Title: All or Nothing
Characters:
Gokudera Hayato, Yamamoto Takeshi, Sawada Tsunayoshi, Reborn | Gokudera/OFC; Yamamoto/Gokudera; Dino/Bianchi
Summary:
Gokudera can't bring himself to compromise on some issues, even when he'd really like to. Having a sense of responsibility can be a real nightmare that way.
Notes:
Adult for about two paragraphs of smut-in-passing; future fic; completely ignores stuff happening after ch282; angst, dutiful self-sacrifice, and other tasty things. 14742 words.


All or Nothing

This had all the hallmarks of ending up as yet another grand-scale disaster, Hayato decided as he surveyed the room from over the rim of his glass. God only knew what was going to go wrong, but it was only a matter of time before it did. He just knew it.

The Tenth leaned over when Hayato set his soda back down. "Yamamoto and Ryouhei-san look like they're having fun!"

That was the Tenth, always able to find the best in any situation. "They look like idiots," Hayato said, which was God's honest truth and something he never got tired of pointing out. They were both on the dance floor, but the best that a charitable observer might have said about Ryouhei's dancing was that it had enthusiasm to commend it. Hayato, anything but a charitable observer, thought Ryouhei looked like a demented orangutan, what with the flailing and the complete lack of rhythm and all, and that was probably doing orangutans a great injustice.

Yamamoto was doing better—at least he seemed to have a sense of rhythm—but was making up for his coordination through his choice of dance partners. Hayato suspected that Yamamoto hadn't taken any of his warnings seriously—yeah, sure, this club was in Vongola territory and frequented by the Vongola and their allies. That meant it was a good place to get the Tenth used to the less formal side of social things and all. But being in friendly territory didn't mean everyone in the room was safe, which Hayato had tried to hammer through the thick skulls of his fellow guardians ahead of time. It just goddamn figured that the warning hadn't taken with Yamamoto, who was stupid enough to dance with the Vespucci twins and make a spectacle of himself doing it, too.

Hayato turned his eyes away from the sight of Maddalena Vespucci running her hands over Yamamoto's chest while her sister Margherita rubbed herself against his back and nuzzled the side of his throat. Yeah, that wasn't going to end well, not at all, and just where the hell were their so-called chaperones, anyway?

It was anyone's guess where Reborn was; he'd said he'd be keeping his eye on things without specifying where or how. Shamal was over at the bar—of course—hovering over Chrome, who looked like she was taking care of herself just fine. That could have been Mukuro doing the heavy lifting, though. Cavallone was—where was Cavallone?—there he was, on the dance floor himself (Christ, what a recipe for disaster; thank fuck Romario had people stationed all around the room, lest Cavallone klutz out and manage to kill them all). Looked like he'd seen that Yamamoto had gotten himself in over his head and was trying to get to him.

Hayato's hag of a sister got there first. Hayato groaned at the ensuing display, averting his eyes as his stomach twisted. "Oh my God."

"I didn't realize Bianchi-san and Yamamoto were, um. So close." The Tenth sounded stunned.

Hayato chanced a glance and—yep, no wonder the Tenth sounded traumatized. He cut his eyes away and cleared his throat. "They're not." Please, if there were a merciful God, they weren't. He was pretty sure they weren't. "But the Vespucci twins are real man-eaters." He kind of thought the hagbeast didn't much like them herself, either, which was probably why she was making such a point out of warning them off. Yeah. "They done yet?"

"No, they're still—wait, they're done now. Yeah." The Tenth's voice was pitched higher than usual; it made Hayato shudder to think about why that might be so, and he cursed his vivid imagination. He chanced another glance, and ugh, okay, there was no reason for the two of them to be dancing so close. He made a face as the hagbeast leaned in and said something that made Yamamoto throw his head back and guffaw like the idiot he was.

At least the Vespucci twins had slunk away to go find a new victim.

The Tenth coughed. "So, um, when you say that they're real man-eaters..."

"Meant it metaphorically. Mostly." Not that he could really blame the Tenth for wanting to make sure. Hayato swirled the ice in his glass, watching the cubes spin in the dregs of his watered-down soda. "Sometimes they do take a guy home and then no one ever sees him again, so." He snorted. "Would have served that idiot right if it'd happened to him." And there, now the Tenth had learned something, so this little field trip wasn't going to end up being a total loss. Not that he thought the Tenth was ultimately going to be the kind of boss who spent a lot of time in the clubs, but the Ninth had insisted that the Tenth should familiarize himself with this aspect of the business, too. And the Ninth was still in charge.

Hayato cast his eyes around the club as the rhythm of the bass line changed, subtly, and the way the people dancing shifted in response. What else could he tell the Tenth that'd be useful to him...? It'd been a few years since the last time he'd done this, but hell, he still recognized a few people here and there. "Those were the Vespucci twins, by the way. They mostly move information around, but they do some other stuff too. A little burglary, sometimes a hit if the price is right. They're loosely affiliated with the Vongola, but only loosely."

The Tenth nodded and kind of looked like he wanted to be taking notes, like he'd been doing in most of the meetings the Ninth had him sitting in on.

Hayato looked around and then gestured. "And see that guy with the shirt? No, don't stare, the colors'll put your eyes out if you do. That's Tony the Octopus."

"...the Octopus," the Tenth echoed, staring at the Octopus's skinny frame and the riotous colors of his shirt. "Why the Octopus?"

Didn't they just all wonder that? "Dunno, never asked." Hayato shrugged. "Anyway, you want something, he's the man you go see. He gets stuff."

"What kind of stuff?"

"Any kind." The Octopus was famous for it, had built his whole network on it. "He's an independent agent, strictly apolitical, strictly neutral. Only thing he's loyal to is money, and he doesn't like it when people try to mess that up for him. The Sciotalle tried it once, when they were at war with the Cetrulli. Now he won't touch the Sciotalle's business at all."

The Tenth frowned. "Can't they go to someone else?"

"Well, yeah, but the Octopus kind of has his tentacles everywhere. He's fast and reliable, and no one's better, so the Sciotalle kind of screwed themselves over when they pissed him off." Hayato looked around, wondering who else he might be able to point out to the Tenth.

Someone found him first, slinking over to their corner and standing over their table, trying to loom but too scrawny to pull it off. "Well, well. If it isn't the Smoking Bomb."

Hayato felt like swearing, but didn't, and thought he did a fairly good job of keeping that impulse off his face, too. "I guess it is. Been a while, hasn't it, Lorenzo?" That was right, call him by his given name, not the nickname he'd acquired for himself, no matter how fitting it was. The Leech was small and nasty and, okay, maybe not that dangerous by himself, but that didn't mean he couldn't make life unpleasant for anyone unlucky enough to have encountered him.

The Leech's smile stretched a little wider, as oily as his hair. "Well, now, so it has." He rubbed his hands together, ostentatiously ignoring the Tenth and beaming down at Hayato. "You dropped out of sight there for a while. I was afraid you might have run into a spot of trouble."

Hayato took a deliberate drink of his soda; it was mostly water now, only the ghost of syrup lingering in it to make his teeth ache, but it was the gesture that mattered to him and the half dozen people who were openly watching the exchange (and the ten more who were probably watching covertly). "No, no trouble, but it's good of you to be so concerned. Just got a job is all. Keeps me busy." The Leech damn well knew that, too, so what did he want?

He didn't keep Hayato wondering for long. "No kidding? Isn't that just a fine thing." He was hovering, and glanced at the empty third chair at their little table, but like hell Hayato was going to ask him to sit down, and the Tenth was following his lead, thank God. He ignored the glance and watched the way the Leech's eyes went hard, but the man was just as spineless as Hayato remembered him being, and didn't have the balls to just up and claim it without being invited. He rubbed what passed for his chin instead. "Come to think of it, maybe I did hear a little about that. 'Bout you working for the Vongola, anyway, bodyguarding for the boss-to-be. Said to myself, Lorenzo, that boy knows how to get his feet under the table, no doubt about it." Then he showed his teeth. "But then, you always have, haven't you? Must've gotten it from your ma."

Fighting words. Either Hayato came up swinging or the Leech got to go back to the rock he lived under and tell the other slime there what he'd gotten away with saying right to the face of the Vongola Tenth's right hand. Hayato drew in a breath, trying to buy himself some space in which to think, goddamnit, he couldn't just let himself go off half-cocked—

"What does that mean?" The Tenth's voice was polite, his Italian extra-careful, the way it was around anyone he didn't know. "Getting his feet under the table, I mean. I'm not sure I'm familiar with that idiom."

Hayato didn't dare take his eyes off the Leech for a second, but he thought he could guess which earnest look of clueless confusion that the Tenth was giving the Leech now. He'd just about perfected it over the past few weeks of sitting in on meetings and conferences.

It caught the Leech off guard, if only for a split second, and no wonder. He normally worked with innuendo and significant glances and let the basic nastiness of other people do the work of filling in the rest. Hayato could see him thinking fast, trying to decide how best to deal with the Tenth's apparent naïveté. Then he smiled, affable. "Well, you know how it is. Bastards gotta find a way to get by somehow. It works best when they can find someone to overlook the obvious, of course, and getting an in with the Vongola, now... that's something anyone'd be glad to do."

