The following days at the Foundation are long and arduous, stretching Hibari’s patience to the thinness and fragility of rice paper.
It begins with an urgent phone call from Kusakabe so early in the morning that Hibari has only eaten three bites of his breakfast. Yamamoto watches him from the other side of the table, brows lifting in concern as Hibari’s scowl deepens more with each second his cell phone remains pressed to his ear. When Hibari closes his phone with a snap and consumes the fish and rice before him without preamble, Yamamoto gets up without a word to make sure a packed lunch is ready.
Hibari arrives at his Foundation a scant thirty minutes later. He goes straight to the main conference room where Kusakabe has organized the printed photographs sent over from Namimori’s central waste management plant, where every trash collection vehicle’s tires were slashed sometime in the night. All the vehicles stored in the two secondary plants elsewhere in the town, including the backup trucks, have suffered the same fate.
The prank is juvenile at best, but … the level of calculation behind the prank is worrisome. While those in charge desperately try to repair the damage and re-deploy the city’s fleet, the streets of Namimori steadily fill with bags of garbage, choking alleyways, overflowing dumpsters, and blanketing the entire city with the odor of decay.
Hibari dispatches some men on a hunt to the neighboring towns seeking more of the correct size of industrial tires and then coordinates with city officials through Kusakabe to cut down the immediate chaos, the primary goal being the return of every truck to the streets and thus ensuring the following day’s needs will be met.
Then Hibari studies the stills taken from the surveillance cameras, and frowns. The details aren’t great—blurred and grainy from a combination of the vandal’s speed and the low resolution of the cameras. From what he can tell, the masked perpetrator climbed the security fence and cut through the barbed wire at the top with some kind of blade, then vaulted inside the compound where it took only minutes to slip methodically through the rows and deal the city a significant blow. Aside from the figure in question being male, there’s not much else to go on.
A Foundation member brings Hibari some tea, but he waves the man aside, gesturing for him to put the tea somewhere else.
“Tetsu.” Hibari looks over to where Kusakabe is on the phone. One of Kusakabe’s hands covers the mouthpiece, his brows raised to attention.
“I want all the video recordings of this senseless mischief. Get it here this instant.”
Kusakabe nods a salute, and then resumes his conversation with the Mayor. Hibari sits down and flips through the photographs from the beginning, while his tea grows cold on the nearby side table, and a sickening certainty rises in the pit of his stomach that this incident is the sign he’s been looking for.
His opponent has made the first move, sending a singular message of contempt both for Namimori’s citizens, and her protectors.
Whether Hibari is ready or not, the battle is on.
That night, Yamamoto hears him come in and starts to get up from the sofa. “Hey, you’re finally back, I’ve got dinner in the refri—”
“Shh.” Hibari promptly pushes him back down into the cushions. “Dinner can wait.”
He sits astride Yamamoto’s legs and hooks a finger in the knot of his tie to pull the silk loose, blocking the view of the widescreen TV broadcasting a baseball game. Next he shrugs out of his jacket, the stress of the day built up and thrumming through his body, craving release. Hibari licks his teeth thinking Yamamoto had better not object.
Indeed, Yamamoto smirks and reaches up to help Hibari with his shirt buttons. He angles for a kiss, but Hibari leans away and denies him, hands busy with his belt buckle and the zipper beneath it. Yamamoto lifts one eyebrow in challenge and then rips Hibari’s shirt open the rest of the way, fisting the crisp white fabric and tugging hard enough to bring Hibari’s mouth back within range so he can bite him, right on the side of his chin.
Hibari growls and shoves Yamamoto sideways onto his back along the length of the couch. He pins Yamamoto to the spot and sinks teeth into his neck in return. Yamamoto hisses, hips grinding into Hibari’s and hands clutching at his belt loops. Hibari licks upward over Yamamoto’s jaw and then Yamamoto’s warm tongue is in his mouth and nothing matters more than the tangle of their limbs and the friction of their movements, rocking against each other to climax as quickly as possible while still half-clothed.
Once is not enough. During the breather Hibari mouths the slick indentation across Yamamoto’s chin and scratches fingers over the scars that weave like a net over Yamamoto’s belly. And then they’re ready to go again, groins seeking heat and movement and the acceleration of blood through veins and skin sticking close and tight and they can hardly breathe anymore before the encore performance is regretfully over.
After that, the two of them stay sprawled on the couch, absently listening to the baseball announcer call the plays, and lingering in the afterglow despite the sweat and mess until Hibari thinks he can finally settle down. Most of the tension has been eased from his bones. Yamamoto’s panting breaths have slowed and steadied, gently ruffling the damp hair at Hibari’s temple.
Hibari closes his eyes and thinks bath, then food, then sleep, which is almost how the remainder of the evening plays out except that Yamamoto goes from bath directly to sleep, claiming he ate something light before Hibari came home.
Hibari eats his dinner cold, not tasting a single bite. He’s unable to resist opening his laptop to continue his work from earlier in the day, although he makes so little progress he decides to go to bed right then, so tired that the alarm clock set for the next morning might not be enough rouse him.
Hibari wakes all at once, sitting straight up in the dark and reaching for his tonfa on instinct before he realizes he’s still in his own bedroom.
He is puzzled by the situation, until he sees that Hibird is flying about the room in agitated dips and swoops; Hibari blinks into the solid darkness and tries to follow Hibird’s irregular flight path, his vision momentarily enhanced by the stark clarity of the adrenaline rush pumped through his veins by his fastly beating heart. He turns to ask Yamamoto what’s going on, but unexpectedly the bed is empty, the mattress beside Hibari cold to the touch.
Their bedroom door is open to show the dark tunnel of hallway leading down to the sitting room. The door to the sitting room is also open, made obvious by a faint light creeping overtop the tatami from inside the kitchen. Hibari frowns, ears trained for signs of movement, Yamamoto’s or otherwise. But the house is silent.
