Hibari pulls into the garage at half past six. It’s early. Quiet. The house is almost entirely dark.
Yamamoto’s car is still parked in its spot, and it is a relief not to come back to an empty place for once, although there is also a significant amount of dread this time; what awaits is definitely not the comfort that their house once held safe within its walls, but something else.
The porch, the grounds, the garden trellis, the garage; nothing feels right, even when he kills the engine and opens the house’s door, the familiar texture of tatami under his feet. Something tainted has worked its way in. Breathing the air through an indigo curtain, and waiting.
Hibari slips off his shoes and can smell lemons in the kitchen, recognizing their brand of cleanser. Further in he finds Yamamoto in the sitting room, seated on the couch, leaned forward with his hands loosely clasped between his knees. The floor lamp beside the couch casts the only light in the room. He’s changed into a different track suit and t-shirt, and sports a band-aid taped across the thin scarlet slash in the center of his throat, but even here there’s something off. Somber. The right things suppressed and the wrong things amplified—this is a different Yamamoto. A Yamamoto who has been changed.
“Hey,” Yamamoto says, lips twitching in a brief, but pained smile. “I wasn’t sure if… when you were coming back.”
Hibari notes the crime scene photographs strewn across the coffee table, in disarray from how he left them, mixed up and shuffled through multiple times. The laptop, however, is still closed and untouched, the USB with its hideous trident logo sticking out from the side—like a murder weapon found hilt-deep in a corpse.
Hibari’s stomach turns, a bad taste in his mouth. “What are you doing?”
Yamamoto runs both hands through his hair; pensive. Worried.
“I keep thinking about the men who died,” he says. “The police officers. I can’t remember anything about them, but they died because of me, Hibari. I don’t think I can stand it.”
“What are you saying,” Hibari scowls. “That you would rather die in their place?”
“You think I don’t deserve it?” Yamamoto cocks his head. “All the evidence against me is here, a conviction would be easy. Are you really not going to turn me in? Isn’t that what you do—exact justice?”
Hibari walks right up to him, tense with anger. “Even if I turned you in, that would not bring them back.”
“But it might make a difference to their families,” Yamamoto replies. “Maybe that way I could at least try and pay them back—”
“—Ridiculous. You are not the criminal here, it was—”
“Aren’t I?” Yamamoto challenges, gesturing at the pile of photos on the table between them. “What happened to the jewels that were stolen?”
Hibari tsks, hands balling to fists as Yamamoto presses on, voice increasingly loud and on the verge of hysterics.
“How much did it cost the city government for those tires? For the mechanics and the overtime labor? For replacing the patrol cars? How much will it cost those officer’s wives when they arrange for the funerals—”
Hibari can’t listen to another word. “What good will it do to put you behind bars, Yamamoto Takeshi?”
“Does that matter?” Yamamoto turns up his palm in a gesture of utter helplessness. “All this evidence will put me there anyway.”
But Hibari knows that the only significant and dangerous evidence against Yamamoto is the video on the USB, and so he rips it from the laptop before Yamamoto can think to stop him. He sets it on the table surface and then pounds it with his fist in a crushing blow, holding back none of his strength.
“Hibari—” Yamamoto cries out to stop him, grappling for his wrist. “Stop it! Why?!”
Hibari ignores the growing crack in the table wood and smashes the USB to bits, obliterates every microchip, his knuckles bleeding and raw before he’s satisfied.
“Even if you want to go, you will not go, Yamamoto Takeshi,” Hibari seethes. “Be glad of your connection to the Vongola. Mafiosi do not go to prison.”
“Heh.” Yamamoto lets go of him, and falls back. “Unless it’s the Vindice, right? How ironic. This really is a terrible, terrible world, isn’t it.”
Hibari wipes his freshly wounded hand against the side of his jacket—still wrapped overtop the bites in his left arm—and wholeheartedly agrees.
Then Yamamoto finally notices the bulk of black suit cloth and sits up straight, immediately concerned. “You’re hurt—what happened?”
Hibari scowls and begins to move past him towards the bathroom. “It’s nothing.”
But Yamamoto doesn’t believe that, getting to his feet and following as Hibari flicks on the bathroom light and then unwinds the coat from his forearm. He carefully—gingerly—eases it away from where the blood from the punctures has since congealed in the fabric, but some of the wounds re-open anyways, spilling fresh red into the mottled brown.
