(xi)

(Yamamoto Interlude)

Yamamoto Takeshi isn't an idiot.

He never was, never will be. Sure, he's never been particularly bright when it comes to school stuff, but he certainly knew his way around people.

Takeshi knew that no one actually loved him. Sure they love his looks, his charm, his skills, but him?

How many people actually remember that Takeshi's favorite color is green, not the blue he so often wears?

What about his favorite food? He loves sushi and all, but really what he likes best is the shrimp yakitori that his father likes to make on Wednesday evenings.

It's easy to pretend that these little things don't hurt. Some people would say that he simply hasn't said these things often enough. The sad part? He has.

Yamamoto Takeshi is not known. He is not loved. He has friends, but not friends. He has no flaws, but he does.

He wonders what would happen if he pointed out the paradox. Would they all abandon him the moment they saw that the gap between the image and reality?

Takeshi wouldn't blame them.

And that, he guesses, is the problem. He's scared, terrified, of being alone. Of course, that isn't to say that he isn't already alone.

He's just not… alone, alone.

And so, he plays baseball and gets failing grades and smiles and laughs every single day as though nothing is wrong - the role of Yamamoto Takeshi.

And then, there is Sawada Tsunayoshi.

They have a strange sort of companionship, you see, him and Sawada. Or at least, Takeshi likes to think so. They were both failing, both tortured by peers, if in different ways.

Takeshi also liked to think that they were friends, if not conventional ones. They didn't talk beyond the standard, casual hey, can I borrow that pencil or did you catch that due date, but that was because Takeshi didn't want to hurt him.

If Takeshi suddenly decided to have a real, genuine friend, as something inside told him Sawada would be, then people would get jealous.

Takeshi can't protect someone forever - he's not that strong, not that brave. They could corner him, hurt him, for being to Takeshi what they cannot be.

Takeshi doesn't think that he can handle that kind of thing on his conscience.

It was better that way, for them to be alone, but alone together. Alone at the same time, the same place? It's hard to explain.

But either way, Takeshi felt a lot less alone when he thought about Sawada. It was good, what they had.

At least, until things changed.

It was sudden, immediate, and it left Takeshi reeling. It just happened one day and he couldn't explain it.

Sawada had friends.

Sawada has friends.

When the upperclassmen first showed up, asking for "Tsuna", Takeshi assumed they were there to beat him up. It was the most logical conclusion, really. He recognized the two seniors as members of the boxing club - what else could they be there for?

In retrospect, the absence of dame from Tsuna really should have tipped him off. It didn't, but Takeshi never said that he was very good at seeing what he didn't want to see.

When Sawada practically jumped up from his seat, all wide eyes and shocked body language, Takeshi thought that his suspicions were confirmed.

But then one of the seniors threw an arm over Sawada's shoulders and the other ruffled his fluffy hair with all the affection of any doting older brother. Sawada's eyes lit up like the sky on a particularly sunny day and Takeshi didn't quite think that he even noticed the way that he inched towards Rin-senpai and Kazu-senpai.

That smile mystified Takeshi. But that wasn't the only thing he felt, unfortunately.

He called them by their first names - they called him by his. He was not Sawada to them, to these people that Takeshi hadn't even known that Sawada ever talked to, he was Tsuna.

Takeshi never called anyone by their first name. No one ever called Takeshi Takeshi.

And then -

"Come on, chop, chop Tsuna-chan," the blonde one said with a grin. The other nodded in agreement, a small smile - real, just for Sawada - playing on his lips. "You said you were having trouble with algebra, right? Library time, Assistant-san."

Sawada was having trouble with everything, actually, but that wasn't important here.

Sawada nodded hesitantly, his cheeks a lovely shade of pink - okay, wow, slow down there Takeshi - and said, "um, yeah, but you guys don't have to help me. I'm kind of a lost cause."

This earned him a swat to the head, a light one, nothing that Takeshi could find any fault with. Kami, he wished he could find a fault with anything. Everything. With them. "Don't be a dolt. There's no such thing as a lost cause - just a long journey."