Hibari sniffs the air for smoke, ruling out fire as the possible source of Hibird’s distress. Then the bird’s antics become so excessively annoying that Hibari flings aside the covers and gets up out of bed, holding out a finger on which Hibird immediately perches. Hibari transfers the bird to his shoulder, scowling at its trembling feet and the feathers shed all over the floor. This behavior has never happened with Hibird before, but if it’s Yamamoto’s fault then Hibari will be sure to punish him thoroughly.
He steps out from the bedroom, passing the pitch-black rectangle of the master bathroom and walking towards the reflected light further down. Hibari then turns into the living room where he stops dead in his tracks.
There, at the far end of the room, is Yamamoto—standing stock still and facing the empty wall in nothing but his pajama pants. His body is backlit by the eerie blue glow of the open refrigerator door, eyes unfocused and a thin line of drool visible on one side of his mouth.
Hibari’s heart shoots up into his throat, his senses sharpening to razor points that instant. Hibird flutters back into the air, cheeping in panic, then zigzagging back the way they came in terrified haste while Hibari stands there on the threshold, frozen.
And then, Yamamoto begins to mumble something over and over in a monotone whisper that sounds like “Do not enter.”
Every hair on Hibari’s body stands on end.
He sidesteps over to the shelf with his cloud bracelet, igniting it with purple flames so intense they fill the room from corner to corner, wiping out any possibility of a hidden enemy flame attack—but there’s nothing.
Yamamoto sways beneath the purple light and turns towards him, slowly, like it requires a great deal of effort, and then his whole body goes rigid in a single snap and he topples backwards onto the floor, collapsing limp.
Hibari’s blood runs to ice despite the heat of the flames emanating from his wrist. He quiets the bracelet and rushes to Yamamoto’s side, checking for injuries or bumps to the head. As he does this Yamamoto seems to come around, crinkling his forehead and moaning as he tries to sit up. Hibari guides him back down to the floor, deciding he shouldn’t move just yet. He wipes the line of drool away
(it doesn’t belong there)
with his pajama sleeve, and as he does, Yamamoto’s nose starts to bleed out of both nostrils, pooling at his upper lip and parting to either side. Hibari looks around for something to stop the bleeding, but there is nothing suitable; he shrugs out of his pajama top without bothering with the buttons, and then presses a wad of the silk to Yamamoto’s nose.
Just then Yamamoto’s lids flicker and then open, one of his hands catching Hibari’s pajama sleeve.
“The milk…” he whispers, looking around the room, visibly confused.
“What?” Hibari asks, glancing to where Yamamoto’s hand has latched onto his wrist.
“It’s bad.” Yamamoto turns his head to meet his gaze. “The milk’s gone bad. Have to pour it out. The milk’s bad… I have to pour it out… have to… get rid of it!”
In agitation he tries to get up and Hibari puts a hand on his bare chest again, keeping him flat and willing him to snap out of it.
“Hey.” Hibari pitches his voice to get Yamamoto’s attention. “Wake. Up.” He swats Yamamoto’s cheeks with his open hand, once on each side to bring him back to his senses, so unnerved he can’t think to do anything else—he might hurt him worse if this doesn’t stop.
Yamamoto’s eyes widen and then shrink to normal as they come fully into focus, though his free hand lifts to block the warning slaps in a severely delayed reaction.
Hibari moves the bloodstained silk away as Yamamoto’s pupils pass across his gaze and then lock back onto it, face shifting into a puzzled expression Hibari has seen thousands of times. Then Yamamoto looks at his hand, still in the air, and he brings it down to rub one of his eyes while he yawns and stretches.
It’s so normal, so Yamamoto that Hibari lets out a small breath of relief.
“What’s going on?” Yamamoto asks, looking around and frowning at the wad of cloth in Hibari’s hands.
Hibari lets him sit up, watching for any signs of further… whatever it was.
“Is this… Was this your pajamas? Why are we in here?” Yamamoto takes hold of the cloth, face blank and expectant. “What happened?”
Hibari furrows his brow, considering what, exactly, he should say. Then he gets to his feet.
“You need ice. By the way, if you’re going to sleepwalk, do it someplace else.”
“Whoa, what? Hahaha… you’re not serious, right?”
“Do I sound like I’m joking, Yamamoto Takeshi?”
Hibari steps into the kitchen where the smell of milk in the sink is potent, laced with an oily fragrance at once repellent and distantly familiar. Hibari turns up his nose. He runs water over some disposable towels and tosses them onto the counter.
“Clean yourself up.” He points to the ruined cloth in Yamamoto’s hand. “And throw that thing in the garbage. I don’t need it anymore.”
Yamamoto complies. Hibari gets an icepack from the freezer and shoves it at Yamamoto, wondering what the hell he is doing; this isn’t like him one bit. He swings the refrigerator door shut and its eerie light winks out, cloaking the house in darkness once more. Then Hibari tromps back down the hall, Yamamoto following behind. There is no sign of Hibird.
“So weird. I just can’t believe it,” Yamamoto says, still rubbing the back of his head, lost in thought. “I’ll ask my Dad, but I don’t think I’ve ever done that before… and I haven’t had a nosebleed since I was a teenager, hahaha…”
“Go back to bed. Now.” Hibari points impatiently to Yamamoto’s side. “Unless you’d like me to send you to the hospital for a checkup.” He raises a fist and steps closer.
“No, no,” Yamamoto quickly holds up both his hands, one with the icepack. “The bleeding’s already stopped, ok? It’s just a little swelling, I’m sure I’m fine, maybe just a little overtired from this morning’s practice or something, I’m getting in bed now, see?”