“That looks bad—are you in much pain?” Yamamoto pulls at Hibari’s fingers to straighten the arm, trying to see the wounds better.
Hibari jerks away, irritated and embarrassed that he allowed someone to wound him at all. “I said it’s nothing—”
“No, this needs to be cleaned right away,” Yamamoto holds on, rolling up the bottom of the sleeve to expose the first teeth-marks. “Was it a dog? Hold on, I’ll get the—”
“Quit touching me.” Hibari shoves at Yamamoto’s grasp; the fuss is annoying and the room is too small.
Yamamoto blanches. He backs up clear to the doorway, and drops his gaze. “Alright. Got it.”
Hibari’s jaw tightens when he realizes, but he can’t take it back. “I’ll do it myself,” he amends, mad that should feel the need to explain himself at all. “Your concern is not necessary.”
Yamamoto is already turning away, slipping both hands into his jacket pockets as he retreats to the hall. “I was going to cook something earlier, but the refrigerator’s just about empty, so I wound up cleaning instead. That noodle place should be open now, though. I was thinking of picking some up.”
“I’m not hungry,” Hibari answers, getting out the first-aid kit from the underhand cabinet.
Yamamoto’s lips thin, and then he forces a smile. “Okay. I’ll ask for them to prepare it so that you can have it later.”
He ducks out of the room and walks away in hurried steps. Hibari listens, and then exhales. He returns to the task at hand and patches himself up, more or less. And then he steels himself to call Kusakabe, pacing back and forth in the sitting room while they discuss a strategy for what now needs to be done.
He’s still on the phone when Yamamoto comes back. The smell of the food makes Hibari’s stomach growl; Yamamoto doesn’t comment, only sets two places at the table for when Hibari’s finished on the phone.
They eat, but the silence is far from companionable, and the mood is tense. Yamamoto’s cell phone interrupts periodically and adds to the awkward atmosphere, vibrating on the table and flashing the name Tsuna, or Gokudera, or Mochida, and one time, even Dino. But Yamamoto doesn’t take any of the calls. And he doesn’t speak at all until both of them have finished.
“Hibari…” Yamamoto folds his hands in his lap.
Hibari sets down his chopsticks, wary.
“I think I should meet with Tsuna. Sooner or later, he should know some of what’s happened.”
Hibari expected this, but everything in him rejects it. He crosses his arms, impatient. “Reporting in to your Boss?”
Yamamoto’s brow creases at the snide remark. “Tsuna’s my friend. Not just my Boss.”
Hibari rolls his eyes, increasingly uncomfortable. “What will you say?”
Yamamoto affects a shrug. “Enough. Not all.”
“I see.” Hibari downs the last of his tea, and then rises to one knee, preparing to get up. The injury and the long hours without rest have begun to take their toll. “I’m taking a nap.”
Hibari glances at Yamamoto as he collects his dishes, standing to carry them to the sink.
“I may not have the right to ask this, but…” Yamamoto’s hands grip the edge of the table, bracing himself. “Will you come out there with me? To the Vongola estate?”
Hibari sets the dishes down with a muted clink, and runs water over them. The last thing he would ever want is to be in a room with Sawada Tsunayoshi while Yamamoto airs their private matters. It’s abhorrent.
“Why should I have to go there?” he asks, drying his hands. “None of them listened. And anyway, Sawada Tsunayoshi is better left out of it. He cannot undo what has been done.”
“But he might be able to prevent whatever is next.” Yamamoto’s grip turns his knuckles white. “Because I don’t think Mukuro is done. Do you?”
Hibari feels all the strength drain from his limbs at the very thought.
“He waited fifteen years to do this,” Yamamoto adds, though his discomfort is clear. “And Chrome has gained in skill. I think Tsuna would listen now. And I believe I have to warn him.”
Hibari throws the wet dishtowel down on the counter, infuriated all over again. “Then you can do it without me. I do not owe the Vongola any favors after this. And neither do you, Yamamoto Takeshi.”
“Please, Hibari?” Yamamoto’s voice shrinks so thin Hibari can hardly recognize it. “I just… need you to go with me. You don’t have to see Tsuna, or anyone. You can stay in the car. I just want to know you’re there. I have to go no matter what, but please don’t make me go alone?”