"Kazu's so wise," the blonde piped up again in a singsong. Takeshi felt immensely satisfied by the following, more painful-looking swat. "Asshole. But anyhow -" "Language!" "- you really don't have to worry, Tsuna. If you're struggling then you have to ask for help - that's what friends are for."

Friends.

Sawada looked like he was going to cry. But not the sad kind of crying, the happy kind of crying that Takeshi hasn't felt like doing in years.

Takeshi looked away.


This couldn't wait any longer, Takeshi decided. He had seen what real friendship had to offer, watching day after day of varying members of the boxing club coming to pick Sawada up, and kami, he wanted it so badly.

He's going to be friends with Sawada Tsunayoshi. He'll defend him from bullies and study with him (even though he's kind of awful too) and he'll beat those upperclassmen.

He'll call him Tsuna and be called Takeshi and they're going to laugh and talk and they are going to be happy.

It would be easy. He would find a time when Sawada was alone and ask him to be his friend. His actual friend, no unspoken, one-sided bond or anything stupid like that.

Takeshi wasn't going to do it when one of Sawada's other friends was around, though. Takeshi had stood by and let Sawada hurt - why would they let him anywhere near Sawada?

At first, Takeshi thought it would be easy. But then, as it turns out, Sawada did have friends in their class. Or at least, he does now.

Sasagawa Kyoko and Kurokawa Hana.

The two most popular girls in the class, perhaps even the entire school. He understood why, of course. They were both very pretty, but more importantly, there was something genuine about them.

They were never, ever fake. Sasagawa never pretended to be anything other than the nice, sweet person she truly was and Kurokawa never pretended that she was the nice person that everyone believed a popular girl should be.

They didn't act, didn't play a role. Not like Takeshi always did.

Of course, the fact that Sawada essentially became the third to their duo shouldn't have been so unexpected. His grades were improving, his speech becoming more confident. He, like them, was so genuine, so sincere, that it almost hurt to watch.

It felt wrong, somehow, approaching and asking to join such a pure group. Almost as though he was tainting them.

But really, Takeshi was never that big on morals anyway. Respect, though, is something that he has in spades. As such, he decides to hold off on his plans to approach Sawada.

Maybe later, once he proves himself properly. Yes, that'll work. There was no way that someone like Yamamoto could possibly fit in with them now.

Takeshi, on the other hand, just might make the cut - the home run to a real life.

Or not, as Morishiba Atsuko seemed to believe.

To be honest, Takeshi had never paid too much attention to the older girl before. She wasn't popular, though she was, and she never looked quite human. She could be pretty, but she was too busy looking dead for that. The picture perfect zombie - all sickly pale skin and dull brown eyes.

In fact, he never really considered her to be more than half a person. That's what she is, after all - the other half to the ever popular Sasagawa Ryohei, a person that Takeshi rather admired.

When one moved, the other accommodated, shifting to allow for easier access for a hug, perhaps to support. Every glance between them obviously mattered, but not in a romantic sense. They frequented TakeSushi - his father once mistook them for a couple. But, as Takeshi quickly realized, while they may complete each other, it was easy to see that this was as platonic as it got.

They were hardly ever seen apart, Sasagawa-senpai and Morishiba-senpai. Sasagawa-senpai, always bright and shining and overall brilliant, tempered by the plainness of the girl by his side.

So one can only imagine Takeshi's surprise when he saw Morishiba Atsuko, without Sasagawa Ryohei, walking to the offices with Sawada.

It was surreal - the idea that Morishiba-senpai could possibly be a separate person from Sasagawa-senpai, because she isn't. And yet, here she was, smiling and laughing and getting sprayed like a misbehaving pet (?) by Sawada.

It seemed everyone was getting ahead of him in the friendship game these days.

Then, they noticed him.

He caught Sawada's eyes. It started out normally, simple eye contact, but then it changed. It was strange, consuming, and he didn't understand anything beyond the fact that he liked looking at someone like that.

But Takeshi was never one to let himself focus on any one thing without keeping an eye on the background - that was just an easy way to get a ball to the face.

And so, he also caught Morishiba's look, cold, calculating. She was assessing a threat - him, a threat.

Then, she turned Sawada away.

She turned him away.