Yamamoto yawns again and murmurs goodnight, falling asleep almost instantly.
Hibari gets in underneath the covers next to him, more shaken up than he’d ever admit. Unable to sleep, he listens to Yamamoto’s steady breathing, periodically checking the room with cloud flames until just before dawn when Yamamoto gets up at his usual time and dresses for his morning training at the dojo.
Everything the same.
Hibari only has three hours to sleep before the alarm goes off, but he wakes up on full alert, the events of the previous night still so fresh.
He monitors Yamamoto closely, although Yamamoto does not seem to remember anything that happened, defaulting to the normal routine and moving about the kitchen making breakfast the same way he did the previous morning, and the morning before that, and every other morning they’ve ever spent in this house together.
It could have been just any other morning, except that Yamamoto asks one question: “Hey Hibari, what happened to all the milk?”
(you sleep-walked and poured it down the drain)
Hibari sips his tea and studies Yamamoto’s face, which is open, casual, and genuinely confused. “It went bad.”
(you scared the hell out of me)
“Hmmm, how funny. I’m sure I bought it recently?” Then Yamamoto shrugs. “I’ll get more on my way home today. Might as well restock the groceries since we’re almost out of your tea, too.”
Hibari murmurs some agreement and opens his laptop, reasonably assured by this point that Yamamoto is okay enough to handle teaching his high school P.E. classes. He puts most of it from his mind, though an undercurrent of anxiety lingers on.
The hours at work are grueling from the outset, yesterday’s trash-collection prank only partially resolved and the city’s officials proving their incompetency at every turn, which tries Hibari’s nerves like nothing else. Except that what he needs to be doing is hunting down an escaped criminal, which means the city-wide distraction is doing a fair job of tying his hands, as his enemy no doubt intended.
Hibari retreats to his office where he can be alone to think and plan, gauging whether or not his men are stationed in the right places either to intercept or to monitor the target or any of his minions. But the problem, not that he wants to admit it, is that there are just too many places to watch. Thousands of people enter and leave Namimori each day, not to mention the number of people flying in and out of the country.
In addition, his most discreet men are stationed near Sawada Tsunayoshi’s underground base and the country estate, as well as the teams of two shadowing all other possible targets, the likeliest victims both Mafiosi and Vongole.
The other Guardians may see his actions as interference, but Hibari thinks that’s just fine. He doesn’t need their approval to bite someone to death. He also doesn’t need their thanks—taking that man down will be his ultimate pleasure, worth any price.
What he hates the most is having to wait.
Regardless of any distractions, Hibari’s main priority has not changed: to narrow down the number of possible criminals they are dealing with besides his adversary’s usual associates. If there’s one thing that Hibari is certain of, it’s that his adversary will not dirty his hands while there are others to wreak havoc in his stead. Whoever they are—and whatever they’ve done—Hibari will find them and eliminate them. After all, this world does not need two orders.
He spends a while weighing all the facts at hand before he instructs Kusakabe to have several lists compiled:
1.) The names of all Mafiosi who have escaped or disappeared from prison in the last six months.
2.) The names of those above with athletic ability.
3.) The names of those above who wield a blade, and one final list—
4.) The names of all Mafiosi who have had any kind of grudge, large or small, against Sawada Tsunayoshi, Vongola’s Decimo.
Once he’s assured that the right men are assigned to the task, Hibari finally goes home for the night.
It’s very late. He’s irritable and restless, the day already off to a bad start in following previous night’s macabre excitement. His stomach rumbles in anticipation of Yamamoto’s cuisine, but his hopes plummet just as quickly when he arrives at their house and finds it completely dark.
Hibari gets out his tonfa on just in case, turning on lights one by one. Then he relaxes somewhat when he finds a note on the kitchen table from Yamamoto saying his baseball buddies from high school invited him out, and that there’s sushi in the fridge he picked up from his Dad’s shop. He also says he won’t be out too late, so Hibari helps himself to the sushi and takes a long soak in the bath, expecting Yamamoto to come in at any minute. Maybe he’ll join him; the bathtub is big enough for two.
But even when Hibari’s fingers and toes have wrinkled from the bathwater, Yamamoto has not come back. It’s disappointing, but perhaps not all that surprising for Yamamoto to be kept out late; he has such a huge quantity of friends.
After getting out and toweling dry, Hibari puts on his pajamas and takes his laptop to the sofa where he drinks tea and continues perusing the newest reports forwarded to his email. He doesn’t pay much attention to the clock, working undisturbed for over two hours before he notices two things: police sirens blaring from downtown Namimori, and the continued stillness of the house underlining the absence of Yamamoto.
“Tch,” he mutters, picking up his cell phone and dialing Yamamoto’s mobile. It goes straight to voicemail and Hibari hangs up, pensive. “What is that guy doing?”
He yawns, cupping fingers over his mouth. In general he doesn’t worry much over Yamamoto; the man is strong and can take care of himself. However… something had certainly been wrong with him last night. It would not be good if someone ill equipped to deal with an emergency were left to deal with a repeat episode; there’s no telling whether Yamamoto’s friends would be able to handle it or not.
Hibari flicks his eyes over to the wall where Yamamoto had been standing. He turns cold, remembering the catatonic stare and the mumbled gibberish. Just what had caused such a thing?
The next sirens blare from much closer and Hibari turns his head to the window, placing the sounds down below at the bottom of the hill and heading further into town. He gets up and walks over to where he can see, pulling back the thin curtain and pinpointing several sets of flashing lights in the distance. He presses his lips together. This is too much activity for another vandalism incident. It would have to be something much more—
Hibari’s cell phone vibrates on the wood end table, dancing an urgent summons. He picks up expecting Yamamoto but is greeted by Kusakabe instead.
