Disclaimer: Don't own. If I did, children everywhere would be corrupted.

Warnings: Shounen-ai, minor. If you don't like it, don't read. Flames are fun though so go ahead if you must.

Author's Note: This is most likely a WiP. We'll see. Also unbetaed; any mistakes are mine.

Shiranui Genma likes to think he's a pretty easy-going guy. At least, compared to a lot of other people he knows. He'd almost call himself the most easy-going guy in all of Konohagakure.

Sure, Hatake Kakashi has that lazy-lidded thing going for him, and Sarutobi Asuma can never be caught without a cigarette in his mouth – although Genma would argue that just points in favor the guy has more stress to worry about, not less – but they both have to deal with raising genin children into adults, and he's pretty sure behind those slouched stances and bored looks are frantic minds and worried thoughts.

Well, maybe not. But it's not like they give him a lot to go on.

So, all in all, Genma's settled into the easy-going position of the village, and so far he's had no one try to usurp him. He's fond of where he stands, and doesn't mind that he sort of blends into the background as far as popular shinobi are concerned. It's nice to wander around and not get the sort of stares Kakashi gets (whether for his mask, reputation, or both), or the kind of attention Tsunade gets (which is not so much because she is Hokage, but because she has such an alarmingly strong personality and very, very nice boobs). It's nice to be re-introduced to chuunin that he's passed as genin and not have them so much as remember his face, even though he was at the chuunin exams and probably spoke to each and every one of them during the trials. He doesn't mind. He's easy-going.

Umino Iruka, however, is not.

Iruka's blessed with the name of irony, because the man doesn't even really like the water (except for the steam baths, where he can stand up with the water merely lapping at his waist). Genma finds this out after dunking the boy underwater repeatedly when they are younger on an Academy field trip at a lake, getting punched in the face and gut several times in frantic retaliation until his sensei has to pry a screaming, hissing Umino off of him and drag him away.

Iruka is one of his closest friends, if not his closest, even though back then Genma wouldn't even think about talking to the brat, much less befriending him. Iruka used to be wild, obnoxious and loud, annoying the hell out of Genma and the rest of his peers even though the boy was five years younger and had just lost his parents. At that age, boys were unforgiving. Genma tries not to think about those times, because it brings back memories of Mizuki and laughter, things he would rather forget than remember.

Iruka is no longer wild, obnoxious, loud, or annoying. Iruka's actually a responsible adult who teaches children at the Academy; wild, obnoxious, loud, annoying children. Genma thinks maybe he's more attached to his childhood than he knows.

This doesn't mean Iruka's calm. He's mature and serious, or silly and strange, but he has severe anxiety disorder, is anal retentive, and when he gets angry he's not afraid to explode in a manner that makes even Genma almost choke on his senbon sometimes. He wrings his hands when he's nervous, blushes easily when he's embarrassed, blows his top at trivial things while remaining unflinching in the most dire circumstances, and smiles so cheerfully Genma can't help but smile back.

He can also be really, really sexy with his hair down brushing his bare shoulders all shiny-silky, that inevitable startled look on his face like he's never sure how he came to end up in Genma's bed and is completely oblivious to what they are about to do.

Which usually only lasts as long as it takes Genma to pull him close for a kiss, and Iruka always remembers how to take it from there.

He's one of Genma's best buddies, and he's also one of the loneliest guys Genma knows.

Genma's thirty. Not quite middle-age-crisis, not quite I'm-still-young-enough-to-think-I'm-invincible. He's sort of in between, and when he thinks about a wife and a family he half-smiles, because he knows he's going to have brats someday and that comforts him, but not enough to make him want to go searching for a girl to settle down with right that moment. He's content where he is, with what he's doing, and he likes living the life of a bachelor, single and perfectly in his right to bring home as many partners as are willing to have a little fun with him. He's a horny guy, and he'd admit it if everyone he hangs around on a daily basis didn't know it already (probably because he's slept with most of them).

