Type of Present: Fanfic
Pairing: Yamamoto/Gokudera (Xanxus/Squalo implied)
Personal Note: Happy holidays, ladyluckx3! I really hope you like this. ♥ Many thanks to uminohikari for beta-reading.
Vongola IX is celebrating his birthday for the fifth time this week.
Because of all the intra-family feuds, the Ninth holds parties throughout the week following his birthday; that way the many allied clans can avoid attending at the same time as their enemies. Tsuna and his Guardians have to go each time, though: the Ninth insists that the Vongola successor must be seen, heard, and acknowledged. Yamamoto wears a smile, but he doesn't like being here.
The Vongola mansion gives him the creeps: there's a feeling of being watched. The place is chock-full of hidden security cameras, but Yamamoto feels like it's the grim-faced portraits' eyes that follow him. They are ghosts, shapeless relics of a past he will never understand.
This wing of the mansion is only ever used for parties, and the ballroom is still drafty despite five days' worth of feeding the fireplace to dispel winter's chill. Yamamoto likes the bar counter best of all; he can quietly survey the ballroom while indulging his newfound love for American whisky.
The Varia officers are here today, and the Ninth is sticking to Xanxus like a burr. Yamamoto suspects it has nothing to do with whatever paternal feelings Vongola IX might still have for his wayward son. He thinks is has everything to do with getting Xanxus to recognize Tsuna as the heir.
Tsuna looks uncomfortable, and Yamamoto can't blame him. He also can't focus on Tsuna, because Gokudera is talking to his date again. His eyes flicker towards Tsuna every minute or so, but to the girl, it must seem like she has Gokudera's uncontested attention. He's gotten good at that kind of thing -- too good, maybe. These days, it's hard to tell when Gokudera's being honest.
Yamamoto is unable to drag his eyes away, even though the girl loops a graceful arm around Gokudera's neck and pulls him down to say something. It makes Gokudera grin that devil-may-care grin of his, the one that once was for Tsuna alone. Until Tsuna married Kyoko-san.
Gokudera's still smiling at the girl. Do you really like her, Gokudera? Do you? Yamamoto's jaw clenches, and he grips the whisky tumbler harder.
"So that's how it is," a familiar voice drawls in Yamamoto's ear. Superbi Squalo stands next to him, looking both resplendent and ghostly in a suit just a shade lighter than his hair.
"Hey," Yamamoto says. Squalo mounts the stool next to his and snaps his fingers at the bartender, who pales and scoots over to the booze wall.
"Might want to look at some other people once in a while," Squalo says, turning to Yamamoto. "I've been watching you watch him for the past twenty minutes."
Yamamoto shrugs. "Who said I was watching him?"
The bartender brings a drink -- something violently green -- and Squalo sniffs it, downs it, squints. "Looks like we have more in common than the swords, eh, kid?" He doesn't elaborate; instead he slams the glass down on the counter. "Another."
Yamamoto laughs, though he's pretty sure he's unable to hide his discomfort. In some ways, Squalo knows Yamamoto better than most of these people. Squalo was the only one who knew how to bring Yamamoto back to the family from the brink of a professional baseball career.
"I have no idea what you mean," he says, just to save face. In common?
"Don't worry," Squalo mutters. "Your secret's safe with me. Let's get drunk."
They drink. Yamamoto's eyes wander back to the dance floor.
These days, Gokudera wears suits -- always dark, always tailored. It's rarely the same suit and never the same woman on his arm. Yamamoto remembers a time when Gokudera wore faded denim and leather, pocket chain flat against a slim hip. Yamamoto can't seem to let go of that time, when Gokudera snarled insults at him and shoved him against things. A time when Gokudera noticed him -- even as a rival for Tsuna's attention, even as a stupid baseball idiot who didn't understand anything about the Mafia life. In some way, Yamamoto used to matter to Gokudera. Now he's just family.
"I want to go back to Japan," he says.
Squalo looks well on the way to plastered by now; his eyes are bright and challenging. Whatever that green stuff is, it would probably knock Yamamoto flat, so he sticks to the whisky.
Inside the ballroom, the Ninth feigns cheerful obliviousness as Xanxus and Tsuna regard each other like two strange cats. The three of them stand amidst the twirling couples, who take great care to dance around them. Gokudera doesn't dance very well -- the dynamite he carries makes that impossible -- but he makes up for it by looking good enough to eat. His hand rests possessively on the small of the girl's back, rings glinting under the chandelier. The girl is smiling at whatever he's whispering into her ear.
