Title: Emotional Intelligence in People Other Than Your Boyfriend
Pairing: Yamamoto/Gokudera (8059)
Disclaimer: I do not own the copyrights to these characters.
Summary: The kids are still alright.
Notes: This is meant to be a companion/direct sequel for The Keeper, but it's seriously brainless fluff so you'll still probably understand everything even if you haven't read the other story. Dedicated to a certain uncanadian (what a name!) who reduced me to wibbles without even trying. I'll update the other fic soon, promise!
Emotional Intelligence in People Other Than Your Boyfriend
The kids are still alright.
Last spring, after witnessing the Nippon Ham Fighters lose their worst and most humiliatingly ill-played game on home turf in recent history, both Yamamoto and his father became understandably depressed, and spent about three hours sacked out side by side on the couch, where they discussed a) how much they hated the Pacific League and b) the difficulty of reconciling faith in a benevolent God and the existence of a team as vile and openly corporate as the Seibu Lions.
The television was still spooling out NHK, the volume down, and at one point, Yamamoto remembered sitting up and rubbing dim sparks out of his eyes. He yawned, still wondering whether half the Japanese press corps still parked out in front of the Sapporo Dome for the postgame news conference would have the decency to mob and strangle the Seibu manager for the good of the world, and was about to turn over to bid his dad good night. That was when he noticed that his father was staring at him intently.
"Takeshi," his father said, sipping Kirin lager out of the bottle. "We haven't had a proper talk in awhile, have we?"
He seemed to be in a mood. Yamamoto stared back for a moment, and then reached over to sneak one of the beer bottles, only to have his hand slapped down.
"Uh," he said, rubbing the back of his palm. "A talk? Nope, I guess not."
There were only so many ways this could go, and none of them remotely promising. Obviously, they couldn't talk about baseball. Not his personal life, because they were chill guys and didn't do that sort of things. His dad might ask about his progress with the Shigure Souen, but that would possibly mean getting into the reason behind his asking to learn it in first place—or why that rude, long-haired foreigner kept coming around to loudly insult his sword skills and entire lineage, scaring away the customers.
If he heard one mention of "the bird and the bee", Yamamoto was getting the hell out there as fast as his two feet could carry him.
"This won't take long," his dad said, and palmed the neck of his bottle thoughtfully. "You're in high school now, and I've rarely ever given you any advice. I'm going to give you three, and I want you to always remember them, even if you manage to forget everything else."
"Um," said Yamamoto, because what?
"One, never eat sushi off a conveyor belt," his dad said solemnly. He nudged one of the empties with his foot, and went on before the smile had properly crawled onto Yamamoto's lips, "Two, always stand your ground. And three," he paused to take a drink, "don't settle for damaged goods."
"Dad, I don't understand what you mean," Yamamoto admitted.
"I didn't ask you to understand," his dad said. His face was unreadable, ghostly from the light of the TV screen. "I asked you to remember. Will you remember?"
"I guess so."
"Good." With that, he got up and half-walked, half-staggered from the room, switching the television off along the way. Yamamoto stared after his father's retreating back until it disappeared up the dark stairs.
"Must have been some mood," Yamamoto muttered to himself, scratching his head. "He even forgot about the beer."
When he opens his eyes in the morning, it's to a window drowned with rain, like the Mediterranean has in the night decided to upend itself over the city. Milan looks like she's caught in one of those sudden downpours, grey mist materializing from mysterious cracks in the concrete, and it's hard to believe they were able to sleep through the noise. He crawls out of bed silently, careful to disentangle himself without causing a commotion—it takes some maneuvering, but at this point Yamamoto's pretty used to being treated as a pillow—and dresses in a similarly furtive fashion.
Five minutes later, he's in the hotel lobby miming at the poor confused concierges in an increasingly doomed attempt to convey the request for breakfast to be sent up to his room. Any minute now, someone's going to get into a blood pressure incident, and Yamamoto privately hopes they've at least grasped that he's talking about food and won't send up a tray of artistically arrayed stomach medication.
Someone taps him lightly on the shoulder. He spins around.
"Haru! Good morning!"
"Yamamoto," Haru greets. Her face's chopped up in a particularly shit-eating expression. Beside her, Kyoko looks much more reassuringly normal with her sweet, slightly vacant smile. They're both wearing exercise clothes and headphones, clearly on their way to the gym.
"You look really tired," Haru goes on, narrowing her bright eyes. "What did you get up to yesterday? We didn't see you all day—or Gokudera-san, for that matter."
Yamamoto laughs—unnaturally loud. "Oh yeah, that. We went out, got in pretty late." He pauses, scratches his chin. "Hey, come to think of it, I did see you guys hanging outside some clothing store." Armani, which he doesn't say, hah. "Did you buy anything cool?"
