Of Dream Interpretation

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by nekojita

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Authorís note: Okay, this isÖ hmm, probably just shy of Ten Years Later, but technically set after everyone returns from the future storyline so itís a new timeline. Since the Shimon arc is currently unfinished Iím going with things as if it hasnít happened, being uncertain how those events will play out. But really, things are vague enough to be any TYL timeline, before events affect Tsuna and Reborn (who Iím taking the adult future version of in here).

*******

Takeshi held Shigure Kintoki in a defensive position as his eyes strained to see through the haze of smoke so thick that is was almost impossible to distinguish friend from foe anymore Ė at least visually. Ryohei could at least be counted on to be yelling at the top of his lungs as he pounded various targets through the walls, Gokudera had at least one glowing cigarette dangling from his lips even in the midst of pitched battle and HibariÖ well, if Takeshi got close enough to Hibari, he had better worry more about himself than his fellow Guardian. That left Chrome unaccounted for, but hopefully she was keeping herself out of harmís way while taking advantage of the mass confusion.

Seeing several dark shapes approach and not recognizing any tell-tale signs of his friends, he lashed out with Beccata di Rondine form, slicing through them before they had a chance to attack. That put him back into the thick of things for several minutes, dealing with what must have been a reserve team of Tarquinioís men as he struck and parried with his sword to keep their own weapons at bay and himself alive. A small voice in his head remarked that Hibari would be upset at him for stealing so many capable targets, and he found himself smiling as he spun around and sliced through one of the menís spine.

There was another dark form to his left, and he was readying another strike to take the man down when his mind finally recognized the bright gleam of the weapon. He managed to twist to the side enough to divert his swordís fall and felt a slight burn along his right shoulder, a small pain added to the many heíd already collected that night. "Oi!"

By the time he turned to face his attacker, the smoke cleared enough to reveal a confused Chrome, who blushed furiously in his direction and stammered out an apology before ducking to the side and stabbing at another of the Tarquinio familyís men. Takeshi shook his head and laughed, the incident forgiven as he rushed back into battle; it was just that type of night, with the smoke and enclosed fight. They were all going to stink like Gokudera by the time the battle was over, but at least it made things a little interesting.

Around that time, Hibari must have gotten tired of the smoke because all the warning Takeshi had to duck was a brief purple flare of cloud flames, the excited squeal of Hibariís box animal and then a very loud, impassioned curse from Gokudera before there was an even louder crash and the floor beneath Takeshiís feet trembled. Bits of debris rained down from the ceiling, followed by a rush of fresh air. Figuring that he had best finish things up quickly before the roof collapsed on his head, Takeshi let out a shout as he leapt toward three men.

*******

"Damn homicidal maniacs and their lack of respect," Gokudera muttered as he leaned against the black sedan, half chewing on his cigarette as he glared at the remains of the Tarquinio familyís once picturesque estate. Takeshi took that as a sign that Hibari had immediately left after the fight, probably driven back to headquarters by one of his Foundation assistants. "Itís a good thing that Tenth didnít need the building in one piece!"

If that was the case, then Tsuna would have known better than to send Hibari on the mission in the first place, but Takeshi kept that bit of wisdom to himself. "Eh, he should be happy that weíre mostly all right and took care of Tarquinio." He smiled as he stared at the burning building, forcing his lips to curve as he reminded himself that all of the lifeless bodies inside would have gladly seen him and his friends dead in their places. What bothered him anymore was not the fact that he had to justify what he had just done, but that he was forgetting to do even that much. Reborn had been right about him, and there were times lately when he couldnít find it in him to care about that fact, let alone dispute it.

"So whereís Ryohei and Chrome?" he asked as he rested next to Gokudera, wincing a little as his sore back pressed against the car.

"Chrome took off about the same time that Hibari did, and Lawn-head is taking a nap." Gokudera jerked his bandaged left hand in the direction of the backseat of the car. "Why, you need him to look at you?" He narrowed his eyes as he examined Takeshi up and down, a slight sneer on his face as if he was prepared to mock any declaration of wounds and their need of medical attention.

Well used to his friendís anti-social way of showing concern, Takeshi chuckled as he shook his head. "Nah, Iíll manage to live somehow." He almost added how he would hate to leave Tsuna without a right-hand man, but it had been a rough fight and he was tired. No sense in riling Gokudera up until they got back to the mansion, where he could then leave him ranting and raving in the hallway while he headed off to the room he kept there for nights like these.

"Hmph, itís not like youíre much good to the family, but Tenth likes you for some ungodly reason so you better be okay for *his* sake," Gokudera muttered as he forced himself away from the car. He limped around to the driverís side, his grey suit singed and stained with blood, silver hair matted against his soot-streaked forehead. He appeared weary and beaten, yet Takeshi knew that as soon as they reached the Vongola base that he would be all smiles and full of energy, eager to tell Tsuna about how well he had carried out the mission. It was nice how some things never changed.

Feeling a bit weary and beaten himself, he opened the car door and slipped inside, grinning at Ryoheiís loud, raspy snore as he sank into the leather seat. Ah, it would be nice to go home, wash off the blood and odor of smoke and then soak in hot water until he was ready to fall asleep. If Hibari stuck around for a little while this time as planned, maybe he could entice him into a sparring session tomorrow; it had been a couple of months since the aloof man had been back and the main disappointment of tonightís mission had been the fact that Takeshi had barely been able to see Hibari fight.

Half listening to Gokudera rant about back roads and the idiots who drove on them, Takeshi closed his eyes and let the exhaustion wash through him.

*******

Takeshi frowned as he stared into the still-fogged bathroom mirror, eyes squinting at his bruised bottom lip. When had he taken a hit to the face during the fighting last night? Granted, things had gotten a bit confusing because of all the smoke and there had been numerous times in the past when he had woken up the next day with bruises he didnít remember earning from a battle, but this was a first time that it was one on his face. Then again, he couldnít remember the last time he had woken up this sore from a fight, his arms covered with bruises and his ribs protesting each movement, his body tired as if heíd barely gotten any sleep last night. "Maybe Iím getting old," he told himself as he wiped away the condensation from the mirror, distorting his confused image.

At least he wasnít frustrated as well as tired and sore, as he usually was after a night spent dreaming of Hibari. From the little bits he could remember, it had been remarkably vivid, the dream, leaving him half-surprised that he hadnít woken up to find a mess in his boxers this morning. Probably in response to the fight yesterday and all the aches and pains that he hadnít bothered to let Ryohei heal, the dream had been violent; for some reason in it he had fought Hibari, the action fanning their passion until they had been tearing into each other. He could only remember brief flashes here and there, but they were enough to make him half-hard and flushed. Dammit, what was it about the man that reduced him to a hormone-driven teenager again?

He needed a few extra minutes to regain control of himself before the meeting with Tsuna and the other Guardians. The thought alone of Rebornís all-knowing eyes on him helped him to master his traitorous body and get himself out the door only a few minutes late, grateful that heíd been too tired last night to go back to his apartment after the mission.

He barely had any time to hit the kitchen area for a quick cup of coffee and a slice of thick toast for an impromptu breakfast, the bread held in his mouth as he strolled down the busy hallway to the large office. Tsuna smiled at him as he entered, causing the toast to flip up as he smiled in return, but continued talking as Takeshi found an empty chair. Off in the corner lurked Reborn, black-clad arms folded over his chest and hat slanted over his face so one couldnít tell if his eyes were open or where he was looking, and Gokudera and Ryohei lounged about in the other chairs. Ryohei smiled and waved while Gokudera glowered, and Takeshi foresaw a lecture after the meeting about Ďwasting the Tenthís valuable timeí. He bit into the toast as he sat down and surreptitiously looked around to see if Hibari was leaning against the wall in some remote spot in order to avoid any Ďcrowdingí. Yet there didnít seem to be any sign of the man. Chrome, as usually, had decided to disappear after the mission judging from her absence.

