He was dead. He had been dead for a long time; borrowing others’ bodies, living in the spaces between their lives. His heart had been the first to die, leaving only a shell, pain and rage. He bent his resolve to ruin those who had destroyed him, and the Vongola were his tool. For ten generations he had watched and shaped them, wielded them from the shadows while plotting how they, too, would fall; he had become his name.
Now a son of the family was rising in the East, and his measure must be taken. He knew where to find him; he had known before it was secret. It was a simple journey, tourist to traveller to train operator, until he alighted as a pedestrian in Giotto’s resting place. When last he came here, after the war, the town was burnt and broken; now it was in Flames. They blazed all around him, Sun and Rain, Storm and Lightning, Mist, Cloud – and Sky. Faint but pure, like none he had sensed since he last lived.
He guided his borrowed body towards it, and discovered … a cat. A grey tabby, short haired, ordinary except that it glowed with orange Flame. How had this come to be? He jumped from his current host to the cat, and found himself wrapped in Sky, warm and bright. Ah, he had missed this.
The cat’s mind showed him what he wished to know: a boy, his scent better remembered than his face, laying warm hands on its back. Curiosity satisfied, he prepared to jump back into a human body – and could not.
Tsuna skidded to a halt in the middle of a dance step, almost crashing into Chrome. He had distinctly felt an Element bond forming – but everyone around him already was his Element. He, Hayato and the girls were learning ballroom dancing, while Fon trained some of the others outside. Hibari was also present, watching the dance class from the roof beams. They felt the feedback from the bond, too, and the whole lesson paused; the Leon-stereo stopped the music as they all looked around in confusion.
“Fluffy-Tsuna, what have you gotten into now?” Reborn, crisp and elegant in his temporary adult form, sounded annoyed that his lesson had been interrupted.
“I don’t know!” Every one of his Elements, including Kyoko, his latest, had had to touch him for the bond to form.
Lambo appeared at the door, pulling Takeshi by the wrist; his face fell as he looked around. “Aww, Lucky Lambo wanted a new brother or sister!”
“Maa, why did we feel that if nobody new is here?”
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” said Tsuna. Every time he thought he was used to all this Mafia business, a new wrinkle tripped him up.
“Decimo, is it possible that someone harmonised through your decoys?” asked Hayato; Tsuna’s Intuition confirmed the idea.
“Apparently.” And why did his Intuition only work after someone suggested something? “We should go and find whoever it is.” He hoped they weren’t upset; he had harmonised with some of his Family very quickly, but a person he hadn’t even met yet was going too far.
“How are you planning to do that, Fluffy-Tsuna?” Reborn prompted him. This task, at least, he was familiar with.
“We’ll need two – no, three groups. Hayato, Matteo-sensei and, um, Haru with me. Takeshi and Chrome, trail after us as backup. Kyoko and Fon, stay here with the kids and watch the base.”
“Got it, Boss!”
“Lambo, help them out, OK?” His youngest Element pulled himself up proudly. Hibari made a disappointed noise as Reborn returned to infant form, and wandered off.
Haru was once again amazed by Boss’s super cool powers. This would make eleven Guardians that he was harmonised with, and Boss seemed to know just were to find them. He stopped his bike in front of an alley and cautiously stepped inside. At first Haru thought there was nobody there, but then she spotted the cat. It was a plain grey tabby that she had seen before, one of Boss’s decoys, and now it was surrounded by a knot of indigo Mist as well as Sky.
Boss crouched down and held out his hand to it. “Hi there. I’m Tsuna; sorry about this.”
The cat mewed, then looked annoyed at the sound. A swirl of Mist formed above its head, and a man’s voice came out. “You’re sorry ? Do you know what you’ve done? Do you know who I am?”
“Um, no, Mist-san.” Boss sat down cross-legged and lifted the cat into his lap. “All I know is that your Flames fit into mine. And I guess you don’t know much about me either. I’d be happy to have you as part of my family, though.”
The cat laid his ears back. “And if I’d rather be left alone?”
“That’s fine, but – ”
“I knew it.”
“But , I’m going to make sure you have proper food, shelter and medical care, Mist-san. Should we look around for your human body?”
“Fricking Skies,” grumbled the cat. “My human body has been dust for centuries. There is no point in looking for it.”
Wait, that would make him … a ghost! Haru gave Hayato a triumphant look. “Ha!” If he got a UMA in the Family, then she got a ghost.
“Fools. I am Daemon Spade! I was the terror of Italy, and now I’m stuck as a cat.” He paused and looked himself over. “A neutered cat.”
Reborn’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “The Daemon Spade, of the Vongola first generation?”
“Yes, that Daemon Spade. Are there any others?” The cat replied snidely. He looked up at Tsuna. “And you look like Giotto with a bad dye job.”
He really did; it was one of the many things Reborn found entertaining about his Famiglia. “It’s true, Fluffy-Tsuna. And Hayato looks like G if he fell in bleach.”
Spade turned to look at the Storm, and his ears went flat. “Uncanny.”
“Like you’re one to talk,” Hayato shot back. Reborn didn’t doubt that this really was Spade; he had read in the Vongola archives of the Mist’s power of possessing people, and it made sense of some of the stranger rumors he had collected. He also noticed that despite Spade’s bluster, he had yet to use his Flames aggressively; Tsuna’s Sky had struck again.
“Hahi, D-san is really stuck?” asked Haru. She picked the cat up and when he tried to scratch her, just Hardened her skin against his claws.
“Yes, I’m stuck! Do you think I would willingly spend time in such a useless form?”
“You’ll be all right with us,” promised Tsuna. “Takeshi, Chrome, come in here.”
Hayato was impressed all over again at Tsuna-sama’s generosity. He was sitting on the ground in a filthy alley, to make sure his newest Guardian was taken care of, without any concern for his own comfort. Daemon Spade might be a legend among the Mafia, but right now he was vulnerable and off-balance. When Takeshi appeared, he grumbled, “Great, there’s an Asari clone, too.”
Then Chrome stepped into view; Spade squeaked, and lost hold of the illusion he was using to talk. He shook himself and re-formed it. “How? This girl could be my daughter … but I never had any …”
Right, an alley was no place for this. “Decimo, would you like to take this somewhere more private?”
“Oh! Yeah, let’s go to TakeSushi.”
Haru handed the stunned cat to Chrome, who petted him and then set him in the basket of her bike. He was silent for the short ride to the restaurant. While Tsuna-sama asked Tsuyoshi to prepare a plate of sashimi, Hayato composed a text message to let the rest of the Family know what was happening. [ New Element is Mist Ghost of Daemon Spade, harmonised after possessing decoy cat.] He read the sentence he had written, and added, [Not joking.]
Tsuna-sama made introductions. Spade said incredulously, “Do you mean to tell me that I am your second Mist?”
Tsuna-sama scratched his neck. “Um, third, actually. Kawahira-san is at work.”
“Hmph. Has your tutor told you of Daemon Spade? How I turned my back on the Primo and helped Ricardo overthrow him? Does that scare you, little Sky?”
“It’s kind of reassuring, actually.” Hayato wasn’t the only one who made a confused noise. Reassuring? Tsuna-sama explained, “If one of my Elements really couldn’t stand me anymore, they’d be able to leave.”
Hayato gulped. Did Tsuna-sama truly fear that he could drive them away? That it was possible for any of them to hate him? Hayato wrapped his arm around his Sky’s waist and pulled him close. “Never happen,” he said into Tsuna-sama’s hair.
Tsuna-sama reached up and kissed his jawline. “I know.”
Spade made a hacking noise. “Are they always like this?”
Chrome nodded. “It’s cute.” She was picking up pieces of fish with her chopsticks and feeding them to Spade.
“The resemblance is too close to be a coincidence,” he said. “You must be my descendant, and Elena’s.”
“The histories never mentioned that you had a child,” said Reborn.
“They wouldn’t, given the circumstances,” Spade said. Hayato took that to mean that they hadn’t been married; he knew first hand how bastards and their mothers were treated. Spade continued, “I did not know the babe survived. Elena was with child when – when – ”
It was strange to hear the cat’s distressed cries at the same time as Spade’s voice. Chrome stroked his back. Tsuna-sama swirled his Flames around them; he was still tucked into Hayato’s side and showed no sign of moving. “Obviously it did survive, though, since Chrome is here.”
