And Somewhere Along the Line
Written by Kia Ixari
First Draft: 2008.12.26
Warning(s): Minor spoilers for TYL arc. Mild angst, some language.
This story is inspired by Rachael Yamagata's "Horizon." If you want to hear the song, you can to go my profile, where a link to the LJ version of this story is posted. The LJ version contains the song; you can stream it and listen.
There are clues, peppered around the place, from the very moment they step back into their own time.
The smoke clears.
Everything has changed.
Gokudera absently muses – even the light has changed – still and silent as a ghost, eyes straight up at his bare ceiling. Everything has changed. His vision is still fixed on the last blinding white of their bleak and blurry future, and it cannot seem to understand that he's no longer there. His whirling mind struggles to keep pace with the sudden shift – the silence, the gloom, the crimson bright of the setting sun; the very apparent lack of danger, the long-sought and hard-fought for peace – so it takes him a while to notice the similarly motionless body beside him.
But notice he does, and he explodes into a snarl.
"What the fuck are you doing here, you nut?!" He shoves the intruding body off his bed, and Yamamoto tumbles awkwardly to the floor, all laughs and easy smiles.
"Ahahaha, hey, Gokudera," he grins, hand scratching behind his head, half-hanging off the bed. "I guess we're back home?"
"How the fuck did you get in here?!" Gokudera continues to rage, throwing a pillow at the idiot. Yamamoto deftly blocks; he just opts to throw another one. "How the fuck do you even know where I fucking live?!"
"Oh, so this is your place?" Yamamoto gives a cursory glance around the heavily personalized room, lit only by the last few slanting rays of the setting sun. "It's very neat!"
"Of course it's neat, you fucking bastard – don't compare me to the likes of you!" Gokudera accentuates his indignation by beating a pillow over Yamamoto's head. Yamamoto merely gives another laugh, and braves the anger of the Storm with the resilience of a well-worn survivor.
It isn't until later that Gokudera realizes they had entirely sidestepped the most pressing issue at hand.
Gokudera is reminded of this pressing issue when he inspects his flat, much missed for the past grueling battle months, and finds it well-maintained and cozily inhabited. He finds the laundry taken care of, but the kitchen is untidy, dishes in the sink, remnants of a meal shoved haphazardly into the fridge. There are two dirty plates, he notes.
He walks into his bathroom, noting minimal changes apart from a few new accessories his counterpart from Ten Years Later left behind. There are, however, extra sets of clothes in the closet, an extra blue towel beside his red one, and a watch that is not his own.
When he sets out to the store to replenish his fridge and he takes his shoes out from the shoe rack on the way out, he has to replace a foreign pair of high-end polished Armani shoes that are far too big to be his own. And when he checks out at the convenience store, the cashier asks with a passing glance and a fleeting smile where his "usual companion" is, not noticing that he's about a decade younger.
Gokudera holds his indignation and tells himself that this much is to be expected. The Ten Years Later Yamamoto couldn't possibly go back to the sushi shop – Yamamoto senior would ask questions the shop was nonexistent in the future, and there would be far too many unpleasant memories: it was where Yamamoto senior had been murdered, will be murdered –
He halts that train of thought, and banishes it from his mind.
He decides to forget, and the issue is never more broached.
In the idle days of non-frown and free worry, Gokudera is prone to dream. His mind wanders, and though he physically stays close by the Tenth, ready for any kind of eventuality, his mind slips away into a journey far and wide across realms of imagination. He blearily wonders at the nostalgia, for he hasn't daydreamed in a long time – not since his mother passed away.
His dreaming, however, does not completely ensnare his senses, and he remains alert to his surroundings, watching, waiting for any sign of impending danger. His sole purpose in life is to protect and provide for the Tenth – he would not fail; he would not follow after his future counterpart. He would not fail.
And so he notices.
He notices the fleeting glances thrown his way whenever the idiot thinks he is not looking, the bare brushes of skin against skin whenever they stand side to side and shoulder to shoulder. The smiles were warmer, and the hands if a little bit gentler – this pisses him off, though, because he refuses to be handled like fragile china – he is not a girl.
