The Path Not Taken

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by nekojita

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Dino stared down at the dead body a few feet away and sighed as he gave his whip a flick to snap away the blood. Despite the fact that Milo had turned traitor to the Cavallone family, he still felt a bit of remorse over killing the man, at having all other choices but this taken away by foolish greed.

"Wao, not bad for an old guy."

Instead of shock at having someone sneak up on him in a back alley of Naples well past midnight, Dino felt warmth spread through him and he smiled as he turned around, his overcoat flaring around his legs. Standing several feet away was Hibari Kyouya, looking much the same as the last time they had parted months ago, dressed in a tailored black suit with a grey shirt paler than his eyes. He wore no coat against the chill night air, as if unbothered by such human concerns, and perched on his shoulders was the familiar yellow form of Hibird. The canary took to the air when Hibari stepped forward, a slight, sardonic smile on his face that few would even notice for what it was.

"Kyouya, it’s good to see you." Dino smiled as he flicked his whip again, causing the weapon to coil into his right hand. "What brings you to Naples?" In the background, Romario waved in acknowledgement and stepped aside, a signal that he would wait out the reunion and ensure that it went by undisturbed.

Hibari remained quiet for a minute as he approached Milo Rossi’s corpse and gave it a disrespectful nudge with his left toe before answering. "I tracked down some sky and mist boxes. Was about to leave when I heard about the mess you found yourself in." His disapproval was clear from the disdain in his voice and the faint sneer on his lips.

Did Reborn ever have to explain himself so much to a student, Dino wondered with a rueful grin. Then again, he doubted that the famed assassin had ever taken on a student like Hibari, so talented and justifiably prideful. "As you can see, it’s been handled." He refused to feel any more remorse over the traitor, especially under Hibari’s cruel gaze. Even if Milo had once been considered as part of his family, the man had severed all bonds by attempting to sell them out for money. Nothing came before family.

"Hmm." Hibari gave Milo’s corpse a kick before moving on. "At least he didn’t have the brains to drag in others." He sounded bored as he spoke, yet it was rare for him to say anything without importance.

Dino’s pleased smile returned, touched as he was at the way his friend still kept an eye on him after all these years. Yet he knew better than to express any gratitude over the off-hand manner at which he had just been assured that the traitor had been working alone and so the threat had been neutralized. No doubt Hibari would just counter that he was watching over Vongola interests since they were a bunch of weaklings…. "We’ve done our best to clean up the mess." He held up his whip and allowed a rare sense of weariness to wash over him. "I handled it personally since he was one of mine."

That earned him a look of disgust and a disdainful scoff. "He was one of what, five thousand? Did you ever see him before today?" Hibari didn’t wait for an answer before he continued. "Death is death, the message is sent out to your people regardless of who does it, as long as it’s one of ‘your own’."

Stung by the cold reproach in his former student’s tone, Dino glared as he put away his whip. "Would you allow Kusakabe to handle a traitor in your own Foundation?"

"If I’d better things to do, yes. He knows enough to make the death a suitable warning to the rest." Grey eyes made all the more frosty by their aloof emotions looked back at the corpse. "Despite the fact that he was going to sell out your family, you still showed too much restraint."

Ah, which was the worse crime, being too involved or too merciful? Either way, it was a sign that Dino cared too much, which was the greatest crime of all in Hibari’s opinion. All Dino could do just then was continue to smile, all warmth now gone, and hold out his hands. "I am as I always was," he answered, well aware of how that had earned so much scorn from the man he loved.

Hibari turned away from the corpse to him, his face expressionless and his eyes blank for several seconds, as if refusing to give Dino even the satisfaction of familiar insults, before the slight smile from before returned. "That you are," he remarked as he stood there in a dark back alley, the full moon above making his pale skin glow and casting blue highlights on his black hair. "They should call you ‘Jester’ and not ‘Bucking Horse’."

Dino had to swallow past the tightness in his throat before he answered. "Maybe they don’t because it’s not as impressive? Plus, I think there’s someone in the Greco family who goes by it…." He decided to shut up after the derisive look that Hibari gave him, and laughed as the Cloud Guardian fell in step beside him. "Ah, I’ve missed you," he admitted as they walked away from the body that his men would deal with shortly.