"Won't work," Squalo tells him. "Trust me."
"Huh?" Yamamoto asks, confused. He has forgotten all about Squalo.
"Even if you run away to Japan, it won't change anything. Not for you. And don't get that stupid 'whatever-do-you-mean' look on your face. Idiot."
On the floor, the Ninth shepherds Tsuna and Xanxus towards a table. Six waiters rush at it from opposite directions. Squalo's baleful stare fixes on Xanxus's back.
"It'll make him happy if I leave," Yamamoto mutters. "I guess I should do it then, huh?"
Squalo snorts. "You could try making him jealous first."
"Does it work?" It's almost a whisper.
Squalo looks away with a scowl. "Sometimes."
Then he leans in and puts an arm around Yamamoto's shoulders. A typical drunken Squalo gesture, yet despite the alcohol on his breath, his eyes are keen. "Listen closely, kid," Squalo rasps. His hair tickles Yamamoto's cheek. "You're a sword fighter, one of the last. What defines you is perseverance, not your ability to wave a hunk of metal around. To people like you, there's no middle ground -- you endure until you succeed or fail. Time and distance are fuckin' meaningless, understand?"
"S-Squalo," Yamamoto breathes, a little frightened by the intensity of Squalo's gaze.
A heavy hand falls on Squalo's shoulder. "We're leaving."
Squalo's eyes are unreadable as he lets go of Yamamoto and turns around to face Xanxus. "Yes, boss. Later, kid."
Yamamoto's eyes search the ballroom crowd, but he needn't bother: Gokudera is stalking towards him. Scowling. Yamamoto smiles. "Hey, Gokudera. These parties are getting a bit repetitive, don't you--"
"Outside," snaps Gokudera. "Now."
Yamamoto follows him out into the wind.
"What were you and that longhair talking about?" Gokudera demands. "What business do you have with the Varia?"
"Um, Gokudera? Tsuna told us to try and mingle with the Varia--"
"The boss!" Gokudera snarls. "He's the boss -- especially where people could be listening. Will you never learn proper respect?"
"I guess not," Yamamoto replies quietly. He likes this -- loves it; Gokudera's attention is all on him, green eyes flashing with anger. But he hates it, too. He hates that he has never made Gokudera smile. "That's why I told Squalo I was going back to Japan."
"Wait-- what?" Gokudera steps backwards, uncertain. "Hey, you can't. The boss would be upset."
And you? Yamamoto wants to ask. Would you be upset? He doesn't ask, though. He knows the answer well enough. "He's been saying for ages that he needs someone to supervise the building site in Namimori."
Gokudera is scowling again. "And you told Superbi Squalo before you told me?"
Yamamoto doesn't know what to say to that. "I've told you now." He smiles. "I'll be out of your sight, like you always wanted. Aren't you glad?" A tiny part of him wishes for Gokudera to say no, he's not glad at all.
"How can you say that so calmly?" Gokudera explodes. "Are you telling me you've been hanging around all this time just to annoy me?"
Yamamoto wants to scream, but he smiles even bigger -- smiling keeps anger and sorrow at bay, that's what his mother taught him. And it does. The wider your smile, the bigger your heart. "Of course not. I just didn't have anywhere else to go."
Yamamoto laughs. "I knew you'd say that." He turns to leave, but Gokudera calls his name.
"You... you aren't leaving because of me, right?" Gokudera's frown is too thoughtful, the kind he wears when he's working on his Sistema CAI. Very dangerous. "Not because I don't like you?"
"No, Gokudera," Yamamoto replies, smiling for all he's worth. "It's not because you don't like me."
Gokudera Hayato is the type of person who believes whatever he wants to believe. That makes it easy to lie to him.
"I think Gokudera-kun misses you."
Yamamoto does his best not to choke on his tea, nearly dropping the phone in the process. "What did you say?"
On the other end of the line, Tsuna's voice is half-worried, half-amused. "We went out to dinner the other day? He told the waiter we were expecting one more person."
"He was probably talking about Kyoko-san."
"No, Kyoko had her Italian class then. Anyway, I asked him, and he said, 'that stupid baseball freak is always late'."
Yamamoto laughs. "He just hasn't gotten used to it yet." He hasn't called me a baseball freak since I quit baseball for you.
"I guess you could be right," Tsuna says. "Gokudera-kun doesn't like change very much. Maybe in another year, he'll forget all about you."
Yamamoto freezes. Has it really been a year? "I think my old man is calling me, Tsuna. Can I call you back?"
"No, it's all right. We'll talk next week." Click.
