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Here to Eternity

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Hayato's feet dangle off the piano bench. If he slides all the way to the edge, his toes can hit the pedals, but he doesn't. He never interrupts, only watches and listens, as his mother continues her song. Hayato adores the way she plays, the way her fingers elegantly cross keys and connect melodies. She teaches him the basics and he takes to it quickly. She mentioned duets once. He'd love to play a duet with her.

They live in a small apartment, big enough for one person but cozy for two. They have the necessities, along with a generous bay window and a green space outside. It's more than enough for a mother and her son. The parlor is Hayato's favorite: a handsome Fazioli occupies the majority of the space. He admires it dearly, and when his mother plays it, the room feels ten times bigger. It's all he needs, he thinks, as he scoots closer and the songs continue.

Hayato's father visits once every few months. His mother tells him that his father does a lot of business abroad, so he rather they stay here, than have to travel to accommodate him. He's stern. At times, indifferent. His mother strokes his hair fondly.

"That's just the way he is," she says with a soft smile.

Late in the year, Hayato's father comes by to take the two of them out for brunch, but his mother falls ill so they eat in. Hayato races outside as soon as they finish, delighted that his father follows. He runs as far as he can, climbs up a tree, and dares his father to come get him. Of course he doesn't, but he stays close and beckons him to come down. Hayato slips. One foot out of place and he falls. His father catches him with an effort and raises his voice in a way Hayato's never heard. But he doesn't listen. Hayato clings to his father's arm, eyes glued to a torn sleeve and a delicate name etched across his wrist.

It's not his mother's name.

///

Hayato's mother holds his hands. She weaves him a story he's heard many times, of soulmates. When a child becomes a teenager, a name appears, as if by magic, on the left wrist. Their soulmate's name. But, his mother says, sometimes people are not meant to be together with that person. She has never told him that part before. Hayato doesn't understand because his father's name is on his mother's wrist so her name should --

"Hayato,"

He grips her fingers tightly.

"Hayato, your father still loves you. This doesn't make us any less of a family. Do you understand?"

Hayato nods, but he doesn't understand. His mother is the most warm and caring person he has ever known. He doesn't see why her smile has to suffer, why the man she loves doesn't love her the same.

She hugs him, brushing his hair and humming a soft melody. Hayato returns it fiercely. He balls his hands and closes his eyes.

Soulmates.

If this could happen. If fate could be so cruel to the one he loved most, he didn't trust it. Hayato wasn't going to subject himself or his heart to lines on his wrist.

///

When Hayato is almost 13, he starts wrapping bandages around his left wrist. He doesn't want to take a chance. None of the books he's read have given a specific date as to when the name appears. It's written off as a happy surprise, a day to look forward to between birthdays and special occasions.

Hayato ties a knot and bites off the excess. It wasn't a surprise he wanted.

///

The following year, his mother's illness confines her to the hospital for weeks. Hayato tries not to show his distress. He visits everyday and spends the night when he is convincing enough to the medical staff. Two weeks in, it seems routine, and Hayato's fear grows. But his mother is strong and her health returns soon enough. She tells him that a nurse mentioned a piano in one of the community rooms and he gently walks her there when she feels up to it.

"Why don't you play something for me, Hayato?"

"Mother-- "

She charms him, as she often does, and without much argument he takes to the black and white. She tells him he's gotten better and he smiles.

///

The next time Hayato visits, the nurse tells him that they took his mother away for a test. It's nothing serious, she insists, and motions him to the waiting room. He deviates to the vending machine and then steps out to the small patio. He sips his drink slowly, shushing the creeping implications of the extra test out of his mind.

"Did you get the hot chocolate?"

Hayato turns, another boy walks onto the patio, beverage in hand. He comes up to the railing Hayato is leaning on and points to the cup.

"I hope you didn't, because this is definitely not hot chocolate," he indicates his own drink and smiles.

"No, just coffee,"

"Lucky you," he says. "Did you hurt your arm? Is that why you're here?"