There's a difference between living the life of a shinobi and living the life of a regular Konoha citizen. Genma's not one to dwell on the depression and angst about half of his colleagues probably write about in their diaries every day, and he's certainly never going to tell someone that the life of a shinobi is heart-breaking and tough. He doesn't need to say it, because it's well known. They're soldiers. It's how they live. It's how they've always lived. He's not going to say he has it any worse, or better off than anyone else, anywhere else. He likes his life, and he cherishes the people he's made bonds with. He toasts Hayate every time he gets drunk with his friends, and he says a little prayer every day before he goes off on missions. You can't get yourself hung up on things. You just gotta keep moving.

He's seen people drift and fade away, and he's seen them crack under the strain and pressure and cave. Every shinobi's crazy; some a little, some a lot. You have to bend a little, or you break. If you bend too much, you go limp. Some people can't cut it and Genma doesn't blame them. Some people suffer too much before they even realize they're gone, and Genma looks the other way. He used to worry Iruka was one of these people back when he was freshly chuunin and nearly tearing his hair out every day, killing himself with nerves and stress over missions, jumping like a frightened animal in life-or-death situations.

Genma remembers giving him a lecture about courage and strength in a dingy classroom on the fourth floor of the Academy building after the teen cut it too close with a kunai, watching Iruka stare at his feet in shame.

"You sure you want to do this?" he questioned, rolling the senbon over his lips.

Iruka's head shot up. "Yes!" he shouted, eyes blazing.

Genma never asks twice. Everyone has to figure out their path for themselves, and he doesn't doubt a fellow shinobi's word.

Iruka became an Academy sensei not long after that. Genma noticed he smiled a lot more than he used to.

It's not uncommon, or even odd, for male shinobi to develop sexual – or even romantic – relationships with one another. It happens less frequently with kunoichi, mostly because there are fewer kunoichi to begin with, but it is especially frequent, even expected, amongst jounin and high-level chuunin who have many enemies and live dangerous lives where every day might well and truly be the last. Those belonging to age-old clans or protecting bloodline limits have an obligation to produce an heir, but others don't want to risk bearing a child only to have the child grow up fatherless. There are already too many widows and too many orphans in the Hidden Villages as it is; many choose not to risk producing more.

Some, like Genma, bide their time until they feel their lives might be more settled and stable. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. An overwhelming eighty percent of shinobi die before they reach the age of thirty-five. Genma's crossing his fingers. He figures if he passes that morbid statistic without getting his head lobbed off in the process, then he's earned his right to settle down.

He used to think Iruka wanted children until the shinobi all but adopted the orphan boy with the Kyuubi sealed inside of him; the orphan boy who nobody else seemed to want. Who many seemed eager to get rid of if they had any leverage to do so.

Genma was surprised along with the rest of them that the man whose parents had been killed by that monster would so willingly open his arms to the child who contained it. It took a form of courage and wisdom even Genma didn't think he'd have if he were in the same situation.

Iruka laughed it off and told him the villagers were all being silly; after all, this was Uzumaki Naruto they were talking about.

Genma didn't know what he meant until he met the boy himself. Then he understood.

Naruto's wild, obnoxious, loud, and annoying. He drives Iruka batshit crazy. Iruka screams at him, and Naruto grins and does that squinty thing that still kind of creeps Genma out, even though he's seen it more times than he can count. Naruto leaps on him, and Iruka nearly trips and falls over. Naruto hugs him, and Iruka wraps his arms around him and squeezes him with such gentle tenderness Genma catches himself watching, wonderingly, before turning away and shrugging his shoulders.

It's best not to tread deep waters.

When Genma kisses Iruka it's pure hormones and sexual frustration and stress from days or weeks of not getting any and God if only Iruka wasn't such a prude all of the time Genma wouldn't have to practically devour him whenever the guy actually did let him close enough to weasel his way past his sexual inhibitions.

