Thicker than Blood

This may be the most random and completely unplanned fic I've ever written, LOL. This is third in the continuity that started with Dance and Heart and Eyes and Claws; you don't have to have read those to understand this fic, but there are several direct references to them, especially the latter. Set sometime post-Chuunin Exams. Enjoy.
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Konoha Founders' Day was, without a doubt, Shiranui Genma's number one favorite holiday.

Halloween? Nah, he'd been too grown-up for the whole candy and costumes thing long before he'd been at the age where he could've appreciated it. Christmas? No way, too many depressed people offing themselves. Obon? No, he'd met plenty of guys who were now hanging around in the afterlife, he had no desire to get acquainted with any more of them.

But Founders' Day? It was a holiday without pretenses. Nobody really gave a shit that this was the day X number of years ago that Shodai-sama declared Konohagakure an independent Hidden Village; Founders' Day was for one purpose and one purpose only: partying. Eating well, chatting with old friends, getting drunk, and getting laid. All of which suited Genma just fine.

All of his friends among Konoha's upper ranks knew of his enthusiasm for the holiday; Genma threw a Founders' Day party every year, and it had been quite a while since anybody had bothered trying to weasel out of attending. Even Kakashi, ever-antisocial, was obliged to put in an appearance, albeit usually not until half an hour or so before everyone else was ready to stumble drunkenly home (Kakashi being late for anything and everything wasn't exactly unusual, but in this case Genma was about 80 percent certain it was a deliberate effort rather than forgetfulness induced by moping around the memorial monument, or whatever the hell it was Kakashi did with himself all day). The first couple times Genma had held the party at his home, but the truth was that not only did he hate cooking -- it was enough of a bitch taking care of himself, let alone up to twenty or thirty other people -- the cleanup afterwards had been horrific. So nowadays his usual practice was to pick a restaurant, make reservations, and pass around word to everybody about where they were required to meet up this year. It was sort of like a mission briefing, only... not so serious. And with booze.

Last year, the overwhelming consensus had been that everybody was tired of Indian food, so this time around Genma had chosen a suitable Chinese place to harrass instead. He sat now at the head of a large table in the back room of the restaurant. A very large table, covered in steaming and rather delectable-looking food. A table of which he was currently the only occupant.

Five minutes past meeting time and he was the only one here. What was the world coming to? For most normal ninja, the shinobi way of life tended to instill a healthy respect for the virtues of punctuality. Genma could only take this as a very bad omen for the rest of the evening.

He knew it meant the apocalypse was coming when the door slid open and Hatake Kakashi was the first person to walk into the room.

"Ka..." His jaw dropped for a moment and he frankly didn't even care how ridiculous he looked as he gaped openly. Kakashi just smiled a little, and ambled over to plop down on a seat in Genma's general vicinity.

"Is no one else here yet? That's weird..." he remarked, seeming quite oblivious to the spluttering of the man beside him, glancing curiously around the room as though expecting all the other partygoers to suddenly pop out from behind one of the decorative potted plants. "Definitely a first, huh?" he remarked cheerfully as he turned his gaze toward Genma.

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking," Genma replied levelly, raising an eyebrow as he attempted to compose himself. For a second there he thought he'd been in real danger of swallowing his senbon. And Kakashi, damn the man, had probably just gotten exactly the reaction he'd been shooting for. There was a certain smug tilt to the shadow of the lips underneath the mask that seemed to confirm Genma's dark suspicions.

It was times like this that he wished the little bastard had never gone and grown a sense of humor. Though he couldn't ever seem to think that thought without feeling a little guilty afterwards.

Kakashi, however, despite his enjoyment at discomfiting Genma, still seemed rather bemused; he glanced around the room once more with a raised eyebrow as he inquired, "So, where is everybody, anyway?"

"What, you mean you didn't kidnap them all and tie them up in a barn somewhere just so you could show up first and irritate me?" Genma asked grumpily. He was allowed one moment of righteous anger. "Nah, actually," and he shrugged as he reached over the table for the nearest pitcher of water to pour Kakashi a glass -- they couldn't start on the sake until they had the toast, which they couldn't do until everybody was here -- "your guess is as good as mine. But, hell, it's only..." He looked up at the clock again. "Six or seven minutes. They're all still doing better than every year you've bothered to show up combined." He smirked a little as he pushed the water glass Kakashi's way.

"Maa, you say that like I never show up." Kakashi's voice might have held a sliver of petulance; he reached over for the glass and idly drummed his fingers against the side, making no move to take off his mask yet. "I haven't missed one of your parties in years."

