Rating: Hard R (overall; this part, PG-13)
Pairing[s]: Gokudera/Yamamoto, side Squalo/Yamamoto
Warning: Multiple character deaths, angst, metaphysics
Spoilers: Through Target 227
Disclaimer: Amano owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 3200 [this part]
Summary: Gokudera wakes up in a world that by rights shouldn't exist anymore, but the world just won't quit. Neither will the Varia.
Note: I think this will have 4 or 5 parts, posted over the next few weeks.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
He wanted to do it. He wanted it so badly it made him shiver.
He had imagined so often what a kiss from Yamamoto would be like that he could almost taste it: minty apple bubblegum, barely masking bitter tobacco. He wanted it, wanted to taste it for real -- even just once would be fine. But it would mean things would change, and Hayato didn't want them to. This was fine on its own, no strings attached, no unnecessary feelings. Yamamoto's six-month-old smoking habit was the only thing Hayato was willing to take the blame for.
So when Yamamoto pulled him down for a kiss, Hayato turned his face away. "Don't," he murmured. Yamamoto's breath was hot against his cheek, and Hayato could smell the minty apple bubblegum. It took everything in him not to give in to his heart. "You know I don't want that."
"Why?" Yamamoto whispered. "Why don't you?" He had never asked before. He would just smile and nod when Hayato refused to kiss him. Why did he have to make it difficult now?
Hayato pushed himself up and rolled as far across the bed as he could. If he remained close to Yamamoto, he'd give in. That was never supposed to happen. "Dumbass," he muttered. "That's for lovers."
Yamamoto's smile gleamed at him through the darkness. "Isn't that what we are?"
"No," Hayato said, sitting up, turning his back to him. "Don't get the wrong idea. This is just to relieve tension. It doesn't mean anything."
Hayato didn't need to see Yamamoto's face to know he had stopped smiling.
"Right, so now that everyone is here, I need to--"
Hayato cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, Tenth, but Yamamoto isn't here yet."
Unease gnawed at him; Yamamoto had left his apartment yesterday instead of spending the night as usual, and Hayato wondered if he'd gotten himself in some trouble. His cell was off, too. Making the Tenth wait like this; what was he thinking?
The Tenth frowned. "H-he didn't tell you, Gokudera-kun?"
"Tell me what?" Hayato asked, smiling easily despite the awful feeling deep in his gut.
"Yamamoto changed his mind about training with Squalo," the Tenth said. "He left for Italy this morning..."
Three years later
Hayato kept expecting the Ten-Year Bazooka's mist to dissipate and reveal Namimori of ten years ago, but it never happened. The pink fog swirled around him endlessly, and no matter what he did, Hayato couldn't move. Something must have gone wrong -- maybe Giannini had been "improving" their weapons again, ten years ago.
What a shock it must have been for the Tenth, to be shot with that thing and end up in a coffin. Hayato hadn't thought he would ever see the Tenth again. How bittersweet, to find him there, young and bewildered. He hoped ten-years-ago Hayato had managed to make it to the Tenth's side, even if Hayato himself was trapped here. As long as the Tenth had his right-hand man in some form, he would be fine.
But that's a lie, isn't it? That whisper in his mind, the one called self-doubt. If all he needed was you, he wouldn't be dead now.
Something akin to tears stung him, but the fog had robbed him of his body. How long had it been? Surely it must have been longer than five minutes. Why wasn't he going back? You fucked up, Gokudera Hayato. You let the Tenth be killed.
Don't be ridiculous, another voice called to him across the pink nothing. You couldn't have done anything. Don't blame yourself needlessly, Gokudera.
Yamamoto? Oh my God, I'm cracking up.
If you are, then so am I. I was just with the you from ten years ago -- you and Tsuna were doing fine, but then we were attacked by the Black Spell.
Hayato's mind filled with images of a crumbling building, of fire and smoke and Dying Will flames exploding. Yamamoto?
It's been a long time.
He saw the glint of white teeth in darkness, smelled sex and minty apple bubblegum and heartbreak.
Still remember that, huh? Sorry I left without saying goodbye. I was still a child.
Forget it. Tell me about the Tenth. What happened to his body?
BODY? Even in thoughts, Haru's voice was shrill and annoying. Did you say body, Gokudera? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO TSUNA, YOU FOUL MAN?
