Very few things on this earth can make Hibari Kyoya step backward and relinquish ground. The shock of Chrome’s gaze, defying him from behind Mukuro’s face and form, one eye black, one eye red, the number six, is one of those things.
And still the nightmarish reality inside the Millennium Suite continues on right before Hibari’s eyes without pause, neither Chrome nor Mukuro offering the slightest hint of culpability or remorse while seated within the arms of another man’s lover, skin and sheets stained from hours and hours of transgressions.
Yamamoto is the first to move. He eases away from Chrome’s nude male body and walks to the armchair where a fluffy white robe had been discarded earlier, and, from the looks of it, with much haste. Yamamoto returns to the bed and drapes the robe around Mukuro’s shoulders, kneeling behind him once more and carefully smoothing his long black hair out from underneath. Chrome closes her eyes.
“A little… too tired now…” Yamamoto murmurs, sliding down Mukuro’s body and collapsing in a boneless heap on top of the rumpled bedding.
Mukuro caresses long fingers through Yamamoto’s hair, and Hibari can hear her whisper “well done” under his breath before she pulls away to stand up and fasten his robe. As he turns back around he becomes Chrome—she sheds the illusion like sugar cubes dissolving in hot water—and faces Hibari with her eye-patch strings cutting a line through her loose and tangled hair.
“He’ll wake up in seven or eight hours, I can assure you,” she says, as if the situation were common enough to be discussed like the weather. “Although, as he’s so athletic, it may be as little as five.”
Her small hands close the robe up to her throat. “I’ll… leave you two alone now.”
She heads towards the bathing room, but he moves to intercept her—he will not let her just walk away from him so easily.
“You,” he begins, angrily grabbing her by the elbow so hard he can feel the joint grind under his fingers.
“Ah-ah,” she whispers, just able to keep the excruciating pain from her voice. “Don’t!”
In saying this she blushes, and Hibari shoves her away, repelled, palm stinging, no suitable outlet at all for the rage and hatred and disgust roiling inside him.
And all at once the sound of Mukuro’s laughter descends into the room, halting both of them where they stand.
His image—pointed chin resting in gloved palm, legs crossed and posture relaxed as he sits inside the state of the art, enormous TV facing the bed—is one of evil, and one of enjoyment.
“It’s been a while, Hibari Kyoya,” Mukuro says, resting his free hand on his crossed knee. “Though I daresay you’re as entertaining as ever.”
Hibari bares his teeth in a snarl, automatically adjusting his footing so he can keep both Mukuro and Chrome in his sights.
“However,” Mukuro inclines his head, smiling so that his eyes close into crescents. “It’s not nice of you to bully my cute Chrome. You have cause to know what I’m capable of… or have you forgotten the times I’ve made you crawl on the ground? You would not need to be conscious for me to remind you exactly what that feels like. And neither would he.”
Mukuro nods casually at the sleeping Yamamoto, supine atop the bed and breathing deeply.
Hibari’s hands clench to fists, nauseated at the memories of his losses against Mukuro, and incensed by the effectiveness of the threat—he has no interest in watching anyone be further debased by Mukuro or Chrome’s whims, nor will he volunteer to take Yamamoto’s place in whatever sick game they are playing.
“Of course, if you insist on trying to harm my cute Chrome, there is a way to spare Yamamoto from the threat of such ignominy, but then you would have to break every inch of his body to the point of it being useless. And is that something you could do to your lover while he sleeps on, oblivious, I wonder?” Mukuro tilts his head in question, but his smile is coolly confident.
Hibari grits his teeth, loathing how the trap’s springs compress ever tighter with the words of Mukuro’s taunt, poised at the catch and ready to snap down on him the instant Mukuro wills it.
Chrome chooses that moment to sweep her hair upward into the usual twist, and then she passes the palms of her hands overtop the bathrobe, the illusion of a couture pants-suit replacing the terrycloth fluff as if she were stepping straight out of her skin and into the high-heels of an Italian fashion executive.
“Oho,” Mukuro clucks his tongue in appreciation. “And the handbag, something classy. Straight from Milan.”
Chrome again blushes, a seemingly expensive handbag appearing in the crook of her arm as she brushes the hair by her temple, and then faces the TV with sunglasses that in any upscale store would cost as much as a new Ducati.
“Yes. Exquisite,” Mukuro purrs through the plasma screen, and Hibari rolls his shoulders against the vibrations of Mukuro’s voice that caress over the back of his neck in an entirely unpleasant sensation.
“Goodnight, my dear, sweet Chrome. You may rest now.” Mukuro lifts his fingers and waves, sending her on her way.
Hibari fights not to lunge after her.
Chrome makes it to the door, fingertips on the handle.
“And—congratulations,” Mukuro adds, causing such a riot of color on her skin before she hurries out the door that Hibari couldn’t possibly misunderstand the exchange to be other than a private joke, and a joke in which he surely bears the brunt.
The door swings shut with no sound other than the lock clicking into place, and Hibari rounds on the TV displaying Mukuro’s smug and disgusting face, his tonfa gleaming against his suit coat.
“For the crimes against Namimori, the crimes against Yamamoto Takeshi and myself, for all your crimes—I will find the rat-hole in which you hide and I will bite you to death, once and for all.”
“Ah.” Mukuro settles back in his seat. “Is that so? Then be glad you are in the intelligence business… although I think that you will never find me.” Mukuro’s smile spreads impossibly wide across his face.
Hibari stalks closer to the TV screen. “You cannot hide from me, Rokudo Mukuro.”
“Who says I’m hiding?” Mukuro chuckles, that insufferable and coy laugh that makes Hibari’s skin crawl. “I think perhaps it’s time I let you in on some important truths, Hibari Kyoya.”
“What does someone like you know of truth?” Hibari spits.
Mukuro’s smile fades, and for a minute he simply watches Hibari through the plasma screen. He shrugs in a particularly irritating European fashion before re-crossing his legs in the other direction.
“Let me tell you some of the truths I’ve learned just recently, shall I?” Mukuro’s lip curls, closing his palm to a fist before resting his cheek upon it. “That Yamamoto Takeshi is an early riser. That he is a lithe sprinter. That he can scale a barbed-wire fence like a monkey and his sword work is as impeccable as ever.”
