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Our Lives Under the Sky

Chapter Text

The big, fancy mansion that served as the Vongola family’s headquarters had both a library room and a records room. The library was for books; fiction, nonfiction, biographies, a couple sets of encyclopedias, and even some picture books for their younger members.

The records room, on the other hand, was where they kept all their files and other important documents. Letters and other mementos from previous generations. A vast collection of newspaper articles and clippings that no one really knew what to do with. That kind of thing.

No one ever really went in the records room. Except Gokudera. He went there whenever he needed to be alone for a while, and didn’t want to be found. And today was one of those days.

He’d been sitting on the cold, dusty floor for probably an hour already. With his knees pulled up to his chest and his head bowed low, arms wrapped protectively around himself. He felt pathetic, and he hated it. But he just couldn’t seem to get out of this stupid cycle of self-pity, for some reason.

Suddenly, he felt something cold and wet touch the back of his hand. He quickly raised his head and balled his hands into fists, afraid that somehow an enemy had slipped in while his guard was down.

But it wasn’t an enemy. It was Yamamoto’s box weapon, Jirou. He licked Gokudera’s arm and wagged his tail.

“Gokudera? You in here?”

Gokudera groaned and refolded all his limbs. “Go away.”

Yamamoto stuck his head around the door, a puzzled frown on his face. “We got worried when we couldn’t find you anywhere. Wait, are you crying?

“No,” Gokudera lied, keeping his head down. “Fuck off, Yamamoto, I don’t wanna talk to you.”

“Well, ok then. I’ll text Tsuna. Want me to tell him you don’t feel well enough to come to the meeting?”

Gokudera’s head snapped up again. “...Meeting?”

“Yeah, we were going to have a meeting with the other guardians. Don’t you remember?”

“Ugh, I do now. I completely forgot. It’s ok, just let me-”

“No, no, don’t get up. Tsuna says we can postpone it.”

Yamamoto stepped fully into the room and scratched Jirou’s ears before returning him to his box. “Do you...want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“Are you sure? ‘Cause I don’t think you should be dealing with something this serious by yourself.”

“It’s not serious.”

“Gokudera, you never cry. Look, if you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine, I totally get it. Let me go get Haru, or someone better-”

“Dude, I’m fine. Just…” Gokudera sighed heavily. “Just hopelessly in love with a man who can never love me back, that’s all.”

Yamamoto blinked. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Gokudera looked away. “Sorry I made you guys worry for such a stupid reason.”

“It’s not stupid.” Yamamoto walked over and sat down across from Gokudera. “Is it Tsuna?” he asked quietly.

Gokudera nodded miserably. “That obvious, huh.”

“I had a hunch. But no, I don’t think anyone else has noticed.”

“Mm.”

“How long?”

Gokudera shrugged. “Since, like, the beginning? I don’t know. I didn’t realize it at first, but I think I’ve always loved him.” He swallowed past the lump in his throat, fighting off another wave of tears. “God, I’m pathetic.”

“No! No, you’re not. You’re a normal human person, with feelings. You’re not pathetic, Gokudera.”

“...Thanks.”

Gokudera stretched out his legs and leaned his head back onto the cool surface of the filing cabinet he was sitting up against. His feet were starting to tingle from lack of proper circulation.

“Listen, I know I’m not the best at this kind of thing, but have you ever considered, maybe telling Tsuna how you feel?”

“Of course I have. But I can’t. I couldn’t do that to him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s straight, Yamamoto. Telling him I have feelings for him would just make him uncomfortable. And I don’t want that.”

“C’mon, this is Tsuna we’re talking about. I think he’d want you to be honest with him.”

“Yeah, but even if it is the Tenth, he’d never quite be able to look at me the same way. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here. Good intentions aren’t everything.”

“Maybe you’re right. But I still don’t think you should hide something like this from him.”

“Plus, he and Kyoko are so happy together...I could never ruin that for him.”

“That’s true. They do seem really happy.” Yamamoto leaned over and rolled over onto the floor, laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. “I get where you’re coming from on that score. Sometimes I wonder what that’s like, too.”

“What what’s like?”

“Being in a happy relationship like that. I’ve never had anything like that. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been in love, really.”

“Never?”

“I don’t know. Not like how people talk about it in like, songs, and movies and stuff.”

“...Yamamoto, are you ace?”

“What’s that?”

“Asexual. It’s like, um…” Gokudera frowned, trying to think of a simple way to explain what he meant. “Like, you don’t experience physical attraction the way most people do. Like you’re not interested in physical relationships? I think?”

“Oh.” Yamamoto shrugged. “Maybe. I never thought of it that way.”

“How can you be so calm about all this?”

“I’m just not that bothered by it, honestly. If I ever do fall in love, then, great. If I don’t, whatever. I’m not gonna force it. I’m just waiting.”

Gokudera hesitated for a moment, then turned to the side and laid down next to Yamamoto. The tile floor was uncomfortably cold and hard. He didn’t really feel like crying anymore.

“You don’t feel lonely?”

“Sometimes, a little. But it’s not too bad, especially when you’ve got as many friends and family members as we do.”

Gokudera snorted. “Even though most of our friends and family members are in happy relationships right now? Sometimes it feels like the base is completely empty, with just a few single people drifting through like ghosts.”

Yamamoto chuckled. “That’s a good analogy. But no, I’m ok with it. I just want them all to be happy, y’know?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

They lay there in silence for a moment or two.

“You won’t tell the Tenth about this, will you?”

“That you’re in love with him, or that you were crying in here by yourself?”

“...Both. Neither, I mean, don’t tell him either one of those.”

“Ok. I won’t. You feel a little better?”

“I guess. Thank you.”

“Sure. What are family for, right?”

Yamamoto pushed himself up into a sitting position and stretched his arms high above his head. Gokudera sat up too, brushing dust off his sleeves.

“When did we reschedule the meeting for?”

“Uhh...tomorrow morning.”

“Alright. I won’t miss it next time.”

“You’d better not, or Tsuna will really start to worry about you.”

“I won’t miss it, I said!” Gokudera stood up and offered a hand to Yamamoto. “Wanna go get some food and talk about something else?”

Yamamoto grinned. “Sounds good. Let’s get sushi!”

“Yamamoto we’re in Italy.”

“Then, I’ll make us some. I could teach you, if you like.”

“You, teach me?” Gokudera shook his head, smiling in spite of himself. “Sounds like just the sort of stupid nonsense that I need right now.” He swept an arm out to the side in a mock-gracious gesture. “After you then, sushi boy.”

Yamamoto laughed and took the lead. On his way out he held the door open for Gokudera, then let it swing quietly shut on the empty room behind them.

Chapter Text

As the years went on, Mukuro quickly developed a preference for Italy. That was where most of the action was, where most of the mafia families had their home bases. And since Tsuna preferred Japan, Mukuro could pretty much do as he pleased there, as long as he didn’t cause too much trouble.

And whenever he did need to be in Japan, for whatever reason, he could just use Chrome. It had ended up becoming the same old arrangement between them. He possessed her whenever he felt like it, and used it to do whatever he wanted.

She never complained. Even when he started possessing her more often, and for longer periods of time. She never said anything, even though she was often bedridden for days at a time after he used her body.

At Mukuro’s orders, Ken and Chikusa had remained in Japan with Chrome. They lived in the abandoned Kokuyo Land park, just like they had for a long time. That way, they could be there for Mukuro if he needed them.

But that also meant that they could see what Mukuro was doing to Chrome. It was starting to get really bad. He possessed her so often and treated her so roughly that she wasn’t able to heal properly. And barely as soon as she was able to stand on her own two feet again, Mukuro was back at it.

Chikusa was starting to get seriously worried. He hadn’t really talked about it with Ken, but he could tell that it was bothering him, too.

He didn’t understand why Chrome just sat back and let him hurt her like that. Chikusa knew he never would have put up with treatment like that, not even from Mukuro.

And one day, out of the blue, it was just all too much.

“Mukuro-san,” he said, “don’t you think you’re pushing Chrome a little too hard?”

“Hm?” Mukuro turned around, stepping casually over some street punk who had tried to throw a punch at him. “What do you mean?”

“She’s not well enough to be doing this kind of thing, Mukuro-san.”

“Yeah,” Ken agreed, “she’s still really weak, Mukuro. If you keep going like this-”

“I wasn’t aware that the two of you cared so much,” Mukuro interrupted, his eyes narrowing a little. “Chrome is a tool. Nothing more. I’ll use her however I wish.”

“I know but...but if you keep this up then, then Chrome will…”

“You’ll kill her, Mukuro-san,” Chikusa said quietly.

“So what?” Mukuro looked really angry now. “All of a sudden you think Chrome’s well-being is more important than mine? Is that it?”

“No, that’s not-”

“We never said-”

“Shut up! As far as I care, both of you are just as disposable as she is. Don’t go thinking you can tell me what to do.”

Mukuro raised his hand towards them, palm out, fingers spread. Chikusa and Ken took an instinctive step backwards.

“I’ve heard enough,” Mukuro hissed. “Maybe it’s time I taught the two of you a less- argh!”

Suddenly he flinched, as if some unseen force had struck him. He reached up and pulled at his outstretched arm, as if it had suddenly become frozen in place. After a moment of struggle, his form wavered and then dissipated into thin air, leaving behind only Chrome.

She staggered and would have fallen, if Ken hadn’t rushed forward to catch her.

“What just happened,” he asked, hoisting the unconscious girl’s arm over his shoulder.

“I’m not sure,” Chikusa said, moving to support her other side. “But I think...I think she protected us. She saved us.”

 

Between the two of them they carried Chrome back to their Kokuyo base and laid her down. They’d stolen a proper mattress for her a while back, a twin sized one taken out of an old storage container up the road. The few blankets they had were torn and ragged, but they tried to make her as comfortable as they could.

“I can’t believe she did that,” Ken said quietly. He was still reeling from the shock of the whole thing. “She’s never stood up to him before, not for anything.”

“Yeah, well. Neither have we.” Chikusa sighed and sat down heavily on the tattered couch that sat along the opposite wall, a relic from when Kokuyo Land had been a thriving and well-maintained theme park. “Do we have any real food?”

Ken shook his head. It was his job to keep up with their supplies, but he wasn’t very good at it. He always forgot to remind Chikusa when they needed to go shopping. “I could run out and get something real quick.”

“No, that’s ok. It’s getting late. We’ll make do for tonight, and go out tomorrow.”

“Ok.”

Ken walked over and sat down next to Chikusa. It actually was getting pretty late; outside the window the last of the sunset was disappearing beneath the horizon, leaving them with only a few flickering streetlamps outside for light. They tried not to use the inside lights if they could, lest it draw unwanted attention.

“I still can’t believe we did that.”

“Me neither.”

“What are we going to do now? No way Mukuro’s going to forgive us. We’re really on our own, now. What do we do?”

“Calm down, Ken. We’ll figure something out.”

“But what if- wait, did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“I’m not sure...Hang on.”

Ken closed his eyes and focused hard, listening for any sound out of the ordinary. A moment later, he heard it again. It was the familiar and unwelcome sound of shouting and running footsteps.

“Kaki-pi, we’re under attack!”

“Really? Now?

“Yes, now! Come on, we’ve gotta go!”

Ken jumped up and dashed out of the room, Chikusa hastily falling in behind him. They ran through the halls, relying on Ken’s keen hearing to lead them to the invaders and not bothering to be stealthy. These enemies already knew they were in this building, so there wouldn’t be a point trying to hide. And they had to do what they could to draw them away from the injured Chrome.

Whoever these guys were- Ken didn’t recognize their clothing or their gear- there sure were a lot of them. They came in wave after wave, yelling and swinging their weapons with reckless abandon. Ken and Chikusa were at a disadvantage, both in terms of numbers and stamina, since both of them were tired from their earlier fight and their long trek bringing Chrome back home. But nevertheless they fought on.

Somehow they drove their enemies out of the building, into the large open space outside. There were even more men there waiting for them, with guns at the ready and aimed right at them.

Ken snarled and charged towards them, using his Kong channel. Half of the gunmen scattered before him, their shots flying wild, trying and failing to get out of the way of his huge fists.

When the last enemy was finally down, he wearily resumed his normal shape and size. “Guess that’s that, then. Hey Kaki-pi, what do you say we take these guys and...Kaki-pi!”

Chikusa was laying on the ground, clutching his leg. Ken hurried over to him and knelt down, wincing as he examined the bullet hole in Chikusa’s calf, which was bleeding freely.

“Shit,” Chikusa said through gritted teeth, “shit, not good…”

“Don’t worry, Kaki-pi, I’ve got you, you’re gonna be fine.” Ken quickly tore off one of his sleeves and used it to wrap Chikusa’s leg. His hands trembled as he tied the knot. Sure, both of them had been hurt before, plenty of times, but this was different. This time there was no Mukuro. There was no one to turn to at all. This time they were on their own.

“It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok,” he chanted, pulling his friend up off the ground. “Hold on to me. Let’s get you back inside. Everything’ll be ok, I promise. We’re gonna be ok.”

 

When Chrome opened her eyes, she was back home. Laying on their one mattress, where she spent most of her time these days. Although, for some reason, she was awfully close to the wall this time.

She raised a hand to her head and brushed her messy hair out of her face, grimacing at the pounding headache developing behind her temples.

“Oh, good, you’re awake.”

Chrome blinked blearily at the shape sitting on the other side of the mattress. “Chikusa?”

“Ken, she’s awake.”

“She’s up?” Ken’s voice replied from another room. “Good! Tell her I’m bringing food!”

“Do you think you can eat, Chrome?”

“I’ll try.” Chrome sat up and blinked the last vestiges of sleep from her eyes. “Chikusa, you’re hurt!”

“It’s nothing,” he assured her, hastily pulling one of the blankets up to cover his bandaged leg.

“What happened?”

“Some goons attacked our base. Probably some of Mukuro-san’s enemies, we think. One of them got me. But I’m ok. Ken went out and got some first aid supplies, so it’s fine now.”

“Oh…” Chrome frowned, her eyes drifting down again towards Chikusa’s now-concealed leg. “Chikusa, I’m sorry, I should have been there to protect you, I-”

“Stop it, Chrome. You’ve done more than enough for us. This is nothing.”

Ken entered the room, carrying a plate piled high with clearly-homemade sandwiches. “Chrome, are you ok? We thought you were going to sleep forever.”

“I’m ok. I was talking to Mukuro-sama.”

“What?”

“How?”

“The two of us have always communicated through dreams.”

“I’m coming over there,” Ken said, setting aside his plate of sandwiches. “Move over, you two.”

“Ken, there’s no room…”

“There’s room enough. It’s not fair for you two to be on the bed without me! I’m the one doing all the work for you two injured idiots! Move over.”

Chrome obediently pulled her legs out of the way. Chikusa rolled his eyes, but followed suit. Ken clambered onto the mattress, and the three of them sat facing each other. The plate of sandwiches was placed in the middle, where they could all reach it.

“Wha’ ‘id he ‘ay?” Ken asked, with his mouth full.

“He’s really mad,” Chrome said, ignoring Ken’s typical lack of table manners. “Mostly because I stopped him from hurting the two of you, earlier.”

“I knew that was you,” Chikusa said. “Thanks for that, by the way.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Is that all?”

“No.” Chrome slouched guiltily. “I...I yelled at him, and I think it made him even more mad. He was going on about the Boss, and about how I was making trouble for him as a guardian and I...told him I should be the Vongola mist guardian instead of him,” she finished in a rush.

Ken snorted. “Wow.”

“I didn’t mean to. It just kinda slipped out.” Chrome miserably put down her half-eaten sandwich, appetite gone. “I’m sorry, guys. He’s cut all his ties to me, and I have no way of knowing if he’ll ever come back.” She shut her eyes, trying to hold in her tears. “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what we’re going to do…”

Chikusa hesitantly reached out and took one of her hands in his. Chrome looked up at him in surprise- behind his glasses there were bags under his eyes, and he looked exhausted.

“We’ll be ok,” he said quietly. “As long as we stick together, we’ll figure something out. With or without Mukuro-san.”