When Iruka kisses Genma it's yearning and desperation and sorrow, and Genma wonders if it's really worth it, if he should be tangling himself up in this, because Iruka's a shinobi like him and he's insane like him, but a little deeper, a little more cracked than Genma thinks he can deal with. After all, Genma's the number one easy-going ninja, and he thinks that someday he's going to have to tell people to start calling him that so he can get a nickname too like Kakashi has; like the Sannin have.

Iruka shakes sometimes, pressed up against Genma or curling away from him when it's all over, shakes like he's about to cry, but he never does and when Genma finally finds the nerve to ask him about it he laughs it off, just like he laughs everything off, and tells Genma he's imagining things. Genma doesn't ask again. He doesn't doubt a shinobi's words.

Even if this time he knows Iruka's lying.

It's Christmastime, and Iruka's throwing a party. He does this every other year, when he can afford it, and since Genma's just been promoted to Tokubetsu jounin, and has just bought a new house on the nicer side of the village, he offers it as the place to hold the party. Iruka's shabby little apartment isn't nearly big enough to hold the people Iruka will invite – which consists of everyone he knows (a lot more people than Genma thought anyone could know in their lifetime) and it seems to get larger every year – and while Genma's probably isn't either, it's better than letting the guy blow all the money on renting a place out when he can blow it all on alcohol instead.

"You just want to get me drunk," Iruka teases, thwapping him on the arm. He's in a silly, giddy mood today, and Genma thinks it won't take much alcohol at all before he has him in his clutches. He cackles insanely in his head.

Iruka's odd look makes him think maybe he might've cackled a little aloud, too.

As the afternoon wears on, and Iruka's little brats – Academy kids – show up to help him decorate (break things), the man's mood shifts from silly to anxious-bordering-on-hyperventilation, and Genma escapes his wrath while he can, joining Asuma in the kitchen to argue over what drinks to make. Asuma's hellbent on eggnog, crazy asshole, and Genma doesn't think he can point out enough that no one in their right mind would drink more than one glass of that sickeningly sweet stuff; thus wasting alcohol.

Asuma reminds him no one they know is in their right mind. Genma tells him it's a cheap shot. They argue some more until Iruka wanders in and announces to them, in a huffy voice, that there will be no alcohol until the kids have all gone home.

After he's gone on down this same thread for about ten minutes, Genma threatens to dump sickeningly sweet eggnog on him and chases him out of the kitchen, brandishing one of the gallon-sized jugs over his head. Asuma wrestles it from him and holds it to himself as if it were a precious child.

They argue. They compromise.

There's eggnog and hot apple cider tucked away from the kiddies, and everyone's happy.

There's the sound of a door opening and closing and a loud, excited "Iruuuukaaaa seeenseeeeei!" Genma catches a flash of spiky blond hair before the blur launches itself at Iruka, causing the man to have to drop the Christmas tree decorations he's holding or risk being bowled over onto his back. Naruto's chosen to wear a pretty ridiculous ensemble, green and red and orange (courtesy of a cap), and Genma finds himself distracted by the bright, clashing nature of the horrid outfit, missing the knowing smirk Konohamaru throws in the pair's direction before he dashes off to find his friends.

Naruto's slim legs wind around Iruka's waist with ease, and Iruka's fingers link securely behind Naruto's back. The two beam grins at one another; Iruka's is gentle and sweet, Naruto's is sharp and wide. Iruka extracts one hand to tug at the tassels of Naruto's cap, announcing his approval, and Naruto lights up, delighted and pleased. Genma watches surreptitiously, feeling nervous and twisted and wrong, but unable to tear his eyes away. He tries, because the more he watches the more he begins to notice, and he doesn't even like deep water and why the hell do they call it treading, anyway? Who the hell made up that word?