“Oho? What’s wrong? You’ve gone white as a ghost,” Mukuro feigns concern. “Shall I continue? There is so much more I can tell you—”
“—let me see, ah. Yamamoto Takeshi’s reflexes are superb, and he is exceedingly agile when riding a motorcycle or driving a car, he quite delights in speeds that would terrify most normal people. Practically anything he touches becomes an extension of his body—”
“You. Stop talking.”
“—even under the influence of alcohol. He can drink quite a lot, that Yamamoto Takeshi, but it doesn’t affect his performance, if you know what I mean—”
“I said stop,” Hibari seethes, brandishing a tonfa.
“—and I’m sure that you do, because he mentioned a lot of things about you when he was drunk. He’s rather adorable when he’s like that, wouldn’t you agree? Although I dare say you’re not the only one who has ever seen him that way; when he’s inebriated he’s so quick with his hands—”
“—and even quicker with his mouth. Tell me, Hibari Kyoya, did you ever wonder what he could be like in bed if you were to employ a bit of suggestion and then call him a Baseball Idiot? He’s the most flirtatious little thing, quite affectionate and intriguing, although I personally believe it’s far more interesting to call him Katana Brat and really draw out all his hidden aggression—”
Hibari punches the tonfa right through the TV, the image of Mukuro flickering and then bzzzzzt, the screen goes black.
The silence in the room is deafening. Hibari doesn’t move. The past however-many minutes in the Millennium Suite have been so surreal that the sudden snap of reality catches him quite off guard.
His eyes drift over to the bed and its sole occupant, when there is another bzzzzzt, and another, and—impossibly—the broken TV screen flickers, spurts, and then flares back to life.
Mukuro, his position unchanged from the minute prior, regards Hibari through the broken shards as multiples, with one eyebrow raised. “Really now, how childish.”
Hibari cocks his head forward, feet braced and tonfa gripped tight. “It is one thing to attack Namimori, if you will not attack me directly. But to defile and abuse Yamamoto Takeshi? You are indeed the lowest, and I will exact your retribution until you are drained to the very last drop.”
Mukuro sighs, but there is a flash of anger across his face. “I will tell you something else, Hibari Kyoya.” He sits up in his seat, leaning forward. “You are entirely unsuited to the intelligence game.”
“Whether or not, it is irrelevant,” Hibari glares.
“You may not do too badly,” Mukuro continues, “Since your desires for justice translate into an ability to glean the facts and then take action accordingly. But you are missing what is most important when it comes to collecting intelligence—” He pauses dramatically, lifting a single gloved finger. “Cunning.”
Hibari scowls, gesturing dismissively.
“What you see as unimportant is, in fact, the most important.” Mukuro sits back in his chair. “You may be able to keep some kind of order in your little world by simply identifying crimes and punishing the criminals, but there is a level that you will never reach because you do not have the most basic trait of an intelligence gatherer, which is, namely, curiosity. What to do with the information you find? What could you do? These are the questions that make all the difference between you and me, Hibari Kyoya, and I will even explain to you why.”
Hibari flexes his jaw, teeth grinding as Mukuro folds his hands together beneath his chin, his appearance relaxed. And yet Hibari reacts to his energy, that aura of menace that comes off the broken TV in crackles and waves and tells quite a different story.
“There on the bed is Yamamoto Takeshi.” Mukuro makes a sweeping gesture. “Why is he in the Millennium Suite of the Ritz Carlton? For what purpose? Why isn’t he at his home with you, as by all accounts he should be?”
Hibari’s lips become a thin, hard line, a crag in his face.
“None of these questions even entered your mind.” Mukuro’s eyes narrow in reproach. “And I know it because the first words from your lips are false accusations slung before you have even gathered all the facts.”
“I will not stand here—”
“Oh you will listen, Hibari Kyoya.” Mukuro’s demeanor changes instantly, insistent and overtly dangerous. “Because in order to answer the previous questions, there is one more that you will have to ask: In the first place, why is it possible that Yamamoto Takeshi could be possessed?”
At that there is a creak of springs signaling the weakening of the tension-hold of Mukuro’s trap, and Hibari’s heart begins thumping into his ribs.
“What have you done—”
“That,” Mukuro scoffs, frowning, the number in his right eye spinning and spinning and coming to stop on the number three. “I think you should ask Yamamoto Takeshi directly. Actually I insist—how entertaining it will be when you discover that he is not the innocent that you may think.”
Hibari stiffens at Mukuro’s vile laughter, and his eyes flick to Yamamoto and back as Mukuro continues.
“The Guardian of the Rain… As harmless as he appears… well. Even he can manage to strike a bargain when the situation calls for it.”
The words strike a blow, as Mukuro no doubt intended. In the stark silence Mukuro crosses his legs, a black python emerging from behind his elbow to slither around the back of his neck, head dancing beside Mukuro’s face in hypnotic dips and bobs.
“Or should he not repay his debts? There is much that is still owed to me.” Mukuro inclines his head, and smiles. “But maybe you’ll find that out on your own, hmmm?”
Mukuro lifts his arm and the python slips into his palm, its tail slowly unwinding from his body and coiling into a ball. Then Mukuro flings it at his side of the TV screen—the snake hisses; extends; pushes through; manifests as motion and substance and glittering diamond-scales in the air right in front of Hibari and lands on the bed beside Yamamoto in a swish-bounce-tangle. Then it rears its head and hisses with jaws fully unhinged—and it folds in on itself, like origami, like shoelaces sucked into a vacuum tube, like magic, jaws snapping and shrinking down into two inches of flat plastic and metal, a lone diamond shape pierced with the emblem of a trident etched and glistening on the surface of a USB drive.
“The only drawback to doing things this way is that they never remember afterwards.” Mukuro sighs. “Ah well. What kind of guardian would I be if I didn’t record every moment of my cute Chrome’s graduation ceremony, hmmm?”
Hibari reels. What?
“That copy is for you, Hibari Kyoya. Please accept it, and Yamamoto Takeshi, as my gift of greeting.” Mukuro chuckles. “You may thank me later for catching the criminal you were after and handing over the evidence, or really—the one you should thank is Chrome. The rest I leave in your hands, but… I can’t help wondering. What will you do now?”