Sighing into his coffee mug, he listened to Gokudera and Tsuna go over the mission last night and discuss the possible ramifications of taking out the Tarquinio family. Reborn added a few insights here and there, while it seemed that Takeshi and Ryohei were there more for being told what to do and agreeing with the others from time to time. Tsuna looked as if he was going to say something towards the end, then shook his head and thanked them for their efforts last night and their time this morning.

Taking that as his cue to depart, Takeshi grinned as he got up to leave the office, hoping to sneak out before Gokudera could snag him and give him a headache. He thought he was in the clear, until he heard Rebornís voice call out his name. Waiting for the older man in the hallway, he gave Gokudera an almost convincing apologetic smile when his friend stalked past along with Tsuna.

"Whatís up?" he asked as he fell in step beside Reborn.

Reborn pushed the brim of his hat up slightly as he glanced at Takeshi. "Have a fun time last night?"

He laughed as he scratched the back of his head. "Eh, it was a bit crazy. Too bad you didnít tag along."

"Hmm." Reborn was quiet for a minute after the non-committal sound, long enough to make him nervous. Had he messed up something last night? "Still, you look a bit rough around the edges for a minor family like the Tarquinioís. Losing your edge or something?"

Takeshi tilted his head as he regarded the assassin, curious about the otherís concern. "Well, there was a lot of smoke and confusion, so we were basically tripping over each other during the fight. I bet Hibari was the only one to get out of there in one piece." He was doing his best to hold back any questions on the other Guardian, such as where Hibari had gone off to when he was supposed to be in Italy for at least another week.

Reborn gave him another slanted look. "Really? Not sure Iíd take that bet," he said in a thoughtful manner, his lips pressed together as he stared off in the distance and his dark eyes narrowed in thought.

"Eh?" Takeshi stared at him as he tried to make sense out of that remark. Had Hibari been injured during the fight? But the last heíd seen of the Cloud Guardian, Hibari had been barely touched by the battle, other than a few bloodstains and slashes to his poor suit. "So you saw him last night?" He tried to make his tone as nonchalant as possible, and had a feeling that heíd failed when he noticed Rebornís smirk.

"No, this morning." The expression vanished from Rebornís face. "Right before he took off."

"Yeah, about that, I thought he was gonna stick around for a while this time and check into a few things."

"So did Tsuna. But Hibari caught me first thing this morning and told me he was leaving without any explanation." A hint of annoyance crept into Rebornís voice. "Typical Hibari behavior, comes and goes as he pleases without any regard for othersí plans."

"Yeah, itís not like anyone else around here does whatever he wants," Takeshi remarked with a wide grin, and laughed when Reborn cuffed him on the back of his head. Still, all teasing aside, he wondered why Hibari had changed his mind so suddenly. At the least, he would have thought that the man would have stuck around for the possible fights while they dealt with the remnants of the Tarquinio family and their allies.

"I think we should be able to handle things on our own, and he always shows up if we really do need him," he added as they continued on their way, his stomach rumbling to remind him that he had mostly skipped breakfast.

"Hmm." Reborn gave him another slanted look before tipping his hat in goodbye. "Always the optimist," he said by way of parting, leaving Takeshi to ponder what exactly it referred to: Hibariís defense of the family or something else entirely.

Was he that apparent about his infatuation with the Cloud Guardian? Or was it just Reborn being Reborn, noticing everything and meddling as always? Takeshi decided it most likely was the latter and that there was little he could do about it, especially when the man in question had vanished yet again. Ah well, there was one good thing about recent events, he supposed. He rubbed his sore bottom lip as he went in search of breakfast, a bit grateful that he didnít have to face Hibari so soon after such a vivid dream.

*******

"Eh, so what the hell did you do to Hibari? Try to get him drunk or take out one of his targets or something?" Gokudera demanded to know as he nudged Takeshi in the side, almost making him spill the glass of red wine that he was holding.

Mindful of his just cleaned suit and how much his friend loved to talk with his hands, Takeshi set the glass aside as he shook his head. "Beats the hell out of me," he admitted with evident frustration. All night long, Hibari had been avoiding him, clinging to the shadows and appearing at Tsunaís side now and then to parse out some necessary piece of information or to scowl at a member of the Denardo family like some dark demon. Whenever Takeshi attempted to approach him, he would disappear with a poisonous look that made it clear that Takeshiís attention was unwelcome.

Gokudera stared at him for a minute as if waiting for more of an explanation. "Look, I donít care what a bunch of idiots like the two of you get up to on your own time, but the boss is counting on working out a peaceful deal so play your games some other night." He shook his head when Takeshi opened his mouth to complain. "Just keep your eyes open and donít screw up," he added before stalking off to rejoin Tsuna, puffing smoke before him as if to herald his arrival.

Deciding that he could use the wine after all, Takeshi finished it off in a couple of gulps. Things seemed quiet enough that he could get away with it, and he doubted that anyone would be able to lay a finger on Tsuna between Gokudera glowering at his side and Hibari hovering in the shadows nearby to avoid Ďcrowdingí. Hell, half of the guests looked terrified to move, thanks to the two Guardians, so he didnít expect that Tsuna would have any problems getting Indro Denardo to agree with whatever he wanted. The bit of blackmail material that Hibari was providing was just icing on the cake at this point of time.

That left Takeshi to figure out a much more pressing issue as he snatched a glass of wine from a tray as a server passed by. What *had* he done to piss off Hibari so much? They hadnít crossed paths since the Tarquinio mission over a month ago, and as far as he knew, no one had heard from Hibari since then. Takeshi had had a couple of dreams about the man during that time, none of them as vivid as the night of the mission, so unless Hibari had added telepathy to his skills lately Ė one never knew when it came to him so it couldnít be completely discounted Ė there was no reason whatsoever for this animosity. They had mostly gotten along before this, Hibari tolerating him more than he did anyone else besides Reborn. Which wasnít saying much, but Takeshi would take what he could get when it came to the aloof bastard. Unrequited love was such a bitch, he thought as he gulped down another glass of wine.

He got another virulent glare for his troubles when Hibari noticed him staring in his direction again, prompting Takeshi to sigh and go searching for something to eat. Maybe he could entice the standoffish man into a sparring session and see if he could uncover an answer while getting his ass kicked. Normally he could hold his own against Hibari, but there was something about those glares that gave him the impression that he was in for a world of hurt if the tonfa came out. What type of fool was he that he didnít care about that if it meant that Hibari would pay him some attention and maybe a bit of respect as well?

He needed a drink, and something stronger than the wine being served at this Ďpartyí. Hoping that Tsuna wrapped things up soon, Takeshi once more stared after Hibari as he tried to remember where the nearest bar was to the restaurant where Denardo had agreed to meet.

*******

"OwÖ." The throbbing ache in Takeshiís left side grew insistent enough to drown out all of the other pains as he opened his eyes. Besides his ribs, his head hurt, his mouth was dry and he felt as if he lost a fight with someoneÖ which he had rather vague memories of almost being true. At the least, he recalled getting into a fight at the bar last night, something about his accented Italian and foreign looks and a few guys who hadnít recognized him for what he was. A slight smile tugged at the corners of his lips as he thought of how fun it had been to lash out with fists and feet in such a relatively harmless manner in the first time in what felt to be ages, even if he had been a bit too drunk to make a good show of it. Ah well, even drunk off his ass he had mostly held his own, right? Enough to make it home in one piece, by the looks of it.

He groaned as he sat up, body still a bit sore and stomach uneasy. He frowned and rubbed his right hand over his head as he took a careful, deep breath. Hmm, maybe he should watch the drinking if someone could manage a decent hit like that on him. It was a good thing that Reborn hadnít been there or heíd catch hell for it Ė or worse, Hibari.

Thought of the quiet man made him close his eyes and groan again as more memories rushed forward, this time of the dreams that had plagued him through the night. Damn, they had been so *real* again, of him shoving Hibari onto a strange bed, tearing at his white dress shirt to nip at an equally pale throat, thrusting into him as strong thighs clenched around his waistÖ. Takeshi swore that he ached in response to the dreams, they had been that realistic. That he once again fantasized about taking a friend so roughly, of there being flashes of bound hands and bruises, must mean that he really needed to get laid or get help, possibly both. Yet no one interested him anymore like Hibari did.