This person, this person that Sawada clearly looks up to, thinks, knows, that he isn't good enough.

That, that stung. More than it should.

Takeshi remembers a time when Morishiba Atsuko was alive, after all. He remembers being four and her being five, he remembers visiting the only funeral home in town to see his mother's body. He remembers a little girl sitting in the waiting room with him, smiling and saying it'll be okay, I promise! It's not the end.

Her eyes had been less barky and more chocolate at the time, he remembers. They were warm, warm like the way they were for Sasagawa Ryohei - for him, that time. Takeshi never forgets such real gestures - he only ever gets them from his dad nowadays, after all.

He had liked her for a while, the girl who made him feel a little better all those years ago. He got over it - it would be creepy if he didn't, he was four - but nonetheless, this is not the rejection that he had ever expected from Morishiba Atsuko.

And then they just continued on their merry way, as though nothing had ever happened.


Takeshi hates Mochida Kensuke. He hates him.

After all, sport, sport is about honor. Takeshi knows that he has no real honor of his own, except in sport. Sport is everything - it is the very core of the persona known as Yamamoto Takeshi.

Takeshi thought that Mochida was like him, once. Kinda awful as a person, but a good sportsman. Someone with pride and dignity, even in the absence of humanity.

He was wrong.

After all, no one with any real honor would ever challenge Sawada to a duel. Never, ever.

And yet, there he is, in the gym, facing small, frail, unarmed and unarmored Sawada.

Takeshi almost can't bear to watch.

He should intervene, he knows. But he can't - if he does, then he can only imagine the fallout. The school's general populace would be divided, between him and Mochida, two popular fixtures within their world.

Then, of course, they wouldn't actually think to blame Mochida - the instigator. No, no, they liked having their scapegoats. During gym, when teams lost, they blamed Sawada. Not because Sawada did anything to actually contribute to the loss, nothing that couldn't have been overcome, anyway, but because it was better than blaming, say, Yamamoto.

One time, Takeshi decided to play at being a scientist and conducted an experiment. In this experiment, in which Sawada was not on his team, Takeshi purposely sabotaged the team that had the misfortune of being assigned to him.

Then, he waited. He was pretty obvious about the sabotage, made one too many mistakes and didn't even bother trying to play them off. They had to notice.

And surely enough, they did. Except, Takeshi, of whom was obviously the perpetrator, was not at fault. Oh no, it was the coach, of whom had distracted Takeshi earlier.

Ha ha.

Blind sheep scurrying around for another farm animal to blame, indeed - oh dear Kami he's starting to sound like Hibari-senpai.

Bad Takeshi. No more science for you.

Anyways, the results of his little experiment only served to solidify what he had already concluded - anything Takeshi did now would just make things worse for Sawada. Hurt Sawada.

He didn't want to hurt Sawada.

But he couldn't just stand there and let Sawada be hurt anymore either. No, he was done with that.

No more second thoughts - Takeshi finally acts.


Sawada wins, Mochida loses. Takeshi knows that he did something, he was the one who spurred Mochida to lose his cool and make enough mistakes to actually fail.

Even if Sawada hadn't shown some sort of crazy, hidden potential, he would have won anyways.

That was enough, right? Right.

He could do this now, he thought. Today is the day. Today is the day that he will finally become friends with Sawada.

Then, Gokudera Hayato happens.

When the foreigner arrived the day prior, Takeshi hadn't been too concerned. Sure, the guy was ridiculously attractive - a near-perfect blend of European and Japanese features combined with an unusual hair color and pretty eyes. And yes, it only took about five minutes for everyone to realize that he's a complete and total genius.

But that didn't matter, not really. After all, it was only too easy for Takeshi to read this guy like a book - everyone was. People-watching was something that he'd perfected as a child, telling his father all about what he saw in people when he was bored and consuming his father's every word of explanation as though he was dying of thirst and they were the only drops of water left in existence.

First, there was his body language. Gokudera was tense, guarded, antagonistic. Takeshi would guess that he was either afraid of interacting with people, or hurt enough to hate everything. Both, probably.

His chin was held high, and yet he seemed to take up as little space as possible when he actually sat down. Takeshi wondered what that said about his self confidence.

