Disclaimer: I do not own Katekyo Hitman Reborn; it is the property of Amano Akira, Shounen Jump, Viz, and whoever else. This was written purely out of fangirling and no profit is being made from this fic.
Author's Notes: This was written for the KHR Mini-bang Challenge 2008 at the Reborn Livejournal community, and it's actually probably better to read it there—on LJ—than here, because the Livejournal version includes all of the gorgeous artwork that googuru girl created to accompany it. So if you'd prefer to check it out there, the link is in my profile.
Because Haru was a romantic girl, she would have liked to say it was love at first sight, but the truth was, all her first impressions of Gokudera were pretty wretched. He was a thug who smoked and used bad language and bullied small children, and on top of that he was rude, too. The only redeeming quality was that they both liked Tsuna-san—loved him, in their different ways—which made Haru try a little harder to put up with him even when he seemed intolerable. But even so, most of the time she didn't know why she bothered. He was selfish, stupid, intolerant, callous, cold, and cruel.
What happened the first time it started to change was that Haru had been involved in a big stage production downtown, and she had invited everyone to come down and watch her. Afterward, she had stayed late to help clean up, so that by the time she got started on her way home, it was already dark out and most of the people had left. It was a little eerie, and she couldn't help thinking wild daydreamy thoughts about midnight chases and rescues, which might have been why she didn't see the group of thugs until they were almost right in front of her.
"Hey, girl, give us your purse and we won't have any trouble."
"H-hahi??" She gulped and took a step back, only to thump against the chest of someone behind her. Before she could react, the figure was lifting her arm and wresting her purse from its grip, before shoving her forward again.
"There we go. Let's get moving."
"What's the hurry?" said one of the two in front. "Let's have some fun first."
Haru paled, and was just getting ready to make a break for it, when suddenly a fist came flying out of nowhere and struck the man dead in the jaw. He went down with a solid thud on the pavement, and a second later his friend had joined him. The third, who still had her purse, was reaching for something in his jacket when suddenly there was a bright flash of smoke and light, accompanied by a loud booming noise.
"Che," said a voice, and a figure stepped forward to pry Haru's bag out of the man's now-slack grip. "Serves you right."
And as he turned and tossed the purse back to her before reaching into his pocket for what turned out to be a lighter and a fresh cigarette, Miura Haru saw to her utter shock that the perpetrator of this timely act of chivalry was in fact the least likely person she would have ever thought possible—that very same selfish, stupid, intolerant, callous, cold and cruel Gokudera Hayato.
He was glancing at her through the smoke from his cigarette. "You okay?" he asked after a pause.
"I… yes," she replied, still a little stunned.
He looked her up and down, as if to confirm her statement, then frowned.
"Be more careful next time."
She just nodded, clutching her bag as he turned and walked away.
Afterward, she would mostly forget about the incident, because in all likelihood it was a fluke. Besides, Tsuna-san was her knight in shining armor; he was the one she was going to marry, her one true love.
Still, that night, the night that someone else was there to rescue her… she didn't quite forget it all.
The second time it happened was when one night, almost a year later, she got a call that Tsuna was in the hospital.
She had hurried there as fast as she could, and when she arrived in a frenzy, Yamamoto-san and Kyoko-chan's brother were there to calm her down and tell her that Tsuna was okay—he was just resting, and they weren't supposed to disturb him right now. She felt a little better, but she didn't think she'd be able to relax fully until she was allowed to see him, so she settled in with them in the otherwise-empty waiting room. It was after a few moments that she noticed the way Yamamoto kept glancing toward the entrance, and she couldn't quite be sure (because with Yamamoto it was always hard to tell, and it happened so rarely), but she thought he looked a little worried.
"Hahi… are you—?" she began, but before she could finish asking, there was a buzzing noise, and Yamamoto blinked, pulling out his cell phone. He glanced at the screen for a moment, and then a look of relief came over his face. She watched as he keyed a reply to the mysterious text, then waited. A minute later, the phone buzzed again.
"What is it?" she asked.
He read it, then finally looked up at her again, and if his smile was maybe slightly preoccupied, it was still reassuring. "Heh… Gokudera's on his way."