Ken grabbed Chrome’s other hand and squeezed tightly.

“Ken...Chikusa…”

“I’m sick of living like this,” Ken muttered. “You’re always sick, and someone’s always out to get us, and Mukuro’s never here, not really.”

“We’ve always known that he didn’t care as much for us as we did for him,” Chikusa added. “But he’s never tried to hurt us before. Maybe this is for the best, after all.”

“You really think so?”

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll see.”

Ken took a deep breath. “I don’t know about you guys, but...well, I’m going to do something I think I should have done a long time ago.”

“What’s that?”

“This.”

And just like that, he leaned over and kissed Chikusa, right on the lips. Chrome gasped, but before she could fully process what she was seeing Ken broke away from Chikusa and suddenly he was kissing her instead. It was tentative and awkward but it was definitely a kiss.

“What the actual fuck, Ken,” Chikusa said weakly.

Ken sat back, his face a mixture of embarrassment and happy satisfaction. “I think people who want to kiss each other should be able to kiss each other,” he shrugged. “...Right?”

“But...But...That’s not-”

“You’re right,” Chrome agreed, gathering her courage and leaning over to kiss Chikusa, too.

Ken laughed. “Hell yeah! Man, we really should have done this a long time ago.”

When Chrome pulled away from Chikusa, he was beet red and seemed to be having trouble finding his voice. He opened his mouth several times, but when nothing came out, he closed it again and took a deep breath, seemingly working to gather his thoughts.

But he didn’t let go of Chrome’s hands. They all just sat there, holding each others’ hands.

“So,” Chikusa said when he finally regained the power of speech, “what now?”

“Well for starters...I think we should probably get a bigger bed.”

 

The three of them spent the next few weeks working hard, taking on as many jobs from the Vongola as they could. They saved up what they could from their pay, and when they finally had enough, they put in a down payment on an apartment.

The next time Tsuna was in Japan, Chrome went to the base and proudly delivered their new address to him personally.

“So you guys are leaving Kokuyo Land?”

“Mm-hm! It was kind of bittersweet, but we can always go back and visit if we want.”

“But...you’re still living together with Ken and Chikusa.”

“Yes.”

“Like, together together?”

“Yes!” Chrome giggled at the stunned look on Tsuna’s face. “Don’t worry, Boss. We’ll be fine. And if Mukuro gives you any trouble, we’ll be right there to help. He doesn’t have control of us anymore.”

“O-oh...well, ok.” Tsuna smiled. “As long as you’re happy, I can’t complain. You are happy, aren’t you?”

Chrome grinned. “I am. I really, really am.”

Chapter Text

“He’s going to say no.”

“Shut up, Gokudera. He’s not going to say no.”

“I’m telling you, Haru, this is a bad idea, and the Tenth will never agree to it.”

“Shut up. He’s going to say yes. I’m going to make him say yes.”

“Sure, whatever you say…”

They reached the end of the hallway. Haru stopped obediently and waited for Gokudera to knock on the door to Tsuna’s office and announce her, the way he insisted on doing whenever she came here.

As he stuck his head inside the office, she took a deep breath, centering her thoughts. She couldn’t allow herself to get distracted. She had to convince Tsuna to let her do this.

“Alright, he says you can go in,” Gokudera said, pushing open the door a little wider. “But you owe me ten bucks when he says no.”

Haru stuck her tongue out at him as she passed, and entered the office.

“Hi, Tsuna-san!”

“Hello, Haru.” Tsuna smiled at her, shuffling a stack of papers on his desk before setting them to the side. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m not interrupting, am I? Because I can come back later.”

“No, no, you’re not interrupting anything. Even if you were it would just be boring paperwork, and I’d be thankful for the distraction. What was it you wanted to talk about? It’s rare to see you around the base these days.”

“Right. Of course.” Haru took another deep breath. “So...you know, I’m almost done with my classes at the university, right?”

“Oh, yes! Kyoko was just telling me all about it the other day, actually. I’m really proud of you, Haru. You’ve worked so hard the past couple of years.”

“Thank you very much, but, there’s still something I need to do.”

“What’s that?”

“An internship. And I came to you tonight because...well, because I wanted to ask your permission to do it here, with Dr. Shamal.”

Tsuna blinked at her. “Uh...are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Yes, absolutely! Think about it Tsuna-san- I could be here to help if there was an emergency, since I know you don’t like using hospitals if you can avoid it. Which would also mean I’d be getting practical experience. And I could help with the research, the stuff he’s doing with Verde! Remember, that you told me about?”

“Yes, I remember. But Haru, Shamal’s not exactly...the most professional person, y’know? Don’t you think you’d be better off doing it somewhere else?”

“Tsuna-san, I’d really like to do it here. I completely understand if you don’t want to hire me on after the internship ends, but...I just want to do something for you guys, you know? That’s part of the reason I decided to become a doctor in the first place. I mean, the Vongola organization is practically paying my tuition, not to mention all the times you and your people have saved my life over the years. This is my chance to give a little back, while still learning and pursuing my career. Please, Tsuna-san?”

Tsuna sighed. “Alright, how about this- we’ll give it a trial period. If, at the end of a week or so, you still want to do it, you can keep doing it. Sound fair?”

“Yes! Yes! Don’t worry Tsuna-san, I’m going to do my best for you and the rest of the family! I won’t let you down! I’ll contact Shamal, and start as soon as I can.” Haru bowed to Tsuna and hurried back towards the door before he could change his mind.

“Oh, and Tsuna-san,” she said, turning back just before closing the door behind her, “if you see Gokudera, tell him he owes me ten bucks.”

 

Shamal was just as bad as everyone said he was. Which was to say he was rude, misogynistic, and unfriendly to pretty much everyone. He wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of training Haru.

But she was persistent. She put up with his sexist behavior, at least as much as she could. She did most of the chores around the medical wing, even when he didn’t assign her to. At the end of her first week, she insisted on sticking around.

And before too long, it started to pay off. She felt like she was learning so much more than she ever had sitting in a lecture hall. And in the process, she got to talk to so many interesting and wonderful people...although some of them could be a little scary sometimes.

“VOI,” Squalo yelled, bursting through the door and causing Haru to nearly fall off her chair in shock, “what’s this bullshit I hear about blood tests, huh?”

“O-oh, you guys m-must be the Varia,” Haru said, trying to calm her hammering heart. “Dr. Shamal said you were in Japan. Yes, if I could just get a quick sample from each of you, please. It’ll be a great help to us in our research.”

“Well, I guess that’s ok. But in exchange, give us some supplies. We’re always running out of first aid stuff at our base.”

“Squ-san, how could you say that when you have me?

“Shut your trap, Lussuria! You’re the one who gets injured the most, dammit!”

While the two of them argued, Belphegor sat down on the cot nearest Haru’s workstation and began rolling up one of his sleeves. “Hi, Haru-chan,” he said cheerily. “It’s been a while, huh?”

“Sorry, have we met?”

“Don’t tell me you don’t remember me? We spent quite a lot of time together, after all.”

“Of course she doesn’t remember you, stupid,” Marmon said, crossing his arms. “You were under an illusion. You looked like a girl. You were going around telling people to call you ‘Hime-chan’.”

Haru’s jaw dropped. “Hime-chan? The transfer student, back in middle school? That was you?

“Oh, you do remember! I’m glad to hear that.”

“Anyway, we’re not getting paid for giving you these blood samples? I hate giving people things for free.”

“Shut up, Marmon, we’re being paid in supplies.”

“Thank you Belphegor-san, all done. Say, Squalo-san, what are the chances of convincing Xanxus-san to drop by later?”

“Slim to none, little girl. But I can get you some of the Boss’ blood, easy.”

“...No, thank you, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

 

Not all her visits were as terrifying and chaotic as the Varia’s. Most of them were pleasant and enlightening. She had a thoroughly eye-opening conversation about nonbinary gender identification with Fran, who even offered to lend her a book or two on the subject. Byakuran told her stories of his other selves- as it turned out, he had worked in the field of medicine in several parallel worlds, himself. Dino happened to drop by one day and, after learning about her research under Shamal, revisited several times, each time bringing some more of his men so she could get more blood samples.

“...and I’ve had a lot of time to catch up with everyone, which has been really nice. Since, you know, I’ve been really busy with school for a while now.”

“I’ve always said you tried to take on too much at once,” Kyoko said. “But I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself. Pass me the olive oil, please?”

“Here you go.”

The two of them were in the base’s kitchen, cooking up a large dinner for everyone. It was a tradition they tried to keep up as often as possible, whenever Kyoko was home from Italy and whenever Haru’s busy schedule allowed.

“So, was it worth it? All the times you thought you couldn’t do it, or the times you felt like giving up, and you kept telling me that it would be worth it some day. Were you right?”

“Oh, absolutely. I knew this was what I wanted to do. Not only the work I’m doing in Dr. Shamal’s office, but the research, too. It’s going really well. It’s going to help a lot of people one day, I’m sure of it.”

“That’s great, Haru!” Kyoko grinned at her over the lip of the bowl she was stirring. “I was thinking, we should get together as many people as we can for dinner tonight. How does that sound?”

“Perfect! Just like old times. We’ll have to make lots more food though, in that case. Pass me the salt?”

“But of course, Dr. Haru!”

 

“Haru, you wanted to see me?”

“Ah, Gokudera, you’re back!” Haru waved to him from a desk in the corner of the room, wearing a white coat and looking for all the world like a real, actual doctor. “Yes, please, come in. I just need some of your blood, real quick.”

“Uh, ok. Is this part of the research I’ve been hearing so much about lately?”

“Yes! We’re getting so close to a breakthrough, Gokudera. Imagine, being able to isolate the components in the blood that indicate the presence of Dying Will Flames. We might be able to take it even further one day. We could use these findings to determine all kinds of health risks, trends we previously weren’t aware of. This could be huge.”

“Well, you have to actually find it, first. But I’m happy to do what I can to help.”

“Thank you. Now hold out your arm, please, this won’t hurt a bit. I’m sure your sample will produce some fascinating results, seeing as you have a whole five different Flame types in your blood.”

Gokudera sat still and let Haru fill a syringe with his blood. He was feeling a little jet-lagged after a recent trip to Italy, and he kinda just wanted to sit still for a bit.

“Hey,” he said, noticing a pile of broken glass on the floor a little ways away, “what happened there?”

“Oh, that.” Haru waved a hand dismissively. “Stupidest thing, I was carrying a solution that Dr. Shamal wanted analyzed, and I tripped over my own feet and spilled it everywhere. Have to wait a few hours before it’ll be safe to clean up, even with gloves.”

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Actually, Dino-san was here at the time, and he saw me start to trip and swooped in and pulled me out of the way, just in time. It was all very dramatic. I felt like such an idiot, though.”

“Dino did that?” Gokudera narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “And he was here by himself?”

“Yes, he dropped in to check on my progress. What does it matter?”

“Because he’s usually clumsy as hell unless some of his men are around.”

“Gokudera that doesn’t even make sense.”

“I know, but it’s true. Something about being responsible for their protection, or something. So I can’t think why he’d be able to help you. Unless...”

“Unless what?”

“Unless he likes you.”

“What! What! Don’t be ridiculous, Gokudera!” Haru laughed nervously. “No way he likes someone like me.”

“That’s the only viable explanation though. He likes you, and he was just making up an excuse to come see you.”

“That’s silly. He’s like, what, eight years older than us? And he’s head of his own family. He could have anyone, and you think he’d waste his time on an intern?”

“Doesn’t seem like he’s wasting his time to me,” Gokudera teased, watching Haru’s face get redder and redder. “Maybe you should ask him out.”

“Noooo, I could never do that, Gokudera….”

“Why not? He likes you, and you obviously think he’s cool, so why not? I’m telling you, if he was into guys I absolutely would not hesitate to-”

“Stop, stop, I don’t wanna know.”

Gokudera grinned at the flustered Haru. “Well, I still think you should talk about it with him next time he comes by.”

“He has no reason to come back, Gokudera.”

“He’ll be back. Trust me.”

“I don’t, actually.”

“Fine. But you owe me ten bucks when he actually does.”

 

Much to Haru’s dismay, Dino showed up at her door no less than two days later.

“Is this a bad time?” he asked.

“No, no,” Haru assured him. “I just...lost a bet with Gokudera, that’s all.”

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. But I brought something that I hope will cheer you up!” He held up a plastic bag with the logo of a local sweets shop on it. “Kyoko said you liked the cake from this place. And you’ve been working real hard lately, so I thought you deserved a break.”

“Aw, Dino-san! That was so thoughtful of you, thank you so much!”

“Hey, you’ve earned it. We’ve been on Shamal’s back for forever to get this research going, and you’ve done more in a few weeks than he has in years. You’re really something, Haru.”

She smiled. She was probably also blushing a little bit, but she didn’t want to think about that.

“You got a minute? I’d love to have someone to share this with.”

“I got it for you though!”

“Dino-san, didn’t you know that food always tastes better when you share it? Come on, you’ll love it, I know you will.”

“Hah, well, when you put it that way…”

Dino was blushing a little bit too, now that Haru was looking closely. She didn’t really want to think about that either but man it was cute.

They sat down on some empty cots, facing each other, eating cake with their hands and laughing whenever one of them spilled crumbs over themselves. She told him about her adventures in trying to convince Hibari to come by to give a blood sample, and he told her stories from his family. Haru had never really noticed how easy it was to talk to him. It seemed like she was noticing more and more, now that she was paying attention.

“Well,” Dino said, standing up and brushing himself off, “As fun as this has been, I’m afraid I’ll have to cut it short. Again, Haru, I can’t possibly thank you enough for-”

“Do you want to get coffee sometime?”

Dino stopped mid-sentence and stared at Haru. She stared back, hardly daring to believe she had said that out loud.

“Um...what was that?”

“I just...just thought...coffee. Would be nice.” Great, now she was making a fool of herself. Gokudera was never going to let her live this down. “Sorry, that was stupid. I didn’t mean-”

“No, I’d love to,” Dino said quickly. “I’d really love to, Haru. But I mean...if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

Haru shook her head. “If you want to, then it’s fine. Sorry, I...I’m making such a mess of this, aren’t I. I think coffee would be lovely.”

Dino smiled bashfully at her. God, so cute.

“So, Saturday?”

“Sure! Sounds great!”

“Ok. I really do have to go, but I’ll see you then.”

“Have a safe trip home. And yes, see you Saturday.”

Haru waved him out of the office, grinning like an idiot.

“Haru!” Shamal’s voice bellowed from their supply closet. She had almost forgotten he was back there. “I don’t hear reports being written in there! If they’re not done, I expect you to stay late and finish them!”

“Yes, Dr. Shamal!”

Haru sat back down at her desk and pulled her half-finished reports towards her. She knew she had made the right choice when she decided to do this. She had never been more right.

Chapter Text

It took Irie a little while, but after a very thorough search of several different social media platforms, he found Spanner. He recognized his profile picture. His very existence corroborated the evidence that the visions he’d received, of a world ten years in the future, were all true.

It took him a while to work up the courage to message him. After all, what do you say to someone who’s somehow complete stranger and devoted colleague at the same time?

He settled on, ‘excuse me, Spanner-san, may I ask you a question?’

He got a response almost immediately. ‘Holy shit,’ it read, in English. ‘You’re Irie Shouichi. You’re real. It wasn’t just a dream after all. Fuck hold on,’ came a second message a moment later, ‘you probably can’t understand me. Let me pull up a translation program real fast.’

‘It’s ok,’ Irie wrote back. ‘I can understand English.’

‘Oh, cool. I should have guessed that. In the visions you were really smart.’

‘It is not a vision. Those are your memories.’

‘Dude, you have no idea how good it is to hear you talking about it. Everyone thought I was losing my mind over here but I knew it was real. What about the others?’

‘If you mean the Vongola family, they are all here. And they all have their memories, too.’

‘Awesome. Fuck, I can’t believe how crazy this is! Right when I find out I’m going to be moving to Japan, it turns out I already have friends and shit there waiting for me? Wild.’