And every time they walk home together, without Tsuna strolling in between them, Yamamoto would brave the consequences and sling a friendly arm around his shoulders. He shrugs it off every time.
But the next time, Yamamoto would do it again, no matter how many scowls or how many growls he throws at the idiot for it.
It was almost – almost – as if the fucking bastard savored his anger, enjoyed seeing him flushed, red, riled, and fuming.
Gokudera thinks Yamamoto is weird.
Early morning and the idiot was alive and knocking at his door, rousing him from the comforts of his slumber, only to drag him off to a dry, dusty, and still quite empty baseball field. Then it occurs to him – today is the last match of the season, and it would be the deciding match for Namimori's victory (or non-victory, but with Yamamoto on the team, that is highly unlikely).
He grouches at the idiot, slumping into one of the lower seats, displeased at having his restful Saturday disrupted for such a pointless and utterly uninteresting event. Baseball is the American pastime, but he is not American – he is Italian. He wonders faintly if Yamamoto somehow, in some horrendously stupefying feat of magnanimous human stupidity, managed to mix them up. He tries to convince himself that this is quite impossible – A and I has seven solid alphabets in between them, so surely even an idiot like Yamamoto wouldn't – but he is having quite a hard time.
So he settles instead for listening to the enthusiastic baseball captain's tirade about some obscure baseball game and some equally obscure Major League player. He nods along, following Yamamoto to the locker rooms, where only two or three of the team members have convened.
Yamamoto hovers outside, shifting on his feet, back and forth, left and right, until Gokudera finally snaps and asks what's wrong. It's then that Yamamoto breaks out into an embarrassed flush, chuckles waning as he leans against the wall.
"I wanted to ask for a massage, haha," the Rain smiles uncertainly, suddenly apprehensive as Gokudera's eyes narrow. "My wrist's been kind of stiff since this morning."
Yamamoto presents his upturned and open hand to a confused Gokudera, as if wanting for something. After a few moments of silence, Gokudera nods in grudging compliance, takes the offered hand, and with gentle fingers, he begins to press and probe around at the alleged stiff wrist.
Vibrant morning sunlight bridges their gap, and though they stand square and apart from each other, they might have just as well been in a lover's embrace. Gokudera fights for ground, pulls his countenance together, and gingerly rolls the wrist the way he does whenever his own wrists grow tired, after too aggressive a piano practice session. The comfortable silence settles between them, wrapping them in its arms, calming, lulling.
It's only broken when Yamamoto's teammates begin passing by, one or three at a time, giving salutes and bleary 'good morning's to their captain – and none of them think twice of Gokudera, for by now the school considers him and Yamamoto best friends, inseparable, loyal, together. Like droplets of a fountain of water returning to the pool, however, the foreign presence intrudes upon and shatters their peace.
"Better?" Gokudera grunts, gently releasing the wrist.
Yamamoto gives it a ginger try, then grins. "Better."
Yamamoto then ushers him towards the stands, where people are beginning to take up the best seats – Yamamoto manages to steal him one. With the promise of a great match and heartfelt thanks uttered upon smiling lips, Yamamoto takes off, and leaves Gokudera staring after his back.
Gokudera thinks Yamamoto is weird.
But later, as he watches with a somewhat proud smile on his face the winning streak Yamamoto pulls off single-handedly, as he trains his eyes upon the idiot's sharp and majestically coordinated form, as the bat slices the ball in mimicry of a sword and as the ball sluices across the field, a sharp, invisible, deadly apparition – and even much later, when he greets the idiot after the game, and is welcomed with a huge and triumphant smile on that ecstatic face – "Haha, it was all thanks to you, Gokudera! You fixed my wrist!" – he figures:
It doesn't really matter if he is.
"Could you teach me how to play chess?" is what Yamamoto greets him with on a cheerful Friday morning. He goggles.
"What the hell, Yamamoto?"