Hayato realizes the boy is referring to the bandages around his left wrist and quickly shakes his head.

"I'm visiting family,"

"That's a relief. I am too. Well, it's not a relief that they're here, but y'know,"

Hayato looks away.

"Are you recovering from something?"

"No I -- " he catches himself, pauses, and then let's go. "I just don't want to see the name." Worrying about his mother, organizing hospital bills, keeping up with school, it was all a little too much, a glass beginning to overflow. He doesn't have the energy to lie. In hindsight, he supposes it's a fair question, and it's not like he'll see the boy again.

"Name? Oh! The soulmate thing. You want it to be a surprise?" he asks, although he continues before Hayato can correct him. "I haven't thought about it much. I mean, there's so much other stuff to think about. Mostly baseball for me, but other things are important too,"

The boy's sudden outburst confuses him. "...baseball?"

"Yeah, hopefully I can play in university, and further than that too!" he glances at Hayato. "What about you? What do you want to do?"

"Uh..." Hayato blinks and focuses on his drink. "I don't know, maybe piano," he manages. Half of his attention is still on the test his mother's taking, so he's a little annoyed that he's been pulled into this conversation.

"You know, there's someone in the hospital that plays the piano,"

Hayato turns.

"They're really good. I hear it every afternoon. You should find them. You'd have a lot to talk about,"

"That's... that's me,"

"It is?"

Hayato can only nod, a bit flustered.

"You play really well! No seriously," he edges closer. "Hospitals kind of creep me out. I feel like I'm on pins when I walk, and everything smells so clean, not the good kind of clean either. But your playing helps mellow the place out. Makes it seem normal,"

"Thanks," Hayato takes another sip. He's used to his mother's appreciation, but a mother's praise is biased. He doesn't play in public, so receiving the boy's compliments is odd. "Thank you," but he likes it.

Th boy smiles. "Maybe I'll see you tomorrow?"

Hayato shrugs and the other boy takes it as a yes. He hears even footsteps, and then the sliding door open and close. Hayato gently turns the cup in his hands. He's not sure how long he stays outside, the nurse has to call for him before he remembers his mother's test. She's clear to go home, so they leave the following day.

///

Hayato's mother passes away half a year later. He barely has time to grieve before his father arrives and escorts him to a new city. It's easier this way, he reflects, holding onto a few possessions as he watches the world go by. Easier to move on.

His father lives in a large townhouse with his wife, and their only daughter. Hayato secludes himself immediately, and feels no remorse as his father resumes work and his step-mother makes little effort to get to know him. Bianchi, his half-sister, tries to speak to him, to learn more about the sibling she has only heard of, but Hayato remains in his room. The one time she manages to reach him is in passing, as he's sneaking into the house. She hands him a key and tells him it's for the room next to his. A week later, driven by a mixture of curiosity and boredom, he slips the key in the lock. The room is empty with the exception of a few boxes and most notably, in the center, the Fazioli. Hayato grips the key so tightly it leaves an impression. Swallowing hard, he leaves and slams the door behind him. It takes hours for the stinging in his eyes to disappear.

///

One of the only things Hayato is grateful to his father for, is the convenience of his estate. When it is time to choose a university, the only limit is Hayato's choice of study. He decides to go to one only two cities away. Bianchi is happy, as it is close enough to warrant visits. Hayato insists that their slowly mending relationship has no bearing on his decision, but he does hug her the longest when he leaves.

Hayato hadn't made many friends when he moved in with his father, there were too many ill feelings to live with and emotions to sort through at the time. But he views university as a fresh start, so he reminds himself to stay open to the idea of meeting people. It starts with a meek and worrisome boy named Tsuna who lives in the same dorm as him. Although a bit quick to react, and oftentimes overreact, there is something to be admired about him. Hayato believes it's that unknown factor that causes Tsuna to draw an eclectic bunch of people around him, all of whom eventually befriend Hayato as well. There's a very hyper boy named Ryohei, a strict and fearsome boy named Kyoya, a quietly mysterious girl named Chrome, and a tall, easy-going boy named Takeshi. It's overwhelming, as Hayato has never been close to the center of attention, so he often stays off to the side when they all gather. The days are better because of them though, and Hayato begins to believe that things will be all right.