The anguish in his tone, in his demeanor, is unbearable; Hibari is stunned by how close Yamamoto sits on the verge of breaking and it squeezes his heart tight with utter helplessness to witness it. He can’t stand to see Yamamoto so weakened, would normally throttle anyone for appearing thus in front of him—and yet how could he even think of striking at someone so pitiful?
Just what the hell is he supposed to do, here? If he can’t punish the ones responsible, if he can’t destroy either of the Mist Guardians without destroying Yamamoto—then what the hell is he supposed to do?!
He will never forgive them. Not ever.
“If it means so much, then be ready when I wake up,” Hibari demands. “But you owe me.”
“Of course,” Yamamoto nods, head bowing. “Anything. Everything. All that I have. Whatever is left. Whatever you want.”
By the end, it’s obvious Yamamoto is crying, covering his face with both hands. Hibari leaves the room, stricken by the noise, clutching a hand to his chest and hiding the sound of his footfalls.
In the bedroom, the sheets have been changed and the bed made, the air fragranced by whatever cleanser Yamamoto used to scrub everything down. A fresh set of black silk pajamas is set out for him on his side of the bed. Yamamoto’s side has the pants only, folded into a neat square with the cuffs on top.
The clock reads eight A.M. Hibari sits down on the bed and puts his head in his hands, realizing that Yamamoto did his best to sanitize their bedroom, and somehow it’s the most horrible thing of all—and proof enough that things will never be the same again.
Hibari faces the gardens of the Vongola estate from the balcony, hands on the rail. The trees and plants are misshapen in the night, all jagged arms and rustling leaves. There is no socializing going on behind him this time, no laughter, no crystal goblets tinkling or background music or lively conversation. Just a large, still room with the curtains drawn.
He leans his shoulder into the nearby column and crosses his arms, enjoying the quiet and feeling that he much prefers the room when it’s this way.
Yamamoto has been in Tsuna’s office for more than an hour. It’s possible Gokudera Hayato is in there with them; it would be hard not to spot the man’s flashy silver Jaguar in the drive, parked front and center for the attention no doubt.
The sudden arrival of a murderous presence triggers Hibari’s mind into focus and his body into movement—he swings a tonfa and it clanks against the Baby’s jitte. The Baby smirks, and Hibari nods his greeting, completing their traditional exchange.
Then the Baby takes a seat on the balcony rail beside him, and Hibari puts his tonfa away.
“Mukuro is leveling-up his forces and two of Tsuna’s Guardians have been weakened. Looks like the Family has been dealt a serious blow.” The Baby adjusts his hat, his face grim. “What will you do, Hibari?”
Hibari crosses his arms back the way they were, although his whole body is now restless and clamoring for action.
“So you heard about it. Anyway, I have nothing to do with you people.”
“Yamamoto doesn’t see it that way. Right now he’s over there with Tsuna, bogged down with guilt and ashamed of his sins against you. So will you throw him away?”
“Not that it’s your business, but there were never any promises,” Hibari snarls. “He has broken no vow.”
Reborn’s brows go up. “Is that what you believe?”
Hibari locks their gazes, teeth bared. But he is the first to look away.
The Baby sighs. “Then I feel sorry for Yamamoto. Because you are betraying him worse than either Mukuro or Chrome did.”
“What do you know about it?!” Hibari snaps, unable to keep his temper in check a moment longer. “You were not there—you have no idea what it was like.”
“I do know.” The Baby scowls, his aura so black that Hibari’s mouth goes dry. “Look at me,” he demands, pinning Hibari to the spot with a single look. “They don’t call this a curse for nothing, Hibari. I know what it feels like to find out that your partner has strayed, whether they can rightfully be blamed for it or not.”
There is nothing Hibari can say.
“Listen up,” the Baby continues. “If you don’t do something, the both of you will be weakened to the extent of being useless.”
Hibari bristles, but does not dare contradict him.
“Do whatever you want,” the Baby shrugs, “But understand this—you are stronger together than when you are apart. That’s been proven over and over. So figure out what you believe in, Hibari Kyoya. Because I know from experience that you won’t get another chance if you mess this up.”
Hibari might have commented, but he is prevented by the arrival of Sawada Tsunayoshi, and behind him, Yamamoto.