"Maybe I really am losing it," he said out loud as he forced himself out of bed to go make some coffee. Or maybe his subconscious realized that when it came to Hibari, even in a fantasy world there would never be romance and candle light dinners. "Still, it would be nice to have a dream about him without bondage and violence for once," he told himself. "At the least, itíll make it easier to face him next time, especially if he uses his box weapon during a fight." He laughed as he imagined trying to fight with a raging hard-on while Hibari used his handcuffs, the various aches and pains soon forgotten.

*******

Takeshi sat out in the garden with Shigure Kintoki across his lap, his back to the wall near the patio as he stared out past the flowers at the setting sun. It was quiet here, the air cool and free of cigarette smoke, the atmosphere peaceful. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine that he was back in Japan, spending a quiet moment in the park before going home to help his father after a busy day at school with his friends. Along the way he might even see-

The faint scrape of leather against stone was the only warning he had, and he opened his eyes in time to see something white, blue and black drift down to him. Since only two people could sneak up on him like that and only one of them would be Ďkindí enough to give a warning if not following through with violence, he let go of the sword to catch the paper. "Eh, is this a love note, Kid?"

"Idiot." Reborn sat down on the wall behind him, his long, black-clad legs settling beside Takeshi and right foot kicking his left shoulder for his insolence. "I think your brains got baked out here or something."

He laughed as he held up the plane ticket. "At least youíre nice enough to think I had some to begin with! Hmm, so whatís in Hong Kong?" Ah, the perks of being mafioso: the tickets were first class.

He got another kick for his troubles. "Besides shark fin soup and wife cakes? A job, what else?" Reborn leaned down to give him an inscrutable look. "That is, unless you think Tsuna and I are wrong in assigning it to you and Hibari."

"Hibari?" Takeshi glanced back at the ticket, which had him leaving in a couple of hours. "He actually needs some help?" He tried to keep the excitement in of his voice to a minimum and hoped that it came across more from the thought of a mission than over who it was with. Judging from the wry twist to Rebornís thin lips, he doubted heíd managed it.

"According to him, no, but this time I donít agree." Reborn reached into his suit coat to pull out a thick envelope, which he handed over. "Itís not going to be easy," he warned, all traces of amusement now gone. "Else we wouldnít be sending two of our best to handle it."

"No, youíd be going yourself," Takeshi teased as he stood up, Shigure Kintoki in one hand and the papers in the other. He didnít care how many targets there were or how skilled, it was a chance to fight beside Hibari. About to leave, he found himself jerked back by Rebornís iron grip on his left arm. "What? I need to get going if Iím to make the flight."

Reborn gave him that inscrutable look again for a few seconds. "Is there anything going on between you and Hibari?"

The question caught him by surprise, and for a moment he wondered if he was supposed to feel guilty about a few dreams. "What do you mean? Iíve barely seen him in the past year."

"Thatís not what I asked." Reborn let go of Takeshiís arm and jumped down from the wall so they stood face to face. "HeÖ wasnít pleased to hear that weíre sending you to assist with this mission, when youíve been the only Guardian heís tolerated working with in the past. What happened to change that?" There was an edge to the question that made it clear that Reborn expected an answer.

Takeshi took a deep breath and let it out before answering. "I honestly donít know. He seemed angry with me at the Denardo parlay and I havenít seen him since." If anything, Hibari seemed to be deliberately avoiding him since then. "We havenít fought or argued that Iím aware of, and he wonít say anything to me." He frowned in frustration as he thought of how damn stubborn Hibari could be.

Reborn was quiet for about a minute after that and then stepped back. "You better get going, and Iíd head straight to the targets if I were you. I talked to Hibari, but Iím willing to bet he wonít be waiting at the airport to pick you up." Reborn grinned as he spoke, a sharp baring of the teeth as if he found Hibariís obstinate nature a source of much amusement; he probably did, seeing how as he rarely took any negative impact from it.

Takeshi waved goodbye as he ran from the garden, hands busy tucking the ticket and envelope inside his coat and reaching for his cell phone. He had his wallet, his passport and his sword, that should be all he needed. "Iíll bring you back some wife cakes!" he yelled back to Reborn before he rounded the corner of the mansion.

*******

Takeshi ducked under the swing of a guan dao and slashed the wielder down the back with his sword, swinging Shigure Kintoki up in time to parry another attack. The targets werenít particularly skilled, just numerous, so it was an enjoyable fight so far. Neither he nor Hibari had done more than call upon the flames from their rings to help them fight as few of the triad members sported rings of their own. Why Reborn had felt that two of them were needed to take down this triadÖ no wonder Hibari seemed to be in such a bad mood. Takeshi had hopes that for once it had nothing to do with him.

He sent out a wave of blue flames to weaken his opponents before slashing at them with Samidare, deftly dodging a hit from a metal-tipped staff along the way. Dammit, he swore that Hibari was taking these guys out twice as fast as him. Unwilling to be shown up by a fellow Guardian, he redoubled his efforts, lashing out faster and stepping past the fallen bodies as if they were part of a game. Focus on his sword, on the triad who step into his path, the pattern he would make to connect the two and move on to the next one, an endless flowing dance that he had come to love. So many variables, so many possibilities, so many tests of his skill that had never been there in anything else he had doneÖ.

He caught sight of Hibari smiling as the man struck down a triad member almost twice his size, a motion of brute force turned graceful enough that it made Takeshi pause for a second. The distraction was long enough to throw him off slightly, to catch his blade on a collarbone instead of a clean stroke downward, and as a result he was a fraction slow on swinging it upward to deflect an attack. There was a ringing blow to the right side of his head, one that left him dizzy but he had trained too long and too hard to do anything but raise his sword and strike back, to knock the staff aside and slice into its wielder. That same training carried him through the last of the targets, his vision slowly growing dizzier and his flame weaker as blood trailed down his face.

Finally able to lower Shigure Kintoki once no more triad members were left standing, he raised a hand to his right temple and moaned when the world seemed to tremble as a result. He let out a surprised curse when his hand was yanked away and he found Hibari by his side.

"Are you an idiot?" Hibari spat, face and black hair splattered with blood but none of it appearing to be his own. His steel grey eyes were bright with anger as he glared at Takeshiís bleeding forehead, the grip on Takeshiís right hand painfully tight.

"Ah, do I have to answer that?" Takeshi asked, his tone light despite the pain. Even if his head was killing him, right now he was happy to have Hibari talking to him for the first time in months.

The answer seemed to serve as some sort of reminder to Hibari, causing him to let go of Takeshiís hand and step back, his expression smoothing out to one of disdain as he reached inside his stained black coat for what most likely was his cell phone. "Iíll call Kusakabe and have him patch you up before you leave." From the way he sounded, Takeshi had the impression that Hibari wasnít going to stick around for much longer.

"No, wait!" He grabbed hold of Hibariís wrist before he could pull out the phone, the sudden motion making him dizzy. Part of him noticed the way Hibariís eyes widened at the contact, the way his body tensed and his expression grew wary. Then Takeshiís vision grew dark and his last thought was that he hadnít believed the injury to be that badÖ.

*******

Takeshi breathed in the familiar scent of fresh tatami mats and a faint hint of green tea, felt the soft rustle of a comforter shift over him and for a moment thought that he was staying at his grandmotherís house. Any moment now his father would come and wake him, chide him to put the futon away before helping to make breakfast and-

"Ow!" He cursed in Japanese and Italian as he sat up too quickly for his sore head, the pain momentarily overwhelming the confusion he felt over waking up in an unfamiliar Japanese-style room. The last thing he could clearly recall was the mission with Hibari, talking to the man and holding onto his arm before blacking out. After that there had been the usual erotic dreams, and he had to lift up the comforter to check to see if heíd ruined the nice yukata that someone had lent him during the night, they had been so detailed and realistic once again.

