Pairing: 8018 (Yamamoto/Hibari) with mild references to 5986 and XS
Written For: Marraa on KHR_Exchange 09 (LJ Holiday Exchange Comm), who requested "any" 8018.
Notes: Many thanks to Dame Batsie for the excellent beta reading.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

The moment Takeshi stepped off the plane and onto Japanese soil, he felt tension drain out of his body. Though he had spent the last two years in Italy, it had never felt like home. He still had to use a Japanese-to-Italian dictionary to communicate, and he had felt alien, being the only Japanese person for miles. But here, his people surrounded him. No one looked at him strangely or smirked when he confused the "r" sound for "l."

Takeshi wandered through the airport's crowd. Though comforted by the sound of his native tongue around him, he saw no one familiar. Disappointed, he wondered if they had received his message. It had been two years since he had seen his friends--had they forgotten about him?

"Did you get a tan?" a familiar male voice asked from behind him. "You look like a fucking barbecue skewer."

Takeshi spun around and beamed at Gokudera. In typical Gokudera fashion, he scowled back at Takeshi. "Hello, Gokudera. You look fantastic, so tall!"

"Goddamn, that stupid smile is every bit as annoying as it was before you left." Gokudera took a drag from his cigarette. His face seemed longer, and his feathered silver hair lent him a wizened appearance. "You got all your shit?"

Takeshi lifted his suitcase. "Yup. Man, it's been a long time. I'm really happy to see you. How have you been?"

Gokudera rolled his eyes and stomped towards the parking lot. "The Tenth is waiting for you."

Takeshi grinned. It felt as if he had never left. He almost thought Gokudera had not changed, until Gokudera handled several phone calls on their way to the car, in several different languages. Takeshi only recognized three: Japanese, English, and Italian. Though he could not make out the specifics over the rush of planes taking off and landing nearby, he heard enough to tell that Gokudera shifted between the languages with ease and spoke with a maturity that had not been present when Takeshi left. The way he handled stress was something of a relief after spending two years with Squalo, who handled stress at the top of his lungs.

"Is everything going all right?" Takeshi asked as he slid into the passenger seat of Gokudera's red Ferrari. "You seem busy."

Gokudera threw his old cigarette out the window and fished another from a box sitting in a cup holder. "Yeah. The Tenth inherited a region from the local yakuza. We're trying to work things out with the main yakuza organization."

"What?" Takeshi blinked. "Yakuza territory? How did that happen?"

Gokudera scowled and threw his new cigarette out the window, as if developing a sudden distaste for his vice. He started up the car. "Don't ask me. Ask Hibari."

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

In Takeshi's absence, Tsuna had become a man. Unlike Gokudera, he had not grown tall. In fact, with his new haircut, he seemed slighter than ever. But his size belied his maturity. It did not emerge physically, but rather in the way Tsuna bowed when Takeshi stepped into his large, airy office. It was in his smile, one far more restrained than it had been two years ago.

"How was Italy, Yamamoto?" Tsuna asked as he re-seated himself behind his huge desk.

Takeshi sat in the chair offered to him. "It was good. The weather was very nice, and I loved the food."

"Did you learn a lot?"

"Oh, sure. I can make ten different sauces, and my meatballs are so good that Xanxus actually ate them all without throwing a single one at Squalo's head."

Tsuna stared as he folded his hands on his desk. "Oh. I see. Did you, um, learn anything else besides cooking?"

Takeshi laughed. "Well, Squalo might have taught me a few things about swordsmanship. I also got better at using boxes."

"Great! I heard he shares the title of Sword Emperor with you. That's amazing."

"Well, his DVDs convinced me to train with him. It was fun."

"Fun?"

Takeshi scratched the scar on his chin. The day he received it was the best battle he ever had in his life--practically orgasmic. He and Squalo had fought for three days--one day longer than Squalo's battle with Tyr. Neither of them had won, but it did not matter. What mattered was the battle itself. "Sure. I mean, he's really tough, but the training was always fun. Nothing like a life-threatening situation to brighten my day."

Tsuna blinked and gaped. Takeshi chuckled. Tsuna always acted funny when Takeshi tried to explain how much he enjoyed the excitement of battle, but Tsuna never understood. He possessed too gentle a spirit to appreciate the sentiment.

"So, who told you about the shared Sword Emperor title?" Takeshi asked.

"Reborn. He sent a letter."

"He's still gone?" Takeshi frowned. "He left before I did."

"I know." Tsuna sighed and stared at a picture of himself and Reborn. They were both smiling, though Tsuna's smile may have been one of fear, as Reborn was pointing his gun at him. "He says he'll return when he can, but he has to take care of business first."

Takeshi nodded. Reborn would return when he was ready, and not a moment sooner, so there was little point in worrying about him. "So, what's been happening here, Tsuna? Gokudera said you inherited yakuza territory?"