Hibari’s agitation is so close to the breaking point that his whole body shows it.
“Oho, what an impassioned look of victimization,” Mukuro coos in derision. “What a pity I must take my leave. Please continue to amuse me on this side of the cycle, Hibari Kyoya. Arriverderci.”
The TV goes blank, but Mukuro’s laughter remains and fills Hibari’s nostrils with the thick and potent smell of Lotus blossoms, one final barb to end this macabre confrontation—although it is clear that the war between them is far from over.
The absolute luxury on display in the Ritz Carlton Millennium Suite is lost on Hibari completely.
With Mukuro gone, he is left alone in the room with Yamamoto, who is still unconscious on the bed and framed by folds of rich fabrics like a reclining nude in a Western-style painting. Hibari looks at him and sees one of Mukuro’s victims, sees a total stranger—can not see the man he shares a home with and that scares him more than any of the rest.
The idea that Yamamoto could have bargained favors with Rokudo Mukuro, and then kept it secret, is the hardest for Hibari to bear, harder than witnessing Mukuro
(or was it Chrome?)
and Yamamoto in bed together
(or did they both have their lustful, awful way with him?)
with his own eyes, in that very room, on the bed two paces away from where he stands even now. Hibari suddenly thinks the words graduation ceremony and feels that he might be sick. He can’t comprehend what it means, but it reinforces the feeling that what’s leftover is alien and far apart from everything he may have once held dear. The loss—the incredible ache of loss—is so profound he can’t stand it.
Hibari drops his eyes to the ground. He presses the heels of his hands into his eye sockets and can’t breathe without shaking. He is no longer able to remain calm, and he is no longer able to remain.
He takes the USB and clenches it in his fist. He closes the door to the suite behind him, leaving Yamamoto behind, and he walks down the hall without wondering whether it’s the right thing to do or not because it’s the only thing he can do. He walks all the way to Kusakabe and they get into the elevator without a single word exchanged. On the ground floor, there are men with reports and men waiting for orders and Hibari puts all Foundation business on hold for the night, save for one or two who will keep their posts as lookouts. Kusakabe, or Kusakabe’s second, will handle the rest. Hibari has them leave Yamamoto’s car where it is and then he drives away alone, nerves frayed to the point of numbness.
When he gets to the house, the smell of Sakura is still there, evident the moment he opens the door. Hibari wishes then that he had Kusakabe there to get rid of all the offending canisters of tea crammed into the cupboards. But that would mean admitting his weakness, which Hibari cannot allow at any cost. And he will not be the one to allow an outsider to set foot inside their domain.
He tackles the job himself, sleeves rolled up to the elbows and scarf tied across the lower half of his face, until two trash bags are full of the offensive stuff and then thrown away in the proper place out back. He cracks the doors that lead to the garden for some fresh night air, crisp and clean. Afterwards, some of his vitality has returned from the burst of physical activity, but the rest of him is still numb. He takes advantage of the numbness to go into the bedroom where Yamamoto’s motorcycle jacket is stuffed into the hamper. Hibari examines the cuffs and the hem, finding more glass slivers like the one that cut his palm that night … glass that could have come from broken windows. In the pocket he finds Yamamoto’s key ring, chiding himself for not thinking to check it before. He puts the jacket back and then sits in the armchair opposite the sofa, reviewing the photographs from his briefcase with new eyes.
There is no doubt—the figure that slashed the garbage truck tires and the figure on the motorcycle are one and the same: Yamamoto Takeshi. The quality of the photos is terrible, but Hibari can see it clearly now that the suggestion as to the man’s identity has lifted the blinders from his vision. The proof is all there, right down to the blue sparrows on Yamamoto’s helmet only visible when using a magnifying glass. Hibari’s close familiarity, both with Yamamoto’s body and his things, confirms it.
Hibari takes a deep breath and pinches the bridge of his nose. Then, before he loses his nerve, he gets out his laptop and inserts the USB. The first sections have no sound, only flashes of Yamamoto in action
(or the thing inside him)
darting through the rows of trash trucks, his sword catching winks of light from the security points around the waste management building. And then Yamamoto’s body slipping through the roof duct at the jewelry store, the rain flames on his sword slicing cleanly through the corner of the safe so they wouldn’t have to bother cracking the combination. There is a power and grace in every movement Yamamoto makes, and Hibari grows increasingly uncomfortable to find his appreciation mixing in with his anger at how Yamamoto’s body has been put to use, whether he sanctioned it or not.
This is especially true when the motorcycle crash unfolds on the screen, Yamamoto balancing on just the handlebars, springing his feet up to and then against the seat. He leaps and somersaults into a tree as the bike hits a mist-created wall and explodes backward into the windshield of the first patrol car, parts flying in all directions. Through the ensuing flames and the next crashes, Hibari can just make out the shadow of Yamamoto’s back as he swings out of the tree like a gymnast on the parallel bars, and grabs the gutter at the roofline of one of the nearby buildings. He then disappears over the side of the roof, the hilt of his katana caught briefly by the light of the moon.
Then the first recorded sounds blare out from the laptop speakers, clearly those from the Millennium Suite and Hibari is quick to press the mute button. There are no questions about the activities that went on in that place, although the video’s images fluctuate at times so that Hibari loses track of where Mukuro becomes Chrome, where Chrome becomes Yamamoto, where Chrome is both Mukuro and Yamamoto at once in what Hibari can only describe as an abomination, sensuous and bizarre and wrong.
He closes the laptop and shudders.
What could have been so urgent that Yamamoto would seek Mukuro’s aid? What in the world could it have been, for the cost of something like this?
The reality of Mukuro’s crimes, of Chrome’s, and Yamamoto’s part in them, weigh so heavily against Hibari’s spirit that he is crushed. There is no choice but to face the truth that a punishment severe enough to restore the balance does not exist; this goes too far beyond an eye for an eye, or a soul for a soul.
Hibari’s cell phone buzzes on the coffee table. He picks it up, sees that it hasn’t been one hour since he left the Ritz, and then sees the name Sawada Tsunayoshi in the caller ID. He answers the call with the press of a button and listens.