Grateful that he hadnít embarrassed himself, he went back to figuring out where he was, taking in the futon, the shoji walls, the tasteful and most likely expensive as hell wall scrolls that depicted a bird in flight on one and a plum tree in bloom on another. As he was about to get up and explore, one of the shoji pushed back to reveal Kusakabe carrying a tray and wearing a dark blue suit.

"Good morning, Yamamoto-san," the older man said in a quiet, deep voice. "I thought you might like some breakfast."

"Good morning." Takeshi smiled as he left the futon to go over to the low table where Kusakabe was taking the tray. "Well, itís nice to know that I wasnít kidnapped!" He laughed in relief as he knelt, his legs still a bit wobbly and his head aching from the slight bit of effort.

Kusakabe didnít say anything until the tray was set down and some tea was poured. "Kyou-san said you could stay here until you recover. I notified Sawada-san about your condition and that the mission was completed, and he would appreciate a call today."

There was something about the way the large man was speaking that made it clear that Takeshi shouldnít expect to be joined by his fellow Guardian any time soon. "Hibari took off again, didnít he," he asked, even though he already knew the answer. Despite being hungry a moment before, nothing looked appetizing any longer.

Kusakabe paused a few seconds before answering. "Kyou-san had something to tend to and left last night." His gaze was directed toward the bowl of rice on the table as he spoke. "Please let me or any other of the Foundation staff know if you need anything." He rose to his feet with an amount of grace that was surprising for his size and bowed. "Iíll send along some clothes for you shortly." As if he had nothing else to say Ė or was allowed nothing else Ė he left the room.

Takeshi prided himself in getting along with just about anyone, and heíd never had a problem with Kusakabe in the past. Now the man seemed uncomfortable to be around him, as if he was responsible for something. Yet as far as he knew, all heíd done was come to Hong Kong for a mission and get knocked out after completing it. There was no reason for Hibari to flee immediately afterwards, and if the Cloud Guardian was truly pissed off at him, why bother seeing that he was looked after at all? Hibari had no problems letting someone he disliked lay bleeding on the floor of the warehouse. Well, maybe heíd shove Gokudera in a cab and order it to go to the airport, but that would be about it, and thatís all Takeshi would have expected if Hibari really was angry at him.

Just as confused as when heíd woken up and now a bit angry as well, he forced himself to eat some of the rice, broiled fish and miso soup that Kusakabe had brought him. If heíd been in a better mood heíd have enjoyed the meal some more as it had been a while since heíd had such a well-cooked traditional breakfast, and when heíd caught himself smiling at the thought of Hibari sitting here like this and eating it, his anger returned. If someone was going to be pissed off with him, the bastard should have the courtesy of telling him why.

Toward the end of the meal, Kusakabe returned with a clean suit to wear and some toiletries. He motioned toward one of the shoji before leaving, and after finishing the food, Takeshi found there to be a short hallway behind the sliding panel. On one side was a toilet, which he was grateful to use, and on the other was a bathroom. Leaving the suit outside, he took the soap, shampoo and shaving kit into the bathing room.

Someone must have washed him last night to get rid of most of the blood, but there was still some in his hair. The wound on his temple had been given only a couple of stitches, leaving him again to wonder why he had passed out over what hadnít been that bad of a blow. He took care when cleaning around it since his head still hurt a little, but all in all, he had other aches from the fight that hurt just as much.

He was scrubbing his right shoulder when he came across a sore spot near the curve of his neck. Pressing against it caused the ache to increase, a sharp pang that felt more like a cut than just a bruise or a sprain. He didnít remember being injured there last night during the fight, although a fragment from his dream surfaced, of Hibari biting the spot as Takeshi fucked him, hands clenched hard enough on the Cloud Guardianís hips to leave bruises, the warehouse floor wet slick beneath them from spilt blood. His cock started to harden at the recollection Ė he could taste Hibariís sweat on his tongue, hear the muttered curses as he thrust in hard, feel the slide of skin against skin and hot friction, the clench of Hibariís body against him and the texture of torn fine silk as it held back tensed arms-

He flinched as his fingers dug into the spot again, the pain breaking through memories. Why were the dreams so violent anymore? Not all of them, but the most vivid ones that chased him back to reality lately were, filled with snatches of bound wrists and blood and bruises, of Hibari writhing beneath him with furious eyes and snarling lips. What, his subconscious had decided to point out to him after all these years of frustrated longing that the only way he was going to get the man was by force, as if to prove that it would never happen? "Subtle, that," he rebuked himself while rinsing off.

A long soak helped to soothe the various aches but not his bad mood, and he was unable to get his mind off of Hibari as he dried off and went to shave. Kusakabe might have extended the offer to stay however long Takeshi wanted, but at this point, it was best to leave and return to Italy within the next day. Heíd go looking for Rebornís wife cakes this afternoon and catch an early flight tomorrow.

As he stood in front of the mirror and started to lather up his face, he noticed an odd mark on his right shoulder. Rinsing off his hands, he leaned forward to closer investigate the red bruise, his fingers rising to touch the curved scabbed lines imprinted onto his flesh. Now, things had been a bit busy during the fight, but he was dead certain that at no point did anyone bite him. What happened after he had passed out was anyoneís guessÖ yet the image from his dream returned to his mind, of Hibariís teeth pressing against just that spot.

Takeshi continued to stare at it as he thought about the dream, about how real it had been. About how real *all* of them had been. So many thoughts raced through his head that it began to ache again, so many improbable tangents and suppositions and- He leaned down to splash water over his face, no longer concerned about shaving or how he looked. Wiping his face with his hands, he left the room to go change and find Kusakabe so he could be on the first flight back to Italy.

*******

"Hey, Kid!" Takeshi burst into the quiet library, searching for Reborn on one of the large leather couches scattered about. Dammit, usually the assassin rested here while Tsuna went over the daily reports with Gokudera, so where-

"Didnít anyone ever tell you that itís rude to interrupt someoneís nap?" Reborn asked while pressing a gun to the back of Takeshiís head.

Forcing himself not to go for his sword, Takeshi laughed and held up his hands in surrender instead. "Ah! Thatís a good one, I bet you were in the chair, no? I really thought youíd prefer the couches."

Reborn grunted as he lowered the weapon. "Actually, I was up getting a book when you came in." He stepped around to face Takeshi. "So, what has you busting on in here like some loud idiot when you should still be in Hong Kong?" He looked Takeshi up and down and poked him with the gun. "And where are my wife cakes?"

Takeshi laughed nervously as he rubbed the back of his head. "Ah yeah, I did say something about them, didnít I?" At Rebornís sudden glower, he held up his hands again. "Look, Iíll go back and get them in a few days, I promise! But right now, I need a big favor."

"Hm." Reborn kept the gun in hand as he folded his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wall, the picture of lean menace and curiosity. "What happened with the Tie Gou Triad?"

"They were dealt with, as requested," Takeshi answered in all seriousness, knowing not to joke about Ďworkí. "I wouldnít forget that."

"But youíll forget a promise to your revered tutor," was Rebornís instant retort. "I better get those cakes, especially if youíre asking for a favor." He motioned with his weapon before putting it away. "So, what is it that you want? Anything to do with you looking as if Hibari kicked you out of Hong Kong?"

"Sorta." Takeshi smiled when his answer instantly got Rebornís undivided attention, but the expression was more a show of teeth than amusement. "But not in the way you think. I want you to get Hibari here for me."

Reborn stared at him for several seconds before answering, his eyes narrowed and lips pressed thin. "You do understand the concept of a Cloud Guardian, donít you? They act independently of the family, and Hibariís a stellar example of his kind. He doesnít do Ďcome here, boyí very well," he remarked in a tone he usually reserved for explaining things to idiots.