“A thousand apologies for the lateness of the hour, Kyo-san, but there seems to be an urgent situation…”
Hibari gets changed back into his suit as Kusakabe informs him there was a break-in at a jewelry store and a subsequent car chase in progress that very moment, police cars hot on the trail of one of the thieves who hopped on a motorcycle in an attempt to get away clean. As Hibari gets into his own car Kusakabe continues reporting\ that it was a two man job, but the second man also got away and nobody knows quite how. Hibari snaps the phone closed and grits his teeth, driving straight into town where he can coordinate his manpower to fill any gaps in police coverage and trap the thief like any detestable insect.
The chase is still going on by the time he meets with Kusakabe and the other Foundation officers. They have a map of Namimori spread out on the table, one computer tapped in to the police grid showing the patrol cars’ movements by GPS, and a laptop with the feed from an airborne traffic helicopter following the thief. For a minute Hibari simply watches the complex maneuvers of the motorcyclist, appreciating the level of skill with which he evades all pursuit and leads one car after another into a dead end. Hibari’s lips curl upward in a mock smile; it’s more exciting to bring a filthy lowlife to justice when he exhibits a bit of competence.
Several motorcycle police have been dispatched, but Hibari shakes his head. They can’t compete. Yamamoto could have taken this insect down easily, but then again there aren’t many who can challenge Yamamoto when he’s in the driver’s seat. Kusakabe reports in that the fastest bikers in the Foundation are already on their way, and then Hibari turns his attention to the runner who arrives that very moment with copies of the security camera footage from the store in question.
At that moment, a fierce explosion erupts in the middle of the vehicle chase. All of them turn to the helicopter’s live feed to see a three car pile-up at the intersection of one of Namimori’s main thoroughfares. As the smoke clears and the debris settles, Hibari sees a burning motorcycle tire off to one side, and part of an exhaust pipe.
It’s unlikely that anyone could survive the blast.
Hibari has Kusakabe radio instructions to their men on bikes, ordering them and a squad of others on foot to report to the scene and confirm the status of the thief. Then he focuses on the second thief, the one who eluded the police while they were busy rallying forces to chase down the motorcycle… which means the one on motorcycle was really nothing more than a decoy. Simple diversion tactics—but Hibari will not fall for it.
Just what do you think you are doing in my town? he seethes, baring his teeth and snatching the first video recordings from the hand-delivered pile, ordering the men on site at the location of the burglary to keep on top of the newest evidence.
This kind of flashy crime disturbing the peace in Namimori is unacceptable, and must be stopped.
Despite their best efforts, the second thief—the one Hibari has tapped as the brains of the operation—managed to escape. The motorcycle decoy died in the crash, his body burned beyond recognition, although there is still a chance that the coroner may be able to do a dental identity match.
Hibari then goes to both crime scenes personally. First the jewelry shop with broken glass and toppled fixtures everywhere, including a display case of high-grade pearls now scattered across the black tile flooring like a fallen constellation. He replays in his mind what little was caught on tape—two figures in black entering through a roof duct like ninja, then one leaving on motorcycle five minutes later. The items stolen from each case were the most costly, which shows they knew what they were doing. And the empty display boards covered in glass suggests they trashed the place after the fact, right before making their getaway.
The biggest losses are the jewels from the high grade safe in the manager’s back office, the contents of each velvet draw-string bag worth millions of Yen. This aspect of the crime is also the most puzzling—Hibari stands before the ruined safe for quite some time, observing with his own eyes how the corner was sliced clean through like a block of tofu. All they had to do then was reach inside and take everything they could carry. Hibari turns his back and leaves the building, getting into his car parked beyond the yellow police tape.
Not many weapons could perform a feat such as that. The only ones Hibari knows of belong to Mafia dogs.
The two thoughts connect and Hibari grits his teeth in anger, foot slammed down on the gas pedal all the way to the scene of the fatal crash, also roped off by yellow tape. The area is rife with the acrid smell of burnt rubber and electrical chemicals; the fires have been put out but the smoke still climbs upward from the rubble in tendrils, ghostly hands lifted in prayer.
He doesn’t stay there long. Four men have died, including the criminal. There is no sign of anything connected to the Mafia, but Hibari doesn’t discount the possibility and he won’t until more things are certain.
There’s not much they can do now but wait. His men are tired, so he orders them home once fresh reinforcements arrive to take over. Kusakabe’s best assistant takes his place at the control room for the duration and Hibari drives back across town and up the hill that supports the shrine, and beyond it, his house.
But there is one more surprise waiting for Hibari, a figure in black huddled on the porch beside the front door.
Hibari would recognize that spiky haircut and those long legs anywhere. He also recognizes the signs of drunkenness, Yamamoto’s chin trying unsuccessfully to coordinate with his knee, elbow, and wrist in order to prop his lolling head, giggling all the while.
Hibari is livid. He floors the gas and then steers the car abruptly into the garage and parks, yanking the emergency brake into place. He enters the house from the walkway and then opens the front door from the inside, confirming the obvious at first glance: Yamamoto is inebriated beyond belief, grinning up at him like a fool.
“Haha! It’s Hibari!” Yamamoto throws both hands in the air like a little kid shouting banzai.
“Silence,” Hibari hisses, thoroughly enraged. “Get up this instant, Yamamoto Takeshi.”
Yamamoto laughs and gets to one knee, but he sways and has to catch himself on the side of the house. “Whoa!”
“Tch.” Hibari goes to him and digs fingers into his elbow, jerking him up to his feet. Yamamoto stumbles and grabs Hibari’s suit for balance, almost pulling Hibari to the ground in the process before he can get Yamamoto’s arm behind his neck for the right leverage.
“Hahaha, hmmm, mmmm…” Yamamoto mumbles, flopping the other arm around Hibari’s neck, all of him reeking of Sake and western beer. He nuzzles his face in the crook of Hibari’s neck.