Genma snorted. "No, you're just conveniently so late to all of them that you might as well have not come. And I'm sorry, man, you are never living down six years ago." The smirk returned, distinctly wicked, and he had the satisfaction of watching Kakashi try not to wince underneath the mask. Six years ago, the younger man hadn't deigned to come to the party, so the party -- already very, very drunk -- had come to him. His apartment, to be specific. Kakashi, freshly discharged from ANBU and, in Genma's opinion, far too used to his own company, had not reacted well.

That had been a really fun party.

"I never did get the vomit stains off the bathroom ceiling, you know," Kakashi confessed with a mournful sigh.

Yes, a really fun party.

Genma's smirk just widened as he replied, "I still can't believe you didn't skin somebody alive for that one."

"Well, I was never quite sure whether it was Ebisu or Asuma. Might also have been Ibiki, honestly, they were all around there at about the right time. Who knows?" Kakashi shrugged. "But, if I ever find out," and he smirked in return, "I promise their bathroom ceiling is done for."

"An eye for an eye, huh?" Genma snorted, realized what he'd said, winced, and accidentally poked himself in the tongue with his senbon all in the space of a few seconds.

"Ow!-- Er. Sorry. Bad pun unintended, I promise."

"No offense taken. I'm used to your lousy sense of humor," Kakashi reassured him with impudent cheerfulness, at last tugging down the mask just long enough to take a sip of water, replacing it when he was finished. He could've done it so quickly that there was no way Genma would have been able to glimpse the face underneath, but they'd known each other for a long time, and these days Genma was one of the few people in the world who could boast that Hatake Kakashi was something approaching comfortable around him.

It hadn't always been like this. No, he could remember a time when it hadn't taken much prompting to find himself presented with a thorough view of every other body part Kakashi owned, but his face? That thing that made him human, unique, visible, noticeable, discernable from the masses? For years he'd hidden it as thoroughly as if he'd been ashamed of it. Perhaps he had, at that. Genma didn't really know the reasons, but then, he'd never claimed to understand Kakashi. He doubted if anybody did, most emphatically including Kakashi himself.

"...Er... Genma?"

He blinked away his idle thoughts to find the other man looking at him slightly abashedly, and had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. If there was one thing he did understand about Kakashi, it was that the moron had a guilt complex about thirty miles wide.

"No, Kakashi, my delicate feelings were not bruised, I understand it was a joke, and if you try to apologize I'm going to kick your teeth in," he assured the Jounin preemptively with raised eyebrows and a narrowed gaze. Kakashi had the grace to look sheepish, scratching the back of his tousled head embarrassedly.

"Uh, right. Of course. You just looked... off there for a minute," he observed, faintly uncomfortable.

"Eh, it was nothing... god, where the hell is everybody?" Genma interrupted himself, glancing impatiently up at the clock, to mask his own sudden discomfort. "Just got reminded about... stuff, for a second."

This was something else that was different. Before, back then, they never... talked. Kakashi, specifically, never talked, and he definitely never came as close to... asking as he just had done.

Genma gave the other man an appraising glance, and wondered if it was weird for him to feel sort of proud.

He didn't think Kakashi would have pried further, but the way he was looking at the Jounin almost invited comment, and he wasn't really surprised when the quiet question -- "Stuff, huh?" -- passed the younger man's lips. Genma shrugged, smiling a little as he looked away. He was silent for a moment longer before elaborating.

"You ever think about... how different things are? From way back when?" How different you are?

Kakashi appeared to ponder the question for a moment, shrugging faintly as his eyes drifted vaguely off over the table. Genma thought he saw the slightest of smiles flicker across the other man's face.

"Sometimes. When I look at... my team. The kids." He gave another slight shrug. "They remind me of... well, of a lot of things."

That hadn't even been what Genma was thinking of, but for a moment it made him want to laugh. He'd always thought Kakashi would make such a terrible tutor, to start with... "You like teaching?" he wondered, leaning forward to prop his elbows against the table and rest his chin in his hands.

Kakashi nodded, another small smile passing across his face before his countenance sobered again. And for just a moment, looking at him there in profile, Genma was struck abruptly by a memory of that face, that familiar form -- warm and wet and naked and staring blankly at the wall of the ANBU showers like nothing would ever make him happy again -- and for that bare moment Genma had the most bizarre urge to just weep.

There was a moment's pause.

"Good. It suits you," he murmured instead, purposefully, his eyes finding Kakashi's own. For a long few seconds they just sat there, looked at each other.

He had always felt that the human gaze was the most eloquent form of communication.

Kakashi was the one to break eye contact at last, glancing over at the bounty on the table as he pulled a couple of dishes closer. A soft small almost-smile lingered around the squint at the corners of his eyes.