///

Hayato no longer uses bandages to cover his wrist. Bianchi wouldn't be seen outside with him if he wore them, so she convinced him to use a simple masking tape that had gained popularity with youths. A lot of other teenagers were rebelling against fate and the names, so a handful of stores began producing opaque tapes that could be used to meet their needs.

"Who knew you were such a trendsetter, Hayato," she often teased.

He admits it is easier to manage, and less conspicuous. It's simple to remove and resistant to water, which he appreciates. A few people in his dorm use it, and one or two students have asked him where he purchased his. It's the oddest feeling he's ever experienced, to no longer be the only one to question the idea of soulmates.

Perhaps that's the reason why the whole concept doesn't bother him as much anymore. He remembers getting upset when he witnessed soulmates finding one another before, but now it's commonplace. For a lot of people, this is the first time being in a new city, so it's understandable that a lot of soulmates would finally discover one another.

Even Tsuna found his soulmate recently. Ryohei invited his family to visit the campus and that's when Tsuna realized the Sasagawa Kyoko on his wrist is also their friend's sister. The whole affair was loud and confusing, borderline uncomfortable, but Hayato was genuinely happy for Tsuna. Seeing his face light up when he saw her, when he made the connection, it reminds Hayato of something pure and bright that he hasn't felt in years.

That night when he changes the tape, his fingers linger over his wrist. It still hurts, but it doesn't have to forever.

///

The only downfall to seeing his friends find their soulmates is that it singles him out more than before. He already told them why he covered his wrist and for the most part, they understand. In return, he respects their need to have "couple time", and gets used to spending afternoons in the library or a media room. Sometimes he meets other people (once he had a tense but uneventful study session with Kyoya) and it's enjoyable. Other days, particularly one anniversary, he prefers to be alone.

There's a modest piano in the music hall. The keys are tired and the bench scuffed, but Hayato greets it fondly when he approaches. It's been some time, a few months, since he's had this kind of conversation. Even after Bianchi reunited him with the Fazioli, he only played it once a year. Waiting until the house was asleep, he'd slip into the room and spend an hour or so on the keys, as if chatting with an old friend. He'd play a melody that only existed in his memory, to remember his mother on the day she passed.

Hayato sets his bag down and gets comfortable on the seat. He touches the keys one at a time, acquainting himself with the tune before settling into a rhythm. As the room fills with notes, Hayato is pleased that the visiting memories are warm. There's some sadness, but when Hayato plays he remembers sunlit music sheets and a soothing voice. He recalls his mother stepping on the pedals for him and her fingers ghosting over his as she taught him chords. Hayato feels the keys as they tug their strings, smiles as the vibrations reach his bones.

He takes a break after a few minutes and notices a blue blur in his periphery. A bag. As he moves to stand, the old bench creaks and the bag falls over. A hand pulls at it too little too late. Takeshi steps into view, slinging it over his shoulder, an apologetic smile on his lips.

"Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt,"

Hayato shakes his head, not nearly as upset as he thought he'd be. "It's fine,"

The other boy walks in, admiring the piano. "You've gotten even better. I mean, it's natural right, since you're studying it,"

"I'm not majoring in music,"

"You're not? You said you would,"

"When did I say that?

"In the hospital,"

Hayato struggles to understand and then it hits him, like splash of water, his mind reconstructing an event that he'd left Takeshi out of.

"Oh my God," he rubs his temples. "I'm sorry,"

Takeshi laughs. "About what?"

"We met in the hospital. With the drinks..."

"Yeah, wait, you forgot?"

"Sorry,"

He laughs again. "It's ok! It was a few years ago. And you were probably worried about your family at the time so no big deal," he says, leaning against the wall. "Although now it makes sense,"

Hayato turns to face him. "What does?"