Tsu-kun? What's happened to us? Where is this? Tsu-kun, I can't see-- Sasagawa's sister.
Oh, dear. Something's gone wrong with the Ten-Year Bazooka. The Bovino cow.
I-Pin was here too; Hayato could hear her, faintly--
Then, suddenly, silence. Hayato couldn't hear the others' thoughts anymore, couldn't see the jumble of images swirling in their minds. Yamamoto, Haru, Sasagawa's sister, the dumb cow -- they had all been shot with the Ten-Year Bazooka? Why weren't they in Namimori ten years ago? Why had they been able to communicate at all?
--dera? --hear-- okay--?
An image of the world's biggest tiramisu flashed in Hayato's mind, and then the fog swirled in again, unending and impenetrable. He had to think, to figure out how this might have happened. From what Yamamoto had said -- oh dear God, Yamamoto, after all these years -- no, no time for that now, must think.
From what little the Tenth had told him by the coffin, from the things he'd seen flashing through the others' minds, Hayato thought he could piece together the story: Reborn had been shot first, then the Tenth, then Hayato. The Tenth and Hayato from ten years ago had found the Reborn from ten years ago here, and they had somehow met up with the present-day Yamamoto, who had taken them to the Vongola hideout. For some reason, they had left the base and ran into Sasagawa, Haru, I-Pin, and the cow -- and then everyone else was shot with the Ten-Year Bazooka.
At the same time? How is that possible?
What troubled Hayato the most was that he couldn't remember anything like this happening ten years ago. If his past self was currently in his present, shouldn't Hayato have memories of what was going on right now? If this trip to the future had been part of his past, shouldn't he remember it? He remembered graduating from high school, attending his coming-of-age ceremony, losing Yamamoto, working alongside the Tenth under the Ninth's watch, the emergence of the Millefiore family, the war, the Tenth's brutal death and its aftermath. A trip to the future had not been a part of Hayato's life. The possibility of being caught inside a paradox occurred to him, but this wasn't a Ray Bradbury story, for fuck's sake.
Time passed. Hayato slipped into a dreamlike stupor; he kept losing his concentration and wished desperately for some writing implements so he could refocus, but there was nothing except the vile pink mist. He had no idea how long he had been here, wherever this was. His consciousness floated, amorphous, in a place beyond understanding. The others were still here in some form -- occasionally, he caught glimpses of I-Pin's textbooks and the inside of the ramen shop she worked for, heard snatches of thoughts from Sasagawa's sister and the dumb cow, but they were incomplete, nonsensical, useless.
Your blade is sharp, but your mind has never been duller, kid. An endless mane of white hair, a clearing, the glint of a sword. Yamamoto's memories?
A pale woman's breast, blood spurting from a trident impaled in it. Mukuro? Chrome? Both?
The Cavallone boss, laughing at a foreign sky, his whip uncoiling in mid-strike. Hibari, too.
Was this Byakuran's doing? Was he simply transporting all of the Vongola into the future so he could erase them while imprisoning their future selves somewhere? It seemed to fit, especially with Irie Shouichi in the picture. They did something like this in the Vendicare prison, didn't they -- sensory deprivation. Eventually, the prisoners went completely insane and died screaming. It would be clean, bloodless, and inhumanly vicious -- one hundred percent Millefiore style.
Squalo with his head thrown back, a throaty growl, a spike of pleasure deep down. What?
The Tenth, smiling bashfully. The truth is, I've liked you since we were kids, Kyoko-chan. I just never had the guts--
A toilet brush. Yukata patterns. Rivers of blood. A man and a woman discussing a dying little girl's fate, and then the roar of jet engines. Painfully familliar hands holding a sword's edge hostage.
Hayato wanted to close his mind to all of it, but there was nothing he could do. He floated on, waiting for death.
"He's coming to, Bianchi-nee."
"Hayato. Open your eyes."
Light pierced his vision, blessed white, not pink. Those voices, too -- they weren't in his head. "Wh-whuh?" he croaked. Somewhere to his left, a steady beep kept pace with his heartbeat.
"Easy, now, drink this." There might've been poison in the water, but Hayato wouldn't have cared -- it tasted so sweet. He was alive.
His eyes finally adjusted to the light. Bianchi, in her ridiculous oversized goggles, sat next to him. Behind her hovered Fuuta, anxiety plain on his face. This was the infirmary at Namimori base, present-day. He had come back. "Where is the Tenth? The Tenth from ten years ago, where is he?"
