Just a oneshot I had on my computer. I wanted to share. Let me know what you think! Thanks :)
I'm not who I used to be
No longer easy on the eyes
These wrinkles masterfully disguise
The youthful boy below
Kotetsu stared off into the far distance of the city as he was wheeled out onto the veranda. His chair softly squeaked as he was slipped into place beside his friend. Izumo's blank stare remained focused ahead as he sucked on his lower lip. He said nothing, gazing in silent prayer as his cloudy irises slid in and out of focus. Kotetsu remained quiet, mostly out of respect, though he had an urge to snap his fingers in front of Izumo's eyes. Then, at least, he could ensure that Izumo was still breathing. Instead, he sat there, letting his best friend of over eighty years sink back into some unknown memory.
After what felt like an eternity, Izumo sighed, his voice barely above a whisper, "Today is always difficult."
Kotetsu said nothing, nodding in soft affirmation. Izumo had been this way, on this particular day, every year for the past decade and a half. Since Anko's passing, he reminded himself.
The kunoichi had bravely fought her malignancy, but was eventually overcome by the disease ravaging her body. Izumo had gone down hill after that; he had never been the same. Kotetsu supposed that's how anyone is after the death of their spouse—their closest friend and lover. It was an inevitable reaction to loss. He knew how much his friend has cherished his wife of nearly sixty years. Kotetsu thought back to that difficult time; he had visited Izumo daily, hoping to ease his friend's pain in any way possible. Back then, he was more capable. They both had been.
Kotetsu had nearly laughed at Anko's funeral as his eyes scanned the mourning crowd. Everyone present was a ghost of what they had once been; mere shells of Konoha's elite. The former shinobi were slowly dropping like flies, and the next generation was being taken. Kakashi was the last of his comrades, and Kotetsu could remember the former Team Seven leader drooling through the entire funeral. He had spoken out, his comments uncalled for, though Kotetsu was positive the balding shinobi had no idea where he was. Naruto, who had just retired as Hokage, had dutifully completed the ceremony, wiping tears away as he reminisced about his first encounter with Orochimaru's feisty pupil.
Kotetsu knew that Izumo had been diligent in caring for Anko, at first refusing Sakura's help when the former medic offered assistance. Izumo had eventually caved after breaking down one evening, the memory still vivid for Kotetsu. He had visited after stopping by Shizune's grave and paying his respects to his long-deceased wife, finding Izumo seated at the kitchen table, sobbing into his hands. Izumo had braved her rapidly progressing delirium, though Kotetsu knew it was tearing him up inside. It turned out that Anko had become combative, no longer recognizing the man she had sworn to love forever. Kotetsu had wordlessly patted his friend's back, silently understanding Izumo's pain as the latter scanned the number laying on the table, scrawled in Sakura's hand writing.
The graying medic had been a wonderful help to Izumo, bathing Anko and somehow soothing the anxious, dying kunoichi. Kotetsu had never seen anything like it, but Sakura had somehow found a way to make Anko's passing a beautiful thing. She had died with a smile on her face, holding Izumo's hand as he stroked her forehead, whispering into her ear. Kotetsu was almost jealous of the opportunity given to his best friend. Shizune had been unfairly taken from him, dying during the birth of their twin sons over twenty years earlier. It was that same day that Kotetsu had lost a child—his youngest son—shortly after being swaddled in his father's arms. Izumo had no idea how much his best friend would give to have been fortunate enough to say goodbye to his wife.
"I know," Kotetsu whispered, his voice raspy in the breeze.
His friend's depression would lift, it always did. He nodded to his caregiver, and she left them to their own devices. The two men sat there for hours, until the evening air chilled their skin and the smell of the home's dinner wafted out onto the veranda. It always happened like this, on this day. Izumo would be in a trance for hours, suddenly snapping out of it and returning to himself. Kotetsu knew it was his coping mechanism, so he silently awaited Izumo's return to reality. As if hearing Kotetsu's thoughts, Izumo took a deep breath and lifted himself onto unsteady feet.
"What're you doin'?" Kotetsu sighed as he watched Izumo turn to walk inside. He almost wanted to laugh at Izumo's awkward, stooped posture, "Do you wanna break a hip? Again?"
Izumo shook his head, the first real smile of the day on his thin lips as he patted his hips, "Unlike you, I still got 'em. Both of 'em." With that, he shuffled into the expansive dining room, leaving Kotetsu to chuckle to himself.
"Damn...it was me." His fingers trailed over his right thigh as he recalled that he had nearly twenty screws in his leg from that fracture, "Sure don't make 'em like they used to."
He flicked his wrist, and a young girl appeared at his side, "Yes, sir?"
"My walker," he grunted, tapping his fingers on the wheelchair arm rest as he waited for her to return. When she did, he attempted to rise from his chair. After a few attempts, he sighed, shaking his head. The girl timidly came forward, helping him rise with steady hands that gently supported his rump.