"You've been kind of weird to me since we met again. I thought you didn't like me,"

"...really sorry,"

"Well at least I get it now,"

Hayato nods and readjusts his seat. He stretches a little, thinking about what to play next.

"Do you mind if I hang out here?"

"Won't you be bored?"

Takeshi sets his bag next to him and slides down to sit on the floor. "I like listening to you. To your music, if it's ok. I don't have baseball practice for another hour so I was walking around to kill time,"

Hayato shrugs. "Any requests?"

Takeshi closes his eyes. "Remember that song you played in the hospital? I've never heard it before," he says.

"My mother wrote it," Hayato replies. "I've been trying to add more to it, but nothing seems to fit,"

"Play it again? Maybe I can suggest something,"

He tries to stifle his laugh. "Right," but it doesn't work very well.

Hayato starts the familiar melody, and as his hands take to the keys, he relaxes: his breathing evens, and a small smile appear on his lips, it's been a long time since he's shared the piano with someone else.

///

It takes Hayato about four days before he realizes that most of his afternoons are spent in Takeshi's company. At first, it was to return a notebook he'd borrowed. Then Takeshi lost a bet and promised to treat Hayato to coffee. Little things. Chrome is the one who makes him connect the dots, as they leave the lecture hall and he begins walking toward the left side of campus instead of the right.

"Are you going to the bookstore?"

"The baseball field. Takeshi said he needed help studying for a test so I'm going to catch him after practice,"

"Ah, Tsuna mentioned you've been meeting him all week. Makes sense,"

Hayato almost trips.

"Tell him I said 'hello'," she says.

He attributes any and all confusing feelings to a tenaciously growing best-friend-ship. It's the only way he manages to get through the day without spiraling into deep thought. And they are good days. Takeshi is determined to expose Hayato to as many new activities as possible. Racing down hills on their bikes, hunting for rare trading cards in the city, helping Tsuna bake confections for Kyoko, he was a force of nature to Hayato's steady life. But he supposed that's just how he is. Takeshi can't sit still, and Hayato can't bring himself to leave him be.

Most days end at the baseball field. Half of Takeshi's practices run into the night and when it's too late to go anywhere, they drop their bags and play catch. Hayato isn't very athletic, but he's got terrific eye-hand coordination (much to the other boy's delight). It's oddly cathartic: throwing and catching, focusing his mind on one task, talking about whatever he wants and having someone listen. Sometimes, Takeshi is the one who has to remind him they should leave. Hayato tries to pretend those nights aren't his favorite.

///

"Who is this guy? Why do we have to go to his party?"

"I forgot his name; he's Chrome's friend," Takeshi says. "She was pretty insistent about it,"

"But it's not until next semester. And she's reminding us already?"

Takeshi shrugs.

"I'll text Tsuna, something's up. Chrome doesn't really get excited about this sort of stuff,"

Hayato types quickly, trusting Takeshi to tell him if he's about to walk into something. It was a rare afternoon where Takeshi didn't have practice and neither of them felt like doing anything. They take the long way to the dining hall though, to slow the day.

"Maybe he's her soulmate,"

Hayato freezes mid-step. "Excuse me?"

"Have you ever seen her name? Maybe he's the one,"

"And what, she wants us to meet him? Get to know him?"

"I don't know. Maybe? A lot of my teammates do that," he keeps walking, urging Hayato to follow. "We're all pretty close and soulmates are kind of a forever thing, so they figure we should get to know one another,"

Hayato trails behind him. "I guess,"

"You still waiting to be surprised?"

"What?"

"Back then, you said you covered your wrist because you didn't want to know. You want it to be a surprise right?"

Hayato stops walking. "I don't care about it being a surprise," he crosses his arms. "I don't... believe in soulmates, not ones determined by scribbles on my wrist,"

Takeshi turns, ready to respond and then waits. He knows Hayato isn't fond of this topic, but he always thought it was for another reason.

"Look, I know you believe it in so, sorry. I just," Hayato grumbles. "Can we drop it?"

