In the Moment
Written by: Kia Ixari
Published on FFN by request, originally posted on LiveJournal.
Warning(s): Angst. Consider yourselves warned.
It takes a night to make it dawn
And it takes a day to make you yawn
And it takes some old to make you young
It takes some cold to know the sun
It takes one to have the other…
Its summer, the sun is bright, and warmth of sand is beneath your feet. The children, they're relentless little fiends in your eyes, full and bubbling of energy you can never hope to mimic anymore. Once, long ago, your eyes shone like theirs, puppy bodies glistening with sweat and merry laughter – but that time is long past, and you know this, you've known it for quite a while.
You feel the age in your bones, weighing you down with each step – sometimes you can't help but wonder if it's only you who feels this deep and tired ache, because you don't see it, you never see it, with each slice of the idiot's sword and with each swing of the Tenth's fiery fist. Your friends, they all still seem so young, flourishing, alive.
But your life, whatever's left of it, you've already pledged to the Tenth, and you are determined never to disappoint.
So when you fall behind to catch your breath, the tingling in your lungs pellucid, real, you pay it no mind, and push your knees forward.
You are twenty-four years old.
This man is not just any man – this is the first and only person you could trust for the longest and loneliest nights in your life. He is not just any doctor – he is Vongola's doctor, and that truth speaks for itself.
So when he condemns you, you condemn him.
Because even though you might not want to believe it, you know that he speaks no lie.
Half the time, Yamamoto sees you a lady, a fragile, fleeting being – you know this, and you hate this. You question yourself time and time again – why can your relationship be not like Mukuro's and Hibari's, where the edges are definitive, and the roles clean-cut? Why can your relationship be not a mixture of fire against fire, steel against sparks, masculinity twice defined?
Each time you ask this, Yamamoto gives you one answer: because you're so small and skinny, Gokudera.
You slap him, of course.
And you prove him wrong, each and every time, when the shadows close in around you, your family behind and beside you, enemies circling like wolves revolving around a slab of fresh and tasty meat. They lunge in for a bite, and you lash out, felling one after the other, ruthless, unbridled.
You've been doing this for a decade, and each fight is worse than the last, but you don't care, because it's for the Tenth, for the furthering of the family, for the protection of those you hold dear. Lambo and I-Pin are grown and able, but the Tenth's children are young, they need protection. You, as the consigliere, will provide. Will always provide.
Blood and limbs and countless bombs later, you stagger, out of the blitz, into the light. Pride prevents you from crawling back home, even if crawling might have been healthier on your battered body. Quiet moments after a battle always seem to push you into some melancholic philosophy, and you start marveling at life and its disparities. You stand before your enemy, against your enemy, and both of you bleed, flesh and life and love and death. Lives smeared on your hands, irrefutable evidence, lost.
You wonder, not for the first time, if there will be a reckoning for all this.
Your thoughts are broken when your frame is racked by a bloody and violent cough.
Your ribs are broken in places far too many to name. Nothing new, of course; broken ribs are by far the most common injury for you. Sometimes, your specialized bombs have far too strong an impact that even you are thrown back and injured.
By now you're familiar with Shamal's standard procedure, and you obediently undergo chest x-rays for them to be able to properly locate the break. They're blasted painful bothers, but you're so used to them sometimes you don't even notice they're there anymore.
You start wondering, though, if there's something else wrong, when Shamal refuses you a peek at the film – the first he's ever refused you of it at all.
So in the likeness of any well-studied and seasoned mafioso, you wait for midnight and sneak into the doctor's office, ruffle quickly through the files, and easily retrieve your folder.
Shamal has marked a shadow on the superior lobe of your right lung.
The next morning dawns, and your idiot comes complete with flowers and food for a visit. You pay him your full attention, listening to his stories, reassuring yourself that the family has survived. You grin and laugh at his antics, insult him while hoping he realizes the underlying "I love you too", whack him upside the head when the idiocy begins to overflow. (You know by now that it can be quite contagious; you're well-informed and wary of it.)
All the while, your back brushes against the folder tucked under your pillows.
Shamal orders for a CT scan – you wordlessly comply.
