Hayate didn't often visit the weight room. He didn't really need to, after all. His style of fighting relied more on speed and chakra control than strength. But he did come down every once in a while, because neglecting any aspect of training was stupid. He liked to think he wasn't stupid.
It was fairly close to dinner, and he was mostly certain the place would be deserted. He was a little surprised when he saw another agent there: a young man working away at the bench press. Hayate started to slip off to the side, wary of disturbing the man, but a second look made him hesitate.
It looked like he was starting to struggle with the weights. He was working alone, so maybe he could handle it, but...
That was more effort than it should take. Hayate nipped over, just a few quick steps, and lent a hand.
And a little chakra, that was heavier than he'd thought.
"You okay?" The question rasped badly, and Hayate cleared his throat belatedly.
"Ugh," Ryouma said, and rolled off the bench. His muscles, weak as water, barely supported him; he leaned his head back against the bench and wondered if he'd really felt a flare of chakra there, or if that was just the sparks going off inside his head. If his impromptu spotter really had to use chakra to lift the bar up, that was something to be proud of...
He shook his head, ran a sweaty hand over his sweaty face, and glanced up at last. A thin, wiry kid in beaten-up jeans and a too-small sweatshirt, with big hands, a reddened nose, dark eyes, and unruly hair. He looked all of fifteen. Maybe that spark of chakra wasn't much to be proud of, after all.
"Thanks," he croaked. Winced, worked a little saliva into his mouth, and swallowed. He sounded a little less like a startled toad, this time. "Sorry about that. Just got off medical rest, got a little too excited about getting back in shape." He felt his pectoral muscles tenderly, and winced again. "Holy crap. Four weeks does make a difference."
So did losing a substantial chunk of flesh.
Hayate offered a little polite smile. "No problem," he answered, softly. He lingered a moment, watching the other, but he seemed fine now, if worn out.
Hayate thought he'd seen the dark-haired man around headquarters before. A moment's thought recalled him as the one that usually lingered around front desks when the lady secretaries were on shift. There tended to be a lot of laughter and not much work done when he dropped by. Despite recognizing him, Hayate still couldn't pull up a name. Just an older agent, with an enviable way of flirting with the ladies. Apparently, he was also fresh off medical leave. Hayate filed that away with the rest of his scant knowledge, and met dark eyes a moment before he looked away.
"You should be more careful, senpai," he offered. "It would be bad if you reopened a wound."
He kept his tone quiet, hoping he didn't sound overly presumptuous. He didn't see anything obvious....but clothes could hide a great deal, and wounds didn't always have to be large or obvious to be serious.
"If you're okay then..." He trailed off, and half turned. It was rude to just leave but he didn't want to bother the man further.
"Do I look okay?" Ryouma demanded crossly. "A month ago I could do five sets of five. I barely finished the third set this time. Hell, Kakashi could probably do better than that." He tipped his head back, eyeing the boy. "You could probably do better than that, if you worked at it." Baggy sweater and jeans concealed a lot more than the ANBU uniform did, but the kid was presumably here for a reason.
Most ANBU seemed to consider strength training less important than speed or agility. Ryouma wasn't sure yet if that was because they thought it was more important for Konoha's spooks to be swift and sneaky, or if they'd never yet experienced the soul-satisfying joy of punching someone and making it count.
Hayate cast the man a quick look, and decided the irritation was not directed at him. So he smiled again, despite the rant being delivered.
Hayate nearly snorted at the suggestion that he could lift more weight, but kept smiling instead. It would take him a while to do any better....if he even could. He had a higher center of balance than most other ninja. It gave him the agility to pull off the speeds for his kenjutsu, but hindered him when it came to managing burdens or extra weight. He said none of his thoughts, however, and merely inclined his head in acknowledgment.
"Healing takes time," he offered, a little raspily. He cleared his throat again, and put one hand in a back pocket, searching for a piece of candy.
He hesitated as his fingers encountered the honey-candies, but it was impolite not to offer. So he pulled two out, and offered one to the other man.
"I'm supposed to be healed already," Ryouma muttered. He reached back, bracing himself against the bench, and shoved himself up to sit on its padded surface instead of on the floor. His arms still trembled with weakness, but at least he didn't have to crane his neck to look up anymore. "Got healed in the field, apparently, and next time I think I'll take the slow death. Might hurt less."