Takeshi sighs, a lopsided smile crossing his face. "I never said I believed in soulmates,"

Hayato purses his lips, daring him to prove it.

"No really," he says. "Well, it happened to my whole family I think, but I swear I have an aunt who never found her person. And after I met you, I started wondering if all of it is a big coincidence so," he tugs the sweatband off of his left wrist. To Hayato's surprise, there's a black piece of tape covering a portion of his skin. "I wanted to be surprised too. Ah, that was when I thought you were doing it to be surprised," he laughs a little.

Hayato could have sworn Takeshi knew who he was looking for. He figured the other didn't talk about it because he sensed it was a touchy subject. But now, thinking back over the length of their friendship, Takeshi never said he was actively searching for his name.

"So, you're going to wait until someone walks around, asking for Yamamoto Takeshi?" Hayato asks, incredulous.

Takeshi slips the material back in place. "I just want it to happen naturally. The names are cool, but it sounds too easy. If it's someone you're going to spend the rest of your life with, don't you think it should be a lot harder to find them? Like you should work for it?"

Hayato doesn't respond. He's not sure what to say. What Takeshi suggests, his perception of how soulmates should work, it's nice, but whimsical. Although, it does sound appealing. Hayato read a book once, about two people who never received their names and spent 16 chapters coming to terms with the idea that they would never find their soulmate. And then they found each other. Happily ever after yes, but fictional, that's all it was.

"I'm not even sure what to look for in a soulmate," Takeshi continues, rubbing his neck. "How would this name know? Definitely too convenient,"

"Tsuna's pretty happy with his 'convenient' name," Hayato counters.

"Sure, and I'm happy for him. I'm happy for a lot of my teammates, but it's not for me? It might sound silly, but there must have been a time when these names didn't exist. People would have to get to know each other, take a chance, see if they liked one another. That sounds a lot more fun than matching names. So yeah, I want that," he says, full of conviction. "I want to fall in love,"

There's a hitch in Hayato's breathing, a small stutter at the confidence in Takeshi's voice. Falling in love. Hayato wonders if this is the same thing his mother felt, when she decided to be with someone she wasn't destined to be with. When your heart, your instincts... everything is telling you to go, to be with him, to be happy.

Hayato wonders if that's what he's feeling right now. If that's why he walks right up to Takeshi, taking one of his hands to steady himself, leaning up, and kissing him. He's trembling, because it's too much, a jumble of emotions and insecurity and fear that he's ruining the most meaningful friendship he's ever had.

"Hayato," Takeshi whispers, before cupping his chin with his free hand and kissing him back. The trembling slows, stops when Takeshi squeezes his hand. His lips wander to the corner of Hayato's mouth, and then his cheek. Hayato feels a blush and presses against the warm skin of Takeshi's neck. His doubts vanish as the other boy nuzzles his hair.

Hayato smiles tentatively. Takeshi lets go of his hand and loops his arms around his waist, saying things like "much more fun than matching" and "thought you were gonna punch me" as he sways them back and forth.

"Why would I punch you?"

"Being too sappy?"

"Well you were," Hayato says. "But apparently I like that,"

Takeshi laughs and Hayato does too.

///

Dating Takeshi isn't very different from being friends with him. They still went out after class, still played catch late into the night, it was like nothing had happened. Except, now there were kisses upon parting, and sometimes they held hands when walking back to the dorm. And when they studied together, Takeshi would drape himself over his shoulder, warm and comfortable. Maybe that's what solidifies it for Hayato. It was always natural being with Takeshi; he could be himself.

They don't tell their friends. Hayato made it clear that he wasn't interested in soulmates or dating when they all met so he figures they should wait a while before letting everyone know. Takeshi's fine with that, but he does want to introduce Hayato to his team.

"It's not like they talk to Tsuna and them,"

"But why?"

"Because they're my team,"

Hayato didn't play sports when he was young so team camaraderie never held a meaningful impact to him. But eventually he says ok, and Takeshi rewards him with his brightest smile. Apparently half of the team had already placed bets that they would get together, so it's not a big deal. Hayato's miffed, and kicks Takeshi when he laughs about it.

