To begin with, it was a favour.
To begin with, it was a party.
The room was dark, sheltered from the glare of outside sun with the curtains half-drawn. It was, however, entirely impossible to miss the boy sitting in the sofa at the heart of the room, dark eyes and dark hair and seemingly-too-white skin against all-black upholstery. He remained seated where he was, his voice indifferent, as uncaring as this reigning silence in his office—and only when you mentioned Reborn’s name did a smirk stir and a pair of narrow steel flash.
The room was bright, bathed in countless flickers of candlelight and their mirrored glints in sculpted crystals. It was, however, in the shadow of a gold-carved pillar that you sighted the young man, pale-haired and pale-skinned, watching you through narrowed eyes. He would have remained unnoticed, a tiny black speck in the colourful tapestry of chattering guests and twirling couples—but you had not survived in the burgeoning underworld by letting the more insignificant details go unnoticed.
You held his gaze, and brandished your whip.
You caught his eyes, and approached.
When Romario came to you with a report on everything he could find on Hibari Kyouya—which was astonishingly little—you grew even more uneasy. But your Family’s future was at stake and you decided, “This requires drastic measures, Romario.”
When Benvolio came to you with a sketch of the Cloud Guardian of the Vongola—which had been expensively obtained—you were far from surprised. In fact, you laughed, the sound bursting through words as you said, “One step closer, Benvolio.”
You found him the next day on the school rooftop, dark bruises and still-healing scars from yesterday’s training matching the ones on your face. Inside the brown envelope you offered him was a plane ticket with his name already printed on it. His first response, predictably, was a dismissive snort, but you continued grinning innocently and said, “Unless, of course, you’re afraid of flying, which is nothing to be ashamed of.”
You approached him three days later in a small, upscale café, his slight frame in a secluded corner seat, hidden behind a tall potted plant. Inside the pearl-white envelope you set down on the table was a dinner invitation with his name written in a graceful flourish of dark green ink. His first response, predictably, was a withering glare, but you met his eyes and said, “Unless, of course, you prefer watching me from the shadows, as usual.”
When he showed up at the airport five minutes before takeoff with a thunderous scowl, you grabbed his hand and ran toward the departure gate, grinning all the while.
When he appeared at your doorstep five minutes after seven with a perfectly expressionless face, you welcomed him graciously, hiding a satisfied smile all the while.
The training was a success, all things considered. He lunged at you, a voiceless snarl on his lips as the wind whipped leaves and bamboo twigs about his face, and your whip swerved and struck his blind spot. He bled, but two days later, amidst raging waves, he dodged the same feint with such ease, and for the first time, you understood how Reborn must have felt when you had dealt him his first scratch. This pride was unlike anything—you smiled and his knuckles found your cheek upon that smile. You laughed as his scowl deepened under his dark, wet fringe, and for the first time ever, you thought him beautiful.
The dinner was a success, all things considered. He proved to be a learned man, the depth of his knowledge a well you attempted to measure and failed, as he matched each of your expositions with a firm argument of his own. He said nothing of the feast, but two hours later, in the close comfort of your library, he settled in an armchair with apparent contentment and, his tongue sufficiently loosened by wine, began an unhurried dissection of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. You watched him talk, the fire’s soft, golden glow lending vivacity to his general paleness, and for the first time ever, you thought him beautiful.
Too bad that he belonged to the Vongola.
Too bad that he belonged to the Vongola.
“Why don’t you join them?”
“Why did you join them?”
“Because I’m not interested,” he retorted when your question had hung in the air long enough, and you knew then: this hate of crowding was simply another way to discourage attachment. Something in his past, undoubtedly, had fashioned such defence mechanism. You nodded but pried no further, and for a few minutes he watched you suspiciously from the corner of his eyes. You feigned ignorance; he would speak, when time and familiarity had nurtured enough trust to bridge the distance.
“Because what Vongola attempted was near impossible,” he answered when your question had festered long enough, and you knew then: such confidence approaching arrogance was his greatest vice. Pride, as always, came before a fall. You loosened your whip and rose to your feet, but his scowl did not smooth down until much later. You did not care; he had answered honestly—a man with so much pride could only allow himself to speak the truth when he had lost spar and bet both.