That was supposed to provoke a laugh. It got a very slight quirk of that if-you-think-it's-funny smile, instead. Well, it hadn't been much of a joke. But the kid hadn't pulled back his proffered hand, either. That had to be worth some points.
Except... "Cough drops?" Ryouma shot the kid a dubious glance, but tried one of the pale amber ovals anyway. It seeped a slow sweetness onto his tongue. He grinned in delight. "Candy! You're my new favorite. No one's ever rescued me with candy, before."
Hayate added "impetuous" to his knowledge, as the man questioned the offering, but ate it anyway. He let his smile crook up another notch at the other's enthusiasm. Rescue, hmm? he thought, but said nothing, pleased with the older agent's favorable regard and unwilling to risk losing it.
His status as "rookie" in ANBU rankled, because of the disdain so many of the more senior agents had for him. It wasn't as if they hadn't ever been rookies before. This man, however, seemed to be more like Tsume-san, friendlier and less critical. Of course, first impressions could be misleading...but that smile felt genuine.
The kid wasn't mute, was he? He'd talked before. Not much, admittedly, and he did sound as if he was recovering from either a bad cold or a lot of screaming. Ryouma flipped the candy over on his tongue and considered responses to a very one-sided conversation.
"Usually," he said at last, "people pick up on that. Ask about the mission. Ask what else I've been rescued with, if it wasn't candy. Hell, say they'd rather be Shida Akumaru's favorite than mine. That was a joke," he added sharply, as the kid's brows twitched. "I automatically increase the awesomeness level of my favorite people. Shida just breaks them, apparently. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting him yet, but you should hear some of the stories."
He paused. "That was another conversational gambit. You could ask me about the stories. Or you could tell me your name and why you run around handing out candy and then playing Tongueless Wonder Boy. It's got to be a good story."
Hayate blinked at the torrent of words that broke the awkward silence. He snorted a little, then burst into a fit of chuckles, ducking his head. He glanced up after a moment, smile wide and crooked up to the right, revealing a dimple in that cheek.
"Gekkou Hayate," he answered, voice frayed and soft. He tilted his head to one side, puppy-like, smiling crookedly with amusement. "And it was only polite to offer you a piece, after all. Though I think you're the first person here in ANBU to be so pleased about it."
The man's smile was wider, and definitely genuine, dark eyes bright and pleased. He looked almost smug, actually.
Hayate resisted the urge to laugh again in response--it would make him cough. "And generally, asking about missions gets people upset, especially if it ends with healings in the field. I could ask, I guess, if you promise not to throw things at me."
"You're in ANBU," Ryouma pointed out. "You could dodge." Experimentally, he crunched the candy between his molars. The healing gumline where the dentists had extracted two shattered teeth was a little sore, but not actually painful. "On second thought, you don't have to ask me about the mission after all. Put both of us off our dinner."
The kid had a good smile, when he actually showed it. His laugh was still a bit high-pitched; Ryouma guessed it'd settle down when his voice finished breaking and his chest filled out.
He looked like a decent kid. A bit boring, maybe, but...
Maybe Ryouma could do with some boring for a change.
"Tousaki Ryouma," he said, pushing himself back to his feet. "And speaking of dinner, that candy's good, but it's not gonna cut it. I owe you one. You wanna take it out in food, or flesh?"
Hayate repeated the name several times in his head, to fix it very firmly with the face. Though "Tousaki Ryouma" sounded oddly familiar, he couldn't match it with anything. So instead he just nodded.
Ryouma was much taller than he was, and broader in the shoulders. Hayate slid back a half-step and tilted his head just a tad to keep eye-contact.
"Food or flesh," a phrase that provoked the most interesting mental images, probably meant either dinner or a spar.
What's with older agents and owing me food? he wondered, remembering his meeting with Tsume earlier in the week. I mean, I'm a twig, but I can't look that skinny.
Encouraged by Ryouma's smile and jovial attitude, Hayate considered trailing along after the man to get dinner. He had originally come down here for a bit of a workout, but asking Ryouma for a spar seemed a bit unfair, considering the man was already tired...and apparently fresh off medical leave. And besides...it was indeed time to eat, his stomach declared, with a growl.