It was nice telling others though. Being accepted felt great. Getting to be close to Takeshi when he met him after practice felt better, it felt right. A few days later, Takeshi is ecstatic to find Hayato brainstorming ways to tell the gang.

///

Kyoya is the one who outs their relationship - and during Chrome's friend's party no less. Hayato is embarrassed to his bones, even though he had wanted to tell them, having someone blurt it out is shocking. Takeshi simply takes his hand and voices his thanks, claiming he had hoped someone would catch on because he wasn't sure how to bring it up. The reception is positive, ranging from Ryohei demanding every detail to Tsuna holding in delighted tears. No one asks if they have each other's name. Dating outside of soulmates isn't unheard of, plus they have made a show of being inseparable lately. Hayato is still uncomfortable about the attention, so Takeshi tries his hardest to change the subject.

"Uh, where is this Mukuro guy? Chrome, we want to meet him!"

"I bumped into him at first," Ryohei says, pointing to the back of the room, intent on leading the charge. "He's the tall guy over there,"

"W-Wait, I'll bring him over," Chrome insists. "Everyone stay here ok?"

Takeshi squeezes his hand and Hayato squeezes back.

///

The concept of soulmates crosses Hayato's mind now and then. Yes, he and Takeshi like each other, and Hayato wants to see it through for as long as he can, but soulmates? Were they supposed to be together? Sometimes he wonders, when he's waiting for Takeshi to get out of class or a pair discover one another on campus. Takeshi has never mentioned checking. He's probably too happy being with Hayato to care, and that thought makes him less concerned.

Hayato changes his tape every night, and meets Takeshi every morning that follows. Business as usual.

///

Hayato wiggles the brim of his hat again, hoping a breeze would take some of the heat away. Day games were not his friend, not when the weather was exceptionally warm for the season. Tsuna nudges his side, motioning toward the dugout. From their seats they spy Takeshi adjusting his batting helmet. Hayato knows. The game itself isn't very exciting, but he's always aware of when it's Takeshi's turn.

He steps up to the on-deck circle, secures his gloves and starts taking practice swings. The crowd gets louder in anticipation. Takeshi is a bit of a fan-favorite, having been responsible for a majority of the baseball team's previous victories. Hayato pretends not to notice all of the Yamamoto jerseys he sees.

"You saw them?"

"Kind of hard not to,"

"... did you want one?"

"What?"

"I have loads of spares. Want to wear one of mine?"

"No,"

"Aw, please Hayato -- "

"No."

Hayato scoots forward as the current batter takes another ball. One, maybe two more pitches and then it'll be Takeshi's turn.

CRACK

Hayato feels fear before his eyes catch up. The bat shatters on impact with the ball. The broken section careens to the side and everyone flinches on reflex. Takeshi raises his arm to defend himself, leaning away as the splintered wood collides with his shoulder. He falls.

Terror seizes Hayato, stealing his breath, as Takeshi's white uniform starts turning red.

///

Tsuna takes steady, deliberate steps as he walks back to his friend's room. Hayato sits stagnant just outside the door. He's been there for a while, refusing communication from anyone who wasn't medical staff. Tsuna's allowed.

"Here,"

Hayato looks up.

"Thanks," he says, taking the offered cup and running a hand through his hair.

"No problem. It's, um... actually," he sniffs his own drink, perplexed. "It may be coffee? Can't be sure though,"

Hayato sputters, something like a laugh escaping his lips. Tsuna smiles and sits next to him.

The initial uncertainty was the worst. It had happened so fast, and when Takeshi didn't get up, everyone jumped to conclusions. Thankfully his team had seen similar incidents and knew how to react. The coach ran out first, finding the open wound and taking care of it. The medical trainer followed while the players circled around, doing their best to obstruct the view and minimize panic. Hayato raced to the scene, would have cut straight through the team had they not seen and stopped him.

"Gokudera, hold on!"