"Hahaha, I was just a little bit curious," the idiot says, and Gokudera bids his blissful weekend goodbye. "The kid was saying something about it to Tsuna yesterday, and he mentioned you were really good at it, so I thought I'd learn from you."
This is how the idiot chooses to justify his presence in Gokudera's flat everyday of the weekend and every afternoon of the following week. Hours are spent in an attempt to educate the Rain in the fine art of strategy, and during the blurred moments of wood and black and white, it's when Gokudera sees.
The potential, he sees it clearly.
He is blinded.
He is fucking pissed.
Because the idiot is wasting himself, wasting away in the shiftlessness of disinterest – and there is so much talent, so much promise, bright and blinding, all of it raw and soft and awaiting molding hands – Gokudera now knows why sheer and simple will is necessary of Yamamoto before perfection is at hand. Yamamoto needs only to dedicate himself, to devote himself, and he could be perfect, the embodiment of perfection, perfection itself, in whatever it is he does.
And probably the only imperfection there is in Yamamoto is the fact that he doesn't care to be perfect.
Or does that actually make him even more perfect?
In midst of these short and fleeting moments they have for the keeping Gokudera feels most free. They sit before the low table, toes warm and hands happy. The board slowly empties of its occupants, pawn displacing pawn, pawn taking bishop, bishop stealing knight, knight slaying queen – and at the end it's always Gokudera who says the word that ends the game, but Yamamoto merely smiles, rubs the back of his head, and the board is full once again.
Days accumulate, in a haze of disarming white quiet, and soon Gokudera finds himself facing a venerable opponent, pushing his hand to the edge and oiling the cogs of his mind – until the day comes and Yamamoto finally gets his chance to end the game.
Gokudera is a brilliant victor, but that does not mean he cannot be a graceful loser. He gives a faint smile of acknowledgement, nods, and lights a cigarette. "Good game," he says, and Yamamoto is silent. "Again? Or are we done for the day?"
Yamamoto stares at the board in heavy scrutiny, as if perusing the very lines of the checkered white and black squares. There is a quiet moment of contemplation, within which Gokudera finds himself beholden to the smolder of the Rain's warm brown eyes. Then Yamamoto smiles a soft, gentle smile.
So it is a surprise when they are suddenly summoned to Italy after a bare month of nothing but silence since their return. Reborn refuses to say a thing. Bianchi is nowhere to be found. Tsuna is agitated. Gokudera feels useless. And very, very pissed.
He walks about in his flat, gathering what few possessions he had, arranging the foremost necessities into a mental list and putting them into their proper places in the open suitcase. Clothes go in first, useful as cushions – it's either a gathering of the Cosa Nostra or something incredibly urgent that needs the Guardians' full attention – a few books and some bathing essentials – but Tsuna isn't adequately fluent in Italian yet, and he would need a translator – a classic wooden chess set after a moment's deliberation – come to think of it, none of the other Guardians are adequately fluent in Italian, excluding the native Mukuro –
His laptop goes into a carry-on, as well as several electronic essentials he would need to ward away the noise the children would undoubtedly make on the plane. He prepares his boxes, all sixteen of them, and latches them into the belt especially made to house them. He would need to be prepared for any kind of eventuality – the Tenth must not die. After arming himself with hidden knives (his shoes' hollow heels are quite handy for hiding) and slipping on all five of his rings, he picks his minimal luggage up and takes them to the front door.
Soon, the spacious armed van especially commissioned by Reborn drives down the busy road and stops in front of the upper middle class condominium building Gokudera lives in. All the while mentally cursing the idiot for blabbing to everyone where he lives, he heads down to meet them at the lobby.
His mind is plagued with worry and concern as he makes his way, step by step, floor by floor, and watching the elevator slowly count the numbers does nothing to calm his unease. When he's met by a skittish Tsuna and a grinning Yamamoto, he is still in the midst of piecing together different escape strategies should there be a situation on the plane.