"...Well. It's anyone's guess when everybody else is planning to show up -- I suspect a devious plot to put us off our guard, personally--" Kakashi theorized deadpan, with the other man snorting next to him-- "and I'd hate to let all this food sit here and get cold... Shall we just start by ourselves?"

Genma laughed. "Sure, why not. If we get to all the good stuff first, it's their own damn fault."

"My thoughts exactly," Kakashi replied cheerily, helping himself to some spring rolls.

It seemed like they sat there for hours after that, talking and laughing and teasing quietly over their dinner and glasses of water (Genma had almost broken down and opened up the sake, but Kakashi had insisted they ought to wait, just in case). They'd never had an opportunity to spend time together in quite this way -- nothing standing between them, not friends or work or large quantities of alcohol or even simple shyness -- and Genma was a little surprised that Kakashi had allowed it to happen. Surprised more that Kakashi seemed to be enjoying it as much as he was, tossing barbs and verbal witticisms back and forth with that perky, calculatedly irritating smile -- an expression Genma knew for a fact had begun as a front, a way to get people to leave him alone, but that seemed to have morphed into something more genuine.

Kakashi was sort of happy.

Imagine that.

The realization, perversely, was about as intoxicating as a bottle of sake would have been, and Genma thus chose to blame inebriation for the way he tugged Kakashi forward mid-joke and yanked the mask down far enough to press their lips together.

Kakashi didn't respond for a moment. Genma leaned a little further into the kiss, exploring his lips gently; but then he felt the other man tense a little against him, and Genma waited resignedly, half-dreading and half-hoping that Kakashi would surprise him again -- would actually, for once, push Genma away--

But before either of them could move, he was saved by the sound of the door sliding open and shut on the other side of the room, and a familiar voice.

"Woah, did you guys break out the booze already? Little early to be that sloshed, don't you think?" Asuma observed with a smirk in his voice as Kakashi and Genma somehow managed to spring away from each other at exactly the same time.

Okay, perhaps saved wasn't really the right word.

Genma snorted. "It was his birthday kiss. Since I didn't get him a damn thing otherwise, you know."

"Now, Genma, what have we all said about you thinking your body is the only thing you have to offer?" came another teasing voice from beyond the doorway as Kurenai walked in, crimson eyes sparkling mischeviously and a contingent of amused-looking Jounin and Special Jounin filing in behind her. Kakashi's face was turned toward the wall for a moment as he readjusted his mask, but he glanced back seemingly unruffled at the entering group to raise an eyebrow in their general direction.

"So where were you guys? You realize you have all allowed me the honor of being the very first person here this year," he said with a wide smile that suggested not a single one of them were ever going to live it down. Gai, ever-conscious of being one-upped by his 'eternal rival', cleared his throat with a slightly indignant expression.

"Of course we weren't intending to be late, but I'm afraid we mistook the restaurant. We had all gathered at the King's Chef, and it took us some time to realize that you must be waiting at the Chef of Kings... A tricky business, restaurant names," he declared with a solemn nod as he took a seat. Genma groaned.

"You mean to tell me all you high-and-mighty elite ninja got your intelligence wrong?"

"This from the man who'd leave half his mission report blank if he could get away with it," Ibiki snorted as he too plopped into a chair, tugging a dish full of lo mein closer to his plate. "Human memory is not flawless or unlimited, and some of us have better things to do with our time than memorizing where the next Founder's Day party is supposed to be."

"Sure, we probably all do," Raidou said with a laugh, settling himself in the seat next to Genma, "but enough about work. We're not here to bicker over missions, we're here to pig out and get sloshed, am I right?" he declared to the general table with a roguish grin, reaching for the nearest bottle of sake. Genma laughed, picking up a sake cup and nudging one Kakashi's way too as people hurried to sit down.

"I can definitely get behind that." Genma raised his empty cup a little, nodding toward it with a grin. "Shall we toast, boys and girls?"

A few moments later found everyone with a cup in their hands, and after the assembled Jounin had finished pouring each other their drinks, they raised their glasses as one.

"To Founder's Day," Gai was the first to declare, nodding seriously.

"To Founder's Day," Ebisu echoed from across the table, pushing up his glasses.

"To Founder's Day." Anko this time, grinning.

"To..."

Genma hesitated a second, and the group looked over at him curiously. He grinned a little.

"To family, eh?"

He thought he'd chosen right, from the smiles that answered him all around the table. The assembled shinobi clinked their cups against each other and spoke out all as one.

"Cheers!"

It was a holiday, after all.