Spade hissed at him. “I defy you to explain how an infant could survive this. ” A flash of Mist, and they all saw the image of a woman’s broken and mutilated body. Hayato flinched; he had seen death before, but this one was nasty. Tsuna-sama trembled against him.
Reborn was naturally unfazed. “Caesarian section,” he announced. Right; back then, it would have been a dangerous operation, but if the mother was already dead …
“By who?” demanded Spade. “Those who killed her wouldn’t have bothered.” Tsuna-sama reached over to scratch the cat’s ears.
“Someone did, and now you’ve met your descendant. Isn’t that enough for now?”
Spade started to purr, then caught himself. “Fricking Skies,” he muttered, but didn’t move to avoid his hand.
Outwardly, she slept; within, she walked a garden of dreams, a realm of her own creation. Here twin suns danced through a sky which hung always at sunset, banded in orange, purple and indigo. She placed broad trees and the flowers of spring; made butterflies as big as eagles and elephants tiny as mice. Would she dress in Spring and dance with the sky, as she did in waking? Would she play with the rain?
Hills and meadows formed under her feet. Rabbits of every temperament gambolled around her. She built a soft bed for a cat to lie in, and a campfire for making ramen.
Now here was something not of her making; a young man, garbed in indigo. How had he come here? She said nothing, and studied him. He stood before her from so far away; there was power in his reach. “Greetings, my dear,” he told her, and held out his hand. “We are alike, you and I.”
Careful, she touched his hand, and felt the threads that connected them. Betrayal by kin and remembered pain; fear of its return and joy in escape. And underneath, where she was not meant to see, the protection of friends. It twinkled in the shadows, gold and blue and red. “We share many things,” she said.
“Kufufufu. Come to me, and I will ensure no one hurts you again. My power will be a shelter for you.”
She looked upward, and smiled. “The Sky is all the shelter I need. Perhaps you will join me there.”
I seem to have given Daemon Spade Darth Vader's backstory. Huh.
It's back~! Hold onto your hats, dear readers; I knew this was going to be wild when the *outline* went through three drafts before I even started writing. Also note that the rating has gone up a notch - sometimes in the fun way, sometimes not, but I promise the tone will stay upbeat. Big thanks to everyone who has been following this series; Part 1 is now well over 10,000 hits, which, just, wow. O.0 I hope you all enjoy this next installment.
Takeshi watches his father over their crossed swords. They train hard – harder than he ever trained for baseball. They part, shift stance, and clash again. The outdoor amphitheatre is new ground – the footing, the sounds. His old man has decades of experience on him, but there’s a hint of strain – of hesitation. Takeshi ends his move with his blade on his father’s neck; Tsuyoshi’s sword is against his ribs. Their blades are real, only blunted with Rain. A turn of the wrist would slice either blade into flesh. He could. He chooses not to.
A distant bell chimes, and their session is over. They bow, sheathe their swords, and thank each other for the match. Takeshi loosens his stance. “How do you like our secret base, Dad?”
His father laughs. “I haven’t seen much of it yet, Takeshi. This is a good training ground; your skills have come a long way.”
Takeshi grins. He never gets bored of training; he does it for his Sky, and Tsuna deserves his all. It’s only recently that he can end bouts in a draw – only recently that he gets as far as choosing. It’s an easy choice, but always a conscious one. “I’ll show you the bathhouse next; we put a lot of work into it.” They have time for a quick soak. The bath is heated with Tsuna’s Flames; everyone makes sure they are clean before they get in.
It’s nice, showing his Dad around Kokuyo Land. He works just as hard for Tsuna as Takeshi does, and now he has a chance to see their accomplishments. Dad doesn’t worry as much as he used to, now that Takeshi has a Sky. He knows why; he has a purpose now, a job. He is there when Tsuna needs a smile and a game, or a few obfuscating words. He has not needed Takeshi’s blade. Yet …
Tsuyoshi closes his eyes as the Sky-warmed water embraces him. Not for the first time, he wonders how he and his son are so fortunate. “There are men who would kill for this,” he muses.
“Maa, it’s not a requirement.” It’s enough for Tsuna-sama that they’re his people. Takeshi is used to that; Tsuna-sama is the only Boss he’s ever known. Tsuyoshi has met many Bosses in his career, so he knows just how unusual Tsuna-sama is. He’s loath to leave the bath, but duty calls.
Tsuna-sama is in his café-turned-meeting-hall, the heart of his unique secret base; he is attended today by not only his Right Hand and tutor, but also the Rain Arcobaleno. Tsuyoshi makes his bow to his Sky and sits down among them.
“Tea or coffee?” asks Hayato.
“Try the coffee, kora! It’s amazing.” Colonello flops down beside him, steaming cup in hand. “I’m heading back to Mafia Land in a week; nobody there makes coffee like this.”
It has been pleasant, working alongside the sniper again. “Maa, I’ll be sad to see you go.”
“I bet some of the study group won’t be, kora!”
“We’re going to keep using the obstacle course, though,” says Tsuna-sama.
“Oh, no,” Takeshi laughs. Hayato grumbles, but neither of them really mean it. Tsuna-sama continues,
“The next Arcobaleno in the rotation is Viper; they’ve requested to bring along their partner, who’s apparently a fan of TakeSushi?” He gives Tsuyoshi an inquiring look.
“Maa, that must be Bel-san.” He doesn’t have many regulars from out of town. “Storm, professional assassin. He’s a bit … eccentric, but he always behaves himself when he’s here.”
“Thanks, Tsuyoshi-san. I’ll let Viper know he can come.” Tsuna-sama makes a note in his journal. “Now, what I really wanted to talk to you about – Reborn was able to confirm that there was a breakout from Vindicare.”
Tsuyoshi sits up straight; the rumor has been floating around for a couple of months, but with so little detail that it doesn’t seem plausible. Reborn stands up to explain.
“There hasn’t been any official word, but three days ago the Bloody Twins were gunned down in Singapore. Those two were last known to be imprisoned in Vindicare, and they weren’t mentally stable enough to have escaped on their own. I suspect fewer than a dozen escapees total, since there have been barely any sightings.”
“And if any of them turn up here?” asks Tsuyoshi.
“We treat them like any other newcomer,” says Tsuna-sama. “Namimori is a refuge, even from the Vindice,” – and the truly astonishing thing is that he can claim that and mean it – “So if they want to lay low and live peacefully, they can. And if they try to cause violence in town – they get dealt with like any other troublemaker.” There’s a touch of hardness to the last phrase; anger at any scum who threatens his people. Tsuyoshi dips his head with a smile.
“We’re home!” Haru called as she came in her front door. Both she and Chrome were loaded with bags from the pet store; food and litter and an owl-shaped cat bed that D-san was trying to hide that he liked.
“Welcome back,” said Grandpapa. “What’s all this?”
To explain, Haru lifted D-san off Chrome’s shoulder and held him out. “This is D-san; he’s a ghost.”
Grandpapa looked sceptical until D-san said, “Good afternoon.”
“Um, nice to meet you.” Grandpapa looked from D-san to the two girls and back. “Should I be concerned about why you are hanging around my granddaughters?”
D-san flattened his ears. “I have only ever loved one woman,” he declared. “And what’s more, Chrome is almost certainly my descendant.”
Haru chimed in, “He’s with the Boss now, so I’m sure he’s all right.”
“Another Guardian? Truly?”
D-san’s tail lashed. “He’s even more ridiculous than his ancestor, which I did not think was possible. And Haru, would you kindly put me down?”
When Tsuna returned to his room after dinner, Daemon Spade was waiting on the windowsill. “I don’t know what to make of you,” he said, stepping over onto Tsuna’s desk.
“I get that a lot.” Probably because his life made no sense anyway. “Can you try not to smudge my letters, please?”
Spade looked down at the document he was standing on. “Why is the Head of the Yunque Clan requesting an audience with you?”