About ten minutes later, the door finally opened and Gokudera stumbled in. Yamamoto jumped to his feet and ran over; Gokudera, his clothes singed and torn and his face nearly covered in blood that leaked sluggishly from a cut over his eye, seemed to take no notice.
"Where is he?" he asked breathlessly. He let go of the door frame, which he had been leaning on, and took a shaky step forward. Yamamoto reached out to steady him.
"Where is he?!" Gokudera repeated, shrugging off the other boy's grip.
"Relax!" This time Yamamoto's hand was more firm, willing Gokudera to take notice. "He's fine, he's fine. He's asleep right now. They said we can't go in yet, though."
For a moment, Haru thought Gokudera was going to keep arguing, but then he took a deep breath, and finally seemed to relax just a little.
"…And everyone else?"
"All fine!" Yamamoto grinned and patted his shoulder. "It's you we were worried about!"
"Che." Gokudera looked away. "I'm all right."
Yamamoto's smile turned gentler, and when he spoke again there was a warm, almost admiring quality to his tone. "Heh… we all got away thanks to you."
Haru blinked. Was that what had happened? Gokudera had stayed behind to make sure the others escaped safely?
For his part, Gokudera seemed to turn red, even under all of the blood. He shot Yamamoto a glare. "I only did that to save the boss, moron."
Yamamoto just laughed, to Gokudera's apparent ire. "I know, I know! Come on, let's get you patched up."
As he—ignoring Gokudera's loud protests—slung the Italian boy's arm around his shoulders and began to guide him away, Haru watched, somewhat lost in thought.
Had he really stayed behind and put himself at risk in order to save Tsuna and the others? Haru knew how loyal he was to Tsuna-san and that he was one of his important bodyguards. But somehow, it had never before entered her mind that he was the type of person who would do such a brave thing. It contrasted sharply with the mean and selfish image of Gokudera-san that she'd always had before.
She took another, closer look at his injuries. The burns on the back of his arms; the bruises already forming on his face; the slight wince every time he put his weight on his left leg, and the way he seemed to be struggling to hide it.
He'd gotten hurt because he'd been protecting the others. Protecting Tsuna-san. It was a noble, sacrificing side to him that she'd never before seen.
She pushed it to the back of her mind, but this time she remembered it.
The third time it happened was during their final year of high school, because they were all stressed over college entrance exams.
They had been studying late one evening at Tsuna's house, and they'd come across a problem in the textbook that none of them could solve. Their first thought was to ask Haru's father or Reboyama-sensei for help again, but Reborn dismissed the idea, saying that they would never learn otherwise and Tsuna needed to stop relying on others to keep him afloat in his studies. So they worked furiously, but by the time they finally gave up and called it a night, they still hadn't figured it out.
The next morning, Haru went to the library, determined to try again so she could surprise Tsuna-san with the answer. When she couldn't find the book she wanted on the shelf, she headed toward the study section to use the computer, only to spot the very text she had been looking for out of the corner of her eye, laying on a table. She walked over and picked it up, and that was when she finally noticed the person already sitting there.
"—Hahi? Gokudera-san is here too?"
Gokudera looked up from the book he was studying and blinked at her from behind designer eyeglass frames.
"The hell are you doing here, woman?"
Of course—he would pick the rudest way possible to ask. But she was so surprised to find him there that she let it slide. "Haru was going to work on that problem we couldn't solve last night."
"Che." He glanced disdainfully at the textbook still in her hand. "I already solved it; look over there."
Even more surprised, she glanced back at the table. His math notebook was open, and sure enough, there scrawled in surprisingly neat handwriting was the solution to the problem they'd racked their brains trying to solve the night before. Impressed, she looked back up.
"See?" he said, looking—she thought—just a little pleased with himself.
She nodded. As she looked around at the various other books on the table, though, curiosity begged another question. "But if you already solved it, why are you still here?"
"Who cares? I was looking at some other stuff."
More curious now, she reached over and took the book he was reading out of his hands.
She managed a brief glimpse before he snatched it back, enough to leave her even more impressed. Some of the things he was reading about were things she'd never even seen before—and her father was a professor. Intrigued, she leaned over to take another peek. Predictably, this annoyed him even further.