Of course Hibari didn’t have anything to say to that, especially a similar answer, but that was okay, was to be expected. It was enough that the man searched him out on a night like tonight, to make sure that a problem was dealt with and that he was all right – even if Hibari would refuse to admit it was for that. There were precious few people whom Hibari would do that for, even if they were just ‘friends’… though Dino had been told that the number had gone up by one more recently.

"So, I’ve heard an interesting rumor," he said as they made their way back to his car. "It involves you and Yamamoto." He glanced at Hibari out of the corner of his left eye to see if there was any reaction.

All Hibari did was shrug, his shoulders lifting the slightest bit before falling back down. "If that’s your way of asking if we’re sleeping together, the answer is yes." He stared straight ahead, the bored tone back as if he spoke of something of little consequence. As if he mentioned taking lovers all of the time.

Dino stumbled and almost fell face first on the smooth cobblestones, never-mind that he had several of his men lurking all around and a man he was still in love with at his side. "It’s… it’s true?" Even though Tsuna had been the one to tell him about the relationship, he had wondered about the depth of it until just now.

Hibari turned to look at him, eyes narrowed in annoyance and lips pressed together as he watched Dino regain his balance. "Is that not what I just said?"

"Ah, okay." Dino had to think about where he was putting his feet for the next couple of meters, which gave him time to regain his composure. "I’m happy for you. Yamamoto’s a great guy… I think he’ll be good for you." He’d always known that the swordsman had attracted Hibari’s attention, he had just assumed that if nothing had happened by now that it wouldn’t, ever. But they were a lot alike, and Yamamoto was honorable.

There was another disdainful scoff as Hibari folded his arms across his chest. "We’re having sex, not getting married," he spat, derision plain in his demeanor.

Dino ran his right hand through his hair as he contemplated Hibari’s usual refusal to acknowledge any emotional attachment – well, that besides the ones associated to revenge. That reminded him of another topic he wanted to question the prickly man about. "So, I found out a little bit more information about the Vendicare the other day, do you still want me to send it to you?"

Hibari stopped, causing Dino to pause as well, a meter or two away from his car, and glared. "Why didn’t you send it me already?" he demanded to know, his eyes narrowed in anger and his voice sharp, a rare display of strong emotion when his weapons weren’t out in the open.

Dino was captured by the display for a moment, and grinned like the fool he was so often accused of being by his ex-lover while his brain played a quick catch-up. From his last conversation with Reborn, he had gotten the impression that something was going on between Hibari and Mukuro, something that might impact the tenuous relationship the two Guardians had built up over the years. That was why he hadn’t passed on the information that he, as a hereditary member of the mafia, had been able to unearth to Hibari as soon as he had come across it. "Because I’ve been busy dealing with family matters," he answered instead.

The explanation worked to cool Hibari’s temper, as Dino had counted on considering his known devotion to his family. The Cloud Guardian stepped back and looked away, his expression once more aloof as he headed toward the car. "Send it as soon as you can."

"So… you’re still working on getting him out of there so the two of you can fight?" Dino asked, and wasn’t surprised when the question went unanswered. He’d been trying for years to figure out what exactly was going on between the two men, and had been left feeling jealous for most of them. If it wasn’t for this recent development with Yamamoto, he’d wonder if Hibari and Mukuro wouldn’t become lovers.

They finally reached the car, where Romario was waiting by the back door to open it for Dino. He paused before sliding inside the Mercedes to smile at Hibari. "It’s been a while since you came for a visit, Kyouya. Don’t be such a stranger."

Hibari smiled as well, a quick flash of teeth that wasn’t the least bit comforting. "Maybe I’ll come see how rusty you’ve grown since our last fight, Bucking Horse." As Dino groaned over how he had left himself wide open to that one, Hibari stepped back into the shadows and vanished as quietly as he had appeared. Despite knowing how futile it was, Dino looked after him for several seconds as Romario drove away, then turned around to sit more comfortably in the leather seat.

