"Skipping class is against the rules," someone standing behind Takeshi announces, cool and unamused as a judge pronouncing a death sentence.
Since it's Hibari, the comparison isn't too far off.
Takeshi waits for a beat of his heart, and another, before he uncurls his fingers from the chain link of the fence that circles the school roof these days, precaution against bad decisions. It's a calculated risk for him to provoke Hibari like that, and sure enough, when he finally turns, Hibari's eyes are glittering. "Then shouldn't you be in class, too?" Takeshi asks, bright and innocent as he can manage.
Hibari's tonfa appear in his hands--like magic, like box weapons, but those have been left behind them in a future that won't be, now. "You're not on the school's disciplinary committee," Hibari informs him, cool and precise. That's all the warning Takeshi gets before he lunges forward.
But Takeshi's been expecting the attack. Has been waiting for it, actually. Shigure Kintoki sings in his hands when he meets the first blow. Hibari's teeth show between his lips in something like a smile. Then there isn't really time to think. Hibari is faster than ever and his tonfa are merciless whenever they kiss Takeshi's ribs. It takes all of Takeshi's focus to keep up with him, to meet the demand in Hibari's strikes and answer them in kind.
He's not even sure how long they fight there on the school's roof under the heat of the sun. It's long enough for them to go breathless and for sweat to soak their hair and their shirts, anyway, before Hibari finally growls something incomprehensible and blurs into motion, driving Takeshi back and down. The last of Takeshi's breath whooshes out of him when his back meets the sun-baked roof. He doesn't get a chance to get it back before Hibari is kneeling on his chest, holding a tonfa against his throat. They freeze like that as the seconds tick past and the sweat trickles down Takeshi's scalp. Hibari's unreadable, looking down at him, till he snorts and rolls off Takeshi, standing and stalking away silently.
Takeshi stays where he is, stretched out under the sun, till his breath comes back to him and he's cooled off, before he decides that it's probably time that he went back to class.
Tsuna's worried about him. Takeshi knows this and doesn't quite know how to ease Tsuna's fears. Not that he's sure that anything can really do that; it's Tsuna's nature to worry. Takeshi might as well try to stop the tide while he's at it.
He doesn't know what to say, anyway. He knows he's been different since coming back from their future-that-won't-be. He hasn't really wanted to let on, but Tsuna's got that whole Vongola intuition working for him, and so he can't quite help it. Can't quite hide it, either, not from the people who know him best: Tsuna, his father, even Gokudera, who makes such a point of how ostentatiously he doesn't care that it says more than anything else could how worried he really is.
His father, at least, doesn't say anything, for which Takeshi is grateful, even when it makes him squirm a little on the inside as he sits at the counter, watching Tousan work. Gratitude for the ability to do so slides through him like a knife every time he does. His father is alive and laughing and will stay that way for a good long while yet, if Takeshi has anything to say about it.
Takeshi is starting to wonder whether there's a part of him that's just broken or something. Or maybe he's just a terrible person, and is only just now realizing it.
Science isn't Takeshi's thing; that's why he doesn't feel bad about skipping out of it as much as he has been lately. Gokudera growls dire threats about not helping him catch up when exams roll around, and Tsuna gives him a worried look. Takeshi doesn't pay mind to either of them and makes his way to the roof again.
It's getting to the point where Hibari almost seems to expect to find him there. Certainly his "You're breaking school rules" is getting more clipped and perfunctory these days. It's like he understands that it's beside the point as far as Takeshi is concerned. Or that it's just an excuse.
Takeshi thinks he might be getting better, too--at fighting Hibari, that is. Hibari is mostly like any other opponent; he has his cues and his own tells, which Takeshi is beginning to learn. The tradeoff is that Hibari is learning the same sorts of things about him, too, but that just keeps things interesting. And besides, it's Hibari. He's dependable, in his own way: Takeshi can rely on him not to wonder what it is that keeps bringing Takeshi to his roof, to these fights, while his chances of passing science drop further and further behind him.