“There you are—Reborn!” Tsuna quickens his step. “We’ve been looking all over for you!”
“Stupid Tsuna. Yamamoto knew I was here all along, didn’t you, Yamamoto?”
“Yep!” Yamamoto smiles, exhausted, but calm.
“Whaa—? Yamamoto, you too?! And after we’d been all over the mansion!”
“Ahaha.” Yamamoto scratches the back of his neck.
Hibari exhales, grumbling.
“Time for us to go, Tsuna.” The Baby jumps off the railing and perches on Tsuna’s shoulder.
Yamamoto comes over to Hibari’s side of the balcony, waving goodbye as the other two disappear back into the house.
“Let’s go home?”
Though the question is a tad hesitant, Hibari can sense that Yamamoto’s instincts must have been right in making the trip out here to the estate. Not just Yamamoto’s posture, but his presence has re-centered somewhat in the time he spent with Tsuna downstairs.
Hibari follows him down the side-exit, where they walk partway around the house to the circular drive in front, and Yamamoto’s waiting car. They drive in silence to the halfway point and then Yamamoto clears his throat.
“With everything that’s happened, I kinda thought you’d kick me out. Or ask me to leave. Why haven’t you, Hibari?”
Hibari looks at him. Then he returns his gaze out the window, chin resting on his fist. “Do you wish to be thrown out, is that it?”
“Actually, even if you throw me out I won’t leave.”
Hibari turns to him again, lifting one eyebrow, both curious and annoyed at the presumption. Yamamoto exchanges a glance with him before returning his attention to the road.
“I’ve realized that I will never forgive myself if I let Mukuro or Chrome tear us apart. If that happens, then they win. And I can’t stomach that. Also I can’t ever expect you to forgive me when I haven’t forgiven myself, you know? And that’s what I really wanted to say, Hibari, so just listen, okay?”
He pauses, negotiating the highway overpass. Hibari watches his profile.
“It’s not going to be easy, trying to figure out how to forgive this stuff and not let it eat me up. To make amends. To resolve my debts. Especially to you.” Yamamoto casts a quick sideways glance. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take, either. It may involve a lot of things you don’t like. It may be hard on you, but… Hibari, can you be patient with me for bit? I’m not asking you to do anything but let me stay by your side, and if you can accept that, then I think we have a chance. And even if you don’t accept it, I’m not leaving, I’m not going anywhere. I want to get past this horrible experience and I want to be with you. I want to show those guys that we’re the strongest. So…”
Hibari sees how Yamamoto’s hands grip the steering wheel like it’s his last possible lifeline.
“…Will you at least give me a chance?”
This kind of conversation has always made Hibari uncomfortable. He turns back to the window for a time, brow furrowed and arms crossed over his chest.
“Tell me now if it’s too much to ask,” Yamamoto adds, softly. “I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”
Hibari’s jaw tightens. Earlier in his life he might have considered going his separate way, shucking all the ugliness like an empty husk and emerging with a new skin that will harden back to normal in no time. Now, he knows that what’s inside wouldn’t change; even if they were apart something in him would always want Yamamoto, whether as a worthy opponent, or as a partner—for so long there has been no one else. And that has to mean something.
The man seated next to him is not the same, but neither is he a complete stranger—not now that the cloak of mist hanging over them has begun to lift. Hibari may not be able to ignore his feelings of betrayal completely, but at the very least, Hibari does not want Rokudo Mukuro to win. Not in this, and not ever.
Hibari sighs, even more uncomfortable than before with the pressure of Yamamoto beside him, waiting anxiously for his response. He starts to reach across the gearshift thinking it easier to answer without words, but
(those other hands have touched him)
the poison inside his head makes him freeze, rendering him unable to complete the movement. Yamamoto goes very, very still.
Hibari clenches his teeth, the gulf in-between them—everything that must be overcome—made real that instant. But what he loathes the most is when his path is blocked, and the spark of anger gives him the strength to push through and grab the corner of Yamamoto’s suit jacket, balling it in his fist. It’s absurd, but it’s the best he can do.
He holds on tight for the rest of the way. Yamamoto slips his foot off the gas and drives exactly at the speed limit, prolonging the connection for as long as he possibly can.