"Oh. So you're saying that it's really good for him to have such a prestigious job. I see." That came out sounding cheerful and pleased; Hayato watched the Leech begin to decide that the Tenth was an idiot and guessed the moment when the Tenth's expression must have changed by the way the smile dropped off the Leech's face. "And you're also saying that I have a right hand who only cares about what he can get for himself and trying to make me wonder how loyal he really is, and doing it all by insulting him right to my face." His voice had gone very calm, like he was using his Flame, though Hayato couldn't see any telltale glow.

Nonetheless, it had an effect on the Leech, who'd gone pale and had stopped smiling altogether. Hayato thought he might have even had sweat beading on his forehead. "It's always worth thinking about these things," he stammered. "How can you know whether you can trust anyone in this world?"

"I would know," the Tenth said. "I trust my right hand. Anyone who tells me I shouldn't isn't my friend."

The Leech stuttered something else; Hayato was viciously pleased by his discomfort and the way he scrambled away, clearly anxious to put some distance between himself and the Tenth. Served him right, too.

When he'd gone, Hayato relaxed and glanced at the Tenth, who was frowning. "Who was that?" His tone fairly dripped with disgust, which was pretty normal for someone who'd just encountered the Leech for the first time.

"Lorenzo the Leech. No one knows what his family name is. If he even has one." Hayato always had wondered about that, a little. It'd go a ways toward explaining why the Leech'd always had a grudge against him.

"Do we do business with him?"

Hayato had to snort a little at the trepidation in the Tenth's question. "No. No one does, really. He's just a—a leech. None of us know how he manages to get by." Blackmail, maybe, and extortion; that would be just the kind of thing a creep like that would gravitate to.

The Tenth was still grimacing. "I'm glad to hear that. He made me feel dirty just listening to him."

"Yeah, he's like that." Hayato ran his finger through the condensation on the side of his glass. "It's best to just ignore him. It's not worth engaging with him, and now he'll be gunning for you." He glanced at the Tenth's face and added, "Metaphorically."

"Let him." For a moment the Tenth's eyes turned fierce, showing a little of his fire. "He insulted you to my face—he insulted you to your face! I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to ignore things like that, even if I wanted to." He stopped and flushed, looking abashed. "Um. I'm not, right?"

Oh, Tenth. That was exactly the kind of thing the Leech and all his kind were never going to understand about the Tenth as long as they went on measuring people against their own twisted standards. He didn't know what kind of person could meet the Tenth and not want to follow him, just for who he was. What he was becoming.

But the Tenth was starting to look anxious. Hayato cleared his throat. "It wasn't that big a deal, Tenth, really. Doesn't matter what people say about me—"

"As usual, you manage to be both right and wrong at the same time." Reborn dropped onto the table from God only knew where and adjusted his hat. "It does matter what people say of the Tenth's right hand." He gave the Tenth a look. "But crushing individual bottom feeders is highly inefficient."

"He was right there, I couldn't ignore him!" the Tenth protested.

"It's still inefficient," Reborn said, as implacable a perfectionist as always. "People will go on saying what they like no matter what you say to the Leech."

The Tenth and Reborn looked at each other; Hayato may as well have not been there. Then the Tenth's jaw firmed and he lifted his chin. "Then I'll have to stop them all."

Reborn sniffed. "Better. Still completely unfeasible, of course, but better."

"Just wait and see." The Tenth had gone calm again, the way he had with the Leech. "Just wait and see."

Reborn looked about as impressed by that as he ever looked, which was to say not at all, and shrugged. But then, no one did blasé as well as a senior hitman did, and Reborn was a past master at indifferent and unimpressed, even though he was cursed to an eternal babyhood.

The Tenth and Reborn's negotiations with each other weren't any of his business, so Hayato studied the dance floor instead of them. Ryouhei was still flailing away like an idiot and had actually managed to somehow surround himself with a clutch of girls. God only knew how; maybe it was the same impulse that attracted a certain kind of female mind to small, stupid animals. Hayato suffered a moment of unease when he realized that he couldn't find Yamamoto dancing with the hagbeast—but they weren't dancing together any more. She'd moved on to partner up with Cavallone, God help him, and Yamamoto was—

Yamamoto was threading his way through the crowd, headed their way, carrying three drinks. "Hey!" he said as he deposited the drinks on the table and broke up Reborn and the Tenth's staring contest. "I got us something to drink!" As if that weren't perfectly obvious. "Although I didn't see you, Reborn-san. Do you want mine?"

"Thank you, but no. I prefer to take care of my own refreshments." Reborn adjusted his hat again and jumped down from the table, and vanished again, this time into the crowd.

Yamamoto dropped himself into the third seat and fanned himself with a hand, thereby dispelling the last bits of tension hanging over the table with his complete lack of couth. "Man, it's hot in here."

"Seems just fine to me," Hayato told him, annoyed by the sight of his sweaty, grinning face. "Are you enjoying making a fool of yourself out there?"

"Dancing is a lot of fun! You should try it!"

Hayato stared at him and resisted the urge to slap his own forehead. "I've been dancing before, idiot." Christ, did the idiot really think he was that inexperienced? "It's nothing to write home about."

The irritating thing about Yamamoto—one of the irritating things about Yamamoto—was how he refused to let himself be flattened by any display of superior intellect, no matter how crushing. "Oh," he said, and raised his glass to them. The Tenth returned the gesture and Hayato did, too, grudgingly and only for the sake of appearances, and nearly started coughing when his mouthful of soda warmed his throat on the way down.

The Tenth did cough. "What kind of drink is this?"

Hayato tasted his again and wrinkled his nose. "Rum and coke." He glared at Yamamoto, who was doing a damn good job of looking perfectly innocent, the lying liar. "What the hell, you idiot? Are you crazy? We can't drink here!" This wasn't the Vongola house and there were way too many people Hayato didn't know milling around to make him comfortable dulling his edge, especially with the Tenth there.

"Bianchi-san said it would be okay to have one," Yamamoto said, smiling, apparently untouched by either common sense or Hayato's anger. "We've got plenty of people watching our backs, she said, and she thought it'd be a good learning experience."

"Oh my God." After five years around Reborn, Yamamoto had to have developed some kind of sense about what sorts of things could be hand-waved as a learning experience. "You are the world's biggest idiot."

"And Shamal-sensei said this would be a good starter drink." Yamamoto tried his drink again and swished it around his mouth. "I dunno, seems okay to me. Kind of sweet, though."

"It's supposed to be." Hayato eyed his drink with disfavor as the Tenth gave his own another, more cautious try, and managed to get it down without coughing. "Couldn't you have just gotten me a beer? Christ."

Yamamoto perked up. "Beer? Okay, next round then."

"What part of 'one drink' is so fucking hard for you to understand?" Hayato asked, despairing of his idiocy.

Yamamoto just laughed; meanwhile the Tenth was considering his drink. "I think it's kind of good, actually."

Oh, Hayato thought. He'd had a presentiment of doom, hadn't he? And now, here it was. He should have known that Yamamoto was going to have something to do with it. That was how most of their moments of doom tended to come about, after all. He watched the Tenth take a more confident drink under Yamamoto's grinning eye and sighed. At least Hibari had flatly refused to join the evening's expedition, he thought, and chased it with a hefty dose of rum and coke. The syrupy taste of the soda and the concomitant sharpness of the rum made him grimace, and so did the fact that the bartender had poured generously. He was going to have to make sure the Tenth got plenty of water later on.

"You should come out and dance next!" Yamamoto said, clearly riding high on his success with the drinks. "It's fun!"

"Yeah, we saw how much fun you were having."

Maybe Yamamoto didn't hear Hayato's mutter, or maybe he was just paying attention to the squeaking, protesting noise the Tenth made instead. "Dancing? Me?"

"Aw, come on, Tsuna, you'd be great!" Yamamoto propped his chin in his hands, giving the Tenth what Hayato had classified as the Wheedling Spaniel look. "It's really easy. All you have to do is kind of bounce along in time to the music."

"I couldn't," the Tenth protested. "I have two left feet!"

Hayato tuned the ensuing wrangle out; the only contribution he made was when Yamamoto tried to drag him into it. "I'm not going anywhere without the Tenth," he said, sharp, when Yamamoto abandoned his efforts to coax Tsuna out onto the dance floor and said, "Okay, if Tsuna won't dance, why don't you come dance with me?"

Someone needed to stick close to the Tenth, especially considering how fast the level in his glass was dropping; Hayato was pretty sure he'd never had much to drink before, Sawada Iemitsu's own tendencies notwithstanding, and Yamamoto was an unknown quantity. Which pretty much left it to him, since Ryouhei was still dancing and it looked like Chrome was holding court at the bar. (Shamal was standing back, looking practically paternal, which was frankly creepier than if he'd been trying to hit on her himself.) And Dino and his hagbeast sister... were still dancing, yep, close enough that Hayato doubted a body could have seen daylight between them. Speaking of creepy, ugh.