It's just as well; Takeshi isn't sure that he could explain it to anyone, since he can't even explain it to himself. There's just something in him that's soothed by the fighting, the way it isn't soothed by practicing kata. He used to be able to lose himself on the baseball diamond, but baseball doesn't feel the same way it used to any more and he can't quite find the pure edge that the strike and swing of the bat used to have.
Whatever it is that keeps bringing him back to the roof, Hibari suffers it as tolerantly as he does anything. They fight till they're both bruised and sometimes bloody. It's almost like they're in training together, except that Hibari would totally try to kill him in earnest for the very suggestion. And besides, right now there's not even a specific enemy for them to be training against.
Takeshi wishes that there were.
The sudden clarity of that thought brings him up short and he catches his foot against an unevenness in the roof. Hibari pounces on the moment of his uncertainty and knocks him over, pinning him down. Takeshi lets it happen, dazed and maybe a little horrified at himself. "I miss the fighting," he says, a little blankly, forgetting for a moment that it's Hibari he's talking to.
Hibari is Hibari; he's utterly blasé to this baring of Takeshi's soul and his moment of existential crisis. "Of course you do," he says, clearly bored. "You're not really a sheep, even if you think you are."
And maybe it really is that easy, at least for Hibari. It's still a shock for Takeshi. He doesn't move for a long time after Hibari sniffs at him and wanders away.
But it gets easier, after that, like all he's really needed was for the right pieces to fall into place so that he can see the whole picture at once. Or something like that. Things make sense again, although it's a new kind of sense. But he can live with that.
Seems like other people can, too. Tsuna stops giving him such worried looks, and one night Tousan drops a hand to his shoulder in passing and grips it, all without saying anything. So there's that.
(Gokudera doesn't stop complaining about the classes that Takeshi keeps on cutting. Can't have everything, he supposes. Besides, Gokudera is happiest when he has something to gripe about and Takeshi would hate to disappoint him.)
Hibari stops noting that Takeshi is missing class. Some days he's even waiting for Takeshi when Takeshi emerges onto the roof. Maybe Hibari misses the future-that-won't-be, too, Takeshi thinks. Namimori belongs to Hibari, there's no question about that, but it seems almost too small for him now. Will be too small for him before too much longer.
"What are you going to do?" he asks one afternoon when the August sun is pressing down on them. Shigure Kintoki is resting against the side of Hibari's throat, which Takeshi figures gives him the right to ask.
"Do about what?" Hibari asks. He sounds bored, disinterested, but Takeshi is coming to know him and can tell that it's just a façade by the way Hibari's eyes gleam beneath his half-closed eyelids.
"About Namimori. About the mafia game." It's not a game, of course, except that it is: there are winners and losers and it's easier to win when there's a team at your back.
Something flickers in Hibari's eyes and is veiled again just as quickly. "Sawada attracts interesting fights," he says. Then he decides that he's done with talking, because he eels away from Takeshi in a fluid movement that Takeshi almost can't follow and the fight is on again.
Takeshi doesn't mind; that's a clearer answer than Hibari would give most people. And Hibari's right, too. Tsuna does attract interesting fights.
It says something about them both, he decides, that they're looking forward to it.
Takeshi feels bad about it when Tomita-buchou almost starts crying, but doesn't let it sway his decision. "I'm really sorry," he tells his captain, "but I can't play baseball any more. There's something else that I've got to do instead."
The decision feels right in a way that he's not sure very many people would understand, even if he tried to explain it to them. And that's assuming that he could even find the right words for it. But the people who do matter seem to get it without his saying anything at all: Tsuna gives him a wide-eyed look, one that's grave and serious, and Reborn tips his hat at Takeshi, briefly, in passing. Gokudera just grumbles and says, "It's about time you started getting serious, geezus," but Takeshi catches him looking weirdly pleased and respectful when Gokudera thinks he's not looking.
(The only person who doesn't seem to get it at all is Ryouhei-san, who persists in trying to recruit Takeshi to the boxing team. But that's just Ryouhei-san; if Ryouhei-san hadn't tried to recruit him, Takeshi would have been worried about him.)