"Yeah, Iíve noticed that in the way heís almost never around, yet he tends to show up when heís needed. How silly of me to think that you or Tsuna might have something to do with it." Takeshi struggled to keep the frustration he felt out of his voice, as the last thing he wanted was to have Reborn angry at him as well. It was just that he *needed* to see Hibari and this was the only way he could figure out how to manage it, short of the family being in danger.

"Him being head of the Foundation might play a part in that," Reborn pointed out with too much glee, which made it clear that right now, he was being stubborn just to be a pain in Takeshiís ass. "So heíll know if thereís nothing behind an order calling him in."

Takeshi rubbed his shoulder, right where the bite still remained on his flesh as if to put his doubts to rest. "Maybe you could offer to fight him or something." Few things would pique Hibariís interest like a chance to take on Reborn.

The older man was quiet for a minute, the brim of his hat hiding his dark eyes. "I knew the triad mission was a success, just as I knew he left Hong Kong almost twelve hours before you did. I also know heís told Tsuna that, short of the family coming under attack, not to expect him back here at all." He pushed away from the wall to start circling Takeshi, his footsteps clicking on the marble floor. "Itís almost as if heís running away from you, and here you are, trying to pull him back. Tell me, what did you do to him, Yamamoto Takeshi?" The question was asked in a quiet manner, the words barely audible over the click of hard leather on stone, yet Takeshi shivered over the obvious threat in it.

"I donít know." He thought about the bite, about the dreams and how they never happened any time *other* then when he had been around Hibari. "Not really, but I need to talk to Hibari to find out. Whatever it isÖ it involves the both of us." Because if those dreams were real, then something kept Hibari from breaking his neck to put an end to them and he needed to know what that was. "All I want is to figure things out andÖ make it better." He wanted Hibari to stop running from him, even if he did get his ass kicked or worse.

Reborn came to a halt, his hands in the pockets of his black coat, his eyes hidden once more beneath the brim of his hat. "You know, itís not good for the family when Guardians fight amongst themselves. Tsuna needs *all* of you, and thisÖ whatever is going on will only hurt the Vongola if itís allowed to continue." He was quiet again for a moment. "I canít bring Hibari to you, but I can tell you that for the next few days heíll be at the Namimori base to see how itís coming along. If you donít catch him there then youíre out of luck."

Takeshi barely resisted the impulse to grab Reborn and give him a hug. "Thanks!" Instead, he reached out and patted him on the shoulder. "I owe you, and when I come back Iíll definitely bring you those cakes!"

"Idiot." Reborn tousled his hair for a moment. "Just take care of things and donít get your fool head bashed in too much." Then he became serious again. "Take care of it or else I will."

Stepping back, Takeshi bowed slightly before turning to leave. "I will. Tell Tsuna that Iíll be back soon, okay?" He was sure his friends would be upset over him leaving so quickly, but he wasnít about to linger too long and chance Hibariís mood only to arrive in Japan to find the Cloud Guardian gone. Not with Rebornís threat hanging over their heads.

*******

Takeshi took a deep breath as he used his rain to open up the entrance to the Namimori Vongola base. After using the flight and transportation that Reborn had booked for him, there was a decent chance that Hibari might not know that he was here in Japan, but the moment he stepped into the base then all element of surprise would be gone. Either the Cloud Guardian would continue running or show up for a fight, and if it was the former, then Takeshi was in trouble. Well, he probably was in trouble with either option, but he would take his chances with a fight rather than trying to chase Hibari all over the damn world. At least he had decent odds with a physical confrontation.

Stepping into the base, he walked down the well-lit but deserted corridors. Hibari probably had some people stationed at the completed Foundation section of the base, and everyone else must be in town or keeping a safe distance from the taciturn Cloud Guardian. Takeshi was beginning to feel as if he was stuck in a horror movie from wandering around the quiet complex as he tried to figure out how to get into the Foundation part of it if Hibari decided to lock him out when he heard his name be called out.

"Eh?" He spun around to find Hibari standing at the juncture of four corridors, dressed in his familiar black suit with purple shirt, tonfa held at the ready and a furious expression on his face. "Hibari! Imagine running into you here. Want to go get a drink?" he asked, even if the possibility of the other man saying Ďyesí and them talking about recent events in a calm manner was all but impossible. Sometimes Hibari could surprise you.

"I want you *gone*," Hibari spat as his eyes narrowed in anger. "Leave now."

Takeshi sighed as he let his sword slide from its spot on his shoulder and held loosely onto its handle, not quite moving into a defensive stance. "Okay, so we can talk here instead. Something strange has been happening lately and I think you know more than youíve been tell-" He had no warning, just a blur of motion and barely raised Shigure Kintoki in time to block a vicious blow to his head. "Hey!"

"I told you to leave." The anger from before was gone from Hibariís deep voice, now replaced by apparent boredom as he lashed out at Takeshi with brutal speed and strength.

Well, he had asked for this, Takeshi reminded himself as he parried the blows, Shigure Kintoki kept in shinai form for the moment. "Iím not going anywhere until I get some answers." He ducked to avoid a strike that would have split his skull open and barely blocked a kick to the ribs. "What happened in Hong Kong after I passed out?"

The question seemed to hit a nerve, as Hibariís next attack actually knocked him back a couple of feet and landed a blow to his left ribs. "You fainted like an herbivore and I dragged you back to Kusakabe to clean up. I was so disgusted with you that I had to leave," Hibari sneered as he lied, every other word accented by a strike from his tonfa.

Takeshi smiled as he continued on the defensive for a few more seconds, allowing his temper to stoke just a little longer. Then he swung Shigure Kintoki through the air, transforming the sword into a sharp blade and cut through Hibariís tie as the Cloud Guardian shifted back just enough. "Letís try this again, okay? Only this time, why donít you tell me why youíve been running from me like a scared little girl?"

As anticipated, the words provoked Hibariís temper and set off a barrage of tonfa strikes and kicks, each one backed with more strength than one would assume from Hibariís slender appearance. But Takeshi had fought him often enough in the past, had the recent half-remembered dreams as well to call upon to remind him on how best to block and strike back. If he didnít know that each of those blows were meant to do serious harm, that Hibari would knock him down and out and then leave once again this would be fun, a violent game where they got to prove who was better *this* time.

Hibari knew enough to stay in close, to stall most of his attacks that way and they both seemed to agree to keep their rings and flames out of the fight. "I donít *run*, especially from a weakling like you." Hibari swung at his head, and when Takeshi blocked, managed a hit to his side.

"Yeah, thatís why youíve left Italy and Hong Kong behind and are hiding out here." Takeshi managed a glancing cut along Hibariís left thigh. "You know, I remember kissing you right there." He had to jump back from a swipe that probably would have broken some ribs. "Oh, now *that* was an interesting reaction." He grinned in the face of Hibariís scathing glare.

"Your brain is defective." Hibari lashed out again and took out a good bit of the wall where Takeshi had been standing by a moment before.

"Somethingís not working right if Iím forgetting having sex with you," Takeshi admitted, finally putting into words what he had figured out over the last two days while flying back and forth on various planes. "So whatís going on, is it a drug of some kind? But then why all the fighting beforehand?" Distracted by the questions, he didnít get his sword up in time and took a hit to his already abused left side that knocked him back several feet.

Using Shigure Kintoki to help keep standing, he eyed Hibari warily as the Cloud Guardian stood several feet away, radiating menace and fury in waves almost as visible as his purple flames. "That another nerve there?" he asked, panting a little as he tried to breathe through the pain.

"You donít know anything." For a moment, Hibari sounded exhausted and his shoulders slumped forward as he stared at Takeshi, then he raised his arms as if preparing for an attack. "You let your guard down," he accused as he leapt forward once again.

Did the man ever run out of energy, Takeshi wondered as he swung Shigure Kintoki up to block a tonfa to the neck. "What, just now? I donít think so." He swung the tonfa aside and managed another shallow cut, this one along Hibariís back.