–And Naruto's suddenly in front of him, showing him a mouth full of white teeth with too-sharp canines, exuberant and ego-centric in a way only a twelve-year-old boy can be, boasting about the chuunin exam and how excellent he was and why he should have been promoted to chuunin, not that lazy Shikamaru who only wants to stare at clouds all day, and Genma finds himself smirking around the senbon in his mouth, leaning back into the cushions of the couch and letting the boy's nonsense slide over him, offering a quip here and there that go completely above and beyond the boy's head because he's too impatient and young to let it sink in, to digest and analyze and turn it over in his mind. It's exactly why he didn't make chuunin, but Genma doesn't say so because the kid has to realize it on his own. And he will. He's not unnaturally bright like the Haruno girl or a prodigy like the Uchiha kid, but he's resourceful and determined and that's what counts when it comes down to it.

Iruka believes in him. That's enough for Genma.

He feels a little relieved when the boy finally gets out of his face, darting away to help decorate (terrorize everyone). Genma decides to get a drink when the kid almost knocks the tree down and Iruka starts frothing at the mouth, chasing him around the entire house threatening to kill him. Genma disappears into the kitchen with Asuma. He accepts a smoke when he's offered one, tucking the damp senbon into his pocket for safekeeping as he follows the man outside to light the cigs, and lets the nicotine calm his fluttering nerves. Asuma assesses him with a intuitive gaze; asks him what's wrong.

Genma silently curses the sharpened senses of jounin as he waves his hand and mutters something inane and pointless about the party, smirking in that easy-going, unperturbed way of his. Asuma snorts, mutters his agreement, and lets him off the hook. Genma thanks him with his eyes. Asuma leans back against the wall and lets him know, in the slouch of his shoulders, that if he needs to talk he's always there to listen.

Genma tells him, dryly, to stop slouching when he stands.

It earns him a dirty look, but he's already feeling a lot better.

The party's in full swing, and Genma's already a little drunk even though it's not yet ten and the brats have yet to go home. Iruka's a little drunk, too, because Genma keeps handing him the spiked apple cider even though Iruka wants the non-alcoholic version, Genma, or I'll kill you I swear it, and he's lucky Iruka doesn't drink enough to know the difference, not with grain alcohol, and resists the urge to cackle because he's pure evil; knows it and loves it. Iruka is darting from throng to throng, talkative and friendly, and Genma's relaxed and slouched, smirking and telling dirty jokes with Raidou and Iwashi (the latter tittering nervously), dodging brats as they run around, chasing each other with candy-cane shurikens and chocolate kunai. The genin are nowhere to be found, and Genma gets the feeling they're up to no good, but he can't really bring himself to care, having some rather fond (and interesting) memories of parties from when he was young, too. No reason to ruin the kiddies' fun if he doesn't have to.

Everyone's in the living room, crowded to the point it's hard to move, but Genma somehow manages to squeeze through on his way to the bathroom, noticing Iruka's finally herding up the Academy brats and dispatching them with bags of yet more sweets. He notices a few lethal glares aimed in the man's direction from the parents of said students and laughs quietly, knowing Iruka is too fond of the kids to think of the potential repercussions of giving them so much candy. Repercussions the parents are going to have to deal with. One of the brats already looks a little green around the gills, but the color vanishes immediately as he's handed the bag, and he brightens and promptly pulls out yet another sweet, chomping it down with a smile. Iruka ruffles his hair, and Genma pauses, watching this closely despite himself, but the chuunin gives the kid the same smile he gives to all of his students. All of them except one.

Genma douses his face in cold water before he leaves the bathroom.

The party gets more fun once the little brats leave. The adults start throwing back apple cider like nobody's business (Genma smirks and informs a bristling Asuma that the eggnog's not even half-gone), and Genma corners Shizune underneath the mistletoe and gives her a kiss. Asuma seems to have Kurenai covered (to no one's surprise), and when even Nara Yoshino graces her husband with a small peck on the cheek, Genma informs Iruka his party is a success, and the younger man rubs his scar as a blush spreads across his cheeks, a habit that Genma's learned to interpret as Iruka's own weird way of accepting compliments. He's certainly given the man enough to know how he responds to them now.