He thought about their conversation, such as it was, and came to a decision. "Romario, I think it’s time I paid Tsuna a visit."

*******

Takeshi noted the line of expensive black sedans parked outside of the mansion as he made his way inside and tried to remember if he had been briefed on any special guests for the day. It wasn’t unheard of to have various family heads stop by for negotiations or to pay their respects to Tsuna, and he usually only paid attention when his presence was requested or there was a threat to the family. Since he hadn’t been notified of anything special happening today, he assumed that either the visitors were a close ally or the negotiations didn’t demand the presence of too many of Tsuna’s Guardians; if it were the case of them being delicate enough to *not* require his presence – he had taken out quite a few strong fighters in the mafia, after all – he was certain that he would have been told to stay away.

His concerns were put to rest when he recognized some of the men standing around inside as belonging to the Cavallone family and exchanged cheerful greetings with several of them. As far as he knew, Dino wasn’t supposed to visit for another few weeks, but the atmosphere was relaxed so he just assumed that the mafia boss had wanted to surprise his ‘little brother’ and maybe take a break or something.

Now that the mystery was solved, he went about the normal routine for a ‘quiet’ day when Tsuna and Reborn didn’t have anything planned for him; grab some coffee and a snack while catching up on the latest gossip with Haru and Kyoko, check to see if Reborn was free for a bit more solid intel, spend some time practicing the Shigure Soen forms with his sword since Gokudera was busy mixing up compounds and Ryohei was nowhere to be found, then head out to the garden to relax a bit. He had just pulled out his cellphone and was trying to figure out if a frustratingly ambiguous text from Hibari meant that he had any hope of seeing his lover sometime soon when he heard the sound of footsteps on clay and glass mosaic and put the phone away.

Dino crossed the courtyard in his direction, Romario remaining near the glass doors that led back into the mansion. The sunlight glinted on the Cavallone boss’ golden hair, a spot of brightness in comparison to his dark blue suit. He appeared so proper that it was hard to reconcile him with the young man who had shown up at middle school all the time with the hooded green coat and t-shirts, and a part of Takeshi waited for him to trip at some point. Yet he made it the entire way to where Takeshi sat on top of the wall that overlooked the lower part of the garden without incident and smiled, for a moment looking like that young man again.

"Ah, it’s a nice day, isn’t it!" Dino proclaimed, sounding as full of energy and good cheer as always.

"Yep, the sun’s out and it warmed up after all." Takeshi arched his eyebrows as Dino joined him on the wall. "You know, I used to think that it never got cold in Italy for some reason."

Dino laughed as he unbuttoned his suit coat and took it off to set it beside him on the stone wall. "Well, it’s definitely warmer in the south, but I guess most people are used to seeing images of Italy in the spring and summer, when it’s at its loveliest." He smiled as he looked out over the garden with evident pride for his native country. "I think it would be even more difficult to have Hibari come here if there weren’t some type of seasons."

It was Takeshi’s turn to laugh as he thought of his lover. "No, I think he’d have something to say about the lack of ‘proper’ seasons." Not that he could mock Hibari too much; his household hadn’t been that traditional growing up but his father had followed a seasonal menu for the most part. There was something in looking forward to various treats and delicacies that would only be available at certain times in the year, in the familiar rituals and celebrations that divided up the months and seasons like a favorite patchwork of events. If there was one thing that he had learned about Hibari over the years, it was that the man was a strong believer in ritual and tradition – albeit with his own unique interpretation, at times.

"For someone who’s so… reticent most of the time, he doesn’t have a problem to make it known when he’s displeased with something." Dino laughed again as he leaned back, his forearms braced against the wall. "Ah, I still remember the browbeating he gave that poor chef over the risotto when all he wanted was steamed rice." The smile on his face just then was tinged with enough regret that Takeshi found himself quickly looking away.

He was busy contemplating how to prune a rose bush with a sword when Dino laughed again, the regret not entirely purged from his emotions. "So, I hear congratulations are in order."