Hibari didnít allow any sign of pain to cross over his face as he spun around and lashed out with his right foot. "As I said, *defective*." Hibari followed up with a drive toward Takeshiís sternum, and something, a memory from one of the dreams, prompted Takeshi to drop his sword and grab hold of the arm coming toward him instead of blocking it. His hand stung from the impact and he immediately had to block the other tonfa before it smashed into his face as he twirled around to slam Hibari against the cracked wall.

"Maybe not so defective," he remarked as he smiled down at the furious man. And then immediately yelped in pain when Hibari kneed him in the upper right thigh. "Dammit!"

"Very defective." Hibari pressed away from the wall in an attempt to push him aside. "Let me go, *now*." He blew at the black hair falling onto his face as he glared at Takeshi through the uneven strands.

Takeshi smile grew wider as he shook his head. "You didnít say the magic word." He had to lean back a little to avoid being smacked in the face by Hibariís forehead. "Okay, seriously, what the hell is happening?" He really hoped that he wouldnít have to fight all damn day to drag the truth out of the stubborn idiot.

"Nothing. Youíre imagining things." Hibari smiled back at him, but it was a threatening flash of the teeth before he once again attempted to push Takeshi aside.

Sighing over how some people never could do things the easy way, Takeshi pushed back and risked getting dangerously close to Hibariís face. "I remember tying up your hands and dragging you to the floor, of how hot you felt when I pushed inside." He rested his chin for a brief second against the curve of where Hibariís neck met his shoulder. "You bit me right there, you know. I still have the mark."

Hibari turned his head to the side, his steel grey eyes heavy lidded as if from exhaustion yet his voice was still strong and thick with derision. "It wasnít you."

"Right, thatís why I woke up bruised and sore after each time, haunted by dreams of-"

"It wasnít *you*." Hibari spat out the words so vehemently it was as if they were curses, and he managed to yank his right arm free from Takeshiís grip and hit him across the cheek. Takeshi accepted the blow rather than let go of the man, aware that he was too close to the answers he wanted to risk losing him now.

"WhatÖ." He pressed closer to Hibari and tried to make sense of what had all been said. Damn Hibari for being so evasive and so close-lipped, but all of the accusations finally began to come together.

"If it wasnít me, who was it?" He waited for an answer and wasnít surprised when Hibari refused to look at him. "How could Mukuro-"

Mention of the Mist Guardian provoked an instant reaction from Hibari. "*You* were the one to let your guard down around that bastard!" He grabbed at Takeshiís throat with his free hand, fingers digging in painfully as he glared. "Thereís your answer, so leave."

Takeshi attempted to pry Hibariís fingers away and managed to loosen them enough to keep breathing. "But why me? Why-" No, he didnít need to know why Mukuro had done that to Hibari, not after the way the illusionist had always been fascinated with the Cloud Guardian and in tormenting him. "And why not just beat me bloody?" Even if there had been someone else controlling him - *especially* if someone else had been controlling him Ė why had Hibari allowed it to happen and just walked away? "Why not tell Tsuna or Reborn?"

The look he received for the last question was full of so much scathing disgust that he chuckled nervously and almost stepped back. Okay, so Hibari would never admit to anyone that another person was forcing him to have sex, even an idiot like him should be able to figure that out. "Why run?" he asked in a quiet voice, focusing again on why Hibari had only seemed to try to fend off Mukuroís advances and then left onceÖ things were over.

Hibari let go of Takeshiís throat and managed a hit to his sternum that made him release the other Guardian and step back, yet neither of them lifted their weapons. Hibari ran a hand through his hair as if to restore order to the dark strands, his expression guarded and his body tense. "Iíve been looking for some way to undo his pact, not Ďrunningí as you keep insisting," he sneered. "Also, itís best that we have as little contact as possible so he canít use you against me."

That made sense, but it didnít answer all of Takeshiís questions. Back in shinai form, he used his sword as a prop and leaned against it, body aching from the fight. "But that still doesnít tell me why he picked me to use against you, or why you didnít beat my body to a pulp that first night." He didnít recall any illusions being used in his dreams or anything else special that would have given Mukuro an edge over Hibari. If he wanted to get close to the Cloud Guardian, the illusionist could have picked Kusakabe or even Dino, who tended to see Hibari on a more regular basis than Takeshi did and had better relationships with him.

"You have enough answers already, now leave." Hibari motioned in the direction that Takeshi had come from as he turned away, his expression bored. "Stay away."

"Itís never easy with you," Takeshi muttered as he leapt forward, grabbing at Hibari before the man could take more than two steps. He took a tonfa to the chin but managed to grab hold of Hibariís left wrist. "Ow! You didnít answer all of my questions. Why me?"

"Go. Away."

"No." Ah, even if it meant another blow, it was worth it just for the look on Hibariís face at being denied. He dropped his sword to snatch at the tonfa before it could smack him again. "There has to be a reason itís me." Why Mukuro would risk enraging Tsuna if the truth was found out.

Hibari glared for several seconds before looking away, a slight flush to his cheeks. If they had still been fighting, Takeshi would blame the redness on exertion from the battle, but the last couple of minutes had been spent mostly talking, his sore chin aside. He thought about the dreams, about the little bit of the fights he could recall, about the very few times he could count ever seeing Hibari flustered like this in all the years theyíd known each other. There was also the fact that he had twice managed to catch the man, to hold onto him, and had yet to lose a hand.

Taking a chance and hoping that it wasnít just his own desires being reflected back to him, he leaned forward to brush his lips along the curve of Hibariís jaw. The reaction was instantaneous Ė Hibari hissed in fury and fought to break free, grey eyes blazing and teeth clenched.

"Damn you, Rokudo! I will bite-"

"No! Itís not him!" Takeshi hugged Hibari to him as he struggled to keep from getting his head bashed in. "Look, in middle school right before graduation you caught me skipping out of a class trying to get to the bathroom because I had a hard-on!" he yelled, desperate to get the words out fast enough to calm Hibari down. They seemed to be working as the older man slowly began to relax. Takeshi smiled at him, the expression a little nervous as he continued with the revelation. "You called me a pervert, hauled me up to the roof to fight where I got a black eye and a split lip that needed some stitches, and you ordered me not to skip classes again. But I donít believe you ever knew that Iíd been thinking of you when I, uhm, got like that," he finished weakly.

Hibari continued to stare at him, eyes narrowed and expression inscrutable, long enough for Takeshi to wonder if he was going to get another split lip. "Ah, do I need to drag up any other embarrassing and obscure facts that Mukuro wouldnít know?"

"Hm." Takeshi wasnít sure how to interpret that sound, and the next thing he knew, Hibari had a handful of his hair and was jerking his head forward. Expecting pain, he was shocked when instead he felt warm lips press against his own. Realizing that Hibari was actually kissing him and that it seemed real, he hugged him closer, hands sliding along his spine to confirm who it was that he was holding. He took a couple of stumbling steps backward, until he was pressed against the wall. If this was a prelude to getting his head bashed in, he was perfectly fine with itÖ.

They continued to kiss, mouths fervent and demanding as if to make up for pent emotions, as their hands roamed and tugged impatiently at torn clothes. Takeshi pushed at Hibariís coat and got a painful nip to his bottom lip when it trapped the Cloud Guardianís arms, then forced his hands to tug instead at the buttons of the purple shirt while Hibari shrugged the coat to the ground. He wanted to touch the body he had only seen in dreams, to make new memories untainted by force and was afraid that if he let go of this opportunity that it would never happen again.

Hibari pulled Takeshiís shirt out of his pants, the buttons popping as they were forced apart. He leaned forward to lick at Takeshiís neck as he undid Takeshiís belt, his hand nimble on it and then the button and zipper of the pants. Takeshi felt his knees tremble when there was the scrape of teeth against his Adamís apple and grabbed Hibariís chin to tilt the manís face up for another passionate kiss.

He returned the favor, making short work of the belt around Hibariís waist and then undoing his pants, his left hand in the small of Hibariís back to keep the Cloud Guardian held close as his right slid past soft material to wrap around hard warmth. Hibari hissed again, this time in pleasure, and shifted to stand between his legs, one hand still clenched in his hair while the other cupped his cock through his underwear.

