An author's note: Uh, haha, wow, guys. I'm generally not one to leave author's notes, but this definitely calls for one. Since I wrote "Videotape" a few months ago, I've received numerous heartfelt comments both here on and on LiveJournal. I didn't expect this story to touch so many people in the way it has. I didn't expect so many people to cry over it, the same way I did when I wrote it. I just… want to say thanks to anyone who's read this story, anyone who reviewed it, anyone who didn't review it, anyone who shed tears and anyone who choked up. I want to thank all of the people that will read this story. So, thanks, guys. Thanks so much.
By the time they arrive, breaking down the bolted door and stepping into the dilapidated building, he is already dead, lithe body strewn across the warehouse floor. There is no movie-perfect ending, no touching last moment with tender last words and promises and goodbyes. He is dead, body gone cold, bright crimson blood splattered on the ground, flecks of it on his hands and hair and cheek, a contrast to his ghost-white features.
Yamamoto drops to his knees before the body. The room is quiet, except for Tsuna's muffled sobbing; it's just background noise to Yamamoto, nothing to consider, because before him, his entire world is shattered. He exhales slowly, sits there for seconds that melt into an eternity, staring. Runs a hand through his silver hair, touches his cheek.
"Hayato," he whispers, and his voice comes out breathless.
No one expected it. There was not even a shred of an idea that anything like this would have ever happened. They'd saved Tsuna after all, went to the past and left it up to their younger selves to set things right again, rewrite the course of history. They'd done it. Avoided the fall of time's most powerful Famiglia, and here before him…
It seems too surreal, it can't be true. He'll wake up, and everything will be okay again, right again, reverted back to normal, to the way things should be, have to be, must be, because this can't be true and he'll wake up and confirm this—.
But Gokudera doesn't move, doesn't stir. And Yamamoto doesn't move either. Silence is ringing through his ears, so thick he can almost hear it, a dull buzz, like a thousand nearly-muted voices speaking at once. The world starts to swim in front of his eyes, walls and floors and the body before him swirling. He's puzzled for a moment, can't figure out why, until he blinks and a tear drops onto Gokudera's face. It's like a plug has been pulled, the invisible dam that kept the tears back broken, and a flood begins. He can't stop it, his whole body shakes with the sobs, and he leans down to bury his face in Gokudera's bloodstained chest.
"Yamamoto—" gasps a voice in his ear. Yamamoto can feel Tsuna's smaller arms around his shoulders, and the touch is comforting for a second.
"We need to get out of here—"
And Yamamoto nods, knows he's right, because the building is unstable and it could collapse— a deafening creak from the ceiling insists this with a shudder, sending dust cascading from the beams onto the floor.
So they stand, the three of them together, two breathing and one silenced by death, two walking and one carried, two with tears flowing from their eyes, one with blood staining their chest. Yamamoto walks in what seems to be slow-motion, side-by-side with his boss-and-best-friend, cradling his broken world in his arms.
The days after Gokudera's death have no significance or beginning or end, they blend and seep together, seconds into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into daylights and nighttimes and sunrises and sunsets. Through all of them, twilights and daybreaks, it hurts because there isn't anyone to share them with. There's no more hand to hold, no lips to touch, no voice to hear. It's all been taken away from him, his warmth, his smile, his ability to feel. The world is cold but Yamamoto's colder, body numb to contact and mind numb to acceptance.
His routines are done by rote, without thinking, going through the actions and motions. He doesn't bother forcing a smile at every person that greets him; he doesn't even nod, just makes eye contact to show that he acknowledges the presence. There's no need for a mask or pretense, not anymore, because the earth, the ground, this building, its occupants— none of them deserve one.
It's a Friday evening exactly three weeks two days seven hours thirty minutes and twenty-eight seconds after Gokudera's murder when Yamamoto looks up from his desk in his office in his own personal hell and is greeted by Tsuna. His right hand is up in a small wave, and Yamamoto nods.
"Tsuna," he says, voice strained, like it hasn't been used in a long time.
"Yamamoto," Tsuna says in return, and that's how they talk to each other now: a recitation of the other's name before something that might be an attempt at conversation begins. "I have something," and he takes a few steps closer to the desk; Yamamoto sits up straight, interest caught. "I found it when— last night I was— I went into Gokudera's office," and he visibly winces as he says the name, just as Yamamoto feels his breath catch. "It's addressed to you. I didn't… watch it." Tsuna extends his hand, laying a rectangular package on the surface of the desk, giving Yamamoto a forced half-smile and squeeze of his shoulder before disappearing out of the office like an apparition that was never really there in the first place.