“Yeah, it’s going to be a whole thing.” Tsuna didn’t need any kind of ceremony to acknowledge the Yunque as his, but by now he understood that they did. And he was looking forward to meeting more of Fon and Kyoya’s family. “Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk about?” He sat down on his bed and let his Flame spread out invitingly; Spade pretended not to notice, but curled up on a cushion next to him.
“How did a fluff-ball like you manage to draw me in? For ten generations I have worked to make the Vongola the strongest, bloodiest Famiglia in the Mafia.”
“What for?” Tsuna had learned a little of the history from Reborn; there had to be some motivation for such a long campaign. Spade bristled at the question.
“What for? What for? Let me tell you a story, little Sky.” He told of his lady-love, Elena, and how he had joined Giotto’s vigilante group for her. How she had been killed by a rival Famiglia, and Spade blamed Giotto for weakening their defenses. He described how he had severed his bond and helped Ricardo take control of the Vongola; Tsuna squinted and tried to keep up with Spade’s line of reasoning. The ghost went on for quite a while, describing his manipulations, schemes and backstabbings, and concluded with, “Getting stuck in a cat has put a crimp in my plans.”
Which begged the question of why he hadn’t yet tried to break his bond with Tsuna; he’d already done it once. Tsuna, meanwhile, had been wondering about another thing since halfway through his recitation. “Would Elena be proud of what you’ve done?”
Spade stiffened. There was a pause, and then he made a pained little mew. “You are not as soft as you look.”
“Only when I have to be.” Tsuna reached over and rubbed at Spade’s ears until he started to relax again. “It sounds to me like you’ve made a mess of the Mafia, and it hasn’t been healthy for you, either.”
Spade craned his neck to look up at him. “And I suppose you’re going to fix it.”
So that no other child had their Flames sealed? Or got poisoned by their family, or ordered to kill? Or grew up without knowing their mother? “Yes,” said Tsuna.
Spade stared at him for another long moment, and then flopped down with feigned feline indifference. “You know, I was plotting to kill your father.”
At this point, he was just fishing for an argument, and Tsuna wasn’t going to give him one. “You’d have to share with Reborn, then; he wants to shoot him. Have you had any ideas about Chrome’s ancestors?”
“Nothing definite. Since they ended up in Japan, Giotto might have had something to do with it.”
“I guess there’s no way of knowing for sure, unless his ghost turns up too.”
Spade just snorted.
Hayato walked hand in hand with his Sky up the path to Kokuyo Land. Though Tsuna-sama no longer needed Hayato’s help to keep his balance, he still sought contact in moments like this. No matter how many Elements Tsuna-sama drew to him, each had their own place in his Sky, and this was Hayato’s. He stroked his thumb across Tsuna-sama’s knuckles; Tsuna-sama looked up at him and smiled.
At the top of the path, Fon was waiting for them; he bowed low as Tsuna-sama approached. “Master. Hayato-senpai.”
“Hi, Fon. I’m ready for our lesson.”
“One is prepared, Master.” That was his role; their Sky scooped him up with his free arm.
“Hayato, are you going to stick around until I’m done?”
“Always, Decimo.” Tsuna-sama squeezed his hand before letting go.
Hayato went to join the other Guardians hanging out in the café; today that was the baseball fool, Haru and Hana. They decided on a game, and he was shuffling cards when Spade the cat wandered in. “Where’s the little Sky?”
“Having a lesson with Fon. We were about to play poker, you want in?” Spade’s standoffish attitude was getting annoying; he tried to act like he wanted nothing to do with the rest of them, but he wasn’t used to controlling a cat’s body language, so they all knew he was faking it.
“You realise I have neither money nor thumbs.”
“Maa, we only play for acorns,” said Takeshi.
Hayato added, “As for the hands, you’re a Mist; make some.”
In a swirl of indigo, two gloves formed above Spade’s head. They moved through a series of gestures, all of them rude. “Fine. Which rules are you playing?”
“Vongola rules,” Hayato told him. “Each player brings ten cards of their choice and puts them in the card protectors.” Now to see how Spade would interpret that. Takeshi handed out the acorns. Spade duly conjured ten cards; Hayato shuffled them into the deck and then dealt the hands. Spade picked up his cards and looked at them.
“Santa Maria, what the hell is this?”
Hayato examined his own cards: two aces of spades, shrimp tempura, a baseball trading card, and Flareon. He could make an argument for this. Takeshi laughed. “Ahaha, I think Spade-san was lacking in imagination.”
The cat hissed. “It is on now, you Rain-addled cretin!”
“Competitive much?” Hana scowled at her cards, as she always did. “Haru, you’re starting.”
“Hahi!” Haru dropped an acorn in the pot. The betting was only half the game; the real fun was debating who had won the hand.
“You play this often?” asked Spade.
“We have all kinds of games,” said Takeshi. “Cards, board games, video games … Kyoko and I are even working on a Mafia game.”
Hana snorted. “What are you calling it – Pocket Mobsters?”
A small boy stood on a train platform, waiting for the morning’s first train. He carried a small backpack and a large, leather-bound book. There were others on the platform, men and women heading to their jobs in the city; half asleep, they paid the boy no attention. When the train pulled up, he climbed aboard with everyone else and found a seat in the corner. So far, his plan was working.
Step one: wait for the people keeping him to have a party and get drunk. It happened a lot. Step two: steal a credit card and a handful of money. Step three: walk an hour in the dark to the nearest train station and use the cash to buy a ticket from the vending machine. The commuter train didn’t have a regular conductor, but once it got to Naples, he would change to an express train for Rome. It was a complicated plan for a boy his age, but he had had help. This was the number one way for him to make his escape.
Naples station was busy, even this early in the morning. The crowds, the advertisements, the bells and announcements were nearly overwhelming after living so long in seclusion. Still, he managed to find the express train and climbed on with his few belongings. The backpack was supposed to be in case of fire or police raid; it contained clothes, some pens and pencils, and his ID papers. He had his tablet, which was supposed to be for schooling, and his favourite scarf. And, of course, his big leather book. As the express lurched into motion, he checked the secret notes in the back for the next step.
He took out his tablet and the stolen credit card. Unlike the local train, the express had wifi; he used it to book himself a flight. Or rather, three flights; one each to Rio, New York, and Tokyo. That was important because the credit card’s owner could see what he bought, but not which one he used. By this time, the sun was just rising; he bought juice and a pastry from the snack trolley when it came by. Hopefully, by the time anyone noticed he was gone, he would be in the airport security zone and most of the way to freedom.
“Matteo-sensei, something’s wrong with your chameleon!” called Tsuna. He scooped Leon off his desk with alarm.
His Sun bounded up the stairs. “What happened?”
“He ate a pair of gloves and my second-best fountain pen.” As Tsuna spoke, Leon’s tail fell off. “See? That can’t be good for him.”
Reborn smirked. “No need to worry, Fluffy-Tsuna. In a few days he’ll explode, and then he’ll be back to normal.”
That was absurd, but really, what else did Tsuna expect? Reborn continued, “I have some information for you. One of my contacts has arrived in Namimori; knowing him, he’s hiding from women he pissed off.”
“So he’s a pervert. Are you sure you didn’t invite him?”
“If I’d thought of it earlier, I might have.” Reborn grinned evilly. “He’s a doctor, and only treats women unless he’s given the right leverage.”
“Is that so?” Tsuna had been around his tutor too long, because that gave him an idea. “I need to call Haru.”
Fuuta has moxie, just saying. Has anyone done a whole fic on his great escape? Because I would read the heck out of that.
Reborn was itching to see what idea his fluffy student intended to inflict on Shamal. Tsuna had kept it a secret – Reborn, willing to be surprised for once, didn’t press too hard – and Hayato was having trouble keeping a straight face.
“How do I look?” Tsuna stepped out from behind the privacy screen. He was wearing a short-sleeved sundress in orange and yellow, a pattern of lemon slices along the hem, along with matching sandals and purse.
Reborn made a show of wiping a tear from his eye. “This is a proud moment for me as a teacher.”
Tsuna dipped him a curtsey. “Ne, ne, Hayato, do you like it?”
“I – um – meep!” Hayato turned an interesting shade of pink, and Tsuna giggled.
“I know, you like the suit better. Do you think the pervy doctor will fall for it, though?”