‘You are coming to Japan soon?’

‘Yeah. Let’s just say my living situation has been a mess and the best solution right now is Japan.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that. But I’m happy to hear that I will get to see you soon.’

‘Hell yeah, dude! My future self or whatever thought of you as his best friend.’

Irie grinned. No one had ever called him their best friend, let alone someone he had never actually met before.

‘You were my best friend too.’

‘I don’t know what time it is over there but you got a minute? I want to ask you about some of the designs we were working on together in the future.’

It was late. Technically already a few minutes past his bedtime, and he had school in the morning. He should probably call it a night.

Instead he typed out, ‘tell me all about it!’ and sent it to Spanner.

 

Spanner arrived in Japan barely a week and a half later. He didn’t live in Namimori, but his house was only two train stops away, and he and Irie saw each other often. It didn’t take them long to become best friends all over again- and best friends tell each other everything.

Spanner learned about Irie’s bad constitution, and the near-constant stomach aches that he dealt with as a result. He learned about Irie’s violent swings between fight and flight instincts whenever he was confronted with even the smallest thing. He learned about Irie’s most closely held dreams, the ones in which they lived in such a time of peace that he could afford to focus on making music more than inventing.

Irie learned the reason why Spanner was forced to leave America in the first place; his mother died, leaving him with no one to take care of him. He learned how Spanner had been shuffled around through a couple different foster homes before someone decided that he would be sent to live with his mother’s ex-husband, whom she had divorced before Spanner had even been born. He learned about Spanner’s fascination with the unknown, his desire to always know more, his drive to be better.

They worked well together. At first it was a jumbled mixture of English and Japanese spoken between them, but it did work. They inspired each other’s curiosity and they fueled each other’s passions. But most importantly, they had fun together.

Whenever they hung out, they usually did so at Irie’s house in Namimori. The reason for that being that Spanner’s ex-step-father, or whatever relation he was- most of the time they just called him ‘Brad’- was not a kind man. He was strict, and insulting, and prone to throwing things.

Irie maintained firmly that Spanner was being abused, and that they should report Brad to the authorities.

But Spanner maintained just as firmly that he wasn’t going back in the system, and that he would be ok putting up with Brad until he was old enough to set out on his own.

They didn’t go to the same high school, either. But they messaged each other every day, and got together nearly every weekend. They kept working on their projects together. They entered robotics tournaments and inventing competitions together, and blew everyone else out of the water, which was great fun.

Towards the end of high school, the letters and invitations from colleges started coming in.

Spanner received twenty seven letters in total. Irie received thirty one. For a while, they were a little overwhelmed, wondering what they were going to do, where they should go. But in the end, they decided to stop basing their decision on programs or success rates or scholarship offers, and start thinking about what they really wanted.

And what they really wanted, more than anything, was for their long distance friendship to finally come to an end.

 

“I’m home,” Irie announced, tiredly opening the door to their dorm room.

“Welcome back,” Spanner muttered distractedly, sitting on the floor with some kind of gadget in his hand. “Have you seen the blue screwdriver around here anywhere?”

“It’s over here.” Irie dropped his backpack on the floor and reached under his desk chair, then tossed Spanner the screwdriver.

“Thanks.”

“No problem.”

Their floor was littered with discarded tools and half-finished projects, as per usual, and their walls were covered in blueprints and sketched out ideas yet to be tested. Just the way they liked it.

Irie flopped down onto his bed and sighed deeply. He was tired. He’d been tired since they started college, and wasn’t sure he would ever feel well-rested again.

“When was the last time you ate something?”

“I had some ramen a few hours ago.”

“You need more than that, and you know it.”

“Well, let’s go out then, get some real food.”

“In a little while. I’m tired.”

“You’re always fuckin’ tired.”

“I know.” Irie sighed again and rolled over onto his side. “Kikyo-san texted earlier. Said Byakuran-san wants me to come over next weekend to look over his new project, or something.”

“New project? Sounds interesting.”

“Yeah but...I have a bad feeling about it.”

“Byakuran is a good guy now.”

“Intentions aren’t everything, Spanner. Explosions can still happen to good guys.”

“Oh please.” Spanner set aside whatever it was he was tinkering with and instead pulled his laptop over onto his knee. “You’re just making excuses cause you don’t want to go.”

“I am not!”

“Yes, yes you are. Byakuran’s not going to blow you up. Just go visit the Millefiore’s next weekend, you big baby. It won’t kill you.”

“Shut up. What are you working on over there, anyway?”

“Well, I was thinking of fiddling with the Mini Mosca’s design a little bit, but it’s a dead end.”

“How so?”

“I don’t have the parts. Or the original specs. So all I can really do right now is hypothesize.”

“You, losing parts to one of your beloved Moscas? Wow, now I’ve seen it all.”

“Ha ha. They’re not lost, they’re at Brad’s.”

“Why are they there?”

“I forgot them there last time I went back for break. And I haven’t been back since, because Brad and I got into an argument and I didn’t want to make it worse.”

Irie sat up, frowning. “Was it that bad of an argument?”

“I don’t think he’s entirely stable these days. He’s been like, slacking off on chores and stuff. I know that doesn’t sound like much but trust me, it’s bad. Piles of trash and sink full of dishes and stuff. He kept yelling at me to do it for him.” Spanner shook his head, scowling. “I think he’s going a little crazy without someone there to keep an eye on him.”

“It’s not your job to keep an eye on him.”

“I know. That’s why we argued, and that’s why I haven’t been back.” Spanner stood up, stretching his arms above his head. “Anyway, you ready for food? I’m starving.”

Irie sighed, but let the subject drop. “Alright, let’s go. But we’re not going to that takeout place, I’m not walking that far.”

“Aw, come on!”

“Nope. Some of us have eight am’s tomorrow, Spanner.”

“And some of us get tired of eating McDonald’s just because it’s right across the street.”

“I don’t.” Irie grinned and stood up, leaning down to offer Spanner a hand. “Stop complaining. I’ll buy you a McFlurry.”

“Oh, well in that case.” Spanner took Irie’s hand with a smile. “McDonald’s here we come!”

 

The next day, Irie had an afternoon chemistry lab. But he didn’t come home afterwards. Spanner wasn’t worried at first; it wasn’t unusual for Irie to make plans with classmates or drop by the library after class.

But then a few hours passed, and he still didn’t come home. And he didn’t answer his phone when Spanner texted wondering where he was at. That was when he started to get worried.

He checked the library and the cafeteria and the student center. He even checked the lab and asked around with some of the other students there. No one had seen Irie.

Part of Spanner thought that he was probably overreacting. The rest of him promptly started freaking out. He expanded his search, running all over campus like a headless chicken, calling Irie’s phone every five minutes. It wasn’t like him to just disappear like this. Something must have happened.

After a while, he got a text back; just the single line, ‘I’m fine, almost back.’

That didn’t sound right either. Something had definitely happened. Spanner sprinted back to their dorm building and waited, pacing anxiously outside the front door.

Finally, he spotted Irie approaching from the direction of town.

Spanner ran at him and tackled him in a hug so hard that both of them nearly fell over onto the sidewalk.

“Spanner…?”

“Shit, Shouichi, don’t you ever fucking do that to me again! Running off with no word, I thought you were in trouble! I thought it was the mafia, or something, I didn’t know if you’d been hurt or...you, you could have been laying in a ditch somewhere bleeding out, and I never would have known! Where the fuck did you go?!”

“I’m sorry,” Irie said quietly, returning Spanner’s hug with trembling hands. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Spanner broke the embrace and put his hands on Irie’s shoulders, holding him at arms’ length and examining him closely. “Are you ok? What happened? Wait, what’s that?”

Avoiding Spanner’s gaze, Irire guiltily held up the plastic bag he was carrying and let Spanner see what was inside: the missing parts for the Mini Mosca.

“You went to Brad’s?

“I didn’t tell you because I knew you wouldn’t want me to, but...Spanner you love Mini Mosca, and you’d never go back to get them by yourself, so I just...I was trying to help,” Irie explained, looking close to tears.

“Did he hurt you?” Spanner demanded, tightening his grip on Irie’s shoulders a little. “Shouichi, tell me.”

“He didn’t touch me. But, he did yell at me. And I, uh...I yelled back.” Irie winced, as if he expected Spanner to start screaming at him, too. “I’m sorry, I really am, but he was saying such terrible things about you, and I couldn’t-”

“It’s ok.” Spanner let out a long sigh of relief. “As long as you’re ok. That’s all that matters. If anything happened to you, I’d...I don’t know what I would do, Shouichi.”

Irie looked at Spanner, his eyes big and watery behind his glasses. “I’m so sorry, Spanner. I never meant to scare you, really. I promise I won’t do it again, and I’ll make it up to-”

Spanner leaned forward and kissed Irie, right there on the sidewalk in front of their building.

It took a moment for him to realize what he was doing. Horrified, he pulled back, realizing that he had probably crossed a line and fearing that he had just ruined everything. But Irie moved forward and kissed him, putting a hand on Spanner’s back and drawing him back in. Spanner, his heart hammering like a drumbeat, clumsily wrapped his arms around Irie’s neck and kissed him back.

They stumbled awkwardly into the building, still clinging to each other. By the time they made it to their room and closed the door behind them, Irie had his tongue in Spanner’s mouth and Spanner had his hands under Irie’s shirt.

“Is this...ok?” Spanner murmured, breaking the kiss and panting for breath.

“Fuck yes,” Irie whispered, dropping the Mosca parts unceremoniously on the floor. “Are you ok?”

“Hell fucking yes.” Spanner ran a hand down Irie’s back, feeling him shiver at his touch. “I want you, Shouichi.”

Irie smiled breathlessly at Spanner, a bright red flush spreading across his face, eyes heavy-lidded with desire.

“I’m yours.”

 

Irie woke up a few hours later, laying on his bed with Spanner’s arm around his waist. Their clothes were scattered on the floor somewhere. He hoped his glasses had made it safely to the nightstand where they belonged but honestly, that part was kind of a blur.

‘I’m yours’? Had he really said something that embarrassing? Had he and Spanner really just done that? …Really?

He groaned softly and squeezed his eyes shut, not sure if he wanted to remember or forget what had just happened.

“Go back to sleep, Shouichi,” Spanner mumbled sleepily into Irie’s hair.

“I’m sorry,” Irie mumbled back, the response coming automatically to his lips.

“For what? That was fuckin’ great.” Even in the dark he could hear the smug, lazy grin on Spanner’s face.

“Why did we do that,” Irie muttered, eyes still squeezed shut in mortification. “God, Spanner, the whole floor probably heard that…”

“Well, how were we supposed to know it would be that loud? Neither of us have ever done this before, Shouichi.”

Irie groaned again and pressed his face into Spanner’s chest. “Could we possibly have picked a worse way to ruin our friendship?” he asked, his voice muffled.

“Nope. That shit’s ruined, dude. Our friendship is completely totaled. Our friendship is lying dead on the floor over there, and all that’s left is a specter of what it used to be.”

“Sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize to me for anything,” Spanner said, gently kissing Irie’s temple. “I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m completely in love with you, Shouichi.”

Irie’s heart skipped a beat and he smiled in spite of himself. “I know. I love you too.”

“Fuck, it feels good to hear you say that. Do it again.”

“No. Some of us have class in the morning, in case you forgot.”

“You’re still going to class in the morning?”

“Of course I am. And so are you. There’ll be time for talk after.”

“Hardass. Ok, fine. Can we stay like this?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Good. ‘Night, Shouichi.”

“Goodnight, Spanner.”

Irie took a deep breath and repositioned himself more comfortably in Spanner’s arms. He could hear Spanner’s heartbeat, and the sound was comforting. His best friend, the man he loved.

They slept.

Chapter Text

Some people do their best thinking in the shower, or so they say. Some people have their best ideas late at night, laying in bed and waiting for sleep. Some people’s minds are at their clearest when they’re surrounded by people and noise. It’s different for everyone.

For Lancia, it’s his morning runs. The moment he steps outside into the pale dawn light, feels the cool air on his face, everything just seems...calm. With the rest of the world still asleep, it’s easy to pretend they aren’t there at all. It’s just him, alone. The pounding rhythm of his feet against the pavement lends his mind clarity.

The Vongola’s Italian base is a huge mansion in the countryside. Isolated, secure, safe. It’s been in the family as long as there’s even been a family, although it’s been redecorated and fortified on a number of different occasions. That’s where their business happens.

But that’s not the family’s only property in Italy. About fifteen minutes’ drive from the Vongola mansion is the Vongola apartment complex. It’s situated on the outskirts of town, hidden in plain sight. It’s where most of the people who work for the Vongolas actually stay when they come to Italy, as well as any of their various friends and allies. It’s open to anyone who needs it.

Lancia lives there. He has for a few years now. It’s a lovely place, really; it’s got a courtyard with all kinds of flowers growing in it, and a garden where you can pick fresh ingredients, and even a swimming pool. The laundry machines are free of charge. The residents are all nice people, and you don’t have to worry about hiding the fact that you’re mafia from them.

When Tsuna took over as Vongola Decimo- Reborn tried so hard to get the whole ‘Neo Primo’ nickname to stick, but it never did- he changed things. He put a stop to the extortion and the money laundering and even most of the fighting. Now, with the exceptions of the Varia and a few other select agents, they made their money clean.

Tsuna had given Lancia a very specific job to do. He was the family’s eyes and ears in town. He brokered protection deals with the business owners, and patrolled the streets to make sure they were being enforced properly. He made friends with both the local cops and the local street rats. Nothing happened without him hearing about it. He reported directly to Tsuna. He helped keep the peace.

It was a good job, and one he did well. He was happy to have it, and his place in the Vongola family.

But what he liked best were his morning runs. No one smiling at him or talking to him that he needed to respond to. No clean, pressed suit that somehow felt uncomfortable no matter how much time he spent wearing it. No appearances to keep up. Just him, alone with his thoughts and the sun coming up over the horizon. Just the cool morning breeze on his face and the sweat running down his back and the pitted pavement beneath his feet.

Those were the only times that he felt like himself anymore.

 

One day, in the early summer, on one of his runs, he noticed something unusual. A trash can at the mouth of an alley between two shops had been overturned, and its contents spilled everywhere.

He frowned, but didn’t stop. He’d come by later, he thought, help clean up and ask around to see if anyone knew who was going around kicking over garbage cans. It wasn’t that big of a deal.

But then, at the next block, he found another one. And another after that. At that point he crossed the street and started looking for signs of a culprit, because, come on. Three trash cans in a row? What kind of pointless vandalism was this?

But, a few blocks down when he discovered the one behind the trail of garbage behind him, it wasn’t a teenage hoodlum, as he’d suspected.

It was a skinny, dirty, unkempt, and altogether far too friendly dog.

The moment she saw him, the only person awake at that time of morning, she threw herself towards him, jumping up on him and trying to lick his face.

“Argh! Get down, get off me!” Lancia held up his hands to ward the dog off, but she just jumped higher and nipped at his fingers, tail wagging. He took a step backwards and nearly tripped over the latest garbage can, causing a loud metallic clanging sound. She skitterered away at the noise, but after a moment she started wagging her tail again, watching Lancia expectantly.

“I don’t have any food,” he told her, showing her his empty hands.

She wagged harder and sat down, apparently trying to demonstrate how good she could be, in hopes of getting a treat.

“You can’t stay here.”

She cocked her head a little to the side and just stared at him.

He sighed. So much for his morning alone time.

 

He took the dog with him on his patrol that day. Made a leash for her out of some discarded rope he found in one of the trash cans. Not that he needed it; she seemed happy to follow him wherever he went.

He asked around everywhere, but no one had heard of anyone losing a dog. Nobody even remembered seeing a stray around the area before. She didn’t have a collar, either, and it was starting to seem pretty unlikely that she had an owner somewhere.