"You tryin' to get fresh with me?" Kotetsu playfully asked, smiling inwardly as he felt her hands wrap around his waist to help him stand.
"N-No, s-s-sir!" the girl fumbled, her cheeks reddening, as she drew back "I'm s-sorry!"
Kotetsu chuckled, wincing as he landed on his bottom, "Only playin' with ya, sweetie. I enjoy the fondling. It's been awhile!"
The girl blinked, her eyes wide as his words and toothless grin sank in. After a few seconds, she recovered, trying once again—this time more enthusiastically—to get Kotetsu to his feet. Once his hands wrapped around the bars of his walker, he stiffly turned and scooted toward the dining room.
"Thanks," he called back over his shoulder as she watched him, a small smile on her lips.
"Sure, Mr. Hagane."
Kotetsu focused his strength as he coordinated his moves. He approached Izumo, sliding by him. "I'm winning!" he called over his shoulder, "See ya!"
He could hear Izumo cursing as the latter tried to gain momentum, though he only succeeded at throwing himself into a coughing spell. Kotetsu triumphantly smirked as he sat at their usual table, watching the other residents shuffle around the large dining hall. Most were widows like he and Izumo, though only a few still had their sanity. Some days, he had to remind himself why he had moved into the nursing home to begin with.
Because you couldn't wipe your own ass, he told himself, and because...
He watched the nurses rush over to Izumo, who was grimacing as he leaned against the bureau in the hallway before the dining room entrance. Kotetsu suddenly became aware of the situation, slowly pushing himself to his feet, ignoring the food on his tray as he suddenly knocked it to the floor. Soon, his friend disappeared from his view as the nurses became more numerous, a sea of white flooding the room.
"Move it, will ya!" Kotetsu growled, as he attempted to push a few of the smaller nurses aside. Those were the ones he thought he could still forcibly move. "I said..move it!"
After another round of cursing, the nurses made way, allowing Kotetsu through. He approached the center of the circle, finding Izumo there, holding an oxygen mask over his face and breathing deeply. Next to him was the home's respiratory therapist, speaking in hushed tones to him. Had his hearing still been intact, Kotetsu may have been able to hear the exchange between the two. He watched Izumo nod occasionally.
"Is he gonna be alright? What's wrong?" Kotetsu asked, worry in his voice as he spied another nurse wiping the sheen of sweat from Izumo's head.
A few wary glances passed around the crowd, as the respiratory nurse looked to Izumo for guidance. He waved his hand, asking them to move away and let him breathe. Kotetsu waited as his friend pulled the mask from his face.
"Nothin'...I'm fine...just a bit short of breath...that's all."
"Yeah," Izumo huffed, placing the mask over his face for another deep breath. He pulled it away once again, "Just go gloat over your win, I'll be there soon."
"Dammit, don't scare me again, you old hag," Kotetsu grumbled, turning back to his table. He hid his relief as a small smile twitched at his withered lips.
A handful of minutes later, Izumo joined him, waving away the help that hovered pointed to the table, and the nurse set down his tray. Kotetsu said nothing, watching his friend eat in silence. He leaned forward, slowly slurping his watery soup and wondering if the lack of taste was due to his dying taste buds or the home's shitty cooking. As he wordlessly pushed his tray away, another nurse approached, placing the handful of pills in front of Izumo. She followed the move with an offering of apple juice.
"What're those?" Kotetsu asked, nodding toward the pills.
"Mind your own business. They're for my prostate," Izumo shot back, quickly placing the pills in his mouth and gulping down his juice. Most of it dribbled down his chin and onto his shirt.
Kotetsu eyed the pills suspiciously, "I've never seen you take 'em before."
"So?" Izumo replied, wiping his mouth and ignoring the food on his shirt.
"Nevermind," Kotetsu answered softly as he stared at the cheap lace tablecloth. Lately, he had felt distant from his best friend. He tried to chalk it up to the time of year, which was a difficult time for Izumo. Still, he couldn't hide his discontent, though his friend didn't seem to notice.
"You wanna play bingo tonight?" Kotetsu asked, changing the subject as he pushed his tray away. An aide came by and swiftly removed it.
"Eh, sure," Izumo grunted, a pained look flickering over his face.
"You alright?" Kotetsu asked through narrowed lids.
"Jus' indigestion," Izumo patted his rounded abdomen, smiling slightly.
Kotetsu nodded, feeling somewhat better because of the gesture, "Hate that shit."
"Sure, let's do bingo," Izumo answered after a few moments, "haven't done that in a while, have we?"
"No, you've been too busy bein' a whiny bitch," Kotetsu pushed himself upright, wobbling on unsteady legs.
"Where're you goin'?" Izumo looked surprised.