Adding to the fact that the guy seemed to be pretty antagonistic against Sawada for whatever reason, Takeshi was convinced.

This guy was nothing but a common bully - someone who hurt others, Sawada, for no reason other than to lash out to cover his own insecurities.

In other words, he wasn't a threat at all.

But then Takeshi loses track of Sawada after school. He figures it's fine, he's not perfect. This can wait.

The next day comes.

Takeshi's smile turns to ice. After all, it's hard to smile when the very place that he coveted has been stolen away by the one person he had decided to write off so quickly.

That's Takeshi's luck, apparently, for Gokudera Hayato is none other than Sawada's best friend.

He hadn't seen it before but now that it's right before his eyes, the loyal, loving way that Gokudera looks at Sawada and the fond exasperation that the latter treats him with, the subtle wonder in those warm brown eyes as he looks at the boy who treats him like some sort of king, it's impossible to ignore.

"Don't worry," Sawada reassures, not to Takeshi (his heart hurts), his voice so soft and soothing. "They'll like you, Gokudera-kun. Besides, didn't you say that you prepared for this?"

"I'm not worried," Gokudera responded, pale cheeks dusted pink. Liar. "It's just… they're important to you." He backtracked. "Not that I would back down just because they don't like me," he says quickly, "- but it would be less annoying if I didn't have to fight with them."

The Boxing Club. Sawada's going to introduce Gokudera to the Boxing Club.

Takeshi didn't know how to feel about that.

Every time he wanted to do something, to say something, someone else would do something first, befriend him first.

Sure, Takeshi knew that it probably sounded as if he was whining. He probably is. But really, he was just so, so frustrated. Even Gokudera would probably be better at this whole friend thing than he was, if their conversation was anything to go by.

Why bother when it was obvious that he wasn't good enough to try at all?

Takeshi wasn't really good at much anyways, anything that doesn't involve sports, that is. Why would this be any different?

He slumped down in his seat, defeated, letting go of the mask for just a moment. One of his watchers immediately noticed the stark difference.

"Yamamoto? You okay, dude?"

Right. People were watching him, always. Just watching, Takeshi thinks bitterly. Always.

Takeshi straightens up, paints a smile onto his face again. "Yeah, I'm fine, haha. I stayed up too late playing that new game - you know how it is."

The watcher laughs along with him, believing the lie without question. Takeshi tried to ignore the disgust bubbling in his chest.

It's time for a new inning, it seems.


Takeshi is useless. So, so fucking useless.

After all, what's the point of a Yamamoto Takeshi that can't play sports? That can't get up to bat or pitch?

Fucking idiot. How could he be so stupid? Putting his actual emotions into practice, going hard enough to actually break his own arm.

He's useless now. He can't play, he can barely write (it wasn't his dominant hand, but his writing was already enough of a mess without using his other hand for balance), he can't get anything higher than a C in class if he's lucky!

Now, he knew, he is truly alone. There is nothing left to admire him for, nothing left to talk to him about.

All he has now is worthless, worthless pity and a dull, throbbing pain in his arm, a constant reminder of the stark reality that he has now found himself in.

What was there left to live for?

Nothing, really. Takeshi wasn't a very good son, always disappointing his father with his grades and bringing home fake friends as though he was incapable of forming true bonds.

He probably was.

His father would be better off without him, really. Takeshi was just a burden like this - he can't help around the restaurant, can't make his father proud.

He didn't have much of a future either - he would be out of commission for a long time, after all, and that means forfeiting his baseball scholarship.

Forfeiting his scholarship meant that he wouldn't be able to get into a notable sporting school that he wanted to go to. Not getting into that school meant that there was no way that he'd be noticed by colleges for his ability - if it even remained after this mess.

Boom. There went his success.

The teacher droned on and on. Algebra. Takeshi couldn't actually understand any of it, the buzzing in his ear. All he could hear was the mocking.

Their lips weren't moving, none of them were, but Takeshi could hear them.

Oh poor, poor Yamamoto.

What about the baseball team? Such an inconvenience!

Why did we like him again? He's just so… useless.