"Eh?" Not certain that he had understood the words correctly, even though Dino was speaking Japanese, Takeshi turned to face his friend. Dino smiled at him, his expression much the same as his tone had been before, cheerful with that hint of regret still lingering, especially in his brown eyes. "Congratulations for what?" Surely the man wouldn’t be here to talk about *that*.

"Aren’t you with Hibari now?"

Okay, surely he was. Takeshi grinned in response as he tried to figure out if he needed to pull his sword a little closer or not. The whole family knew that Dino and Hibari had been involved years ago and that something had happened to… well, un-involve them. Or at least change them back to just being friends, as Dino resumed dating various women and Hibari didn’t seem to pay anybody any attention other than to kill them. So why was Dino butting in now?

As if guessing his thoughts, Dino held up his hands and shook his head. "Look, I’m not trying to cause any trouble, okay? It’s just… can’t a senpai look out for his kohai, to try to put it in terms you might understand?" he asked in a quiet voice.

"Uhm, to be honest I think you phrasing it like that scares me even more," Takeshi admitted with a shaky laugh. "And you better hope that Reborn doesn’t have the garden bugged because Hibari will *kick* your ass for calling him your ‘kohai’."

Dino laughed as well as he scratched the back of his head. "Ah, yeah, poor choice of words on my part." He winced as he glanced around the garden. "I don’t know which of them is worse," he mumbled before straightening up and shifting around to look back at Takeshi. "But Kyouya was my student, and I still care for him even though I know he can look out for himself. Not… that I think he might be the one who needs looked after here."

Takeshi gave the older man a curious look as he began to roll up his sleeves. "Well, you seem to already know that we’re involved now, so am I to assume that you’re worried for my sake? I’m a big boy, Dino, I think I can handle seeing another person." A bit more annoyance than he had intended to allow had crept into his tone, both at the thought of being warned away by Hibari’s ex-boyfriend and by what was becoming a familiar litany.

Things were quiet for a minute after that, then Dino let out a loud sigh as he loosened his dark tie. "I assume that everyone hasn’t exactly been wishing you the best?"

Takeshi shook his head as he stared out over the garden, Shigure Kintoki a comforting presence in his lap. "Once everyone got over the amusing initial shock, Gokudera told me that I’d finally lost what little bit of my mind I’d kept all these years, Ryohei offered to fix me up with one of Hana’s gay friends as ‘a less extreme alternative’ and Tsuna keeps asking me if I’m all right, as if… I don’t know." As if Tsuna was waiting for him to not be, and maybe that concern was justifiable considering who was sitting next to him. He had no clue how long things would last with Hibari and didn’t care, and maybe that made him as crazy as Gokudera called him but if he was happy now, wasn’t that what mattered?

"Well, Kyouya’s not exactly what most people would consider an ideal boyfriend." He looked up from his sword to see Dino staring down at the Cavallone ring on his tattooed hand. "Emotionally aloof, thinks nothing of taking off halfway around the world without telling another soul where he’s going or for how long, can spend a day barely saying ten words to anyone and that’s when he’s in a good mood, always up for a fight – again, also when in a good mood," he smiled as he spoke, the expression tender as he described his ex-lover, "and he’s incredibly stubborn and set in his way. But he’s the one person who will always be at your back when you need it once you earn his respect and trust, and I think people tend to view him more as a weapon than an actual person." He chuckled for a moment as he twisted the ring about. "He’d probably beat me more for this than the kohai comment, but even though he would deny most emotions and maybe not understand them, he’s one of the most passionate people I know. Not in a romantic way, but his sense of conviction, of following it through… he wouldn’t be able to do that if he were truly heartless."

Takeshi slid the fingers of his left hand along his sword’s dull blade as he thought about what Dino said and of the intimacy that accompanied such an understanding, a dull ache of jealous throbbing in his chest. "You know him rather well, don’t you?"

"I would hope so, after training with him for so many years." Dino’s fingers left the ring to rub at his left arm. "And I’ve the scars to prove it." He turned to face Takeshi, his gaze appraising as he took in the sword, Takeshi’s hands, his chest and then his face. "But you’ve known him for a long time as well, and the two of you are much alike. Kyouya doesn’t let just anyone in so close." For a moment, there was a flash in his eyes that appeared to echo what Takeshi was feeling just then.