“This’s good, I like this… here, let’s stay like thisss… Hibari… Hibari… I wanna kiss you so good...c’mere…”
“Stand. Up.” Hibari barks, feeling Yamamoto’s foot hook around the back of his calf.
He shoves him through the doorway and Yamamoto promptly trips over the genkan and lands in a sprawl, then bursts into a fit of laughter, rolling onto his side. Hibari checks the porch for any stray belongings and finds Yamamoto’s motorcycle helmet lying off to one side where Yamamoto must have dropped it, and lying lengthwise against the side of the house is a sword, snug inside a sheath, but the sheath straps hanging loose. He sighs and retrieves both items before locking up, setting them on the floor out of the way, the twin blue sparrows of the helmet circling the black surface and peering up at him.
Then Hibari frowns, realizing the bike wasn’t in the garage… and it wasn’t in the street or (heaven forbid) left someplace out on the lawn either. Hibari looks down at Yamamoto, curled into a ball and already halfway asleep right there in the entryway.
“Hey.” Hibari kicks him in the gut hard enough to wake him up.
Yamamoto oofs and rolls away from him, blinking his eyes partway open.
“Where’s your bike?”
“Left it someplace,” Yamamoto mumbles.
“So where are the keys?”
“Dunno,” Yamamoto shrugs, then stretches his arms high above his head, his jacket leaving dirty smears on the floor and his t-shirt riding up to show his bare stomach, those perfect abdominals of his criss-crossed with scars.
“I missed you! Really, really bad. C’mere, Hibari,” Yamamoto giggles and tries again to hook Hibari’s leg with his foot, but Hibari steps out of range, tsking.
“Quit lying there on the floor and get to bed,” Hibari says, crossing his arms. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
Yamamoto holds his arms out, grinning. “Carry me?”
“Why should I?”
“Aw, c’mon, I’m a sweet li'l puppy, see?” Yamamoto rolls onto his back and flops his arms and knees in the air, wagging an invisible tail in a drunken plea for attention. “I can even do tricks—”
“Enough,” Hibari snaps, grabbing Yamamoto’s wrist and pulling him to a sitting position. “Get up before I kick you back into the bushes for the night.”
“Okay, okay,” Yamamoto chuckles, managing to stand once he’s leaned most of his weight across Hibari’s shoulders. “Jeez, Hibari’s so serious…”
“Of course. I’m not so stupid as to become as useless as this.”
Hibari gets Yamamoto into the bedroom, where he flumps onto the bed facedown and almost immediately falls to sleep. This time Hibari is not successful in waking him, so he begins to strip Yamamoto’s clothes, cutting his palm on something stuck to the jacket. He pinches the skin, blood welling from where he was cut by a thorn or a shard of something Yamamoto picked up somewhere on his walk home. Hibari scowls, wiping the trickle of blood with his handkerchief, then stripping everything off Yamamoto but his boxers and t-shirt, getting angry all over again that Yamamoto would allow himself to get completely wasted, and on a school night no less. A drink or two with old friends is one thing, but he’s never known Yamamoto to exhibit his kind of irresponsibility.
He’s loath even to share the same bed while Yamamoto stinks so heavily of sweat and liquor, his drunken snores louder than a lumbering street sweeper after a festival crowd.
“Unforgivable,” Hibari mutters, digging out a clean sheet and blanket from the hall storage cupboard to protect the sofa. Then he hoists Yamamoto over his back, carries him into the sitting room and deposits him lengthwise on the couch where he can sleep it off. As an afterthought, he peels the grimy, sweat-stained t-shirt over Yamamoto’s head, tucking the blanket up under his chin so he won’t catch cold.
Yamamoto doesn’t even notice. Hibari hopes he gets a crick in his neck for all the trouble he’s caused.
Then he gets into his pajamas for the second time that night and falls asleep the moment his head hits the pillow, only a distant part of him aware that this is the first time he and Yamamoto have ever slept apart while inside the same house.
Yamamoto’s not there in bed when Hibari wakes up the next morning, and he sits bolt upright expecting a repeat of the sleepwalking incident before he remembers that Yamamoto was drunk, and therefore made to sleep out on the couch.
Hibari’s stomach grumbles and he yawns while trudging out to the kitchen and finding it oddly silent. There’s not a single smell of food, and the counter and table are both empty, but the reason for the anomaly is obvious with the rise and fall of steady breathing coming from the living room couch, where Yamamoto is still sleeping like the dead. Hibari is not a bit surprised. He leaves him alone and scrounges up something edible, and then dresses in his suit with the intention of going into work early.
Last night was the biggest case of robbery that Namimori has experienced in many years. Hibari knows he’ll be kept very busy from here on out, and his shoulders tense just thinking of the long hours ahead.
On his way out, he does stop by the sofa to wake up Yamamoto so he won’t be late for school, but the fresh marks he sees on Yamamoto’s back—marks he missed last night when struggling to undress him—change everything.
From Yamamoto’s position on his side and facing the back of the couch, the blanket tucked loosely around his hips and legs, Hibari has an unobscured view: right there above Yamamoto’s shoulder blade are a perfect set of fingernail scratches.
The kind anyone would recognize and equate with rough sex.
Only, Hibari’s marks are not this dainty. Not so clean.
Hibari’s rage—at the very idea of it happening under his nose—that anyone would dare—is instantaneous and blinding, surging over him so quickly he strains every ounce of his will trying to contain it.
His entire body sings with the effort. He drops his briefcase and, just for the hell of it, for arguments sake even, he holds his hand above Yamamoto’s skin to compare. If he lines up his fingers tight together it could be a match, but he knows the marks are not from him. When he puts marks on Yamamoto he usually does it with both hands. He does it like he means it.