Moaning at the sensation of Hibariís hand on him, Takeshi hugged Hibari even tighter and gasped when he felt the man take him in hand properly. For a moment he wondered if he should be doing this, an echo of those dreams, and then Hibariís fingers moving along his cock shattered that concern. They began to stroke each other, panting in each otherís mouths as their hands slid up and down at a steadily frantic pace as the pleasure increased, bodies tense and leaning forward, resting together. Takeshi whispered Hibariís name as he stroked along Hibariís cock, the pleasure continuing to build in him with each reciprocated touch, coiling inside of him tighter and tighter.

Hibari rested his head against Takeshiís shoulder and shuddered, hand moving in uneven strokes, and the sight of him, flushed and rumpled, bearing the marks that Takeshi had left on him, helped to do Takeshi in as much as the hand stroking fast along his cock. Takeshi pressed his lips against Hibariís head as he came, forcing his hand to keep moving as the ecstasy coursed through him, to remain on his feet. A moment later he felt a bite on his shoulder and Hibari shudder again as warmth splattered onto his fingers.

It was a good thing that they had the wall there to keep them on their feet, he thought in a bit of a daze, soft hair tickling his chin as he continued to hold on to Hibari. After a couple of minutes, Hibari pushed away, stepping back until he was out of Takeshiís reach. He kept his gaze averted while he set about straightening up his appearance, pulling out a handkerchief to clean himself up before tucking himself back into his pants and buttoning up his shirt. Despite his calm, quiet manner, his face was still flushed and his hair tousled.

Takeshi smiled as he watched the other man for a few seconds, then did much the same himself, using his poor shirt since he didnít have anything else and it was torn anyway. "So, are you still going to make me go away?" he asked while Hibari was dusting off his coat.

Hibari acted as if he hadnít heard the question, remaining quiet until he slipped on the garment and straightened out his collar. "It seems to me that thereís still a problem," he said in a calm voice as he picked up his tonfa.

"Hmm, I donít know about that." Takeshi folded his arms over his chest as he leaned against the wall. "Itís possible to break through Mukuroís pact with strong will, like Fuuta did. Now that I know what heís doing, I think itís going to be a lot harder for him to take control. That I remember bits of what he did probably means that I was fighting him on some level already." He lined up his arguments so it would be difficult for Hibari to slip away before he understood what *this* meant for them.

He got a thoughtful look in return, which was better than a glare and an attack, unless Hibari was about to punch holes in his logic. "What if Rokudo was letting you remember things?"

"Why would he do that?"

Hibariís thoughtful look turned into a scowl as he held up a tonfa. "Why does he do half the things he does?"

Not about to be mistaken for defending the illusionist, especially after what the bastard had been doing using *his* body, Takeshi held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Hey, donít ask me, Iím not twisted enough to figure that out. But I just donít think thereís any benefit for him in it." He let his hands drop as he smiled at Hibari, the expression affectionate and a little shy. "Not with what just happened."

There was silence for a few seconds and then Hibari grunted and put away his weapons. He began to walk away, his shoes quiet along the empty corridor as he headed toward the Foundation area. Takeshi stared after him for a moment and then hurried to pick up his sword before following.

"Ah, so, I was thinking of staying for a couple of days before heading back to Italy," he explained as he tagged along in Hibariís wake. "You know, see my dad, stop by a few old hangouts, check up on how well things are going here andÖ well, maybe we can do some more sparring. The type Ďwhere youíre not seriously trying to cave my head iní of sparring."

"Whereís the fun in that?" Hibari asked with a quick flash of teeth, but his demeanor was calm and his eyes bright, so Takeshi took it for amusement.

He chuckled as he came even with the Cloud Guardian. "I mean when youíre not so pissed off at me. Is that all right?"

Hibari shrugged, the motion elegant as if the fight from earlier hadnít happened and he wasnít anywhere near as sore as Takeshi felt just then. "Youíre an adult, you can do as you please."

Tired of the evasive answers when he wanted to get an idea of if the last twenty minutes had been a one time thing or not, Hibariís way of exorcising some demons, Takeshi moved in front of Hibari to force the reticent man to stop. "Does that extend to what I can do with you?" he asked, hoping that the saying about fortune favoring the bold was true.

Hibariís eyes flashed with anger and his lips pressed together, but he didnít go for his tonfa. "Donít think to mistake those Ďdreamsí for reality, Yamamoto," he warned. "Iím not a plaything."

"No, I donít." Takeshi risked reaching out to brush his fingers along Hibariís left cheekbone. "But I wouldnít mind you being a bit forward," he admitted with a hopeful grin. He wasnít sure how much he could expect from Hibari, especially after what Mukuro had done, but he had some hope now and would take whatever he could get.

His hand was batted aside as Hibari strode past. Unsure how to interpret that Ė there was something to be said for a tonfa to the face, as painful as it was, for a definite response, Takeshi watched him leave for a few seconds. "Are you just going to stand there?" Hibari called back over his shoulder after he had gone several feet.

Grinning wide enough to make his face ache, Takeshi hurried after him.

*******

Wandering around the mansion for the past hour, Takeshi gave up somewhere around the third floor. "You know, for someone who was so damn upset about not getting their pastries, you should be around for when I bring them back!" he called out just in case Reborn was lurking about for Ďreconnaissanceí purposes.

At least Tsuna had been happy to see him again, even if Gokudera had muttered about him not being away long enough. Deciding that heíd leave the box of wife cakes in Tsunaís office for whenever Reborn deigned to return, Takeshi headed back downstairs. He greeted a few people along the way and promised to go out drinking later with Ryohei, who would get him up to date on any interesting gossip.

Entering the office, he noticed the silhouette standing by the window and was about to call out to Tsuna until he remembered that his friend had gone off with Gokudera for a business lunch. Then the sense of unease he felt had him reaching for his sword as he dropped the box of pastries on the desk. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Mukuro chuckled as he turned away from the window, his trident held in his right hand. "Now, now, itís not like I have much of a choice. Poor Chrome has been kept very busy lately." He circled around Takeshi, mindful to keep several feet between them as he walked further into the office. "You donít seem pleased to see me," he said, his tone mocking and a slight smile on his face."

Takeshi matched the smile as he held Shigure Kintoki at the ready before him. "I wonder why, consider what youíve been up to with my body for the last few months."

"Oh, that." Mukuro waved aside the accusation as if heíd been caught borrowing Takeshiís clothes without permission. "Itís not as if you were doing anything at the time, just sleeping, and Kyouya certainly enjoyed the attention." He smirked as he motioned at Takeshi. "Thatís the most positive reaction Iíve ever gotten out of him, you know, other than the usual ĎIíll bite you to deathí. Thanks for helping to liven things up a bit."

Aware that the asshole was trying to provoke his temper and him into doing something rash, Takeshi continued to smile and reminded himself that attacking Mukuro would only result in harming Chrome. "You wonít be doing it again," he said, also reminding himself that there would be a time and a place for making the bastard pay for what he had done Ė and that Hibari had first crack at him.

Mukuro chuckled again. "I donít think-"

"You *wonít* be doing it again," Takeshi repeated, this time allowing some of the fury he felt to seep into the words. "First, I donít think youíll be able to pull it off now that I know what to look out for." He smiled when he noticed the way the illusionistís lips pressed together the slightest bit and knew that he had been right.

Still, Mukuro could be just as stubborn as Hibari, which was part of the reason why the two men fought like cats and dogs. "What makes you so certain of that, hmm?"

"Because I was breaking through your control already, which is why I remembered bits of what happened," he explained. Sensing that this was going to take a while, he backed up to the desk and leaned a hip against it, never once taking his attention off of the Mist Guardian. "I doubt you let that happen intentionally."