The whitewashed walls offer you no comfort in their blinding sterility.
You know what comes next.
They want to take a little bit of you to see, just a tiny little bit to be sure. They want to sedate you, to help you relax. They want you to sit comfortably and fold your arms on the table. You watch them pull in an x-ray machine, and they begin the search for that tiny patch of malignant tissue hiding inside of you. Once they find it, they mark the area, and methodically clean your skin with antiseptic. You're tempted to bark at them – you do bathe everyday; you're not a slob – but you understand the necessities well, because you're not an idiot, and you have a topnotch doctor for a teacher.
Then comes the needle, sharp and foreboding, and you feel this stinging pain, even though you're supposed to be on local anesthetics. They tell you to take a deep breath and hold it while they poke and tug away a piece of you to play with, and reassure you that it'll be over in before you know it – only it isn't, and it fucking hurts.
It's called a needle biopsy, and they've just taken a bit of your lung.
Yamamoto visits everyday, and asks why you remain confined. You tell him nothing; he doesn't need to know.
You pilfer a book from Shamal's office, and flip immediately to the page you want. You are well-educated in the ways of modern medicine, but there are just some things only doctors seem to understand, as if by suffixing the M.D. to their names entitles them to a vast wealth of knowledge no normal human can hope to comprehend.
You're cautious, though; you make sure no one sees.
Especially the Tenth, and Yamamoto. They need not worry.
Shamal comes a few days later with papers detailing the results of your biopsy. He knows you understand; he wordlessly gives it to you, and walks away. His eyes, shuttered and guarded as they usually are, give way to nothing. You realize you've never loathed him so much ever before – would it hurt to let off easy once in a while?
It takes you half a day to finish dumbly staring at the papers on your table, and another half a day to convince yourself to even lay so much as a trembling finger on it. It's only much later that night when you dare to flip it open, under bleak fluorescent and soaked in the dark of night.
When you read small cell lung carcinoma, you release a breath of – of something you can't name –
– and it's then that you realize you were afraid.
Shame on yourself, for being so afraid. Shame on yourself, for shaming the name of the Vongola. Shame on yourself, for rendering yourself nothing short of useless to the family, as you now face the reckoning you've been subconsciously waiting for since the day you lit that first cigarette.
In the medical records, the doctors note that "the patient understands his disease is incurable."
But you don't, not really.
You're confused. You rage and rail and scream obscenities at whichever willing soul there is to listen to you. All the details in the fabric fall away as you crumple and cry and offer your tears to whatever deity might listen.
You know what you're dealing with, you've done your research – and you desperately wish the books didn't sound so pompously sure of themselves, because for the first time in your life, you want to doubt the facts, instead of believe them. Your eyes sting as you read – it's the dust, you tell yourself, getting into your eyes. Never mind that you're in a sterile hospital, and there isn't a single speck of dust in your forbiddingly medical white room.
Realization hits you, after a day or two.
You don't want to die.
Who does, really?
Even those who walk off rooftops and slit their own wrists, you're sure they're not really wanting death. How could they, when faced with the bleakness of it? There is nothing but nothingness, if that makes sense, and you don't like it. You don't want it.
There's still so many things left to do, so many places left to go to, before you die.
You think of all the paperwork you'd leave your beloved Tenth, because the idiot can't possibly handle all of it, for fear of short-circuiting the little bit of fluff he has for a brain. You think of the Tenth's children, lovely little Haruka and devious little Soujirou. You think of your sister, her poisonous cookies, and your piano.
You think of home – home – where you keep your precious books on shelves and your music sheets in neat folders. Summer heat and wide, blue skies remind you of Namimori, where you lie sweaty and mindless in the middle of a dusty baseball field, soaking up sun and lacking water.
When you're released from the hospital, you hear the girls talking of next summer – will I even be here next summer? The simplest things, the most trivial of possessions – the little charm Tsuna handed you when you were sixteen, the baseball glove Yamamoto won the Nationals with and gave you, the almost-always-empty box that keeps your beloved Uri in check – they make your throat constrict with fuddled emotions.