He gives a curt greeting to the Tenth – Tsuna merely replies with a shaky smile. Yamamoto jostles him cheerfully, however, a conduit, a balance that keeps both him and Tsuna and the rest of the Guardians steady on solid ground. They reach the van, where he is greeted by bleary-eyed children, excited girls, an extreme Ryohei, three quiet Mukuro followers, and a low blood pressure Hibari Kyouya. (He makes note to avoid sitting anywhere near the Cloud.)
They are loading his one small suitcase into the van when Yamamoto suddenly remarks, "You look pretty with your hair up," all the while tugging at the end strands of his pony-tailed hair.
Gokudera slaps him squarely, tugs off the pony, and seats himself in the farthest seat available (which was not really very far).
Yamamoto's easy and carefree smile is a small comfort against a tidal wave of discomfort, this much is true, but it's not one comfort Gokudera will ever admit to.
The moment they set foot on Italian soil, Gokudera's stomach gives a lurch. Even though Bianchi is nowhere in sight, he feels like fainting, and the ground feels like its shaking beneath his feet. The faces are nowhere near friendly to his eyes, and the roads aren't quite as beautiful as they were on pictures. He knows Palermo's underbelly, has known it far too early, and his eyes, they've seen what these respectable smiling men in suits are capable of. He is neither an innocent tourist nor an ignorant native; he is not fooled.
He does not like it here. He does not like it here, and he makes it known through curses and growls and glares – but only when the Tenth is not looking. Only then, because the Tenth does not know, and the Tenth does not need to know. Eventually, there will be a revelation, but for now, he wants to let the child in Tsuna remain a child for a little while more.
So he hovers close to protect, and wards away the evilness that lurks at corners waiting to bite, even at the expense of his own peace of mind. At first it seems a lonely job, but there is another pillar supporting the very core of the Vongola, and he is loath to forget it, for Yamamoto's smile is ever-bright, and it's something quite impossible to forget.
Days speed by, and hours are lost within the blur of culture training, for just as he'd expected, it is a gathering of the Cosa Nostra, the exclusive inner circle of the Vongola. The Tenth is to be introduced to the rest of the family, along with the complete set of Guardians, Mukuro having already been released from prison after a lengthy persuasion of the community.
After a preliminary testing that was nothing short of outright disastrous, it is established that Tsuna, Yamamoto, and Ryohei are horridly in need of the lessons. Gokudera is pleasantly surprised to find that Hibari has knowledge and training in Western norms and propriety – the only thing lacking is a little restraint on the hostility. Mukuro very graciously stepped up and took it upon himself to teach this to Hibari, contesting Dino, who also seemed to want to take responsibility over the Cloud Guardian's education. Gokudera turns his mind away from such boggling matters; such matters, he has learned, aren't conducive to productive thinking.
Reborn, of course, immediately whisked Tsuna away to some obscure location for an "intense" training session – the very notion gives Gokudera goosebumps. The Arcobaleno merely left instructions for Bianchi – she wore sunshades and a mask – to take Ryohei after settling that pairing the extremely extreme Sun Guardian with the Storm would only result in extensive property damage and nonexistent progress.
Hence, Gokudera finds himself left with a piece of grinning idiot to culture.
He really, really hates Italy.
He discovers that after about five-and-something plates of a good dish, the good dish loses its goodness, and in some grotesque transformation, morphs into the very epitome of all that is evil on this blessed and blissful green earth.
Gokudera has never, ever loathed fetuccini so much in the entirety of his fifteen long years – but that's how much and how long it takes them before the piece of incredibly irritating idiot gets his table manners down, and Gokudera does not settle for half-done. It doesn't matter if he has to suffer educating an idiot who has a bit of floating fluff for a brain. Yamamoto would not be humiliating the Tenth at the party.
So when they come down for dinner and Gokudera sights the familiar dish on the grand table, he backs out. He deems one night of hunger much better than having to sit and endure even just another forkful of it. He's had more than enough.
And apparently, so has Yamamoto.
The idiot leans beside him against the veranda. Beneath them chatter and merry children laughter echo as Tsuna and the others dine; above them an empty darkness punctured by miniature pinpricks of light stretches endlessly, fading into the city lights. The sea breeze whispers through their hair and dances upon their cheeks as they face out towards the Italian sea.