Useless.

Useless.

Useless.

Quiet, quiet, oh kami, he wanted quiet, please. Why won't they shut up? Kami, please, they needed to shut up. He knows, he knows.

The bell rang. The sound pierced his ears, hurt his mind. Please, please, he needed quiet.

Ignoring the protests of his "friends", Takeshi got up, went towards the roof.

No one followed. Good. (It hurts, it hurts.) It was quiet on the roof. It was always quiet on the roof.

Takeshi looked down, down from the roof. It was so high, like the sky. Maybe if he jumped, he could fly. Maybe, maybe he could be free.

If he was free, then he wouldn't have to worry about trying to make friends, about being useful or good at anything. He wouldn't have to worry about sports or scholarships.

He would just be free.

Yes, freedom. Oh, it sounded so good.

Wordlessly, he climbed over the fence. It hurt his arm, it hurt so bad, so bad. But that was okay, it didn't have to hurt anymore. He would be free.

People were noticing, shouting from windows. Could they just be quiet, please? His head hurt.

Oh, but they sounded worried. They weren't really worried, not about Takeshi, but about Yamamoto. Yamamoto doesn't actually exist, so it doesn't actually matter.

They'll get over it.

Haha, they're so insistent. Yamamoto, Yamamoto, please, don't!

Takeshi sighed. They really ought to know that calling a name wouldn't magically poof a person into existence, it was common sense. But they sounded so… sad.

Okay, fine, he was such a bleeding heart. They wanted one final show? Sure, okay, they can have it. One last glimpse at Yamamoto.

Takeshi put on the mask, a smile. "Sorry everyone!" he called out. "The baseball gods and I are having a bit of an argument right now," forsaken " - so I'm going to go ahead and, ah, sort it out."

His laugh rang empty in the air.

"Yamamoto-san!"

… Sawada?

"Takeshi," he corrected, his mouth opening on its own. "I'm Takeshi."

If he was going to die, then it would be nice if that little delusion of his, of Tsuna and Takeshi, could be humored just a bit. He had liked that dream.

Sawada looked surprised, hands clasping the fence and his shirt as though he couldn't bare to let go. As though he was precious, but that didn't make sense. Takeshi isn't precious.

"Takeshi," Sawada repeated, almost reverently, as though the name was a lifeline. Takeshi couldn't tell whose. "Your life is worth so much more than baseball! So much more. You can't just end it over something so stupid."

Takeshi's heart plummeted. He didn't understand. "Baseball is all that matters to me," he says, empty again.

Sawada's eyes widened further, if it were possible. "But your friends -"

"I don't have friends," Takeshi snapped before he could stop himself. "I don't have friends. I've never had friends! They - they, they weren't r-real." He's crying now. Why is he crying?

"That doesn't matter, Takeshi! There's always a way to make real friends, even if it seems hopeless! I'll be your friend!"

Oh, oh. Sawada, his friend? That sounded good. So good. Oh, Kami. "Please," he whimpers, pathetic.

But really, it wasn't meant to be. After all, one doesn't just hold onto a grating with one hand and expect to not fall.

Takeshi slips in his shock and falls, falls, instead of being there with Sawada, where he was supposed to belong.

Vaguely, he hears Sawada shouting something. SAVE TAKESHI WITH MY DYING WILL!

Huh. Looks like he really has lost it.

Except he hasn't, because then he's falling with Sawada and Sawada's there and he's in Sawada's arms and then they're okay and on the ground and -

"It's Tsuna, not Sawada," Tsuna says, fondly, relieved. Takeshi smiles and then it all goes dark.


A/N

Surprisingly enough, college applications and AP courses have not actually killed me, only my drive to finish the various chapters that I started. Ah wells.

I am so, so sorry that this took so long. Now that my exams are almost over, I should be able to update more regularly now.

This chapter is actually dedicated to the lovely OperaEagle IcelynLacelett, who was largely responsible for giving me the motivation to finally finish this chapter. Thanks again!

It's been a while since I've written anything, as well as my first really serious attempt at writing Takeshi, so please, be sure to drop a review and tell me how I did.

Thank you!

Ciao~