Tousan doesn't say anything about it, himself, but he makes more time for Takeshi and the dojo, which is all that Takeshi can ask for and then some.
Weirdly enough, it's Hibari who gets a little strange about the whole thing. He comes to Takeshi on the first cool afternoon of autumn, seeking him out--and it's a little strange to encounter Hibari in the park on the way home after school instead of on the roof--and pouncing on him without any more warning than the flutter of gold and Hibird's annoyed chirping as he flutters out of the way.
"Explain yourself," he says after the fight, which is swift and merciless and leaves Takeshi groaning just a little from the knee that Hibari is grinding into his kidney.
"Nngh," Takeshi says. Hibari's weight eases off, just enough to let Takeshi catch his breath, but the look in his eyes suggests that Takeshi had probably better not test his patience today. Takeshi chooses his words carefully. "Baseball isn't real any more."
Hibari absorbs that and makes a sound between his teeth, one that's halfway interested if Takeshi is any judge at all. And he's starting to be. "There may be hope for you yet," Hibari says. And then he's gone, leaving Takeshi flat on his back and staring up at the leaves that are just starting to change colors overhead.
Takeshi doesn't think much more about it till the spring, because winter is an ordeal of studying and exams--Gokudera swears that Takeshi will pass his exams, so as not to embarrass the Tenth, and Takeshi tactfully refrains from pointing out that Tsuna looks terrified of embarrassing himself. They all scrape through it somehow. Then suddenly it's the end of the school year and Takeshi comes face to face with the fact that Hibari is generally classed with the third-years, when he permits himself to be corralled by such things, and as such should be graduating. The thing about Hibari is that he's a stickler for the rules and will even obey the significant ones himself. Generally, anyway.
It's not like Hibari graduating is likely to mean that Hibari will disappear from Takeshi's life--far from it, considering--but it means that things are going to change. Takeshi isn't quite sure how he feels about that. It's a little weird to think about, which itself is kind of strange. He doesn't know quite why the whole thing is bothering him, but it is.
But introspection is what Gokudera does, so Takeshi doesn't fuss himself with it too much. It'll all come clear sooner or later, like it always does, and in the meantime there are plenty of opportunities to catch Hibari for a fight still left.
But before Hibari graduates, business brings Dino Cavallone to Japan. Takeshi finds out when he wanders up to the roof and finds that there's already a full-scale battle in progress there. Dino-san is laughing and trying to tangle Hibari's arm with his whip while Hibari is growling wordlessly and is doing his level best to beat that laughter right out of him. Kusakabe-san and Romario-san are leaning against the wall and watching the whole thing, occasionally exchanging commentary on the particularly good hits. They look at him when Takeshi comes out. Takeshi looks back, feeling like his center of gravity has shifted without warning him first. "Oh, hey," he says, with a grin to cover up his moment of confusion.
They return his greeting pleasantly enough and make room for him along the wall, so Takeshi joins them after a moment of feeling a little strange about it. "Guess I should have made an appointment," he says.
"Eh," Kusakabe-san says, the perpetual grass-stalk bobbing with each syllable, "he'll have time for you."
"Haha, glad to hear it." Takeshi beams at them both and settles in to watch the rest of the fight.
Dino-san is really good and it's clear that he's pretty used to Hibari's ways, because he still comes up laughing after Hibari pins him the final time, even though he has a split lip. "It's good to see you again, Kyouya," he says, and claps Hibari on the back.
Hibari growls at him, sounding moderately disgruntled about it, but permits the contact, which surprises Takeshi a hell of a lot. So does the weirdly tight feeling that he gets in his chest in response to that.
He doesn't get any time to think about it because they both catch sight of him just about then. "Yamamoto!" Dino-san says, smiling and friendly, and gives him a quick once-over. He doesn't miss Shigure Kintoki when he does, because he gets a thoughtful, interested sort of look in his eyes. "How are you?"
"Pretty good," Takeshi tells him. "Nice fight."