Lancia decided to bring her back to his apartment. He didn’t know what else to do. He certainly wasn’t about to leave her on the streets. Besides, the Vongola apartments were supposed to be open to anyone who needed a place to stay for a while. He stopped by the local pet store and bought a big green collar and a proper leash and some dog food. The helpful saleswoman gave him advice about how to feed her, and the like, for which he was grateful. He’d never had a pet before. He didn’t even use box weapons.

As he walked up to the apartment complex’s front gate and reached into his pocket for his keycard, he heard someone shout “ooh, a dog!” and then his arm was wrenched around at an awkward angle as the stray tried to run to greet whoever had spoken.

“Ah!” He quickly planted his feet and gripped the leash tightly, yanking back sharply. He was worried that the dog would try to bite someone and get herself in trouble.

But as it turned out, he needn’t have worried. When he looked around Fuuta was there, crouched down letting her lick his face.

“I didn’t know you had a dog, Lancia-san!” he exclaimed, giggling.

“She’s not really mine,” Lancia explained, massaging his arm where the leash had dug into his skin.

“Fuuta!” Basil called, jogging over to them. “You can’t just run off like that!”

“Sorry, I saw a dog.”

Basil sighed and rolled his eyes. “Good evening, Lancia-dono. How have you been?”

“I’m good, thanks. You?”

“I have been very well.”

“What’s his name?” Fuuta asked, scratching the dog’s ears.

“It’s a she, and she doesn’t have one yet.”

“A new addition to your household, Lancia-dono?”

“Kinda. I’m just keeping her until I can find her a good home. You interested?”

Basil shook his head. “Unfortunately, as a field agent I could never take proper care of her.”

“You keep saying that,” Fuuta pouted, “but Dino-san gets to have a pet, and take it everywhere!”

“His pet is a pocket-sized turtle, Fuuta. It’s different.”

“Gerbils are pocket-sized, Basil-nii! Why can’t I at least have a gerbil!”

“Like I said, that’s different…”

“Am I to understand that you’re a field agent now, Fuuta?”

“Almost.” Fuuta grinned proudly up at Lancia. “I’m training to join CEDEF with Basil-nii.”

“Well, good for you! CEDEF, huh? Gonna get a cool plant codename like Basil’s?”

“Please. Basil’s codename is ranked fourth on the ‘lamest codenames’ list.”

“Hey!”

“My codename’s gonna be something cool.”

Basil grunted, offended. Lancia tried not to laugh.

“Alright, boys, I think it’s time to get this girl inside. Good luck with your training, Fuuta. See you ‘round, Basil.”

“Ok, bye, Lancia-san! Bye, Lancia-san’s dog!”

“Farewell, Lancia-dono. Come, Fuuta, we’re late.”

They took their leave, and Lancia had to pull hard on the leash again to stop the dog from trying to follow.

“They can’t take you,” he told her. “You have to stay with me. C’mon, let’s get inside.”

 

Lancia’s apartment was pretty spartan. Not too much furniture, everything kept pretty neat and organized. Which in this case was a good thing, because his curious visitor kept running in circles, threatening to knock over everything in her path.

“Whoa there,” Lancia said, hastily snatching one of the only breakable things off the coffee table. “Careful, girl. This is glass, gotta watch out for it.”

She sniffed at the picture frame in his hands, blinking at the people assembled behind the glass in the photograph.

“That’s my family,” he explained, setting the picture up high on a bookshelf, where he assumed it’d be safe. “My old family, I mean. They’re all gone now.” He stepped back, his gaze unfocusing a little. “The anniversary is coming up, actually. They died in the summer. It’s been eight years...hard to believe.”

The dog whined a little and licked at his hand, effectively snapping his thoughts back to the present.

“Oh...oh, sorry. You don’t care about that, huh. Let’s get you some proper food.”

 

Over the next few days he kept asking around, but no one stepped up to adopt the dog. He kept her at his apartment for the time being, but he didn’t really know what he was going to do if no one took her. He resolved to keep trying, at least till the end of the month. After that he might not have a choice but to turn her over to a shelter.

He’d taken to calling her Aida, after one of his favorite operas. As far as he could tell, she was some kind of shepherd crossbreed. Probably. She had lots of soft, long hair and big blue eyes. Her paws looked a little big, still, indicating that she still had some growing to do. He wondered how old she was.

One day while he was walking her out behind the apartment building, he saw Hibari walking towards him. He was so surprised to see him that Aida caught him off guard and pulled the leash right out of his hand, running towards the sullen cloud guardian.

The pit dropped out of Lancia’s stomach, but Hibari didn’t seem particularly upset. He leaned down and softly patted the top of Aida’s head, smiling faintly.

“I’m so sorry about that,” Lancia said, picking up the leash handle once again.

“It’s ok. I like animals.”

“It’s unusual to see you around here, Hibari-san. Anything I can help you with?”

“Actually, I came to see you.” Hibari’s dark eyes searched Lancia’s, his hands still absently stroking Aida. “Tsuna mentioned that someone in town had expressed concerns about you. That you haven’t been acting like yourself lately.”

Lancia blinked in surprise. “Oh. Really? Who said that?”

“I don’t know.” Hibari shrugged. “Look, Lancia-san, I respect you. I know what you do for that town out there. It’s a lot like what I try to do for my hometown.”

“Wow. Thank you, Hibari-san.”

“But I also know what you’ve been through,” Hibari continued. “That kind of thing marks you. And it doesn’t go away.”

Lancia shifted uncomfortably under Hibari’s gaze. He wasn’t fond of others knowing a whole lot about his past traumas. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying, take a few days off. You need rest.”

“Time off? You...want me to take a vacation?”

“I don’t care what you do, as long as you don’t come in to work. The town will survive without you for a few days, don’t worry. Just, take some time to take care of yourself.”

“But I-”

“You can’t be at your best for them if you aren’t at one hundred percent,” Hibari interrupted, gesturing to the apartments and, by extension, the town beyond. “They’re depending on you.”

Lancia hadn’t expected this from Hibari. Tsuna perhaps, Ryohei almost certainly, but not Hibari. But he clearly felt strongly about the topic. Whoever had asked Tsuna about him must really have been worried.

“I understand. I’ll take some time.”

Hibari nodded, apparently satisfied. “Good. Take care of yourself, Lancia-san.”

 

The next morning, Lancia didn’t bother to get up early and go for a run. He didn’t put on his nice suit, and he didn’t go out to the town. He stayed in. He lay in bed for a while, watching the sunlight spread across his wallpaper, wondering what he really needed to be doing in order to ‘take care of himself’.

Usually, this time of year, he tried to distract himself, keep his other family off his mind. But maybe that wasn’t what he really needed. It never worked, anyway. Maybe he just needed to face it? Whatever ‘it’ was, that was bothering him?

He didn’t know. He wasn’t used to this. He was used to throwing himself into his work to avoid exactly this situation, but he tried anyway.

He sat on his bed with the photograph of his dead family in his hands. He thought about his fond memories with everyone in that picture. He tried to imagine what they’d be doing, if they were still alive. If he hadn't killed them. If Mukuro hadn’t killed them, with Lancia’s hands.

Aida interrupted his thoughts, standing at the side of his bed and whining quietly.

“Go away,” Lancia muttered, raising a hand to swipe at the tears starting to cloud up his vision. “I’m not in the mood, Aida.”

She whined again, setting her chin on the edge of the bed and watching him cautiously.

Lancia ignored her. He had been just a kid when they’d taken him in. A street rat, stealing whatever food he could, and they had opened their doors to him. And how had he repaid them? By allowing himself to get possessed and killing them all. He didn’t know why Mukuro had left him alive. He would have been better off dead, he thought.

He was really crying, by now. He put the picture aside and put his head in his hands, digging his palms into his eyelids. He missed them. He missed them so, so much. He’d give anything to bring them back. He’d have given his life in a heartbeat.

Suddenly, the mattress bounced underneath him, and he looked up. Aida had jumped up on the bed and was pushing her face close to his, looking worried. He tried weakly to push her away, but she only pushed harder to get closer to him, licking at the salty tears on his face.

After a moment, he gave up trying to push Aida away. He put his arm around her neck and patted reassuringly, letting her know he was ok.

Then he put his face into her fur and sobbed. Openly, unreservedly. Aida sat very still, let him cling to her, and let him cry. And when he eventually sat back, sniffling and wiping his eyes, she wagged her tail and licked his face again.

“I know what I have to do,” he told her. “I have to pay it forward. They took me in off the streets. It’s time for me to do the same, I think. I think that’s the right thing, right now.”

 

A few days later, he met Haru in the lobby of the apartment building, as he was coming back from his morning run.

“Good morning, Lancia-san!” she said, waving cheerfully. “Listen, listen: Io sono Haru Miura. Sono giapponese. Mi piace la torta.

Lancia laughed. “Molto bene. Sei migliorato molto, Haru-chan.

“I don’t know what that last bit was,” Haru said, switching back to Japanese, “but I’m going to take it as a compliment. Oh, who’s this?”

“This is my dog, Aida. She’s a little tired right now, since we had ourselves a good long run this morning.”

“Oh, what a good girl! Running with your master, so early in the morning.” Haru bent down and scratched Aida’s ears, grinning. “Lancia-san, I’m so glad to see you finally got yourself a running buddy! You know I worry about you, out there by yourself.”

“Well, thank you for your concern, but I don’t think it’s necessary.” Lancia smiled. A real, genuine smile, for once. “I think I’m ok now. I think we’ll be just fine.”

Chapter Text

“Reborn,” Lal called, pushing open the door to Tsuna’s office. “You in here?”

“Oh, hi Lal.” Reborn waved at her from his seat atop Tsuna’s desk. “Welcome back. How’d the mission go?”

“Complete success. What are you doing in here? I thought your office was next door.”

“This office is my office, too. I go where I want.”

Lal rolled her eyes. Some things never changed. “Here’s the full report.”

“Oh, thank you.” Reborn hopped off the desk and took the folder she offered him, glancing through the contents. By this time he had the appearance of a boy about eight or nine years old. Lal found it extremely disconcerting.

“Where’s Tsuna?” she asked.

“On his honeymoon.”

“Oh, that’s right. I’m sorry I had to miss the wedding.”

“Yeah, you should be- it was a riot.”

“Hah, I bet it was.”

Reborn grinned wickedly. “You wanna see some pictures?”

Lal grinned back. “Oh, you know I do.”

He reached into one of the desk drawers and pulled out a heavy photo album, flipping pages until he found what he was looking for. “Here, look, this was taken right before the ceremony.”

Lal giggled, looking over his shoulder. “He looks so nervous.”

“Oh, he was. You know, he actually said…"

 

“...the scariest thing you’ve ever done? This is?”

“Shut up! I’m terrified right now!”

“Tsuna, literally all you have to do is walk out and then just stand there until I give you your cue, and then all you have to do is say ‘I do’, and that’s it. How is this worse than, than fighting Future Byakuran, or Daemon Spade, or-”

“It’s not just the ceremony, Reborn. It’s the whole thing. Being m-married, I mean…”

“Calm down, Tsuna. And lift your chin, let me fix your tie.”

“Don’t worry, Tenth! You’re going to be great out there. And you’re going to be really happy with Kyoko, I just know it.”

“Thank you, Yamamoto, Gokudera.” Tsuna took a deep breath, fidgeting a little while Yamamoto retied his tie. “You’re right. This is what I’ve wanted for, basically forever. I have no reason to be scared.”

“That’s the spirit,” Reborn said. “I’m gonna go make sure everything is in place. Don’t be late, ok? We wouldn’t want to keep everyone waiting.”

“I won’t be late!”

 

“You officiated?” Lal asked, leaning up against the edge of Tsuna’s desk. “I didn’t know you were ordained.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of a long story in and of itself. It involves me, Verde, a woman named Olga in a witness protection program, and a decades-old cold case in Columbia.”

“Mmhmm,” Lal said. She was used to Reborn’s ridiculous ways of telling stories by now. “So, who was best man?”

“Yamamoto and Gokudera were actually co-best men. Tsuna couldn’t choose between them, I guess.”

“That’s fitting, though. Did you get a shot of Kyoko’s dress?”

“Yep, right here.”

“Oh, man, that’s…”

 

“...beautiful,” Tsuna whispered as Kyoko took her last couple of steps down the aisle and reached out to take his hand in hers.

She grinned, blushing. “Thank you,” she whispered back. “You don’t look half bad yourself.”

Her dress was actually fairly simple...a slim, form-fitting affair with a delicate layer of beaded lace over top of it, making her every movement sparkle under the venue’s lights. The little public venue on the outskirts of Namimori, the one they’d had school dances in as kids, the one both of their parents had gotten married in.

Kyoko didn’t seem bothered by all the eyes on them, standing by themselves at the front of the aisle. She just kept looking at Tsuna. And he looked at her. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. It wasn’t so scary when she was there with him, holding his hands tightly in hers.

“I love you,” he murmured, so quietly he almost couldn’t hear it himself.

“I love you too,” she answered, her lips barely moving. “Now marry me already.”

 

“The rest of the formalities went well,” Reborn said. “Tsuna didn’t even screw up his lines or miss any of his cues. He really has come a long way.”

“He sure has,” Lal agreed. “It doesn’t seem like that long ago that he was just a scared little kid who could barely talk to Kyoko.”

They had moved over to sit on the couch that rested against one wall of Tsuna’s office, the one with the huge windows framing it from behind. They put the photo book between them and Lal took her time studying each photograph.

There were several shots of The Kiss. The one that officially made them husband and wife. Reborn stood behind them on a tall pedestal, smiling cheerfully. Gokudera was already crying. So was Ryohei, and so was Haru, both of them standing off to the side a little, along with the other groomsmen and bridesmaids.

“Kyoko invited friends and family too, didn’t she? So there were people there who weren’t mafia?”

“Oh yeah, quite a few of them. But I don’t think they liked us mafia types very much, because almost all of them cleared out pretty quickly. That was when the real party started.”

 

In between people coming up to congratulate him and wish him well, Tsuna realized that everything was kind of starting to fall apart.

He didn’t know for sure, but it was probably past midnight. Lambo and Nozaru were running around everywhere, weaving their way through all the tables and decorations, being pursued hotly by I-Pin and Bluebell. Kyoko was sitting in a chair in the corner, with Haru and Chrome trying desperately to figure out how to undo her intricate hairdo. Pretty much everyone else was drunk. Some were dancing on the dancefloor, some were chilling by the bar. Koyo, Ryohei, and Coronello were dancing on the bar. Most of the rest were placing bets on who would be able to beat Lussuria at arm wrestling.

Tsuna wondered if he should step in and say something. On the one hand, it wasn’t often they had the opportunity to all get together and party like this. On the other hand, his friends were historically some of the least rational people on the planet, and he was worried a fight or ten might break out.

“Hey Tsuna,” Yamamoto’s voice said, interrupting his thoughts.

“Hey Yamamoto, what’s going- ah! What happened to Gokudera?!”

“Don’t worry, he’s fine. He just passed out.” Yamamoto grinned, clearly a more than a little tipsy himself. “He was crying a lot, you know? Makes you tired. And drinking, also, can make you tired.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So, I’m jus’ gonna take him back. Thanks for a great time Tsuna, and congrats again on the wedding!”

“Yamamoto, are you sure you’ll be ok by yourself…?”

“I’ll be fiiiiine. C’mon Gokudera, let’s go home. Bye Tsuna!”

Tsuna looked around for someone sober enough to make sure they got home safely. There had to be someone, right?

There was not. He no longer had any idea how any of them were going to get home safely.

“Hey, Sawada,” said a voice behind him.

“Wah!” Tsuna jumped, taken by surprise. “Hibari-san? Jeez, don’t sneak up on me like that!”

“...Sorry.”

“It’s ok, don’t worry about it. Anyway, what are you doing here? I thought you couldn’t come?”

“I just came by to give you this.” Hibari held out a folded slip of paper. “Wedding present.”

“Wow, that’s so nice of you.” Tsuna took the paper and unfolded it. “A coupon for ‘one free favor’?”

“Yes. You now have one opportunity to call me and have me come to your aid, no questions asked. But just one.”

“Wow,” Tsuna said again. “Thank you, Hibari! That’s so considerate, I really appreciate it.”