The pain, and the suffering, both are endless and incalculable.
Tsuna doesn't ask questions when you file for a leave. You simply tell him you need a little break, and he gives you all the time you need. Yamamoto is surprised at the suddenness, but Ryohei deems it long due.
You leave for Japan on the next flight.
While initially more sensitive to aggressive chemotherapy and irradiation, small cell lung carcinoma ultimately carries a worse prognosis and is often metastatic at presentation. Much later after extensive tests and scans Shamal finds that the cancer has begun to metastasize to your liver – you are thankful, though, that it spares your brain. Of all the horrors that could befall you, you spurn being robbed of your mind.
Shamal is bleak and blunt.
The five year survival rate is fourteen percent with full treatment.
Small cell lung carcinoma is strongly associated with smoking.
The cancer has already advanced into the extensive stage, and is inoperable.
Rather narcissistic by nature, you've always loved your hair. It gives you a certain aura of uniqueness and class, something no ordinary lowly being can hope to accomplish. You keep it trim, but you let it fall, frame your face, silver spun in waves. It is a gift, one of the many gifts your mother has left you, and it reminds you of your forgotten heritage, of the woman who cared for you and held your fingers and made music with you when you were young.
You love your hair the most when Yamamoto touches it, threads his fingers into it – and though you feign annoyance, you secretly preen.
So when you feel the burning at your scalp, and one by one they fall, you cry.
Two of the medicines you are given are cisplatin and etoposide, both DNA replication inhibitors that hinder the progress of those treacherous mutant cells bunkering in your lungs.
There are, of course, side-effects, and you are well-informed. Or at least, as well-informed as you can be by reading books. You never really know the horror of it until you experience it yourself.
Nephrotoxicity is a major concern when cisplatin is given. Your kidneys, precious mechanisms they are, are battered and abused by the toxic chemicals they are forced to absorb. You know you're given two of them for a reason, and you curse these doctor bastards for ruining them agonizingly slow – but then you realize you're being a pretentious asshole yourself, because you're given two lungs as well, and now you've wrecked both of them.
The word neurotoxicity makes you want to vomit – or maybe that's just the etoposide speaking – because you are prideful of your mind's brilliance, and its one thing you never want to be deprived of. Weeks into the therapy, when you start failing to write in your usual flawless flowing script, you're scared.
You're surprised when the world slowly quiets itself, and for a moment you think the gods are listening to your pleas for peace, before you remember what you've read from the books – something called ototoxicity, the loss of hearing.
When the notes start failing to reach your ears, when your fingers slip soundlessly on black and white, it's then that reality takes a tight and strangling grip around your throat. You play your mother's lullaby, but you don't know if you're doing it justice, because you can't hear it, not really, unless the hearing is done with the mind.
Despair is absolute.
The book reads:
Alopecia (hair loss): generally not a major problem in patients treated with cisplatin.
Obviously, the author is a pitch perfect example of the most magnanimous form of human stupidity there exists on all the green and blessed earth. Or maybe they just had really ugly hair.
The medicine is given intravenously, but even then, you taste it in your mouth, with each forkful of pasta, with each piece of sushi. It roils, foul and acrid, at the back of your throat, the essence of chemotherapy, the taste of death.
Despite this, though, you order as much take-out as you can from Takesushi. If you can, if your body is strong enough, you brave a trip to the store in person. You sit at the back, covering your face, hoping Yamamoto senior does not recognize you.
You can't really figure if he does or doesn't know – your hair's all gone, your cheeks are sunken, you've lost weight, and you're a mere ghost of what you were before – but that's not the point. You enjoy your food, enjoy as much of it as you can, while you can.
You miss Yamamoto's warm, comforting presence.
Keeping up with the Vongola's business is just about the only thing that can distract you in the blur of haze and lucidity. You are still officially on leave – for three months now, a long while – but you monitor the goings-on as closely as you can while being remote. You move away from Namimori. You dare not get in touch with any of them, knowing that they would want to know where you are, what you're doing, how you've been.
Especially Yamamoto, the nosy bastard, always poking unwelcome heads into other people's business.