"It's may nap time, dammit," Kotetsu rubbed his eyes, "You know how cranky I get if I don't get my nap in."
Bingo was uneventful, as usual. There were fights amongst the residents, a usual occurrence during the card games. Kotetsu had rolled his eyes, muttering profanities under his breath as Izumo smiled and shook his head, most likely not hearing most of what his friend had uttered. They were sitting on the veranda, watching the clear night sky while drinking hot milk. The silence was not unwelcome, providing a gentle comfort for the duo as they fell into their usual routine.
"Kotetsu?" Izumo's voice was soft, his eyes closed.
"Hmm?" Kotetsu replied, having thought Izumo had nodded off some time ago. He slurped the last of his milk, setting the porcelain cup on the end table. He leaned back, resting his hands so his midsection. How had he gained so much weight?
"Remember that promise I made to you...years ago?"
"Which one?" Kotetsu asked, his eyes trailing after a shooting star. "You've promised to kill me a hundred times over."
"I did, didn't I?" Izumo answered, chuckling softly, "Never did follow through on any of it!"
"You're too chicken," Kotetsu answered, amusement in his voice.
"True." Kotetsu could hear Izumo nod. After a few moments, he spoke again, "The one after our ER shift at the hospital. Fool!"
"Hnh?" Kotetsu grunted.
As the long-forgotten memory dawned on him, he smiled, remembering how angry Izumo had been with him. It didn't compare to the fury his friend showed after Tsunade had installed their next punishment. For some reason, Izumo really disliked having to shovel cow manure, Kotetsu recalled. He briefly thought about Tsunade. Even on her deathbed, she had managed to keep her young appearance. How he wished he could be young again, for just one day!
"The one where you asked me to make sure that you didn't live in a nursing home and go senile?"
"Oh...yeah, forgot about that," Kotetsu tapped his chin, "Guess you fucked up on both ends, no?"
Izumo guffawed, shaking his head, "Guess so." After a few more moments, he leaned back, his voice once again soft, "Well, how'd I do?"
"With what?" Kotetsu wasn't sure he understood what his friend was asking him. Why was he suddenly so nostalgic?
"Well, would you say I kept my promise to the best of my ability?" Izumo's voice wavered slightly.
Kotetsu thought about it, answering slowly and with purpose, "I'd say you've been the best friend. Ever. No matter how much shit I got us into, you stuck by me. Despite living here," he waved his hand, "I can say you've always kept your promises. I'm lucky to have had you as a friend." They sat in silence for some time, Izumo stunned at Kotetsu's small speech. Kotetsu, himself, hadn't expected to deliver such an eloquent response, "I mean...thanks, buddy!"
After an hour, Izumo finally stood, waving for a nurse to come help him walk back to his room. It was that time, and Kotetsu knew it. As of late, Izumo had been going to bed much earlier than he used to. As he hobbled away, he placed an aged hand on Kotetsu's shoulder. Kotetsu could feel the slight tremor in his grip.
"Thank you," Izumo whispered as he was slowly lowered into a wheelchair with the help of an assistant.
Kotetsu smiled, not meeting his friend's gaze, "Eh, don't mention it. Seriously. I don't want people to know I'm getting soft in my old age. Especially not my kids."
Izumo laughed, wiping the moisture from cheeks as he was wheeled away, "Old pervert."
Kotetsu sat like that for some time, reveling in the night's beauty as he made wishes on shooting stars. He didn't dwell on his conversation with Izumo. After an hour or so, he, too, retired to his own room.
Kotetsu dressed, intending to walk next door to wake Izumo, who had recently began an unusual habit of sleeping in. He cursed himself as his arthritic fingers refused to conquer the buttons of his shirt, instead choosing to pull on a sweater. He opened the door to his meager apartment, not immediately noticing the crowd gathering outside in the hall. Staff was entering and exiting the room next to his.
"What the-" he growled under his breath, "Move outta my way! Important breakfast stuff to go to!"
He immediately halted, realizing that the crowd was gathered outside of Izumo's room. He felt his heart race, "What's goin' on?" he asked a random resident.
"Don't know," she answered, "think someone's passed. Third one this week, bad omen..."
"Passed?" Kotetsu repeated, confused. "Pssh, lady you need to get your facts straight-"
The head nurse, who was speaking in hushed tones to a nearby employee, noticed Kotetsu. She waved at him, "Mr. Hagane!"
Kotetsu froze as he saw her grim expression. Her eyes were red and her lips were white as she pursed them firmly together. She began to slowly walk toward him. When she neared him, she placed a hand on his shoulder, guiding him toward the open door of Izumo's room.
"What's goin' on?" he asked, feeling disoriented. . His mouth was suddenly dry, and he felt like he had eaten cotton for breakfast.
"I'm sorry," the nurse whispered, looking ahead as someone shut the door behind them.
