayate was six, they had camped out together.
They had come along on the all-school outing, and they were supposed to be practicing ninja survival skills or something like that, but Genma had thought it was tedious, and Hayate hadn't really been interested in anything that wasn't swordfighting. So the two of them had found their own secluded spot out in the Konoha woods, and proceeded to be irresponsible together. Genma taught Hayate a jutsu to make fishing lures out of acorns, and they played hide and seek up in the tops of the trees, and when night fell Hayate curled up next to Genma and fell fast asleep like only a little child could, wearing the faintest satisfied smile on his face, like he knew something Genma did not.
Genma thought that was rather how Hayate looked now. Smiling a little, and asleep. Ready to open his eyes at any moment, grumble about Genma staring at him, or maybe tease a bit, if he was in one of those rare moods.
Hayate wasn't going to open his eyes.
They'd been courteous enough to let him see the body for a little while, before they incinerated it to place the remains in the funeral urn. His skin was ashen, but he was clean; the wound that had sliced through half his upper torso was hidden under a fresh Jounin's vest. He didn't doubt that Mika had pulled one of Hayate's own from his closet, playing mother hen to the very end. Hayate's hitai-ate was tied around his head; in death it seemed they had decided to give him the Jounin status he had not merited in life, for the bandana was folded up underneath the metal forehead protector, leaving his brown head bare.
An empty black sheath lay beside his form. Tsubame was not inside. Genma wondered detachedly what they had done with it; to see him laid out here in this state, without his beloved katana, felt completely wrong.
It was possible it had been taken back to the dojo. He decided to go look for himself, because it was better than breaking down and sobbing.
The Gekkou house was dark and quiet when he let himself in. He couldn't blame Mika for not being here at a time like this. From this side of the house, the half-open door of the dojo looked like some gaping dark maw, but as he drew closer he could see the blue moonlight filtering in through the windows on the opposite wall. He stepped inside, and quietly slid the door closed behind him. Hayate had always closed it before he began.
Every once in a while, he had practiced in the dark like this, as if it took the glow of the moon outside to truly inspire him. Feet moving gracefully across the mat, every limb in its proper place, his sword flashing in the pale light...
Which was reflecting now off the blade lying on the floor in the center of the dojo.
Genma felt his breath catch in his throat, and after a moment he started slowly over toward it, feeling drawn to approach. Tsubame gleamed pristine in the faint glow from the windows, and he hesitated briefly, before reaching down to take it.
He pulled off the bit of paper that had been attached to the hilt and ran his eyes over it, because it was better than running himself through.
He always said that after he was gone, he wanted you to have this.
Mika hadn't even needed to sign his name. She knew he would be here. After all, it was time for Hayate to do his katas. And he always watched Hayate do his katas.
He was not sure how long he stood there and let his tears drip onto the tatami before he heard her behind him.
He just turned to look at her. There was nothing to say.
"He went down fighting," she murmured, her own gaze turned on the katana. Her eyes were dry. "The rooftop we found him on... there was a huge curve carved into the next building. It went so deep we couldn't believe the wall wasn't crumbling. Our jutsu specialist said it had to have been a Crescent Moon Dance... One of the most powerful he'd ever seen."
Genma's eyes turned back on the sword.
He looked up at the moon shining pale and blue through the window. And he was sure it was perfect. Sure it was beautiful.
And then he danced.