"Quit reading over my damn shoulder, woman!"
She ignored him, reading on. "Hahi… does Gokudera-san really understand all of this?"
"Of course!" he replied, sounding offended. "Well, most of it, anyway." And then suddenly, without prompt, he launched into a technical speech explaining the theory, its applications, and its relation to other fields, as well as the various problems it faced due to certain limitations. As he continued, she found herself only half-listening, because the other half of her was fervently wondering just when Gokudera had become a genius and why she had never before noticed. She glanced more closely at the titles of some of the other books; unsurprisingly, nearly all were just as advanced as the one he was lecturing about.
"—that uniquely determine the co… hey!" he broke off, finally realizing that she wasn't paying attention.
Again, she only half-acknowledged his outburst, still preoccupied by the sudden notion that apparently, "delinquent" in his case didn't apply to academics. At this level he was probably top of his class; this was way beyond what they were studying to pass entrance exams. In fact, speaking of college… "But if Gokudera-san is so smart, how come you didn't apply to any top-level schools? Even Tokyo University!" It might not have been out of his league. Unless… did he maybe have a juvenile record…?
In response, though, he simply stared at her, looking genuinely puzzled.
"Why would I apply somewhere the boss didn't apply?"
Oh. Of course. For a moment, she felt very silly.
There was a pause.
At last he broke the silence, giving her a strange look. "…You're not an idiot either. Why didn't you?"
Startled that he had just paid her an indirect compliment, she hesitated a moment. Why hadn't she?
Well, it was obvious. "I guess… I want to stay with Tsuna-san, too!"
For a moment he seemed surprised; then he nodded, apparently satisfied. "Of course. It's only natural, after all."
"That's right!" she beamed, pleased that they could agree on this one thing, at least. "So let's do our best to support him, Gokudera-san!"
He looked at her blankly, then frowned, as if it had only just occurred to him that for a moment, they had actually gotten along. Nevertheless, after a few seconds he muttered what sounded like an agreement.
This time when she left, she didn't quite push it to the back of her mind.
The fourth time it happened, they were nineteen and there was a cat involved.
"Damn it, Uri!!"
Haru, having just arrived at the dorm, had been greeted by one of those scenes which stands out in clearly your head even years and years afterward. Gokudera was sitting alone at the kotatsu in the center of the room, surrounded by blueprints for the Vongola underground base that they were in the process of designing. "Surrounded" not just in the sense that the tabletop was covered from head to toe in technical drawings, but also in that the air itself was filled with scattered papers that slowly fluttered to the ground as Gokudera pried at the unruly ball of fur currently attempting to claw off his face.
Haru dropped the bag she had been carrying, but before she could run over to help, Gokudera had already managed to pry Uri off. He reached for the box that lay beside him, but before he could put the cat away, it swiped viciously at the hand holding it, leaving a deep red mark. Gokudera hissed in pain, and Uri took the opportunity to squirm free and zip past Haru and out the door.
"Ow! Stupid cat—Haru?"
He blinked at the doorway, apparently finally noticing her. Haru, meanwhile, finally took another look around and realized that aside from the two of them, the room was empty. "Hahi… I thought Tsuna-san was going to be here?"
"The boss left already; I told him I'd finish up." He nodded toward the large bag she had dropped beside her. "What's all that?"
"He left? Haru was going to bring him dinner!" Pouting, she looked forlornly at the bag; she had intended to surprise her future husband by cooking something special.
"You didn't say anything about that," Gokudera said blandly.
"It was going to be a surprise!"
"Che. Well, next time you should plan better."
He was right, but it still annoyed her a little. After a moment, Gokudera turned his attention back to his injured hand. As he gingerly inspected it, Haru couldn't help but wince. "You should clean that up!"
"I will! Damn cat…"
She sighed; why couldn't he be more understanding? "Maybe if you were nicer to him, you two would get along!"
"It's his fault!" he protested. "That thing's just got it in for me!"
"Uri-chan is too sweet and gentle for Haru to believe that!"