Hibari shrugged, looking annoyed. “It was the kid’s idea.” He turned on his heel and started walking away, back towards the back door that Tsuna assumed he’d first come in through. “Congratulations on your marriage, I guess.”

“Thanks,” Tsuna called after him. Hibari didn’t respond. Tsuna almost couldn’t believe he’d bothered to show up in the first place.

A loud crash followed by a shout brought his attention back to the situation at hand. Which was to say, a large number of drunk and argumentative mafia agents.

Well, at the very least, no one would be able to say the event hadn’t been memorable…

 

“...Was everyone ok?”

“Oh yeah, everyone was fine, aside from a few scrapes and bruises.”

“That’s not the kind of thing people usually say when discussing weddings, Reborn.”

“Really? Sounds a lot like every wedding I’ve ever been a part of.”

Lal shook her head, smiling wryly. The photographer had remained dedicated to their job, even as the wedding disintegrated around them. There were plenty of pictures of the various drunken antics Reborn had described. It really did look like it had been a good time.

“So,” she said, flipping the photo album closed again. “How long until we start teasing Tsuna about giving us an heir to the family?”

“Lal, I’m surprised at you. I’ve been teasing him about that since before he even proposed to Kyoko in the first place.”

They both laughed. Lal could practically picture Tsuna’s embarrassed face, panicking and waving his hands around like he always did.

“We really shouldn’t be teasing him, I guess. He’s a man now, not some scrawny kid. Not to mention he’s also technically our boss.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right…..but we’re still going to anyway, right?”

“Oh, of course we are.”

Chapter Text

Hibari didn’t make captain of the disciplinary committee his first year at Namimori Middle School, and he was furious about it. He lost the vote to an upperclassman with a pretty smile and an even prettier prepared speech. Discipline wasn’t supposed to be a popularity contest. And yet here they were.

He was made vice captain. The vice captain’s duties were mostly the same as the captain’s, except he didn’t get to order anyone else around, and he had to be in charge of watching over the kids in detention.

Most of the time, Hibari felt that he was not being taken seriously. Not by his fellow committee members, and not by the students he scolded for breaking the rules. But he worked hard, and little by little he started making a name for himself.

His first year was also the year he first met a troublemaker who would continue to plague him throughout the rest of his time at the school, a constant pain in his ass who caused him no end of annoyance.

“Sasagawa Akari,” he snapped, resisting the urge to tap his foot angrily. “You’re out of dress code. Again.”

“Hi, Hibari. What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

“You’re wearing slacks instead of a skirt.”

She frowned and crossed her arms. “I thought we already went over this. I’m not wearing a skirt.”

“And I thought I made it clear last time we spoke, that all girls are required to wear skirts. It’s the uniform.”

“I’m not a girl though.”

“Listen, you-”

“No, you listen.”

She took a step closer, glaring at him. Hibari was itching to take a swing at her, make her show him the respect he was due, but he held back. Technically, he wasn’t allowed to beat people up.

“I am not a girl,” she said clearly, as though he merely hadn’t understood her the first couple dozen times. “It’s my body, I think I should know, don’t you? I’m just as much a guy as you are. And if you’re not going to wear a skirt, neither am I.”

“You get one more warning,” he said, matching her tone. “Then, you get suspended. I suggest you do as you are told, Sasagawa Akari.”

“My name is Ryohei.”

“Sure. Whatever. Put on the skirt, Sasagawa.”

He turned and walked away, leaving her standing alone in the middle of the hallway.

“You know,” she called out after him, “if it was allowed, I’d punch you in the face, Hibari! Would that make you respect me? Huh?”

He almost wished she would do it. It’d give him an excuse to hit someone, get some of his frustration out. But she didn’t. And he just kept walking.

 

In his second year, Hibari made captain of the discipline committee by unanimous vote. This time, he had a reputation preceding him. Even the pretty boy former captain didn’t try to run against him.

With the captain’s authority, Hibari finally had a little more freedom to do as he pleased. He could change the rules to be whatever he wanted. If he wanted to use tonfas to beat unruly students into submission, he could. And he did. And he finally started getting the respect he deserved around the school.

Except, of course, for Sasagawa, who seemed determined to continue to be a problem.

The principal had a talk with the Sasagawa parents, and they came to an agreement of sorts. The teachers started calling Ryohei by his chosen name, and referring to him with his chosen pronouns. It also helped that Sasagawa Kyoko started middle school that year and always called Ryohei ‘Onii-chan’.

Hibari frankly didn’t care. Now that he was captain, he didn’t have to worry about stupid things like dress code violations. That was for his junior committee members to deal with. He had other, more important duties, now.

“...A boxing club,” he said flatly.

“A boxing club!” Ryohei said enthusiastically.

“And, remind me exactly why I should let you do this, Sasagawa?”

“Because it’ll be fun, to the extreme! I’ve already got several potential members lined up. We just need a club room and a little money for some safety gear. C’mon Hibari, please?”

Hibari frowned, but couldn’t actually think of a reason to say no. “Fine. Here’s a new club application form. Fill it out and have it turned in by Friday. Be prepared for a couple of surprise inspections, just to make sure you’re doing all your activities safely and fairly.”

“Of course, of course. Hey, you should come by sometime! Do you know anything about boxing, Hibari?”

“No. And I don’t want to. Now go away.”

“Ok. But, consider it a standing invitation. I’ll take you on anytime.”

 

In his third year, Hibari met Sawada Tsunayoshi, and the whole host of trouble that came with him.

Hibari had never met anyone stronger than he was before. And suddenly there were strong people everywhere he looked. It was exhilarating, to have the opportunity to fight with people like that. But, even though he hated to admit it, the threat of losing loomed like a shadow over him every time.

Hibari hated losing.

He started spending even less time in class and more time in the club room, studying. Any and every bit of information about everyone from this new world of strong people that Sawada had introduced him to. He would train to be able to fight these people, and win.

Or, at least, he would try. There was a frustrating lack of solid information about most of them.

“Hi Hibari!”

“Go away, Sasagawa,” he growled, glancing up from the file he was reading. “I’m busy.”

“Sorry. I came to put myself in detention.”

Hibari sighed as Ryohei sat down on one of the club room’s couches. “Again? Really?”

“Hey man, not my fault. It’s swim day in gym class. The coach wouldn’t excuse me, and neither would the nurse.” Ryohei shrugged and slumped down in his seat, looking upset. “It’s not fair. ‘Just put on the swimsuit, Akari.’ ‘No one cares about respecting your wishes, Akari.’ ‘Not our fault all your classmates will look at you as a freak afterwards, Akari.’ Can’t you talk to them?”

“I did once already.”

“They didn’t get the message.”

“I don’t know what more you want me to do.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s not your problem. Thanks for trying, anyway.”

“You know I don’t handle detention anymore, right?”

“Yeah. Kusakabe’s nice and all, but he’s boring. And also, probably still in class right now.”

Hibari sighed again. They’d had this same argument plenty of times before.

“Fine. Stay if you want, but keep quiet. I’m busy.”

“You got it. I’ll be so extremely quiet, you won’t even know I’m here.”

 

After his third year of middle school, the time finally came for him to move across town to the high school campus. At first he was actually really upset about it; Nami-chu had been his domain, his kingdom, the only cause he’d ever fought for.

But after a while, he got used to the high school. It wasn’t so bad. He could stand to make a new kingdom for himself here, he thought.

Besides, Sawada and his band of troublemakers still had another year of middle school, which meant they weren’t around as often to bother him. He was a free agent at this high school, with no one to drag him down or try to convince him to get involved in more mafia bullshit.

Except. For. Sasagawa. Fucking. Ryohei.

“So are you really going to keep up with this whole Vongola family thing after we graduate?”

“Does the term ‘personal space’ even mean anything to you?”

“Hibari, you don’t get to have the entire roof of the school as your personal space. That’s not how it works.”

“It would if you weren’t here.”

“Just answer the question.”

Hibari scowled at Ryohei. “What do you care?”

“I’m just curious. And I think it’d be really nice to have you on our team going forward, y’know.”

“I’m not on your team. I do what I want, when I want. Regardless of what you or Sawada wants.”

“I know that. You’ve made that plenty clear. But I still don’t know what you actually want.”

He shrugged irritatedly. In truth, he didn’t really know what he was going to do after graduating high school. It was kind of a lot to think about.

“I want that kickass base I had when we visited the future.”

Ryohei threw back his head and laughed. “Well, ok! I think we can make that happen. Apparently the Vongola organization is pretty wealthy.”

“I don’t need their money. I can do it myself.”

“Yeah? How you gonna make that happen?”

“...I’ll figure something out.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say. Nice to have you on the team, Hibari.”

“Shut up! I said I’m not on your team. I’ll-”

“You’ll bite me to death. Yes, yes, I know. Save it for later, ok, we have to go to class.”

 

And so, in this fashion, the years went on. Hibari left school behind, and he built his high tech underground base right in the center of town, hidden in plain sight. He did his best to protect his beloved hometown of Namimori, however he could.

But he also continued to keep tabs on all the major players in the mafia world. In fact, over time his hobby of information-gathering developed into a full blown obsession.

His relationship with Sawada and the other Vongola guardians remained somewhat frosty. Hibari tried, but he could never really bring himself to like being around them. Sometimes he tolerated their company out of necessity, but nothing more.

Except…

“Kyo-san,” Kusakabe said, “it looks like we’ve got a visitor.”

“...It’s Sasagawa, isn’t it.”

“Uh, yeah, it is. Do you want me to tell him to go away?”

Hibari sighed deeply. “No, it’s fine. If we ignore him he’ll just hang around until we let him in. I’ll see what he wants. You can go home for the day, Tetsu.”

“Ok. Goodnight, then, Kyo-san.”

“‘Night.”

Kusakabe left, and Hibari sat there glowering angrily at the doorway until Ryohei appeared in it, wearing a crisp Vongola suit and carrying a burlap bag.

“Hey Hibari!”

“What do you want?”

“That’s cold! Maybe I just came to say hi, did you ever think of that?”

“If you did, then get out. I’m busy.”

“Fine, fine. I brought you this, from Tsuna.”

He put a hand into the bag he was carrying and pulled out a flash drive, which he tossed to Hibari.

“What’s on it?”

“All the info we have on a new family that just sprung up in Japan. They might be trouble, eventually. Tsuna wants to keep an eye on them.”

“What will he give me for it?”

“What do you want?”

“One of the floating bikes Giannini has been developing,” Hibari said without hesitation. He’d wanted one of those for a while, to make transport around town quicker and easier.

“Done. Thanks for making it easy this time.”

“Shut up. I want it as soon as possible.”

“I know, I know. I’ll tell them to make it quick. Here, I also brought you this.”

Ryohei walked forward and reached into the bag again, this time pulling out a bottle of high-end sake and setting it down on the desk in front of Hibari.

“What for?”

“Just because.”

“That’s not a reason.”

“Why does there have to be a reason?”

“There’s always a reason when it comes to you guys. There’s always something you want from me.”

“Well, not always.” Ryohei leaned forward resting his palms on top of Hibari’s desk. “Look, man, I know you don’t really care about the rest of the family. Which is fine, not like we can force you to enjoy our company. But I need you to know that we really appreciate all that you’ve done for us.”

“I just do what I want. Whether or not it lines up with what you want is irrelevant.”

“You keep saying that. I’m not sure I believe it anymore. Hell, you’ve been saving my ass since, like, seventh grade.”

“That’s how you look at it, huh?”

“It is! Do you have any idea what life as a trans kid that age is like? It sucks, man. Even when you have a supportive family, it sucks. And I know I bothered you a lot back then, for which I apologize. I just want you to know how much it meant to me.”

“By coming back to bother me some more,” Hibari pointed out.

Ryohei just laughed. “Yeah, I guess. I couldn’t think of any other way to repay you.”

“The sake is a start.”

“Seriously though, if there’s something else, just say the word. Oh, I know! We’ve talked about it plenty of times, but we’ve never actually fought, have we? Not all-out, I mean. Would you like that?”

“I’m not going to fight you. I already know I’d win.”

“You don’t know that for sure. C’mon, put up your dukes.”

“No. We don’t have to fight.”

“Alright. Fine. Then I’ll ask again: what is it you want, Hibari?”

Hibari stood up and walked around the desk, levelling his gaze with Ryohei’s. “You want a way to repay me for all the trouble you’ve caused? Start with this.”

In one smooth motion he reached up and grabbed a handful of Ryohei’s collar, pulled him in and kissed him, hard.

Ryohei stiffened, evidently caught by surprise, but after a moment he relaxed into the kiss, which only spurred Hibari on. He let go of Ryohei’s collar and started unbuttoning his shirt, sliding his hands eagerly across Ryohei’s chest in the process.

“H-hey, wait, wait,” Ryohei muttered, pulling back a little. “Are you...sure about this? You know I’m-”

“I don’t care,” Hibari said, looking Ryohei dead in the eyes to make sure he understood how much he meant it.

“Oh, is that how it is…”

Hibari went back to undoing Ryohei’s shirt buttons, leaning in to bite along the side of his neck, hard enough to leave teeth marks. He paused, but Ryohei didn’t seem to mind. Hibari could feel the quickening of his heartbeat under his fingers, could feel his breath on the side of his face.

When Ryohei hesitantly lifted a hand and placed it on Hibari’s hip, he lost patience. He grabbed Ryohei by the belt and started dragging him towards the door, and the bedroom down the hall.

“Whoa, Hibari, slow down! I’m- oof,” he grunted as Hibari pushed him down onto the bed, “I’m cooperating over here. You don’t have to be so rough.”

“Be quiet.”

Hibari stopped only long enough to pull his own shirt off over his head and toss it away over his shoulder before clambering onto the bed himself.

“You were right,” he said quietly, positioning himself between Ryohei’s long legs. “I don’t care about the others. You’re the only one who’s ever been worth watching, Sasagawa Ryohei.”

“Holy shit…” Ryohei wrapped an arm around Hibari’s neck and pulled him down for another kiss.

“...Say that again.”

Chapter Text

At some point in their history, the Simon family had moved their main headquarters to Rome. They didn’t really know when or why, specifically- their small little family had never been as serious about record-keeping as their Vongola counterparts- but it didn’t much matter. Their hidden island was nice, and all, but it was no place to run a mafia organization from. That was all the reason they needed.

Enma liked the island well enough. It was quiet, and peaceful there. But he loved Rome. Where the island was stagnant and unchanging, Rome was different every time he went there. There were so many people to meet, so many things to see. It was a city of surprises.

From the outside, their base looked like a perfectly normal two-story house, in a row of other houses just like it. And, for the most part, it was just a house, since that was its primary function. The extra fortification and high tech security system and the basement fully stocked with weapons and rations had all kind of been afterthoughts.

Sure, it wasn’t a big fancy base complete with training grounds or with its own attached apartment complex. But it was within walking distance from a local neighborhood farmer’s market, and it had a little garden out back. Which was all they needed.

 

“Enma,” Adelheid yelled from the kitchen, “your phone is ringing.”

“Who is it?” Enma called back from the living room. He was watching a movie on the couch with Koyo, and didn’t want to miss anything by getting up to answer the phone.

“It’s Kaoru.”

“Can you answer for me and see what he wants?”

“Ugh, fine…”

“We could just pause the movie, you know.”

“I don’t want to if we don’t have to. It wouldn’t be the same.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean.”

“You what?” Adelheid shrieked loudly.

“On second thought…”

Koyo leaned forward and grabbed the remote while Enma got up from the couch and hurried to the kitchen. Adelheid was holding the phone in both hands, looking worried.

“What is it? What happened?”

“They said they found a man laying on the side of the road on the way back from town, and when they stopped to check, it was Gokudera-kun.”

“Gokudera?” Koyo asked incredulously, following Enma into the kitchen. “The hell is he doing here?”

“Is he ok?”

“He’s unconscious, apparently. Wait, what’s that?...He’s got a pretty deep wound on one arm and some kind of head injury, but luckily it doesn’t seem serious. They’re asking what you think we should do with him.”