The city of Namimori makes no arrests for the crimes of vandalism and robbery. Hibari’s Foundation withdraws from both cases and focuses instead on the black market venues where the stolen jewels are likely to turn up, while Sawada Tsunayoshi puts the word out on his side that the Vongola will not condone the sale or trading of any of the jewels in question. Although Hibari views this as interference and throttles someone accordingly, he also understands that the added pressure deep in the underbelly of the Mafia will make it that much more difficult for Mukuro or Chrome (or anyone connected to them) to profit from their crimes.
Chrome Dokuro, Joushima Ken, and Kakimoto Chikusa linger in the area for several weeks before disappearing. Hibari hears later that Sawada met with Chrome more than once before she vanished, but he is not holding his breath that it will have any effect on whatever may come in the future. He has more pressing things to worry about just then, anyhow.
In the first days of what Hibari comes to think of as the aftermath, Yamamoto goes to four funerals. Hibari does not go with him. He has a feeling that Lancia may have accompanied Yamamoto instead—they keep in close contact nowadays—but Hibari and Yamamoto do not usually discuss these kinds of things, even when Yamamoto comes home afterwards with his chest ripped wide open, gaping and raw from the intensity of the self-inflicted experience.
Hibari does not understand why Yamamoto bothers. He can’t approach the families as anyone but a high school PE teacher or baseball coach, and therefore he can’t get any absolution. It is also probable that the funeral attendees who don’t know Yamamoto through their children, know him through his father instead. In Namimori, the Yamamoto family is well known and well loved. And maybe that’s the problem.
For Hibari, it is impossible to share the same house and not be aware of the ruptured dynamics affecting all levels of their continued cohabitation.
Hibird won’t go near Yamamoto for weeks. Yamamoto, unquestionably hurt by this, eventually asks if he may have done something when he was manipulated. They are both horrified by the idea that he may have inflicted some kind of trauma, and though Hibari doesn’t really believe that was the case—what purpose would it serve?—and he says as much, there is no way to know for sure. The doubts and questions hang around them unanswered like cobwebs.
It helps to keep up the previous routine. Yamamoto still packs their lunches. Hibari does his share of the larger chores. The house runs efficiently, but it is not theirs anymore; the ironclad defenses of their private fortress were breached, the magic lost. Now, in picking up the pieces, they are more like tenants occupying the same space. He and Yamamoto both keep an arm’s distance from the other, and the growing tension in doing so presses harder on them than he could have imagined.
The subtle distancing Yamamoto exercises with Hibari is not exclusive; Hibari watches a shift ripple across all Yamamoto’s friends and acquaintances, and in his connections both inside and outside the Mafia. He bows out of drinking parties and dinners out, and often silences his cell phone, though the frequency of the intermittent vibrations, some for voicemails, some for text messages, says a great deal. The circle Yamamoto maintains has shrunk irrevocably from the general many to the treasured few.
With the evidence that Yamamoto has finally learned to protect himself, to shield against others’ lies and keep a friendly face all the while—Hibari should be pleased. He should be ecstatic that the chances of having to see Yamamoto come to harm because of his inability to see through others have been eliminated. Instead, part of him grieves. Yamamoto’s carefree smile has not lost all its light, but experience has tempered it. He never would have expected that kind of thing to be sad.
Around them, the Sakura groves in Namimori’s shrine bloom into a storm of frothy pink, and then fade. Once the petals have all fallen and every trace of their scent has been erased, Hibird ends his forced separation from Yamamoto… which is telling. But also delightful, bringing about a much needed respite. Hibird’s company eases the atmosphere as well as the stiff line of Yamamoto’s shoulders.
But it is not enough. A thousand liters of lemon cleanser cannot cure the stigma inside their home, no matter how much they pretend otherwise.
Yamamoto is stubborn about sleeping in the same bed despite the tacit understanding that physical contact is out of the question for some while. The marks left by Chrome’s nails may have healed on Yamamoto’s body, but the ghosts, hers and Mukuro’s, are still there, and are understandably difficult for Hibari to ignore.
It is unthinkable to sleep on the couch, but Hibari finds it even more unreasonable to lie there side by side with things as they are. He can’t relax at night for the drumming noise of their heartbeats, trip-tripping and overly-conscious of the other person lying just outside of reach, each of them feigning sleep.