"No! No, he's -- "

"Calm down, Yamamoto's ok; he's ok!"

They tried to explain, to tell him that the protective gear took the brunt of it. Hayato continued to struggle. It was only as they made a hole to take him to the university medical center that he could get a good look at him. Bleeding, struggling to wave people off, a mutter of "I can play,". Takeshi tried to turn, to look for him, and Hayato made another push to reach him.

A teammate grabbed his arm, shaking his head. Hayato pulled away, muttering that he'd meet them there. He found Tsuna along the way and tried to fill him in, unconsciously holding his left wrist the entire time.

The doctor's explanation matched what Takeshi's teammates had told him. The broken edge of the bat caught his bicep, but the elbow pad he was wearing managed to protect him. The force of it knocked the wind out of him though. Some stray splinters scratched his neck, which explained most of the blood. Those were easier to stem, the coach's initial triage was a big help in keeping it a minor issue. Placated, the team left shortly after. Hayato told them he'd stay until he was allowed to see Takeshi, and Tsuna kept him company. It was more stress than Hayato could have ever imagined happening in such a short period of time. But he was relieved it was over.

"Hayato, the nurse said we can see him for a bit," Tsuna says. "Are you ready?"

He nods, setting the drink aside and following his friend.

Takeshi is dozing, his left side bandaged out of precaution, with a few marks on his face. He's propped up and smiles when they walk in.

"Hey, how are you feeling?"

"Mm, tired," he mumbles. "Think I'm... tired..."

Tsuna grins. "They must have you on the good stuff,"

It takes Takeshi a second, and then he nods, closing his eyes and pushing against his pillow. "Probably," he replies, drawing out the syllables.

"I was kidding but yeesh," Tsuna whispers to Hayato. "I promised Kyoko I'd meet her for dinner, will you be ok if I take off?"

"Yeah, we'll be fine, thanks,"

"I'll give everyone a general summary," he says, and briefly pats the sheets on Takeshi's bed to get his attention. "Feel better! I'll bring the gang by tomorrow,"

"Thanks Tsuna,"

He gives an abbreviated wave and leaves, closing the door behind him.

Hayato wrings his hands, stepping closer to the bed and anxiously smoothing out the sheets Tsuna had mused. He continues sliding the covers around until he finds Takeshi's bandaged hand, touching it gently.

"So, how are you really feeling?" he asks.

Takeshi opens his eyes, meeting his gaze. "Well, I am tired," he admits. "But also kind of disappointed,"

"...why?"

"I woulda hit a home run off that guy," he claims. "Just figured out his pattern. Woulda nailed it," he sighs.

Hayato frowns, rolls his eyes, and grumbles. "Seriously? You never think about anything else do you?"

Takeshi shrugs as best he can, smile as bright as the sun. He turns his palm up, waiting until Hayato slips his fingers in between his own. His grip is weak, but warm.

"Sorry the room smells so clean," Hayato says after some time. "I'll bring in your baseball gear, maybe sneak in sushi or something tomorrow,"

"It's ok," he replies. "You're here... it doesn't feel too bad,"

Hayato makes a show of annoyance, hoping it hides the rising blush. He tries to tug his hand away, but Takeshi holds him there. He looks at the bed for a while, searching for the right way to phrase it.

"Takeshi -- "

"When the nurse was fixing my arm, she had to take off my uniform and stuff. My arm guards, glove, and... the masking tape on my wrist. My hand was fine but they had to make sure," he explains. "I was kind of out of it, but I saw," he whispers.

"The name, I saw it,"

Hayato falters. The way he says it, his somber tone flips a switch. Images of torn bandages, the name on his father's wrist, and his mother's sad smile assault his mind. It rushes back like a dizzying blow, and he's scared. He waits until Takeshi looks up at him, tentative, and then makes a break for it. Takeshi uses his free hand to take his boyfriend's arm, desperate to keep him there.

"Hayato! It's you! It's you, please!"

His struggles lessen, but he can't face him.