Yamamoto doesn't speak, and for a few minutes there's only the crashing of the waves against the shore. Gokudera is near disbelieving – when does the idiot ever run out of anything to blabber about? – but he isn't stupid; he chooses to stay quiet and quell his questions by himself. This warm silence, he thinks, is far worth more than anything the baseball nut could ever say.
Then, in a sudden but soft tone, Yamamoto chuckles, "I'm hungry."
Gokudera snorts. "Go eat."
"But I'm tired of the fetuccini." Gokudera wonders if Yamamoto was a whiny kid.
"Then starve," Gokudera succinctly replies. He flicks the ashes off his cigarette, and takes another long drag.
Yamamoto is quiet again, and Gokudera rides along. After a while, though, Yamamoto mutters through the white smoke, "You know that's bad for you, right?"
"You could die."
"In this career, we could die tomorrow, for all we know," Gokudera snorts. He turns to Yamamoto with a wry smile, "Isn't it your philosophy to live high?"
Yamamoto scowls, reaches over, and snatches the half-done cigar from Gokudera's lips. Electricity shoots down Gokudera's spine when rough fingers graze the bottom of his lip, and he growls.
"Give that back, idiot." Gokudera wants to ask the heavens why Yamamoto has to ruin everything good that surrounds him, but he knows he won't get an answer anyway, so he doesn't, and instead settles for lunging for his cigar.
The cigar, though, is extinguished on the balustrade and sails a long way down to the garden below. "My philosophy is to live life moment by moment and to the fullest, not to live life like you want to die," Yamamoto sharply snaps, flicking back a snip of hair from Gokudera's eyes. Gokudera blinks in surprise. More and more he's seeing Yamamoto serious, hearing him say things any normal idiot wouldn't – shouldn't – be able to say. Maybe the world's end was coming ahead of schedule?
He sighs and leans back against the balustrade, pulling out another stick from his cigar pack and lighting it. This time, Yamamoto makes for the pack, and tosses it out to the sandy beach a little ways from where they were.
"What's the big idea, you fucking baseball nut?!" Gokudera snarls as Yamamoto also takes the cigar that's already in his mouth.
"Enough smoking," Yamamoto states, throwing the cigar away. Gokudera suddenly finds himself being tugged back into the house, and Yamamoto is all grins again. "C'mon, let's eat. I'll make you good sushi."
He can't quite bring himself to refuse.
In the end the culture boot camp he went through with Yamamoto amounts to nothing, because Yamamoto refuses to eat any more pasta for the duration of his stay. Needless to say, Gokudera is hell pissed. He expresses his displeasure through sheer hostility that can rival Hibari Kyouya's low blood pressure moods, though he does have the tact to keep it under leash when face to face with other members of the famiglia.
It's only a mild reassurance when Yamamoto approaches him later into the party, gives him a happy grin, and says, "Well, at least now I know what to do for the future, haha!"
The idiot had better remember everything I taught him, he thinks to himself, swearing on blood and ground that he would skewer Yamamoto on a pike should he ever forget and mess up.
The rest of the party becomes a blur of lights and garbled conversation, but Gokudera loyally stays beside Tsuna, acting as translator whenever necessary, looking out for danger, providing support whenever appropriate. He doggedly follows the capofamiglia like a proper consigliere should, baying the hands wanting to take advantage of Tsuna's innocence. There would be no failure this time around.
Often Yamamoto accompanies them, though at times he disappears to talk with Ryohei, who is in charge of monitoring surveillance. He sees Mukuro and Hibari hovering at corners, attentive eyes scanning the crowd, watching from a distance. Initially, Gokudera had doubted it, but his doubts were for naught. The coordination is working beautifully, and not one hand manages to touch Tsuna unwatched.
Until, of course, the ambush.