"No, and it wasn’t easy getting there," he muttered, hands clenching as he thought about Mukuro and the dreams.

"It never is for something worthwhile," Dino intoned, his posture suddenly straight and his demeanor earnest. "Or so that’s what I’ve always been told." He relaxed a little and waved his right hand. "Doesn’t mean it’s not true."

Snorting over the mini-lecture, Takeshi jabbed the Italian in the side with his sword. "Okay then, *sensei*, what bit of sage advice do you have for me?" He grinned as he jokingly asked the question, and was surprised to see Dino’s expression turn serious and a silence fall between them for a couple of minutes.

When Dino spoke again, it was in a quiet, reflective tone that made it clear that he wasn’t imparting advice along the lines of ‘don’t piss him off’ or ‘he hates sappy movies’, something light-hearted and that wouldn’t touch upon Dino’s own loss. "You know, ever since I was little, I was raised with the fact that the family was the most important thing," he began, confusing Takeshi a little with the change in topic. "It would be my duty one day to lead the family and to protect it, to lend it my strength. I never thought of it as a burden to hate, just that I might not be worthy of it."

He resumed staring at his left hand, at the ring and the tattoos that marked his ties to the Cavallone family. "Then Reborn taught me that I could protect it, and it’s defined my life ever since. All that matters is the family." He smiled, yet there was more sadness than warmth in the expression, and despite the sunlight around them the day seemed colder. "Then Reborn asked me to repay a favor and I met Kyouya. He was so… so wild and frustrating and beautiful and half the time I wanted to beat him to his knees and the other half…." He looked up to give Takeshi a rueful grin. "Well, I’m sure you know how it is. I met him and I thought that I had the family and Kyouya. And I did, for a while." He fell quiet again after that.

There had been a lot of speculation among the older Guardians about why the two men had broken up. For his part, Takeshi had laughed at the wilder notions and tried not to feel happiness over a friend’s obvious suffering, though now he offered up what had been the most commonly agreed upon answer. "Was it because of the marriage offers?"

Dino shook his head at the question as if startled. "What? Oh, no." He chuckled, the sound more tired than amused. "They never bothered him – half the time he never even noticed them. Kyouya… has a different sense of fidelity than most people," he admitted with a slight sting of bitterness. "I don’t think he would have cared if I married and produced an heir, as long as it was just to continue the line. The problem was that he had become family to me."

He must have sensed Takeshi’s confusion over that statement because he held up his left hand. "The family is all. The family is to be protected. You know how I am without my family around." He smiled at Takeshi’s amused grin. "And how I am when they are. I am at my best when there’s family to protect, and Kyouya had become that to me." He stared intently at Takeshi as he spoke as if to heighten the importance of what he conveyed. "*That’s* what I did to drive him away. He could accept my love, but not the fact that I considered him something precious, something that was to be protected with my own life. I had… I guess to his mind, I had demeaned him, made him less than he was and tried to restrain him. By considering him ‘family’, I also made him mine."

Takeshi looked from Dino’s pain-filled eyes to the ‘C’ inked onto his flesh and then to the sword held on his own lap. There was no doubt in his mind that the Italian had loved – no, still loved Hibari very much, and Hibari had walked away from that because of… what? The innate remoteness that made him the perfect Cloud? The sense of detachment that drove him to wander the world, barely letting his loyal assistant and new lover know where he was from time to time?

"So what, I shouldn’t even try, is that what you’re saying?" he asked as he gripped his sword with both hands.

There was a moment of silence before Dino answered. "No, I’m just…." He let out a frustrated breath and laughed, the sound bitter and loud in the quiet garden. "No, I’m not. I guess I’m just trying to keep someone from making the same mistake that I did, even though I know you’re different from me." He reached out to tap Shigure Kintoki. "Like I said, you and Hibari have some things in common, and I think that’ll help. You weren’t raised as I was, to look after a mafia family. I think you can stand by his side and not try to hold him back, to keep him safe. It’s always been a bit of a contest between the two of you." He managed a shaky smile as he said the last. "I just try to keep up with him."