Yamamoto blinks at the spot where Tsuna stood a second ago, before casting his eyes downward at the parcel. The brown paper is torn at one end, and as he takes the other end in his hands and tilts it, the contents of the small package slide out. A video tape hits the desk with a thud, followed by the rustling of paper as a letter flutters out behind. With his hands shaking, Yamamoto picks up the thin piece of paper, examining it cautiously. The handwriting makes his stomach drop.
He wrote this, he wrote this, oh my god Hayato wrote this, this is his, this belonged to him, is all he can think, all he can feel, all he can breathe, all he can blink— the presence, his presence, Gokudera's presence. And for a second it feels like he never left.
But he did, he's gone, dead, buried in the ground, the end, and the thought drags Yamamoto back into the present. He lifts the paper closer so he can read in the dim light, mouthing the words in a barely-audible whisper,
"'Takeshi— this videotape is yours. It might offer an explanation for some things I've done in the past. Or maybe it won't. I felt you needed to have it.'"
The note is brief, concluding with 'yours always, Hayato,' scribbled in the man's messy scrawl of handwriting, and when he reaches the end, Yamamoto inhales slowly, holding his breath for a moment, listening to the clock tick as its hands continue their constant pilgrimage around the face of time before he exhales.
He stands, nearly knocking the chair backward as he does so, and lets his long legs take him on a journey fueled by impulse and longing— out of his office, out of the concrete nightmare that was the Vongola base, into the night air, feet hitting the wet pavement with steady rushed steps. The remnants of a rainstorm drip-drip off of the roofs of the buildings that line the alleys he hurries through, and Yamamoto hugs his package closer with his left hand, firmly gripping a gun, finger resting on the trigger, in his right. (Because these days, when you're a member of the world's-most-powerful Family, going anywhere unarmed is foolishly volunteering for your own slaughter, lining yourself up, back facing the firing squad.)
His eyes remain on the ground during the walk, which is fine because his ears are better than his vision now, anyway, and they would first be the ones to notice if an enemy decided to pursue him, and when he lifts his head it's because he's reached his destination: the comfortably small apartment he and Gokudera had shared during the time they weren't required to be at the base. (Which was a long time ago, many months that seemed like many decades ago, and therefore the rooms had been abandoned and unoccupied for just as long, tables and chairs and bookshelves accumulating layers of dust, food in the refrigerator spoiling, unread mail left on the table.)
Yamamoto replaces the gun in his hand with a key, jamming it into the keyhole and turning, pushing the door open, (causing it to screech loudly in protest, rusty hinges were reluctant to cooperate), stepping inside and slamming the door shut again, fumbling in the dark until all of the locks are locked. He shrugs off his suit jacket and tosses it onto the kitchen table, – had there been a light turned on, he would have seen a dust cloud rise as he did so – walking carefully into the living room, trying to remember where everything was placed, tripping only once before he's able to locate a table lamp. Yamamoto clicks the light on and squints as the room is illuminated, partly because it's too bright, and partly because he really doesn't want to look at the room; it brings back too many memories, and he isn't inclined to crying at the moment. That would distract him from his purpose, and the videotape, the videotape, he needs to watch that tape. So, remaining ignorant to the strands of the past that continue to flash through his mind, (as much as his ability will allow him, that is— and considering he has managed to simply forget details – trivial ones such as equations in high school math class, or mildly important ones, such as the fact that the 'game' that was being played involved mercilessly stealing the lives of others – all of his life, Yamamoto is doing a fantastic job-well-done, trying to halt his mind in reminiscing), he kneels down, opening the package again and pulling out what-might-be the explanation to the times of yore.
There's a soft click as Yamamoto slides the tape into the VCR (and thank god he still has the VCR, thank god he didn't throw it out a few months ago when he was cleaning out the useless paraphernalia that cluttered his overstuffed closet in his office at the Vongola base and instead decided to take it home and set it up there). He presses play with the tip of his finger and sits back, eyes on the TV screen as the gears and cogs and who-knows-what-else that make the outdated machine run begin
to turn. A flicker of black-and-white static, the hiss of white noise, and an image appears on the screen; a young boy, leaning forward to adjust the camera he's using to record the video.
Yamamoto sucks in a breath, feeling his throat tighten, as the on-screen Gokudera lifts a hand to brush his hair out of his eyes. He scowls toward the camera, clicking his tongue and reaching again to adjust it more.
"There," he says, satisfied, and Yamamoto feels his chest hurt.