Whenever there's an altercation the people at base fail to see, you anonymously tip them off, alert them to the dispute's presence. From the shadows you arrange a confrontation, within which the Vongola is guaranteed at least a seventy percent chance of winning. Your comrades are strong – you have faith in them, faith that you can no longer place upon yourself.
Time flies; six months.
Yamamoto's pace picks up. Vongola's enemies fall, one man at a time, at the hands of a ruthless swordsman. Yamamoto has done you proudly – the Tenth is in safe hands.
The moon stares you in the face. Dark days and even darker nights pass by in a motley shade of grey. You sit upon the cool sand, a mere few steps away from the beachside house you rent in this small, obscure town. You chose this place because it reminded you of Palermo's sundrenched historic beaches – though you might not be all too fond of Italy, you do have memories of it you want to keep.
It's been nine months. The Vongola are in a frantic search for their missing consigliere, but you cannot return to them. You are of no use to them any longer, and you refuse to be an extraneous burden to the Tenth.
Gaunt and ghastly you've turned; even the children in town are scared of you, how you look. There is a small out-of-network hospital in town, where you get your regular treatments under a false name and a false story. Shamal has pledged his silence; you trust him with your secret.
What you failed to plan contingency for is when someone else finds out some other way.
Of all people, you did not expect Hibari to find you.
Perhaps you should have, you think in hindsight. Hibari is, after all, a one-man show in the underground world of the Japanese yakuza, single-handedly orchestrating operations for the two largest and most central families.
He approaches you on a cloudy day, the dappled sunlight rippling over his passive face.
"Gokudera Hayato," he says, "the Vongola is looking for you."
His tonfas are nowhere to be seen, you note attentively. Kusakabe is the only one leaning by the sleek black car pulled over in your driveway – then again, it's not as if Hibari needs anyone else apart from himself.
"I know," you tell him. You wrap your arms around yourself, trying and failing not to let your comrade see what you've become. "I know."
Hibari stands there, staring at you, unsettling you with deep and fathomless black eyes. Then, after what seems an eternity, he turns wordlessly and heads for the car – on cue, Kusakabe slips into the driver's seat, and soon the driveway is clear.
You know he understood what you were trying to say. If anything, Hibari knew how to differentiate useful from useless.
You're of the latter.
The Cloud is unpredictable and wild, they say, never tethered by rules, never bound by practicalities. All there is is the sky, and to them, that is enough. You've seen proof of this time and time again, as Hibari proved himself all powerful and mightiest of the six Guardians.
However, you realize that you never truly understood in great depth what unpredictability means.
Yamamoto stands before your door later that night, wide-eyed and slack-jawed in shock. You trusted Hibari to keep your secret; the asshole betrayed you.
You don't know what to say, to this person, the very last person you want to see. You stand, equally shocked, until the sway of fatigue forces you to lean against the door. Your forehead crumples in pain – but the pain is different from the medicine's burn.
"Gokudera– is that you?"
No, it's not, you want to tell him.
You've always been awfully bad at lying, and Yamamoto's always been awfully good at it. He knows, always knows, when you're lying, as if he wears some sort of lie detector, and it rings loud in his head whenever you utter any nuance of false truth.
So you tell him: "Yes, this is me."
You tell him and wait in trepidation – your feet are killing you, though. To put it genteelly, they tingle. To put it frankly, they feel like they're being stabbed by Hibari's hedgehog spikes.
When the last of your strength flees to some unknown refuge, you collapse, and expect to hit solid ground and bruise – you bruise and bleed easily nowadays; the etoposide suppresses your bone marrow activity lowers your platelet count – but you feel strong, solid, warm arms surround you, cradle you, lift you up.
Your head spins in pain – you barely register Yamamoto kicking the door closed. He carries you to the living room, where a futon is laid before the TV. You sleep here, instead of staying in the bedroom, where the bed feels like its intent on drowning you. You like the solid ground against your back – and at least, this way, you're sure you'll never fall and hit your head.
The rest of the night fades into black, and you fall asleep to the muted comfort of the crashing waves.
You look at yourself in the mirror, trying to remember how you were.