Hibari sinks half his claws into Yamamoto’s skin and rips downward, four fresh red stripes blossoming next to the others. Yamamoto sucks in a breath and his back bows with the sudden pain, a muffled cry escaping from his lips. Hibari waits, immovable, as Yamamoto scrambles upright and then presses a hand to his temple.
“Ugh… What was that for?”
Yamamoto grimaces and closes his eyes, focusing for the moment on breathing in order to assuage the more painful consequences of his night of binge drinking, for which Hibari feels zero sympathy.
“Jeez, I don’t feel so good. Do you have to be so violent all the time?” Yamamoto actually sounds grumpy, which pisses Hibari off even more.
“Who was it that scratched you, Yamamoto Takeshi.” Hibari fixes Yamamoto with a hard stare, surprised at the calm surface of his own voice.
Yamamoto blinks, rubbing his temples with both hands. “Is this a trick question?”
Yamamoto’s brow furrows, anger flashing across his features. “That was you, obviously. Discipline or something, right?”
Hibari gets to his feet, the hold on his temper unraveling. “Insult me further and you breathe your last.”
“I’m not, I—” Yamamoto’s brows shoot up, his expression now one of dismay. “What’s wrong? Hibari?”
“Look in the mirror. Go.” Hibari cocks his head towards the master bathroom. “You have one chance to explain how those marks got there. ONE.”
Yamamoto’s lips tighten. He cranes his neck to try and see his back, but it’s no use. He walks stiffly down the hall and turns on the bathroom light, then stands before the wide mirror and twists enough to see the two sets of marks, one set painfully raw and the other set lined with pin-prick scabs where his body has already begun to heal the damage.
Yamamoto touches the edges where he can reach, shifting his bare torso in several directions to get the full picture. His brow furrows deeper and deeper above a face already pinched with acute confusion.
“I… I don’t know,” he shakes his head. “I have no idea, I don’t remember anything even close to something that could cause this, I—”
“What are you saying,” Hibari folds his arms. “That those friends of yours did this? That it’s some kind of a joke?”
“No, they wouldn’t—”
“Then what?” Hibari holds his gaze in the mirror.
Yamamoto’s arm flexes, but he does not flinch away. Instead, he straightens taller. “Do you think I would lie to you, Hibari? Do you really think I could ever betray you that way?”
Hibari stiffens. “I’m asking you how those marks—”
“I don’t know!” Yamamoto shouts, then scratches a shaky hand through his hair. “I drank too much. You’ve got reason to be pissed, but please believe me—I don’t remember anything. I can’t tell you how I got scratched but it must have been an accident, all right?”
Hibari makes no comment, still too angry. Yamamoto squares to face him, visibly distressed, but also visibly offended.
“Look, call the guys and ask them, okay? I’m sure they’ll back me up that I wasn’t…” he gestures through the awkwardness, “… with anyone yesterday. I wouldn’t do that. I’m not that kind of person.” This time Yamamoto is the one to hold their gaze. “How could you even think that?”
Hibari steps in closer. “And just what am I supposed to think?!”
“You’re supposed to trust me—”
“Do not turn this around, Yamamoto Takeshi. I am not the one who—”
“—because we love each other,” Yamamoto finishes. “You know I would never hurt you.”
Hibari closes his mouth, weighing the honesty he can hear in Yamamoto’s words against the reflection of Yamamoto’s back in the mirror, questions and suspicions swirling in-between. Hibari flexes his jaw. It’s not within Yamamoto’s nature to be unfaithful, and Hibari knows it. But he also knows that there’s a part of Yamamoto’s nature that makes him susceptible to those that would take advantage of him, and it’s that part that Hibari would rip out if he could.
“This kind of thing—” Hibari points to the mirror, “It really makes me want to bite you dead. You should not drink so much, Yamamoto Takeshi.”
“I’ll talk to the guys and clear everything up. It won’t happen again,” Yamamoto says. He hesitates only a fraction before moving closer and brushing some of Hibari’s hair behind his ear. “I worried you. Sorry. How can I make it up to you?”
Hibari cocks his head away, not quite knocking Yamamoto’s hand aside as he flicks his hair back into place. “I have work.”
“…Okay.” Yamamoto makes an effort to smile, though it is laced through with tension. “See you for dinner?”
“Work hard. I’ll be waiting when you get back.”
Hibari crosses the house to retrieve his briefcase before walking briskly out the door, knowing that the longer he stays there the less he’ll be able to remain calm.
He gets into his car and forces his mind away from the troubles at home, only to replace them with the troubles awaiting him down at the Foundation headquarters.
Hibari arrives at his office to find that the reports, files, and boxes of surveillance videos on top of his desk have multiplied one after the other like filthy rats, not even a corner left open for his cup of tea.
He slams the door and begins sifting through the mess, working out bit by bit what progress has been made and what new leads there are to chase since he left there a mere six hours ago. Not a single Foundation member has the guts to knock or otherwise disturb him until Kusakabe Tetsuya arrives, shocked to find Hibari there so early but fully armed with new sheaves of photos and escorting someone with a fresh pot of tea, thus avoiding the brunt of Hibari’s foul mood.
Hibari then sits opposite Kusakabe for a moment and lets the tea’s steaming aroma soothe his frayed nerves and restore the order of his disheveled mind.
“Tetsu. Start digging into the Mafia Families who have interests in the jewelry trade. And begin monitoring any Mafiosi either selling or buying—I want to know about it the moment any of those stolen goods turn up.”
“Right away, Kyo-san.” Kusakabe stands and heads for the door, but Hibari lifts a hand and holds him back.
“Also, I want another list—any Mafiosi who are decent at riding a motorcycle. Bring it with the others I asked for.”
Kusakabe frowns. “You think the thief who died could have been Mafia?”