The door opened, and Hibari stepped in, his expression as cold as ever. His appeared had barely changed, though his hair had been cut shorter. The past two years away only made Hibari more beautiful. Takeshi slid his gaze away. Staring too long at the former Head of the Namimori Disciplinary Committee was never good for anyone's health.

Hibari walked past Takeshi without glancing at him. He handed Tsuna a note and adjusted his tie.

Tsuna opened the piece of paper and frowned. "Alone?"

"I highly doubt that your right-hand man will allow such a thing."

"But that could upset them. At least they're agreeing to meet with me."

"They will not give territory to the mafia easily. Even if the head of the mafia is Japanese."

"So you're telling me I should let Gokudera get involved?" Tsuna sighed.

"So long as you bite them all to death, I could not care less." Hibari spun on his heel and walked out. He did not spare Takeshi a single glance.

Takeshi watched Hibari disappear out of the door and frowned. He glanced back at Tsuna. "This is pretty serious, huh? What did I miss?"

Tsuna smiled sadly. "More than I can possibly explain right now. Look, do you mind helping out tonight? I'll have someone pick you up. I might run into trouble."

"Of course, Tsuna."

"Thanks, Yamamoto. I knew I could count on you. Sorry to chase you out, but I have to call Gokudera now and spend the next two hours convincing him to be subtle."

"Good luck with that."

"Thanks, I'll need it."

Takeshi bowed and headed back out of Tsuna's office as Tsuna called Gokudera in. As he overheard Gokudera loudly proclaim that he would be as subtle as a ninja (who uses explosive weapons), Takeshi smiled. It was good to be home.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

Tsuna told Takeshi to wait outside his father's sushi restaurant by six in the evening. Takeshi spent the rest of the day catching up with his father. At six, when he stepped out with his katana in a baseball bat bag, he expected to find Gokudera waiting for him, smoking two or three cigarettes at once in an attempt to calm his nerves (not that it ever worked). Instead, a sleek black car waited outside. The tinted windows were rolled up, and as the street lights slowly came to life, the polished black exterior glittered.

This was definitely not Gokudera's Ferrari. Takeshi slowly approached the car, wondering if this was really his ride or not. The passenger window rolled down, though the inside was still too dark to see. "Yamamoto Takeshi. Get in. Do not waste my time."

Takeshi recognized the voice, though he did not quite believe it until he sat down in the passenger seat and found Hibari sitting behind the wheel. He did not glance at Takeshi. "Buckle your seatbelt, or you ride in the trunk."

"Right." Takeshi buckled his seatbelt.

Hibari pulled away from the curb and sped down the street as Takeshi studied him. He had always been something of an enigma. He seemed to dislike everyone, except for those he considered strong, like Reborn. He used violence as a greeting, a parting, and a conversation starter. He seemed less inclined to do violence now that he was an adult, but the threat of him biting someone to death remained in his sharp gaze and in the twitch of his long, graceful fingers. Takeshi grinned. The threat of violence coupled with newfound restraint only added to Hibari's hotness factor.

"What are you grinning about?"

"Oh, nothing."

"Stop it immediately."

"Wow, you're really bossy, aren't you?" Takeshi continued to grin.

Hibari glanced at him, his gaze like a high-powered laser, and stomped on the brakes so hard that Takeshi was thrown against his seatbelt. It bit into his chest and stung. "Ow! What was that for?" Takeshi asked as he peeled the seatbelt off of him. He straightened his suit jacket.

"It made you stop grinning." Hibari continued to drive.

Takeshi blinked. Hibari was still Hibari it seemed--and he still had not grown out of his middle-high school tactics. Takeshi grinned again, this time in revenge. "You're a real funny guy, senpai." He braced himself for impact.

Instead, Hibari ignored him. He drove into the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. He parked the car so he faced an old warehouse. "I want a bento box with beef in it, and some onigiri. I want green tea, very strong. I also want it all hot."

After a few seconds of consideration, Takeshi realized that Hibari expected him to buy the food. He laughed. Hibari's manners could use some polishing. "Only if you ask politely."

Hibari turned his face towards Takeshi. He glared no more than usual, but then, glaring seemed to be Hibari's default expression.

"A polite request would sound something like this: 'Hey, Takeshi, I sure am hungry. Would you please go inside and get me some food?'"

Hibari turned his attention back on the warehouse. "I am not that hungry." He turned on the radio and tuned it until no sound came out, except for the occasional crackle of static.

"Don't you want a music channel?"

"That is Sawada's frequency. The noisy herbivore set it up so we can listen in."

"Listen in on what?"

"His meeting with the yakuza." Hibari shot him another glare. Takeshi wondered if his silver chain would tarnish under that gaze.

"Right, well, since there's no sound yet, I'm going to get something to eat. Would you like something?"

Hibari's expression grew so fierce that not only was Takeshi sure that his silver chain would tarnish, but that it might burn his flesh at any second.

