That neat puncture, one straight unemotional hole- that wasn't him. It was a mechanism, a machine. There was nothing about it that decried a human hand had part in it.
When Reborn told him he was a natural killer, his first instinct was to deny it, because it was true.
When Shigure Kintoki slides into his hand, when his body moves in bursts, quick and silent, when the only thing he hears is his own breath in staccato rhythm and when the blade plays across smooth, uncut skin, Yamamoto doesn't think of things like morality. He doesn't think about Family or responsibilities or feel rage or guilt. Instead, his head is clear, and bright. Everything around him is illuminated, with every sight a wonder and a danger. Never panicked or uncontrolled, he is the God of his own realm, cutting and taking away, and getting cut in return. In battle there is simply exchange- his sweat for theirs, his blood for theirs.
But his first kill as an assassin, not simply battling in defense, wasn't with a blade.
He's on a rooftop, hundreds of feet away with a tiny scope, looking through a remove of glass with nerves calm and calculating as people move in and out of the French windows. There's thousands of things that could distract him, but when the man steps into clear view behind the gauzy billow of a curtain, he takes his shot with one simple pull on the trigger, and it's done. As he cleans up there's nothing to do but think back to the words Reborn had said, that his preternatural calm and instant reactions were the ideal for a sniper.
The thing is, Yamamoto forgets about it, after a while. Months after the mission is over, with a few scattered similar hits in between, Gokudera surprises him.
They're discussing how to handle the new-age Condottieri hired by the Black Spell group, passing along files on important personnel, when his friend suddenly says,
"But you took care of their chief negotiator for the deal, so it should be a few more weeks before we have to worry about going against more manpower."
Here Yamamoto blinks. "What?"
A finger slams down at the photo clipped to the file in front of them as he slides it across, a pointed look shot at his disbelieving tone. "This man. Angelo Barsculi. That hit you did in April?"
And he can't remember for the life of him. He believes Gokudera because there is his signature on the bottom of the list, indicating he did indeed carry out the mission and that the man is deceased- but he doesn't recognize his face, or his name. It's disorienting, and a little frightening. It doesn't matter how many people, he always knows their faces, their name, some detail that brings them back to him in those sharp, violent moments- but he's forgotten this man. When he thinks about it harder, he doesn't remember the other ones after that too clearly either.
When their discussion is finished, Yamamoto pulls the Beretta out from his side and shifts it in his grip, looking down at the polished, gleaming surface so different from his legacy. Although this isn't anything like the gun that had killed the first man, he had shot others with his sidearm and the memory of them is too quick and blurred for his mind to recall. So Yamamoto thinks to himself, that perhaps Reborn was wrong, that he isn't a natural killer. He can't be.
When he turns that gun back in at the armory that day, he tells Reborn,
"I don't like using it. Everything is too far away, and I can't feel anything. I can't remember any of them."
And his mentor simply smiles his enigmatic smile at him, and says in return,
"I'm glad you found your limit, because those who don't find theirs aren't called assassins, they're just called sociopaths." He clasps a hand on Yamamoto's suited shoulder, and says as if in secret with shining eyes, "Poor Tsuna already has one too many of those."
Having Hibari come with him on a hit was the worst possible thing. He understood it was necessary in this case to have someone who could extract them with force once the hit was done, considering how many layers of security the man had, but Hibari simply was not someone with the patience for this sort of thing.
With Mukuro, the man understood that the fastest way to get what you want, how you want it, was to stand still, to be duplicitous and wait it out- he was a spy after all. Gokudera had the patience simply because it was the most reasonable and logical course, if nothing else.
Hibari, however, existed in his own world, coming and going as he pleased, brutally assaulting anyone who tried to get in his way. Crushing men and walls beneath him when he deemed, he never cared about morals or discretion or timing. A force on his own, he simply bent circumstance to his will, shaping things for himself and leaving when he liked without a care to consequence.
Which was fine, it was his greatest attribute to stay above the fray, to have the freedom to move as he wished, but when doing a hit, there is no such thing as your own will.