“Did you forget, Kusakabe Tetsuya?” Hibari cocks his head. “An attack on Namimori is an attack on me. I don’t care who it is, I will crush them to bits.”
By mid afternoon, Namimori’s waste management facility is back online, every truck operational and out collecting garbage according to schedule. The vandal has managed to elude them for now, but Hibari has several of his men still out working leads so he can focus the rest of his time in piecing together the information from the jewelry store security tapes with the statements and reports taken by the witnesses, cross-referencing them with the ones given by those otherwise involved with the store.
With several men pulling information from the Foundation’s databases, and the reports more or less in order on his desk, Hibari decides to visit the crime scenes personally a second time. He’s been idle for far too long, every cell in his body itching to lash out. And maybe this way all the details will mesh into a coherent whole so he can follow the criminal’s footsteps right down into his stinking nest.
Kusakabe insists on driving, forcing a takeout bento into Hibari’s hands and badgering him until he eats, scolding him for not paying better attention to his health and citing how disappointed Yamamoto would be if he knew. But Hibari has lost his appetite for anything but restoring justice to Namimori. He elbows Kusakabe in the ribs at a stoplight, winding him for his unwanted meddling, but he finishes the meal down to the very last grain of rice out of sheer stubbornness. Or maybe pride.
They park outside the yellow police tape. The officers take one look at Hibari and his lieutenant and stand straighter in their boots. Someone holds the tape up high so they won’t have to stoop, and Hibari walks directly to the jewelry store’s entrance, passing the repairmen on ladders busy installing new glass windows in the storefront. Once inside, Hibari looks all around the interior. Much has been done to restore the damage, but much of the damage still remains.
From the corner of his eye Hibari can see the store owner, the manager, and the police detective on duty immediately head in his direction. Kusakabe steps in smoothly to intercept, offering Hibari’s business card and taking care of the formalities—mentioning their intentions towards the investigation—so that Hibari can walk freely through the showroom and replay exactly how the robbery went down.
He closes his eyes, picturing the two-man team disabling the cameras from the hub on the roof and then entering through the ductwork. So they were agile and slim, but powerful. One slices through the safe and empties it while the other takes out only the most valuable pieces from each of the displays… and then breaks the glass?
No. The one with the weapon came back out to break the glass and hide their tracks, while the other…
Hibari frowns. The video tapes came back on shortly after this since they captured the armed man in action, so the other thief had to have gone back up to the roof to restore the connection to the security cameras on purpose.
Hibari stalks back the way he came, disgusted. From three stories up, the thief on the roof could have disappeared in any direction while the second thief became the sacrifice, bashing the storefront windows with the hilt of a katana while astride the motorcycle, and perfectly drawing the local police into a chase that led straight to his death.
He will never understand the way these weak-minded animals think.
“Tetsu.” Hibari cocks his head at the door and then takes his leave, expecting that Kusakabe will follow forthwith.
They drive to the intersection where the crash and explosion occurred, but there is nothing much left to see except for cars and trucks loping along in the usual heavy traffic common for late afternoon downtown, any debris or leftover grit swept clean just before dawn. Hibari gestures upward to the main street’s overpass, and Kusakabe parks on the shoulder at the cusp where Hibari can get out and look down on the whole area at once. It’s unclear exactly how the crash happened, and it bothers him—in such a big area, just what did the thief crash into? And why couldn’t the patrol cars avoid one single motorcycle?
Kusakabe joins him at the rail. “The coroner was not able to ID the body yet, Kyo-san. However…”
Hibari turns to the sound of papers shuffled, Kusakabe flipping through a handful of memos and glossy eight-by-ten reproductions.
“Ah, yes, they’ve identified what kind of motorbike it was,” Kusakabe continues, handing over a photo of the broken, soot-coated fragments of the bike arranged on a steel forensics table, each one tagged and numbered. “A Ducati Monster S4.”
Hibari’s skin prickles in foreboding, and he snatches the photo from Kusakabe’s hand.
“Kyo-san, isn’t that the same…?” but Kusakabe doesn’t finish his thought, reading the truth on Hibari’s face. The same model as Yamamoto’s.
A sudden image of Yamamoto, speeding on the back of his Ducati while inebriated and crashing to an instant death surfaces in Hibari’s mind and grips his chest in a vise. Hibari forcibly squashes down his unease and reminds himself that Yamamoto did not die last night; he came home and he was safe, albeit drunk and lacking any memory of where he left his Ducati, or which of his friends may have confiscated the keys.
(It could be the same bike.)
Hibari negates the thought instantly, but his brain is already hurtling through the possibilities. There is no certainty that the bike fragments on that forensics lab table have any connection to Yamamoto, no reason even to suspect it—the model being the same is a complete coincidence. But there is also the fact that Yamamoto’s motorcycle did not make it back to their garage. And Yamamoto could have lost his keys at any point while drinking. Or someone, maybe someone posing as a friend, could have taken them on purpose. But… to what end?
Hibari shoves the photo back into Kusakabe’s hand and moves a good distance away, bringing out his cell phone. The conflict from early that morning is still fresh, but Hibari calls Yamamoto’s mobile anyways. It goes straight to voicemail. Hibari ends the call with his thumb as Yamamoto’s recorded voice comes on the line, and then phones the high school directly, refusing to be put off. Whoever’s in charge can just interrupt the after-school baseball practice and drag Yamamoto off the field by force if it’s necessary.
“I’m sorry, Yamamoto-sensei has called out for the day, shall I take a message?”
Hibari hangs up. He calls their seldom used and unlisted home phone number, not surprised when he reaches the answering service, but exceedingly frustrated nonetheless. He wants to believe Yamamoto is still sleeping off the effects of last night’s binge, perhaps affected all the more since he so seldom drinks to excess. But the doubts are still there, niggling at the back of Hibari’s consciousness
(what if he’s with someone)
and poisoning him from within. Hibari snaps his phone closed and runs both hands through his hair.