Hayate blinked down at his stomach, then smiled crookedly up at Ryouma. "Food it is, apparently," he said, wryly.
"If you don't mind," he tacked on, almost as an afterthought, once again recalling that Ryouma, for all his friendliness, was a more senior agent. The politics of age and rank were often complicated, but Hayate could play the game with the best of them. He was good at it.
There was polite, and there was...inhuman. Seriously, where had this kid grown up? Ryouma didn't know anyone who talked like that. Hayate probably still blushed when he talked to girls. If he talked to girls. Royuma kind of doubted it.
He paused, halfway through bending down to retrieve his empty water bottle and his towel, and cocked an eyebrow. "You're not really some sixty-year-old kunoichi pulling a henge on me, right? 'Cause when I was...fourteen, you'd've had to hit me between the eyes with a sledgehammer to keep me from jumping at the chance of food."
He slung the towel over his shoulder and straightened again, wincing as his back creaked. "Gotta say I can't come up with a really good reason for any healthy old lady to go fourteen and gawky all over again, unless you heard about the porn video, too, and want in on it. In which case I can tell you that male and underage are two automatic strike-outs."
If that didn't provoke Hayate into some sort of reaction, Ryouma wasn't sure what would. He threw in a cheerful leer, anyway. "But I like older women!"
Then he blushed. I...he...what porn video? Never mind!
He had the sudden feeling that if he ever spent much time around Ryouma, he would be spending most of it scrambling for mental balance. Like now.
"I'm sixteen," he managed, and winced when his voice cracked.
He wasn't sure if he was insulted or bewildered. Wonder if the medical leave was for a head injury. ....or else he's just one of those people. Hayate had a friend or two with that particular brand of mental insanity that was closely related to a caffeine overload. Ryouma's great grin and that over-exaggerated leer definitely pointed towards the outrageous show-off personality. Or a serious blow to the head in the near past.
Ryouma laughed, and Hayate decided the man probably was one of those cheerfully insane sorts of people. Which meant that the friendliness was genuine, much like Kotetsu's, and there was no call for any of the socially careful wordplay.
"And if I was a girl, I wouldn't bother with a henge. You seem to get along fine with Reiko-san and Sayuri-san."
His voice gave out at last, quitting sharply on the last syllable. He ducked his head and cupped both hands over his mouth, muffling the sharp barking coughs.
"You're pretty observant." Ryouma shouldered the door open and held it, waiting for Hayate to recover himself enough to follow. The kid's thin shoulders shook with the force of his racking coughs. Maybe there was another reason for the cough-drop candy. A cold would explain the reddened nose--although if Hayate was actually sick, he'd be one of the few ninja Ryouma knew who didn't curl up in a sniffling tangle of blankets and whining the second the medics put him on sick-leave.
Not as much of a pansy as he looked, then.
"Sadly, Reiko's is happily married, and Sayuri's dating someone. I think." Ryouma frowned briefly at the door frame. He hadn't actually asked Sayuri out for almost a month. There'd been the mission, of course--and she'd turned him down with a laugh and a smile only a day or two before he left--but even after he'd recovered enough to start hanging out around the Mission Desk again, the gossip had never quite turned around to who was dating whom, and why he couldn't date her.
That was Tsume's fault, or Kakashi's, and he was done thinking about this right now--
He pushed away from the door, wheeled, and slammed straight into something that went "Oooph!" And then jabbed an elbow into his gut.
Rock-hard abs or not, when a knife-sharp elbow hit a tender new scar, it hurt.
Up until two seconds ago, her day had been going just fine. Katsuko had slept until it hurt to sleep anymore, rolled out of bed wearing what she'd tumbled into it with, and thumped grumpily downstairs. She hand't bothered to look in the mirror or check what time it was. All she knew was that it wasn't morning (take that, normal sleep patterns), she didn't have any missions, and she was hungry and grumpy enough to kill some small forest animal with her bare hands and eat it raw.
After stalking angrily around HQ for a while, Katsuko realized she'd forgotten where the cafeteria was. She'd never actually eaten there, just heard the horror stories, so she guessed she had an excuse. Kind of.
Strangely, everyone she stopped and asked for directions had something else to do...somewhere else...far away from her. It could have been her spiking level of killing intent, but Katsuko bet it probably was because she hadn't brushed her hair.