“Uh…” Enma shrugged. “I guess, bring him back here? We’ll try to patch him up as best we can.”

“If he’s hurt, don’t you think it’d be better to send him to an emergency room?”

“I don’t think so. It’s unusual for any of the Vongolas to come out to the city, unless they’re on business. And if he’s on business, he might not appreciate being taken to a hospital.”

“Fair enough. Kaoru,” Adelheid said into the phone, “Enma says to bring him back here.”

Koyo sighed deeply. “So much for movie night, I guess.”

 

Gokudera opened his eyes to sunlight shining on his face, the smell of freshly laundered sheets that weren’t his, and a splitting headache.

Fuck,” he said, quietly but with a lot of feeling behind it.

“Oh, good, you’re awake!”

Gokudera squinted; someone was bending over him, smiling. “Rauji…?”

“Good to see you too, Gokudera. Whoa, whoa, careful,” he warned as Gokudera tried to sit up. “Take it easy there, dude. You’re hurt. Try not to move too much.”

Gokudera took his advice and laid back down. In addition to his headache, there was an ache in his left arm that had flared into a sharp, stabbing pain the moment he put any weight on it. Easier to lie still for a little while, take some time to properly wake up and get rid of the fog in his brain.

“I’ll go let the others know you’re up,” Rauji said, moving towards the door. “They’ll be glad to know you’re ok.”

Gokudera took a couple of deep breaths before making another attempt to analyze his situation. He looked down and found blood stained bandages wrapped tightly around the wound in his upper arm- a quick touch let him know there were more around his head. He must have taken quite the fall, he thought.

The room he was in was small, but nice. What little of the walls were visible around several floor-to-ceiling bookshelves was painted soft yellow. There was another bed like the one he was in, across the room from him, under a large rectangular window. The whole place had the general, cozy air of being lived in.

By the Simons, apparently. Which, considering he hadn’t really had contact with any of them since the whole Grand Canal mission fiasco, could potentially be very awkward.

Gokudera pushed himself up into a sitting position, this time being careful to use only his good arm, and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. Just his luck, he guessed.

He heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and looked up in time to see Enma push the door a little ways open and stick his head inside the room.

“Hi there, Gokudera-kun,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“Hey, Enma. I’m ok, thanks.”

“That’s good to hear. We were worried that- ack!”

“Gokudera-kun!” Shitopi yelled, roughly pushing Enma aside to get into the room. “It’s so good to see you!”

“Hi, Shitopi-chan,” Gokudera said, smiling a little in spite of himself. “It’s good to see you, too.”

One by one, the other members of the Simon family filed into the room, expressing their happiness to see Gokudera awake and ok.

“So what happened?” Koyo asked. “What were you doing out in our neck of the woods, anyway?”

“Oh, the Tenth sent me. He wanted me to negotiate with one of the gangs that’s been growing in influence around here lately, see if we could strike a deal that would get at least some weapons off the streets and into the right hands.”

“Which gang?”

“The Wolfpack, they call themselves.”

The Simons let out a collective groan. “Well,” Julie said, “that explains it.”

“It does?”

“The Wolfpack is made up almost entirely of teenagers who think they’re invincible,” Enma explained. “They also have quite the flair for the dramatic. Everyone around here knows that they can’t be trusted. They screwed you on your deal, huh?”

“I guess you could say that,” Gokudera growled. “I thought everything went well. After I left them I noticed someone tailing me; naturally I tried to shake ‘em, but the caught up to me and tried to fucking stab me. I guess their goal was to take what we offered them and then get rid of me before I made it back to HQ. When I get my hands on those bastards…”

“Well, thank goodness you weren’t hurt worse,” Adelheid said, putting her hands on her hips. “We don’t have the luxury of sun boxes around here, you know. You’re lucky your injuries weren’t worse, or we would have had to bring you to the emergency room.”

“Yeah, that would have been less than ideal. Thanks for fixing me up, by the way.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Gokudera-kun, are you hungry?” Enma asked. “You slept a long time. It’s already afternoon.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t want to impose...”

“It’s no trouble, really! Come on, everyone, let’s give Gokudera-kun some space. We’ll send some food up in a few minutes.”

With Enma in the lead, they left the room once more. The only one who remained behind was Shitopi, who took a seat on the other bed and frowned at him accusingly.

“You haven’t talked to me in like, three months, Gokudera-kun.”

“I’m sorry, Shitopi-chan. I didn’t know what to say.”

“An apology would have been nice.”

“I’m sorry. Does the Tenth know where I am?”

She sighed. “Yes, he knows. Enma called and explained the situation.”

“Oh. Good.”

“You guys should have consulted us before going after the Wolfpack. Those guys are tricky.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. How many more times do I have to apologize before you’ll forgive me?”

“More. A lot more. But, I suppose it can wait.” She stood up. “You’re injured, you need rest.”

“I just want to go home.”

“You will. After you get some food and some more rest.”

“Ugh, fine.” Gokudera knew that there was no point arguing with Shitopi once she’d made her mind up.

“And apologize to Enma, too, before you go.”

“But-”

“No buts. Apologize to my boss, or I swear I will never, ever forgive you.”

“...Fine.”

“Ever!”

“Alright, already! I’ll apologize to Enma.”

Shitopi smiled smugly. “Good. Nice to be talking to you again, Gokudera-kun.”

 

Enma’s bedroom door was open. Inside, the Simon family boss himself was laying on his bed with a pair of headphones on and a book propped open on his chest.

Gokudera took a deep breath. He had spent the better part of two hours trying to think of something to say, and had come up with nothing. But, he did owe Enma an apology. Better to get it over with than keep agonising about it, he figured.

He knocked on the wood of the doorframe to get Enma’s attention. “Mind if I come in?”

“Ah, Gokudera-kun!” Enma sat up and pulled off his headphones. “Of course I don’t mind. Please, make yourself at home.”

“Thanks.”

Gokudera walked inside, and stood in front of Enma, trying to sort his thoughts into something at least semi-coherent.

“I owe you an apology,” he began. “For, uh...the way I behaved last time we worked together.”

“Ah. The Grand Canal mission, you mean.” Enma frowned. “As I recall, you shouted ‘you’re nothing like the Tenth!’ at me, and stormed out on us.”

Gokudera grimaced. “Yeah. That.”

“Here, why don’t you sit down.” Enma moved over, gesturing for Gokudera to take a seat next to him on the bed.

He sat. “I really am sorry about that, Enma. I was kinda going through some frustrating stuff at the time. Which isn’t a real excuse, actually, but...I let my emotions get the better of me, I guess.”

“It’s ok, I get it. It happens to all of us.”

“Maybe, but that still doesn’t excuse how I acted. It was unprofessional, and it threatened the success of the whole mission. And I never apologized for it, either, so...I am now. I’m sorry, Enma.”

“I accept your apology, Gokudera-kun. Thank you.” Enma smiled ruefully and shook his head. “Although, I probably owe you an apology for that time, too. You were right; I probably wasn’t cut out to lead that mission. I made mistakes that put all of us in danger.”

“No, no,” Gokudera said quickly, “that’s not true. It had nothing to do with your leadership. You had to make some tough calls, and you did the best you could. I shouldn’t have called you out like that.”

“Thanks, Gokudera-kun. It’s nice to hear you say that, even if I don’t fully believe you.”

They both laughed. Gokudera felt a lot better, having finally put that argument behind them.

“You know,though,” he said, “you and the Tenth actually are really different. But I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean...It’s nice to have friends that are like you, sure. But it’s never a bad thing to be your own person, with your own hopes and dreams and faults. Does that make any sense?”

“...Yes, I think I can understand that. You mean that we should celebrate our differences just as much as our similarities.”

“Exactly!”

Enma leaned back a little, running his fingers absently over the spine of the book he had been reading. “If I’m being completely honest,” he said quietly, “sometimes I really hate being compared to Tsuna-kun. I feel like I’ll never measure up to him. He’s an incredible fighter, and a great leader that everyone respects, and I’m...none of that.”

“The Tenth’s aspect is the sky,” Gokudera said, closing his eyes. “Something so big, it encompases everything, and brings it all together in harmony. But you, you’re the Earth.” He opened his eyes again and smiled at Enma. “You’re the gravity that keeps us all from flying off into space. And I like to think that you have iron inside you, too.”

Enma grinned bashfully. “I never took you for a poet, Gokudera-kun.”

“Yeah, well. It’s a habit you pick up on if you hang around Haru long enough. The bottom line is, you don’t have to compare yourself to the Tenth. You’re your own person, and that’s more than enough.”

“Thank you, Gokudera-kun, really.”

“Sure. Least I can do for the family that picked me up off the side of the road, even though I insulted their leader really badly last time we worked together.”

“I already told you, it’s not a big deal. I know you’re eager to get back to the Vongola base, but you’ll stay the night tonight, won’t you? I can have one of my people drive you back tomorrow.”

“Well, as the Tenth’s right hand, I should really-”

“Gokudera-kun. All that stuff about needing to be your own person goes both ways, you know. Stay the night. Take some time to recover, and go back tomorrow.”

“...Ok.”

Enma smiled. “It’s good that you agreed willingly. I was afraid we’d have to use force to keep you here.”

“Wait, what?”

“I’m going to go downstairs and see if Adelheid needs help with dinner. Are you coming? We can start on a plan for dealing with the Wolfpack, if you want.”

Gokudera shook his head. The Vongolas had a very strict policy of never discussing business over dinner.

Nothing like the Tenth.”

“What was that?”

“I said sure, I’m coming. Let’s get down to business, I guess.”

Chapter Text

Namimori had always been, for the most part, a peaceful town. And under Hibari’s watchful eye, as well as Tsuna’s guidance from the shadows, that peace flourished.

Which is not to say, however, that there were no problems at all. Namimori wasn’t a utopia, it was just a normal town, with a normal amount of crime. Crime happens, regardless of whatever else is going on. You can prevent organizations with ill intentions from gaining a foothold, and you can beat existing criminals senseless and throw them in jail, if you want. But there will always be more to take their place. Unfortunately enough, that’s just the way things are.

Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.

Late one night, there was an armed robbery at a local jewelry store. The man was desperate, and felt he had no other choices available to him, so he grabbed a gun and put it to use. But in his haste, after he left the store with alarm bells ringing in his wake, he tripped.

The jewels and finery that he had just stolen went flying in every direction, and he panicked. He pulled out his weapon and waved it wildly at everyone around him on the street, which only caused more panic.

He never meant to pull the trigger. But he wasn’t thinking straight. He ended up firing a single shot, in the direction of a mother and her young daughter who’d been enjoying a night out shopping mere moments before.

I-Pin was out that night, too, on her way home after a late night at work. She saw everything; the gunman and the innocent civilians cowering before him. She saw the spark the moment the gun was fired.

She didn’t stop to think. If she had, she wouldn’t have made it.

She leapt forward and put herself between those people and that bullet.

 

Tsuna and his guardians were in Italy on business when they got the call. Tsuna’s mother, hysterical on the other end of the line, was the one to give them the news. That one call brought everything crashing to a halt. It was as if the sky itself were falling.

Tsuna called the airport, set about booking tickets on the next flight to Japan. Gokudera called the Namimori funeral home, and set about starting to make plans for a ceremony. The rest of them just went around cancelling their business, making their excuses where they could, and wrapping up the things that couldn’t wait as quickly as possible.

By the time Chrome got everything settled, it was sometime past midnight. She hadn’t slept much the previous night, her body still operating on Japan time, and she was tired down to her bones. The news of I-Pin’s death weighed her down like she was carrying an armful of stones.

She walked as quickly as she could down the long hallway. When she’d first set foot in the Vongola mansion, she had been blown away by the beauty of the place, the high vaulted ceilings and intricately patterned marble floors. But now the whole place seemed somehow garish. She couldn’t wait to get back to her humble apartment in Namimori.

“Kyoko-chan,” she called out as she neared the end of the hallway.

“Ah, Chrome.” Kyoko looked like she could use some sleep, too. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her usually bright and welcoming smile was shaky. “What news?”

“They said it wouldn’t be a problem to reschedule the meeting,” Chrome said, finally coming to a stop in front of Kyoko, “and they offered their condolences. Their boss said that he knows what it’s like, to deal with a death in the family. He said to take all the time we need.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good. One less thing to worry about.”

Chrome looked past Kyoko, at the closed door behind her. “Is he still in there?” she asked quietly.

“Yes,” Kyoko sighed. “Nothing I’ve said has gotten through to him. I haven’t even heard him crying- I think he’s still in shock. It might be better just to let him be for now, Chrome-chan. He’s made it pretty clear he just wants to be alone.”

“No one should have to go through this alone. He’s seventeen, for crying out loud.” Chrome squared her shoulders, her mind made up. “Wait here. I’ll go get him.”

“Wha- Chrome-chan?”

“Don’t worry, I can handle this.”

Chrome tried the handle on the door- thankfully, it wasn’t locked. She had been fully prepared to kick the door in if it had been, but she was glad she didn’t have to.

“Lambo,” she said softly, stepping into the dark room. “Are you ok?”

Lambo was sitting on his bed, his back against the wall and his knees pulled up to his chest. He blinked a little at the light from the hall, shrinking even further in on himself.

“Sorry, Chrome,” he said, his voice rough and strained. “I don’t really feel like talking to anyone right now.”

“I know. I get it. We don’t have to talk. But I don’t think you should be alone right now.”

Chrome ignored Lambo’s weak protests and marched into his room, sitting down next to him on the bed and wrapping an arm around his shoulders.

“Maybe you don’t remember,” she said, “but there was a time when I locked myself in my room, too. I didn’t eat, I hardly slept, and I never talked to anyone. So, believe me when I say that I know how you’re feeling right now.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Because it wasn’t good for me. It wasn’t healthy. And the one who finally helped me realize that, the one who came in and forced me to eat and to talk and set me on the right path again...was I-Pin-chan.”

Lambo looked up at Chrome, eyes wide. “...I-Pin did?”

“Yes. And I never really had a chance to properly pay her back for that.” She smiled at him through the tears starting to form at the corners of her eyes. “So now, I’m going to do the same for you. I owe her that. And you, you owe it to her not to lock yourself up like this. We’re your family, Lambo. Don’t shut us out.”

She put her other arm around him and hugged him tightly. After a moment’s hesitation, he reached up and hugged her back.

“I’m never going to see her again,” he whispered, his voice muffled against Chrome’s shoulder.

“No,” Chrome whispered back. “You will keep her memory alive, so she’ll never be truly gone. But you won’t see her again.”

Lambo started to cry. Chrome held him tight as he sobbed into her shoulder, his whole body shaking with the force of his grief.

Outside the room, Kyoko heaved a sigh. She had been worried about letting Chrome barge her way into Lambo’s room, but it seemed to have been the right decision after all.

“Kyoko,” said Tsuna’s voice behind her. She looked around to see him approaching, cell phone in hand, head hung low.

“Have you heard from Chrome lately?”

“Yes,” Kyoko said, reaching out to put a reassuring arm around Tsuna’s waist. “As a matter of fact, she’s in there right now.”

“With Lambo?”

“Mmhmm. I don’t know what she said to him, but it seems to be working.”

“That’s good.” Tsuna sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I just hope they can get some rest tonight. We’re leaving for Japan in the morning. Ah, the meeting-”

“It’s ok. She said they didn’t mind having to reschedule.”

“Oh, good. That’s good.”

“Come on, love. We should try to rest too. We all need out rest.”

 

The next couple of days went by in a kind of blur. It was like there was some kind of haze hanging over everything, making it hard to stay focused on anything for long. Later, Lambo wouldn’t remember most of it.

He did try his best, though, never to be alone. Chrome had told him that I-Pin wouldn’t have wanted him to be alone, and he had taken that to heart.

He spent most of his time with Tsuna’s mom. She was devastated. Lambo couldn’t even begin to imagine how she felt; he and I-Pin had been the only ones still living in the house with her, and recently Lambo had been spending less time at home and more time at the bass as he became more and more involved with the Vongola organization.