"Ryouhei-san does look like he's having a lot of fun." It was the thoughtful quality of the Tenth's voice that rang warning bells in Hayato's head, ones that suggested that he should have spared a little more attention for Yamamoto's campaign. Shit.

"Ryouhei could have fun with a ball of tinfoil and a piece of pretty string," Hayato said, alarmed, but suspected he was too late. The Tenth was looking at the dance floor with a sort of determined expression on his face, the kind he got whenever he'd just about made up his mind to overcome some new challenge. He'd put away most of his drink, too, and his face was starting to flush. And it'd been a long time since they'd all had supper together. Fuck.

"It'll be fun," Yamamoto said for the fiftieth time, coaxing, and played what Hayato suspected was his ace. "And the Ninth did say we should get some experience, right?"

"He did." The Tenth drained what was left of his drink and put it down. "How bad could it be?"

Yamamoto beamed. "It's going to be great!" He turned to Hayato, still wreathed in smiles, and added, "We can all dance together, it'll be awesome!"

"What do you mean, we can all dance together?" Hayato demanded. He checked, but no, Yamamoto had been taking it easy on his own drink, the sneaking, conniving jerk. There was at least half of it left in his glass, so the idiot couldn't be drunk yet.

"You said you weren't going to leave Tsuna on his own." Yamamoto's expression was all innocence. "So you'll have to come out and dance too, right?"

Hayato sputtered, paralyzed by the dilemma—save his dignity and avoid the crush of bodies on the dance floor, and leave the Tenth to Yamamoto's dubious ministrations? Or grit his teeth and make sure that the Tenth had at least one competent, sober Guardian on hand to keep an eye on him, and suffer the indignity of dancing?

"It will be fun!" the Tenth said, brightly. "You come too, Gokudera." Which was, technically speaking, an order. Sort of.

That solved one problem, anyway. "I hate you so much," Hayato told Yamamoto. "Neesan should have let the Vespucci twins have you."

"Oh, have some more to drink," Yamamoto said, and lifted his own glass like he was giving an example of how to do it.

Hayato sincerely hoped that he'd end up with a hangover from hell. But knowing Yamamoto, he'd probably be up at the crack of dawn, just as chipper as ever. He took a bracing drink of his rum and coke and said, "Fine, let's get this over with."

"Awesome!" Yamamoto proclaimed, which was almost enough to make Hayato change his mind right then and there. But the Tenth had spoken, and was, moreover, pushing his chair back and standing up, flushed face beaming with determination. Hayato put another mouthful of rum and coke away and stood too, ready to follow the Tenth into the heart of hell if he had to.

Hell was probably going to be about as crowded as that dance floor, too, he thought as they wove their way onto it. But three guys moving together, sort of, managed to clear a little bit of space, which was the only thing that made the press of bodies on all sides even remotely bearable. They were in full range of the speakers now, too, which meant that it was a lot harder to hear anything but the heavy bass line. They staked out a spot and the Tenth glanced at Yamamoto, questioning. Yamamoto just gave him a big, toothy grin and started dancing.

He really was operating on a 'bounce to the beat of the music' model, Hayato couldn't help noticing. The idiot. He nudged the Tenth in the ribs, because the Tenth deserved a better example than that, and let himself feel the rhythm of the bass that was reverberating in his bones.

Dancing was all in the hips, or so the girl who'd taught him to dance had always insisted. She'd pressed herself against his back and set her hands on his hips, showing him what she'd meant by moving him with her, which hadn't been a horrible way to learn. Elena, that had been her name. Heh. He hadn't thought about her in years, not since after she'd gotten herself the bundle she'd wanted and retired to go raise chickens or something. The dancing lessons had stuck, though. He shifted into the rhythm of the music, hips moving with it—the body had to be loose and comfortable, there was that too, but the drink helped with there, and so did years of practicing how to be alert without letting on.

Yamamoto gave him a huge grin and a thumbs up. Lord. The Tenth just blinked at him, looking a little like he was having second thoughts about this endeavor. Hayato hoped he was—but no, the Tenth's expression firmed up and he watched Hayato for a moment, head bobbing just a little in time to the beat, before he finally started moving too.

Well, that wasn't actually too bad, Hayato thought, keeping an eye on him. The Tenth bobbed with the music, uncertain at first but staying on the beat (which was already a hell of a lot better than Ryouhei was managing). He looked unsure at first, till Yamamoto gave him a thumbs up too. Then he smiled and started to get more into it. Huh. Hayato paused to wonder whether the Tenth was cheating a little and drawing on his intuition and his Will to show him how to do this, but—well, Reborn had worked him pretty hard the past few years. The Tenth didn't have the luxury of getting to be awkward, and hell, it wasn't like bouncing to a beat was difficult. Even Yamamoto was managing that.

Yamamoto was grinning hugely, in fact, like he was having the most fun ever. Hayato could practically see him taking what he was observing and applying it, getting into the rhythm with his hips and letting his body move with them. Christ, wasn't there anything Yamamoto wasn't automatically good at? At least he was less of an embarrassment to the Vongola this way.

Hayato was just starting to really relax into the dancing, wondering why he remembered hating it so much—it was kind of meditative, really, to let the music carry his body along while he kept a sharp eye on the crowd, just in case—when he received a reminder. Someone grabbed a handful of his ass and then slithered her way around him, rubbing up against him like a cat. She probably thought it was sexy, just like the plunging neckline and soaring hemlines of her little black dress were supposed to be. God. She wound her arms around him, pressing close, all soft against his chest. "Hey there, wanna dance?"

Hayato sized her up. "I thought I was." She wasn't anyone he recognized, but that didn't always mean anything. Some Families turned out pretty, dangerous daughters like it was their cottage industry. "Hands off the merchandise, lady."

She just smiled at him, lips red and wet. "But I like the looks of the merchandise." She slid a hand up his chest, matching the rhythm of her body to his, every shift of her hips against his an open invitation. Oh, Christ. "How will I know if I want to take it home if I don't play with it first?" She followed him when Hayato tried to edge himself backwards, and oh yeah. Now he remembered why he hated dancing: it was the people who treated the dance floor like a meat market. Ugh.

Yamamoto had managed to attract not one but two similarly-minded women. He had one hand splayed against one of their bare backs and the other sliding through the other girl's hair. So much for being able to rely on Yamamoto to help keep an eye on the Tenth—

The Tenth, who eeped loudly enough for Hayato to hear him over the music. When Hayato checked on him, he saw that the Tenth was looking appalled and perhaps the tiniest bit like a small fluffy animal facing down a hungry cat. The lady who'd advanced on him looked predatory enough, anyway. Hayato saw the Tenth's lips move, could guess what he was saying (I have a girlfriend!) and what kind of response that would get him, too. The lady looked around, quite pointedly, and must have said something like But she's not here now, is she?

Hayato ignored the girl who had plastered herself against him, mind racing as he tried to figure out a way to rescue the Tenth from his would-be partner, who was thirty if she was a day, and who was making entirely too free with the Tenth's person as she ran red dragon claws down his cheek like she had any right to. He'd just about made up his mind to stumble against her—inelegant but effective—when he saw the crowd eddying in his peripheral vision.

His first instinct was that the women were distractions, but no—it was Chrome, with people melting out of her path as she strolled across the dance floor, regal as a queen. Hayato wondered who was driving, her or Mukuro. He kind of thought Mukuro, given the imperious tilt of her head, which made it all the more disturbing when Chrome slid in right past the scary lady and insinuated herself against Tsuna. The scary lady looked briefly murderous, till Chrome gave her a glance. Whatever passed between them made the scary lady go tight-lipped; the Tenth practically clung to Chrome in relief as she stalked away.

Well, that was a relief, anyway. Whatever it was that Mukuro had planned for his eventual betrayal and the Vongola's doom was far too baroque to involve killing the Tenth on a public dance floor, and Mukuro was creepily possessive enough that he wasn't going to let anyone else interfere in his plans. In a very strange way, the Tenth was probably safer now than he had been all night.

Sometimes thinking about Mukuro gave Hayato headaches.

Sharp teeth closed on his earlobe, reminding him that he had other concerns to deal with, too. "You're not paying attention to me," his own personal mantrap said, petulant.

"And you can't take a hint, Christ," Hayato retorted, trying to disentangle himself. "Go away, I'm just here to fucking dance."

"Aren't we all?" The question was arch enough, and okay, this was clearly going to get nasty and be a big scene, which was going to earn him some nasty words from Reborn, argh, and—

Yamamoto shouldered her aside, grinning amiably as he used his bulk to displace her. "Hey!" he said as Hayato's mind stuttered and froze, because Yamamoto had just dropped his hands to Hayato's hips and was holding onto them. "Hope you don't mind if I cut in!"

"What the fucking fuck," Hayato said, which was not eloquent but summed up his feelings on the matter fairly accurately.

The girl, meanwhile, was looking back and forth between him and Yamamoto. Then she smiled, cheeks dimpling. "You mind if I watch?"