“Hibari-san? This is Tsuna. I was calling… Uh, some men from your Foundation came by earlier asking about Yamamoto, and I couldn’t reach him so… Is everything all right? I mean, is he okay? I’d like to talk to him if he’s there—”
“It’s none of your business.” Hibari hangs up, tossing his phone back on the table.
He runs his hands through his hair. For the first time, he wonders if Yamamoto will actually come back when he wakes up, or if he’ll go to … somewhere else.
There is no choice other than to wait and watch, craving sleep but unable to rest, the countdown to Yamamoto’s arrival—or the confirmation of his absence—an unbearable torture.
Five and a half hours pass before Hibari’s phone buzzes with an alert from the Foundation member charged with keeping an eye on Yamamoto’s car, letting him know that he’s on his way. The man tails the car until it is clear Yamamoto is headed towards the shrine, and then Hibari relieves him of any further duties.
Presently he hears a key turn in the lock at the front door and he sits up, alert, braced for whatever may happen from this point on.
Yamamoto takes off his shoes and comes into the house, an obvious hesitation in his step as he comes through the dining area to the sitting room. He is visibly tense, cautious, dressed in track pants and a hooded sweatshirt worn unzipped over a white tee. It appears he showered before coming. There are rings under his eyes.
He tries hard to conceal his distress, but Hibari can see right through it and he hardens, meeting Yamamoto’s eyes with an intractable stare.
“I’m… back.” Yamamoto says, hands sliding into his tracksuit pants pockets.
Hibari continues to
(he didn’t say “I’m home”)
stare at him, quietly startled at how those words are a knife in his gut.
“I… so was it your idea?” Yamamoto leans his weight to one side, fidgeting. “The Ritz Carlton… pretty pricey…”
Hibari lifts his chin, all his previous fury compressed into a cold block of iron, one that burns from within.
“The fact that you are asking me such a question should tell you something,” Hibari says. “Yamamoto Takeshi.”
Yamamoto swallows. “Hibari, I…” He withdraws his hands, and they are shaking. “I think there’s something really wrong with me. There’s… there’s stuff I can’t remember, and I wake up…”
Hibari watches him, coldly.
“I don’t know what to do. I—” and the anguish is plain on his face “—I think I’ve done things, but I don’t know what I’ve done.”
Hibari has never seen Yamamoto like this. Taut. Fragile. But it doesn’t change what he has to do.
“Please,” Yamamoto whispers.
A tiny part of Hibari cringes, but he quickly suppresses it, holding up a photograph. “Do you remember this?”
Yamamoto’s mouth frowns, but comes over to see it closer, an eagerness to his stride that reveals his desperation for answers. He sits on the couch, eyes roaming all over the print.
“This looks like me, but…” He squints to make out the writing on the sides of the trucks. He shakes his head, furrows at his brow. “This is recent, isn’t it.”
It’s not a question. Hibari gives no reply. He hands him the next photos, one where he’s breaking the storefront glass of the jewelry shop, and one as he’s streaking through the streets of Namimori with a flood of police lights chasing after him, and one of the crash site before the fire department arrived to put out the flames.
Yamamoto stares in disbelief, but he can’t deny the evidence in his hands. His pupils linger on his helmet, his jacket, and Hibari can read how badly he wants it to be someone else inside those clothes. Finally, Yamamoto puts the photos down on the coffee table.
“I guess I’ll need to replace my Ducati, huh.” Yamamoto tries to chuckle, and he almost sounds like himself—which nearly puts Hibari over the edge.
“Three Namimori police officers died when you pulled this stunt,” Hibari barks.
Yamamoto shrinks away.
“Did you agree to this thinking it was funny?!”
“I would never agree to something like this!” Yamamoto insists, voice weak and trembling in shock. “I can’t remember what happened, I don’t know how I got there, I don’t remember anything, but I do know that I’d never—”
“Then answer this—when was the last time you saw Rokudo Mukuro?”
Yamamoto’s posture snaps upright, eyes wide and quizzical, and fixed on Hibari’s which narrow further with each passing second.
“What are you talking about?”
“Tell me,” Hibari leans forward. “When did you have time to make a pact with him?”
Yamamoto opens and closes his mouth, confused and startled—Hibari can hear the grind of gears turning and mechanisms at work, fueled by the panic inside Yamamoto’s head as he shuffles through his memories and finds something recognizable, if still intangible.
“Well?” Hibari presses him.
“I didn’t,” Yamamoto insists, his hand crossing over his middle and fisting his t-shirt. “N-no. I don’t think so.”
“Then was it Chrome?” Hibari cocks his head, impatient.
Yamamoto reacts in pure surprise. “Chrome? Why would she—?”
“Answer the question,” Hibari snaps.
“No. No, not Chrome… that doesn’t make sense.” Yamamoto rubs his free hand over his face. And then his neck. “What are you really trying to tell me, Hibari?”
Hibari pushes the laptop to his side of the table. “Maybe you should see for yourself,” he says.
Then he gets up and excuses himself from the room, standing in the hall as far away as he can get. The thought of being in the same room with Yamamoto while that video plays is something he just cannot tolerate.
The house is eerily silent as Yamamoto watches the video from the beginning. Hibari leans his back into the wall, staring at the texture of the tatami flooring for the duration.
He knows exactly when Yamamoto reaches the segment at the Ritz Carlton by the sound of the laptop slamming shut, then the footsteps sprinting across the house to the bathroom, and finally, the sounds of someone throwing up in a violent agony that echoes in the enclosed space, amplified by the tiled walls.
The next sound Hibari hears filtering through the house is running water. But after rinsing his mouth and washing his hands, Yamamoto does not come out.
Hibari waits a good while before going to check on him. He stands for a moment in the bathroom doorway and knocks on the jamb out of default politeness, though the door is open and he can see Yamamoto seated on the floor with his back against the tub, knees drawn up and head resting on his hands. His sweatshirt is lying on the tile beside him and the white t-shirt makes him look even more ghostly than before, all of him thin and brittle, curled in on himself like an old scroll on the verge of crumbling. Untouchable.
Hibari folds his arms and rests his shoulder in the door frame, and waits.
Eventually Yamamoto is able to lift his head and rub his eyes and face with his long fingers, pressing fingertips to his brow bone. He sits like that for a while longer. Then he scratches the back of his head.