You think of wearing a wig, of trying to match your own hair color, except there's nothing quite as silky and silver and sinuous as your real and now nonexistent hair – so you trash that idea.
You pick up a scarf, tie it around your head, snug so it wouldn't slide off smooth skin. You look ridiculous.
You could always go bald. Bald and beautiful. Carefree, confident.
Just like how you used to be.
You like that idea.
Morning dawns, and for you it only means another day of pain and waning life. Unlike any other morning, though, today you feel warm, and none of the coldness of bleak reality creeps in at the edges. A whisper, fingers trail upon your cheekbones, tracing invisible lines.
Your eyes flutter open, and you find yourself drowning in rich hazel warmth.
"Good morning, Gokudera," he greets you.
"I – you – it was – you – "
Yamamoto shushes you with a well-placed finger on your chapped lips, and then gives you a gentle, soothing smile. You can't help it – your hysteria melts away, and you're left with anxiety and a tingle of something you don't want to name.
You stay that way, ensconced in his arms, in his warmth, in his security. You've never felt so grounded in the last ten months – you've never felt so sure. As you sink deeper the fear bleeds away. A palm rests on your back, rubbing soothing circles, coaxing mumbled sighs. The tension you never even knew was there releases its hold, and you grow lax and pliant. Your tired bones have never felt so good.
"I was worried for you," Yamamoto confesses. He pulls you closer, tighter in, yet gently so, as if he's afraid you'll break and snap. "When you didn't come back, the base very nearly imploded. Tsuna was frantic."
You keep your quiet.
"…what happened to you, Hayato?"
The anguished whisper is so silent your cisplatin-damaged ears barely hear it, but you do, and you jolt in surprise. He never calls you Hayato – has never called you Hayato, not in the long ten years you've known each other. It's too close, far too close for comfort, and both of you, by some unspoken tacit agreement, never call each other by name, even though you share a bond stronger than any other has seen.
But now – now he's bridged the gap, and you're faced with a decision.
It's either you meet him, or you don't – but you don't think you're strong enough to face the consequences of the latter. You don't want him in pain, you don't want him to suffer – but you're a selfish bastard, and you've had enough of bitter loneliness to last you a lifetime, even though the lifetime might only be a mere twenty-five years.
So you tell him.
From the beginning, from the shadow on the x-ray film, from ten months ago.
You bare your soul to him, and at the very end, you cradle him when he breaks down and cries.
By evening, he's applied for a leave. By the following morning, the house floods with Tsuna and the girls and the children and Bianchi – wryly, you wonder if it's the etoposide that's making you nauseous or her face. You don't feel up to telling the rest of them the story, so you let Shamal and Yamamoto talk. You sit idle on the squishy couch, secure in between its squishy arms, Yamamoto's body wrapped protectively around you as you rest.
None of them question you as you lay your head on his shoulder. None of them say a word when you close your eyes and drift into a tired nap. None of them bat an eye when Yamamoto pulls you close, cradles you, places a soft kiss on your head.
Later, they ask you to return to Italy with them, but you refuse. You choose to remain in Japan, in the country you now know as your home – they manage to persuade you to return to Namimori, though.
The next time you eat at Takesushi, there's no longer a need to hide at the back, though you're still tempted to go and seat yourself at the now-familiar booth. You linger behind Yamamoto, your hand clasped firmly in his, and he leads you to a long table where Tsuna and the others are already assembled.
You eat as much sushi as you can, and brave the metallic taste that's telltale of the poison running rampant in your veins. You have a mild amount of alcohol – Shamal watches you attentively – but it's enough to warm you up. You spend the night in laughter and smiles, in the warm and familiar company of friends, and you realize how much you've missed this, this sheer pleasure of simply being and soaking up the presence of those dear to you. Tears sting at the back of your eyes, and you rub at them as you laugh.
You hope that in the future, even after you're gone, they'll still remember you when they gather like this, because you're sure that you'll never forget.