First, there's the order that comes from above, which includes time restraints and method, whether or not it pleases you. Yamamoto knows that well, having refused missions from Reborn because he knew he wouldn't be able to accomplish them in certain conditions.
Then, there's circumstance. For every assassination mission, there are a multitude of shifting variables. How you time the attack, where you do it, if there are witnesses or not, all these things in some small part, depend on chance. Perhaps the bar they go to for their morning coffee is closed, maybe they stray from their escort to meet with their mistress, maybe the curtain is drawn and opaque, maybe they hired extra security, maybe they opt to stay longer in the hotel where there are hundreds of potential innocent witnesses in the way, maybe maybe maybe. Opportunities open and close with lightning quickness.
It's fine, because Yamamoto knows the key to this is to brush away those extra thoughts, and meld yourself into their movements. Every day he's out for the hit, he knows he must be fluid, that his reactions are just that, reactions, instead of pure willfulness. The success to actually getting the target discreetly is not to burst into his room with a volley of fire or an upraised sword or whirling tonfas, but to edge into their routine slowly, glide into their ablutions, their strolls in the plaza, their late night calls to their brothers. So when he's eased himself in with them, when his movements flow to the rhythm of theirs, when his mind is tranquil and open and he sees for an instance, that one shining moment, he'll climb out from behind them and with one quick stab, or slash, or slit- end it.
Squalo had a look about him that screamed for attention. His assassinations never required patience or style, because the Varia, besides being an assassination squad, was also a demolition team. They hardly went out on solo missions since they were given the hardest cases to crack. Entire villas and bunkers fell before them in a massive bloody spectacle that awed you with its sheer plethora of bodies. Squalo streaks through buildings drenched bloody, sword flashing non-stop one person after another, barely pausing to look at anyone before striking them down. His hair and coat flare about while he laughs when he deflects his opponents to eviscerate them. He races through hallways with clunking boots and screams at his teammates to hurry the fuck up, they're on a time limit.
There's such viciousness and thrill packed into each of Squalo's hits, and Yamamoto is horrified by this flamboyance, this crazed outpouring of death, but he's fascinated. He'll never forget that first time he sees his fellow swordsman cut to kill with such sheer joy and satisfaction in his movements despite the slaughter.
And it's because of this, perhaps, that Squalo surprised Yamamoto after his first hit and taught him a lesson too far advanced at that time to sink through, though it might have been the most important lesson of all.
The older man had stopped in the hallway, glancing his issued Beretta sniper rifle with unreadable eyes. Yamamoto had smiled at him, waving his arm to hail his friend as he paused on his way to return his gun to the armory.
"Hey, Squalo! How are-"
Puzzled by how Squalo motioned him closer, he came to him slightly intrigued as the other man hadn't started shouting at him right away.
Squalo's voice was low and even as he talked, pale eyes uncomfortably direct, and Yamamoto felt a vice grip on his wrist twisting the hand that held his rifle.
"There's not a lot between us, but we are swordsman. Do you know what that means?"
And Yamamoto, not knowing very much at the time, had just taken it at surface value, hadn't understood what Squalo had then declared about himself, about Yamamoto, about how despite how different they were in every aspect, at the very deepest core, they were the same.
Instead, he said,
"Haha, are you that angry that I used a gun? But Squalo, I've seen you use one too-"
Squalo had cut him off, gaze intensifying for a brief second, serious and quiet with Yamamoto in a way he never really was again. "When I use one, I am a swordsman using a gun."
He had let his wrist go in one quick movement, and Squalo turned around, stalking down the hallway abruptly and slamming doors open as he yelled at the top of his lungs for Belphagor to come the fuck out they've been summoned by the boss, transforming back into the whirlwind of energy and sharp, brilliant edges.
Yamamoto looks back on himself at that moment, non-plussed and unable to do anything but shrug off the cryptic comment and go back down the hallway, and wishes Squalo were still around so he could tell him that he understood, now, what that calm confession meant to him. That although Squalo loved the kill, loved the slaughter, and Yamamoto secretly hates it, that Squalo was flashy and Yamamoto is composed, that Squalo was mercenary and cared not about morals and Yamamoto struggled with it for so long- they were, the both of them, connected in a way that went beyond these things. The state of their friendship didn't matter, their personality and disagreements didn't matter.