"Go ahead, if you want!" Yamamoto's hands were steady on his hips; Hayato found himself moving almost on autopilot, his disbelief and growing outrage rendering his higher thought processes a staticky mess.

Yamamoto, meanwhile, just looked delighted. "Chrome had just the right idea. This really works well, doesn't it?" His breath tickled Hayato's ear when he leaned in to tell him that; Hayato couldn't decide which was worse, that or the fact that he could tell that Yamamoto was wearing cologne. Nice cologne—argh.

"What in the fuck do you think you're doing?" He tried to push away but Yamamoto just moved with him, refusing to let his apish arms be shoved away.

"You looked really annoyed! So I thought I might help you out." The little gurgle of Yamamoto's laugh set Hayato's teeth on edge. "Also, I kind of figured the Ninth would be mad if you tried to blow up the club."

"I wasn't going to blow anything up," Hayato growled at him, trying to get free one more time before giving it up for futile; Yamamoto didn't seem like he was going to be budged. He glanced around instead; the Tenth was too distracted with Chrome to be paying attention, but he could just about see where Shamal was at the bar, doubled over with laughter, and his sister was smirking at him over Cavallone's shoulder, and yeah, that was the Leech over there, looking like his birthday and Christmas had both come early. That was like a bucket of cold water; all other considerations disappeared in the face of that. Oh God. "Except you. I am going to feed you a stick of dynamite if you don't get your hands off me right the fuck now."

But then, Yamamoto knew him pretty well, and knew that he wasn't carrying too much in the way of explosives for this expedition. "You really are a good dancer." He was smiling at Hayato, something small and pleased. "This is fun—how come you didn't say you knew how to dance?"

"I did say. Christ, you didn't drink that much, you can't have rotted out that much of your brain. Not," Hayato noted, "that you actually have any brain cells to spare." And Yamamoto wasn't letting go of him, seemed to seriously be interested in actually dancing with him, and this—this was how he finally decided to make his move? But it was Yamamoto, king of bad timing and Hayato's own personal harbinger of disaster. He should have known.

"I mean, before we even came out tonight. You didn't say anything about spending time in clubs before we decided to visit this one."

"It wasn't important." Christ, only Yamamoto would try to hold a conversation in the middle of a dance, the idiot, and only he was stupid enough to indulge him. "Just shut up and help me keep an eye on the Tenth." Christ, what the fuck was he going to do about this mess? Goddamnit. Why hadn't Yamamoto fucking known better? Why hadn't he seen this coming? Shit.

Yamamoto just smiled, absolutely sure of himself and of Hayato, too, apparently. "Chrome's got Tsuna. I think he's gonna be okay."

It was the same conclusion that he'd reached himself, which just pissed Hayato off more. "You can't know that for sure." He kept a careful eye on the crowd, but it mostly seemed to be amused by the spectacle. Well, why wouldn't they be? It wasn't happening to them. "I saw a hit happen in a club like this, once." And it had just happened like that, one moment everything had been fine, then next, the guy had been on the floor and bleeding out.

Christ, was this song ever going to end?

"You don't ever stop thinking about the bad stuff, huh?" Yamamoto sounded—Hayato didn't know what to make of the way Yamamoto sounded then, sorry and regretful, so he didn't bother trying. "No wonder you looked so tense before."

Hayato gritted his teeth. "It's my job, dumbass. Your job too." Sometimes he would swear that Yamamoto really did still think of the whole thing as one big game. Which presented a possible way out of this, actually. For Yamamoto, anyway. "Okay. After this song is over, go and dance with a girl or two. Then go find Ryouhei and dance with him. And then a few more girls. And maybe Chrome, too, if you can, okay?" It was going to have to be damage control, there was nothing else for it.

"But I don't want to dance with the girls or Ryouhei or Chrome." Yamamoto sounded genuinely puzzled that Hayato would have even suggested it.

"Do it anyway!" Did Yamamoto have to make everything so damn difficult? "If you don't, people are going to think you wanted to dance with me."

"Hahah, what's so bad about that?"

Hayato gritted his teeth. "Everything, starting with the fact that they'll try to use it against the Tenth and working out from there. Don't you get it? People aren't nice in the mafia." He kept trying to tell them all that, just like Reborn did, and they just didn't get it. It made Hayato feel old. "Just do it, okay? As a personal favor to me." Maybe Yamamoto would listen to that.

Yamamoto took his time about answering. "Sure. Okay. If that's the way you want it."

"That's what we need to do," Hayato told him, and oh thank God, the music was finally changing. "Now get your damn hands off me, Jesus."

Yamamoto laughed and let him go and followed that up by executing a little bow that made Hayato want to slap his own forehead. He was grinning, too, easy enough, but Hayato wasn't sure he liked the way Yamamoto looked around the eyes. Something was going on behind them, and that almost never turned out to be a good thing.

No time to worry about it now. Hayato pointedly rolled his eyes, found the new beat, and went back to dancing while Yamamoto turned to the girl who'd wanted to watch and drew her in. Hayato guessed she just wasn't all that picky, because she was all over him in a matter of heartbeats. He looked away from the exhibition and checked on the Tenth—still dancing with Chrome and looking like he was enjoying himself, good—and took stock. He was probably going to have to find another female partner or two to dance with, for show, and God damn Yamamoto and his stupid ideas, anyway.

Yamamoto and the girl melted into the crowd; Hayato lost track of them quickly, and couldn't see the area where Ryouhei was probably still dancing, but he relaxed when he heard one of Ryouhei's shouts over the crowd. So there was that taken care of; Ryouhei was generally up for anything, after all.

Now for the other thing. There was a young woman dancing by herself, not too far from him and the Tenth; she was small and wearing one of those ubiquitous tiny black dresses, and she smiled when she caught Hayato looking at her. Hayato summoned up a smile in return and let the press of bodies move him her way. She slid up against him easily enough, but wasn't nearly as handsy as the other girl had been, which Hayato considered a point in her favor. He leaned down to speak in her ear. "Wanna dance?"

She nodded, twining her arms around his shoulders, and let him pull her close. He didn't recognize her face, and she didn't seem to realize that he was checking her for hidden surprises when he slid his hands down her body. Which was fine by him; maybe she was just one of the tourists who came to clubs like this looking for a thrill. That happened, too, sometimes.

"What's your name?" he asked her, a couple songs in; her hair smelled like citrusy shampoo and she laughed a little at the tickle of his breath.

"Lucia," she said, barely audible over the music. "De Luca."

Hayato ransacked his brain, but the name didn't ring any bells, either. If it was real, it wasn't on the list of the Vongola's known enemies. "I'm Hayato. Hayato Gokudera."

"Nice to meet you," she said, either not recognizing it or a damn good actor. Hayato was leaning towards the former; she was small and sleek enough, but when he ran a hand up her back, he could tell it was the kind of sleekness that came from counting calories and working the treadmill. Not that a person needed to spent a lot of time lifting weights to be able to shoot straight, but it was reassuring. Yeah.

She'd do.

They danced until Yamamoto came wafting back through, still grinning. He paused and danced with a lady who was practically falling out of her top, caught Hayato's eye over de Luca's shoulder, and then drifted over to Chrome and the Tenth. Chrome relinquished the Tenth and wound her arms around Yamamoto. Left to his own devices, the Tenth hesitated for a moment and then started making his way off the dance floor, heading for the bar.

Hayato bent his head and said, "Buy you a drink?" and began following after the Tenth without waiting for an answer. De Luca came along with him anyway, which didn't surprise him. But there weren't too many places she could be hiding a weapon in that skimpy little dress, and the ones he hadn't been able to check would be obvious enough that he'd see her going for it.

The Tenth made straight for Shamal, who was still lounging at the bar and was surrounded by girls half his age. He looked like he was having the time of his life, which he probably was. Shamal was a man with simple tastes. Hayato managed to fit himself and de Luca in next to the Tenth just in time to hear Shamal order his boss another rum and coke, oh God, this night was going to be a disaster all the way around, wasn't it? Not that the Tenth thought so; his smile was wide when he saw Hayato. "Yamamoto is right, it really is hot in here!" He leaned around Hayato to look at de Luca. "And who's this?"

"Lucia de Luca, Tenth. Lucia, my boss, Tsuna Sawada." Hayato caught a bartender's eye and gestured at de Luca to order; she picked a cosmopolitan. He ordered a beer for himself; wasn't like he was going to drink it.

The Tenth was really good with people, whether he quite realized it or not. He was already chatting with de Luca and had her talking more than Hayato had bothered with in the past half hour of dancing by the time the bartender brought their drinks over. Hayato leaned back and listened to her telling the Tenth about her job—teaching, by the sounds of it, primary school—and put in a comment or two of his own. Shamal gave him a small, approving sort of nod when Hayato glanced at him, which was something, anyway.

Yamamoto and Chrome were still moving together on the dance floor, heads close together, intimate. God, so were Cavallone and his sister, ugh. She was smarter than that, Hayato knew she was, but—well, it was her life. Whatever.