"Of course it's you," Takeshi says. "It's always been,"

"T-Takeshi,"

"Please. I promise it's you. Please stay,"

Hayato purses his lips, turns around and stares at the hands clutching his own.

"I... ok," he promises. "L-Let go for a second?"

Takeshi never breaks his gaze, even though Hayato refuses to meet his. He relents though, and slowly lets go, one hand first and then the other.

Hayato doesn't run, although the urge to hasn't left. He tugs at the bed railing, lowering it and then carefully sits on the edge. He holds Takeshi's left hand, fingering the layer of gauze around his wrist. He waits one beat, and then carefully peels it away, revealing a pale scrawl of letters:

Gokudera Hayato

It doesn't connect for a while. Seeing his name, what it implies, it doesn't make sense at first. He's never put much stock into soulmates, even after he'd somewhat made peace with the idea. But there it was, his name on Takeshi's wrist, that was it wasn't it? It was real.

Takeshi carefully reaches out and slips his fingers into Hayato's other hand. It makes him look up, to remember what he's doing.

"Hayato,"

"I'm fine, sorry," he says quickly. "I wasn't really sure what to expect,"

Takeshi's smile becomes a little more sure. "That's ok. It broke my brain at first too, thought it was the meds,"

Hayato huffs, his uncertainty momentarily forgotten. "Doesn't take much to break your brain,"

The grip on his hand steadies, joined by a light laugh.

"So..."

Hayato waits for Takeshi to finish, but nothing comes. All he does is continue to squeeze his hand. And then Hayato looks down and his breathing grows heavy. His wrist. Did Takeshi want him to look? To confirm that they match? What if Yamamoto Takeshi isn't there?

He's suddenly with his mother, young and confused and angry. She's telling him the story of soulmates and why her story would never come true. Hayato begins to shake. What if he's like his father? If fate's chosen another name for him. Would he leave? Would their relationship work if fate already decided it wouldn't?

Hayato feels sick. His nails dig into Takeshi's palm and he doesn't hear the world for anything. He wouldn't do it. He refused to be the reason that Takeshi's smile suffered. He'd sooner skin the letters off his wrist. But what if it's not there? What if --

Takeshi kisses Hayato's fingers, softly and reverently. Hayato snaps out of it. His hands go slack, but Takeshi holds them steady against his lips, eyes searching, waiting for his boyfriend to calm down. He lowers their hands, frowning at the way Hayato is fighting with himself.

"Hayato," he says. "Hayato, do you love me?"

He breathes in deeply, slowly, a slight nod in his exhale. Hayato says: "Yes," with more conviction and honesty than he's ever said anything in his entire life.

He realizes it's a little surprising. Hayato's only told him once, maybe twice. At the time it had been shy, uncertain. But he does. Hayato knows, he always has.

"I love you."

Takeshi grins. "That's good enough for me," and then he pulls Hayato close, kissing him soundly. His lips linger there, briefly, and then Hayato brushes against Takeshi's cheek, places a kiss on his nose. Takeshi smiles, turning to meet him again. It reminds Hayato of a slow afternoon, when he chose to be happy and the world couldn't stop him.

"I love you, too," Takeshi says. "See? We match."

Hayato butts their foreheads together, mumbling "you're terrible" and "can't believe it" with a stubborn smile. He falls into the lines of Takeshi's side, careful to avoid the sore spot on his arm. Takeshi's warmth soothes him instantly, his slightly racing pulse a gentle metronome to focus on. A couple minutes later the meds knock Takeshi out. Hayato keeps his left hand in his boyfriend's right, glancing at the tape on his wrist.

Maybe he'll look tomorrow, or in a week, if Takeshi asks him. It could happen while they're playing catch, or Bianchi will casually mention it when Hayato finally brings him to the townhouse. He's not sure, he might not check at all, but the uncertainty is ok. Not knowing is ok, because being with Takeshi is enough. It's more than he ever hoped for.

Hayato drifts off to a memory. To a day when Takeshi happened upon him with a drink and a smile. The day Hayato felt a name etching itself across his heart.