"Irie sent them all back to the past and brought you back from the machine. It's over," Bianchi said.
"What's over?" How could she speak Irie's name so calmly? What machine?
"The war with the Millefiore. Everything." Bianchi pressed a hand to his forehead. Hayato flinched. "Don't be such a child."
Hayato looked away, noticing Sasagawa on the bed next to his. Further beyond lay his sister. "Is everyone like this now?"
"Kyou-nii was mostly conscious when we took you out last week; he's recovering at his place. Takeshi-nii woke up four days ago," Fuuta said. "He's back in Italy already. Haru-nee and Lambo are awake, but they're still very weak."
Bianchi leaned over Hayato and pushed a series of buttons on a monitor. "The machine kept you all from going into the past when Irie shot your past selves with the Ten-Year Bazooka. You were in suspended animation for two weeks, so you'll have to take it easy for a while."
Over the next few days, they slowly told Hayato everything: Irie's true loyalties, the Ten-Year Bazooka plan, the Varia's battle against the main Millefiore force in Italy, fighting the true six Funeral Wreaths, Mukuro's death, Chrome's madness, the reversal of the Arcobaleno curse, Reborn-san and the Tenth fighting Byakuran, the destruction of the Vendicare prison, Uni's final sacrifice.
Sasagawa, who had been the last to become trapped, awoke in time to hear about the parts he had missed. He tried talking to Hayato when Bianchi and Fuuta would leave for the night, but Hayato ignored him, angry that he had been floating in pink goo whilst Sasagawa got to actually do something to help the Tenth's plans succeed. He also couldn't forget that the Tenth hadn't trusted him, his right-hand man, with those plans. The right-hand man was always Hibari, the one who didn't even want the honour. You were just the inferior substitute.
Still, the Millefiore family was no more. The Varia had teamed up with the Giglio Nero to pursue the Gesso's fleeing remnants. Yamamoto was with them, too. A part of Hayato longed to be there, so at least he could say he did something, but none of it would be for the Tenth, would it? Would it?
Finally, Hayato asked the question that had eaten away at him since he had awoken. "Wh-what about the Tenth? Our Tenth, I mean. Is he--"
Bianchi bowed her head. "Sawada and Reborn are dead in this era. That was never going to change."
"Then why--?" Hayato struggled up to sit; he hated that she was looking down at him. "What did change?"
"This," Bianchi said, tapping at his chest. Hayato looked down and saw the Vongola Ring of Storm there on its long silver chain, as though he had never ripped it away.
"They left the Vongola rings behind?" he murmured. "But that means-- that means..."
Bianchi nodded. "This world is no longer their future. Ten years ago, Byakuran is a mere child. The Ninth will crush him easily before he even imagines challenging the Vongola."
Hayato shook his head. "That's not the Tenth's way; he won't allow anyone to harm a kid--"
"No, but Reborn will," Bianchi snapped. "Anyway, the problem was never Byakuran."
"That's right. The mafia legacy rings were at fault," Sasagawa murmured, turning the Vongola Sun Ring around in his fingers. "The way Irie tells it, the rings' powers were shredding reality to bits. Sawada thought he could put a stop to it by destroying the strongest set, but it was too late. The truth is, Verde's experiments should never have left his laboratory. Sawada will make sure they won't."
Hayato didn't doubt that. He collapsed against the pillows. "But if this isn't the future, how come we exist?"
Shrugging, Bianchi rose. "Who knows? You figure it out. But get some sleep first, smartypants-dono."
Hayato really hated it when she treated him like a kid.
"Oi, octopus-head," Sasagawa whispered after the lights went out.
Why was he using that ancient nickname all of a sudden? "What?"
"That hellcat of yours. The you from ten years ago gave her a name."
"That's because ten years ago, I was pathetic and sentimental," Hayato bit back. "Weapons don't need names."
"Heh. She didn't like him any better than she likes you, if it's any consolation."
"I don't give a shit."
"Me, I prefer the ten-years-ago version. He was so laid-back compared to you."
"Go eat a dick, lawn-head."
A week after the Tenth's funeral, Hayato sat at a restaurant in Palermo, staring at the sediment at the bottom of his glass. After all this time, Mazzoni had gotten three times fatter, but he still hadn't learned how to decant wine properly. Japan had never seemed further away.