What Squalo meant when he declared himself a swordsman was that he felt the same; that when he kills, he must feel. It is because of the sword that Squalo laughs at his opponents and grins at the feel of blood in his face. It is because of the sword that Yamamoto defended Tsuna that very first time, that he can make what is thankless real, to stop himself from becoming a machine, becoming instead a being that breathes and bleeds and lives.
Squalo had been right. That first hit, he hadn't been a swordsman with a gun. He hadn't been a swordsman at all.
He's dreamed about that day so many times, and it's never like he tells people.
When he'd looked at Tsuna (too young for this time, this place) and had his past laid bare, he couldn't tell him. His friend had thought Tsuyoshi died, murdered by another's sword, but it simply wasn't true.
He'd found him, laying on the cool, grey tiles of the restaurant floor, tangled underneath a forest of chair legs and tables, life gurgling and wheezing through his lungs so rapidly Yamamoto thought it an irony, with how much blood was pooling out in dark blotches beneath him. He hadn't come fast enough, hadn't been there to stop the man from striking his father- yet he'd arrived just in time to startle him from finishing it. And no, his instinct was not to chase that murderer down, but instead to run and crouch deep in the wide, warm embrace of blood and cradle his dad's head that whispered silent words almost sounding like pleas.
Yamamoto can't look at the rest of him, can't because he was sure that he saw the wet gleaming bone of a spine amongst the deep, gaping slash that made its way through Tsuyoshi's backside to the front, tearing slightly into the blue fabric of his shirt.
Wasn't it last week that he'd gotten a text from his father about the new clothes he'd gotten at Uniqlo for half off?
His father's face is strangely devoid of blood, there's just the splatter pattern across his brow where it hit his skin. His hand is limp, but it twitches with purpose, and Yamamoto grips it, wanting to squeeze for all it's worth, yet could only resign to gently setting his palm atop it, eyes widening as Tsuyoshi, with terrible, shaky strength, slides their hands onto the hilt of his katana.
And so Yamamoto gets up.
He leaves the warm blanket of blood and the soft hair of his father's head. He clutches his sword and holds it high, because even though those familiar eyes are wide and struggling, looking into the far ceiling with nothing coherent in them but agony, he knows what Tsuyoshi wants. That one, trembling move had told it all.
A sword had started this, and he wanted a sword to end it.
There's nothing but the white gleam of Shigure Kintoki to be seen as it rends the life if it's old master away, with laughable ease.
So here he is, a decade later from where he'd started when Reborn had looked at his swing and speed, and said he would be a natural assassin.
And while he might not like to kill with his sword, in a way he's glad that he can. It's easy for him to understand now, why that very first mission, all those years ago, had engraved in him this need to use the katana. There is no real purpose without it. Strangely enough, it's because he has killed Tsuyoshi with it that he has to use it. That moment had been the most intimate, unspeakable thing, and to dull his soul with any kill after that by not using his sword was something near heart-wrenching. That his spirit could withstand that deluge, that responsibility- well, he needed to feel that responsibility each time he cut someone down, then, because otherwise his killing his dad would have been nothing.
If he felt nothing when taking a life away, then it would mean that he felt nothing doing so to his father, that Tsuna had based his empire on the fights of robots and criminals, that Yamamoto might as well have taken up that gun and never put it down. The legacy that had begun his path and taken him through the fight against Mukuro, the ring battles against the Vongola and his duel with Squalo, defending Tsuna from the endless litany of enemies, would have become too sad and pathetic to bear.
So then, when Tsuna looks up at him and tells him he is to go on another mission, Yamamoto takes his sword up without regret, without the doubt that passed his mind long ago, because with each life he cuts, he cuts his own, deeper and deeper, until the blood is set into his bones. He doesn't mind what it makes of him, because he had already been made that day Tsuyoshi made his last request. He's set his course on one star already, and although it's hard sometimes, doing something so alien to what he wishes for all of them, his katana will clear the path for him, steadying and bright through his life.