Mukuro shrugged, neither denying nor proving Takeshi right. "What else makes you so certain that I wonít use you again? Itís been much too amusing to stop things just because you donít have a sense of adventure. After all, donít you benefit in a way as well?" he asked, insinuations all but dripping from his voice as he leered at Takeshi.

"Iím not a sick fuck like you are," Takeshi shot back with a sweet smile. "No, you wonít ever go after Hibari like that again because if you do, Iíll tell Reborn."

"Really?" Mukuro shook his head and made a tskíing sound with his tongue. "And what do you think Sawada will-"

"No, not Tsuna," Takeshi explained as he cut off the bastard again. "*Reborn*. You see, Tsunaís much too nice when his friends are involved and even though you deserve it, he probably wonít hurt you badly enough." No, Tsuna would most likely pull back at the last minute, would try to find a *reason* behind Mukuroís actions and rationalize it that if Hibari hadnít killed him then he couldnít have been hurt that badly because it was his Guardians involved.

"No, Reborn isnít nice at all, and Iím willing to bet that as soon as he finds out what you did, heíd be more than happy to go with me to the Vendicare prison." His smile strengthened as he noticed the almost imperceptible flinch from Mukuro at the mention of the prison. "Iím also willing to bet that if I asked nicely, Hibari would tag along as well, maybe even use that to get him to forgive me for revealing one of his secrets since heíd hate to miss out on a fight like that." Oh yes, that should work very well to get back in Hibariís good graces.

"Do you really think thereís anything the three of you could do to me that hasnít already been done?" Mukuro asked with a defiant sneer, refusing to show any weakness.

The bastard had balls, of that there had never been any doubt, but Takeshi had no respect for anyone who abused his friends. "Oh yes, I do." He made sure to meet Mukuroís gaze and smiled, the expression one he had learned over the years from Reborn. "I think youíll be more than sorry once we get our hands on you, because while you might have been to hell before, it canít possibly compare to what the *three* of us can come up with when we set our minds to it. Youíve betrayed your own family."

"I never asked to be part of it in the first place," Mukuro shot back, still defiant yet he looked away first. He laughed again, the sound slightly forced, and shook his head. "I must admit that Iím impressed. Iíd forgotten that thereís something in you that interests our dear Kyouya after all, and as threats go it works rather well." Then he looked back at Takeshi with all traces of amusement gone from his expression. "However, the difference between you and me is that I could think up much the same thing, and *I* would never waste any effort warning my enemy, I would just do it. You worry too much about fairness and that false, smiling image you show the world." He motioned beside him and an image of Takeshi appeared, smiling widely before laughing as if without a care in the world. It vanished with another wave of Mukuroís hand.

"Iíll back off for now," the illusionist continued with a slight bow and a mocking smile, "and give Kyouya time to lower his guard eventually while he grows bored with you. Because in the end, he will. Heíll only be able to take so much of the smiles and that sense of fairness and sheep-like behavior. Youíre just a part-time killer, after all," he accused, as if it were the foulest thing he could think of to hurl at Takeshi.

In a way, Takeshi supposed it was true, coming from someone like Mukuro, someone who felt no sense of honor in what he did and never had. He shook his head as he set his sword across his lap, still mindful of the illusionist and ready on the defense. "What you should keep in mind that I share more with him than a love of fighting and an ability to kill when necessary, and thatís the fact that we both *hate* to lose." He tapped his fingers against his sword as he stared intently at Mukuro. "I wonít lose to you. Maybe I canít hope to win against Hibari in most fair fights or do better than a draw, but I respect him and his strength, the way he refuses to back down and he sees those same things in me. Thatís what draws us to each other." His smile took on a cruel edge as he motioned with his chin in Mukuroís direction. "The reason why youíll never really have him is because the only times youíve beaten him is when youíve cheated. When youíve used something against him to tilt the odds in your favor rather than face him all on your own."

He could tell from the way that Mukuroís mismatched eyes narrowed that he had struck a nerve. "Thatís why youíre here posturing and saying a bunch of bullshit. Youíre trying to make me doubt myself when itís you who knows that you donít have a chance. Youíll never get Hibari to want you back, not without using some sort of manipulation, illusions or trickery. All Hibari wants from you is to see you beaten and dead, especially now."

Mukuro was quiet for a minute before he started to chuckle, even going so far as to clap as well, his trident tucked into the crook of his right arm. "Bravo. Very insightful for a man known more for his muscles than his brain. Have you been reading psychology books?" he mocked, appearing much too pleased all of a sudden as if he was in on a huge secret that he refused to share. "Think youíve got everything figured out? That either of us are so easy to analyze? Well, I hope you enjoy your time with Kyouya while it lasts, before his interest burns out. Criticize my methods, but Iíve ensured that Kyouya will *always* be obsessed with me."

"He wants to tear you apart!" Takeshi jumped off the desk as his temper got the better of him. "Donít you give a damn about what youíve done?" he demanded to know as he raised Shigure Kintoki.

His only answer was another mocking laugh as Mukuroís appearance began to waver. "Oh, you really donít know Kyouya or me very well, do you? Too bad I canít stay to enlighten you." He disappeared then, leaving a confused Chrome in his wake who appeared stunned to see Takeshi approaching her with a weapon in hand.

"Takeshi-san?"

"Ah, hi, Chrome." He summoned up a shaky smile as he lowered his sword and stepped back. "How are you?"

"Fuh-fine." She rubbed her hands up and down her arms and ducked her head. "Is everything all right?" she asked, her voice faint and a little anxious.

"Yes, itís fine. I was just leaving something for Reborn that I brought back for him." He wondered how much she knew of Mukuroís activities and then decided heíd rather not know. She needed the bastard and probably would defend him, so it was best to just push that train of thought aside. "So, Tsunaís been keeping you busy?"

She appeared a little startled at the question but quickly nodded. "Yes, he and Reborn have had several assignments for me lately. IfÖ if youíll excuse me." She bowed her head before leaving the room, the trident clutched in both hands.

Feeling a little bad about scaring her like that, Takeshi returned his sword to his back and decided to go see if Ryohei wanted to head out for that drink a little early. That or maybe spar with him for a bit to vent some anger. As much as seeing Mukuro hadnít done his temper any favors, at least he could let Hibari know in a weekís time when the Cloud Guardian returned that there wouldnít be any repeat of the Ďdreamsí. That had made the whole Ďdiscussioní worthwhile, all of the threats aside.

He felt a little better just thinking of Hibari and picking up things where they had left off, of quiet evenings spent enjoying sake or tea, sparring sessions where they set all emotions aside except for the simple joy of fighting and of finding a worthy challenge, and rare moments when they could give in to passion. Hibari was setting the pace there, and Takeshi had learned not to mention what had happened in the past or to express any concern or risk a punch to the face and a cold shoulder. HibariÖ was Hibari, and he would deal with things in his own way.

Still, unless Hibari changed his mind about them during this time apart, there was hope that things would continue to progress in the future, which meant that Takeshiís friends were in for a surprise when the Cloud Guardian returned. Hibari hadnít tried to hide their changing relationship from his men back in Japan, leaving Takeshi to hope that it would be the same here. He laughed as he thought of how well Gokudera would take *that* revelation. Tsuna would probably be happy for them and hope that it would mellow out Hibari, most likely. As for RebornÖ.

He frowned as he thought about the assassinís warning to him and what Mukuro and Chrome had said. Reborn had phrased it that Tsuna needed *all* of his Guardians, not just two of them, which at the time seemed to be the ones involved in a disagreement, and Chrome said it was Reborn who was keeping her busy during the time that Takeshi and Hibari worked things out. Did the wily old bastard suspect what was going on? It was difficult to believe that he knew all of the details and would let Mukuro get away with that, but Takeshi supposed that it wasnít too much of a stretch to imagine that if Hibari was involved in something, Mukuro might be as well. He rubbed his sore head as he attempted to make sense out of it all.

Oh yes, he definitely needed a bit of sparring to help clear it and then a few drinks. At least he knew the dreams tonight would be just that, dreams, though he had hopes of them coming true soon enough.

*******

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