Takeshi smirked and hopped out of the car. It took him fifteen minutes to find all the food Hibari wanted, plus his own, then have the attendant heat it up. When he got back inside Hibari's car, he handed Hibari the sack with his food. "Even though you didn't ask politely."

Hibari continued to stare at the warehouse across the street. Takeshi sighed and set it down on the armrest, and it was not until he opened his own bento box out that Hibari grabbed his sack and rummaged through it. When he started to eat, Takeshi could not help but watch. Hibari nibbled delicately on his food, eating more like a bird than like a man.

"You are smiling again," Hibari said, his tone practically leaking acid all over the leather seats.

"I can't help it."

"Do you have a facial tic?"

The question only made Takeshi chuckle. "Nah. You're just adorable. I love the way you eat." He spoke casually, wondering what Hibari's reaction would be now. Five years ago, he had once told Hibari that he was as pretty as a girl. Takeshi later reflected this was poor decision-making, but luckily, when Gokudera arrived on the roof to eat lunch, he peeled Takeshi off the ground and helped him to the clinic. Not that Dr. Shamal had done anything but tell them where the band-aids and ointment were kept.

Luckily, Hibari no longer responded to compliments with physical violence. Instead, he turned away and continued to eat without comment. The radio crackled, and Takeshi heard Tsuna chattering to Gokudera and Ryōhei. Across the street, Gokudera's Ferrari pulled into the parking lot of the warehouse, and Tsuna stepped out and into the warehouse. Gokudera circled around and parked by another warehouse. He remained inside the car, though Ryōhei stepped out to repeatedly punch the air, presumably to warm up.

"Think everything will be all right?" Takeshi asked, raising the radio volume. "Yakuza are serious business."

"I do not need you to tell me that. Just listen for trouble."

"And you're alone?" an unfamiliar male voice asked Tsuna through the radio.

Tsuna's voice came through strong. "My friends are waiting for me."

"We told you to come alone."

"That's why they're outside and parked at another warehouse. They had to drive me here. I don't know how to drive." Tsuna sounded remarkably calm. He had grown so much.

Silence. Then: "You're part of the Italian mafia."

"I'm the Tenth boss of the Vongola Famiglia, so yes."

"You're not Italian." The male voice lowered with unspoken threat.

Tsuna's voice still registered no fear. "No. I'm Japanese. I just run an Italian organization. It's complicated."

"Even so, Namimori, Kokuyo, and the rest of the region belongs to the oyabun, not to some Japanese playing don. Do you think simply killing Hibari Jun entitles you to our territory?"

Takeshi glanced at Hibari, but Hibari did not react to the name. There was no time to ask, for Tsuna responded quickly. "I didn't kill him, but I was hoping we could work out a deal. See, I know his son, and--"

The sound of gun being cocked. "More importantly, did you think there would be no repercussions for his death?"

"Merda!" Takeshi swore. Profanity was the only Italian he easily retained, perhaps because of the Varia's rampant use of it. "Go, Hibari, go!" he screamed just as he heard the roar of Tsuna's dying will flames through the radio.

Hibari calmly started the car and rocketed across the street. He floored the gas pedal. "Seatbelt," he warned.

Takeshi barely had his seatbelt strapped across his waist when Hibari rammed the car through the front entrance of the warehouse. The heavy doors burst open. They barely left a dent in the vehicle's front end. Takeshi suspected the car had been reinforced and improved, especially when bullets bounced off the sides--even the glass. Hibari kept driving towards where fire roared in the back--to where Tsuna was. Without hesitation, he drove over a few tattooed yakuza thugs and an old Japanese man in a suit. The car bumped with the impacts and screeched to a halt. Takeshi blinked as Hibari adjusted his tie.

"You can take the seatbelt off now." Hibari opened the door and stepped out into the chaos that surrounded them, marching towards the fiery spectacle that was Tsuna in battle. Anyone that got in his way flew out of it within seconds.

Takeshi pulled a box from his coat pocket. "Man, I love this job," he commented, and stepped out to cut his way through the gunfire. The sound of explosives signaled the arrival of Gokudera and Ryōhei. The yakuza had no chance now.

It was the best time Takeshi had since returning to Japan.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

"You are stronger than before," Hibari commented, poking Takeshi with his tonfa for apparent emphasis.

"Ouch. Thanks." Takeshi forced himself upright, despite the throbbing from his right side. A man with the chain had caught him off guard, but at least the yakuza had not lived to brag about it. Takeshi glanced around the old-fashioned room, finding that he and Hibari were alone. "Do you know when the doctor is coming?"

"My subordinate will perform first aid on you when he is done with Sawada and the noisy herbivore. The Captain of the Boxing Club has already departed for his family home."

The muffled sound of Gokudera screaming familiar Italian curses in the next room confirmed that he was under medical care. It was almost like being back in Italy, with Squalo. Takeshi glanced at Hibari. Hibari had a spectacular bruise on the side of his face, and his violet shirt had turned red with blood. Takeshi wondered how much, if any, was Hibari's blood.