Days and days you spend with Tsuna and the girls, the children, even Bianchi. You occupy as much as you can of your remaining time with them, knowing that there isn't much left, that you're nearing the end. You can feel it, drawing near, a suffocating blackness that threatens to engulf you, slowly eating away at the edges. For now it's kept at bay by the life that your friends feed into you, but soon, soon…
You try your best not to monopolize them, though, and you dutifully remind Tsuna that there's still work to do. You assist wherever and whenever you can, even through simple business strategies and basic research. You stay out of their way when there is work to be done – they notice this, and assure you you're not being a hindrance, but you know better than to believe them.
You know what you're risking by associating with the Vongola once more, but you can't help it if you're drawn into conflicts. It wouldn't make a difference anyway, you figure, if you die by the hands of another or if you die by the slow onset of cancer.
Soon you understand that you needn't have worried. The one time you are caught unawares and involved in a midday skirmish in the midst of suburb Tokyo, you are almost shot – if not for Yamamoto shielding you and taking a bullet to the arm.
The swordsman pays the wound no heed, and instead explodes into a savage and vindictive massacre, bathing earth, grave, and stone in blood.
The look in those otherwise warm and loving brown eyes – it makes you shiver.
What remains of your resting days you spend with Yamamoto, idling away under the autumn Namimori skies, watching leaves blush and fall from their branches. You talk in gentle tones of inconsequential things. Yamamoto entertains your every whim, cares for every need, and grants every single wish – all there is left is to say it.
Everything is new, to the both of you. When your lips meet in a chaste kiss, when fingers twine together in aching affection, your heart strains to bursting. Your cancer-ridden lungs heave for breath, as if you've been submerged for so long, and now you're allowed air. You feel heady and sated, and yet hungering for more.
And at night when the two of you lay in bed, you curse at fate for giving you this only to take it away.
If only you'd been a little bit smarter, and a little less proud; a little bit faster on the uptake, a little less of a grouch. If only you didn't waste such precious time. If only you weren't a self-absorbed idiot. If only, if only...
The two of you could have had so much more.
You stare at your reflection. Your hair is gone, your eyes are dull and shuttered. Your skin is pale, your face gaunt. You've lost your weight, your physique, your strength. You've no grace to speak of, and the poison in your blood is damaging your nerves. You can barely hold a pen these days.
Early on you'd hoped you weren't meant to suffer so very long, but it seems you are, and nothing is worse than seeing yourself wasting away day by day.
Yamamoto comes and wraps his arms around you, rests his cheek against your thin bare neck.
"Takeshi," you whisper, "Takeshi, when I'm g-gone – when I'm gone, remember as I was." Your voice is hoarse, and it cracks. "Not like this. Wasted. Ugly."
He shakes his head, takes your hands, cups your face. "Beautiful," he murmurs against your skin. "Still beautiful. Always the most beautiful."
You recall olden days when you used to watch Yamamoto on the pitch, during high school. You recall those pure, gleeful grins he gave you, and though sweaty and dusty he was, you thought he looked handsome and downright drool-worthy anyway.
He has potential, a long life to live, a steady set of morals to guide him, a bright future ahead of him. Unlike you.
So you talk to him. You know you're being wicked when you tell him that you want him to move on and find someone else when you pass. You know you're hurting him when you ask him to not hesitate on your part should he find someone he wants to settle down with. But you truly wish these things for him. You know he wants his own family – who are you to stand in the way?
You're not going to let him sacrifice his future for your mere memory.
Your only wish is that he remember you, and what you shared, and how you were, and what you could have been.
He hushes you, and puts you to sleep.
The last day is cold, and the sunlight is dappled. The breeze ruffles the trees, faint, whispering of a loss.
You lay in Yamamoto's arms. You sit under sunlight in the backyard.
You murmur your goodbye, tell him you're sorry. Give him your thanks.
The last thing you feel is his warmth, and tears against your neck.
The last thing you hear is a muted, anguished, liberated whisper:
"I love you too."
And it takes no time to fall in love
But it takes you years to know what love is
And it takes some fears to make you trust
It takes those tears to make it rust
It takes the dust to have it polished
Life is wonderful
Life is meaningful
Life goes full circle.
-- Jason Mraz, "Life is Wonderful"