Some of it, Hibari thinks, is that they’re both waiting for something to happen. For another sleepwalking incident. For some sign of Mist activation. For a direct, even worse betrayal.
Better that they don’t tempt fate by brushing knees, or elbows, or shoulders. Better that they keep a stripe of empty mattress between them, and lie there back to back like fish on the brink of suffocation, not enough strength even to go through the motions.
For all that he and Yamamoto throw themselves into their work to compensate for the missing things, they each have dark circles beneath their eyes, and their tempers have short fuses. It’s to be expected in Hibari’s case, but with Yamamoto it’s disconcerting when he bristles or snaps back with sarcastic retorts. And then it’s annoying—just like all the other annoying things that Hibari begins to notice about living with Yamamoto.
Like how he throws snack-food in the air and catches it in his mouth when watching a late-night ballgame. How sometimes he misses and the food falls on the couch, or the floor, leaving crumbs or dollops of grease. How sometimes he still eats whatever fell, despite that it touched an unclean surface, like he’s some kind of stray mongrel who doesn’t know any better.
These things begin to breed a singular resentment, and that resentment builds like the tide so that Hibari—and perhaps Yamamoto too—finds himself waiting for any excuse to set off an argument, picking fights and sniping at any little thing that irritates him. How can being cooped up in that house together day after day and night after night do them any good? he wonders.
And then one day, Hibari comes home late from work and trips over a pair of cleats haphazardly left in the walkway to the garage door, and his struggling patience gathers momentum and then breaks in a pounding fury. He takes the cleats, and the duffel bag full of baseball gear next to it, and dumps them out back in the garbage cans with the rest of the refuse, not saying a single word to Yamamoto about it.
Yamamoto doesn’t notice until after dinner, when he tries to finish packing for the upcoming Golden Week training camp he’s in charge of and his belongings are nowhere to be found. Hibari is working on his laptop in the sitting room, and scoffs when Yamamoto confronts him.
“If it’s in my way, I don’t care what it is. I’ll just get rid of it.”
To which Yamamoto replies by snatching Hibari’s cell phone off the end table and pitching it across the house, directly into the kitchen sink—currently filled to the brim with soapy dishwater. The phone plunks and vanishes beneath the suds.
“Interfere in my work, and I’ll interfere with yours. That’s okay, right? Oh, it’s your turn to do the dishes, by the way.” Yamamoto cocks his head, his smile irritatingly fox like.
“Are those your final words?” Hibari gets up, cracking his knuckles.
“Haha. Care to find out?” Yamamoto taunts right back, crooking his finger.
Hibari’s retaliation is explosive, and unstoppable. So is Yamamoto’s. Hibari has just enough time to recall some of the things Yamamoto can do when all his power is unleashed before it becomes impossible for him to think outside the here and now, Yamamoto opposite him with his sword in hand, and a gleam in his eye that cannot be ignored.
Hibari presses forward from room to room, disregarding the overturned furniture, the wood splintering under the flurry of blows, blade angling through paper screen doors and tonfa ripping through walls like they contain all the substance of children’s clay; a pyramid of cards. All the usual warning signals have been disabled—this fight has been brewing, and once begun, they cannot stop.
Yamamoto stomps at the edge of a tatami mat and flips it up to knock Hibari on the chin; Hibari flings the mat aside and lunges forward unperturbed, balancing catlike on the floor beams and straddling the exposed plumbing. But the awkward footing is only half of what Yamamoto’s attack has accomplished—the pipes beneath Hibari’s feet then burst open, flooding the house, and Hibari, in a freezing spray of water.
Hibari shakes his wet hair from his eyes, and promptly ignites cloud flames all over his body. Yamamoto doesn’t take his eyes off him for an instant, and circles rain flames from his sword’s tip through the water spreading beneath their feet. With this, the battle escalates to the next level.
Hibari destroys everything in his path, exalting in the release of all his pent up aggression. Yamamoto’s attacks are just as deadly—Hibari feels familiar sparks of intrigue and recognition
(wao, it seems you’ve gotten stronger)
flare within his gut and compel him not to hold back, not even when a section of roof caves in around them. They have not fought like this in months—too long—and Hibari pushes, pushes, pushes, admiring the way Yamamoto can avoid the fatal bite and press him back, always countering and making him reel with the desire for blood, the hunger to win.