“Do you remember that time fifteen years ago…” Yamamoto begins, his voice calm, but grave. “The time I was attacked in the baseball locker room and I almost died?”
Hibari’s heart squeezes in his chest, mind flashing furiously through his memories like slides in a projector:
The lake of smeared blood in the locker room floor. Ka-chink; the projector advances. Yamamoto’s desperate scrawl at the edge, “delitto”. Ka-chink. Yamamoto’s abdomen gaping open on the operating table. Ka-chink. The Shimon Family on the day of the Ceremony, pleasant faced. Supportive. Ka-chink. Sawada Tsunayoshi and his remaining Guardians, broken like matchsticks on the castle floor.
“I think it was then that…” Yamamoto pauses, swallowing. “No. It was then. It was then that I met Mukuro.”
Yamamoto finally looks over, and Hibari is chilled to see the heavy truth in his gaze.
“It was then that we made the blood contract. But it was not a choice. It was not my choice.”
In the Surgical/Trauma Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, a teenage boy’s life wobbles at the edge of the precipice, tilting precariously towards the abyss.
The boy, Yamamoto Takeshi, wakes up, groggy, but feels no pain. He is still in his hospital bed and under a clean white sheet, but when he opens his eyes there is no longer an oxygen mask over his mouth, or an IV tube connected to his arm. He hears a voice and he sits up, blinking at the lush, fantastical nature setting, and the boy standing opposite him, a faint smile on his mouth and a zigzag part in his hair.
“Oho, were you able to hear my voice?” The second boy, Rokudo Mukuro, comes closer to the bed. “How unexpected that we should meet each other here like this, Yamamoto Takeshi.”
The sight of this boy has a strange affect on Yamamoto, for he instantly gets to his feet, panic surging within his body and causing his heart to palpate. But this reaction is not from fear—it is intense with purpose.
“It’s urgent, I—” Yamamoto starts, then realizes that he is nude and uninjured, standing barefoot in the cool grass. He touches his abdomen, testing the truth of his senses and shocked at the sudden discrepancy.
Mukuro chuckles, an indulgent sort of kufufufu sound. “Let me assure you, it’s for the best that you cannot see the true extent of the damage that has been dealt to you.”
Mukuro expects Yamamoto to have trouble accepting this, but Yamamoto is not the kind of person to get bogged down by details when there is an important task at hand.
“Never mind that,” Yamamoto says, in a rare display of impatience. “There is a very urgent matter, something I must do before it is too late!”
Mukuro sighs contemptuously, shifting his weight to one side. “And I suppose you are going to ask me for the illusions that will put your body back to what it was before?”
And in this he is quite wrong, for Yamamoto Takeshi is not thinking of his injuries—he is thinking of his friend who is undoubtedly in mortal danger and must be warned as soon as possible.
Yamamoto looks Mukuro square in the eye and says, “I wasn’t planning to bargain for myself. But either way, I won’t do anything until I know what side you’re really on.”
Mukuro laughs outright—he hasn’t been this surprised in quite some time.
“Oho, how impressive!” Mukuro grins. “I underestimated your cunning there for a moment and thought you would be an easy prey. How interesting!”
Yamamoto squares his shoulders, appearing offended, but really he is worried for his friend and the rate at which time is passing, even in this in-between place.
“You may be Tsuna’s Mist Guardian, but that doesn’t mean I have to trust you. If you’re not really on Tsuna’s side, then I won’t tell you anything. And I won’t use your help.”
“It seems you’ve finally learned some caution, eh?” Mukuro tilts his head. “I suppose the sour taste of betrayal will do that to a person. But let us change the topic for a moment, shall we? Assuming that I am on Tsuna’s side, which is your main concern, my concern is what you feel you can offer me in exchange for my services?”
Yamamoto frowns then, since he hasn’t yet thought things all the way through. Mukuro sees this hesitation and continues, teeth gleaming behind his pleasant smile.
“I already have my cute Chrome, who can be my arms and legs when necessary. I have no interest in sports, be it baseball or the way of the sword, so I really can’t picture how your body or your skills would be of benefit to me in the future. It is also doubtful that you will grow up to wield the kind of influence that could lessen or even annul my prison sentence, wouldn’t you agree? Aside from this ‘information’ you have hinted at, I believe you have nothing at all with which to tempt me. Is that not so?”
Yamamoto cocks his head, unimpressed by Mukuro’s self-centeredness. “And if you were Hibari, you’d help me now for free, just so you could collect a favor from me later on. When my ‘influence’ or my ‘skills’ would come in handy. Or whatever.”
He is brave, the boy called Yamamoto, to speak the truth as he sees it: Hibari might be unpredictable, but at least he’s fair. In this instance, however, Yamamoto has made an egregious miscalculation in the mentioning of Hibari’s name in front of Mukuro.
Mukuro’s affront at Yamamoto’s ill-chosen comparison is so vehement that he drops all pretense of friendliness and darts to the spot in front of Yamamoto before the other boy has a chance to react. He promptly binds Yamamoto from head to foot with Lotus vines, pleased to see his face transformed by shock and dismay while he squirms and struggles, his efforts entirely futile.
“Well, well,” Mukuro seethes. “It seems you have learned quite a few new tricks of late, Yamamoto Takeshi, such as how best to get underneath a person’s skin. But let me be the first to warn you. You must choose your opponents wisely, or you will find yourself in more trouble than you can possibly imagine.”
Yamamoto twists and flexes against the vines, but they do not budge an inch—instead they grow and shift against his skin, thin and sturdy and painful as razor wires. Mukuro guides a particularly uncomfortable vine right around Yamamoto’s throat, tightening it in increments as Yamamoto fights to breathe, twitching in helplessness under the torture.
The last thing Yamamoto sees is Mukuro’s slick smirk before he wakes in his room in the hospital’s STICU, and sucks in great gulps of oxygen from the mask overtop his nose and mouth. Shortly after, a nurse comes in to check on him. She wipes his face and upper body with a cool cloth, and places a bandage on the new wound at his neck, but there is so much pain all over his body that he barely notices any of this at all as he sinks back into a drug-induced slumber, his message for Tsuna—
“Watch out! They can’t be trusted! Shimon is after you!”
—still lodged at the back of his tongue, undelivered.