A year. Yamamoto pushes the tea away and falls back against the sofa cushions. A year since he's last seen Gokudera. And not a single day has passed without thinking about him.
Squalo was right. Neither time nor distance made a difference. But didn't Squalo also say people like him endured until whatever end?
Yamamoto wants to forget about Gokudera, and he will keep trying. Until whatever end.
"Let me just say I like this better than the phone," Tsuna says, leaning too close to the camera, so close Yamamoto can pretty much see up his nose. It's kind of gross.
"Giannini says this is nothing; once we get a satellite link-up going, we'll be able to do conferences with ten or more people," Yamamoto says, biting his lip to keep from laughing.
"Hmmm." Tsuna sits back again. "Do you think Hibari-san will consider that crowding?"
Yamamoto laughs. "Probably."
"Good work, Yamamoto," Tsuna says, grinning back. "So how have you been?"
Yamamoto keeps smiling. The video means he has to, or Tsuna will think something's wrong.
Nothing is wrong. Everything is wrong. He still hasn't stopped thinking about Gokudera, and these days he blames it on Namimori. This is, after all, where they met.
"Life is good," he says. "Being busy is good."
"I see," Tsuna mutters. "Well, I'll let you get back to your busy life. Same time next week?"
"You got it."
As he closes the window, he glimpses a flash of silver hair. The sound of the voice he wants to forget lashes against his heart. "Is that Yamamoto?"
Yamamoto sits frozen as the video conferencing program announces a new call from Sawada Tsunayoshi. Yamamoto picks it up, but the video screen is black.
"Hello? Yamamoto? Uh, is this thing even on? Where do I click for the video, Gokudera-kun?"
"It's okay, boss, please turn it off."
"You were obviously disappointed just now, that you didn't get to see Yamamoto."
"No, no, I was just thinking about the Castelli situation--"
The sound dies abruptly, and Yamamoto understands two things.
One, Tsuna did that on purpose. He knows how to work the video conferencing program better than Yamamoto ever will. He said what he said for Yamamoto's benefit.
Two. Gokudera's voice just now wasn't his usual self-possessed, measured tone. It was a voice from the past, when Gokudera would sometimes grab Yamamoto's shirt in anger, bring their faces close together, and then look down, push him back, stalk away without a fight. It was the voice of the boy Yamamoto fell for eight years ago.
And Yamamoto wishes he had been at that restaurant to see Gokudera's bewildered expression when Tsuna reminded him Yamamoto was gone. Wishes he could have seen Gokudera's disappointed face just now, when Yamamoto disappeared from the monitor. But if he hadn't left Italy, these things wouldn't have happened.
Yamamoto was taught that as long as he worked hard and did his best, he could achieve what he wanted. Then Gokudera Hayato sauntered into his life and taught him that some things were beyond his reach. And now it seems that maybe those things aren't as unattainable as Yamamoto thought. It's a big maybe, but Yamamoto's willing to take the chance. What's the point of having a heart if you never show it to the person who means so much?
A week later, he's hurrying away from the Vongola plane, across the tarmac and towards the black SUV parked away from the sun.
Gokudera lounges against the hood, an ever-present cigarette clenched between his teeth. He is unruffled and confident: the very image of a real Mafia man.
Yamamoto smiles. "You're alone? Where's Tsuna?"
Gokudera shrugs and flings the cigarette away. "The Tenth had a last-minute meeting with Vittorio Castelli. Not that a deserter like you would know anything about that."
Yamamoto is willing to bet the meeting wasn't as last-minute as Gokudera thinks. He doesn't believe Tsuna understands the true nature of Yamamoto's feelings toward Gokudera, but he's grateful nonetheless. This would be too embarrassing in front of Tsuna. This. Yamamoto takes a step closer, but stops, hesitating.
Gokudera scowls. "Are you just going to stand there like an idiot? Get in the car."
Yamamoto drops his suitcase to the ground and throws his arms around Gokudera. In a moment, he'll be shoved away, and there will be curses and a forest of dynamite between them, but that doesn't matter right now. What matters is that he's wrinkling Gokudera's expensive suit, and his arms are heavy with relief and terror. Here, now, he can feel Gokudera's heartbeat, just as frenetic as his own. He wants more than this, much more, but he can wait.
"I'm so glad to see you," Yamamoto whispers.
It takes nine whole seconds for Gokudera to push him away, and even then he only snarls at Yamamoto to get in the car again.
Yamamoto obeys him this time, grinning like a boy.
He will wait, until whatever end.