Still, the images of his former family members pursued him, like shards of broken glass wedged into his heart. Bovino, bewildered and oddly childlike next to an inconsolable Haru and stoic little I-Pin. Sasagawa, his arm around his weeping sister, looking down. Hibari, solitary and stone-faced next to a withered tree. At a distance behind him, the Cavallone boss. Just a month ago, they had all been a part of Hayato's life, and now they were a part of his past. If there was such a thing anymore. How could a world with no future have a past?
Yamamoto, cold-eyed and taller than Hayato remembered, standing with his head bowed towards the Tenth's family gravestone, that strange scar marring a once-familiar jawline. Not yours, the scar had told Hayato. Never yours.
He had seen enough while trapped in Irie's machine -- enough to know what had really kept Yamamoto in Italy. Training, had he called it? What a fucking joke. Yamamoto and Squalo. Hayato's fists clenched every time he remembered those stolen bits of thought drifting through pink. He hadn't meant to pry; those thoughts had come to him. He'd had three years of regret, and what a waste that had been. And when he "met" Yamamoto again, inside the machine, his first thoughts had been of their last night together, and Yamamoto had seen that -- he'd even commented on it. The embarrassment was almost too much to bear.
It doesn't matter, he told himself. This world isn't real, none of this is really happening. Soon, it would all disintegrate -- Mazzoni's fat ass behind the bar, the Tenth's gravestone, and Hayato himself. All this was just a vagary of time, a hiccup in the continuum. The real Hayato was now ten years in the past. Now that he knew what could await them, he would become even stronger, strong enough to keep the Tenth safe, to make sure Sawada Nana didn't have to cry at her only son's burial ceremony. The Tenth would live a long life, longer than anyone, and he would die peacefully in his bed. That was the future. It was only a matter of time before this empty world's soap bubble popped.
All Hayato wanted to do before that happened was pay his respects to his father, whom he hadn't seen for practically half his life. He would ask about the place of his mother's grave, and he would wait there, wait for the world to end. He didn't deserve to be by the Tenth's grave when it happened, for he had failed the Tenth in this world.
Abruptly, he realised that an unusual silence had settled all around him. It was as though someone had stoppered his ears while he was lost in thought -- he no longer heard the clink of silverware against plates, the creak of the waiters' shoes, the raspy Celentano tune from the ancient loudspeaker by the bar.
Aw, shit. I knew I'd forget to tell the local boss I was here. None of these clowns even know what went down in Japan; they think I'm representing the Vongola. Hayato lifted his head, but instead of the local boss's face, he saw Dying Will flame scars and a dark pair of eyes filled with malice. Xanxus.
Behind him towered Levi, next to a young man with a petulant face hidden partially by a giant frog hat -- the new Mist kid, Fritz or Fred or whatever his face. Lussuria leaned against Levi, grinning his usual shit-eating grin, as if he didn't know everything around him was about to disappear. No Squalo. He was probably back at whatever hovel the Varia called headquarters, screwing Yamamoto through a dirty mattress one last time before the end of the world.
No Belphegor, either, but Bel had a better excuse. His brother had managed to do for him during the last battle; they said he had literally sliced Bel to ribbons. One big happy fucking royal family.
Xanxus was still glowering at him.
"What does the great Xanxus-dono want with a small fry like me?" Hayato asked, meeting Xanxus's gaze directly. It was an offense punishable by death, but they would soon find out Hayato didn't give a shit.
Xanxus sneered. "You swore undying allegiance to the Tenth Vongola. Isn't it about time you honoured your oath?"
"The Tenth is dead," Hayato spat, glaring up into Xanxus's face, half willing that legendary temper to awaken. He had nothing left to live for -- if this could be called living -- but he wasn't coward enough to kill himself.
"Sawada Tsunayoshi is dead," Xanxus said. "You're looking at the Tenth Vongola."
Hayato knew it was true; the Ninth had named Xanxus his successor two weeks ago. But what did it matter? This world had no anchor; it didn't really exist. They were ghosts, simulacra -- their entire world had sloughed off reality like wheat chaff. "I don't understand," he managed finally. "What do you want?"
"For a genius, you sure are stupid, Hayato-chan," Lussuria piped up. "Cheer up! You've been scouted by the Varia! ♥"