He's fourteen all over again, Gokudera, young and full of troubles and a good heart. He's back, the spitfire that was missing for so long, sparks of energy in his eyes and a frown on his face. It's been ten years since Yamamoto's seen him looking like that, ten years since he gazed into those eyes and wrapped his arms around that slender body. Yamamoto had nearly forgotten the way Gokudera used to glower at everything in existence, saving his smiles for Tsuna and for Yamamoto, too, if he was in a good enough mood.
Gokudera sighs, sits back again, and Yamamoto's tugged from a whirlwind of memories.
"This is…" he starts to speak. Yamamoto feels something in his heart twang; that voice hasn't reached his ears in so long…
"Probably the stupidest thing I'm ever going to do." And he laughs slightly, at his own ridiculousness, maybe; but it doesn't last long, fades back into seriousness, as he goes to speak again. "…It's hard to voice, really. But… if anything ever happens to me— and something might, the Mafia's dangerous as hell, even if you don't realize it, baseball idiot—"
And Yamamoto lets out a strangled noise at the nickname, said with such rude fondness; god, it's been too long.
"I want you to know… Tch, this is stupid, I can't do this." Gokudera rolls his eyes and runs a hand through his hair, stands up, and clicks the camera off.
A second goes by, and the boy returns to the screen. Yamamoto can tell that time has passed because Gokudera's sobered up a little, it's visible in his eyes, and the scratches and wounds that litter his body inform him that it must be some time after the ring battles.
"I can't believe it," Gokudera whispers, head in his hands, tugging at his hair. He looks pained; Yamamoto figures it's because of his injuries—
"It could've been you. You could've— you could've died."
"Oh," Yamamoto says faintly, caught off guard, just a little, by how torn-up the part-Italian seems to be.
"You stupid idiot— I almost lost you!" the silver-haired boy screams, temper rising, and Yamamoto flinches, guilt trickling its way into the frown that ghosts across his face.
"You know what, fine; forget this shit, because if you cared at all you wouldn't have been so damn reckless." Gokudera picks up the camera to turn it off, and after a second reflection and a muttering of something that could have been "this is so stupid," he scoffs and sends the object flying, hurtling it toward the nearest wall, where it crashes and drops to the floor with a thud. For the next ten-or-fifteen minutes, Yamamoto stares at the footage of Gokudera's hardwood floorboards, occasionally seeing the boy's footsteps as he walks by, hearing him talk to himself in Italian and, once or twice, humming a song that Yamamoto has never heard before. (It's beautiful, Yamamoto thinks, and he wonders if Gokudera had ever played it on the piano, or perhaps if his mother had played it for him, once-upon-a-long-time-ago, many years before, when things were still carefree.)
The camera clicks off, most likely from a loss of battery power, and there's a flash of black-and-white before another image appears: Gokudera, perhaps almost fifteen-years-old, this time, (Yamamoto can tell because of the boy's hair— it's longer, and sticks up less in the back), and, in a great contrast to the mood of the last recording, he's smiling. Slightly, faintly, but it's still a smile.
"Yamamoto," he says quietly, looking into the lens before directing his gaze to something in the distance, "Did I ever tell you how much I love your smile?"
At which point Yamamoto claps a hand to his mouth to smother the loud gasping cry that tried to escape his throat; he never expected that, so suddenly, and good lord, he forgot what it felt like to see Gokudera happy, for once, and to be the cause of his happiness.
"Because I do love it," Gokudera insists, and lets out a laugh, "And it's funny, because it used to make me want to punch you in the face."
The scene ends abruptly, picture flickering before it gives way to static, and Yamamoto's on his feet, ready to rewind because he needs to hear that voice and see that face and pretend that it's ten years ago, both of them back at Namimori, stealing kisses between classes in secluded parts of the school—
Before there's a crackle of static and noise, white and black, and Gokudera's standing there again. He's older, but not by much, about sixteen, a little taller, hair that's a bit longer tied back in a loose ponytail. He looks ready this time, like he's sure of what he's about to say, and stares into the camera.
"Yamamoto," he says softly, eyes flicking downward and then back up. "I… think… I love you." He looks a little puzzled, eyebrows drawn together in thought, like he's just realizing that what they had wasn't just a fling or mutual attraction. He opens his mouth to speak again but goes silent, sighing. His eyes, bright green, bore into Yamamoto, as if they're looking through him, at the walls behind him, past them, into the adjacent apartment.