But you wondered at degrees of interest when you glimpsed the ring, chained loosely around his neck, the next time you were back in Namimori. You hid your smile for something as brazen would have triggered a reaction—and any reaction, at this stage, would result in swift retribution and a score of black bruises.
But you wondered at degrees of impossibility when you finally met Don Vongola, after months of dancing around his Cloud Guardian. He was not at all the way you had imagined him, but nothing could matter less than appearances. He was here and your father was not and sometimes vengeance was more than a matter of duty.
The idea was to show Kyouya Italy in the height and colours of Christmas celebration, but as always, the execution was slightly more complicated. “It was a waste of time,” he declared, his reasoning perfectly unimpeachable from his sure position—but you were a man who knew when to abandon reason and reasoning both. Old tricks worked well too; you were not above underhanded means and certainly not a simple hint of: “I can imagine that the Sea of Japan and the breadth of the Asian continent may daunt anyone who is terrified of flying but–”
The idea was to invite the industrious Chief of Intelligence to accompany you to England and see the Great Exhibition, but as always, good intentions seldom yielded good results. “It was merely an exhibition,” he declared, interest not in the least roused by stories of a colourful congregation and matchless grandeur. But you had watched him for a long time and the path of his mind was by now as familiar as the ridges of your knuckles, “It remains,” you hummed to no one in particular, but Alaude’s ears were close and no doubt heedful, “that knowledge is power.”
It always did the trick.
O pride, that wilful, gullible child.
He walked the streets of Rome in the same manner he patrolled those of Namimori and this prompted your laugh; for even then, with his lips locked into a thin defiant line, his gaze kept drifting to and fro, tugged by sounds and sights both. You realised that even two years did not wear down your fondness of these rare glimpses of naiveté, and perhaps it was why under the merry glitters of a big Christmas tree, you slowed your pace and kissed him.
He roamed the Crystal Palace in silence, the tremendous input too much and too heavy for the leisure of an output, and you almost envied him the intensity; for even now, with all this wealth of knowledge laid down for your eyes and ears and mind, you barely felt their spell. His quiet wonder shone in comparison, and perhaps it was why, as you both stepped into the stained glass gallery, that kaleidoscope of red, yellow, and soothing blue, you grabbed his shoulder and kissed him.
There were surprised gasps as he punched you in the face, but you grinned because his own face was red (although it might have been the Christmas lights’ fault).
There were scandalised gasps as he punched you in the face, but you smirked because his own face was red (although it might have been the tinted glass’ fault).
“You are ridiculous.”
“You are shameless.”
“But it’s you who reduces me into this embodiment of ridiculousness, Kyouya. Now be a man and take responsibility.”
“To be sure, shame is subjective and if the subject does not feel any shame, then shameless is an apt name, don’t you think?”
You got another black eye, but it hardly mattered because he actually allowed you to kiss him again.
You watched his eyes narrow, but victory glowed bright in the palm of your hand when he pinned you to the door.
You fucked him because you were hard and he was hard and he absolutely refused to admit it—proud, stubborn, and so very Kyouya that you could not help the sharp wave of affection rising in your chest. His faithful tonfa had long since escaped his grip and your whip was nowhere to be seen, but the heat of a fight was there still. He snarled when you touched him but made not the slightest sound at your first breach, and this breathing, straining mess of contradictions spread oh-so-temptingly under you was indeed too much. You remembered biting the side of his neck (a promise inverted, that, he never did bite you to death despite the constant spill of threats) and that it made him come (which made you come) was a surprise entirely too pleasant that you moaned.
You fucked him because you were hard and he was hard and he made this little noise at the back at his throat when you kissed the pale column of his neck. He had his eyes closed throughout, refusing to see you, himself, this, and you knew then, there was nothing you wanted more in the world than to break him, to have your name remembered by his tongue and throat and vocal chords like nothing else had been. You used time, rhythm, and intensity each like a different weapon, working to the same ruthless end, but it was your voice which finally undid him (like his voice, a tattered sheath about your name, which finally undid you) and there was a sort of symmetry, mutuality to it that almost made you laugh if not for the misty depth of his ocean-blue eyes, bare at last.
Afterwards, he left without a word and you did not stop him. Half the reason was the painful bruise forming just above your ribs; the other half was guilt.
Afterwards, he left without a single glance back and you did not stop him. Half the reason was the wrongness of the entire situation; the other half was pride.