No question. Fluffy-Tsuna was short for a boy his age, and wiry. Combine that with his enormous eyes and willingness to act like a girl … Reborn grinned evilly.
Hayato hadn’t seen Shamal in years, yet he could readily imagine the doctor’s reaction to Tsuna-sama in that outfit.
“He’s a doctor and a hitman?” asked Tsuna-sama as they walked towards the school.
“His usual method is to infect his targets with deadly diseases,” Reborn explained. “He uses Mist flames on the microscopic level to contain disease microbes in his own body.”
Hayato hadn’t known that when he was studying with Shamal; the doctor had only taught him the bare basics of being a hitman. He still resented that, though now he understood why Shamal had done it.
They found Shamal setting up shop in the nurse’s office. He hadn’t changed a bit since he and Hayato had parted ways; he lit up when Tsuna-sama came into his sight. “Well, hello, miss. I’m Doctor Shamal, and this is my clinic.”
“Hi … I’m Tsuna.” Tsuna-sama scuffed his toe against the ground, the very picture of shyness.
“I’m very happy to meet you, Miss Tsuna,” Shamal leered. Hayato was caught between laughing and punching him in the face; he growled, which drew Shamal’s attention to him. He blinked, startled to recognize his former student. “Miss Tsuna, don’t tell me you’re keeping company with this ruffian. Hayato, how many cigarettes have you had today?”
… He hadn’t. In fact, now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d touched a cigarette. He hadn’t had so much as a craving since harmonising with Tsuna-sama. “I quit,” he said shortly.
“Sure you did,” Shamal replied sceptically. “Knowing you, you’ve dragged Miss Tsuna here into all sorts of trouble.”
He would never! His job was to protect his Sky from trouble. Tsuna-sama shook his head. “Hayato has been very kind to me.”
“If you say so, Miss. Now, did you need any medical assistance? I’d be more than happy to give you a checkup.”
Perv. Tsuna-sama tilted his head innocently. “I don’t know if my sensei would like that.”
“If your sensei is as cute as you, I’d be delighted to meet …”
“Ciaossu.” There was the click of a gun safety coming off, and Shamal blanched. Reborn continued, “Hands where I can see them, Trident.” He was standing on the desk behind the doctor, handgun pointed at his back.
“Reborn … heheh … fancy meeting you here.”
“Shamal, you had better not be thinking of taking liberties with my fluffy student.”
“No, no, strictly professional!” Shamal paused and took a few deep breaths. “I thought your current student is a boy?”
“I am a boy,” said Tsuna-sama. “But the opportunity was too good to pass up.”
“He’s a very good student,” Reborn added smugly.
“Damnit, Reborn!” With a stunned expression, Shamal looked Tsuna over again. “Wait. If you’re Reborn’s student, wouldn’t that mean you’re …”
Tsuna-sama smiled, and let his Flame surround him for a moment. Shamal went even paler than before. “I didn’t – I meant no insult – mercy!” Reborn poked him in the back with his gun, and he shrieked. Hayato snickered. Just to make the Doctor sweat a bit more, he took out a stick of dynamite and twirled it in his fingers. Served him right, for making indecent comments to a Sky.
“Calm down, Doctor,” said Tsuna-sama. “I set you up, so I was expecting it. Though I hope you’re not going to bother the girls here at school. Both of our local Clouds would object. And so would Sensei. And several other people, come to think of it.”
“I’ll be good! I’ll be good!”
Tsuna-sama gave him his brightest smile. “I know I can trust you to do the right thing, Doctor.” Hayato took a moment to simply admire that exchange. And to control his physical reaction. His Sky, his marvellous Sky. “I do have a specific request for you, Doctor,” Tsuna-sama continued. “Sensei says you use your Flames internally at the microscopic level?”
“Could you teach Hayato to do that?”
Him? Why? “Storm Flames won’t be able to contain microbes,” Shamal said.
“I know. But they can destroy poison.”
Hayato’s breath caught, There was nothing he dreaded as much as poison. He’d been subjected to it in his father’s house; for years afterward he’d been underweight because he’d been unable to trust his food. He had smoked because it suppressed his appetite … He lived in terror of his sister and her cooking, to the point where just the sight of her caused panic attacks. He had only mentioned the matter to his Sky once or twice – but Tsuna-sama remembered. And his first thought, when he heard about Shamal’s technique, was to acquire it for Hayato; not so he would be useful to the Family, but simply so he could defend himself. So he could be safe from his greatest fear. Hayato’s knees hit the floor, and he pressed his face into Tsuna-sama’s side, arms wrapped tightly around his legs. He didn’t care that Shamal was watching; the only thing in his mind was joy at belonging to a Sky as great as Tsuna-sama.
Tsuna combed his fingers through Hayato’s hair and felt him tremble. He had expected a reaction to his request, just not such a strong one; his Storm’s fear of poison must run deeper than he had realised. “Matteo-sensei, can you make sure Doctor Shamal is filled in on the town by-laws and everything? I’m going to take Hayato home.” He looked down at his Right Hand. “Hayato, stand up. Take my hand.”
Hayato obeyed immediately, as he always did. Right now he didn’t need the strain of trying to act ‘normal’, so Tsuna guided him with quiet orders along the way. When they reached home, all he said was, “Hayato, collar.” He took the moment while Hayato was fetching it to change into shorts. He didn’t mind wearing a dress, as such, but the feeling of a skirt was strange.
Hayato brought his bright red collar and laid it at Tsuna’s feet, with his face bowed to the floor. Tsuna lifted him by the chin; Hayato looked up at him with shining eyes. “You’re a very good boy, Hayato.” Tsuna buckled the collar around his Storm’s neck, then pulled him into his lap. He stroked Hayato’s hair and scratched his ears until he was limp as a noodle. The best friend he had ever had, the best Right Hand he could ask for. Hayato was smart and talented and hardworking, and he put it all in Tsuna’s hands. Tsuna shifted so he was lying down next to him; that way, he could reach more of Hayato’s back and sides. His fingers trailed along Hayato’s spine, where the bones were less prominent than they once were.
Hayato purred. “You are too good to me, Cielo mio.”
“No such thing.” Tsuna brushed Hayato’s cheek. “You’re mine, and when I find a way to take care of you, I’ll take it.”
“Yessir.” Hayato nuzzled into his shoulder.
“Your life before you came here was even rougher than I thought,” Tsuna commented.
Hayato nodded without looking up. “Shamal took me in for a few months, but other than that … when I went Active, becoming a hitman was my only option.” He had been ten years old then, as Tsuna recalled.
“Have you …” he trailed off, not sure how to phrase the question. Hayato understood him anyway.
“Not yet, Decimo. Most people don’t trust kids with the big jobs; all of my contracts were sabotage and vandalism. I got my Name from – actually, I can show you video of it.”
Tsuna smiled at the excitement that leaked into Hayato’s voice; he really did like to blow things up. “You’ve got a video?”
Hayato nodded. “With your permission, Decimo?” Tsuna gave it, and Hayato dashed over to his room to retrieve his laptop. When he returned, they both sat up against Tsuna’s headboard together and Hayato opened the file. It was security footage of a large house, or small mansion. For several seconds nothing happened, and then the ground shook. The mansion’s walls crumbled all at once; a cloud of dust went up, and when it cleared, there was nothing left but a hole full of rubble. Tsuna hadn’t known an explosion could be so tidy.
“And nothing of value was lost,” Hayato said. “Though I did pocket some little stuff to sell.”
“Always practical, Hayato.” Tsuna stretched up and kissed him on the jaw. He should ask Hibari if there were any abandoned buildings around for Hayato to practice on.
Kyoko boggled at her laptop screen. “You want me to pay how much for a jar of jam?”
“It’s going to be a very important meeting,” Reborn told her. “It’s not just Fluffy-Tsuna meeting Kyoya’s uncle, it’s Inten meeting the Hibari Clan. Any gift we bring must reflect the prestige of both the giver and the recipient.”
Kyoko nodded. “That much makes sense – and Fon did tell us his cousin is fond of this flavour.” There were so many details to a meeting like this – enough to keep her busy. Just thinking about it brought a warm glow to her cheeks.