It was all right to be a little sentimental.
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Genma had a great deal less to drink than normal, that year. He made his excuses and stepped out not too long after Kakashi did, a 'coincidence' which no one found terribly surprising. And he, in his turn, was not too surprised to find Kakashi perched patiently on a nearby rooftop when he walked out, turned in the general direction of the restaurant's front door. Genma hopped up to meet him, sat down next to the other man in silence. For a few moments, they stared up at the moon and said nothing.

"...Sorry about that."

Kakashi did not respond. Genma just smiled awkwardly over at him.

"Guess my mouth got ahead of my brain."

Kakashi remained quiet. For a moment, he thought the other man was not going to reply at all -- gee, this feels familiar --

"...so you didn't... mean anything by it."

Genma blinked. Kakashi's voice was quiet, the one dark eye finally turning on his face with an almost hesitant expression.

He raised an eyebrow at the younger man.

"Well... did you want me to?"

Kakashi seemed caught off-guard by this question. He just blinked back at Genma for a moment, expression surprised, before glancing away. It was a few moments longer before he spoke.

"To tell the truth..." The Jounin smiled, a little ruefully. "I'm not actually sure."

Genma couldn't help but laugh a little. "You say that like you think I was expecting a straight answer out of Hatake Kakashi."

"Hey, I can give straight answers!" Kakashi protested with wounded pride -- though rather weakly, in Genma's opinion. "I mean, when I want to..."

The Special Jounin just grinned. "Sure, man. Whatever you say."

A disgruntled sniff was Kakashi's only reply, and that just made Genma laugh more.

The Jounin's countenance sobered after a moment; Kakashi's eyes turned on the older man's face as he seemed to hesitate again.

"I guess I'm just... a little confused."

He paused.

"It's just that..." The Jounin's voice was a murmur, now. "Genma... I just thought you..."

Genma inwardly braced for the name he knew was coming.

"You and Hayate..."

"Hayate's dead, okay?" He cut Kakashi off before the man could go further, his voice perhaps a little harsher than it needed to be. "And it's not like I was ever a monogamous kinda guy, even while he was alive. You do realize I was... messing around with you at the same time I was seeing him," he pointed out, raising an eyebrow at the younger man.

"What you and I did... It wasn't the same." Kakashi shook his head slowly, looking away. "That was... was... public service," and he gave a self-deprecating little huff of a laugh, "a favor for a friend, me taking and you giving and it was just--"

"It was exactly the fucking same, you moron, I was in love with you and you had your head shoved too far up your ass to notice it," Genma snapped.

He didn't entirely realize what he'd said until he registered the way Kakashi was staring at him. The other man's expression seemed to hover somewhere between stricken and utterly mortified.

"...wasn't actually planning on saying that," Genma muttered, eyes turning toward the roof tiles below their feet.

Several seconds passed before Kakashi spoke, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know why the Jounin's voice sounded so horrified.

"You... you were?"

So help him, if the man did anything stupid... "Yeah, so?" Genma scowled, pulling the senbon out of his mouth to fidget with it between his fingers. "You weren't, so it doesn't make any difference, does it?"

Kakashi was silent for a very long moment.

"...You know."

Genma's gaze turned on the other man as he paused. Kakashi smiled a little ruefully, looking up at the moon.

"I always... wanted to go home with you, when you would offer. Afterwards. I just... couldn't."

Genma's eyes widened. For a moment, for some reason he couldn't quite place, he felt almost afraid to speak.

"...Why not?" he murmured at last.

Kakashi shrugged. Smiled that sad smile again, scratched at his head embarrassedly.

"Scared, I guess," he murmured back, gaze still turned toward the sky.

And that, at least, was something Genma thought he could understand.

He sighed a little, replacing the senbon in his mouth as he rose leisurely, stretching. It had to be past midnight by now; he could feel the late hour and the alcohol catching up with him, making him drowsy.

"...Well. It's a little late, and sitting on roof tiles is murder on my poor ass," he declared impudently, stifling a yawn. "Think I'm gonna head back."

Kakashi nodded slowly, making no move to get up himself yet. He regarded the other man with an unreadable gaze.

Genma looked down at him for a moment. Smirked. Extended his hand.

"You should come back to my place. Stay the night," he murmured, repeating a familiar refrain.

Kakashi's dark eye widened.

"Oh, c'mon, man. I have a very comfy bed. Or couch, if you're a prude." He couldn't help the way the smirk turned into a smile, far too soft for a face suited to sarcasm, and nor could he seem to stop that weird uncomfortable bit of wetness welling up in the corners of his eyes.

Then Kakashi smiled back, just a little, and took his hand.

And that made everything worth it.
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