And for the first time since Mukuro and Chrome interrupted their lives and wrenched apart the balance, Hibari can forget.
To fight, to clash, to bleed—the joy of the hunt—is all that matters, and Yamamoto Takeshi is the very best prey. Hibari’s pulse cries out with the effort of buckling Yamamoto into submission, screeching in frustration when he is denied. For Yamamoto’s will is equally absolute, made stronger by the scars of adversity. This is the strength held fast within his core, and in his beliefs that will never be shaken. This is Yamamoto Takeshi: flawless and invincible as the Shigure Souen Ryuu.
The extreme physicality is astonishing, and breathtaking—but such boundless strengths when clashed together can only lead to disaster.
It could be Yamamoto’s eleventh offensive form, Swallow’s Beak, or it could be Hibari’s rampant hedgehog spikes that knock the stove range clear through the kitchen wall and into the storage pantry, breaking the stacked gift bottles of sake that have accumulated over the years from birthdays and anniversaries and garnishing the weeping flow of liquor with a kiss from the stove’s pilot light.
It’s impossible to tell who’s responsible for what comes next when their breathing and heartbeats are synchronized, eyes locked and limbs coordinated in a snake-charmed dance of murder and destruction.
But the shock of the sudden blaze interrupts the thrill of battle completely.
Hibari and Yamamoto whirl in tandem to survey the encroaching flames, sobered at once by the imminent danger. The fire spreads to the ceiling in a column of blinding heat, buffeted by the night air swooping in through the roof cavity and egged on by the presence of alcohol. Soon every electric cable dangling loose in the walls will feed the fire, and after that—
There’s no time to lose. Hibari grabs Yamamoto’s shirt front and Yamamoto grabs what’s left at the hem of Hibari’s ruined white button-down as they run for it—straight through the opening in the wall that once housed the TV and then under the garden trellis, legs pumping and lungs heaving while the raging fire licks its way to the gas line and half of what remained of their house explodes in a rocketing boom.
At the top of the hill where the shrine path begins just behind the decorative fence, they slow down and stumble to a stop right at the edge of the sparse trees, panting and hunched over—but neither of them has let go their hold. They exchange a glance, confirming each other’s safety, and then Yamamoto tugs against Hibari’s grasp, clearly wanting to go back.
“Hibari, this is bad,” Yamamoto says, shaking his head. “It could spread, and Hibird—”
But then Hibird is there, circling above them safe and sound, albeit cheeping in distress.
“There are no neighbors.” Hibari reminds, pulling Yamamoto closer in warning. “The trees are far enough away. Anyway, the broken pipes will put it out eventually.”
“But…” Yamamoto’s face is pained.
He turns back to the orange light and the billowing smoke, free hand clamped around the hilt of Shigure Kintoki.
Hibari tightens his fist in Yamamoto’s clothing until it hurts, instinctively dragging them inside the fence and across the perimeter of the sacred grounds, and only then can he begin to try and calm down. He can barely see down the hill through the hot, foul air, but the wind catches the worst of the smoke and sweeps it across the view for a moment and he can just make out where his hedgehogs managed to cut off the fire’s path to the garage, amputating the walkway from the main structure and burrowing a dry moat in the earth. It’s the only precaution Hibari could manage under the circumstances, but who knows if even then the cars will manage to survive; the fire will likely burn unchecked long enough to bury everything beneath a half-meter of ash before the end.
“All your things,” Yamamoto murmurs. “The Nami-high pennants, the armbands from back in junior high…”
Hibari’s frown deepens, picturing instead the shelf that held Yamamoto’s very first homerun baseball, the framed memento of his deceased college baseball coach, and the wooden bat autographed by all his minor league teammates before he retired to pursue the way of the sword.
He takes a deep breath, and banishes the grief.
“Let them burn.” He says as he steps in even closer to Yamamoto, allowing the taut line of their bodies to touch, his fingers still clutched against Yamamoto’s chest. “I don’t need those things.”
“I’m so, so sorry,” Yamamoto says, so much pain in his voice.
“Yamamoto.” Hibari shakes him, just once. “It’s not your fault.”
Yamamoto’s eyes widen. His mouth closes, suddenly choked with emotion.
Hibari relaxes his hold somewhat, glancing away, but he repeats the statement a second time. He owes Yamamoto at least that much.