But when you saw him again, it was him who scowled and proceeded to kiss you senseless, his fingers driven by such impatience which you could not but interpret as need. For that splinter of a moment, you forgot about everything—name, Family, duty—as your world was reduced into one word: him.
But when you saw him again, it was him who pushed you onto the hotel bed and chained you to the heavy brass rails, the metal cuffs cutting into your wrist as his lips crushed yours. For that splinter of a moment, you forgot about everything—plan, caution, execution—as you mouthed one name: his.
Romario, naturally, was the first to notice—perhaps long before you yourself had. Always he gently turned his face away when a fit of longing had you kissing Kyouya as soon as you saw him after any period of parting. But even under this private cloak of knowledge, he never volunteered a comment, and his lack of judgment plaited small threads of your unease into guilt. Even with every cell in your body engulfed in Kyouya’s scent, your Family did not mean any less to you.
Benvolio, naturally, was the first to notice—perhaps long before you would have preferred him to. If there was disapproval behind his tightly guarded mask, you could not read any of it, but soon you found yourself giving him one glance too many at every mention of Alaude’s name. For you, anxiety was an unfamiliar hand to hold, but Benvolio existed above any rule you had set about yourself; his opinion was one of the very few which actually mattered, unwilling as you were to admit it.
It was the silence and the static hum of the car’s air-conditioner which finally sundered your waiting. Without a pause, you plunged into a rambling explanation on what you felt and how it changed nothing of your love to the Family and that was why you would work twice harder to make amends—but you never did reach any of them, stumbling over too many words and tangled thoughts. Then Romario was grinning and the amusement so palpable on his weathered face was lined with the sort of joy you once had wished to see on your father’s face, as he said, “You really are in love, aren’t you, Boss?”
It was the cacophony of a carnival and the riot of colours which finally bent your stubbornness. You said but a few words—he would have enjoyed this—only loud enough to reach his ears above the marriage of warbled singing and raucous laughter, for there was nothing else you could offer. Alaude was pure selfishness from your part, that impossible wall which taunted you with its height, and you knew that he knew when he turned and gave you a long, solemn look. There was a rare hint of gentleness in his weathered face and it gave you pause, for a moment, but it vanished as soon as his words came, “As long as you do not forget, Boss.”
The answer to that, you knew, could only be ‘yes’.
The answer to that, you knew, could only be ‘never’.
Once upon a time, you had had a chance—to follow convention, to marry and make safe the future of your Family. You had been twenty-two, your life wholly defined by the shackles of your position, when you met Hibari Kyouya, and all of a sudden boundaries no longer mattered. Since then, your only real fear had been loss, for so much love was both a blessing and a curse as you breathed them, each day, with growing familiarity that ached.
Once upon a time, you had had a chance—in love, in your father’s smile, which too soon had been turned to a stone likeness above his earthly tomb. You had been eighteen, still mesmerised by ideals only youth and lofty ideas under a university’s arcing columns could rouse. Since the murder, you had abandoned all those and lived only in search of an answer, a closure, that one finale you would be able to find in the taste of Giotto Vongola’s blood.
It only became real when you heard the news of Reborn’s death, your omnipotent tutor—the one person you thought invincible.
Your vendetta began when you allied yourself to a black-haired man with a pair of cruel eyes, soon to assume the Vongola’s bloody throne—with your help.
You had seen him one last time, before the war. “You will see me soon,” he said, halfway through buttoning up his shirt, and there was such a peculiar note in his voice that you looked up, suddenly afraid. He smirked when he noticed your fear and his parting kiss smacked of a taunt, but the envelope left in his wake did not. The silver key which tumbled out of it white folds was familiar enough to unlock memories of heated spars on a rooftop, once the beginning of everything.
You had seen him one last time, before the end. He was the most beautiful when he looked you in the eye, white sheets pooling about his waist and a strange light in the blueness of his eyes. “I will stand in your way,” he said softly, his poise untouched even now, and you pulled him down into a deep, bruising kiss because an answer would make it real and for now, at least, the night was long still.
And then it began.
And then it began.
When you finally found him again, you said, “I love you,” for one chance was better than none.
When you finally found him again, you did not say, “I love you,” for it would be wasted on lifeless gravestones and the deaf earth.
He was there.
He was not there.