(he could be with them right now—)
“NO.” Hibari bangs his fist on the overpass railing. Then he stalks back to the car, Kusakabe standing patiently beside it, eyes inscrutable behind his sunglasses.
“Let’s go,” Hibari says, voice carefully even. He slides into the passenger seat and clenches a fist across his lap. And then once they’ve merged back into the rush hour traffic in downtown Namimori, Hibari begins giving instructions, all of which require the utmost discretion.
Over the course of the stop-and-go drive back to the Foundation, and the time it takes Hibari to stuff his briefcase with the photos and reports not yet digitalized and sent to his email, Hibari has learned two things.
One, that Yamamoto’s Ducati has not been found or impounded either inside Namimori or the surrounding towns.
And two, that not a single one of Yamamoto’s closest pals from his college baseball days, nor the high school senpai and kouhai he’s still in touch with, were with him the previous night. Additionally, none have any clue where he could have been or who he could have been with.
Hibari clenches his teeth so hard his head aches in pulses. He storms through the Foundation and no one dares to stand in his way—even Kusakabe steps back when their eyes meet, any cautions or protests rising in his throat swallowed right back down before he can so much as inhale a breath.
Hibari drives straight home, ignoring the speed limit and swerving around corners, flooring it up the road that passes the shrine and screeching to a stop inside their empty—empty—garage.
No car. No bike. No lights on in the house. Hibari squeezes the steering wheel until his fingers go numb, until he feels something slick on his left palm and he looks to find blood seeping from a cut, the one that happened while he was undressing Yamamoto the night before.
The memory coils and twists inside Hibari’s guts like a ball of snakes.
(just whose side did he run to?)
Hibari flings open the car door and charges into the house, confirming with his own eyes that Yamamoto isn’t there. He walks from room to room, but there are no signs of when Yamamoto left or where he might have headed. He also opens all the closets and finds Yamamoto’s clothing still hanging or folded into drawers just as they were before, which somehow matters at that moment, a thin thread he can grasp that maybe things have not gone so far that they can’t be put back into the rightful place.
He calls Kusakabe briefly with an update to search for Yamamoto’s car instead of his bike. He reads off the license plate number and closes his phone, his mouth and throat completely parched. But he resists going back into the kitchen where Yamamoto’s presence is the strongest, for in all their years together, Hibari never expected to use his Foundation against Yamamoto, tracking him down the same way he’d track down even the most insignificant enemy.
Thirst wins out. Hibari fills the teakettle with water and sets it to boil, then opens the upper cabinet and recoils at once from the thick odor that spills out over him to fill the room. He staggers backward, eyes wide—every single shelf is stacked from bottom to top with sakura blossom tea, a hundred and fifty canisters lined up and mocking him—and then Hibari knows.
Only one man would use Sakura as his calling card.
The stench, and then the horror, is too much. He retches and makes it as far as the trash can in the corner of the sitting room before his body rejects everything that was inside it until there’s nothing left but strings of saliva, which he wipes with a clean corner of his bloodied handkerchief.
Behind him the teakettle begins to whistle, manic and shrill, echoing inside his head. He can’t stay there a minute more.
He manages to turn off the stove and then gets back into his car, driving aimlessly until he can regroup from the insidiousness of the taunt, hatefully masked in the guise of a prank. The rest of what that man has likely done is too horrible to contemplate just then.
Hibari floors the gas and sets a course to the old Kokuyou land for something to do, someplace to go while awaiting Kusakabe’s call with Yamamoto’s location. An eternity passes before Hibari’s cell phone buzzes in his pocket; in reality less than ten minutes. Hibari turns around and speeds back into town towards Namimori’s Ritz Carlton, where Yamamoto’s car has been found parked in an adjacent lot, and his credit card swiped for a room. Hibari’s stomach lurches at the implications, but there’s no time to be any more pissed off or scared than he already is—Yamamoto is in serious danger. Right then, the danger outweighs the rest, if only just.
Hibari swings his car into the Hotel’s circular drive where Kusakabe stands to meet him, another Foundation member accepting his keys and acting as valet. Then he and Kusakabe go right up to the reservation desk where Hibari has no qualms threatening the clerk first for information, and second for a duplicate key.
The elevator ride to the fifty-third floor is the longest of Hibari’s life; Kusakabe accompanies him as far as that, but Hibari goes the rest of the way alone, finally coming to stand before the door of the Millennium Suite.
Hibari slides the card key into the slot and storms inside. Directly across from the entrance is the open doorway to the luxurious bathroom. Hibari surveys and then dismisses the enormous tub filled with water and floating rose petals, a stunning view of Namimori from the windows behind. He turns the corner and finally, he comes face to face with the two people that can affect him the most in all the world.
The sight of them embraced together, however, each looking upon him with different mixtures of amusement and disdain, is worse than anything he could have imagined.
Mukuro sits lazily at the foot of the bed, naked, the evidence and aroma of sex permeating the entire room. Yamamoto’s arms are wrapped around him from behind, and Hibari watches, stunned and helpless, as Yamamoto’s lips—the lips he has kissed innumerable times—press against the side of Mukuro’s neck as if there were no reason not to continue where they left off before the interruption, Yamamoto’s bare thigh nestled snugly against Mukuro’s hip.
Yamamoto casually meets Hibari’s eyes, wearing the same insolent expression as Mukuro and Hibari’s vision goes over red. His voice rumbles up from deep in his throat and forces past his clenched teeth.
But Mukuro cuts in. “Lo nego,” he corrects, mismatched eyes going cold.
Then, with Yamamoto’s voice added in unison: “Il mio nome è Chrome.”