"Maybe he should attend to you first."

"I am not injured."

"Then what's that bruise on your face?"

"A temporary discoloration of my skin." Hibari poked Takeshi with his tonfa again. Takeshi hissed as his wound stung in response. "Worry about yourself."

"I can't help but worry about you, Hibari." Takeshi smiled, despite the pain. "I don't like to see pretty things hurt."

Hibari eased himself into a chair and fixed his gaze back on Takeshi. Takeshi waited for Hibari's high-quality glare to cause a fresh twinge in his side. "Stop calling me pretty."

"I'm sorry, am I making you uncomfortable?" Takeshi shrugged. Hibari would not be the first man to resent his flirting.

"You have no power to make me uncomfortable."

"Then why don't you like me calling you pretty? Are you scared I'm going to jump you? Don't worry, senpai, you're really cute, but I'm not that stupid. Besides, I can respect if you're not interested. Just say so. Gokudera did."

Hibari narrowed his eyes. "Nothing about you scares me." He paused and pursed his lips. "So you really are the way the noisy herbivore said you were."

"What way?"

"That way."

"Which way is that way? Up, down, left, right?"

"Are you stupid? You just admitted you were that way."

Takeshi scratched his head. "I just admitted that I'm gay. I don't see much purpose in keeping that secret from my friends. But I don't recall saying anything about being any particular way. Though my house is probably south of here."

"You are mocking me."

Takeshi laughed. "I prefer the term 'teasing.' Wow, you're adorable. You're so direct and serious." He wondered how Hibari turned out that way. Had his parents demanded too much of him as a boy? Or perhaps too little? Takeshi knew almost nothing about Hibari. "I'll bet your mother wishes you were a little more polite, though."

Hibari's expression chilled. "My mother died giving birth to me."

"Oh. Oh, I'm sorry." Takeshi frowned. "Mine left when I was seven, and I haven't seen her since."

Hibari remained cool and stiff. If he felt any sadness over his loss or sympathy for Takeshi's, he did not show it. Takeshi knew what it was like to grow up without a mother. His father had stretched himself thin trying to fulfill both roles at first, until he gave up and went back to being a father. The place of mother in Takeshi's life remained a void.

"What about your father?" Takeshi ventured to ask.

Hibari turned his face. "They did not tell you."

"Tell me what?"

"That the old oyabun was my father."

"Oh. I'm really sorry to hear about his death, then," Takeshi said somberly. He would be devastated if his father had died.

"Do not be. I was the one who killed him." Hibari abruptly stood and left the room.

Takeshi sighed. When Kusakabe walked in ten minutes later, he saw to Takeshi's wounds, bandaged him up, and informed Takeshi that Hibari demanded he be left alone for the rest of the day.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

"How did it happen?" Takeshi asked. He shrugged his jacket off and draped it over a chair filled with boxes of dynamite. His side barely twinged at the movement.

"What do you care?" Gokudera tapped one of the model spaceships hanging from his apartment ceiling. It lit up at the touch and buzzed around in a small circle. With all the glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to Gokudera's ceiling and walls, Takeshi imagined the little spaceships would look quite impressive when the room was dark.

"Why shouldn't I care? It directly affects our family, and more importantly, it affects my friends."

"It's not like that guy gives a shit about you or the rest of us." Gokudera turned away from his model spaceship and plucked a cigarette from the carton lying on his filthy kitchen table. Several ashtrays filled with crumpled cigarette butts huddled together on the table, surrounded by dirty plates with still stuck to the surface. Dirty dishes sat in a pile on the counter, and crumbs and half-eaten packages of food littered the floor. The only clean thing in the entire apartment seemed to be Gokudera himself and his model spaceships.

Takeshi sighed and started picking up the dirty plates from Gokudera's table. "You really need a girlfriend to take care of you."

"That's a funny statement coming from the token homosexual in our organization."

"I'm not the token homosexual. If you think that Xanxus and Squalo aren't sleeping together, then you'd be wrong."

"They hate each other. Xanxus is always throwing things at the shark's head."

Takeshi rolled up his sleeves and dug around for the soap. "I think that's like foreplay to them. Usually, Xanxus throws something at Squalo's head, and Squalo screams at him. They move off to another room, but you can still hear them. There's crashing and banging and moaning and Squalo shouting really obscene things. And if you interrupt them, Xanxus will shoot you. Whenever they were busy, I usually played poker with Lussuria. Who cheats, by the way. Speaking of Lussuria--"

"Okay, okay! Fine, then you're the token homosexual in our immediate family."

"Yeah? Have you seen how the fifteen-year-old Lambo dresses?"

"Fine! Then you're not token! But it's still fucking weird for you to tell me I need a girlfriend!"

"Really? I like women just fine. I just prefer sex with men." Takeshi started washing the dishes. "And you really do need a woman. I think the last time this place got cleaned was by me, just before I left for Italy. Two years ago."

