Disclaimer: Naruto is not my toy, although sometimes I wish it was. Everyone you meet here belongs to Masashi Kishimoto, I just borrow them, occasionally.

Author's Note: I'm an asshole, and I apologise. I seem to be writing this story all out of order. Apparently, I didn't get this AU out of my head, like I thought I did. It's been festering in a puddle of PTSD, and now I have to press out the literary pus that has swelled my nightmares. It spawned an explanatory first chapter. Hmph. Who knew?

This hasn't been beta'd yet, but I expect to have the corrections in the next couple days. Pardon any spelling errors or missing commas in the mean time.

Warnings: ANGST! ...and referenced past character death. (Yaoi in the next chapter.)


All in the terror of the moment
That pounces as it open swings
A line of dots illuminated
For I have seen the speed of things
.
--Robyn Hitchcock, "The Speed of Things"

Gekkou Hayate had been dead for about two months, and Genma was taking it exceptionally poorly. He had been out on missions almost constantly, to the point that his apartment smelled musty and unused. He couldn't clearly pinpoint the last time he'd slept in his own bed, or even in a bed, for that matter. And now, he was arguing with the Hokage about taking another mission.

Genma glared lazily at Tsunade across the Hokage's desk. "Just give me the damned gate shift."

The Hokage leaned back in her large chair and sipped at a mug of sake. "No. I can't waste your talents like that. Let the chuunin handle the gate. I have a nice A-ranked mission --"

He leaned forward and tore off his hitai-ate, slamming it down on the desk, metal side up. Whipping the senbon out of his mouth with the other hand, he drove it into the edge of the leaf symbol, and cut a small scratch. "Shinobi have no emotions. That's the party line, isn't it? That's what we teach our children. But even a good man can't be rid of them all, all the time. And that's the trick, isn't it. That's the part that's left off the end, but we all know it, don't we, Hatake-san?"

He levelled his furious eyes at Kakashi, who stopped moving toward him, spine stiffening in shock and memory. Kakashi closed both his eyes, even though one was still covered, and tilted his face down. He would not speak. This was not his fight.

Genma wouldn't let him off that easily. "In public. Those are the missing words at the end of that sentence. Possibly even "in front of anyone", in which case I'm damn well violating that very first rule
right this minute.

"But how many times can one man lose every-goddamn-thing before he finally loses his mind, too? Hontou desu ne, Hatake-san? I remember when you came back with that eye. You scared the living shit out of me. Sure, we were young, then, but you started before I did. You lost first. I know that the medics kept you for three days after your first night back. I know --"

Kakashi had finally heard enough. Face flushed and eyes smiling, he untied his hitai-ate and tucked it neatly in his pocket. He would be a man, not a shinobi, for this. "You know nothing. You weren't there." His voice was pleasant and calm, and he tucked his hands into his pockets, but not quite quickly enough that Genma couldn't see them shaking. "I'm told I was screaming, but what is truth? I don't remember it. Take your mourning to the stone, but don't take it to work with you. You'll get yourself killed, Shiranui-san, and then I will have watched another one go."

Genma laughed bitterly. "The average jounin doesn't get much older than I am, you know. Look at the fucking files, Hatake-san. There's a reason that our Hokage is Hokage -- jounin die young, but she's still breathing. And how? Because she and her two merry men ran off into the world, all in opposing directions, and pretended to be real people for twenty-five goddamn years."

Tsunade finally responded, finishing the sake and slamming the mug down with enough force that it crumbled and dented the desk. "There was nothing left for us here! Orochimaru wasn't cut out to be Hokage, and Jiraya and I were too occupied with other things. The Fourth was chosen because he was Jiraya's student and he cared about the village in ways that we couldn't. I'm here, now, because I lost a bet with a small boy. I'm still a 'real people', Genma. I'll never be anything else."

Genma smiled lazily and stared back at the Hokage in mild amusement. "Right. Now, back to the original question: Are you giving me the gate shift, or am I going to throw away the last of what I have, and walk away from this village and everyone in it? Will you give me the goddamn gate shift, or will I take this mission and go missing? Maybe I can die an old man, somewhere. Buy a tea shop, find someone to spend my life with who will actually survive me..."

His voice cracked. "I like it here, Tsunade-sama. But, if I don't get a goddamn vacation, I'm either going to die, or I'm going to leave. I can't keep doing this, right now."

"Tsunade-sama," Kakashi spoke again, this time, sharply, "give him the gate shift. You will waste more of his talents if he dies."

Kakashi stepped forward and placed his hands on Genma's shoulders. "You'll die of a heart attack, if you don't calm down. Come away. You'll get your shift." He glared meaningfully at Tsunade with both eyes open. "Come on, Shiranui-san, I know this great little bar with dancing girls. Dancing girls are good for all the ills of the mind, and vodka is even better."

Genma's hands relaxed and he stuffed his hitai-ate into a pocket of his vest and slipped the senbon back into his mouth. Kakashi was close enough to kill him -- or at least incapacitate him -- if he didn't do as he was told. He sniffed and wiped his nose; his last gambit would be petulance. "I don't like dancing girls. They're annoying."

Kakashi smiled brightly behind his mask. "Then we'll get a bottle and go back to Iruka's place! If we pour enough into him, I bet he'd dance on the table for you."

Petulance failed him, and Genma looked up at Kakashi in shock and horror. Table-dancing Iruka-sensei? That was... that was... (sick!) (wrong!) (deranging!) (strangely erotic...) (absolutely fucking inconceivable!) His brain suddenly ceased to function. "Iruka... Umino Iruka-sensei... dancing... on a table? I... but... that's..."

His jaw dropped, and Kakashi caught the senbon as it fell from his lips. "I've done it once; I can make it happen again," Kakashi tempted.

"You're sick. I'm in." He snatched back his senbon with a scowl, and stuck it between his teeth.

"Gate shift, Tsunade-sama, or I'm leaving and taking this sick fuck with me," he called over his shoulder as he followed Kakashi out of the room.