"But what did you do after--" Haru begins heatedly, but is cut off by Kyoko strategically grabbing her shoulders and steering her to the left, saying, "No, there wasn't anything in our size, but it was nice talking to you, Yamamoto-kun—we'd better go, we don't want… all the treadmills to be taken."
For a naturally unassuming girl, she makes smooth-talking look surprisingly easy, and Yamamoto's still marveling at that as the two girls flit away from him, chattering feverishly on what he seriously hopes is not the very topic he just so narrowly avoided. With assistance.
Yamamoto has this weird feeling that this whole thing can only end in tragedy, but he's good at bowling over feelings like those so it's not like they've ever stopped him before. He turns back to the reception desk for what will hopefully be a victorious and mercifully brief second round with the concierges, and it takes a few minutes before he realizes that the harassed-looking staffer waving the telephone receiver at him is actually trying to get him to take a call, and not reenacting some kind of desperate self-defense move or anything.
"How are you enjoying Milan?" Reborn's voice streams in crisply through the earpiece with no preamble.
"Hey," Yamamoto greets, leaning against the reception desk and kicking back his leg. "It's been great! How'd you know I'd be down here?"
He doesn't expect an answer, and typically, doesn't get one. Actually, he gets calls like these from Reborn all the time. He's even a speed dial on Yamamoto's cell phone back home—listed under Baby-tan's Hot Hot Ramen, if only because a certain someone who habitually goes through his calling list would most certainly commit hara-kiri if he ever learned that Yamamoto had been given Reborn's personal number, and he had not.
"Is Tsuna around?" Yamamoto asks, and there's a flutter of static on the line before his friend comes on abruptly, with neither pomp nor warning, "Yamamoto!"
He sounds harried and out of breath—but Tsuna always sounds like that, so it's probably nothing.
"How are the special instructions going?" he asks, and stifles a laugh when Tsuna groans. His subsequent silence on the other end speaks volumes—especially since it's filled with background noises like clanging metal and the enraged roars of lions. "So you guys are, like, watching a circus show or something?"
"Oh my God," Tsuna says distractedly, as a high-pitched whirring suddenly starts up on the line and forces Yamamoto to hold the receiver away from his ear, wincing. When it's over, Tsuna is saying, "I think I have to go," and the hopelessness in his voice is so apparent even the air molecules around Yamamoto's head start to feel despondent.
More static, and then Reborn is back on the line. "Have you given any thought to what we discussed back in Japan?" he asks, making like he always does—like they're just picking up from where they last left off and the other person should really make an effort to keep up, capiche?
"Hmm, what discussion was this again?"
"At lunch. With Brian."
My friend Brian, was what Reborn had said. Come have lunch with my friend Brian, he's a baseball fan himself. It wasn't until after the meal and the man in the Yankee sports jacket had reached across the table with his business card—and an invitation to the VIP box for the Red Sox-Athletics series in Tokyo – that Yamamoto discovered that Reborn's friend Brian was actually Brian Cashman.
The conversation on the way back was interesting to say the least.
"Think about what it'll do for your exchange rate," Reborn said, from his usual perch on Yamamoto's shoulder, and did not at all react to the way Yamamoto nearly walked into a speeding bus.
"What was that?" he asked casually, as the angry driver and all of his equally enraged passengers rushed past in a colorful cloud of invectives. "What do you mean, 'exchange rate'?"
But in his head, he was thinking about his teammates back at school, with their Little League-grilled exercise regimes, their pointlessly ever-going Pacific vs. Central debate, their dog-eared Dice-K and Ichiro collectible cards—pipe dreams about going pro and reaching free agency eligibility, or even bypassing pro ball altogether and going to America to play for the majors. For the love of the game.
Then came the season before last, when Namimori High made it to Koshien for the first time ever since the school's founding, and suddenly the dreams didn't seem like such a reach any more. All of a sudden, there were all these people invading the peripheries of Yamamoto's life, monitoring his batting average (.318) and ERA (1.98) and timing his quick strokes, calling him the next Yu Darvish, Hideki Mk II, etc. Even his senpai were frequently found clutching his shoulders and tearfully telling Yamamoto how he held the collective hopes and dreams of the entire team in the hollow of his baseball glove.
But he'd always understood what it was really about: feverish ambitions and crushing disappointments and washed-up dreams, all distilled into pure determination. Banzai for the Emperor. Banzai baseball. For the love of the game.
Or, as Reborn so patiently put it, "In a few years, after Tsuna reaches majority, it will be within the family's best interest to expand our influence on a global scale. The East Coast of the United States is more than just Red Sox Nation. Do you actually think it's unusual for sports stars to receive off-the-record representation?"