"Fuck you."

"I thought you didn't like men?"

"Oh, shut up." Gokudera sat on a kitchen chair and watched Takeshi wash the dishes, as if concerned Takeshi might steal one of his coffee cup-cum-ashtrays. "I'm working on the girlfriend thing, okay?"

"Haru can't possibly still be stuck on Tsuna after all this time."

"I said I'm working on it!"

Takeshi laughed and continued to scrub at the dishes. As hard as the food was stuck to them, he would get a nice workout on his arms. "In any case, I think you're wrong about Hibari. If he doesn't care about us, then why does he keep saving us?"

Gokudera responded with a scowl and a puff of smoke in Takeshi's direction.

"So, why did Hibari kill his father? How did it happen?"

"That's a long story."

Takeshi eyed the unholy mess of Gokudera's apartment and reflected it could be months before Gokudera's questionable charms finally broke down a stubborn girl like Haru. "I've got time."

Gokudera's expression grew distant as he took a drag from his cigarette. "We'd pissed off the yakuza after cleaning up Namimori's gangs. The oyabun decided to take care of us himself. That guy was crazy strong and fast. And the boxes he used, they were incredible--tiger boxes, so fierce and vicious. He laughed every time we were wounded. Every time he bled, he grinned, as if he got off on it. Hibari showed up right in the middle of the battle." Gokudera paused to take another pull from his cigarette, and then fell silent as he stared out of the window.

"Then what happened?" Takeshi prompted after a few moments of silence.

"Hibari broke through the oyabun's energy defense shield. We didn't even realize he knew him until tossed his tonfa aside and started beating the asshole with his bare hands. Something like that had to be personal. He kept chanting the same thing over and over: 'I hate you." He stood up, wiped the blood from his face, and told the corpse he hated him once more. After that, he left us there, to pick ourselves up."

Takeshi put the last of the dishes on the drying rack. "That was it?"

Gokudera smashed his cigarette into an over-full ashtray. "I did some research afterwards and paid a few yakuza off that didn't care for Hibari's father. I found out Hibari Jun had a training maze for his best kobun. It was underneath his estate, filled with all sorts of science experiments, obstacles, and traps. They said it was like a house of horrors. The only person who ever survived it was his son. "

"Oh," Takeshi said as he started cleaning ashtrays out. "I guess that's why Hibari's so strong."

"I guess so. More than a few of my informers told me that Hibari was forced into the maze at age seven, and every year on his birthday, his father would force him through an upgraded version to show the new kobun that it could be done."

"Age seven?" A death maze was no place for an adult, much less a seven-year-old little boy. Takeshi wiped Gokudera's table clean and wondered how old Hibari was when he stopped being afraid of that maze--and everything else. Some killers were born to their trade, like Takeshi. Others were molded into it, like Hibari.

"He only killed his father for revenge, not because he cared about any of us. That guy's a lost cause, Yamamoto. Best to stay away from him."

"Then why's he still helping us? I don't think it's simple. Besides, nothing's a lost cause," Takeshi said with a smile. "Nothing." He believed that with every cell of his being--because if Takeshi believed otherwise, he would have to throw himself from the tallest building in Namimori. Tsuna had taught him to do things with a dying will six years ago, atop Namimori Middle-High. Since then, he had never given up on anything. And he would not give up on Hibari.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

Takeshi did not know whether to be surprised or not when he found Hibari sweeping his father's grave at sunset. As much of a bastard as Hibari's father had been, it seemed Hibari still had some sense of filial piety. Takeshi stood off to the side, hands in his pockets, watching for a few minutes before finally speaking.

"We've killed a lot more yakuza. You think there's going to be more trouble?"

"Yes." Hibari finished sweeping and stepped back, stoic as ever.

Takeshi studied him. No one really knew what went on behind Hibari's cold face and narrowed eyes. No one really knew him. He kept everyone at arm's length. That Hibari's yakuza father had something to do with that was intuitive. Takeshi sighed.

"I guess the obvious question is why? Why did you save Tsuna and everyone else from your father?"

"I was not saving them." Hibari stared down at the broom in his hand. "They just happened to be there when I came in."

Takeshi frowned. "The way your father treated you, it was not the way a father should treat his son."

Hibari snapped the broom in two and flung it as hard he could. The two pieces sailed off into the distance like bats swung so hard they broke the batter's grip. Hibari always seemed angry, and now Takeshi finally knew who Hibari was angry at. "You do not know anything about it," Hibari said after a long moment.

"I know more about it than you think. The story is written all over your behavior, in the way you fight, in the way you ran the Disciplinary Committee, in the way you just broke that broom, in the way you saved my friends from your father, and in the way you're still protecting us from his men."

"You attach too much meaning to my behavior. I simply desired to take over my father's position."