When the genin start trickling into the room from an undisclosed location, looking flushed and a little too bright-eyed, Genma laughs and hopes he's the only one who's all-too-familiar with the hints of underage inebriation. He sure had to hide it time and time again from his own parents enough to know.

Most slip out of the house, probably past their curfew, trying to disappear and get home before their parents – who are probably too drunk to notice anyway – catch them. He notices Inuzuka Kiba actually has the guts to say goodnight to his family before ducking off. Genma makes his way toward the kitchen to get another drink (even though he has to admit he doesn't really need one), pushing open the thin, rice paper door and stepping inside.

He freezes.

They're hovering in the doorframe that leads to the pantry room. It's just like before; Genma even feels that annoying deja vu everybody always talks about. He watches; detached, guilty, and with a surprising amount of fascination, as the slim little genin wraps his arms tightly around Iruka's neck, tight enough to choke if he's not careful. He's kissing Iruka sloppily, with the same fervor and energy Genma remembers seeing him use during the chuunin exam, his mouth open and probably wet with too much spit, looking like he has no idea what he's doing. From this angle, Genma can't see Iruka's face, but if the tension in his back and shoulders has anything to say about it, he has a feeling the man's as shocked as he is.

Genma dimly registers there's mistletoe above them. This is completely dismissed when Iruka suddenly shifts, pressing Naruto against the door frame (which looks a little painful), and lifts a hand to cup the back of the boy's head, guiding him as his lips move against Naruto's upon their own volition. Naruto's hands clench on Iruka's shoulders, blunt nails digging into the fabric of his sweater, and his eyes are closed tightly, brows furrowed as if in concentration -- only to smooth out after a moment, a shiver running through his small body. Even from where he's standing across the kitchen, Genma can see it.

He backs up hastily, almost colliding with the door before he remembers to reach behind him and open it, still staring at the scene before him, and he ducks back through it and quickly shuts it, breathing harshly.

His back connects with something solid and warm.

Tensing, Genma spares a glance over his shoulder. Hatake Kakashi is looking down at him with a pleasant smile (or at least Genma thinks he's smiling; it's hard to tell sometimes). Genma's eyes are drawn to the red santa hat the man's wearing, which is sticking straight up due to the gravity-defying skills of his hair. No one knows what's up with that hair, and no one knows what's up with that mask. Come to think of it, no one knows what's up with Kakashi in general. The guy's the village's resident mysterious stranger, even if he's well-known and grew up in Konoha just like the rest of them.

The hat almost takes Genma's mind off of what he's just witnessed, that is until Kakashi moves to step around him and go into the kitchen. Genma doesn't even think; he just steps in front of Kakashi, blocking his way. He forces a wan smile on his lips, hoping he doesn't look as panicked as he feels. Kakashi merely raises a brow.

"I – uh – uhm ... do you need something?" Genma stammers, and realizes he's gone to full-out obvious mode now. He has both arms spread to block the entire door, frame and all, as if Kakashi is planning on charging right through him and into the kitchen.

Kakashi raises an empty plastic cup adorned with Christmas trees, and scratches his chin with a curious stare.

"Right. Cider," Genma says weakly.

"Eggnog," Kakashi corrects, with another weird maybe-smile.

Genma forgets himself enough to stare. "You're drinking the eggnog?" Maybe Asume was right. It's the craziest ones who like it.

Kakashi nods slowly, looking at Genma like he might look at a retarded child, and Genma realizes his stalling isn't really helping the matter.

"Well, uhm, you can't go in there ... yet," Genma forces out, his nerves twisting inside of him. He feels the alcohol he's consumed sneak up on him. He really hope he doesn't throw up all over Kakashi. He doesn't want to be on the famous Copy Ninja's black list. Ever.

