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The Shadow Sword

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It began with his father, which is funny, because the one person he didn’t kill directly is the only person whose death he ever felt responsible for. Also funny because his tale of murder and revenge actually began just like all the ones in the movies. The younger him would have laughed about it, but he hasn’t laughed like that for a long time now.

It had ultimately been the sword that did it, though it wasn’t what actually killed him. That had been the bullet, a gunshot to the head. Point-blank. Yamamoto was the one that found him sitting upright at one of the booths in Takesushi. Still sitting, even though his brains had been blown out. And just like that, Yamamoto’s world had ended, because his father, his father was dead.

The irony was that it hadn’t been that long ago—only six months—when he and his dad had very nearly switched places. He had expected to be the one to die, leaving his father to find him. Because baseball tryouts had just ended, and he hadn’t made starting pitcher, and he had devoted his whole life to baseball, so what was left for him after that?

But his dad had saved him. He had seen that Yamamoto needed something new to focus on, something new to devote himself to, and so he had begun to teach him the ways of the sword. Shigure Souen Ryu. And Yamamoto had seized it, throwing his whole self into the effort, because his dad had been right; there had been that need, always. To have something; baseball; the sword; anything. Something to fill up that space inside of him.

So his dad had saved him, and six months later Yamamoto had come home to find him murdered. Murdered because of Shigure Souen Ryu, although Yamamoto hadn’t known it at the time, had only found out much, much later. And for the second time in less than a year, he’d felt like his life, at fourteen, had come to an end.

And then there had been Rico.

It rains that day, the day he says goodbye to the man that had raised him, and hello to the man who will ultimately tear him down. It has always been like that with the rain; it seems to follow him around like a small comfort, a hand on his shoulder. It reminds him of the stories Dad used to tell him about his adventures as a swordsman, about the people he’d saved. Yamamoto remembers wanting to be like that too. But he couldn’t even manage to save the one person who really mattered.

He takes his time in approaching him, Rico. Waits until the service is over, until most of the friends and well-wishers have paid their respects, until the crowd has thinned. If the intent is to give Yamamoto some time to reflect alone first, the effort is rather wasted, because the aftermath of his father’s death has left him in something of a numbed state. There is very little reflecting going on; it’s more like… watching. Sitting back and watching as the world keeps going without him, and wondering if it will ever notice that it has left him behind.

Enrico is a tall man with dark hair and a kind of arrogant humility that’s as contradictory as it is appealing. He is well-groomed and professional-looking, with eyes that ever-so-slightly betray his ambition. But only if you know to look for it.

“Yamamoto Takeshi? I’m so sorry for your loss.”

It’s a simple offer of condolence, the same as he’s already heard a hundred times that day, and so at first, he just nods, not even bothering to look back at the other man. So Enrico continues. “He was a good man, your father. He didn’t deserve this. …But I suppose he wasn’t the first man to go before his time.”

There’s a pause, then, and he sighs, almost as if he’s speaking this last part more to himself: “And he won’t be the last.”

And because these are very odd remarks, and even odder coming from someone he doesn’t even know, Yamamoto finally turns to look at this man. “…What was your name again?”

Enrico laughs, and holds his hand out. “Right, sorry. Enrico.” Yamamoto shakes the hand somewhat cautiously. “Your father and I, we go back a ways,” Enrico continues.

“You were friends?” Yamamoto asks.

“I knew him fairly well.” And then another pause, before he adds almost hesitantly, “Probably one of the few who knew him as both a sushi chef and a swordsman.”

And just like that, he has Yamamoto’s full attention.

Seeing that he’s piqued his interest, Enrico smiles. “I heard you’re not such a bad swordsman yourself,” he offers.

And weirdly enough, rather than rousing suspicion, the fact that Enrico knows all of this somehow sparks the beginnings of some kind of trust within Yamamoto. After all, anyone who was on such familiar terms with his father must be a decent guy. “…He taught me,” he says a little unsurely.