"He fucked up all the plans! Look at this mess…"
He indicated all around. It was, in fairness, quite a disaster. Rulers and pencils and graphs and charts were all scattered about; papers were crumpled and torn. She could see his dilemma.
"Will it be okay?"
"…Che. I've got copies of most of it. Some of the stuff that got ripped I'll have to do over again, but I think I can manage…"
He trailed off, and started to make a pile of the scattered plans, apparently forgetting about his injury, which began to drip blood on the papers.
"Gokudera-san!" Haru reached out and grabbed his hand. He froze, very suddenly.
"You should take care of yourself first!" Reaching down into her pocket with her free hand, she shuffled around before pulling out a handkerchief. She dabbed at the wound, cleaning it up, before wrapping the handkerchief around and tying it in a knot. He just sat there, watching, seemingly a little stunned.
He didn't thank her when she finished, but somehow, she didn't really mind.
For a few minutes, they just sat there. "I wonder where Uri-chan ran off to…" Haru said at last.
"…Don't worry about it. He'll be back when he gets hungry or bored."
Surprised that his tone wasn't angrier, Haru watched as he went back to sorting out the papers. It occurred to her that maybe she hadn't been fair to him earlier; he had been mad before, but he was certainly calm enough now. Maybe he had more patience than she gave him credit for.
She thought about it for a moment, then hesitantly spoke up again.
"Then… since Haru has some extra… would you maybe like some dinner?"
Since Tsuna-san wasn't there, and Gokudera would probably be stuck cleaning up for quite a while… well, it was the least she could do, wasn't it? And she had put all that effort into cooking; she might as well not let it go to waste.
Gokudera was looking at her as though she was suddenly alien to him, and she wondered what he was thinking. Finally, he muttered, "…Okay."
Smiling, she helped him clear a space on the table.
The fifth time it happened, she was a little drunk, and he was a little more drunk.
They'd both been of legal drinking age for more than a year (Haru for a year and a half), but Haru still rarely did it unless it was a special occasion. In this case, the occasion had been Tsuna's twenty-first birthday, and they were wrapping up an eventful day of traditional Vongola celebration (which meant a lot of excitement, and quite a few rambunctious guests who were interesting to say the least). They had reserved a fancy restaurant for dinner later on, and after that was where the drinks came in.
By this point, the party was not exactly winding down, but things were starting to settle a little as people began to relax and take it easy. Haru sat at a quiet table, watching Tsuna-san, who stood nearby talking with a group of people that included Dino-san, Colonnello-kun and Bianchi-san (who for some reason was wearing dark glasses even though they were indoors). Tsuna was wearing a pair of studded earrings (he'd gotten his ears pierced a year ago), and looked very handsome.
When Gokudera-san sat down across from her, it surprised her not only because it was sudden, but also because he was holding a half-empty glass of wine, and looking more cheerful than she had ever seen him. For a moment, it was all she could do not to burst out in giggles; he was happy and smiling and very clearly drunk out of his mind.
"Haru! Pretty decen' party, huh?"
She fought another giggle, and smiled back, nodding in agreement. He turned half-sideways to look at where she had been staring, and grinned. "Th' Tenth looks pretty happy, doesn't he?"
"Mm-hmm, he does."
"Yeah." He took on a reminiscent look for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. "It's a good day. It's good… having everyone together like this. S'a good fam'ly."
This time the laugh bubbled up from her throat before she could cut it off. "Gokudera-san, you're drunk!"
"Am not!" He looked indignant, then took another sip of his drink and almost spilled it. Haru laughed again, and after a moment he gave up and laughed as well.
"…Maybe a little," he acquiesced. "So are you," he added, apparently determined not to be the only accused.
"Only a little!"
"A little's still drunk."
"Hahiii… but it's a party!"
"That's what I said! So it doesn't matter."
Satisfied, they both fell silent, sipping a bit more wine (Haru hadn't quite emptied her glass either). In spite of herself, Haru found her eyes drawn to Tsuna-san again. He did look happy. She tried in vain not to read anything into it, but her thoughts once again drifted toward the question that had bothering her since the celebration began. Almost without thinking, she asked quietly, "Gokudera-san…?"