It was both a very smart and a very dumb decision to take two cars home. Gokudera refuses to think about what would have happened had they switched routes with Tsuna's party – and even then, there is no guarantee that moment Tsuna's party aren't being ambushed as well. The one thing that settles Gokudera's mind long enough to focus on the situation at hand is the fact that Tsuna's party consists of Hibari, Mukuro, Dino, and Reborn.
With a near-inaudible click, he throws his self-made maximum impact specialized bombs directly at the car behind them, and ducks as the explosion decimates three cars and propels a shockwave that shatters their car's windows. The bomb's range is small, but the magnitude of the explosion is nothing short of massive.
"A little warning would be nice, Gokudera!" Ryohei yells over the rushing wind, hands manning the wheel. Their driver was a headshot; Gokudera absently admires the enemy's sniper. Too bad Yamamoto had already killed the man.
The darkened evening seaside blurs into black and blue and streaks of white as their car speeds up and down the scenic Sicilian countryside. Cars are still hot on their heels, they're not daunted; they've faced much worse in the future – they would survive this.
Yamamoto reloads his gun and starts shooting as the chasing cars came into view once more – Ryohei had the ugly habit of driving extremely fast, and it's quite hard even for Gokudera to aim his skull cannon at them and not miss. Miraculously enough, Yamamoto soon reduces the enemy cars by one, and then two…
Gokudera throws Yamamoto an incredulous glance – how can he even see and aim at the people in this pitch black darkness? – but Yamamoto eyes are sharp and locked at the enemy – the gun fires again, one, two, and the third car lurches, spins, crashes against the side of the cliff face, effectively blocking the road – the cars behind it crash as well, like dominoes falling atop one another, and suddenly, their tail is clear.
Gunshots are still audible from the distance; Gokudera begins weighing the chances of the strategies in his head he loads a round of dynamites into his cannon. He finds the familiar click of Yamamoto's reloading gun scarily ominously familiar, and this scares him – is he really so at home at the battlefront that he feels ill at ease without it? He's barely sixteen, they are barely sixteen, and yet they've seen and done more than any of their age should have – they've killed, more than he can count –
He's ripped away from his thoughts when a sharp and startling gunshot sounds; Ryohei slumps to the side – Yamamoto erupts from his seat and reaches for the wheel, but his fingers can't reach – Gokudera twists and tries to reach as well, but the car swerves and throws them to one side – Ryohei's foot is still planted firmly on the wheel, as if glued by some invisible force –
In the split-second within which the car spins out of control, Gokudera's eyes catch headlights from ahead and above. It's another ambush, this time from the top of the cliffs.
Curses – Gokudera curses – Yamamoto manages to dislodge Ryohei, and the foot comes off the pedal –
Then there was an upsetting crash and lurch as the car hits the side railing. It teeters precariously on the edge, momentum unable to decide whether to cling or to fall, to cling or to fall – and everything goes so slow, so surreal and unlike how they do it in the movies. It's almost comical to Gokudera's eyes, and in spite the dire situation a wry smile tugs at his lips.
Yamamoto pushes an unconscious Ryohei out, the car leans towards the fall – Gokudera strains to keep balance when Yamamoto, too, shoots out of the car – frantic, certain, fearful, warm hands reach for his, and he reaches back out –
The car falls, down into the sea, sinking in an explosive splash, gush and bubble of saltwater. Gokudera hangs down the side, legs and feet seeking for purchase against the rough and ragged cliff side – all to no avail. Yamamoto holds him by one arm, their hands tightly clasped, but the sweat makes it slick, makes it hard, and fingers are slipping, slipping –
"Don't you dare let go," Yamamoto says through gritted teeth, eyes burning – Gokudera doesn't want to see what he sees in there, but he sees it anyway – the worry, the concern, the affection, the fear – "Don't you dare let go of me, Hayato."
His left arm is hurting, and he almost wants to let go, but he doesn't.
But then, he sees.
Gokudera doesn't understand.
His heart seized as if clenched by a vise. His breath, it froze in his lungs, ice and shards digging into flesh and bleeding him from the inside out. At that moment, time did slow – painfully, painfully slow – as the silhouette on the top cliff, framed against the enemy's headlights, raises a gun, points it at them, and –
Gokudera lets go.