Hibari listens. By the end, he feels ill, his reflection in the mirror pale as Yamamoto.
Yamamoto shifts his slippered feet on the tile floor, and wraps his arms around his knees, one hand around the opposite wrist.
“They always said my recovery was a miracle, remember?”
Hibari stays where he is in the doorway, unable to respond; fifteen years later, and he can still remember that period of severe unrest in shocking detail.
“While I was unconscious they told Tsuna and my father that I might never walk again. There was a lot of damage to my body, but the most critical wound was to a part of my spine. T-10, I think they called it, the name of the vertebra. Something like that. In the end I recovered, but I was too long in the hospital, and I couldn’t do anything while the rest of you were fighting that terrible battle. The rehabilitation took months.”
They are both quiet for a period, and Hibari realizes that they’ve never talked about this before. It happened a long time ago, when his interest in Yamamoto had been but a tiny spark of curiosity and not the full-grown burn that came later, once Yamamoto’s abilities had been properly pried open.
But back then Hibari had still fought to avenge Yamamoto with every ounce of his dying will, his usual rage turned murderous and unstoppable.
“That time was the only time Mukuro could have made the contract with me,” Yamamoto says. “He found Chrome when she almost died in a car accident, and that’s how I met him, when I was also in the hospital and badly injured. For Chrome he had to replace many of her internal organs, but for me…”
Yamamoto lets the rest hang there, incomplete. And then Hibari understands. He swallows.
“You think it was his power that repaired the tenth thoracic vertebra so that you could walk again.”
“I know it is.” Yamamoto looks up to meet his gaze. “Nobody noticed—who would even think about it?—but it’s there. I can feel it now. It’s tiny, like a speck, but with my rain flames I can sense the presence of mist right where I was hurt. The only reason I can walk today is because of what Mukuro did back then.”
Hibari curses under his breath, horrified and then relieved and then so very angry.
“I owe him,” Yamamoto admits, eyes once again downcast. “I just didn’t know it. And I didn’t know by how much.”
“But why now?!” Hibari steps fully into the room with an irate gesture. “Why you? Why those things?”
Yamamoto’s mouth tightens, and Hibari realizes that he’s already been asking himself those questions.
“This is a mischief with no meaning,” Hibari concludes, disgusted.
“I don’t think it is,” Yamamoto counters. His voice is quiet, but there is an edge of strength underneath. “Because it’s not obvious, and because we can’t understand, then there must not have been any other way. And there is a pattern. At least I think there is.” Yamamoto glances up. “Because slashing tires is not as serious of a crime as robbery. And robbery is not as serious as adultery. At least, not to me.”
“What are you saying,” Hibari goes rigid, furious, pressing his fist to the countertop. “That next time it will be blatant manslaughter? I will not allow it—”
But Yamamoto cuts in. “I may not have a choice.”
Hibari clenches his teeth.
“I will fight it. But I may not have a choice.”
Saying it again costs Yamamoto much of his remaining composure, and for the first time, Hibari considers what it means to have been someone else’s puppet; their toy; to have one’s will superseded by the whims of another. To be tainted by another’s sins.
Hibari’s experience under Mukuro’s control was blessedly brief; he only learned about it afterwards, that his body was too broken at the time to serve any purpose and thus, Mukuro discarded him, an unwanted thing.
The strain of having suffered longer periods of possession is evident in Yamamoto’s posture, the wrinkles at his brow, the struggle not to show the things that eat at him from the inside, the guilt—like his skin can barely keep together around his bones.
If Hibari were someone else, perhaps he’d think to offer a kind word, or a steadying touch, some small sign of compassion. But Hibari is Hibari, and his instinct is for blood.
He turns away, intending to go on the hunt that very minute, but Yamamoto’s voice stops him at the threshold.
Neither of them breathes.
“What about us?” More insistent.
Neither of them moves. Hibari can’t think—he’s not prepared for such a question, these are not the things they talk about. Ever.
“Should—” Yamamoto’s voice hitches. “Do you want me to leave?”
Hibari’s stomach lurches, his fingers curling tight into his palm. Is that what Yamamoto wants?
If so, that makes it simple. Hibari scowls, peering back over his shoulder before walking out of the room.
“Your will is your own. Do as you please, Yamamoto Takeshi.”
Yamamoto calls weakly after him. “I love you—no matter what, Hibari, I love you.”
Hibari suits up in his battle gear. He drives away from their house without once looking back, focusing all of his mind on one thought:
This ends now.
When Chrome Dokuro left the Ritz Carlton, she was followed all the way to a small, shabby apartment at the border of Namimori and neighboring Kokuyou by one of the Foundation members best known for his accurate and thorough reconnaissance skills.
Hibari alerts the man before he arrives so he knows to get the hell out of the way—and then warn anyone else not to interfere at any cost.
The bitterness of successive betrayals, the rupture of his home, the chaos of Namimori, so many days spent helpless against Mukuro’s attacks—Hibari’s fierce pride cannot abide such things a moment longer.
At this point, no one could possibly stop him.
Hibari kicks the door in with a single blow, surprising the occupants with an ambush. He knocks over anything in his path, including the man closest to the door, Joushima Ken; Hibari dislocates the man’s jaw before he can insert any teeth and even think of defying him.
The sounds of destruction draw out Kakimoto Chikusa, who attacks with a bit more aplomb but still falls to Hibari’s overwhelming strength. And then there is Chrome—flying out of a back bedroom and stopping short at the scene when she meets his eyes.
Hibari graces her with his most feral smile, jerking the chains at his wrist and tightening the bonds he’s laid on Chrome’s two comrades, pleased that she understands they are his hostages. Both men struggle to speak past the metal handcuffs which gag them, their desperate warnings no more than wordless animal sounds; Hibari finds this wholly appropriate.
Chrome stands there, wary—but also she is angry, and Hibari’s smile curves even deeper.
“Do not even think to stand against me,” Hibari says, stalking closer.
She steps back automatically, now frightened, and his eyes narrow.
“And do not run away,” he spits, lunging to grab her arm.
She gasps and stiffens; he spins her around towards the wall and shoves her hard against it, arm twisted behind her back, immediately pinning her body with his. She gulps, forcing herself not to resist him, though she is panting in fear.