And now it was just him. He couldn’t leave Mama Sawada alone. Yet at the same time, he wasn’t sure that he could bring himself to stay in this house without his sister.

“We’ll figure something out,” Tsuna’s mother told him. “The two of you were going to leave soon, anyway. Another year of school, and that would be the end of it. Iemitsu and I talked about selling the house. Maybe we’ll just accelerate those plans.”

“I’m sorry,” Lambo said miserably. The more he looked around himself, the more things to be sorry for he discovered. The guilt was almost overwhelming.

“Don’t be. That’s life, Lambo-kun. That’s just how it is. Feeling sorry isn’t going to change that. We’ll figure something out. I’m sure we will.”

 

They held the funeral on a sunny Saturday morning. The funeral home was crowded with people; I-Pin’s friends from school, her friends from the mafia, and everyone in between. Reborn did most of the talking, since Tsuna was busy sitting in the front row crying into Kyoko’s arms.

And after the talking was done, they put her simple wooden casket in a hearse and took her to the cemetery, where she was laid to rest amidst a cascade of pink roses- her favorite flowers.

Lambo hung around the gravesite, long after everyone else had gone home. He felt that, once he left, that would really be it. Her death would become set in stone, irrevocable. He knew that was silly, but he couldn’t shake the feeling.

So he stayed.

After a little while, a boy approached him, and stood next to him in silence in front of the grave. Or at least, he looked like a boy, probably about 10. But Lambo knew better than that.

“You’re Fon,” he said. “You’re I-Pin’s master.”

“Yes,” Fon answered quietly. “I was.”

“I’m sorry. I should have been there, to protect her.”

Fon slowly shook his head. “You mustn’t blame yourself for her death. These things sometimes happen.”

“Everyone says that. Like it’s supposed to make me feel better. But it doesn’t.”

“Only fools seek forgiveness from the dead.”

“...Then what do you suggest I do? Now that my sister is dead, what should I be doing?”

“I suggest you pick a goal and dedicate yourself to it. Which, incidentally, is advice I would give you regardless of where we were meeting.” He looked Lambo in the eye for the first time since his arrival. “What is it you want, Lambo?”

What Lambo really wanted, was I-Pin back. But he had the feeling that that wasn’t the answer Fon was looking for.

“I want to protect the rest of my family, so that this never happens to us again.”

“That’s quite the goal. Are you sure you can dedicate yourself fully to something so auspicious?”

“To protect them has always been my goal. Since I was just a kid. This...this is a failure on my part. But I’m not going to let it happen again.”

“I can respect that.”

A stray summer breeze wafted through the cemetery, ruffling their hair and carrying the scent of the roses with it.

“Lambo,” Fon said, “would you like me to train you?”

“Train me?” Lambo blinked in surprise. “As a martial artist? Like I-Pin?”

“Yes. You see, my goal has always been to pass on my teachings to the worthy of the next generation, so that my methods and my art will live on after I am gone. And yet, once again, I find that I have outlived my student.” He shrugged. “A harsh way to put it, perhaps, but it is true. I wouldn’t mind training you. If you think you’d be up to it.”

“I’ll do it.”

“Are you sure? The training will be quite strenuous.”

‘You will keep her memory alive, so she’ll never be truly gone.’

“I’m sure.”

“Very well. We will begin in the morning. But for now, I will leave you in peace with her.”

“Thank you...Master.”

Fon left. Lambo stayed.

“You’ll always be my sister, I-Pin,” he said aloud. “I’ll always love you. And I’ll make sure you’re not forgotten. As long as I live, you’ll never, never be forgotten.”

Chapter Text

Bianchi’s favorite bar in all of Italy- and she had been to a lot of bars in Italy- was called La Strega Rossa, and it was just up the road from the Vongola mansion. More accurately, it was a combination diner and bar, which was a uniquely wonderful atmosphere. You could eat scrambled eggs on a barstool, or you could drink brandy in a cushy booth with a view to the street outside.

She had been a faithful patron there for years. That bar was her one, sacred place where she could forget her responsibilities and just be herself. No business to take care of, no family to look out for. It was her escape.

Or at least, it had been.

One day, not long after Tsuna had officially taken over as Vongola Decimo, Squalo wandered into La Strega Rossa. The loudest, rudest, most annoying person that she knew came into her bar and sat down, casually as could be, as if he had any right to it.

Bianchi had already had a fair amount to drink, by that point. She didn’t remember exactly what she had said when she’d marched up to give him a piece of her mind, but the details didn’t matter. What she did remember was that the two of them went on to have one of the bloodiest bar fights Bianchi had ever been in- and she had been in a lot of bar fights throughout all those bars across Italy.

Naturally, the two of them had been close friends ever since.

 

“You’re late,” Squalo snapped accusingly, as Bianchi slid into their usual corner booth across from him.

“My bad. I got sidetracked into a conversation with Kyoko on my way out the door.”

“You should know better than to talk to her when you have an appointment to keep. Really, you should know better than to talk to her at all.”

“Hey, watch it. I could easily find someone else to spend my time with, you know.”

“Alright, alright.”

“How long are you here for this time?”

“Just a few days. It’ll be a quick, easy job this time.”

“Damnit Squalo, when are you ever going to be here for more than ‘just a few days’? Not all of us are super assassins. Some of us get bored without friends around to talk to.”

“You could just text.”

“I could. If you ever bothered to answer your goddamn phone.”

“Bitch, you were the one late to this appointment because you were talking to What’s-Her-Name! I was here on time! You think I like talking to the rest of the Varia? I got a job to do here!”

“Only part of it is your job. The rest is your ridiculous sword quest.”

“It’s not a quest. It’s a challenge.”

“It’s only a challenge if you lose sometimes.”

“I never lose.”

“I know.”

They both sighed and took a sip from their drinks.

“So? How’s sword quest coming, anyway?”

“It’s a challenge, and it’s going well. I’m taking on number seventy-six in less than two weeks.”

“And where’s number seventy-six?”

“Iceland.”

“Ooooh, cool. I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland. Send me some pictures!”

“I’m not going there to take pictures! I’m going on business!”

“Oh, come on! You’ll have time to take pics after you seventy-whatever’s ass.”

“No. Go on your own and take your own pictures.”

“I can’t, I have to babysit. Do it for me.”

“You’re such a pain."

"Maybe I should find someone else to drink with.”

“Maybe you should just ditch your babysitting and come with.”

“I already told you I can’t! Come on, you can afford to get me at least one picture of a pretty landscape.”

“Ugh, fine. You’ll get your one picture.”

 

“Bianchi-nee, this came in the mail for you. Looks like it’s from...Iceland?”

“Oh my god, he actually remembered! Open it, open it, see if there’s a photograph in it!”

“There’s nothing to open. It’s just a postcard.”

“...Oh that bastard.

 

“Hey, bitch, I have a bone to pick with you,” Bianchi said the next time Squalo came to town. “Stop sending death threats to my brother.”

“I don’t remember ever threatening him.”

“I wasn’t referring to Hayato. I meant Yamamoto. Also, by extension, Tsuna. They’re all my little brothers.”

“Oh.”

“And I don’t appreciate you threatening them. Only I’m allowed to do that.”

“I’m not gonna actually kill him. Besides, Yamamoto is an adult now, he can handle himself.”

“I forbid you from making him part of your sword quest.”

“He’s not part of the sword quest. Challenge, I mean. He has a long way to go before he can stand up to me.”

“Well, can he handle himself or not? Make up your mind!”

“It’s complicated, damnit! Look, Yamamoto isn’t part of the sword quest because fighting him wouldn’t be a challenge, it’d be a sparring match. I know how he fights. I taught him almost everything he knows. Fighting people with your same type of flames is always kinda anticlimactic anyway, y’know?”

“Hmmm.” Bianchi rested her elbow on the table and her chin on her hand. “I guess so. I’ve never held much stock in that kind of thing, though. Like, some of them make sense, but like...you, rain? No offense but you’re not rain.”

“Bitch, I’m tranquil as hell.”

“Maybe compared to the rest of the Varia. But not like Yamamoto.”

“Yamamoto’s a fool.”

“Hey, watch it.”

“Well, what about you? Every other storm I know swings wildly between ‘fight me in a parking lot at 3 am’ and ‘don’t even look at me you can’t afford it’.”

“Bold of you to assume that I don’t fight people in parking lots at 3 am.”

“I know you don’t. It would interfere with your beauty sleep.”

“I could still fight in a face mask.”

“Wouldn’t have to. You’d scare everyone away before any punches were ever thrown.”

“Hah, yeah. Especially the masks I use now, they’re the weirdest rust-red color you’ve ever seen.”

“What brand?”

“It’s a new one. I don’t think they sell them in Japan.”

“Well, shit.”

“Good masks, too. My pores are fucking immaculate right now.”

“I’ll order some online, give ‘em a try.”

“I dare you to fight sword quest seventy-seven in a face mask.”

“Hell no. Seventy-seven is in South Africa. But seventy-eight is in New York. Might just take you up on that.”

 

“Hey, uh, did one of you order...face masks? We got some in the mail.”

“Nope.”

“Don’t look at me.”

“I didn’t. Maybe it’s the wrong address?”

“No, it’s addressed to here. Weird.”

“Is the mail here? Did my face masks come?”

Yours?

“Yup, they were a friend’s recommendation. I’ll take those, thank you.”

“...That’s it. The captain has officially lost it. None of us are safe.”

 

“What about that guy, over there?”

“Mmm, a solid four. Not the most fuckable dude out there.”

“That’s mean. I’d give him at least a six.”

“Control yourself, slut. How about him?”

“Oooh. Seven and a half, maybe even eight.”

“Eight, definitely. ‘Specially in those jeans.”

They watched the eight-out-of-ten walk away down the street.

“This game is great and all,” Bianchi said, leaning forward conspiratorially, “but don’t you think it’d be even more fun to play with people that we both actually know?”

“I’m down,” Squalo shrugged. “Did you have someone in mind?”

“How about Xanxus.”

“...You’re a goddamn manipulative bitch, not to mention rude.”

“I know. But really though- you have fucked him before, haven’t you?”

“Of course I fucked Xanxus. But only a couple of times, a while ago.” Squalo turned his nose up distastefully. “He bites.”

Bianchi nearly choked on a sip of her drink, and barely managed to swallow safely before bursting into laughter. “I bet he does!”

“Yep. Motherfucker bites hard. For the record, I’m like eighty percent sure he’s fucked Levi before too. He might be amicable, if you came looking for a good time. You want a piece of my boss? Is that what you want?”

Bianchi shook her head, still giggling like mad. “I was just c-curios,” she spluttered, clutching her sides.

“Yeah, ha ha, laugh it up. Let’s all laugh at Squalo’s misguided past sex life.”

“Hey, I didn’t mean it like that. I’ve had plenty of misguided flings, myself, you know.”

“Well, let’s not stop the game there. Who else, that we know, would you fuck if there were no strings attached?”

“Reborn.”

“....Hang on.”

“Shut up! Have you ever seen what he looked like before he got arcobaleno’ed? Twelve out of ten.”

“More like he is currently ten.”

“I can wait.”

“Damn, girl. You’re crazier than anyone gives you credit for, you know that?”

“Hey, let me dream. Ooh, ooh, I got another one- Dino.”

Now you’re talking. I’d fuck him in a heartbeat, if he was into guys.”

“He really has no business being as hot as he is, does he?”

“I know you wouldn’t be interested in him, but I would probably fuck Hibari, too. Kid’s got the look.”

“He probably bites, too.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Shit, guess I have a type.”

“I know this would be a terrible idea in real life but it’s always been kind of a fantasy of mine to fuck Mukuro.”

“Yikes, Bianchi. Not a good plan.”

“I said it was just a fantasy. You don’t have any fantasy sex partners?”

“Hmm. Well, I had a dream once that I fucked Tsuna. That count?”

“...Maybe? Tell me more.”

“I remember tying his hands and then riding him, but that’s about it.”

“I never thought you’d be into Tsuna, out of everyone.”

“Hey, he’s not bad looking now that he’s grown. Probably about a nine.”

“You’re fucked up. Don’t fuck with my brothers.”

“I’m no more fucked up than you are. Don’t fuck my boss.”

“...Touche. Here’s to flirting with Dino and hoping for a miracle, hmm?”

“I’ll drink to that.”

 

“Hey Tsuna?”

“Yes, Bianchi?”

“Do me a favor and stay away from Squalo.”

“Um...ok?”

“Trust me, it’s for your own good. If you don’t, he might tie you up.”

“Sorry, you’ve lost me. Why would he do that?”

“Because you’re a nine.”

“...You’re drunk.”

“As fuck! But I am being serious.”

“Ok, ok, I’ll stay away from Squalo. Now let’s get you to bed."

Chapter Text

As time went on, Tsuna quickly realized that Reborn wasn’t the only Arcobaleno with a habit of showing up at unexpected times or in unexpected places. They were all like that.

So when Skull burst dramatically into his office and yelled, “Tsuna, I need a favor real quick!”, he wasn’t really that surprised. It was amazing what you could get used to, really.

“Hello, Skull-san. What can I do for you?”

“I need to speak to your chemist. Red hair, glasses, kind of bipolar?”

“You mean Shouichi?”

“Yes! Him. Is he here?”

“Not at the moment. He’s on vacation with his boyfriend. They’re in...Hey Yamamoto, where did Shouichi and Spanner go on vacation again?”

“Canada,” Yamamoto said, from where he sat on the couch underneath the window, a book of crossword puzzles open on his knee.

“What? Canada?” Skull reached up and pulled off his helmet, the better to express his disgust. “Why the hell would anyone want to vacation in Canada?”

“I think they wanted to see Niagara Falls.”

“It’s just water! It’s no big deal!”

“Some people think it’s a big deal.”

“Pssht. Amatures.” Skull hopped up on the arm of the couch beside Yamamoto and scowled at Tsuna. “Well, who else you got? An engineer maybe?”

“Giannini-san is here, yes. What exactly is it that you need?”

“I just wanna borrow some equipment and a lab for a bit,” Skull said. “I need to run some quick tests.”

“On what?”

“New fuel for the airship. There’s just one component of the formula that I can’t quite lock down. But you can only buy it in bulk, so I need to know which one it is I want beforehand. That’s not a problem, is it?”

“No, I don’t think so. Hold on, I’ll send Giannini a message. I’m sure he’ll be able to take you where you need to go.”

“Thanks.” Skull leaned back, idly kicking his child-length legs off the edge of the couch. “Pertinacious,” he said, pointing at Yamamoto’s crossword.

“Huh?”

“Number twelve down. The answer is pertinacious.”

“Is that so? I don’t even know how to spell that.”

“With an ‘I’ there, not an ‘E’. Yeah, that’s it. Pertinacious.”

“Nice! Thank you, Skull.”

“Sure thing.”

“Skull-san, Giannini is on his way,” Tsuna called from the desk. “He says that Lab One is available, and you can take as much time there as you need.”

“Good! I’ll go meet him,” Skull said, jamming his helmet back on over his wild curly hair. “Thanks, Tsuna!”

“You’re welcome.” Tsuna waved as Skull left the room. “New fuel, huh? The Carcassa family must have one heck of an inventor of their own.”

“I don’t think they do, actually.” Yamamoto frowned, thinking. “I worked pretty closely with them a few months ago on the Sicily thing- remember that mission? And as far as I can remember, most of their members were just low-level operatives. Even the officers don’t have the same skill set that other families tend to prioritize.”

“Then...you’re saying Skull came up with the formula himself?”

“I don’t know.” Yamamoto looked back down at the paper in front of him, at the word ‘pertinacious’ penciled into the tiny crossword boxes. “But, I think he is way smarter than most of us realize. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

 

Barely an hour later, Tsuna’s office doors were dramatically thrown open again, this time by Reborn.

“Tsuna! I told you to have that report done yesterday! How much longer are you gonna make me wait?”

“I’m almost done now! You always make the deadlines too strict, Reborn! There was no way I could get it done yesterday!”

“Tch. Fine. But I’m going to wait right here until you’re done.”

