A Drink to Old Friends
The air was crisp, the sky blue; early afternoon sun fell across the polished granite grave marker. The clean, legible kanji stood out on the pale gray stone, the furrows in the stone painted black so that everyone could read the name of the person who was buried here. 月光 颯: Gekkou Hayate.
Ibiki didn't pay his respects in any particular way. He touched the top of the grave marker, he bowed his head, and he looked at the name of his teammate. He thought back to some of the last times he'd seen his teammate's face, remembering the man alive instead of dead and all that. Then he left a bouquet of white flowers. Yamanaka Inoichi sold him white when he said what he wanted the flowers for. He'd said anything would be good enough, but Inoichi had sold him white.
Gekkou Hayate. Moonlight Swift. It was a pretty nice name. The rest of the Gekkou clan was already laid out around Hayate in their own little graves, all of them cremated like Hayate had been.
After the invasion attempt, there were a lot of new gravestones in the shinobi cemetery. A lot of good shinobi died in that attempt. Some bad ones, too. But he was only here for the one; just Gekkou. He hadn't had a chance before. Events leading up to the invasion had moved too fast.
Once he laid his flowers down, he had no reason to say, so he turned around and left. He knew people would say he had been pretty business-like, but he didn't care what people would say. People said all sorts of things about him. 'Business-like' was one of the nicest things they could have said.
Ibiki went to the bar on Akihappa Street, a place with a dim interior and old, weathered wooden surfaces. He liked it. The place had that smoky atmosphere he enjoyed; the kind where he could pretend that he was still in the information-gathering business and not the Head Interrogator of T&I, who made everyone bring the suspects to him. He missed ferreting out suspects in their seedy home locales, he missed that sense that the people he was subtly plucking information from were at ease.
As laughable as it would be to most people, he missed the sense that he was pleasant company, that he was wanted, and that he could strike up an easy conversation with someone. That used to be his specialty. Gekkou had known that. Now Gekkou was dead.
Ibiki found himself wanting a drink, and not just the atmosphere. He made his way to the counter, walking past tables half-shrouded in darkness. He was surprised to see a familiar figure sitting on a stool at the bar: Umino Iruka.
Ibiki sat down next to the man out of sheer curiosity.
"I thought teachers didn't drink," Ibiki said.
Iruka gave him a look. "Teachers don't get drunk," he corrected with a teasing smile. "There's a difference, Morino-san. I'll drink, but I won't get drunk."
"And what do you drink?" Ibiki asked. "Something girly, I'll bet." He smirked.
"I do not," Iruka retorted.
Ibiki laughed. "Sure you don't. I bet you're a chuhai drinker." Chuhai was a fruit flavored mixed drink with a low alcohol content.
Iruka made a face. "I am not."
"Plum wine, then," Ibiki said.
"Neither, Morino-san." Iruka sighed.
"Well, how do I know what to get you if you won't tell me what you like?" Ibiki asked.
Iruka gave him a look. "As long as you're buying…happoshu."
"Happoshu?" It was Ibiki's turn to make a face. "Sparkling beer? Really?"
"I like it," Iruka said. He tossed his head. "Now, are you ordering it or not? I'll order it myself if I have to, Morino-san."
Ibiki raised his hand. "Oi. Happonshu for the school teacher."
Iruka gave Ibiki a dirty look for being referred to that way, but Ibiki pretended not to notice.
"I prefer 'Academy instructor'," Iruka corrected pointedly.
"I'm sure you do," Ibiki said.
Iruka recovered and smiled at Ibiki sweetly. "What would you like, Morino-san?"
"Whiskey," Ibiki said. "On the rocks." He didn't actually know what that would taste like, but he wanted to prove the most masculine thing he could think of, just to make a point. He'd always wanted to try whiskey. He heard it was awful.
Iruka raised his hand. "One whiskey on the rocks, please."
"That's not how a man orders," Ibiki objected.
"Isn't it?" Iruka twirled a strand of hair around his finger. "I'm a man, and I ordered that way. Ergo, Morino-san, a man does order that way. Me."
Ibiki rolled his eyes.
"Why?" Iruka asked. "How should I have ordered?"
"You're supposed to say, 'Oi!' A good, deep sound, speaking from the stomach." Ibiki gestured. "And you don't say 'please'."
Iruka sniffed. "Sounds impolite."