Rounding the corner of yet another endless, drab hallway--why the hell didn't ANBU post signs?--she caught the tail end of a wheezing cough. Sounded like somebody was dying.
Frowning, Katsuko sped her amble up to a walk and listened again for the source of the noise. She didn't have to wait long, as a door a few feet away from her opened and a freakishly tall man with spiky black hair stepped out, talking to somebody inside the room--presumably her potential dying person.
Sighing--because if she didn't check to make sure the person was okay her conscience would prick her until the end of the day--she went to step around Man-Mountain, trying to see into the room behind him.
And that was when Man-Mountain shoved away from the wall and slammed into her, knocking her ass-first to the floor in a fall that jarred from her tailbone all the way up to the base of her skull.
Bastard. She should have jabbed him harder.
"What the hell, gorilla-man. Bulk like yours, gotta watch who you're running into!"
Okay, so Gorilla-Man-Mountain wasn't really bulky, per se. More lean muscle than bulk. But hell, from where she was sitting now he looked tall enough.
"Or," Ryouma panted, pressing his hand flat against the aching seam angling down his belly, "you could stop stop lurking around doors. You're lucky I didn't have a knife."
He was probably the luckier one. He hadn't even thought to look. And he wasn't the one sprawled on the floor, glaring up with narrowed eyes and parted lips. At first glance he thought the other agent was another teenage boy, all long limbs and fierce gaze. But the thick brown hair was a little too long, the pointed chin was a little too fine. Loose jeans and a dark jacket convincingly concealed the slender figure, but even Hayate's voice was lower.
It was either a startlingly feminine boy, or a woman more masculine than Tsume. He hadn't been sure that was possible.
Either way, the newcomer was probably six inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter than him. Which explained why he'd knocked it down, but not the insults. Gorilla man? He could almost count his ribs, dammit!
"You know this person?" he asked Hayate, jerking his chin down at the intruder. "Any objections if I squish 'em?"
What with the chill of killing intent from the dark-haired...Lady? Guy? ...no man has ankles like that...socks don't match........lady, and the spike of irritation from Ryouma, Hayate was starting to wonder which way he should dodge.
"Um, no," he answered, and realized with a little alarm he should clarify to prevent trouble. "Don't know...ah, her, and I don't think you should squish her, sempai."
Or if you are, wait 'till I'm out of range, he added mentally.
Ryouma was leaning back on the doorframe, a hand over his stomach, and there was a tightness around his mouth that told Hayate he was hurting. The lady was getting to her feet, loose-limbed and easy, but the chill in her chakra told Hayate she was definitely not letting it go.
"You're not hurt?" he rasped, shuffling a tentative step closer, keeping both of them in view.
He kept his chakra calm, his voice gentle. Perhaps he could diffuse the situation, keep it from turning nasty. Comrades weren't supposed to fight, and Ryouma was already wounded and tired. Despite having just met the man, Hayate rather liked him. Besides...it just wasn't nice to fight with a lady.
Ow. Fuck. Ow. Damnit.
Katsuko massaged her aching tailbone and glared up at Gorilla-Man-Mountain. Who, now that she looked closer, wasn't so much bulky muscle as sheer height, which he was using now to glare accusingly down at her. Down being the key word, here. Huh. Well, she wasn't an abnormally tall freak of nature, but she wasn't a midget either. Katsuko drew herself up to her full height of five feet, seven inches and planted her hands on her hips. She lifted her chin and stared flatly into the tall man's dark brown eyes.
Then there was another guy talking to her, chakra flowing in smooth calm waves. Katsuko flicked her eyes over him. Skinny, haggard looking little thing. Looked like he'd keel over any second. Was he one of the Intel HQ lackeys? Couldn't tell if he had any muscle under those baggy clothes.
The original reason for why she'd come down the hallway long having been knocked out of her mind, Katsuko sighed and answered skinny boy's question. "Yes, I'm fine." But man-mountain looked like he was hurting, too. Was he injured? Pale, sweaty, and clutching at his stomach like she'd inflicted a gut wound on him with her elbow.
Katsuko's indignation deflated rapidly as she realized that she just might have possibly jabbed an injured man in the parts where he was injured.
A mortified blush came over her cheeks and her hands dropped to her sides. "I'm sorry. Did I hit an injury? Do you need to go to the medic?"