And shoots at the enemy.
The gun still fires, though.
The sensation of hitting the water doesn't hurt as much as seeing Yamamoto slump against the edge, doesn't hurt as much as the expression on his friend's face when he lets go so he could shoot. But there was nothing else he could have done, and he couldn't have let Yamamoto get shot like that –
But he was shot anyway, and despite whatever his rational brain might have to say, Gokudera is convinced that it is his fault, his fault, because he was too slow, he was too late, and now Yamamoto's hurt, Yamamoto could be dead –
As he sinks into the darkness, his last thought is solely of a warm, genuine, and precious piece of an idiotic smile.
He wakes, and it's a blur of white against white, so blinding his eyes flutter shut immediately. His mind is disoriented – where am I? what happened? Yamamoto? – and his breathing is ragged and painful, as if shards of glass were lodged tight in his chest. His muscles are soft as jelly, like the sweet kind the children like eating for dessert. His limbs are leaden and immovable, each weighing as heavy as Uri in fighter form.
But after a while of silence, he grows tired of the idleness, so he forces himself upright, bracing his arms against the bed, grunting and wincing and cursing along the way as aches erupt all over his body. He knows his body is a bruised fruit from the fall, but he doesn't care, not when he sees Yamamoto prone on the next bed.
No one's in the room, no one to stop him from getting out of bed and shuffling painfully to the baseball nut's side. Yamamoto's face is calm, the epitome of tranquility, the spirit of cleansing, purifying rain. There isn't a single sign that he's had a close scrape with death, just like all the other times, when they'd walked out of battles, staggering and barely alive, injured and victorious.
He stands there, just stands there. For a while, he stands there, and watches, listens, as Yamamoto breathes steady, strong breaths.
His rival, his comrade, his friend – Yamamoto is alive, alive and strong, and he would be coming back to them, and he did not fail. He did not fail. Yamamoto is alive. He did not fail.
Later he learns that Uri had been his savior, swimming him to the surface, carrying him back up to the cliff's edge. A savage vindication spreads through his chest as he hears of the casualties on the other side – the top cliff was completely sheared off by the Lightning-reinforced beam he shot. There weren't even bodies to retrieve.
Tsuna is overjoyed that he's woken up, and Gokudera is similarly overjoyed and honored to find that the Tenth is concerned of his well-being. In spite of his adamant refusal, the girls come everyday to take care of him, and the children, obnoxious little mongrels they are, run around and wreck the place, giving the aggravated nurses an extra shot of pain up the head at the end of the day.
He asks of the possibility of further threats, but Reborn merely ends the conversation by stating that the hospital is a Vongola-owned, Vongola-managed, and Vongola-armed hospital – they are safe, they could rest. Gokudera is not convinced, but he knows better than to push Reborn, so he resolves to ask someplace else, later.
Even all of this, though, is not enough to settle Gokudera's swelling concern. He looks to the other bed, a faint frown on his face.
It's been four days since the cliff, and Yamamoto's still not waken.
It takes him two more days to muster the courage to ask about Yamamoto's condition – Tsuna smiles as if he'd expected the question all along and has been waiting for him to ask.
Yamamoto has lost a lot of blood, Tsuna says, but he will recover. He just needs time.
Gokudera takes a deep breath, and repeats Tsuna's words in his head. Tsuna leaves him be, and eventually, he rises from bed and goes to Yamamoto's bedside, fingers ghosting upon Yamamoto's still hand.
I'm not letting go, he whispers. I'm not letting go of you, so don't you let go too.
He will recover. He needs time. He will recover. He will recover.
Gokudera lights a cigar and puffs a generous drag. He's sitting by the open window on the sill in the room that now only has one bed, his own having been removed when he was discharged. He's been here everyday since the cliff, watching, waiting – he doesn't know what to say to the others should they ever ask, but not a single question. They all come and go, and when they see Gokudera, they smile – Gokudera can't read those smiles, not just yet, but he's on his way to decoding them. Not to worry, not to worry.