And there were people still watching him. The Leech and some others who had the same kind of look to them. Shit. Hayato sipped his beer, lifting the glass to his lips and letting it wet his mouth, stomach roiling with something like loathing. He was probably going to have to after all, wasn't he? Christ.

Hayato waited for a lull in the conversation to announced, "I need to step outside for a cigarette." He glanced at de Luca, gave her half a smile, and added, "You smoke?"

She tossed her head; her earrings swung and twinkled in the light. "Sometimes." How old was she, anyway? Hayato didn't think she could be all that much older than him, now that he was looking at her.

He crushed the thought. "Why don't you come with me, then?" he asked, sliding out away from the bar and offering her his hand.

She took it.

For a second, Hayato thought the Tenth was going to ruin it, but Shamal stepped in and asked him how Kyouko-san was these days. Hayato took advantage of the distraction and made his escape while he could.

The place still had its side door in the back next to the toilets; it opened onto an alley that was significantly quieter than the club and was, more importantly, currently empty. It was cooler, too; the fresh air felt good on his cheeks, which felt too hot. He walked away from the halo of light over the door, into the deeper shadows, and stopped. "So, you teach, huh?" It was something to talk about as he tapped out a cigarette and handed it to her. De Luca held it between her fingers like she didn't quite know what to do with it. Yeah, he'd kind of thought so. He tapped out another cigarette for himself and lit them, first hers and then his, and took a long draw off it.

"Well, yes. Sort of. I'm, um. Studying for it, anyway." It was pretty dim where they were standing; he couldn't really tell, but he thought she was probably blushing.

"No kidding? That's good. That's... nice, actually." Hayato took another drag and exhaled the stream of smoke, letting the rush of nicotine steady him and calm his nerves. "So what's a nice girl like you doing around here?"

"What do you mean, a nice girl like me?" He could see the motion as she tossed her head, and the way the cigarette was burning down between her fingers. "Who said I was nice?"

"I got an instinct for these things." The smile felt strange on his face, awkward and too tight. But he did, he knew from nice, he could spot it even in the dark. Nice stood out. Nice didn't belong in his world.

She tossed her head again. "Maybe I'm just looking for a good time."

"Oh?" Hayato took one last drag of his cigarette and dropped it, grinding it out under his heel. "Guess I might know a little bit about that."

"Do tell," de Luca said, dropping her own cigarette and holding out a hand to him.

There were deeper shadows, ones even further away from the door, but Hayato didn't try for them. He put his arms around de Luca and kissed her right where they stood. Her mouth tasted waxy—her lipstick, he was guessing, which was fine. She didn't seem to mind that he was operating mostly on theory; she put her arms around his shoulders and made sounds that seemed pleased enough to his ears, breathless ones when he moved his hand down her body, over the shape of her chest, soft under his palms, and down over her hips. Her dress was made out of some kind of stretchy fabric; it rode up her hips readily enough when he put his hands on them, and slid up when he put a hand between her legs. She was sticky-slick and hot against his fingers, and the sounds she made as she rocked against his hand were incoherent and soft, even when they turned urgent, until she final arched between him and the wall with a breathy little cry.

"Oh," she said, afterwards. "That was—"

"Fun?" Hayato suggested, and hated himself a little for it.

"Yeah," she breathed, and pulled his face down to hers for another kiss. "I don't suppose—" She left the offer hanging, but it was clear enough.

"Forgot to plan ahead," he said, which wasn't strictly true. He just hadn't thought he'd have reason to. Stupid fucking Yamamoto.

"Oh," she said. "Well, maybe we can improvise."

"Yeah," Hayato said, hoarse, because she'd just reached down and—fuck, he was eighteen, it wasn't like his cock cared whose hand was on it, really. "Oh. Oh, fuck." He braced a hand on the wall by de Luca's head and breathed in gulps of air, gasping as she undid his belt and fly and worked him. Once he heard the door they'd come out by open, club music spilling into the alley, loud and jarring, but whoever it was left them to it without interrupting. Then she did something with her fingers that made his world contract to a point and explode.

"That work for you?" she asked when Hayato had finally stopped shaking; he'd pressed his face against her shoulder, which was sort of embarrassing, but she didn't seem to mind.

"Yeah." Hayato cleared his throat and straightened up. "Thanks." He took a step back and began adjusting his clothes, doing himself up and cinching his belt again. He left his shirt untucked. "Wanna go back in?"

She laughed, soft. "Sure. You can buy me another drink or something." Hayato echoed her laugh, hearing something like nervous relief in it—maybe this really had been all she'd wanted, and he didn't have to feel too bad about taking advantage of her. "Hey, I never asked—what do you do?"

"Oh," Hayato said, settling a hand at the small of her back. "I'm a demolitions expert."

She laughed again as they went inside; maybe she thought it was a joke.

It felt like it was even louder inside than it had been before, too bright and too crowded. Hayato set his teeth and looked around—the Tenth was still at the bar, and most of his Family had gathered around him. Yamamoto was leaning close to him; Hayato's first impression of him was that he was tired—God only knew why, since Yamamoto was smiling and laughing and holding another drink. Hayato started to make for them, and stopped when de Luca did. "My friends," she said, pointing to a cluster of other girls, who were waving at her energetically. "I guess they're ready to go."

"Looks like my friends aren't," Hayato said, really rather relieved to be able to say it.

De Luca glanced up at him and smiled; in the light he could see how wry it was. "Maybe I'll see you around," she told him, and lifted herself up on her toes to kiss him.

"Yeah, maybe. Take care." Hayato watched her walk away and join her friends before he turned and made his way over to the Tenth. Yamamoto wasn't smiling any more and the Tenth looked—surprised. Yeah. Surprised. Hayato ignored them both, and Chrome's little smile, too, and told the bartender, "Beer."

"You were gone a long time!" the Tenth said, after a moment. He sounded like he was trying to be diplomatic.

"Yep," Hayato said, waiting for his beer. When it showed up, he drained half of it in one go.

Chrome leaned over. "You have lipstick on your mouth," she told him, blunt about it.

"Oh. Yeah." Hayato wiped the back of his hand over his mouth, scrubbing it clean, and glanced at the smear of red. "Whoops." Ryouhei was still dancing—did he run on batteries or something? And his sister was giving him a look over Cavallone's shoulder that smacked of sororal disapproval. "I miss anything while I was gone?"

"Nothing important." Reborn hopped onto the top of the bar; Hayato nearly choked on his mouthful of beer. "Though we had discussed bringing the evening to a close."

"I'm ready to go whenever the Tenth is." He was beyond ready, was so fucking tired of this stupid club and all the people in it. "Looks like we're going to have to get a crowbar to get the dancing monkey out of here, though."

"That won't present a problem."

Hayato supposed that not much did when one was an Arcobaleno. He finished his beer in silence as Reborn called for the cars and Shamal waded into the dance to retrieve Ryouhei. The Tenth didn't seem to know what to say and Yamamoto was, for a wonder, keeping his mouth shut. That should have been a relief, but Hayato didn't like the quality of his silence. Seemed like a bad sign.

It was a relief to leave, to fold himself into the embrace of the car's leather upholstery and to listen to the rumble of the pavement under the wheels. Yamamoto had claimed shotgun, and the Tenth was lost in his own thoughts. It promised to be a quiet ride, until Reborn said, voice piercing, "So what did you learn tonight?"

Oh, God. He was going to do the debriefing now. Hayato very nearly groaned.

"That, um. Rum and coke is good?" the Tenth ventured. Then he yelped when Reborn kicked him. "Ow! Reborn!"

"You should know better by now." Reborn didn't sound the least bit remorseful. "Why do you think people go to clubs like that one?"

"Um..."

Yamamoto was still being silent as a mountain in the front seat, so Hayato sighed and went to the Tenth's rescue. "To be seen," he said. "And to watch other people."

"Very good." Reborn even sounded like he meant it. "You handled things very smoothly this evening. It was well done."

Hayato turned his eyes to the streets passing by outside his window. "Thanks. I guess."

The silence in the car turned heavy. Then the Tenth said, voice careful, "What things?"

"His and Yamamoto's reputations."

No one said anything right away. Finally, the Tenth cleared his throat. "I don't think I get it."

"He means that no one is going to think either of us is really gay." Hayato's voice felt rough in his throat. "The Leech and his kind might try to start rumors, but no one is going to take them seriously. Yamamoto just looks like a flirt and a goofy prankster, and I took a girl out back for a quickie."

"I trust that you used a condom," Reborn said, which just made it all worse.

"Didn't need to." His fingers itched for a cigarette, something soothing to hold onto, but he gritted his teeth and ignored it. No smoking inside the car, not where it would make the Tenth cough and Yamamoto complain.

"Good."

"Wait, what—why—why would you—" The Tenth sounded bewildered, too young for this. "Would the Leech try to do that? Would it even work?"

"He might. It could." Reborn's shrug was practically audible. "Anyway, your guardians need to be above reproach."

"Above—Reborn!"