Right then, Yamamoto just remembered really wanting to cover his face with his hand—or hit something. "That's thinking a little too far ahead, isn't it?" he asked, digging the words out his throat in a rare bid for clarity, because this wasn't something he could get away with by just smiling through, was it?
And this is what Reborn said, "Is it?"
So the thing is that he didn't—and still doesn't—know whether or not it's all supposed to be some kind of test, and that feels unfair somehow. Like starting out with an unwarranted handicap. Like being punished for something he doesn't understand.
He's been silent for a good few minutes. Out on the streets, rain continues to patter and weave about, vehicles and pedestrians merging together into funny blurry shapes, grey-scaled.
So he says, "He's not going to forgive me for it," as if that's even approaching the issue at hand.
"Just remember that this is family, Yamamoto," Reborn says, that voice like the sound of a bird landing, unbearably remote. "We take care of our own."
There's a click on the line, then a long beep.
The hotel room is filled with the smell of smoke when he tiptoes back in—and sure enough, Gokudera is propped up against the headboard and tapping ash into what looks suspiciously like a tourist shot glass. His fingers are splayed out over the keyboard of his laptop, typing rapidly. Gokudera's laptop is black, skinned and stylized with his usual Emo Gothic Meets Punk motif, which makes the soft elegant music streaming from its speaker—classical, definitely classical—seem slightly incongruous.
Which is, really, Gokudera Hayato in so many words.
"Hey," Yamamoto greets, his voice weirdly breathless despite the fact that he took the elevator. "Went down to get us some breakfast. What're you up to?"
In reply, Gokudera makes a kind of indistinct grunt—pre-coffee, Yamamoto decides—and runs his hand distractedly through his mussed hair. His glasses are slipping a little off the bridge of his nose in that amusing, obscenely debauched way that always makes Yamamoto's jeans go a little tight.
"I guess I'm still a little jet-lagged," he says to cover the pause, and takes a few steps toward the bed—bad move, Gokudera's attractiveness increases exponentially with reduced distance. "Hope it doesn't last through the entire trip or that'll be no fun at all."
Gokudera snorts, and snaps his laptop shut, cutting off the music abruptly. He gets up and kind of ambles vaguely toward the en-suite bathroom, pulling up the overlarge collar of his shirt which keeps gliding off one bony shoulder, at which point Yamamoto's train of thought derails completely.
Through the wreckage, he hears himself muttering something—a fish noise.
"What?" Gokudera asks, turning to frown at him, which Yamamoto doesn't even register in light of the way the shiny white material glints familiarly in the muted daylight, how the length drapes liberally over Gokudera's frame and just about skirts the top of his knees—how his own name appears to be emblazoned across the back, perched atop a jaunty number 1.
He clears his throat. Says, "I thought I'd left that somewhere."
"Oh," Gokudera says tersely. "Yeah. I figured you just forgot about it."
He doesn't add "due to your lack of brain capacity", which is how Yamamoto knows he's deeply, deeply flustered. This is corroborated by the fact that Gokudera appears to be turning six shades of red—but, you know, still in an inhumanly attractive way. "Must've stuffed it in my luggage by mistake," he continues, refusing to making any eye contact.
Yamamoto doesn't say, Why'd you hold on to that if you weren't planning on forgiving me, it's like fraternizing with the enemy. He doesn't say, Does this mean I can finally drag you out to one of my games when we go back home?
And, Would you be okay if I called it home?
He says, "Are you sure it wasn't because you wanted to burn it in some kind of voodoo ritual you read about on Google?"
Gokudera scowls—caught, Yamamoto thinks, totally, totally caught. His hand flies up to his chest, tugging self-consciously at the Namimori High logo. "If you have a problem, I'll give it back."
"No," Yamamoto says quickly. Baseball: 1. Hayato: 0. "Don't. Keep it. It's." He bites his lips, struggling with a grin. "It's very."
"It's what?" Gokudera snarls, eyes lighting up. "Spit it out."
Well. Yamamoto's memory flashes back to his first day on the team, when he and all the other freshmen received their personal kits—how his teammates all got ridiculously excited over the prospect of having their girlfriends or hopeless crushes wear the spare jerseys to their games. Yamamoto didn't have a girlfriend at the time, and doesn't seem to be heading in that direction now, but that doesn't mean he's never thought about what it'd be like to have a pair of eyes watching out especially for him when he's out in that diamond, walking up to take the mound or back to the dugout after an inning. His dad--kind of doesn't count. (Sorry, Dad.)
"Well," he begins, inventing rapidly, "It's like this. I don't know if you watch American movies, but there're a whole bunch of them where the sports players would have their cheerleader girlfriends wear their team jackets—and I was just thinking that now I kind of know how they feel--"
The jersey hits him in the face.