He expects Kakashi to ask him why, or at least raise a an inquiring brow, but instead Kakashi stares at him appraisingly. Genma almost swears he sees a flicker of something solemn and grave in his gaze, before Kakashi's smiling pleasantly again, one visible eye closed, brow arching up cheerfully.

"Ah, soo desu ka," Kakashi murmurs, still smiling. "Made a little mess in the kitchen, ne?"

Genma lets out a relieved smile. That calculating, intuitive Kakashi – what is it with jounins and their sixth sense? – worries him, but for now he has no choice but to play along and pretend he doesn't think Kakashi suspects anything. Shinobi play tons of games with each other; some friendly, some fierce, and some downright cruel. He isn't sure where this one falls, but he does know that it's Iruka and Iruka's his friend. Kakashi's always been on neutral ground, but when it comes down to it Genma won't hesitate to call him foe if he has to.

Kakashi backs away, still cheerful and disarming as ever. "I suppose I should head home anyway. Getting too old for these kinds of events."

Genma refrains from telling Kakashi that he's four years older than him. He also refrains from wincing at the reminder that someone younger than him is intimidating to him. Damn genius shinobi. "Oyasu minasai!" he says instead. "Thanks for coming!"

Kakashi gives a jaunty little wave, and slips out, quiet as a shadow. Genma slumps against the wall next to the rice paper door and resists the headache coming on. He pulls out his senbon and places one end into his mouth, chewing on it with aggravation. A moment later the rice door slides open, and an exuberant blond bounces through, not even noticing Genma as he bounds across the living room and toward the hall on the opposite side of the house, most likely heading for one of the bedrooms.

So there's where they were hiding out, Genma thinks vaguely.

He waits for a little while longer, expecting Iruka to come out, but when five minutes pass with no sign of the other man Genma swallows down the warring emotions and cautiously slides open the rice paper door, stepping back inside the kitchen.

Iruka's leaning back against the wall next to the doorframe he just had Naruto pressed against (don't think about it, Genma orders himself, don't think about it), head down and shoulders bent. Genma closes the rice paper door as quietly as possible behind him, calling on the silence and stealth he's learned as a shinobi to keep from being noticed yet.

Iruka's about as average as chuunin come, but Genma constantly forgets he's top notch when it comes to reading chakra waves and patterns. Iruka can find someone hiding in the dark as easily as if he has night vision, and the only people that can avoid his heightened sensing abilities are those trained in concealing their chakra; mostly ANBU in espionage. It's not an uncommon trait, actually, but far more advanced than Iruka, a chuunin Academy sensei, should be capable of.

Iruka's head tilts up slightly, and he sets his gaze on Genma. Iruka's eyes are a warm brown, and they convey every nuance of emotion the other man's feeling unless Iruka consciously restrains himself. He's never been very adept at hiding his emotions, which was one of the many things that led plenty of his peers to sneer behind his back that he'd never make it as a shinobi, and while Genma would have agreed with them once when he was young and stupid, he knows better now. If their world didn't have people like Iruka, shinobi really would be tools; empty and ruthless.

"Yo," Genma says quietly, attempting to smile at Iruka. The other man looks away, but not before Genma catches the flicker of shame in his gentle eyes. His face is flushed, from the alcohol and maybe the kiss, but all of the giddy happiness Genma saw in him earlier has been whisked away entirely. He's the Iruka Genma remembers in those quiet moments after sex, his mouth a solemn, sad line, his body tense; trembling.

Genma crosses the kitchen, sets the senbon on the counter, and approaches Iruka cautiously. When he reaches him, he places both hands on his shoulders. Iruka's staring at the floor. He doesn't look up when Genma slides his hands around his shoulders and steps closer, pulling him into a hug. Genma rests his head against Iruka's, staring at the wall behind them. Iruka's hands are dangling at his sides, but after less than a few seconds they're linked tightly around Genma's waist, and he's tucking his head against Genma's chest. He's really just a grown-up kid, Genma thinks. It's impossible for him to act tough or detached for long before he caves. He's one of the few shinobi Genma knows that not only has no problem with physical affection, but craves it.