“And remember – it’s not your money,” Reborn said. True; they were using Tsuna’s money, so she shouldn’t be reckless with it. She wanted to do a good job of this, since it was another step towards her dream career. One of her dream careers. Reborn walked her through making the order, and then opened his own laptop. “Now, let’s see how well you can track that transaction.”
She held out her hand to her elder and drew him into her dreams. He was old, and great in wisdom, so she imagined him as a tree. His trunk wider than the span of her arms, his branches broad and sheltering. “Nicely done,” he told her in rustling leaves. “Do you expect your interloper to appear soon?” She did. Every night she saw his image, and perhaps he did not mean her ill; yet she wrapped herself in wariness. The tree hid his face in a veil of mist; none would know he was listening. “It’s rather concerning that a stranger is intruding on your mind.”
In a splash of indigo he appeared, a dark flame in a dark mirror. “Good evening, my dear Chrome. Shall we walk together?”
She took his arm graciously and led him around the garden path. “You are closer than when you began,” she said.
“Kufufufu, your senses are keen. Perhaps soon we shall see face to face.”
“We shall meet in the middle of the fields and under the sky,” she agreed. Around them, flowers danced – gold with green, orange with indigo, violet with red – their steps shining brightly in memory.
“I shall look forward to it, my dear. You must stay safe until then.”
“The skylarks will watch over me.” She lets him go; his flame flickers away into the night. The elder tree shows his face.
“A bit full of himself, isn’t he? And how odd – he feels as if he has seen too much, but also seen too little.”
Reborn has taught them well. ^^
WARNING for on-screen violence in this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hayato was on high alert as he escorted Tsuna-sama home from school. Whatever had set off Tsuna-sama’s intuition was troubling enough that he had asked Takeshi to guard him as well; the baseball idiot walked in his usual place at their Sky’s left, his expression blank and wary. The unknown threat had Hayato snarling at everything – he even gave the side-eye to an unusually colored bird perching on a garden wall.
“If my intuition had acted up sooner, I’d have taken my bike to school,” Tsuna-sama grumbled. “But noooo, it had to hit right in the middle of math class. And am I seriously complaining that my psychic powers aren’t convenient enough? At least the teacher is better than Nezu used to be.”
Hayato’s mood lifted at the memory; one of the first orders which Tsuna-sama had given him, with the result of getting the abusive teacher fired. Subsequently, Reborn and Hibari had gotten him barred from teaching altogether. “Do you know, Decimo, he’s working in a convenience store now?”
“What, really? Nezu is?”
“Yes, Decimo. And he’s hating every minute.”
“Ahaha, we should pay him a visit!”
“That’s mean, Takeshi,” said Tsuna-sama. “Maybe we will.” Their Sky’s anger was subtle and lingering; all the more amazing that he also forgave so easily. Sensing Hayato’s train of thought, Tsuna-sama looked back at him. “It depends on why they do it, Hayato. Nezu didn’t have any motivation beyond – hieee!” He grabbed at his school bag suddenly and held it away from him.
“What is it? Another snake?” asked Takeshi.
“No, I think it’s Leon. Reborn’s been making me carry him around, and he just swelled up …” Tsuna-sama rummaged in his bag and pulled out the chameleon, who was, indeed, nearly spherical. As Hayato watched, Leon bulged in a way that made his bomber’s reflexes twinge.
“Decimo, you should put him down and step back.” Tsuna-sama obeyed at once, which was just not right. But Hayato would do anything to ensure his Sky’s safety, including presume to give him instructions. And because he did it so rarely, Tsuna-sama knew how serious he was.
FWOOMF. Leon exploded; Hayato and Takeshi shielded Tsuna-sama with their bodies and Flames. When the blast faded, Leon was back to his usual shape. On the ground beside him lay a pen and a pair of leather bracelets; Tsuna-sama picked them up. “My gloves turned into these?” He put the bracelets on, and pulsed his Flames into them; they transformed into fingerless gloves with strips of metal across the backs. For a bare-handed fighter like Tsuna-sama, they were all the weapons he needed.
“Nice,” said Takeshi, “I wonder what the pen does.”
Tsuna-sama took a moment to admire it. Whatever color it had been before Leon ate it, now it was lacquered in swirls of amber and gold, and it glowed in the summer sunlight. Tsuna smiled, and tucked it into his pocket.
Hayato said, “Decimo, was that the trouble your intuition was warning of?”
“ … No. No, that’s still out there.” They all glanced around the apparently peaceful street. “Let’s go. I want to get under cover.”
“Thank you for coming with me for this,” Kyoko said as she pulled her bike out of the school’s bike rack.
“Glad to, kora.” Colonello hopped into the bike’s basket. “When your boss gets an intuition, we’d all better pay attention.” Tsuna had sent a text to the whole group, asking them not to go anywhere alone. It made the back of Kyoko’s neck prickle. The rest of the Cake Appreciation Club had all gone to pick up the children, but Kyoko had an appointment she couldn’t reschedule.
“How is my brother shaping up, Colonello-san?” she asked as she pedalled out into the street.
“I’ve pounded as much sense into him as I could in a month, kora, but I’d need more time than that for real results.”
“Still, I appreciate it.” Now that Kyoko’s Flames were active, she was more sympathetic to her brother’s hyperactivity. However, Ryohei only thought about boxing, while she kept herself busy learning the etiquette of three cultures – Mafia, Yakuza and Triads – and dancing and growing a vegetable garden, along with school. “I suppose I’ll have to organise some fights for him, so he doesn’t go looking for trouble.”
“You can count on the Momokyokai for fair matches,” said Colonello. “It’s good for their business too, kora, and they wouldn’t want to annoy you.”
Kyoko smiled demurely. Her parents would have an apoplexy if they knew she was not only spending time at a gambling hall, but had a reputation there. She was known as one of the Hidden Sky’s Elements, a role she was learning to live up to; hence today’s errand. Formal meetings required formal dress. She parked her bike in front of the kimono store; Colonello scanned the area professionally, though there was nothing nearby but a yellow bird pecking at the sidewalk, and followed her in.
Kyoko bowed politely to the shop attendant, who cooed at Colonello. “How cute! Are you watching him today, Sasagawa-chan?”
“He’d say that he’s watching me,” Kyoko said; truth and untruth at the same time. The attendant giggled. This particular shop wasn’t connected to the underworld, so Kyoko was just an ordinary client to them, even though the Hidden Sky Trust was paying for her outfit and the lessons in dressing that went with it.
The Sasagawas were a middle-class family, so Kyoko had never worn anything more complicated than a yukata; even a simple formal kimono, suitable for a teenage girl, had several layers, each with its own set of folds and ties. For the fabric, Kyoko had chosen a pattern with various symbols of Amaterasu; the under-layers were in shades of yellow, and to her delight, she had found a sash ornament in the shape of a chameleon. The shop assistant might think it was an odd choice, but Tsuna would understand.
He didn’t ask his family to conform to any particular standard – not even, in all cases, to be nice to each other – he had a place for all of those who couldn’t find a place in normal society. Kyoko could be normal, if she bothered to put in the effort, but … why bother? That was boring, and she didn’t need the approval of anyone else when her home was in Tsuna’s Sky.
“Hohoho, what have we here?”
Tsuna, Hayato and Takeshi were a few blocks away from Tsuna’s house when a middle-aged man stepped into the street in front of them. He was wearing a trench coat and a floppy hat, and carried a cane. Tsuna’s first impulse was to turn around and walk the other way, but intuition told him not to turn his back on this person.
“Three little friends, but two of them know something the other doesn’t.” What … oh, he was talking about Flames, and thought Tsuna was a civilian. That was a hazard of hiding his Flames so thoroughly … and the man must be new in town, because harassing civilians was very much against community rules.
“Ahaha, does this mean you two have finally got past second base?” said Takeshi, deliberately misunderstanding.
“None of your business,” snapped Hayato.
“You seem fond of your fluffy friend.” The stranger tapped his cane against the ground, and suddenly Tsuna couldn’t move – wait, this was a Lightning technique, a subtle one that both hardened his joints and used electricity to stun his nerves. It took him a moment to counter it with his own Flames, and that was enough time for the man to close the distance between them. He pulled apart his cane, revealing a blade that crackled with electricity.