"Sounds like a man, you mean," Ibiki said.
"Oh, so men aren't polite."
"No. Not at all."
Iruka said, "Then you, Morino-san, are very, very manly."
Ibiki grinned. "Thank you."
Their drinks came.
Iruka opened his can of happonshu, and Ibiki stirred his whiskey on the rocks with the little plastic stick it came with.
"So why are you here?" Iruka asked finally.
"I felt like it," Ibiki said.
Iruka gave him a wry half-smile. "I gathered that."
"Well, why are you here?" Ibiki asked.
"I have to grade papers," Iruka said. "That would drive any man to drink." He raised his can of sparkling beer. "Kampai."
"Kampai," Ibiki murmured, amused. He raised his glass of whiskey in turn, and they both took their first sip of their drinks.
"What drives you to drink?" Iruka asked.
"My friend." Ibiki studied the way the dim light glinted off the ice cubes in his glass.
"Sounds like a bad friend," Iruka said.
"A dead friend," Ibiki said.
Ibiki glanced at Iruka, smiling. "It's been a while. It's okay. He died a few months back. I've had time to think it over and accept. So you don't have to go, 'Oh', and be all silent, like you're sorry for me and stuff."
Iruka frowned. "And what if I am sorry for you?"
"In general, or because I lost my friend?" Ibiki asked.
"Got you." Ibiki pointed at him, and then took another sip of whiskey.
Iruka made a face and cupped his chin in his hands, resting his elbows on the counter. "I can't help it. It's just too awful. Your whole team."
"What, you mean because Tokara got a faulty fuse in his explosive pack and got blown to bitty bits?" Ibiki said cheerfully. "And I came back a bloody, meaty mess from one of my missions because I got too careless and got myself captured and tortured half to death? Because Gekkou died being carved into steaks by some traitorous Sand devil?" He grinned. "Comes with the territory, Umino. Get used to it."
Iruka looked singularly crestfallen and upset.
Ibiki nudged him. "Now drink your beer and go back to grading your papers, Academy instructor. Don't worry about that kind of stuff. It'll give you wrinkles. And then all the kids will say you're old."
Iruka narrowed his eyes at the interrogator. "They say that already."
"Then figure out how to get a few less lines," Ibiki said reasonably. "Oh, I know. Ask Tsunade what kind of jutsu she uses. 'Cause it's a killer." He chuckled. "Honestly, some fifty year old lady flouncing around like she's twenty-eight. Hilarious."
"I think she'll be insulted if you peg her age at twenty-eight," Iruka said. "She is nothing if not vain, our Hokage."
"Twenty-four, then," Ibiki amended. "And don't tell her I ever went a year over."
Iruka took a pensive sip of his beer. "I never knew him that well."
"Who?" Ibiki was disoriented by the change in conversation.
"Hayate-san," Iruka said.
"Oh." Ibiki gestured carelessly. "Don't bother."
"Tell me about him," Iruka said quietly.
Ibiki groaned. "Okay. I will. He was a good guy, and he died with honor. Next?"
Iruka gave him a stare Ibiki imagined regularly cut down pre-genin children.
Ibiki held up his hands. "Look, if you're asking for the personal stuff, I don't have it. We weren't that close as kids. We weren't that close as adults. I just don't know. I know he was a good person, and he wanted to go down fighting. I knew he worked really hard to make sure he stayed on his feet, and he worked really hard to convince his family and our Sandaime to give him a chance at being a ninja. Ordinarily someone with his condition would never be allowed to participate in active duty, but Gekkou held his own."
He took a deep breath, and a sip of his drink. "And I know he was getting worried by the end. He only had a few more years to live, a few more months of mobility, at the most, and he was sure that he wasn't going to be able to go down fighting after all. The invasion was a godsend. Ironically." He gave Iruka a crooked smile. "Gekkou got his way after all. He would have hated to be confined to a hospital bed the last two years of his life. He spent the first eight in and out of hospitals trying to train, to get strong enough to leave forever."
"He was that bad off?" Iruka asked.
"Yup," Ibiki said. "He was sick for life."
Iruka looked shocked.
"He was dying," Ibiki said. He took a sip of whiskey. "I mean, we're all dying, but he was doing it quicker. He had a pulmonary disease or something like that. He told me the name of it once, but I forgot, because it was too long. Nicknamed Suzuki Disease or something." Ibiki shook his head. "All I know is, he could hardly breathe sometimes, and he got shit sleep. That's what was with the circles under his eyes. Man was a chronic insomniac."