"Then why give it to Tsuna? Why ally yourself with the Italian mafia? You're not taking over your father's organization--you're eradicating it. He must have really treated you badly to make you hate him so much."

Hibari finally spun around, his eyes burning with an emotion that Takeshi had no name for--an emotion that lay somewhere between fury and sorrow. "Stop it."

"Stop what? Telling you about yourself? Reborn always said that I had the ability to face any dangerous situation and know what to do. It's in my nature to figure out a dangerous guy like you."

"You have not figured me out. You do not even know me." Hibari turned and started to walk down the hill. "Shut up, or I will bite you to death."

The sight of Hibari walking away from him then, when Takeshi finally understood him, sparked anger in his chest. Sometimes, Takeshi wondered if anything he did really mattered. Even if he won a baseball game, there were always more to win. Even if he saved his friends with his swordsmanship, there were always more enemies threatening them. With Hibari, he had a chance, a real chance to give Hibari someone that understood him--someone that would not let him walk away and take the easy way out.

"Fine, then I'll talk to you in the only language you seem to really understand." Takeshi slid out his sword and struck at Hibari, as surprising as the first drop of rain. Hibari met his attack, tonfa against blade, his eyes narrowed. His generous lips tugged into a frown. Takeshi vowed to kiss those lips before the fight was over.

Hibari slammed a tonfa into Takeshi's belly, sending him wheeling backwards. Takeshi quickly regained his footing and set up a watery defense with Shigure Soen's fourth form. In a moment, Hibari was on him again, blows reigning from all direction, as furious as a typhoon. Takeshi swung back. At some point he started laughing. He fought with the wind itself, blown about, but he always righted himself, like a bird carried aloft.

The fight ended before Takeshi understood it. He staggered back, disarmed, lips tasting of blood and fingers stinging from the loss of his blade. He had broken his vow, for he had not kissed Hibari, but the battle was not a total loss, because he felt reinvigorated, as he always did after a good fight. He faced Hibari, just out of reach. Hibari glared at him, tonfas at his side, his figure growing dark as the sun dipped past the horizon.

"I think you protect us because we're the first real family you ever had." Takeshi smiled, though his split lip cried out in protest. "And I'm glad you feel that way."

"Thinking is not one of your strengths," Hibari hissed.

"Maybe not, but feelings are. I got this feeling that I shouldn't let you go."

"Are you a masochist?"

"No. I just like challenges. Like learning how to play baseball perfectly. Or learning how to practice Shigure Soen perfectly."

"I am not a baseball or a katana."

"No. You're much prettier."

Hibari's lips tugged back. "Stop saying that."

"Make me."

Hibari closed the space between them in a single breath and pressed his lips to Takeshi's. It was brief and closed, but Takeshi felt an intensity that bordered on fury in Hibari's kiss. He stroked Hibari's sides, his fingers traveling across lines of tension. Thrills ran across Takeshi's body. He felt as if he were standing at the plate, trying one last time to hit a home run to save the game.

"I do not understand you, Yamamoto Takeshi," Hibari whispered as he pulled back, staring into Takeshi's eyes.

"That's all right. There's time to figure me out," Takeshi whispered. "Where's your car?"

"This way." Hibari tugged on Takeshi's tie and led him down the hill, his fingers still wound around the tie as if it were a leash.

After quickly collecting his fallen katana, Takeshi followed Hibari. The parking lot was empty when they arrived. He fully intended to let Hibari drive them back to the Institute, but when they got to the car, he realized he did not want to wait that long. It surprised him that Hibari allowed him so close, allowed him the intimacy of physical contact, and he could not restrain himself any longer. Takeshi worked his hands beneath Hibari's shirt, and they fell into the backseat of the car. Hibari had enough sense to close the door behind them.

Their clothes came off quickly once the door was shut. Takeshi pulled Hibari close and ran his hands over creamy flesh. How Hibari's skin was so smooth after the countless battles he fought, Takeshi did not know, but he reveled in it. The sight of the bruises and small cuts he had given Hibari during the face made him shiver. They were like marks of ownership--few others could land so many blows on Hibari.

"Stop playing around," Hibari demanded, his hands insistent on Takeshi's flesh.

Takeshi sucked in his breath at a sharp spike of pleasure and grinned. "Ask politely."

By the time they were done, Takeshi wrangled two polite requests from Hibari.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

The thrill of having someone so dangerous under his power had felt intoxicating to Takeshi--this was one battle he seemed to have won against Hibari. Drained of energy by the end, Takeshi slumped onto Hibari, sated.

Hibari pushed at Takeshi until he slid off. Takeshi sighed, expecting Hibari to dress and leave, but Hibari only flipped them over again so he was the one resting comfortably on top of Takeshi. He rested his head on Takeshi's chest and lazily stroked Takeshi's stomach. Takeshi smiled, warmed by the affection, and rubbed Hibari's back.

"Why do you like me?" Hibari asked after some time.