"It matters." Hayato stared out the window. "To the older generations, mostly, and to some of the more conservative parts of the younger generation." He closed his hands on his knees, gripping them. "Doesn't much matter who you openly fuck, long as it's a woman, but anything else—that can't be—you can't show it."

The Tenth was the first to break the silence after that, too. "That's not right." His voice was very quiet. "It's wrong. It's unfair."

Hayato leaned his head against the headrest. "Welcome to the mafia."

"It's not right." The Tenth's voice was starting to climb. "If you and Yamamoto like each other—"

"Pretty big if there, Tsuna. Don't you think?"

Yamamoto's voice was flat enough to make the Tenth suck in a startled breath. Hayato closed his eyes, fingers digging into his knees, and forced himself not to react. Wasn't like there was anything he could say, anyway. Not now. Not there ever had been.

The Tenth said, very quietly, "It's not an if."

Was the car going fast enough that it'd kill him if he opened the door and threw himself out? Or would it just maim him? More importantly, was a little bit of maiming actually worse than having this conversation with the Tenth and Yamamoto and Reborn and the poor slob who was driving them? Hayato was pretty sure maiming was the better option; he unclenched a hand and reached for the door handle—

"Might as well be, at this point, huh?" Yamamoto said, and Christ, he sounded bitter. Or maybe just hurt. "It's pretty clear where things stand now."

That hung in the air, the kind of thing that deserved a response. Maybe, if he were a better person, a nicer person, he'd know what to say. But Hayato hadn't ever bothered deluding himself by pretending that he was a nice guy. He had a job and responsibilities, God damn it all, anyway.

"I see that there are things I should have made clearer," Reborn announced, unnecessarily.

"They're clear now," Yamamoto told him.

"I don't think they are." That was the Tenth's quietly inflexible voice, the one he used when he'd decided that he was right about something and everyone else just hadn't realized it yet. "Are they, Gokudera?"

"I know what my job is. I'll do it." Had learned to years ago, when getting jobs and keeping them was a matter of surviving on his own or having to go back to his father. He'd stuck to that first principle, even when the Tenth had taken him in along with a certain baseball-playing idiot who'd gone and complicated everything, and—fuck, he wanted a cigarette.

"That's not really an answer."

"I don't know what else you want me to say." Hayato stared out the window steadily, fixing his attention on the things flashing by, dimly seen: buildings, other cars, streetlights. His head was starting to ache, maybe from the beer or just the way he was having to grit his teeth through this farce of a conversation.

"Hayato." It was rare for the Tenth to use his given name; every time he did it reached down someplace inside of Hayato and pulled him taut, like a dog coming to heel. "I want the truth."

"About what?" Please, God, he prayed, let the Tenth not be about to ask him to spill his guts right here and now, not in front of Reborn and one of the Ninth's men, who was surely going to be reporting in to his boss later. Please, anything but that.

"Did you like her?"

"Give me a month and I probably won't even remember her name." That was a half-truth, maybe. He had a bad feeling that every last excruciating second of this horrible night was searing itself into his memory.

"Then why would you do something like that?"

"I told you. Reputation." Well, Reborn had said that, but whatever. "Yamamoto can get away with just looking like a flirt who doesn't know the rules. He's not from here. But I am. And I do." Had known them all his life, just about, and couldn't have forgotten them if he'd wanted to. "They were watching me to see what I'd do. The Leech, and a few others."

"Who the hell is the Leech?" Yamamoto demanded, abrupt. "You keep talking about him."

The automatic response—Of course you didn't know, you were too busy dancing instead of paying attention—rose to Hayato's lips, but he pressed them together and didn't let it escape. Reborn handled it instead. "One of the sort who profit from rumor and insinuation. He was already annoyed, thanks to his encounter with Tsuna and Gokudera."

"He said some nasty things about Gokudera, and tried to get me to wonder about his loyalty." The Tenth still sounded indignant about it, too. "It was—wait. Reborn? Annoyed?"

"Almost certainly. You got the best of the encounter and made him feel foolish. That's the sort of thing his kind detests. It would be part of his motivation."

"Only part. He just likes to stir up trouble," Hayato said. Fair was only fair. "And he's never liked me." Getting to stir up trouble in the Vongola and make trouble for him personally? The Leech must have loved that idea.

"But I—oh." Some of the starch went out of the Tenth's voice. "Oh."

Part of him would have liked to reassure the Tenth, tell him that it was okay and that he hadn't known. The rest of him was just damn tired, so all he said was, "Forget about it. Doesn't matter now."

An uneasy silence settled on them then. They were passing out of town now, pressing into the countryside. Wouldn't be too much longer before they reached the Vongola house and this nightmare of an evening would finally come to a close. Thank God for that.

Then the Tenth cleared his throat. "What does matter? To you, I mean?"

Oh, God. "The Family." Always, always the Family, ever since the Tenth had welcomed him into it. If he worked the rest of his life, it wouldn't be enough to repay that.

After a moment the Tenth prompted him. "What else?"

Hayato exhaled, slowly, and glanced at the profile of their driver, who remained a stolidly silent presence behind the wheel, and refused to let his gaze wander over to where Yamamoto was sitting. "What else is there?"

"But—"

"Enough, Tsuna." Reborn finally stepped in to put an end to it. "You've chosen your right hand well. He will not disgrace you. Be content with that."

"Disgrace me?" The Tenth's voice rose, sudden and sharp. "Since when have I ever cared about being disgraced? Are you serious?"

The car slowed as they turned in the drive to the Vongola house. Their driver spoke then, forestalling any response Reborn might have had. "We're home, gentlemen," he announced as they came to a stop at the front door. It was an unnecessary announcement, but then, maybe he was tired of listening to them.

Yamamoto was out the door like a shot; the Tenth made a startled sound and then said, all in a rush, "Catch up with me, Gokudera!" and scrambled to follow him.

"Yes, Tenth."

Hayato couldn't bring himself to move all that fast, though he tried, unfolding himself from his seat and stepping out onto the gravel of the drive. Reborn came with him, landing on the gravel so lightly that it didn't even crunch under his tiny feet. Hayato hoped that they were done for the night, but as the car pulled away and the Tenth sprinted after Yamamoto, Reborn said, "Of course, it's all about the public face, you realize."

"Oh?" That was a safe, neutral response.

"The private history of the Vongola suggests that there have been several pairs of Guardians whose relationship was more than merely professional. It's not often spoken of. Discretion is to be preferred." Reborn glanced up at him as the second car pulled in. "Think on that."

Hayato stared down at him. "You couldn't have told me that before tonight?" he said, at last, as the other car spilled out Ryouhei and Chrome and Shamal—but not his sister, he couldn't help noticing.

"It is not often spoken of," Reborn repeated. He glanced to where the Tenth was in urgent conversation with Yamamoto. Their outlines were gilded in light from the house; the Tenth was hanging onto one of Yamamoto's arms and waving his other hand. "I believe that your boss gave you orders."

"Yeah, I guess he did." Hayato reached for his cigarettes and lit one up as he began trudging over to the Tenth. Why Reborn hadn't said anything when it could have been useful—he crushed the thought. It wasn't worth dwelling on futilities now.

Yamamoto's expression was shuttered; Hayato couldn't decipher anything he might have been thinking from it. The Tenth was still talking fast, low and insistent, hanging onto Yamamoto's arm like he was afraid to let go. As Hayato came into hearing range, he caught the end of what the Tenth was saying: "—one more time, please?"

Yamamoto ignored Hayato's arrival, mouth pressing tighter. Then he nodded his head, curtly, and said, "Fine."

"Okay. Okay, good. Thank you." Some of the tension went out of the Tenth's grip on him. "Now where's—oh, good, there you are. I need to talk to the two of you. Privately."

Hayato thought he could probably guess what the Tenth was going to try to do. It probably wasn't going to work, but it was good of him to try. "Sure, Tenth."

"Let's go inside, then."

At least he'd managed to get part of a cigarette. It helped a little. So did the fact that Reborn had intercepted Ryouhei and Chrome before they could join them. The Tenth was able to hustle the two of them inside with a minimum of fussing, and a minimum of talking, too. Yamamoto stalked along at the Tenth's shoulder, face set, and didn't say a word the entire way upstairs. Hayato stuffed his hands in his pockets and matched him. Together they flanked the Tenth, which was actually proper. At least they could manage that much.

The Tenth had a whole suite of rooms to himself, as befit his station as the Ninth's heir. That was where he took them, ushering them in and pointing to the couch in the warmly lit front room. "Sit down." He locked the door after them and made a quick sweep of the place—checking for other people, Hayato guessed. He made a face when he came back, because neither of them had moved from where he'd left them just inside the door. "I said sit down. We're going to talk."

"Been a lot of talking tonight already," Yamamoto said, not budging a centimeter, even after Hayato had shuffled his way over to the couch and claimed a spot on one end.

"Not the right kind of talking." The Tenth claimed one of the easy chairs across from the couch for himself and passed a hand over his face. "I'm an idiot."

"Tenth—"

"No, really, I'm an idiot," he said again, before Hayato's protest could even get started. "It's about how things look, right? That's what you were getting at before. Reputation. Older generations. Right?"