“That’d do it,” Enrico nods. He starts to walk as he continues, and almost unconsciously, Yamamoto falls in step beside him. “He was unmatched when it came to the sword,” Enrico says, before his voice drops, taking on a bitter quality. “For all the good it did him in the end.”

Yamamoto stops, and lets that sink in. Enrico halts too, watching him carefully.

Because for the first time since finding his dad dead, Yamamoto is experiencing something other than his haze of grief, shock, and loss; all of a sudden, he’s feeling the unjustness of it for the first time. Anger. Suspicion. Because his father’s death, it wasn’t just an accident or coincidence, after all. Someone did this. Someone did this to him.

He has no way of knowing that he’s standing with that very man, and no way of knowing that that man’s words have had exactly their intended effect.

And the man does not let it show, either. Instead, he waits just long enough for Yamamoto’s thoughts to simmer and rage before saying, as if only just realizing what he’s done, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—”

But Yamamoto stops him; “No.” And Enrico falls silent again, letting Yamamoto go to work, letting him put two and two together finally, the way he should have done days and days ago.

“It wasn’t random, was it?” he says at last, eyeing Enrico now, understanding that the man knows more than he’s telling. “It wasn’t just a robbery or something like that.”

“…You’re asking me like you think I’d know.”

“Don’t you?”

This time, Enrico stays silent, so Yamamoto presses. “He had enemies, didn’t he?” And as he says it, it’s both a fact and a revelation.

“Not as many as you’d think,” Enrico replies carefully. “It wasn’t like that.”

“Then what was it like?” Yamamoto presses further, eyeing him much more closely now. “Who are you, really?” he asks, thinking that he won’t back down until he gets an answer.

And again, Enrico hesitates. Then, finally: “Your father, before he retired to become a chef, was involved with the Mafia. He was a hitman.”

Yamamoto stares at him, but even though part of him is stunned, another part of him is already thinking that it’s not a surprise, really, at all. It’s something he never considered before, but it makes perfect sense.

That doesn’t make it a pleasant realization, though.

But Enrico must have recognized this too, because he quickly amends, “Look, don’t take it the wrong way. He killed people, but he… he wasn’t a bad man. That’s why he stopped. That’s why he got out of the business.” There’s another dark pause. “Or tried to, anyway.”

Dad… Dad was… “You’re saying someone from the Mafia killed him.”

Enrico eyes him sharply. “I’m not saying that. …In fact, I’ve probably said too much.”

Yamamoto takes a deep breath as he processes this. Then, very quietly, he asks, “Do you know who?”

Rico’s eyes slide away from his. “Kid—”

Do you know who?” Yamamoto repeats, and on any other occasion, he might have been shocked by how harsh his own voice sounds, menacing and fierce all of a sudden, in a way it never has before. But right now, none of that matters to him. All that matters is getting the name. The name of the person who took his father away from him, who left this space yawning inside of him.

Enrico looks at him intently. “Listen to me. There’s a fucking war going on. People betraying other people, killing them, fighting for position, for power. The most powerful family in the Mafia is currently undergoing a drastic and violent change in leadership, and anybody they consider to be a threat, they’re pushing out. I happen to be on the wrong side of that.”

He stops for a moment and glances around, as if paranoid that someone may be listening. Then he leans in a little more conspiratorially. “The wrong people overhear you talking to me, and you could end up going the same way as your dad. Do you want that?”

“All I want is the name of the person who did it,” Yamamoto insists.

“Kid, he’s dangerous.”

“Tell me.”

“This is stuff you shouldn’t be getting involved in. I came to warn you away, not—”

Tell me.”

Yamamoto fixes Enrico's gaze with all the fierceness he can muster, and Enrico stares right back, and in that moment, an understanding passes between them both. In that moment, Yamamoto knows exactly what he’s getting involved in. He knows that by choosing to pursue this, he is tying his fate in with this man, and starting down a path he will never be able to turn back from. That the next two sentences will change everything forever.

He waits.

“…Reborn. His name is Reborn.”

His first kill was easy. Rico had told him the man was one of Reborn’s subordinates, and that was all it took, really. He slit the man’s throat, and felt nothing. It changed nothing.