Hibari snorts at that; it's eloquent. "He's out of shape," he says to Romario-san.
Romario-san laughs like he already knows. "It's been a busy winter," he says with a shrug. Then he looks at Dino-san. "We'd better get you patched up, Boss."
Dino touches his split lip and smiles, rueful. "Yeah." He claps Hibari on the shoulder again, cheerful. "See you later," he says, and follows after Romario.
Hibari flicks his fingers, dismissive, and Kusakabe-san goes with them. That leaves Takeshi alone with him. The air is still a little blustery--spring is on its way, but coming slowly--and it ruffles Hibari's hair.
Takeshi bites the inside of his cheek and then shrugs at himself. "So," he says, "you all warmed up now?"
Hibari's teeth gleam between his lips, briefly. "Why don't you come and find out?"
So that's okay.
Even as he does, there's a part of Takeshi's mind that's not entirely on the fight. It's busy chewing on all the various bits of weirdness from lately. Takeshi doesn't pay much attention to it because any fight with Hibari demands that he focus on that, and only that. It's not like the gears of his subconscious need any supervision once they've been set into motion, anyway. When Hibari finally knocks him down, pinning Takeshi's sword arm with a hand on his wrist while Takeshi holds off a tonfa with his other hand, Takeshi's subconscious comes to its conclusions and presents them to Takeshi.
"Huh," Takeshi says, a little surprised at himself, and looks up at Hibari, who just lifts an eyebrow at him.
Takeshi isn't one for sitting and thinking things over; that's the surest way, in his opinion, to make things too complicated, and that's where trouble starts. So he only gives it a moment's consideration before he lifts his head and presses his mouth against Hibari's. It's clumsy and unpracticed, which he can't help, but it makes sense, at least as far as he's concerned.
The sound Hibari makes is certainly surprised, and maybe even shocked, and he goes completely still over Takeshi.
Takeshi absorbs that and lets his head fall back again. "No?" he says, though not without a measure of regret. "Too bad."
Hibari looks down at him. All of Takeshi's recently-developed skills aren't enough to help him figure out what Hibari is thinking. Then Hibari moves, so fast that it's almost like he vanished into thin air.
Takeshi isn't one for swearing, though it's endlessly entertaining to listen to Gokudera sometimes, especially when he's in a temper. But this seems like the kind of occasion that requires a swear word or two, so he rests his head against the roof and closes his eyes and says, quietly, "Shit."
He doesn't see Hibari for a couple of weeks after that, which is not actually a surprise. Takeshi cuts class on a regular basis anyway, not that it matters much now that they're past their exams, and haunts the roof. All he gets for his pains is a cold.
He'll have to apologize, he knows that, and probably let Hibari kick his ass for taking that kind of liberty with his person. And that's fair enough, Takeshi decides, because really, it was an interesting idea but he'd much rather have Hibari as a friend and fighting partner than not at all.
Graduation is nearly upon them and the air is turning warm, when Hibari shows up again. Takeshi's on the roof, looking out across the trees that are just beginning to think about budding when the voice behind him says, "Skipping class is against the rules."
Takeshi turns and grins at Hibari. "Then shouldn't you be in class, too?" he says, glad that they're okay after all.
Hibari snorts and lunges for him. Takeshi laughs as he meets him.
It's a good fight. Wherever Hibari's been, he's kept in form, and Takeshi knows that he'll feel it later. He doesn't mind that or the fact that Hibari really isn't holding back today. It doesn't take him long to knock Takeshi's feet out from beneath him, or for him to pin Takeshi. He holds Takeshi's wrists once he does and looks down at Takeshi with eyes that glitter darkly.
"Um," Takeshi says when Hibari keeps on looking at him. Maybe it's time for that apology.
"Yes," Hibari says, which makes no sense at all until he bends his head and their teeth click together. It's a pretty terrible kiss, even worse than the first one. Takeshi totally doesn't care, because it's also kind of awesome, too.
And, hey. They've got the time to practice and get better at it.