"Hmm?" He glanced up at her.
"Do you think… that is…"
He was getting impatient now. "Spit it out already."
"Hahi…" The words were on the tip of her tongue, but just when she was about to say it, she broke and lost her nerve.
Gokudera frowned at her.
"The fuck's the matter?"
Exasperated by his language, she glanced back to see if Tsuna or anyone else had heard. "There's no need to swear!"
"I'll swear if I want. Y'should know that by now."
"Still! It's rude, especially on Tsuna-san's important day!"
"Fuck. Whatever." Which only proved that he had completely missed the point, but it didn't matter, because she suddenly found that now that she was in a ranting mode, her earlier thoughts slipped out quite easily.
"It's just… sometimes I wonder if… if I'm really…"
He still looked annoyed, but if it had been anyone but Gokudera-san, she could have sworn he was also a little concerned. "Really what?"
"Well… part of the family."
There it was, and it was too late to help it now. Gokudera's frown deepened.
"What're you talking about? Of course you are."
"Well, it's just—sometimes Haru feels like she can't do anything to help out! And… also, lately…" She trailed off. Tsuna was now talking to Kyoko-chan, who was beaming at him and saying something that made him blush. He put a hand up to his ear, indicating the earrings. Those handsome, expensive Italian earrings… his birthday gift from Kyoko. He mouthed a question, and she smiled, nodding. He blushed again, but looked very happy.
They both looked happy.
"…Sometimes I just don't feel too sure," she finished quietly.
Gokudera had been watching her, and was silent for a moment. Then: "…Che. You're just being stupid."
She glanced back at him. "Gokudera-san…"
"You help out! You—you're always bringing food, and making sure he takes care of himself, and…" He stumbled for a moment, apparently unsure how to finish. "And… supporting him. All of us."
Haru looked at him wide-eyed for a minute, unsure and very suddenly battling a strange urge to cry.
It was the first time she'd ever heard him say anything nice about her.
He glanced away, looking uncomfortable.
"…So quit talking like you're not important already. Stupid woman."
"Hahi…" She blinked a few times, trying to clear away the sudden wetness in her eyes. "Thank you, Gokudera-san."
He finished his drink, then stood and headed back to the bar.
As she watched him leave, it was then that the realization hit her that he had become a friend.
The sixth time it happened, it was because Yamamoto almost died.
She had been extremely anxious because she'd received a short, to-the-point text from Gokudera:
ambushed. baseball moron's been hurt.
So naturally, she had headed immediately to the hospital, only to find that neither Yamamoto nor any of the others were there. Redialing Gokudera's cell only got her his voicemail, and it was the same with Tsuna's and (of course, but she had to try) Yamamoto's, which only worried her more. Kyoko-chan didn't know what was going on either, so it wasn't until she called Ryohei that she found out Yamamoto was actually being treated at the newly completed underground base. By the time she got there, it had been well over an hour since she'd received the message, and when she arrived at the medical section breathless and frustrated, holding a bundle of flowers that she'd bought when leaving the hospital, it was sometime in the early a.m. hours and she was in a very bad mood.
The lights in the corridor outside Yamamoto's room were dimmed, except for a single lamp sitting on a table beside a couch. Gokudera sat by the table, his suit jacket and tie crumpled on the floor by his feet, his appearance disheveled, and his eyes weary. He was absentmindedly holding the burnt stump of a cigarette, and there were dark patches on his front that she didn't want to think about. Somehow she knew it wasn't his blood.
He looked terrible, but she was still worried about Yamamoto, and so she was still angry at him.
"Why didn't you tell me you were here?!"
He gave a start, glancing over tiredly. "What are you talking about?"
"You didn't say that Yamamoto-san had been brought to the base! Haru went to the hospital and he wasn't there! Anything could have happened while I was trying to find you, all because you didn't say anything!"
For a second he looked taken aback by her fury; then he glared.
"—Fuck! How was I supposed to know? It's not my fault you were stupid enough to go there first!"
"You're the one who was stupid! Haru can't read minds, you know!"
"It's common sense! We just spent three fucking years building this place and making sure the med facilities were state-of-the-art! Why wouldn't we bring him here?"