Takeshi smiled and tucked his hands behind his head. "For the same reason I like Shigure Souen. You're invincible. Flawless. No matter what you face, you emerge victorious, or you'll die honorably. You never give up." He stared up at the roof of the car. "You would never consider tossing yourself off a building. I respect that."

Hibari fell silent. "I like you."

As simple as the statement was, Takeshi felt as if he had just won the World Cup.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

There was some trouble sorting out their clothes, but they eventually dressed. Takeshi stepped out of the car first. He reached in to help Hibari out, but Hibari ignored his hand and stepped out on his own.

Before Takeshi could ask where they went from here, he heard a gun cock to his left. Takeshi dove to the right, dragging Hibari to the ground with him. They rolled across the parking lot gracelessly. Pavement and cars and the night sky filled Takeshi's sight. Gunshots fired after them, but miraculously, he escaped being hit. When they stopped near a fence, he glanced over at Hibari. Hibari breathed heavily, and his blood glistened under the moonlight. Takeshi grabbed Hibari by his collar and yanked him towards the nearby treeline, feeling the sting of dirt on his legs as bullets struck the earth near him. When they were safely behind a few trees, Takeshi glanced back at the parking lot, but he saw no one.

"Isn't that cute?" their assassin called after them, though Takeshi could not identify where he was. "Hibari Jun's deadly little son is a faggot. That'll make bringing your head to Tanaka all the sweeter. I know I hit you, cocksucker. You might as well come out now, so I can make a quick end of it for you."

Hibari struggled up, but Takeshi pushed him down with surprising ease. He counted three separate wounds, one graze to the forehead, one graze to the arm, and a worrying shot through the thigh that gushed blood. "Stay down," Takeshi hissed.

"I do not stay down," Hibari said and tried to strike Takeshi with a tonfa, but Takeshi easily disarmed him. Hibari's strength had fled him as quickly as his blood. Takeshi removed his jacket and pressed it to Hibari's thigh, tying it as tightly as he could. The other two wounds did not seem so serious.

"You will this time," Takeshi said, gripping his katana.

"You won't escape, Hibari! Not you or your boyfriend! I'm Tanaka's best assassin!"

Takeshi laughed and stood. "Really? You couldn't even kill us when we didn't know you were there. That doesn't say much for Tanaka." He still could not see the assassin. Despite his bold words, Takeshi had no idea what powers this man had. And he certainly had snuck up on them--and not just anyone could do that. Takeshi headed out from the cover of the trees.

A shadow darted towards him. Takeshi leapt at it, lighting his ring as he attacked. The flames coated his blade, but the shadow melted before he landed a hit. A moment later, a fresh storm of bullets rained from the night sky. Takeshi jumped out of the way, ignoring the sting of his cuts and bruises. Seconds passed, with the pound of his heartbeat. He struck at shadows aimlessly, never landing a hit, cutting at thin air. Soon, he saw a pattern, the way the shadow always circled around for a back attack. Takeshi stood stock still and waited. He did not wait long. Just as the shadow started to materialize behind him, he opened his box and sent his rain swallow to freeze the enemy. He followed his swallow's tranquility attack with the devastating swing-cut of Coda di Squalo.

The shadow dissolved, leaving behind the man in the suit. The indigo flame on his ring blew out, and the top half of his body slid off the bottom a moment later. A cloak fluttered into the air, dissipating like smoke.

"The best, huh?" Takeshi asked the corpse. He kicked at the open box still clutched by the dead man's hand, surmising that it was useless now that the shadow cloak had been destroyed. "We've been fighting better illusionists since we were kids."

Takeshi walked back into the trees, expecting to be told off for taking the kill, but Hibari said nothing when he returned. Hibari only lay on the ground and bled, appearing as white as the moon shining in the sky high above them. Takeshi's blood ran cold.

"Oh, no," Takeshi murmured, lifting Hibari into his arms. He felt as light as a child. "Don't die."

Hibari's eyes fluttered. "Put me down. I will walk to the hospital myself," he spat before passing out again.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

Hibari turned his face away when Takeshi walked into the hospital room. Takeshi smiled and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He studied Hibari, noting how small and thin he seemed to be beneath the cotton sheets. How he was so strong was a physiological mystery.

"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner, but I was really tired after giving you the blood you needed. Good thing I'm a universal donor, huh?"

"Hmph."

Takeshi sighed. "I guess it really pisses you off, doesn't it?"

Hibari glowered.

"You don't like being saved at all, do you? You passed out before the best part, too."

Silence.

"You know, I'm real impressed. Most guys die if hit in their femoral arteries. But not you. You still had enough strength to complain that I was holding you too tight while we waited for the ambulance. That was really cute."

"If you don't shut up, I will bite you to death."

Takeshi laughed. "That's a good point. Hey, there's a game on. Let's watch that." He plopped himself down in the chair next to Hibari's bed and grabbed the remote.

Hibari sighed. "I did not need you to save me."