“None of this is your fault, Yamamoto Takeshi.”
Yamamoto swallows. He makes no further comment, the two of them standing barefoot and ragged on the cobblestones, gazing downhill where the rectangular remains of their property is now an ocean of flickering, hellish light amidst the darkness of the uninhabited shrine grounds. The secondary explosion rending the night in fierce crackles is probably the cabinet with the guns, Hibari guesses. The third explosion is far more pronounced, like something from a movie. Probably one of the cars. Probably both.
After this the blaze simmers and spits, and settles in for a long meal. In the distance they hear the sirens of fire trucks on approach, mingled with the noise of an ambulance and at least two patrol cars following in escort, but they don’t move from their spot. Hibari watches to the end, Yamamoto’s hand eventually releasing the hem of his tattered shirt so he can rest his arm across Hibari’s shoulders, his thumb gently brushing Hibari’s neck, back and forth, back and forth. Despite the unnatural and caustic breeze radiating from the conflagration below, Hibari shudders, and draws closer to Yamamoto for warmth.
The couch where Hibari liked to nap. The table set by Yamamoto each day. The oversized tub and the King sized bed, accommodating all manner of lavish, shared activities. The exterior wooden porch Hibari polished twice a month. The private garden with its step-stone path. The two of them in winter, running from the garage under the snow covered walkway and flying into the warm house all in a rush, noses red and clasped hands shivering under their mittens.
To have all those memories turned into dust… Hibari acknowledges the feelings of remorse welling up inside him. But with the remorse there is also a distinct relief. Not all of the memories lingering in that place were good; the ones that stained, the ones that haunted, the ones that invoked every evil inside them and pit them one against the other—those too now are gone, exorcised forever.
Standing there with Yamamoto beside him, nothing more than the rags on their bodies and the weapons in their hands—Hibari’s sense of peace is quietly restored, like a slow breath of sky held fast behind his ribs.
When the area near the remains of what used to be their house is surrounded by emergency vehicles flashing multi-colored lights, and arcs of water from the fire truck hoses can be seen cutting through the worst of the fire, Yamamoto brushes his mouth against Hibari’s hair and shifts them around to view the empty Shrine. He nods up the path leading up to the building, watching for Hibari’s reaction.
Hibari meets his gaze, and then leads the way. At the stone water basin off to one side they pour water over their hands, and then cup some to splash their faces and wet their tongues, sloughing off most of the grime and dirt from the earlier battle as well as the flecks of blood seeping from countless scratch-wounds. Then they stand at the front of the Shrine, side by side, stripped bare of all worldly possessions save for the tools with which they carve out their livelihood.
Yamamoto rings the bell. And then they pray.
Afterward, Yamamoto sits down on the stone steps in front of the shrine, back leaned against a pillar supporting a hollow lantern, Shigure Kintoki within reach. He looks up at Hibari, still standing, and pats his palm on the stone beside him.
Hibari gazes over the courtyard before them, thinking of all the times they’ve come to this very spot, destinies entwined whether by plan or by chance. A great fatigue passes over him, then, and he yawns.
“I’m tired,” he huffs. And then he takes up the place beside Yamamoto, stretching out where he can rest his head on Yamamoto’s lap, arms folded around his ribs.
Yamamoto chuckles softly. He cards his fingers through Hibari’s hair, brushing it away from his face, the motions calm and sure. “Me too.”
From this position they can still see the nearby smoke rising high into the darkness and blotting out the stars, watching it curl and twist through the trees, ugly, but no longer frightening.
Eventually there will be a search party, and others will intrude. But for now, this is fine. Just the two of them, alone in the dark. Survivors.
Like the patterns in firefly lights, Hibari feels the steady thump of Yamamoto’s blood coursing through his veins, and his own pulse echoes in reply, a matched rhythm that lulls them into a relaxed state, serene with the confidence that comes from finding hope where they once thought it lost.
Later, there will be considerable chaos when they are found, paperwork and reports and decisions on where to go and what to do in the interim to set everything back into some kind of order. But for now, Hibari closes his eyes and thinks of all that they will accomplish from here on out, and how much stronger they both will be when their foundation is rebuilt from scratch.
( ‘An ending is merely the beginning of another cycle…’ )
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