“Let them go,” she whispers, frail and frantic. “Your quarrel is with me.”
But these actions only serve to make Hibari even more furious.
“Why should I do anything you ask after what you have done?” he hisses, his free hand gripping her hair and yanking her head back against his shoulder.
“You have the right to be angry,” Chrome shudders. “But they had no part of it. Hurt them and I will retaliate.”
“You had this coming to you, Chrome Dokuro,” Hibari growls, tightening his grip on her wrist and in her hair, bowing her back. “You defiled what is mine and now you will see what it’s like, to have everything you hold dear violated beyond recognition.”
“Don’t—!” She gasps, as he yanks her hair loose from its knot and then puts his hand on her hip, fingers digging into the flesh at the top of her leg.
“It’s not enough to arrest you.” Hibari kicks her ankle, forcing her feet and her stance apart. “It’s not enough to see you locked up behind bars.”
He fumbles her skirt upward on the one side with groping fingers, baring her leg. Then he claws furrows into her upper thigh through her stockings, her flesh under his nails; she closes her eye and hisses, cries of protest rearing up behind them from Ken and Chikusa, still bound toe to throat with metal rings, squirming and helpless on the floor behind them.
“You must hurt the way you have hurt him,” Hibari hisses, thumb finding the waistband of her panties and sliding underneath in an unmistakable threat, then yanking to expose her hipbone.
Chrome startles—and then she shakes her head. “You’re bluffing.”
Impossibly, Hibari feels her relax, and he presses her harder into the wall, snarling at her neck, insisting that she beg him not to violate her right there in her own home, right in front of the ones most precious to her while they cannot stop him, destroying the peace of their ratty little nest and invading her to the point she will not be able to look in the mirror for the shame.
All the ugly things he has seen and witnessed tear out through his mouth and boil over his skin—he has killed before for less. But she does not succumb to his threats or to his blinding rage.
“You won’t hurt me, Hibari Kyoya” she whispers, soft, like it’s a secret for just his ears, what’s left of her fear apparent only in the flutter of her heartbeat he can feel through front of his chest. “You are capable of fearsome things, but you are not the kind of man who would assault a woman in such a way, enemy or not. If you were, then a man like Yamamoto Takeshi would not love you as fiercely as he does—”
“What do you know of me?! What do you know of Yamamoto?!” he roars, vibrating in fury.
“You have a right to be angry about the things I’ve done,” she cries, wincing at his strength. “But I know Yamamoto would at least give me a chance to explain before taking out his anger on others—”
“I am not interested in hearing the excuses of a criminal surrogate,” Hibari jabs a tonfa beneath her chin, holding it tight to her neck. “Do not take me for a fool.”
“And do not assume that I will always be weak,” Chrome replies.
Hibari scowls; the statement is unexpected, and gives him pause.
“You saved my life once,” Chrome turns her head enough to try and see him with her left eye. “Later in the Melone base, I saved yours. We are at quits. It would not be wise to begin the next cycle with bloodshed, Cloud man.”
When Hibari doesn’t stop her, she continues. “I chose Yamamoto Takeshi as the vessel for my training. There were things I had to do, things that could not be avoided—but I have already made what reparations I can.”
Hibari tenses, remembering Mukuro’s words about a ceremony. “Training? All this—was for training?!” It is the exact same horror he felt then at the Melone Base, made all the worse for his own part in it.
Chrome watches him very carefully. “There are some things only Mukuro-sama can teach. Skills I too wish to possess.”
“That is no reason—you had no right—” Hibari tsks, so livid that there aren’t words to express it properly. “Why Yamamoto?!”
Chrome drops her gaze, weighing her possible responses despite the bite of Hibari’s tonfa at her throat.
“If you were me, and you could not have the one you truly wanted—wouldn’t you choose someone like Yamamoto Takeshi?”
Some part of Hibari may understand, but he still cannot comprehend—what she has done in the guise of training cannot be forgiven. So much destruction, so much loss. And for what?
She shifts within his hold, as if she were breaking a rule by speaking at all.
“To control another’s mind. To operate his body flawlessly. To absorb and then demonstrate his skills. To act within his form so perfectly that a family member would offer me sushi and think nothing amiss. To maintain control even when poisoned by alcohol. To conquer him utterly—and then prove that there was nothing left for me to learn from the body of a man. You may not approve of my actions. That is your choice. But think about this before you threaten me and mine any further,” Chrome’s voice is steel, curled and feminine and deadly.
“I could have drawn things out for months. I could have chosen to commit far more terrible acts—instead, I made sure the cameras couldn’t identify him. I made sure to destroy the license plates of the motorcycle. I made sure that you would be the only one to guess the truth, so that his fate is in your hands and not the clutches of the law. It was not easy to engage mind control; Yamamoto’s will is very strong. He tried very hard to keep me out while he was inside your home and I think he may have suffered; I was still learning. I apologize for my clumsiness, but I assure you, I did my best to pass through each stage of the curriculum as fast as possible, for your sake, as much as Yamamoto’s.”
“You mean for yours,” Hibari shakes her. “All of these indecent acts were for you—”
“Yes,” she cuts in. “Because one day…” She shrinks in on herself, impossibly small, and somehow, also impossibly brave. “Mukuro-sama has said, ‘It’s only with the knowledge of their ways that we are truly able to comprehend our friends—as well as our enemies.’ To master Mukuro-sama’s skills I chose Yamamoto. But I did everything I could to protect him, too. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not you believe—it is the truth.”
And then, much as it had happened in the Millennium Suite, Mukuro’s laughter resounds throughout the room and echoes inside Hibari’s head, only this time it is a prelude to much more—for the first time in fifteen years he can feel the old residue of Mukuro’s contract flare to life inside him and open wide, forcing telepathic communication even as Hibari’s skin still crawls in rejection.
Distantly he can hear Chrome gasp, but then his mind is rushing forward and desperately trying to make sense of the imagery pouring inside of him. There is the wide, fogged mirror of his bathroom, Yamamoto standing before it in only his track pants, and Hibari sees—somehow watching the scene unfold both from inside the bathroom of his house and from his real position a vast distance away—his reflection right there in the steam past Yamamoto’s naked back, restraining Chrome by holding a tonfa to her neck.