Hayato nodded. "Yeah. Pretty much." It was cold in the Tenth's room; he folded his arms across his chest. So the Tenth got it now, that was something, right? Something good from the evening.

"Yeah, right, I'm an idiot. You told me flat out and I didn't even see it. I'm sorry." The Tenth rubbed his forehead. "I'm never going to drink again. I can't even think straight right now, and this is really hard."

"Make sure you drink plenty of water before you go to bed. It'll help. Booze dehydrates you, that's what makes the hangover so bad." Maybe the Tenth already knew that, or maybe he didn't. Least he'd know now, and wouldn't be in horrible shape in the morning, provided he listened.

If things had been normal, Yamamoto would have piped up with a laugh and some inanity that riffed on the advice. Maybe something like Hahah, you sure know an awful lot about drinking! or You take really good care of Tsuna, huh? But tonight he just stayed silent, arms folded across his chest and his face blank.

Hayato hunched his shoulders and looked down at the carpet instead of either of them. That was better, anyway. Nothing disturbing about carpet, was there?

"It was our driver, wasn't it?" the Tenth asked. "I guess I forgot about him. Never thought I'd be able to, but—anyway, it was him, right? Because he works for the Ninth."

"Reborn works for the Ninth, too." Not that there was much hope of keeping secrets from Reborn, of course, but he seemed to appreciate it when people made the effort. Hayato supposed that the Arcobaleno had to take their entertainment where they could find it.

"I thought so. But now we really are in private, right? It's just you and me and Yamamoto." The Tenth's voice turned softer, coaxing. "So you can go ahead and talk freely now, right?"

God, did he really have to? "The Ninth could have the room bugged," Hayato pointed out.

"He could have—" The Tenth stopped and looked appalled. "Why would you even think that?"

Hayato chanced a glance up, suspecting that his smile wasn't really a nice one. "Happens sometimes, Tenth."

"That's terrible! Why would—wait." The Tenth stopped and gave him a look. "Stop trying to change the subject. We're going to talk about this, whether you like it or not."

Hayato let his eyes drop again. Cream on cream—who'd decided that that was a good idea for a carpet, anyway? Someone who hadn't had to worry about keeping it clean, probably. "Yes, Tenth."

"Stop that. Right now, I'm not the Tenth. I'm just Tsuna and you're my two best friends, who are currently being idiots. And we're going to straighten this out."

"It doesn't work like that." Hayato traced his eyes over the scrolling lines of the carpet's pattern, following the circles they made. "You're always going to be the Tenth, and we're always going to be your Guardians. You can't put that down, not ever. If you start thinking that you can, you're just setting yourself up to start making mistakes."

"Don't you ever stop—no. That's not the right question." The Tenth stopped; Hayato heard him take a deep breath. "Hayato. What mistake are you so afraid that you're going to make?"

Christ, what a question. He couldn't help laughing a little, though it scratched his throat. "You want the list alphabetically? Or itemized, or what?"

"Just—just tell me, okay?"

The Tenth had some of the best rooms in the place. There was a sideboard with the usual decanter, off to the side of them. Hayato dragged himself off the couch and went over to it. The stuff he splashed into a glass smelled like bourbon, sharp and smoky, and burned like hell going down. But that wasn't the point, not really.

He put the glass down when he was done. "I'm pretty much the worst choice for your right hand ever," he said, watching them in the mirror that hung over the sideboard. Yamamoto was perfectly still, and the Tenth's face was a pale oval with dark eyes. "I don't know if you really get that or not, but that's not—that's not just me being modest. I'm a bad choice politically. The Vongola's one of the only Families with the kind of clout it takes to absorb a guy like me into it, and even it—" He had to look down, away from their reflections. "It didn't accept me until you did. I was freelancing before that. Unaffiliated. You know what they use unaffiliated people for? The kinds of jobs you don't want to waste your own peoples' lives on. Which means—I can't fuck up. That's what people will be looking for, that's what they'll be watching for, and I can't let it happen. Because it's not just me that it'll hurt. It'll hurt you and everyone else and I can't—I won't let that happen. I'd rather die first."

The bourbon or whatever it was made a warm presence in his stomach. He thought about another drink, but that would have been a really stupid idea, and he'd had enough of those for one night. Hayato turned away from the sideboard and returned to the couch, not looking at either of them, not willing to see what was on their faces—or, maybe worse, what wasn't.

"Oh, Hayato." The Tenth's voice was soft, full of sympathy and other things. "That's an awful lot to carry all by yourself."

"Managed it fine this far, haven't I?" By the skin of his teeth sometimes, but even Reborn had gone ahead and admitted that he was capable of doing it, which was no small thing.

"Still." The Tenth went quiet. "Okay. So you—you feel responsible for all that. That's... that doesn't mean you can't have the other things you want, does it?" He hesitated. "In private, maybe? If you feel like you can't show them in public?"

It was funny; even though Yamamoto was doing a pretty fair impression of a statue, Hayato could still feel the way he focused on that, like he was listening with every fiber of his being. God. It was ridiculous. The whole thing was, so much so that Hayato almost started laughing. Would have, if he hadn't wondered whether he'd be able to stop once he got started.

He grabbed his self-control with both hands instead and hung on. "Kyouko-san. You think you could limit yourself to just loving her in private?" Which was what bugged him about Reborn's oblique suggestion, now that he was thinking about it. "You think she'd be happy with that? You think you'd be?" Hayato wrapped his arms around himself again, gripping his elbows. "I wouldn't be. If I—if I had something like that, I'd want to scream it from the rooftops. I wouldn't be able to hide it, I wouldn't be able to keep it private, and I'd want—" Careful, careful, he hadn't kept his mouth shut for so long to fuck up now. "—him to be able to do the same. I wouldn't want to pretend, I'd—I'd—" He stopped and drew an unsteady breath. "But I can't have any of that. I'm your right hand, I can't do that to the Family, so. It's better not to even let myself want it." He dug his fingers into his elbows, but couldn't stop himself from saying, "I was doing a pretty good job of it, too. So much for that."

Yamamoto finally broke his silence. "You—" he said, one bitten-off word that had a whole host of things packed into it. Hayato flinched, hunching his shoulders against them, and hated himself for—a lot of things.

After a long, frozen moment, the Tenth said, "That is the single dumbest thing I have ever heard you say. Ever."

Things in his neck twanged unpleasantly as Hayato whipped his head up to stare at the Tenth, who looked just about as angry as he'd sounded. "Dumb?" he said, taken aback. "Dumb?"

"Yes! Dumb!" The Tenth was very nearly vibrating with the force of his outrage. "Of all the idiotic, short-sighted, boneheaded—! I can't believe you, you—gah!"

Hayato stared at him, bemused by his wrath. The drink was starting to do its work; the whole thing seemed surreal, because it couldn't actually be the Tenth who was heaping abuse on Hayato's head like he didn't have a stock of things awful enough to call him, could it? He couldn't help glancing at Yamamoto to check to see if he was seeing this, too, or if it was just his own special break with reality.

Yamamoto was wearing the same sort of ashen, shocked expression as someone who'd been shot and was bleeding out. Hayato flinched away from that and the Tenth stopped his tirade short, breathing hard. "I don't believe this."

"I'm sorry?" Hayato ventured. God only knew what he was apologizing for, exactly, but the Tenth was pissed and Yamamoto looked—terrible. Seemed like some kind of apology was in order.

"You should be!" the Tenth snapped. "Where on earth did you get the idea that I want to be the kind of boss who'd let you do that to yourself? Why would you think I'd ask you for that? Why would you think so little of me?"

"It's not you I'm worried about." Hadn't he made that clear enough? Hayato tried to think, but between the booze and everything else, it was getting difficult to put his thoughts in order. He tried again. "It's just—it's everyone else. Who would expect that."

"Everyone else can go to hell!"

Hayato stared at the Tenth, profoundly shocked. "...Tenth?"

"They can all go to hell," the Tenth said again, more evenly. "Reborn and the Ninth and the Leech and every other damn member of the mafia, for all I care. If there's something you want, then you should take it, and I will stand behind you the whole way. And anyone who doesn't like it can just—just—fuck them! All of them!" He threw up his hands. "This whole system, I swear! It's all broken! I'm going to have to rebuild the whole thing from scratch, aren't I? Damn it." He folded his arms as he settled lower in his seat, scowling. "I should have just let Xanxus have it."

Hayato thought his jaw might have been hanging open as he stared at the Tenth. He couldn't make himself care about it, because what the Tenth was saying—it was—his brain shuddered back from the implications. "I—but—you—"

The Tenth pulled himself out of his funk with a quick shake of his head. "I mean it." His eyes were nearly blazing and his Will rang in his voice. "I will see this done. I will not leave any member of my Family to go wanting, not when it's within my power to make it better."

"I—" Hayato said, and stopped, helplessly, because that was all very well—but there were more things than just the rest of the mafia to worry about. "Tenth..." He dug his fingers into his elbows, harder, to keep himself from flying to pieces. "I—"

The Tenth said his name, and Hayato stopped. The Tenth gave him a long look, and then said, very quietly, commanding, "Now. Tell me the truth. The whole truth. What do you want, Hayato?"