“I suggest you both follow my instructions, or else – ” Tsuna spun around and punched him in the throat. At the same time, Hayato – whose Storm had gotten him out of the paralysis even faster than Tsuna – grabbed the hand holding the cane-sword hard enough to crack bones. Takeshi, not to be left out, kicked him in the groin. After a brief scuffle, the stranger was knocked out on the ground.
“Leon, rope,” Tsuna requested, and they trussed him up.
A yellow bird fluttered down next to the unconscious man. “Good morning,” it chirped. “Good morning. Time to wake up!” Tsuna extended his senses. He was sure now that this was the danger his intuition had warned him of. The man had Lightning Flames, a touch of Mist, and – “Is it just me, or does he have traces of Flames of Night on him?”
“You’re right, Decimo.”
“Maa, do you think he’s one of the Vindicare escapees?” Takeshi’s smile was flat, his eyes dark.
Hayato took out his phone and started typing. “Middle-aged male, Lightning, bird companions … found him. Philippe Villeneuve, called Birds. Sent to Vindicare ten years ago for being a serial killer who preys on civilians. His MO is to take several hostages and threaten one with death to force the others do violence to each other.”
“Like he wanted to do with us,” said Tsuna. He was glad that they had prevented that; he knew that his Elements wouldn’t hesitate if they thought it was necessary to protect him. He considered his options.
There was no way he could let Birds go; he would only find new, more helpless targets. They couldn’t keep him prisoner; even Vindicare hadn’t been able to hold him. And if pursuit by the Vindice couldn’t make him give up his predatory habits, no logical or emotional argument Tsuna could think of would work. “I’m going to order a man’s death,” he realised.
His Elements looked back at him seriously. “Decimo, I would be honoured to carry out your command,” said Hayato.
Tsuna hesitated. “I shouldn’t ask you to do something I’m not willing to do myself …”
Hayato laid his hands on Tsuna’s shoulders. “Please, Decimo, let me spare you this for now.”
“But, you haven’t yet either …”
There was a squelching noise, and they looked over in time to see Takeshi pull a knife out of the back of Birds’ skull. He smiled at them “What?”
“ … Thank you, Takeshi.” What else could he say?
“The next one’s mine, baseball idiot.”
And there would be a next one, Tsuna knew. He hoped it wouldn’t be soon. “Now what do we do?” They couldn’t just leave a dead body lying on the sidewalk.
“I could disintegrate it,” Hayato suggested.
Tsuna sensed Hibari approaching, no doubt attracted by the flare of his Flames. He appeared around the corner with his jacket fluttering from his shoulders. “Small omnivore.” He surveyed the scene; the body, the fallen sword-cane, the birds, and Takeshi cleaning his knife with a tissue. Hibari nodded at him. “Carnivore. Go; the Disciplinary Committee will clean up here.”
Tsuyoshi and Reborn are chatting over sake and rice balls when their boys arrive at TakeSushi. Tsuyoshi knows at once that something has happened, because they’re quieter than usual; he starts to rise from his stool just as Tsuna-sama appears in the kitchen doorway. “I’ll just be a moment,” he calls over his shoulder. That’s also unusual; most days, he waits for Tsuyoshi to come to him rather than interrupting his work. Behind him, Reborn hops over the counter.
“Tsuyoshi-san,” says Tsuna-sama, “Takeshi made his first kill today.” Tsuyoshi’s breath catches. So soon – and within the bounds of Namimori. If the person in question wasn’t already dead, he would shred them himself. Tsuna-sama continues, “None of us are hurt, but Takeshi might need someone to talk to …”
“Fluffy-Tsuna, you need to talk to someone.” Reborn swats his student’s leg. “And I want all the details. Tsuyoshi, can you bring the rice balls?” He can. He leaves Taro in charge of the counter, with instructions to prepare ingredients for yakisoba; it’s the same meal he ate after his first kill. He knows that Takeshi won’t be bothered by it, but that in itself might disturb him later.
The tale spills out of the three boys in a jumble. Tsuyoshi discovers that the incident is also, technically, Tsuna-sama’s first kill, since it is he who gave the execution order. As a testament to Reborn’s training, he’s shaken but not panicking. Hayato has an arm around him, shielding his back.
“It seems it’s time for Takeshi to get his first tattoo,” Tsuyoshi says. Inwardly, he is making plans to speak to some of his fellow retired hitmen. They need to tighten whatever holes in Namimori’s security Birds slipped through, so that none like him can come close to their Sky again.
Fuuta was excited. The airport was full of so many things he had only read about. He had gotten off the train without trouble, obtained his boarding pass from an automated booth, and then gone through security. Since he didn’t act upset or lost, nobody paid attention to him. He bought a pannini and sat by the window to watch the airplanes and runway vehicles. There was one with a scissor-lift to raise it up to the airplanes. And there was one pulling a row of shiny cargo pods. And there was a plane with a kangaroo painted on it!
He had put so much work into getting this far. Weeks of secret rankings in the middle of the night, to work out the best actions for each step of the escape. Then the long walk, in the dark, by himself, and the chaos of the train station. The airport was crowded too, but not as hectic. When his flight was called, Fuuta lined up with everyone else. He reminded himself not to use his power – on an airplane was number three in worst places to do a ranking. He found his seat; the flight attendant was the first person to notice that he was travelling alone.
“Are you an exchange student, dear?”
That was as good an excuse as any. “Mmhmm,” he answered.
“Be sure to let me know if you need anything.” While the plane left the gate, he watched the video about safety; like it said, he counted how many rows there were to the nearest door, then checked that there really was a life jacket under his seat. The plane turned and stopped for a minute. Then it roared – it went forward faster and faster, pressing Fuuta into his seat, until suddenly it went up. His face glued to the window, he watched Italy fall away below him.
... and by 'violence' I mean 'Takeshi straight-up kills a dude'. O_o That natural-born killer thing was bound to come up eventually. (I will say, though, this isn't going to become a frequent thing and the overall tone of the series won't change.)
On a lighter note, I didn't bother to check if Qantas flies to Rome, but it's an AU anyway, so eh.
The wheel turned across the school roof, with Reborn braced inside its rim. The simple metal hoop was one of the more interesting toys he had owned; it was nice to move for the sake of moving and let his thoughts wander on their own.
Fluffy-Tsuna had ordered his first kill. It was the next step into the underworld; civilians could dodge the question by leaving it to the government, but every Mafioso had to ask themselves, who will I kill? Anyone who activated their Flames had the Will to handle the choice. As Reborn expected, his student was thoughtful for a few days and asked a lot of questions about how Reborn made the choice. Clumsy-Dino had done the same; of course, a Boss had to draw that line differently than a hitman. Regardless, an unrepentant serial killer was an easy one to start with. Fluffy-Tsuna’s future decisions would not be so clear-cut.
Reborn leaned against the wheel’s momentum to turn it away from the roof’s edge. Tsuna’s Guardians each had their own responses to the incident. Hibari, although already blooded, reacted to Birds’ attack on his Sky by keeping Tsuna close to the heart of his territory – which was to say, the school. Hayato was just as clingy, though in different forms. The girls hadn’t seen the incident so it hadn’t sunk in as much for them. And Takeshi had settled down considerably, now that he understood his purpose in life.
He spun head-downward, for a moment thinking about nothing at all. Fluffy-Tsuna had given him much, and this toy was not the least of it. Even if he could only use it for an hour at a time, the limit on his adult form. He hadn’t even had that much before Fluffy-Tsuna put a hand in.
Reborn would never admit it, but the close call had turned a few of his hairs, too. He would like nothing more than to track down all of the Vindicare escapees and put a bullet in their heads. The Vindice hadn’t released any news, but Reborn had compiled a list of all those sent to Vindicare in the last decade. It was a start, and Reborn’s contact network, along with Viper’s, had their ears to the ground for any information. There would not be a repeat of this incident while he was watching Tsuna’s back.