"I don't know! I was too worried to think!"
"So it's your own damn fault!"
"You're the one who didn't tell me where to go!"
"Fuck, forget it! I'm not arguing about this."
He fell silent and she followed suit, as they both took a moment to collect themselves.
"Where is he?" Haru asked when she had finally calmed down.
"He's in there," Gokudera replied, nodding briefly toward the door on the opposite side of the hall. "Tenth's in there with him right now. He said—he asked if… I think we should leave them for a few minutes."
He didn't say anything else, so finally Haru just sat down beside him to wait.
Now that his temper had died down, it was clear just how worn out Gokudera was. He was tense all over, and kept staring off into space. Not even broodingly; just as though he couldn't quite get his head around what had just happened. Haru swallowed; it must have been serious.
"…How bad was it?"
There was a significant pause. Gokudera's voice was very quiet when he answered. "Pretty bad."
In spite of herself, Haru's eyes again fell to the bloodstains on his shirt.
"It was… stupid," he continued suddenly. "We let our guard down, and it almost…"
He trailed off, and the almost hung there conspicuously in a way that made a chill run down her spine.
"Are you hurt at all?" she asked.
He shook his head. "He took the brunt of it."
"The boss is fine. Just… worried."
He went quiet again, and it was clear to Haru that Tsuna wasn't the only one worrying. No, not just that… blaming himself.
"…It'll be okay."
"Shit," he said with sudden vehemence. "I just… damn it. That fucking moron."
His fist clenched on his pant leg. Haru couldn't think of anything else to say, so finally, she just put her hand on top of his.
He immediately tensed up, and looked over at her surprised. After a moment, however, his shoulders sagged and he leaned back against the seat. He didn't meet her eyes.
She took his hand more firmly, gripping it.
"It'll be fine," she said, willing him to believe it, because somehow she couldn't stand seeing him like this.
After a long, long silence, he finally nodded.
The seventh time it happened was when she finally let go.
It happened when she was sitting in a gazebo tucked away in the corner of a spacious garden. The garden was in Italy, on the grounds of the Vongola headquarters, where they had all flown out together to accompany Tsuna—who, since the Ninth was retiring, was to officially become the head of the Vongola family at last.
It was summer, and it was raining, and Haru, sitting alone in the gazebo in the rain in the Vongola garden in Italy, was crying over a broken heart.
Somehow, it didn't surprise her when Gokudera showed up. Maybe she was too distraught to care, or maybe somewhere in the back of her mind she had always known he was going to be there. Whatever it was, when he walked up to her, suit and hair slightly damp from the drizzle, she simply took the handkerchief he proffered and wiped her eyes, too emotionally drained to feel anything other than a slight belated embarrassment at the scene.
Finally, she finished sniffling and wiping at her cheeks, and held the handkerchief out to return to him.
"Keep it," he said. "Actually, it's yours anyway."
"Hahi?" What did he mean, hers?
"By the time I got the blood out, I forgot."
For a moment she stared at him blankly, and then it came back in a rush—the fleeing cat, the scattered papers, the injured hand, and the stunned look on Gokudera's face as she had bandaged it up. It was a fond memory—surprisingly so—and she smiled at him gratefully.
He just nodded, and sat down beside her, one arm leaning on the side of the gazebo bench as he stared out into the rain, looking a little lost in thought.
"What were you doing out here?" she asked. It occurred to her that Gokudera was not the type to go garden-viewing in the best of times, and this was not exactly ideal garden-viewing weather. Unless you enjoyed getting wet.
"Nothing important," he replied after an awkward pause.
For a moment she was going to ask again, curiosity getting the better of her; what could he have been doing that he'd stumble across her here?
That was when she realized that maybe he hadn't stumbled across her at all.
Maybe he had actually been looking for her.
"I heard about Tenth," he said suddenly, making her thoughts come to a halt. And against her will, her mind immediately played the image back all over again.
Tsuna-san, sitting with Kyoko-chan, talking. Him leaning in, and… kissing her.
She bit back the sudden urge to start crying again, and just nodded.
"You should be happy for him," Gokudera said quietly.