"I want to," he says, crease in his forehead deepening, realizing the full impact of the words he's about to speak, "Be with you forever, I think. I want to protect you. I want to hold you. I want to kiss you. Forever." He smiles, very faintly, and despite the gravity of the words he's just spoken, it seems like a weight has been lifted from his chest.
Gokudera's smile creates a domino effect, a positive one, and Yamamoto feels his lips curl upward into a smile of his own as the image fades.
The next few scenes are enough to startle Yamamoto into causing his grin to drop off of his face; they're candid-camera moments, ones Gokudera must've secretly recorded, of the two of them together. They're smiling and holding each other, reading textbooks and magazines, kissing foreheads, hands-in-hands, lips-against-lips, laughs and voices mingling in a somehow-pleasant cacophony of sound. Yamamoto feels a rush of nostalgia, a wistful yearning for those blithe days, that time of peace, where every rotation of the Earth, every day, every night, was spent in contentment.
"I wanted you to see those," Gokudera says in the next scene, and he's sitting alone on his bed. Yamamoto can hear rain slapping the roof; can see it streaking the window in the backdrop. "So you can look back at them. When things aren't so great. I want you to remember, Yamamoto. That at one time, we were happy."
A few minutes go by before Gokudera's face appears on the screen again, and this time many years have passed; he's no longer a boy, a man now, about twenty-one, Yamamoto would estimate, because his expression is hardened and his ears are pierced.
"All this time," he says mildly, voice made rougher with age and experience, and there's a click-clicking noise in the background; Yamamoto realizes that it must be a lighter that he'd been playing with when Gokudera lifts a lit cigarette to his lips, "I didn't have a reason to record anything. We've been honest about everything with each other for a long time. As honest as possible, and that's how things work. But you know?" he asks, and his almost-detached tone send shivers down Yamamoto's spine, "I don't think I've ever thanked you." He exhales smoke, flicks the ash onto the ground, "And right now? I don't think you deserve it."
At those words, a wince crosses Yamamoto's features, and he recalls that this must be around the time of the argument they had gotten into a few years back. It was stupid; so stupid, in fact, that Yamamoto forgot what sparked it in the first place, but it was almost nearly enough of an issue to end their relationship, and it was only due to the miracle-workings of Tsuna and, (perhaps surprisingly), Bianchi, that the two of them as a couple had been saved.
"But do you know what's more important than that?" Gokudera asks, jerking Yamamoto from his thoughts, "I don't think I've ever apologized for anything. Any of the things I've put you through. So I'm sorry, Takeshi. I'm so sorry." He puts out his cigarette by smashing it onto the tabletop, stands, and reaches to turn the camera off.
Seconds pass, minutes pass, and Yamamoto finds himself staring at a sea of monochrome, listening to the shriek of noise, waiting, waiting, waiting, for his love to reappear. Nearly an hour passes, and Yamamoto staggers to his feet (they've fallen asleep due to kneeling for so long) to turn the VCR off. His finger brushes the power button just as color bursts its way back onto the monitor. He sits down again, face-to-face with Gokudera. The man's twenty-four now, and the calendar on the wall in the background informs Yamamoto that this was filmed the day before Gokudera was murdered.
"Look at me, Takeshi. Look at me. I'm not going anywhere. I'm sitting right here. Look at me."
And Yamamoto looks, stares, lets his eyes drink Gokudera in, because they're thirsty, they miss him, just as much as every other part of him does.
"You don't think it could happen, but I might die tomorrow. Look at me, Takeshi, in case you'll never get to look at me again. I'm right here."
"Hayato," Yamamoto chokes out, and he's on his knees. The static shocks his skin as his hands touch the screen, running his fingers over Gokudera's face, tracing, memorizing, remembering. He aches to feel that skin again, that warmth, and all he has left is the cold picture technology can provide; it can't respond to him, whisper comforts, wrap its arms around him; and by now, Yamamoto can't help it if the tears start to spill out of his eyes, down his cheeks, onto the carpeted floor. It's not the same; nothing will ever be the same, but Gokudera can't understand that, because what's on the videotape isn't Gokudera, and the real Gokudera is moldering in the ground— it hurts, pierces Yamamoto's chest like the stab of a sword, and by now he can't stop the gasping sobs that wrack his body.
Seconds go by, melting into minutes, and when an hour has completed, the tape shuts off, reaching the end of its film. The screen goes black, but Yamamoto takes no notice, his face buried in his arms, lying on his side, having cried himself to sleep on the floor. Grief is exhausting, physically and mentally, and if Yamamoto sleeps long enough, heavily enough, he can still feel Gokudera's arms around his shoulders, like they used to be, not too long ago.