Yamamoto hasn’t noticed him yet and Hibari can only look on while he shouts directly at the mirror, muscles taut in his back where he holds his sword just under his Adam’s apple. A long line of fresh blood curls down over Yamamoto’s collarbone and drips past his nipple, and Hibari understands why the moment Yamamoto’s voice reaches him through Mukuro’s time lag.
“…your powers depend on synchronization, so I will use my rain flames to disrupt it if you ever try to possess me again, even if it means being crippled for the rest of my life. I would gladly give up walking on my two legs rather than betray Hibari, and while I’m at it, I also refuse to jeopardize my comrades, or defile my hometown—if that ever happens again, I will not hesitate to use this blade and take my life. I’m warning you, Mukuro.”
Yamamoto’s katana nips the skin at his neck, reopening the fifteen-year-old mark from the lotus vine.
“My life belongs to me. I will not let you take it from me.”
Hibari experiences a surge of pride at the intensity of Yamamoto’s convictions, discordant with rest of the emotions running rampant inside him. And in the next moment Yamamoto sees Hibari in the mirror, surprised at first by his position restraining Chrome, but then he sees something in Chrome’s face and his expression calms, though it is still intense.
Yamamoto then aims a hard glare to the last figure in the mirror, Rokudo Mukuro, seated on the countertop inside the mirror’s surface beside the sink.
Although Mukuro laughs, it is clear he is vexed. “I am excessively bored with fools who can only cry and cling to one another.” Mukuro gets to his feet, preparing to walk away. “Stay your sword, Rain Guardian. The current Vongola still needs you. For now.”
Mukuro fades into the background, hidden by mist. “Be careful you do not get so distracted in future, my cute Chrome. This was your choice. You must not waver.”
And then Hibari finds his vision clouded over in darkness, and his body hits the floor.
First Hibari hears the snarl, and second he feels the singing pain of jaws clamping down on his arm and the weight of a person above him.
Hibari reacts in an instant, rolling his opponent to the side and grappling for leverage with his one arm, opening his eyes to see the foaming mouth of Joushima Ken’s wolverine channel engaged with his forearm.
“Ken!” Chrome’s voice cuts into the noise of the scuffle; Hibari lands two quick right-hooks to Ken’s face before he obeys Chrome’s command and scrambles away on all fours, growling back at him with bright blood on his teeth.
Hibari glances down at his wounded forearm just long enough to assay the damage as he gets up to his feet, an uneasy truce at play for as long as Chrome’s strength of leadership can hold the others back.
She picks up a trench coat from underneath the turned-over coffee table and shakes it out.
“Will you step outside with me, Cloud man?” she asks.
(she wants to separate you)
Hibari raises an eyebrow. The others grumble protests but Chrome silences them with a single look.
Hibari cocks his head. “I will not guarantee your safety.”
“That is not what I asked.” Chrome buttons up her coat, tying the sash snug across her body. She goes to the door and kicks aside a few magazines, and then an upturned plant, to find shoes that match. She steps outside and gazes over her shoulder.
Reluctantly, Hibari follows her out into the crisp early-spring morning, the semi-light shadows lavender and indigo and lovely filtering against the line of buildings in disrepair. She leads him to the stairs going up and they climb to the roof. The wind catches her loose hair, blowing it about her face. It is not the rooftop of Namimori, but the height and breadth of it bring on a strange sense of nostalgia, which sets him on edge with mistrust.
“There is one last thing I wish to clarify,” she says, “For it may be of use to you in the future.”
Hibari sneers. “Why should I believe anything you say?”
“Consider it repaying a favor, consider it a gift, or ignore it—do as you like.” Chrome shrugs, the same kind of artful and irritating European shrug Hibari associates with the Bucking Horse.
“What I want you to know is the result of my training, since it was you who first showed me how to stay alive on the strength of my own powers. For whatever it’s worth, the power that keeps Yamamoto Takeshi’s spinal cord perfect and intact is now mine.”
“And that man will not just take it back from you as it suits his whims?” Hibari glares.
“Indeed, that may happen.” Chrome tucks her hair behind her ear. “But I expect he has lost interest, for now at least. Only as I gain in strength can I be sure my hold is secure.”
“And if I bite you dead, right here, right now?”
Chrome’s expression remains serene. “Yamamoto Takeshi will not walk another step in this life without permission from one of us. If you prefer his fate to be in the hands of Mukuro-sama, then strike me down, Cloud man.”
As much as Hibari aches to punish her, an ache far deeper than the fresh throbbing in his wounded arm, and as much as it seems she wants to die, he checks his temper. For all that he may loathe Chrome Dokuro, for now she is the lesser evil. Hibari puts away his tonfa.
“I will see to it that Yamamoto’s life is not disturbed any further. He is a good man. I like him,” she says.
The affection in her voice rankles.
“I will not take advantage of my powers. That is all I have to say.” She turns back the way they came, and begins down the stairs.
“Chrome Dokuro,” Hibari calls out, feet braced, the wind swishing past his suit and catching in his short hair. “Do you have any idea what you have done, for the sake of gaining strength? At the very worst, you have betrayed Yamamoto Takeshi, and all who call him friend.”
“You are correct. Even so, that is not a good enough reason for me to go against Mukuro-sama’s plans.” Chrome answers. “Now I think we should go home, Cloud man. You to yours, and me to mine. We both of us have people waiting.”
“Do not think I will stand idly by and let you do as you please,” Hibari warns, stepping to the edge of the staircase and looking down. “I will not be bound by promises, or by threats.”
Their eyes meet.
“ ‘An ending is merely the beginning of another cycle.’ ” She smiles, fleetly, soft and gentle as rain—but with a sinister trace, the crackle of distant thunder.
Hibari tastes ash on his tongue.
Then she walks away from him. “Until next time, Hibari Kyoya.”
He watches until she disappears. Behind him, all the way across the land to the jagged edge of the horizon, the morning sun crests just over the mountains and casts his shadow forward into the stairwell. With the faint warmth urging him on, Hibari descends down to the street and sheds his ruined suit jacket so he can wrap the girth of it around his bloodied shirt.
Ignoring the stinging bite-wounds on his arm, he drives away from Kokuyou and into Namimori, the hood of his car pointed in the direction of the shrine, and the house beyond it.