"Hahi… I am!" she insisted, and it was true, in a way. "Kyoko-chan too! It's…" She swallowed. "It's… just…"
She couldn't really finish, but he seemed to understand. "…Yeah."
She looked away, feeling her eyes getting wet again. There was a heavy silence.
"You really were in love with him," Gokudera said finally, and the way he said it wasn't a question or even really a statement, but more of a realization.
"I thought…" She paused, trying to think of how to explain it. But the truth was, she wasn't quite sure herself. "…I don't know what I thought," she said at last.
He waited, just listening, in a way that the Gokudera she'd first met ten years ago would never have. But so much had changed since then.
"Tsuna-san is… he's such a wonderful person. And when I met him, I thought… he and Haru would always be together. But… I never thought about his feelings."
Except, she reflected as she said it… she had. She thought back to all those times she'd seen him look at Kyoko-chan, the way his eyes lit up, the way he behaved so shyly around her. The way he looked at her when he thought no one was looking, just as Haru looked at him. Watched him… but saw only what she wanted to see.
"I think… somehow… I always knew he loved Kyoko-chan. I just didn't want to see it."
Yes, she had known. Enough so that it wasn't even a surprise when it finally happened, not really. And the knowledge that her feelings weren't returned… it wasn't that that had broken her heart. It was because…
"Because it would mean that there wasn't any place for me. I'm not… part of the family."
"That's not true."
She glanced up at him. He looked embarrassed, but nonetheless continued on.
"It's… fuck. He still loves you, just… not like that."
He seemed to be having an extraordinarily hard time getting the words out, but his tone was sincere, if uncomfortable.
"Even if he's decided… you're still important to him. To…"
His eyes met hers, strangely hesitant, and he faltered.
Finally, he simply repeated: "…You're important."
He held her gaze for a moment, then looked away, hand reaching up to the back of his neck.
And suddenly, with a blast of clarity, realization struck, and feelings that had long been bottled up and suppressed and forgotten about in all her confusion came bubbling up like a fountain. Because she had known that Tsuna was in love with Kyoko; she'd known for a long time. And for nearly as long, she had still loved him, loved him deeply… but she hadn't been in love with him.
She'd been afraid, overwhelmed by the fear of being left out of this group she'd come to love being with and belonging in. And so her response had been to just continue as always, pretending that it would be all right, that she'd be Tsuna-san's mafia wife and they'd live together happily ever after.
And all the while, Gokudera-san had been there, and all the while they'd been there for each other, arguing with each other, and supporting each other even as they supported Tsuna. It had taken years for her to reach a point with Gokudera where they could even be called friends, but it had happened, slowly and surely. He wasn't someone you fell in love with at first sight; he was someone you grew into. And he had grown on her.
And somehow, without her ever noticing, that had grown into something more.
It wasn't like the love she had had for Tsuna-san. This was something different. Something… new. And yet not.
She wondered if he'd realized at the same time she had, because he was looking very vulnerable all of a sudden, like he'd just let go of a handhold and wasn't quite sure if he'd ever find his footing again.
And then, quite suddenly, he was back to his usual gruff, irritable self, only it wasn't really so gruff, and it wasn't so irritable.
"…So quit moping. You're still family, idiot."
He shot her a glare that broke a few seconds later, as if he couldn't really keep it up. But it was so familiar, and she felt so relieved all of a sudden, that somehow she found herself overwhelmed by the sudden need to laugh.
"What?" he said indignantly.
"Hahi!" she giggled. "It's just—Gokudera-san is angry again!"
"Che. It's annoying that you need it spelled out for you."
She understood; it was hard for him to say the words. But she was grateful, all the same; it had made her realize something at last.
She leaned forward and embraced him. For a moment he tensed in surprise, but then—slowly, awkwardly—the selfish, stupid, intolerant, callous, cold, cruel—
—selfless, smart, patient, kind, caring, gentle—
—Gokudera Hayato wrapped his arms around her in return.
It wasn't a beautiful, epic romance. It wasn't the knight in shining armor that she'd always imagined. It was Gokudera. And somehow it worked.
Thankfully, there's more to love than first impressions.