He looked away as he reached for his jacket. "I want him to be happy, and despite what he may think, I don’t believe it’ll happen if he’s always so alone. He may be there when others need him, but what about his own back?"

Takeshi caught his friend’s right arm before he could stand up, getting the impression that Dino had said all that he had come out here to say. "Thank you."

Dino nodded once. "You’re welcome." He paused with his hands braced against the wall, his eyes distant as if he was staring at something that wasn’t there. "You know, there are nights when I wonder about that other future, about the other me…. So many things had changed, did it affect me and Hibari as well? Did either of us bend enough that we-" He shook his head as if to chase away an unwelcome thought. "We are as we always are," he said instead, in a slightly mocking tone as he stood up.

"I don’t know, I would think that the one thing we’ve learned is that things can always change," Takeshi pointed out as he held on to the sword that his father had given him.

Dino glanced over his left shoulder as he headed toward the mansion. "Is that really something you want to say to *me*?" When Takeshi could only offer a slight grin in response, he waved in goodbye. "Make him as happy as a grouchy bastard like him can be, Yamamoto Takeshi." He didn’t wait for an answer.

Takeshi watched as Dino went to the mansion, stopping at the glass doors so Romario could point to his watch and gesture about something, most likely a missed appointment or waiting paperwork or the such. Dino’s shoulders hunched forward and his head hung low, the Tenth Cavallone appearing like a disciplined child as he was led off to his fate. It was probably a good thing that the people who lived in fear of the man didn’t see how easy it was for Romario to berate him….

Pulling out his phone, Takeshi sent a reply to Hibari’s text stating that things were much too boring lately and that he could be found hanging out at his apartment waiting for a good fight. If the sneaky bastard was in the area hunting down rings or boxes, maybe that would interest him in putting in an appearance. If not, then he could keep sending annoying text messages until Hibari’s temper snapped and he showed up to break Takeshi’s phone and/or hand, so either way it was a win/win situation in his book.

As he went in search of Tsuna to let his friend know that he would be staying home for the next few days unless something of interest came up, he thought about Dino’s advice. It must have taken a lot for the man to offer it to him like that, especially when Dino and Hibari were still friends. To see what you wanted so much and to know it was your own ‘fault’ to have lost it…. He shook his head, taken back over how Hibari could have spurned Dino’s feelings over a sense of pride and possession. Yet in the end, wasn’t that in part why he had this chance now?

And wasn’t that sense of ‘touch me not’, of some part of Hibari always being out of reach, a true challenge to chase after and win over, what drew Takeshi to him? He just had to be certain that he never saw Hibari himself as the prize or risk losing the tenuous relationship that they had built between them these last few weeks. Still, he thought as he tapped his sword against his right shoulder, at least someone thought that they had some sort of chance together. Considering that the betting pool around the mansion had 2/1 odds in favor of Hibari ending the relationship in a manner that left him hospitalized for a month sometime before the year’s end, he’d take whatever faith in them that he could fine at this point.

Especially since he stood to win a hell of a lot of money if they managed to stay together until their first ‘anniversary’. That was a challenge he could focus on, to prove everyone wrong while enjoying as much of Hibari as he could snatch away from the man despite Hibari’s infamous reserve. It might be too late to keep from falling in love with him, but Takeshi would do whatever he had to in order to avoid Dino’s mistake.

It was obvious that Hibari allowed no second chances and never looked back once he moved on. Well, Takeshi was a quick learner and refused to lose, so things could work out after all.

Hearing his phone announce a new text message, he pulled it out of his shirt’s pocket and smiled when he saw it was from Hibari. The expression turned into a very pleased grin as he read the brief message, an address and time. Ah, if he’d known someone was spoiling for a fight so badly, he would have offered one sooner. He hoped that Tsuna wouldn’t need him for next couple of days while he took advantage of Hibari’s ‘frisky’ mood.

*******

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