Reborn climbed up onto the desk and stood there with his arms crossed, staring him down. Tsuna just rolled his eyes- it was less effective as an intimidation tactic when used too often.

“Here, here’s your stupid report.”

“Dated properly this time?”

“Yes! Jeez, just take it, will you?”

“Ok.” Reborn took the report from Tsuna and hopped down from the desk. “I’ll try to give you more of a heads up when the next one is due, but I make no promises. You’ll just have to work harder.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Tsuna leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms high above his head. He spent a lot of time hunched over a desk these days. “Hey Reborn, can I ask you a question?”

“If it’s about the meeting next week, I still don’t have-”

“No, it’s not about that. It’s about the Arcobaleno.”

“Oh.” Reborn turned back to look Tsuna in the face. “Sure, I don’t mind.”

“How old were you when you were first changed into a baby?”

“Hmmm, good question. I was twenty- eight. Tied for oldest among our group with Verde.”

“Twenty-eight….and what about Skull?”

“Skull?”

“He came by earlier, and I guess I just got curious.”

Reborn smiled. “I see that intuition of yours is as sharp as always. When we were cursed, Skull was seventeen.”

Tsuna’s jaw dropped in shock. “Just seventeen?”

“Yep. He filled a couple roles in the group- we all did, really- but mostly he was our tactician. Something of a child genius, if you will. He’d make the plan, and then the rest of us would execute it, adapting it as the situation required.”

“Wow. I had no idea...hey, Reborn, you shouldn’t be picking on him all the time, then! He’s just a kid, hardly older than I was when you dragged me into all this mess!”

“Tsuna. We’re talking about events that happened decades ago. Skull’s way older than you.”

“Oh, right. Still though, you should be nicer to him.”

Reborn shrugged. “I respect him as a tactician. As a person though? He’s an idiot! He calls himself Skull, for crying out loud! Coronello and I were doing him a favor, toughening him up and teaching him to use his powers more effectively.”

“You’re so mean.”

“That’s just your point of view.”

“Wait, so, if he already had his powers before you met him, then where did he get them?”

“I don’t know. Never cared that much, honestly. Why don’t you just ask him yourself?”

“I don’t want to be rude. He might not want to talk about it.”

“So you ask me instead, behind his back?”

“...Good point. I’ll ask if I get the chance.”

“Alright then. If that’s all, then I’m gonna go back to work. You should too, if you don’t want to get chewed out by Lal again.”

“Ok, ok, I’m working!”

 

A little while after Reborn left, Tsuna was interrupted yet again. But this time, it wasn’t by a visitor. It was by a glaring alarm, warning him that there was a fire in one of the lower floors.

The base was capable of self-containing the fire, which meant that they shouldn’t really in any serious danger. But Tsuna still ran to the elevator as fast as he could, his Vongola box in one hand and a small, portable-sized fire extinguisher in the other. Because the computer had said that the origin of the fire was in Lab One, and he didn’t want to take any chances where experimental airship fuel was concerned.

Thankfully, his concern seemed to have been unnecessary. When he arrived at the lab, he found the clear signs of a small-but-powerful explosion, but no fire. The built-in sprinkler system seemed to have taken care of the fire for him.

“Skull-san?”

“Here,” Skull said weakly, peeling himself off the floor a few feet away from Tsuna. He was covered in soot and there were a few holes singed in his clothing.

“Are you alright, Skull-san?”

“I will be. Give me a minute.” Skull coughed, shaking his head. “Blech. Welp, guess we know which one not to use in the new fuel.”

“Are you sure you’re really ok?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” Skull smiled at Tsuna, clearly trying to be reassuring. His lipstick was smeared along one edge of his mouth, and he looked almost like a child caught playing with his mother’s makeup. “Takes more than a glass beaker blowing up in my face to hurt me. Moment or two to catch my breath, and I’ll be right as rain.”

“Uh-huh.” Tsuna walked over and crouched next to Skull, squinting to make sure he was telling the truth.

“Sorry about your lab. I didn’t think the formula would be that volatile.”

“It’s no big deal. We’ll have it back to normal before Shouichi even knows anything happened.”

Skull snorted. “Hah, yeah, I guess there’s an upside to him not being here after all. Looks like you win this round, Canada!”

“Hey Skull-san? Can I ask you a question?”

“Mmm?”

“How did you get your body-hardening powers?”

“Oh.” Skull made a face. “That.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” Tsuna said quickly.

“Nah, it’s fine. Just been a while since anyone’s bothered to ask about that, really.” Skull rearranged his legs underneath himself, seeming to consider how best to put his thoughts into words. “Well, you see, back when I was a kid, these Dying Will Flames were still kind of a new concept. In the sense that, while certain mafia groups and other isolated individuals had known about them for a long time, word was starting to spread to certain circles outside the mafia.”

“How?”

“Hell if I know. But if I had to guess, I’d guess Daemon Spade, since basically everything else seems to be his fault. Also, I hate that guy.”

“That’s...fair, I guess?”

“Anyway, these non-mafia bastards were curious. There wasn’t a lot of solid info on any of this stuff back then, and they wanted to research. They wanted to figure it all out. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, normally, except that these weren’t the kind of guys who’re interested in knowledge for knowledge’s sake. These were greedy, rich assholes who wanted power and had no respect for anyone.”

“I see.”

“So, at this point, I’m already starting to make a name for myself as a recreational stuntman. I loved to go fast, and I lived on adrenaline rushes, and I wasn’t afraid of anything back then. Before I met Reborn-senpai, y’see. Anyway, for whatever reason, I caught these people’s eye. And through some kind of legal mumbo-jumbo that I still haven’t completely figured out, they convinced me and my mom to sign a contract that legally allowed them to experiment on me.”

“Experiment?”

“Yup. The worst kind. They took me away from home and locked me up in this super-secret facility. They ran all kinds of tests on me and did stuff that would give the government an instant migraine, just knowing it happened right under their noses. They treated me- and, I’m assuming, the other people they kept locked up- like lab rats, not people.”

“That’s horrible.”

“You’re damn right it’s horrible. You don’t even want to know the details, trust me. From what I gathered, they hadn’t been able to get their hands on many cloud type test subjects, so they were always careful not to kill me. Give me enough food to keep me from getting sick. Drug me to put me to sleep so my body would be well-rested, even though I think that logic is technically bullshit.

“But, they miscalculated. They knew I was a racer and a skydiver and all that other crap. Somehow, it seemed to have escaped their notice that I was smart. That’s not bragging, it’s just a fact. I’m a fuckin’ genius, IQ score to prove it and everything. And I bided my time in that place, watching, waiting for an opportunity. And, eventually, it came.

“They were so excited when I first began developing my powers. They thought they might be able to replicate the technique, or whatever. They were so excited that they didn’t think the consequences through all the way. Can’t sedate someone who can make their skin as hard as steel, you see. Can’t keep them restrained either.”

“So, you escaped?”

“I escaped. I jumped out a four story window and hit the ground rolling. Must have been a really cool stunt, now that I think back on it. They were so concerned with staying under the radar that they couldn’t even pull together an effective search effort. Once I was out, it was easy to stay out. Not long after that, I was contacted by what would become the Arcobaleno team. And once I joined up with them, I learned to master my flames. I started gathering power of my own.”

“What ever happened to that facility? Oh god, you don’t think they’re still active, do you?”

“No. No, they’re not still active.” Skull grinned slyly; with the soot on his face and his smudged lipstick, he looked truly terrifying. “Once I had enough resources under my command, I went back, and I burned the building down with every single last one of those motherfuckers still inside.”

“Oh,” Tsuna said quietly. He wasn’t sure what kind of answer he had expected when he asked about Skull’s powers, but it definitely hadn’t been anything like that.

“There have been others, though, throughout the years. Stupid rich bastards trying to pull this same shit. I shut down as many as I can, but there’s always more. You know Daisy, who’s part of Yuni’s family now? Yeah, he was at one when he was a kid. And he got sucked into the mafia life too.”

“Daisy was? Wow, that actually explains a lot.”

“Don’t sweat it, Tsuna. I have the Carcassa family now, and we’re more than enough for the rich bastards.”

“Are you sure? This sounds like a serious problem."

"Of course I'm sure!" Skull spread his arms, grinning. "I'm the Arcobaleno's tactician, the genius stuntman, the man no one can kill. There isn't a rich bastard out there who stands a chance against me! I'm Skull!"

Chapter Text

“Name?”

“Fran.”

“Full name.”

“Uhhhh….Fran Vongola.”

“Uh-huh. And how old are you?”

“I’m sixteen.”

“Uh-huh.” The cop sitting in front of Fran frowned, like he suspected that was a lie but couldn’t prove it. “Fran, did you know that not only do you not show up on our records, but that there’s no record of you anywhere at all? Not even a birth certificate.”

“I was born in France.”

“Still, there should be a record. But it almost looks like someone has gone through and taken great care to erase your files. As far as anyone can tell, you, sir, simply do not exist.”

“Must be a glitch in the system. And my pronouns are they/them.”

“Riiiiiight.” The cop’s frown deepened. “Well, since you are underage, and this is your first offence- a minor one, at that- I’m prepared to let you off easy. Spend the night in the hold, go home in the morning. Does that sound fair?”

“I don’t know. You’re the policeman, not me.”

“Well, then you’ll have to take my word for it. Just know that I’m gonna have someone looking into you and your mysterious missing files, and if something turns up not right, you might end up here longer than just one night.”

He stood up and walked away. Fran stuck their tongue out after him. They weren’t particularly keen on the idea of being the subject of police scrutiny, but they didn’t see much of a choice in this situation. Using their powers here would probably only serve to make things worse.

So, they sat down on one of the little benches that lined one wall of the cell and prepared for a long night.

It was just their luck, they thought irritatedly. They’d never had any trouble with the police before, and now this. Hauled in for shoplifting a package of pop tarts and a bottle of water. And to top it all off, they were also apparently a glitch in the system. Seriously, how had that happened? It seemed unlikely that an entire person’s existence could just disappear on its own, which meant that someone probably had done it on purpose. Which wouldn’t look good in the police’s eyes, if that was actually the case.

Yikes. Not a good situation to be in.

Suddenly, the door banged open, interrupting their train of thought. “Get in there!” a voice yelled, and Fran heard what sounded like someone being shoved roughly.

“Ow...yes, I’m going, I’m going!”

They knew that second voice. They’d know that voice anywhere. That was Tsuna.

What was he doing here? Had the police finally discovered the location of the Vongola headquarters? Was the rest of the family in trouble? Even more importantly, what should they be doing in this bizarre situation?

They made the snap decision to feign ignorance. Which, to be fair, was usually the option they went with. It was more force of habit at this point than an actual decision.

They watched as Tsuna was forcefully marched over to the holding cell by another cop, this one taller, greasier, and generally grouchier-looking than the one Fran had been dealing with.

Tsuna glanced at them, but he seemed to pick up on their intentions and didn’t let on that he recognized them. “Officer,” he said as the cop took out a ring of keys and started fiddling with the cell door, “I assure you this isn’t necessary. Please, if we could just-”

“Shut up!” the cop snapped, finally managing to get the door open and turning his attention instead to the cuffs on Tsuna’s wrists. “I’ll decide what’s necessary here, Sawada. Now get in there.” He shoved Tsuna into the cell and slammed the door closed behind him. “If you think of anything you might want to tell me, we might be able to work out a different agreement. Just give a shout. But if not, hope you don’t mind sleeping on the floor, because you’re going to be here all night.”

Tsuna just sighed and sat down on the bench on the other side of the cell from Fran, rubbing his wrists gingerly.

Fran waited until Angry Cop had stormed back out into the other room, then raised his hand in greeting. “Hey, Boss. Fancy meeting you here.”

“Hello, Fran.” He made a face somewhere between his usual cheery smile and a painful grimace. “It’s been a while. I would say I’m glad to see that you’re ok, but…”

“Oh I’m fine. This is a temporary thing. Probably.”

“Hmm.” Tsuna frowned. “What happened? Last I heard, you left Mukuro and were working with the Varia, but then you were just gone and no one could tell me where.”

Fran shrugged, averting their eyes from his. “It’s not important. Things just weren’t really working out with the Varia. I thought it would be better to go out on my own for a little while.”

“A little while? Six months completely off the grid, is that what you call a little while?”

“Sorry, Boss. I didn’t mean to be gone that long. I was just kinda...drifting.”

“Drifting.”

“Yeah. But it got kind of old, and I was gonna come back. I was, I swear. But, uhh...got kind of sidetracked, as you can see.”

“What’s the story there?”

“Shoplifting. I’m sorry,” they repeated, the look on Tsuna’s face making them feel genuinely guilty. “It’s not like I have any money. Which, incidentally, is half the reason I was gonna come back.”

Tsuna sighed. “I’m not mad at you, Fran. I get where you’re coming from. It’s just...how old are you now?”

“Almost twenty-one.”

“Really? I could have sworn you were younger than that.”

That was another lie. In reality they were eighteen- just old enough to be treated like an adult in the eyes of the law, too young to be taken seriously by anyone else.

“It doesn’t matter,” Tsuna continued, waving a hand dismissively. “You still shouldn’t have gone off like that without telling someone. We were worried about you. Chrome was going out of her mind, she thought maybe you’d been captured or something.”

A fresh wave of guilt hit Fran like a punch in the gut. “I didn’t think about it like that.”

“I know you didn’t. It’s ok, it’s not your fault. You’re still young. Sometimes you just wanna leave everything behind and start fresh. I get it, I really do. I’ve felt that way several times myself. But you need to take into consideration that there are people who care about you, and worry when you just disappear like that. Understand?”

“I understand,” Fran muttered. In truth, they had learned the hard way that starting over wasn’t really as easy as they had initially thought it would be. It had also been very, very lonely. “I’ll apologize to Chrome-senpai, and everyone else.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re alright, and that you’ll be coming back.” Tsuna leaned back and rubbed his eyes. He looked tired.

“Hey Boss?”

“Hmmm?”

“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about the police not being able to access my files, would you?”

“Oh.” Tsuna rolled his eyes. “Damnit, I told Marmon to cut that out.”

“Marmon-senpai? Marmon-senpai did it?”

“Yeah, probably. It’s a bad habit of his. He pulls the files on everyone he’s ever worked with. I’m not sure if he actually has a reason for it, or if it’s just pure paranoia.”

“Both, I’d say. Sure sounds like Marmon-senpai to me.”

“Anyway, I don’t think you need to worry about it. However he does it, he’s good. The police probably won’t be able to find what they’re looking for.”

“Oh. That’s good, I guess.” Fran smiled weakly. “Hey, there’s one upside to being a glitch in the system; no one can use your birth certificate to misgender you.”

Tsuna returned their smile. “I guess that’s one way of looking at it.”

They both lapsed into silence for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts.

“Boss?”

“Yes, Fran?”

“You never said why you were here.”

“Oh, that,” Tsuna scoffed. “Just bad luck. I was driving back from dropping Lambo off at the airport and got pulled over for a broken headlight. Then, I didn’t have my Italian license on me, and then the policeman found out I was on their watchlist, and...well. I think they suspect that I’m connected to the mafia somehow, but can’t prove it. They’re probably just holding me here hoping I’ll get intimidated and confess something.”

“Is that legal?”

“I don’t actually know. Don’t worry, Gokudera’s on his way to bail me out. Hopefully I can get you out too, and you can come back with us.”

“I don’t know, I kinda don’t think we should let them know we know each other. Especially since they’re already suspicious of you, and now me too since I don’t have any records.”

“Let me worry about that. You have plenty of other important things to be thinking about, right? Like what you’re going to do from now on.”

“Mmm.” Fran shifted a little in their seat. “I kind of have some ideas, but nothing concrete yet. Is...is it ok if I ask for some advice?”

“Of course it’s alright. You’re part of the family, Fran. And that will never change, no matter what. What’s on your mind?”

Fran smiled. For the first time in a long time, it seemed like their future was looking up.

“Well, for one thing, I had this great idea for a new box weapon…”