"Gomen nasai," Iruka whispers, choked, and his hands clench at Genma's sweater, grabbing fistfuls of the material. His breath is seizing, and Genma knows he's trying to hold back tears. For someone as emotional as Iruka is, he doesn't cry that often. But when he does, it makes Genma's heart ache in a way that's definitely unbefitting for an easy-going ninja. But Genma's easy-going, not apathetic or cold, and unfortunately he's never been a very good swimmer so he has a feeling he's not so much treading deep water anymore, but sinking altogether. He sighs, and reminds himself to stop taking Iruka's sensing skills so lightly.

"He's twelve," he reminds Iruka, surprised at how quickly he's stepped into the role of the practical superior.

"I know," Iruka says quietly, and there's not even the slightest hint in his voice that supports Genma's hope this was just a misunderstanding, a momentary lapse in judgement. His heart sinks.

"Are you .." he swallows, stops, takes a breath, and forces himself to ask. "Sleeping with him?"

"No!" The denial is immediate; vehement; even shocked. Iruka twists and pulls away from him, staring at him with horror and a little fear – no, distrust. "Did you think ... ?" he begins, trailing off, unable to voice the words both of them are thinking.

All Genma wants to do is reassure him. Instead, he asks, in as calm a tone as he can muster: "Do you want to?"

Iruka freezes, eyes wide, and Genma has all the answer he needs right there. He almost laughs – stops himself just barely, and bites his lower lip with a sort of fucked-up, wry amusement. He doesn't know how to go on at first, because this isn't something he's ever come across before, even if Maito Gai has an unhealthy obsession with one of his genin, Rock Lee. This is different, though, because it's Iruka and he's in Genma's circle, he's Genma's closest friend and sometimes-lover, and Konohagakure doesn't have a policy for this sort of thing but it's definitely not something most people would be willing to turn the other cheek toward.

"He's twelve," he repeats, at a loss.

"I love him!" Iruka wrenches out, defensive, scared, and angry, a different kind of anger than the artificial, psychotic fury he uses to lash out at his Academy students and scare them into submission. This is anger born out of desperation and hopelessness, and it strikes Genma to the core.

Iruka's clenching his fists, eyes dark and stormy, and Genma knows if he makes one wrong move Iruka will hit him and run. He's threatened and backed into a corner right now. Genma wonders how he would react were he in Iruka's shoes. He can't even imagine. He doesn't even want to.

"Calm down, dolphin," Genma soothes, holding his hands up in surrender, and watches with relief as Iruka's frightening expression dies, replaced by a scowl at the much-hated nickname.

"Don't call me that," he snaps, and it's with a harder edge than Genma's used to, but he's lowered his fists and it only takes a few more seconds for his emotions to re-right themselves. His expression smooths, becoming subdued. He peers at Genma, the timidity and self-deprecation back in place.

"Do you think it's disgusting?" It's barely a whisper, and it's so scared.

Genma raises his head, searching Iruka's eyes. A small, sad smile touches his lips.

"I think it's tragic," he says.

Iruka looks away. He doesn't disagree. He seems to understand Genma's meaning. He smiles, too, and it's almost too hard for Genma to watch.

"He's going to make someone really happy someday," Iruka says, still smiling, looking off to the side at something only he can see. Genma doesn't know if it's to reassure him or not, but it's not necessary. He hopes Iruka knows he trusts him. That he's always trusted him.

Genma moves closer, cupping Iruka's chin, and leans forward to press a kiss to his lips.

"Stay here tonight," he murmurs against the corner of his mouth.

"I don't want sympathy," Iruka replies, his body limp; exhausted and depressed.

"How about friendship?" Genma asks.

Iruka hesitates, and then folds into him. Genma rubs his hand in gentle circles on the other man's back, and rests his chin on his shoulder. He doesn't mind when his neck becomes salty-wet.