"Maybe not. But I'm glad I did." Takeshi turned on the baseball game and sat back. "Great! It just started."

It was not until the third inning that Takeshi realized Hibari was watching him, not the game. He turned to him, and to his surprise, Hibari's expression did not seem cold at all. He seemed curious, almost confused. Takeshi smiled, pleased with Hibari's interest.

"Tanaka has to be eliminated," Hibari said after a moment. "Or we will never hear the end of the yakuza."

"Don't worry about that," Takeshi replied. "While you were in surgery, Tsuna, Gokudera, and senpai took care of him. They left as soon as they found out."

"Hmph."

"They also said to tell you that they hope you feel better. Lambo gave me a half-eaten box of chocolates for you, if you want it. It's in my bag."

"I have no use for their well wishing. But I want those chocolates." Hibari gave Takeshi a fierce look. "Now."

"Er. Okay." Takeshi produced the box as quickly as he could. Hibari snatched it out of his hands without so much as a word of gratitude, ripped it open, and devoured the remainder of the chocolates in less than a minute.

"Wow," Takeshi remarked.

"I hate hospital food," Hibari said. He licked chocolate from his lips, which made Takeshi wonder if he could convince Hibari to lick him like that. "You can go buy me some tempura." He paused. "Please."

Takeshi shook his head free of dirty thoughts and stood up. "Since you asked politely. Keep track of the game's score for me while I'm gone, okay?"

To Takeshi's surprise, when he returned with a bento box filled with tempura and rice, Hibari recited all the game's events to him without prompting.

x.x.x.x.x.x.x

Hibari left the hospital two days before he was supposed to and refused to use crutches, canes, or even sit down any longer than he normally world. Other than a slight limp, he seemed fairly healthy, despite how frequently he needed to change his bandages. He would not let anyone into his Institute to help him and told all intruders that if they did not leave in five minutes, he would bite them to death.

Takeshi decided to give Hibari's pride a little room. He spent his time helping Tsuna and the others get rid of the few yakuza still loyal to Tanaka (Gokudera was quick to brag that he caught three to Takeshi and Ryōhei's one each), convincing Haru that Gokudera was actually a nice guy when he put the explosives away (she even asked him out--Gokudera probably would have accepted quicker, but he was too busy choking on his cigarette), cutting bubblegum out of I-Pin's hair (Kyōko rescued the poor girl afterwards by taking her to a barber), and forcing Lambo to clean Gokudera's apartment as punishment for putting bubblegum in I-Pin's hair (and after trying to escape fifty-eight times, he did a decent job of it--though the garbage disposal would never be the same). Even as busy as he was, Takeshi could not stop wondering what Hibari was doing.

After a few days, an exhausted Takeshi decided to end the moratorium on visiting Hibari. Kusakabe led him into the Institute without a word and told him to wait in a large traditional-looking room. If Hibari felt like seeing him, he would come when he wanted, and no sooner. Takeshi waited three hours before Hibari limped into the room.

"Yamamoto Takeshi," Hibari said, his bland tone matching his expression.

"Hibari Kyōya." Takeshi smiled and stood. "How are your wounds?"

"I dislike it when people ask me that question." Hibari limped towards Takeshi, his gaze steady. Takeshi imagined he felt some pain, but none of it showed on his face. Nothing showed on his face, except for the bold intensity in his eyes. In some ways, Takeshi found Hibari even more of an enigma than Rokudō Mukuro.

Takeshi held his hand out. "I missed you a lot."

Hibari paused, several feet from Takeshi, out of arm's reach. He stared at Takeshi's outstretched hand. "I am leaving tomorrow for Italy. I will be investigating the boxes further."

Takeshi frowned and dropped his hand, stung. "I spoke too quickly, huh?"

"You may accompany me. But if you crowd me, I will bite you--"

"--to death." Takeshi beamed and stood up. "I've heard that line before. I'll be happy to go with you. As long as you're willing to go with me."

Hibari scowled. "Where are you going?"

"Wherever you're going. I can even play tour guide. My Italian stinks, but I know the area pretty well by now."

"I do not understand. If you are going where I am going, then you are accompanying me."

"But I'm also going that way, so you'll be accompanying me, too."

"You are playing word games."

"Not really." Takeshi's grin widened. "Just making sure you understand how this works."

Hibari moved forward and snatched Takeshi's hand from his side. His hands felt cold and dry, calloused from years of wielding tonfa. "Fine." He studied Takeshi's face.

Takeshi brushed Hibari's hair from his face with his free hand. Hibari was not the lost cause that Gokudera thought. He was as human as the rest of them--he just hid it better. And like everyone else, he needed people to save him every once in a while. He needed someone who was not afraid of him, someone who understood who he really was. Shigure Souen demanded that its wielders be worthy of it, and Hibari was no different.

"I think I'll keep you," Takeshi said, and kissed Hibari until he stole his breath away.

For once, Hibari did not argue.

Owari.