He flips open his phone, the old one. The new one died sometime in between the initial ambush and his fall into the sea. He likes this phone better – it's older, and if a little bit slower, but it's in Japanese and he doesn't have to be reminded of his much-hated native language every time he opens it and looks.
Idly, he buttons his way through the menu and into the Photos folder, where he flips through old pictures of him and Tsuna and the baseball nut, before Ten Years Later, when they were still innocent and carefree. Nostalgia tugs at his nerves, and he continues to flip, gazing at sun-drenched sweltering days in Namimori, of dusty baseball fields and the refreshing freedom from walls that is the rooftop.
The memories were far and near-forgotten, but the pictures pull them back to the forefront. Gokudera snorts as he crosses a picture where Yamamoto is in a cat costume, dressed up for the school's annual fest. Their class had chosen a horror house – though how a cat costume he can only describe as – dare he say it? – cute relates to horror, he doesn't know.
He flicks the ash from his cigar, and flips to the next picture.
This picture, he frowns, is not familiar, not familiar at all.
He doesn't know where it was taken, and he doesn't know for sure who took it, but at the risk of sounding narcissistic, he thinks it's a very nice picture. Of him, Ten Years Older, chin in palm, wineglass in hand, gazing thoughtfully out to a twinkling nighttime Tokyo skyline. His hair is done in a way that is similar and yet different from his current style, his wrists adorned with a different set of bracelets and his fingers wearing a different set of rings. But it's him, it's him, the same green eyes that stare back at him through the mirror everyday and every night.
He flips to the next one – he doesn't know this one either. But he knows where it's taken – at the baseball stands at school, the top seat. He's scowling straight at the camera, slumped against the bench's backrest, hands shoved into pockets, hair ruffled in the wind.
And the next one. This time, it's in his room, and he's sleeping, curled up and sideways, his head nestled upon a downy pillow. His hair blurs against the whiteness of his bed, and his lips are slightly parted to let past precious breath.
Next – his eyes are trained intently upon a page on a thick, hardbound book, his face showing complete immersion and focus. He bets he never even noticed this taken. His hair is pulled up into a pony, and his glasses sit upon his nose. A lock of hair dangles down and rests against the side of his glasses, however, concealing his left eye from the camera.
The next one is the same setting, except this time, an extra hand is in the picture. The hand, what looked like worn and ragged but very gentle fingers, are pushing back the stray lock of hair to his ear, clearing the view.
And he doesn't even notice. His Ten Years Later counterpart doesn't even notice, reading on nonchalantly, as if someone touching him as such is not worthy of alarm, a day to day thing, normal –
The next – and very last – picture reveals the identity of the cameraman, and somehow, someway, he finds himself not surprised.
He doesn't know what to think, though.
Yamamoto, Ten Years Older, had an arm around him, his Ten Years Older counterpart. Yamamoto had an arm around him, and he was leaning into the idiot, abashed but comfortable, blushing yet not willing to part. Book still in hand, he looks to the camera Yamamoto is holding for them. Yamamoto leans against him, wraps around him, their legs entangled, Yamamoto's lips against his ear, gently smiling. And they're so close.
They're so close.
Gokudera doesn't know what to think.
"Haha, hey." He snaps the phone shut, startled, and turns to the bed, where Yamamoto is propping himself up. "Gokudera."
Gokudera looks at Yamamoto, incredulous and wondering, as if he'd grown another hand. Gokudera looks at Yamamoto, apprehensive and cautious, as if he'd grown another head. Gokudera looks at Yamamoto, concerned and hopeful, as if he'd just opened up his heart.
Yamamoto looks back at him, open and welcoming and warm.
"…welcome back, idiot." He mutters, and his voice is steady, it's steady, because his voice can't possibly crack. He throws his half-done cigar, and pockets his phone, his hands tight. "…Takeshi."
There are clues, peppered around the place, from the very moment they step back into their own time.
All he's ever needed to do, really, was look.