"For what?" he asked, following her gaze. He glanced around the familiar, neat room, noticing the white sheet drawn up over the body on the bed. "No..." he stopped, suddenly feeling faint.
The nurse curved her arm around his waist, helping him remain steadfast on his feet as the shock set in. She tightened her grip, "Do you want to see him?"
Kotetsu licked his lips, nodding his head. He didn't trust himself to speak; he was still too numb to process what was happening. He was escorted to the bed, barely registering what was occuring around him. The nurse stopped at the bedside, watching his reaction.
"When? How?" Kotetsu choked, his eyes watering as he saw the sheet covering the familiar silhouette of his best friend. He glanced around the room, refusing to believe what he was seeing. He knew that there was no denying it.
"He had been ill for some time, Mr. Hagane. He asked that we not tell you-" she began, her voice soft as she sat next to him, her hand patting his.
"Bullshit! We told each other everything!" he hissed, the anger taking over. How dare she lie about Izumo hiding information from him!
"I understand how you must feel," she took a deep breath, "but he had been battling his cancer for six months now."
Cancer? "What cancer? First time I've heard of this."
"Prostate cancer, sir," she answered honestly. "It had spread to his lungs...it was his wish that you not know. It seems he didn't want you to worry..."
She stared ahead, her own eyes watering as the tears slowly slipped down her cheeks, "It wasn't just you, sir, he didn't alert his own family, even when his treatment was failing. Instead, he bravely fought the pain."
Kotetsu was dumfounded. How had he not known Izumo had cancer? Sure he suspected his friend was sick, but cancer? "The pills...those stupid horse pills..."
She nodded, "Mostly for pain, yes." His stomach knotted, and he felt as if were going to puke. She drew her hand up to the covers, her fingers hooking under the edges, "Do you want to see him?"
Kotetsu licked his lips as his eyes flickered to her face, "No, I know what he looks, like. What kind of morbid question is that?" Deep breath, Kotetsu.
"Sometimes it helps, for closure," she explained, confused by his response.
They stared at one another for some time: Kotetsu wondering why Izumo had tried to protect him and the nurse confused as to why Kotetsu did not want to say goodbye to his friend. Finally, Kotetsu answered, a small smile tugging at his wide mouth as he accepted the feeling that had been clawing at his insides for the past few months. He had long ago realized that this time was coming much sooner than he had wanted.
"Lady, I don't need closure. If Izumo didn't want me to know...and he wanted to off and die, I don't need to see him to believe it. For ten years we ate breakfast together every morning. He was never late, not once. For the past two months, he had been the last one down to breakfast..." He stood, the smile pulling at his lips just a little more, despite the sadness that overwhelmed him. He fought back the tears, "I was in denial, but I knew. Yeah...I knew somethin' wasn't right."
"Sir?" she asked, her expression softening as a hint of understanding flickered across her features.
I'm lucky to have had you as my friend. Kotetsu had known. This wasn't unexpected, though he could have never prepared for the pain.
"That man, right below those covers," Kotetsu pointed with a crooked finger, "was—no, is—the best friend anyone has ever had. If he died thinking he had saved me from some grief, he is wrong, you hear? But, if I can repay him by playing dumb and allowing him to think that, then I've done my job. I've finally one-upped the bastard."
The woman moved away from the bed, a knowing smile on her face as she wiped away a few stray tears. She walked over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder, "You're a good friend, Mr. Hagane."
"Woman, if you knew how much shit I dragged him through over the decades, you wouldn't say that." He looked at the covered body of his best friend, the tears finally forming, "Yet, he stuck by me through all of it. And if this was the only way I could repay him, then so be it. He's been aching to be with his wife for so long that I was getting' tired of hearing him whine. Hell, I'd have given him pillow therapy if he'd have asked!" She softly laughed as she allowed him to continue, "It's only fair he leaves before me. That way, I can deal with the pain of his passing, and not vice versa. No, he didn't deserve that. Izumo never deserved that."
He slowly turned and shuffled toward the door. The nurse swiftly walked past him, pulling the door open, waiting for him to pass through it. Kotetsu turned, his watery eyes falling on the sheeted silhouette of his best friend. This time, he didn't hold back his tears. He stood there, silently mourning as he realized that he'd never speak to Izumo again. How much time was left for him, he had no clue, but he knew that it would be a little dimmer without Izumo there with him. The tears silently trailed through the crevices of his withered skin as they freely fell from his eyes. A smile tugged at his lips as he realized that he had finally been able to pay his best friend back. It had taken him over eighty years to do so, but it was the least he could do. His fingers curved around the door frame as he prepared to walk out of Izumo's cozy room for the last time. Before he did, he turned to speak to his departed partner in crime.
His voice was a raspy, tear-filled whisper as he payed his final respects, "Goodbye 'Zumo. See you on the other side, my friend...my brother."