Kubo enjoyed working at the pet store – far more than he enjoyed risking his life as a Yakuza thug, at any rate. Keeping his head down in Namimori was an excellent survival strategy and he stuck to it … so why was the Demon Prefect prowling around his shop? He paid his tribute on time, he never made trouble – he’d sold some cat supplies to the Cake Appreciation Club last week, but surely if there was a problem they would come themselves. He tried to occupy himself by sorting the receipt drawer, and carefully did not stare at the Cloud, even though he was shaking in his shoes.
Kubo was so careful about not watching Hibari that he nearly jumped out of his skin when a pile of items was dropped on the counter. There was bird seed, gravel, a perch and a cuttlebone. He looked up at the Cloud; Hibari glared at him impatiently. Sitting on Hibari’s head was a small yellow bird.
“Hibari, Hibari!” it chirped. “Herbivore, herbivore!”
Kubo decided it would be hazardous to his health to ask questions. “The total is 5500 yen, Hibari-sama.” Hibari threw the money on the counter, scooped up his purchases and left without another word.
They waited in their hotel room, perched at the highest point in Namimori, for the sky to descend upon them. When last that happened, they were freed from their cursed cage; this time, perhaps, they would buy freedom for another. The blood-red Storm, their partner, lounged idle on a sofa. “Ushishishi, so the Prince will finally meet the Hidden Sky. I wonder if he is as impressive as his Flame.”
“Mu, you will see soon enough.” The appointed hour drew near; there was no point in haggling.
They were always cold now, cold from the core out. Their own Sky lay captive underground, but the sky of Namimori gave some ease – and perhaps, a way home. They were already in debt to him, but for this, they would bankrupt themselves and call it a bargain.
A knock on the door, and they opened it to the sky. “Yin Tian, thank you for seeing us.”
“Welcome back to Namimori, Viper-san.” Tsuna set down the welcome gifts he had brought – strawberry cake for the information broker and sushi for their partner, who had sat up on the sofa in surprise. Tsuna went on to introduce his entourage – and when had it stopped being weird that he had an entourage? “You’ve met Hayato and Haru – and Matteo-sensei, of course – and this is our latest addition, Daemon Spade, Yes, that Daemon Spade.”
“He’s a ghost,” Haru added helpfully. Hayato ever-so-discreetly elbowed her. Tsuna sighed. Thank goodness they were getting so much practice meeting allies, rather than enemies; they needed it.
“Mu, this is my partner, Prince Belphegor.”
Tsuna had been warned about this. “Pleased to meet you, your Highness. Yamamoto-san speaks well of you.”
Bloodthirsty reputation or no, Belphegor had all the manners of royalty. He stood up from the sofa and made a flourished Western-style bow. “The Prince is honoured to be a guest in your domain, Yin Tian.”
Soon all of them were seated, and Viper said, “Mu, I bring a petition for your consideration, Tsunayoshi.”
They had mentioned this in their previous messages. “I’m listening,” said Tsuna.
“How much do you know about my Sky, Xanxus?”
“Not much; Timoteo’s letters mention that he regrets how he treated him, but not any details.”
“I know,” Daemon interjected. “Nono used a Flame technique to freeze Xanxus alive in a block of ice, and he’s keeping him in his basement.”
Tsuna looked over at the two Varia; their expressions were confirmation enough. He wrinkled his nose. “That’s just not right. And he has bonded Elements, too – how is this affecting you?”
“Cold,” said Belphegor. “A cold spike through the Prince’s heart.” That sounded much too much like the effects of the seal.
“It has been eight and a half years,” said Viper. “Given your accomplishments with similar challenges, I request your aid in releasing our Sky. As payment I can offer cash, information, or my own services; I cannot make any promises on behalf of the other Varia officers.”
“You’re going behind their backs on this,” Tsuna guessed. Beside him, Reborn and Spade had identical bemused head-tilts at hearing the notorious miser offer payment – not even specifying an amount. They had to be desperate.
“Mu. The others are not willing to trust a stranger with our Sky in a vulnerable position.”
Tsuna couldn’t blame them. “What about you, Prince Belphegor?”
“The Prince knows you by your Flame.” Though his eyes were hidden by his bangs, he gave the impression of staring at him. “Answer this: you have Reborn with you. Are you the presumptive Vongola Decimo?”
“I am, your Highness.”
“Then you have no reason to help a rival. Xanxus wants the Vongola for himself.”
There were so many responses Tsuna could give to that. He settled on, “He deserves better than this, and so do you. That’s the kind of Boss I want to be.” And not the kind that shoved problems into the basement instead of working them out face to face.
“Santa maria, I’m going to choke on all this sincerity,” Spade snarked.
“Hahi, I thought it was very inspiring,” said Haru. Hayato glared at both of them. Tsuna, meanwhile, was thinking over what he had heard so far. Eight years. And Belphegor looked about his age; he couldn’t have been much older than Lambo when he harmonised.
“You must miss him very much, your Highness.”
“The Prince only knew his Boss for a few months,” said Belphegor. “They were the best months of the Prince’s life.” Hayato made a pained noise in his throat; Tsuna curled his Flames around him. Then he noticed how Belphegor leaned forward, and let his Flames blanket the room.
“I know it’s not the same, but …”
“Ushishishishishi, you and he are like night and day.” Belphegor stretched out on the sofa. “Xanxus took in the Prince after he killed a man on his doorstep. He is worthy to rule over the peasants that infest the Mafia. He will make the Vongola strong!”
Tsuna wasn’t sure if that was a dig at him, but he wasn’t about to take the bait. “What does he want that strength to be for?” Belphegor made a perplexed noise. “I suppose I’ll have to ask him in person, then.”
“Mu, you’re going to do it.”
“Yeah.” Tsuna thought over the practicalities. “I don’t know how long it will take. You’re asking me to reverse-engineer a technique I’ve never seen before. For best results, I’d prefer to have my seal completely gone, which means at least five more months. It will have to be on a school break so I can give this my undivided attention, so I guess I’m aiming for next March.”
Belphegor growled; he clearly didn’t like the plan, but couldn’t think of a good objection. Tsuna felt bad about making him wait so long, but he also didn’t want to get this wrong and hurt Xanxus even worse. He was about to mention that when a burst of familiar Cloud flame appeared on the balcony. The tenth storey balcony. Spade swished his tail and the balcony door opened to let Hibari stalk in.
Viper said, “For interrupting our discussion, you will be fined.” Hibari ignored them.
“Small omnivore,” he said. “The crowned carnivore is your guest.”
“Yes …” Belphegor suddenly grinned. Oh, right; as an outsider, Namimori by-laws forbade him from fighting a local, and he liked Tsuyoshi’s sushi too much to break them. But if Tsuna gave his permission as Boss … “I want you both alive enough to eat dinner,” he told them. “And no collateral.”
“The Prince understands.” Hibari ran out to the balcony and leaped – upward, toward the hotel roof, thank goodness – with Belphegor in hot pursuit.
“I know he’s a Storm, but he acts like a Cloud,” Tsuna mused.
“Mu.” Viper shrugged. “Now, as to the matter of compensation?”
If he had to. “Up front, I need all the information you have on the technique that Xanxus got hit with. And the Varia is in charge of bringing Xanxus here – or me there, whichever.”
“It had better be the first one,” Reborn put in.
“Acceptable.” Viper looked at Tsuna as if expecting him to continue. Xanxus was Vongola, and thus one of his, and needed his help. How was he supposed to put a price tag on that?
“Anything further is for me and Xanxus to settle between us,” he said, mostly to delay that discussion.
He was looking for a base – a starting point for his campaign, and this abandoned spot should have been perfect. Hidden among trees, far from anyone’s notice, but with solid roof and walls. A good lair for him and his minions. But … someone is already using it. The floors were clean, the windows whole behind their plywood shutters – there was a working bathhouse. And why is there a room full of snakes? No tests – no experiments being done on them. And there was a strange Flame he didn’t recognise.
This was only the latest in a string of setbacks – of obstacles to his plans. Twice he had to delay his escape; once when his beacon – his soul’s twin slipped his grasp, and again when his captors suddenly tightened their security. Because of that, he scattered his minions to muddle his trail. The sun, rain and storm he keeps close, because … they were the most useful. Yes.