Hey, a delayed reaction was better than no reaction at all.
OK, Hayate was right. She was definitely a girl.
And there was no way Ryouma was letting a girl out-man him.
He straightened his shoulders with a little jerk, and dropped his hand down to his side. The angling scar throbbed in time with his heartbeat. Haruichi had healed him, knitting sliced and salt-rubbed flesh and skin, but it took deep muscles a long time to forget. He did his best to ignore it, anyway.
"My guts aren't falling out, so I think I'm good. That a new taijutsu style? 'Cause I think you'd do some real damage." He glanced back at Hayate. "I bet you'd be good at it, too. What's your specialty, anyway?"
Once again Hayate was left hopping to keep up with the change of subject. He wasn't too perturbed--he was getting used to it. After a startled blink he answered. "Kenjutsu. My taijutsu could stand some improvement."
Which was an understatement. He could fend off an enemy--he'd made special jounin, after all--but if he was disarmed his main concern was getting back to his sword. He was a bit too light to be very effective at hand-to-hand combat.
The new lady looked much the same, regarding Ryouma's comment with a skeptical eyebrow. But she looked decidedly interested at Hayate's answer, her eyes taking on a bright gleam. "Kenjutsu? Really?"
Hayate nodded to her, and belatedly realized introductions were in order. "Oh, I'm Hayate. And this is Ryouma." He smiled politely, taking another step nearer, ending up beside Ryouma. He realized the man was still hurting--he was tensed and still a little pale. He canted his head to look up at him.
Katsuko felt her face relax and offered up a tentative smile, looking between the two young men as she spoke. "Name's Katsuko. I moved in here March third, but I never got a chance to look around. I was looking for the cafeteria when..." She gestured helplessly to indicate the events that just happened. Her stomach chose that moment to growl loud and long, finally ending with a gurgle that sounded a lot like a dying cat.
She blushed slightly. "Sorry about snapping at you, Ryouma. Not really thinking straight. Haven't eaten since..." When had she last eaten? There had been that ration bar two days ago for lunch, but then the mission had gone to pot and she'd needed to concentrate more on staying alive then eating. She'd gotten home unscathed, showered, changed, then fell asleep right until...an hour ago.
"..I haven't eaten since three days ago. I think." She grinned sheepishly and rubbed at her stomach, blinking owlishly up at the taller man.
"Three days? Dammit, doesn't anyone around here eat anymore?" No wonder these kids were thin enough to break in one hand. "Hell, last time I went three days without eating was back in the war. No, soldier pills totally count. Back on the streets."
And that brought back memories so hard they hurt. Kids with hollow cheeks and enormous eyes, dirty faces, bony limbs. Kids begging in the streets, fighting over garbage scraps, drinking canal-water and chewing leather to sate the hunger-pangs. The little ones, the ones already too thin and too weak to join the gangs, had died first...
He tucked the empty water bottle into the crook of his elbow and dug through his pockets, producing two rubber bands, a knotted bit of string, a foil packet of painkillers, a smooth pebble, and a solid handful of crumpled cash and coins. The whole mess went into Hayate's hands. He jerked his own back, and shoved them into his pockets again, before the boy could refuse. "That should cover both of you. If Morimoto-san's in the cafeteria kitchen, tell him I sent you. I'll cover anything this doesn't."
If there was anything else, he couldn't think of it. These two would be okay; but he hadn't been back to Canal Street in weeks, hadn't checked on the ragged few orphans who still haunted the old alleys since before he'd left on his last, disastrous mission with Tsume. They got along better than he had, even without the protection of a gang; peace-time was kinder on orphans than war had ever been. But still, if something had happened while he'd been gone--if they'd needed him, and he hadn't come--
He'd been gone for months before, on the border and on missions. It didn't matter. He ducked his head at Katsuko, pulled up a vague smile for Hayate. "Gotta run. I'll see you around."
Hayate had only held out his hand on instinct--when someone offered you a closed first, that was what you did. He was not expecting a wad of cash and other pocket-lurking-items to be deposited in his palm. He was also not expecting Ryouma to turn and make off down the hall like the man had someplace to be before Hayate could ask what on earth was going on.
As Ryouma vanished around the corner, Hayate managed to shut his mouth. He traded a bewildered look with Katsuko, who merely shrugged. Hayate peered down at the odds-and-ends in his hand, then after the few items that had scattered to the floor: a few coins and a shiny-looking something Hayate thought was a pebble.