Neither did the second kill. Or the third, fourth, fifth. It was like remorse was a thing he had forgotten. Before long, he’d earned a reputation for himself. Rumors began to spread about a Japanese assassin who moved like a thing of the night, killing his enemies before they ever even realized he was there.

They called him the Shadow Sword.

Rico was pleased; Yamamoto, for his part, had forgotten how to feel pleasure as well. That had been scattered aside along with the rest of his humanity.

It was the sacrifice he made in order to pursue his goal. Because in spite of everything, in spite of the hollowness he felt inside, he still felt that need to have a cause, a function, a reason for existing. First baseball, then the sword.

And now revenge.

It kept him going. Kept him focused, kept him from simply drifting back into that dead, numb state. His haze of nothingness had been replaced by a haze of purpose.

He never thought to ask if it was right, if it was what his dad would have wanted. It was easier not to think at all.

One whole year, it was like that, and the part of him that was human drifted and faded and slept, and didn’t wake again until he met Squalo.

For once, it’s not an assassination mission. This time, Rico has sent him to claim something. A set of rings, seven in total. For the Vongola boss and his guardians, Rico said. Apparently the family’s new tenth boss (Sawada Tsunayoshi, the Vongola Ninth’s selected heir over his own son) has yet to officially inherit them, and so, given that most of the previous generation has retired to live the remainder of their days in (relative) peace, the rings are currently in between masters.

Too good an opportunity to pass up, Rico had said, which is why Yamamoto is currently perched on a ledge just below the window to the room where the rings are being kept. He’s been here for the last ten minutes, taking his time, gauging the security of the place, which he’s somewhat surprised to discover there is very little of.

A more experienced him would have seen this setup and thought, ‘trap’, but at just shy of fifteen, Yamamoto has encountered very few obstacles in his short mafia life that have presented even the most remote of threats. And if that’s made him a bit overconfident, then well, it’s for a reason.

Without making a sound, he finishes prying the window open and slips inside. He’s careful to avoid the lasers that crisscross the floor, eager to sound the alarm. The rings are sitting right there in the open, on a raised pedestal in the center of the room, like something out of an Indiana Jones film. The alarms he’s thus far avoided will certainly go off the instant he touches the jeweled box, but by then he’ll already be halfway out the window again, on his way back to Rico’s before the guards stationed outside the door even have a chance to react.

That’s the plan, anyway, and with this in mind, he steps around the last corner of the laser grid and reaches for the box.

And just barely jerks his hand back in time—

—and only just stumbles out of the way of the attack that follows right on its heels (and he hits the grid, and there go the alarms—not good)—

—and then finally, finally, his own sword is out and he’s actually able to block the third attack, Shigure Kintoki’s razor edge sparking against the broadsword that came this close to making him an amputee, all because he let his guard down, shit.

Voiii!” screams the sword’s wielder, and just for a second the screamer’s eyes catch the reflection of the lasers still weaved around the room, and there’s something crazy there, like nothing Yamamoto’s ever encountered before. “With reflexes like that, it’s a wonder you’re not already sleeping with the fishes!”

He’s right, Yamamoto thinks sharply as he parries a fourth attack. Pulling his katana back to quickly avoid a fifth, he mentally chastises himself—Wake up!

But he already has, his mind shuffling through his mental index of known Mafiosi, all the names and faces Rico made him memorize—and there it is. Superbi Squalo, captain of the Varia, the Vongola’s personal assassination squad. Also known as the Second Sword Emperor after his defeat of the first emperor, Tyr.

Well. Okay, then.

“Should’ve known it’d be guarded,” he admits as he swings his blade around to finally go on the offensive in this fight. “Didn’t expect they’d send someone like you, though.”

“Like that Japanese punk could order me anywhere!” Squalo retaliates. “I wasn’t sent; I volunteered!” He swings with a renewed passion, and Yamamoto almost jerks back involuntarily when he blocks, but the impact sends adrenaline rushing through his limbs, and suddenly he’s exhilarated in spite of himself.