Oh, God. What didn't he want? Hayato swallowed hard, dropping his eyes away from the Tenth's. "For... for a lot of tonight not to have happened. Or a chance to do it over again. And not to have fucked it up."

The Tenth made a satisfied sound. "There." His voice softened. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Hayato jerked his gaze back up to the Tenth's. "You're joking, right?" Surely he had to be. Surely he had to be able to see how completely scoured Hayato felt, and had to have seen how Yamamoto looked.

The Tenth's mouth quirked. "Only a little? It didn't really need to be so difficult."

"Oh my God." Hayato put his head in his hands as the first shudder of laughter tore out of his throat. Another followed it, and another—and then it was just as bad, just as uncontrollable, as he'd feared it would be. "Only you," he gasped, choking it out as he wrestled himself back into some semblance of self-control, "only you would say that that didn't have to be so fucking difficult, Tenth." Christ, he'd even said it like Hayato hadn't asked for the impossible in the face of the improbable. "Christ, you keep asking me what I want. Are you so sure you still know what Yamamoto wants? I'd spit in my face, if I were him."

He didn't have to be looking to know that the silence that greeted that was the kind that accompanied the exchange of significant looks. That was fine; he was okay with leaving his face cradled in his palms and waiting it out. Wasn't like they could do anything worse to him at this point; he'd already fucked himself over and then bared his soul about it.

The seconds ticked past; Hayato let them, waiting it out, till Yamamoto cleared his throat. "Wait," he said, very carefully, like a man feeling his way across rotten ice. "How would you even spit in your own face? I don't think that's actually physically possible."

Hayato raised his head slowly and looked at him; Yamamoto looked back and summoned up a weak, bruised sort of smile and helpless little shrug.

"You..." Hayato began, and found himself caught short, at a loss for words.

Yamamoto shrugged again. "Hey," he said. "I never had a problem with knowing what I want."

"Oh," Hayato said, too stunned to manage anything else. But then, Yamamoto didn't really seem to mind.

There was no telling how long they might have gone on staring at each other if the Tenth hadn't cleared his throat after a minute or so and said, "So, maybe the two of you should go talk to each other?"

"Yeah," Yamamoto said, absently, "maybe we should." He might have been answering the Tenth, but he was still looking at Hayato, who hadn't quite managed to take his eyes away from the shy, hopeful tilt of Yamamoto's smile.

The Tenth made a pleased sound. And waited. And finally coughed. "So why don't you go do that?" He paused, and added, "Somewhere else?"

Yamamoto laughed and Hayato ducked his head, cheeks turning hot. "Sorry, Tenth." He pulled himself to his feet, head swimming a little from booze or euphoria or maybe just sheer disbelief, God only knew.

"Just go," the Tenth said, laughing, and waved them towards the door.

"Going, going," Yamamoto said, getting the door unlocked as Hayato made his unsteady way over to him. The Tenth's indulgent laughter followed them out into the hall.

They both stopped on the other side of the door, glancing at each other uncertainly. Then Hayato shook his head. "Here, my room." It was closest, just a few steps down the hall. He caught Yamamoto's hand, tugging him a step in that direction before he'd quite realized he'd done it. The warm, calloused reality of Yamamoto's palm against his shocked him out of his dizziness and he stopped. "That's—is that okay?"

"That's fine," Yamamoto said. "That's great."

"Okay," Hayato said, breathlessly. "Okay, um." It really was only a few steps away, though they seemed to take forever, and the doorknob was slippery under his fumbling fingers. He managed to get it open—stupid, clumsy fingers, to have forgotten how to open a damn door—and Yamamoto followed him inside. He threw the lock after himself; the click of the tumblers was loud in the darkness.

Hayato swallowed and fumbled for the switch that would turn on the lamps. When he found it, the golden glow of them washed over Yamamoto's face. He'd stopped smiling somewhere along the way and was just looking at Hayato, absolutely intent, the way he got sometimes, usually when he was doing kata or something like that. Something inside Hayato's chest lurched in response to his expression.

Yamamoto wet his lips. "So. From the rooftops?"

It was his night for going red; Hayato could feel his cheeks burning. But he'd said it, and he wasn't one to go back on his word. "I—yeah. Yeah, from the rooftops. On billboards, maybe. I'm not—not real good at subtle."

"Never would have guessed." He hadn't let go of Yamamoto's hand, and was reminded of that fact when Yamamoto tightened his grip. "It's all or nothing with you, huh?"

"Pretty much, yeah." He couldn't quite manage to catch a full breath as long as he kept looking at Yamamoto, but he couldn't seem to drag his eyes away, either. "I don't want—I couldn't take only part—it's just not—oh my God, I sound like an idiot."

Yamamoto was shaking his head. "No. No, it makes perfect sense. Now, anyway." The corners of his mouth lifted. "Though it didn't for the longest time."

Hayato cleared his throat. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm not—you know I'm kind of fucked up, right?"

The huff of Yamamoto's laugh was barely audible. "Yeah. I kind of picked up on that. Um. A long time ago."

"Because you should know, it's—" Hayato stopped when Yamamoto stepped closer. "It's—it's—" Yamamoto was edging up right against him, close enough that Hayato could feel how warm he was. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing." Yamamoto fit his arm around Hayato, tugging him closer. "Go on, you were saying something."

"I—you—" Whatever it had been he'd been trying to say fizzled and died an ignominious death; it was suddenly a lot more important to turn loose of Yamamoto's hand and settle his hands on Yamamoto's back, carefully.

But Yamamoto didn't take exception to that. He wrapped his other arm around Hayato and held onto him. They were both quiet, until Yamamoto broke the silence. "Thought for a long time that you just weren't interested. Sometimes I wondered if you even liked me. Then I thought, well, maybe you just didn't want it to be too easy or something. But it wasn't any of that, it was that you just didn't think it was possible. Right?"

"Basically, yeah." Hayato drew a breath, trying to steady himself against Yamamoto's shoulder and mostly only managing to make himself dizzy. "I did sort of try to hate you at first because you made me want—well. I tried. Didn't really work so well."

He felt the way Yamamoto sucked in a sharp breath. "That long?"

"That long. Yeah." He'd spent a staggering amount of time trying to force himself not to think about Yamamoto Takeshi since, too. It was funny, but not.

"I—oh. Oh, Gokudera." Yamamoto stopped and drew a breath. "Hayato." His voice had gone softer, had a questioning lilt to it, like he was testing how far Hayato would let him go.

Hayato shivered a little. "Takeshi," he said, trying it out.

Takeshi's arms tightened around him. "Okay," he said, voice going shaky. "Okay, I really need to kiss you now."

"God, yes, please," Hayato said, relieved, and turned his face to meet him. It was a clumsy kiss, awkward and urgent and absolutely perfect; Hayato hung onto Takeshi's shoulders, opening his mouth to the hunger in Takeshi's kisses, lightheaded and breathless with them, with finally getting to have this, to acknowledge it. "Please," he gasped, between kisses. "Please, I want—I want—"

"Anything." Takeshi shaped the words against his lips. "Anything you want. You can have it."

Hayato closed his eyes and gripped Takeshi's shoulders. "You," he said, hardly daring to whisper it, even now.

Takeshi rested his forehead against Hayato's; when he opened his eyes again, Takeshi was watching him. "You've got me," he said, very softly. "No matter what anyone else says. Or thinks."

Hayato had to swallow hard. "It's not—it's not going to be easy," he said, which was only the honest truth, and Takeshi deserved that much. "I'm not going to be easy." At least he had that much self-awareness.

"I don't care," Takeshi said; there was steel in his eyes and his voice. Then he smiled, eyes crinkling around the corners. "Kind of already knew you were a mess, anyway."

Hayato stared at him for a heartbeat and thumped his shoulder. "Asshole. You didn't have to agree with me."

"Mm, I dunno." Takeshi was outright grinning at him now. "Tousan always told me that it was a bad idea to lie to someone you love, even to make them feel better."

The thing about Yamamoto Takeshi was the way he could just slip in under Hayato's guard like that, like it was nothing. He suspected himself of staring at Takeshi and looking stunned. "Oh," he said, softly. "Oh."

Takeshi's grin softened, turned tentative. "That's okay, right?"

Hayato lifted a hand from his shoulder and slid it into the soft brush of his hair. "It's great," he said, softly. "It's—it's everything I ever wanted."

Takeshi's smile returned, full-force and brilliant, until Hayato pressed against him and kissed it away again.

end

So basically, this fic is the second time I've tried to write something about Gokudera getting all hot and bothered watching Yamamoto dancing and then the two of them repairing to the nearest mostly flat surface to screw like weasels. Annnnnnnnnd this is the second time I've failed to write that fic. But, uh, monstrous long plotty fics about Gokudera's Massive Issues and Overdeveloped Sense Of Duty never get boring, right? Um. Yeah.

Comments are always lovely!