The niggling habit of neatness made him shift the items from hand-to-hand until he could line up all the bills--by size--and fold them in half, coins pocketed in the middle. As he went after the dropped coins, Katsuko spoke up.
Katsuko barely blinked at Ryouma's abrupt departure before turning her attention to her remaining companion.
Haya--whatsit had money. Money meant food. Food meant Katsuko wasn't hungry anymore. Therefore, she needed Haya--whatsit's money.
She clutched her stomach as it gurgled warningly and gave the thin black-haired boy a pleading look. "Food? You wouldn't happen to know where to find it, would you?"
Right now she was past the point of caring whether she looked pathetic or not. Hayate knew where food was, and he had money. That was good enough for her.
"Eh? Oh...." Hayate blinked at the lady...Katsuko. "Um, I can show you where the cafeteria is. And the kitchens."
If he went and
begged talked to one of the under-cooks--probably Momo, she was usually on evening shift--he'd get food that was a bit nicer than the usual share. Morimoto, the head cook, had been pleasant enough until he'd discovered Hayate was occasional friends with Kotetsu. He was still nice, just acted like he wanted Hayate out of there as soon as possible. Hayate found it easier all around to just talk to the under-cooks.
And then, there would be no spending of Royuma's money. And Hayate could give it back to the man...somehow.....
He retrieved the pebble, the last fallen item. It was cream-coloured and smooth, with a rusty loopy pattern through it. It looked vaguely like the ANBU tattoo, if he squinted. He tucked it into his handful of pocket-treasures, and turned back to Katsuko. She was watching him with a vaguely predatory look, like she might start munching on him if she didn't get food soon.
"...r-right. Kitchens are this way," he rasped, and pattered off down the hall.
Katsuko wasn't considering cannibalism. Yet. If she didn't eat soon, though, it could become a possibility. She shuffled after Hayate, her eyes fixed on his back. He walked quickly, with an occasional glance behind him to make sure she was following. They turned a corner and--
There was the cafeteria, complete with working kitchen and assorted chefs. The smell of cooking meat and soup reached her nose, making her stomach growl yet again. Hah. Stupid her. She'd been wandering around HQ for gods knew how long and the cafeteria was right there. If she hadn't run into Ryouma and Hayate, she would have been lost for another hour.
Hayate slipped the handful of Ryouma's pocket-items into the back pocket of his own jeans, where he was least likely to lose any of it. He rounded the corner, and glanced back at Katsuko. "Um, you can go into the cafeteria, if you want. The food's free, and it's usually edible. I don't eat that much, so I just get a snack or whatever from the kitchen."
His stomach reminded him that it was empty by gnawing on his liver. He frowned down at it, and contemplated the leftovers in his mini-fridge. Erm, riceballs and that moldy something I've been meaning to chunk. It smelled wonderfully like there was stir-fry in the cafeteria tonight.
A pair of agents wandered out of the cafeteria, chattering amiably about the best methods for decapitation...at least that's what "gotta get the angle between the vertebrae right for the best results" sounded like, and if it wasn't, Hayate didn't want to know.
He offered a shy little smile to Katsuko, and realized he didn't have anything else to say. Awkward. Oh fun. My favorite kind of moments, he thought darkly.
If there was one thing Ueno Hisae had managed to drill into her errant daughter's head, it was that one always said please and thank you. Katsuko turned and gave Hayate a grateful smile, shoving her hands into her pockets. "Thanks, Hayate. You said you did kenjutsu? Maybe we'll have a mission together sometime."
That was as far as her manners went. Her stomach growled ominously again, and she managed not to look longingly towards the cafeteria by sheer force of will.
"Maybe," Hayate offered, and was relieved when Katsuko nodded at last and turned away into the cafeteria. He stood a moment alone in the hall, listening to the muted murmur within the cafeteria itself.
The with a little jump like he'd been stung, he twisted around and struck up a bouncy little jog to the door to the kitchens, further down the hall. He grinned as he went, in anticipation of getting something nice to eat, and tried to fix down both new names he'd learned, so he wouldn't forget them.
Ryouma, and Katsuko. Hey, there is stir-fry tonight! Awright!