"Stop talking," Gokudera tells him, eyebrows stormy. "Your stupidity poisons the air, killing off birds and insect life, and most importantly: inconveniences me."
Game, set, match. Yamamoto's lips curve up in a challenge, even as he leaps forward and wraps the shirt around Gokudera's sleep-addled head like a rucksack, dragging him down onto the abandoned bed. He very narrowly avoids an unfortunate family-jewel-related incident, but finally manages to pin all the dangerously flailing limbs in place with his body.
"Gerroffme," Gokudera says, and tries to dislodge himself. Yamamoto chuckles, and strengthens his grip.
He's not to blame. Gokudera should know better than to remove his clothing so indiscriminately. A better man than Yamamoto would want to knock him over the head and drag him back to the cave, too. In fact, Yamamoto never even thought these things until he met Gokudera, so it's clearly not his fault.
Gokudera snarls, and sputters an incoherent litany, which guarantees to be suitably disparaging and is most likely a painfully detailed list of all the intimate maneuvers Yamamoto's mother has performed with a syphilitic marmoset in various Turkish brothels. Italian is such a beautiful and complex language.
"Hey, Hayato," Yamamoto says, and—pausing just one second to take in the tiny flicker that could be interpreted as pleasant surprise in Gokudera's belligerent eyes—shuts him up with his mouth, a long, sweet, endlessly rolling silence.
He liked the makeup sex and all, but this, right here. Nothing holds a Roman candle to this. With the way his life seems to have sped up and blurred out into an indistinct smear of motions these past few years, what he's missed has always been the surprise: suddenly feeling something with edges.
Then the door to their suite clicks open, and a very flustered-looking hotel staffer appears in the doorway. Slowly, the Do Not Disturb sign flutters to the floor, landing at the man's feet uselessly.
"Oh look, it's our breakfast," Yamamoto says helpfully. Gokudera ribs him.
The staffer draws a long, sobering breath, and gamely soldiers forth, and then it's their eyes' turn to nearly pop out of their skulls, because following the first staffer are two others and they're all struggling to push forward a room service cart laden with what appears to be all the pastry this side of the Equator.
The hotel people quickly scuttle off, leaving the two of them to boggle at the minor mountain of food, glaze sugar gleaming alluringly in the mild light.
"This is all going on the Vongola's tab, right?" Gokudera asks, sounding vaguely horrified.
"Totally, totally going on the Vongola's tab," Yamamoto insists with resigned enthusiasm. He shrugs, and pops one of the fruit tarts into his mouth, chewing loudly.
"Whatever," Gokudera mutters. "I'm taking a shower first. Don't eat all the blueberry ones or I'll kill you."
Yamamoto stops chewing. "Do you want to do any more sightseeing today?" he bursts out, and even almost manages to keep the frown off his face.
It's not that he's worried Gokudera will leave him, because, well, been there done that. It's just that, despite appearances, Gokudera has a tendency to take shocks badly, and then react in badly shocking ways. He's like a skittish stray you have to reel in slowly, ignoring the snarls and avoiding, if possible, the bites. Yamamoto's not afraid of dealing with himself, but maybe—it's possible he's afraid for Gokudera.
Slowly, Gokudera turns and stares at him balefully. Then, he slants his eyes to the window; as if to emphasize his point, the sky resounds with a clap of thunder, rain slapping the glass pane profusely.
But Yamamoto holds his gaze, and eventually, Hayato's face softens—or as much as it is capable of doing that. "We'll just stay in," he says, slouching past. But that doesn't mean we'll talk about it.
Yamamoto blinks, and for no reason at all, his father's face slides into his mind, lit blue with the glow of the television. Never eat sushi off a conveyor belt. Always stand your ground. Don't settle for damaged goods. He's never forgotten, never once, but at the rate he's going, he'd be lucky to get even one out of three.
Yamamoto's not a betting man, but even he knows these odds don't look good.
The sound of running water starts up from inside the bathroom, and he becomes aware suddenly that he's still clutching his old jersey, fingers knotted in the worn fabric. It smells like smoke now, smoke and Milanese recycled air—things he won't think of to miss until it's too late.
Then again, settling shouldn't feel so much like falling, like crashing headlong without a safety net, should it?
"I'm not one to talk about emotional intelligence, anyway," Yamamoto announces to the empty room, and swipes another blueberry tart. He flops down onto the crumpled bed, getting crumbs all over the pillows, and starts flipping through the hotel Pay-Per-View options to see if they might by some freak chance have one of those movies where the cheerleader wears the football player's jacket.
If not, there's always that Kevin Costner box set he's got stashed away in his suitcase. Gokudera's getting frighteningly good these days at glazing over in exactly the most adorable and infuriatingly distracting way during Field of Dreams.