“You volunteered to guard the rings? Are they that important?”

“I volunteered to fight you, braaaat! The famous Shadow Sword! Did you think I’d let you run around with such a pretentious title for long?”

So they knew he was coming, then. And they actually sent one of their best to stop him. And pretty much caught him by complete surprise, too. Not the best situation.

And yet, despite that, Yamamoto somehow finds himself feeling more alive than he has in ages. “Heh!” he grins determinedly as he parries again. “I didn’t come up with it!”

“Then you won’t mind when I strip it from youuu!”

“You can try!”

And he does.

He attacks with a new frenzy of blows, and before long, Yamamoto finds himself using all of his skill just to stay in one piece. Wounds are exchanged, then again, and again, and all too soon he finds himself being driven closer to the edge than he’s ever come before. Not even his dad ever pushed him this far.

But the funny thing is, the more Squalo wears him down and the closer to death he comes, the more excited he feels. He hasn’t felt anything this akin to joy since before his dad died. And yet here he is now, actually smiling, actually enjoying himself.

That realization—that he is enjoying himself—startles him, and with it comes a brief flood of guilt. He doesn’t even know for what.

So he just continues to respond to Squalo’s strikes, maintaining their dance of parries and thrusts and swings.

At last they break apart, both breathing heavily, partly from exertion and partly from exhilaration. At some point one of them knocked the other back out the window, and so they’re outside now, panting in the cool night air. It’s drizzling lightly, and it must be at least a good five or six minutes since they started, but the two of them are still alone in the yard, and no one appears to be running to join them. Yamamoto wonders if the other Vongola have orders not to interfere. It seems like the kind of thing Squalo would do. How he knows that, having met the man only minutes ago, he has no idea, but it’s true.

“…Not bad, brat,” Squalo says, raising his sword and swinging it behind him with a grand flourish. “But don’t presume to think scum like you could ever rival me!”

He charges, and Yamamoto grins, then thinks that maybe it’s time to end this.

Sweeping Shigure Kintoki down in a wide arc, he scatters a wave of rainwater, obscuring his form for just a brief moment. Squalo leaps forward and attacks, his blade swinging around at such an odd angle that Yamamoto belatedly realizes it must be attached to a prosthetic limb. He grins again out of sheer admiration, and then the tip of Squalo’s sword plunges right into his throat.

Or where his throat would have been if he hadn’t been fighting with his father’s invincible style.

Shigure Souen Ryu… Ninth Form: Mirror Rain.

And from the opposite side, he comes swinging down toward Squalo’s head. His reflection fades, and he sees Squalo’s eyes widen in shock as he spins around to guard, but too late.

And just before he lands the blow, something inside Yamamoto makes him switch his blade around.

The blunt edge of Shigure Kintoki slams into the back of Squalo’s head, and the man staggers and falls, and a moment later Yamamoto finds himself standing victorious over the prone form of his opponent. And the rain continues to fall, and still no guards come rushing up to meet him.

Then he remembers the rings, and moves to jump back to the ledge, and it suddenly occurs to him that he no longer has any desire at all to do so.

They’re just rings, after all. They have nothing to do with innocent people dying. Nothing to do with his dad. They’re just status symbols, and really, he has no need for them.

He looks back down at Squalo, and decides. If Rico really wants them so badly, he can go after them himself.

As he starts to walk away, the fallen swordsman begins to stir. “Fuck… I don’t need your fucking pity.” He starts to climb to his feet, but then collapses halfway.

Yamamoto watches for a moment, then turns to leave again.

“Why didn’t you fucking kill me?!” the question follows after him.

Because there’s no reason to, Yamamoto thinks, then instantly recalls the countless people he has killed over the past year, all those people he never even gave a second thought to up till now. That feeling of guilt comes flooding back to him. Funny how reasons never seemed to be important back then.

Maybe Rico’s mission is not so righteous as he once thought.

Yamamoto smiles to himself, not really knowing why, then turns to look over his shoulder.

“…Maybe next time.”