"Wow," Iruka said. He sipped his beer. "I never knew."
Ibiki gave Iruka a look. "Not like he liked to advertise. But I had to listen to him. Hacking away…" Ibiki shrugged. "It was worst when he lay down. Then he'd hack, and cough, and he'd just be miserable. I could hear him most nights, when we were on missions. Finally, he learned how to sleep sitting up. That alleviated the worst of the pain and choking."
He shook his head, smiling. "But man, could that guy do kenjutsu. I mean, he was amazing. His whole family is –or was – but Gekkou was really something else. Beautiful. You could see why he stuck with it, after you got to see his skills with a katana."
Briefly, in his mind, he could see Gekkou fighting in one of their battles during the war. Flashes of silvery light. Falling bodies. And Gekkou high above everyone's heads, somehow still, as if he could float. Then Gekkou would land, sheath his sword, and the show would be over. After using one of his jutsus, he'd lapse into coughing, more often than not.
"You must miss him," Iruka said softly. He rested a warm, gentle hand on Ibiki's shoulder.
Ibiki tilted his head, giving Iruka a bemused look. "You don't need to sympathize with me. I'm over it. I knew I could be sending him to his death. And hell, that's what he wanted." Ibiki took a long sip at his whiskey. He drained it almost down to nothing.
Iruka gestured. "Another shot for Morino-san, please."
Ibiki started to shake his head, but stopped when his glass was promptly refilled. "You trying to get me drunk or something?" he muttered.
"No, just being polite. You don't have to drink it," Iruka said.
Ibiki took a swallow of his refilled whiskey on the rocks anyway.
"Have you cried?" Iruka asked softly.
Ibiki glared, offended. "What do you mean, 'have I cried'? What is this?" He knew that the alcohol might be making him a little belligerent, but still. That question. A big no-no.
Iruka rubbed his shoulder in a motion that was way too much contact. "I'm not trying to offend you, Morino-san. I just want you to know…it's okay to feel your feelings."
"It's okay to feel my feelings?" Ibiki stared at him.
"Yes," Iruka said. He gave Ibiki a look brimming with sincere sympathy.
Ibiki let out a laugh and knocked back the rest of his glass of whiskey. "I don't need your grade school, sing-along common sense." He stood up and tossed down enough money to pay for Iruka's drink, and a tip. "Thanks for nothing."
Iruka shot off of his barstool and took Ibiki's arm before Ibiki had gone more than two steps. "You need to be careful. You look unsteady." He glanced at the counter and tossed money down for Ibiki's drinks. Then he looked up at Ibiki with wide eyes. "You should let me take you home."
Ibiki shook his head in disbelief. "You crazy little schoolteacher. Are you trying to pick me up or something?"
"I'm concerned," Iruka protested.
"Concerned people don't tell me to cry after getting me drunk on whiskey," Ibiki said.
"You got yourself drunk," Iruka retorted. "I just paid for it because I'm a nice person."
Ibiki laughed. "A nice person. Right."
"I am." Iruka pouted, looking hurt. "People say I am…"
"Well, maybe they don't know this side of you," Ibiki said reasonably.
Iruka's expression quickly transformed into outrage. "What side of me? I'll have you know I can lay you out flat in six seconds, Morino-san, whiskey or no whiskey!"
"Throw down," Ibiki said, yanking his arm away and stepping backwards. He raised his fists. "Come on."
"Don't be an idiot," Iruka said. He tilted his head, his expression serious. "Although, I will fight if it makes you feel better."
"If it makes me –" Ibiki didn't know how to react to that. "You're still trying to put me through therapy. For a grief I told you doesn't exist."
"That's right." Iruka narrowed his eyes at the interrogator.
"You're impossible!" Ibiki clenched and unclenched his hands, most of his annoyance gone. He couldn't fight Iruka now.
"So let me walk you home," Iruka said, taking his arm and leading him towards the door.
Ibiki complied out of pure shock. Until he formulated some other form of action, he'd have to go along with Iruka's suggestions.
Author's Note: I found out I screwed up Hayate's name. LuxaLovesLawnmowers also had the guts to point that out to me. Thank you.