“Food in the cupboards,” his Rain said. “Cans and dried stuff.”
“Are we staying here?” said his Sun. “It’s cozy.”
It was; he doesn’t trust that, but he would take advantage of it. A little Mist would hide their presence. “Kufufufu, we will stay awhile.” At least until he found his match. What had she said? That she had no shelter but the sky? At least with him, she would have a roof over her head.
He reached into his Storm; this was a soft town full of soft people, they would be easy to get information from. Like this shop – this nest of old junk, with traces of Flames like his own. No one with such a pathetic job can be a match for his strength. He opened the door, and surprised the shopkeeper in the act of slurping noodles.
“Welcome! Can I help you find anything?”
“Kufufufufu, perhaps you can.” He strolled up to the counter and perched his borrowed body on it. “There’s something interesting about this town.”
“I can think of quite a few things.” The pale-haired man took another slurp of his noodles. “You’re too late for the seafood festival … there’s quite a nice shrine … and the pickle museum, if that interests you.”
“Kufufufu, that is not what interests me.”
“Ah, local history, then? I have some excellent antique maps …”
He gritted his teeth. “And if I am looking for Flames, old man?”
“There are some oil lamps on the shelf behind you,” the shopkeeper said brightly. He finished his meal and set the bowl aside. Oil lamps? Confused, he turned to look, then caught himself.
“Not that kind of Flame, these Flames.” He holds up a hand wreathed in indigo fire.
“Careful, there; if the wrong people see that, you could get in serious trouble.”
He snorted in contempt. This faded loser would never dare to cross the Vindice the way he had. “Now do you understand what I’m asking about?”
The shopkeeper nodded idly. “There isn’t much I can tell you though. I’m not as involved in such things as I used to be. And besides, Namimori is a peaceful town. The sky here is a welcoming one.”
She – his mirror – had said something similar. But the climate has no bearing on his master plan. Somewhere in this town was the pawn – the tool he wanted. “What of the abandoned buildings on the edge of town?”
“What, Kokuyo Land? It was terrible, what happened to it, getting damaged in a landslide. There used to be a tea shop there that I liked.”
“Kufufufu, it seems someone is keeping snakes in there.”
“Snakes? Good heavens.” He was starting to think the simpleton knew nothing useful at all.
Hibird appears! And so do the Varia ...
Kawahira has forgotten more about Mist than Mukuro ever knew :P
Fon faced his Sky with intense concentration. When Tsunayoshi had requested training from him, he had not expected how difficult the task would be. To learn the techniques, Tsunayoshi needed to practice on someone, and it took all of Fon’s discipline to even pretend to attack his Sky. And demonstrating the techniques was almost worse.
He gave a slight nod, and Tsunayoshi lunged forward as he had instructed. Fon caught his wrist, then spun him around and over until he landed on the mat with his arm twisted behind him. Fon willed his hands not to shake. Tsunayoshi lay calmly in the joint lock, trusting Fon to do no harm to him. After an eternal moment, he tapped the floor and Fon released him; with eyes downcast, he assisted his Sky in standing. “It is your turn, Master.”
They were in the gymnasium of Namimori Middle School; Kyoya was still hovering, and it had protective floor mats that the secret base didn’t, yet. A discreet Mist barrier, courtesy of Chrome, kept them from being observed. Fon took his stance again and waited for Tsunayoshi to signal that he was ready.
He lunged; he would do his Sky no favours by holding back, and the throw worked best with an attacker’s full momentum. It still felt wrong. Here Tsunayoshi’s short size worked in his favour; he easily rolled Fon over his shoulder, and a moment later had him in the same joint lock which Fon had shown him.
He tried to move, and was pleased that he could not; his duty done for the moment, he lay still in Tsunayoshi’s grip. If showing the technique was a trial, then this was the reward. Tsunayoshi would not grant him one without the other, and Fon adored him all the more for it. Bound by his hand or by his will; Fon understood, now, what Hayato had said when they first met, that their Sky was strict in discipline.
A tone sounded from Fon’s bracelet to signal that his time in adult form had nearly run out. “I think we’ll leave it there for today,” Tsunayoshi said.
“Yes, Master.” Tsunayoshi released his arm, and instead pressed his hand between Fon’s shoulders, where the mark of his ownership was etched into Fon’s skin. Already wrung out from the back and forth of training, he gasped at the touch.
“You’re doing very well at this,” Tsunayoshi said. “I don’t know if Hayato could manage it.”
If he were not already prostrate before his Sky, such praise would surely put him there. “You require other things from him, Master.” With a shimmer, he reverted to his infant form. His Sky lifted him into his embrace, and Fon leaned into it; soon he would be grown too much for this to be possible.
“Thank you, Fon,” said Tsunayoshi, and Fon knew he meant more than just the training. “Maybe we can talk some more about the Hibari Clan?”
“Of course, Master.” Fon allowed himself a smile. “One’s sister is excited to finally meet you.”
“Oh, dear – I hope she isn’t getting herself too worked up.”
“Sister, calm yourself.” Fon hopped up on a table so he could lay his hands on his sister’s shoulders. Meiran was ten years his junior, and often looked to him for stability – amusing, considering his Flame type.
“But … it’s Inten-sama. At my house! … I need to vacuum the curtains, and …”
“Meiran, Master is a gentle soul. Also, he is fifteen years old,” Fon pointed out. “I do not think dusty curtains will be of any interest to him.”
“He’s a Sky! I’ve never hosted a Sky before – Bailong-sama alone I could handle!”
“Breathe, Meiran. You will prepare a fine tea, Master will discuss matters with Cousin Bailong, and all shall be well. If dust concerns you so much, I shall sweep the room with my Flames beforehand.”
Hayato’s head hurt. Biochemistry wasn’t his usual field, but he was determined to get Shamal’s micro-Flame technique down. Luckily he didn’t need to know what all the molecules in his own blood did , he just had to recognise which ones were supposed to be there. “At this point, it’s a matter of practice to get your perceptions to a fine enough level,” Shamal told him. “I’ll set up some practical exercises for our next session.”
“Thanks, Shamal. This might be worth knowing for everybody – I’ll mention it to Matteo-sensei, we might hire you for a group seminar.”
Shamal made a face. “Do you know how weird it is that you’re all ganging up on me?” What else did he expect from a Sky’s Guardians? Tsuna-sama was still in his lesson with Fon, and Hayato didn’t feel like beating his head against the wall that was the Box Animal project, so he decided to head to the school music room and blow off some steam with Handel.
He was wrapping up his second piece when he noticed Haru and Chrome standing in the doorway. There was a faint halo of Mist around them – probably to keep anyone from noticing that they didn’t go to this school. Hayato took his hands off the keyboard and turned to face them. “What are you two doing here?”
Haru fidgeted. “We wanted to talk to you about something … it’s kind of personal …”
Hayato snorted. “This is about the crush that both of you have on Decimo, right?”
Chrome nodded, wide-eyed; Haru said, “Hahi, is it that obvious?”
“Please. I’m not blind.” Impatiently, he waved for them to come into the room. “And I’m not Hibari, I’m not going to bite. Why are you talking to me about this?” He did have a suspicion, considering the comprehensive Talk Reborn had given them all, but he wanted the girls to say it, just to be sure.
“We know you and Boss are close,” began Chrome.
“Hahi, and we don’t want to get in the way of that – you two are too cute!”
“But Matteo-sensei did say that Skies often have several lovers …”
“And we wanted to check if you were okay with sharing, before we said anything to Boss.” Both girls were red as tomatoes.
Hayato let them stew a bit while he thought it over. Anyone with taste would have a crush on Tsuna-sama, but he hadn’t expected either of them to act on it. Silly of him, since they were Flame Active and thus had the Will to pursue their desires. There were worse ways they could have chosen.
“You’re not upset?” Haru mumbled.
“If you weren’t his Guardians, I might have been,” Hayato admitted. “Or if you were trying to make Decimo choose between us. Sharing …” He had learned to share being a Guardian with Takeshi, and to share being Tsuna-sama’s Storm with Fon. To share an intimate relationship, with each of them so different in personality … “I think I can handle it.”
“Yay!” exclaimed Haru.
“But, we are going to discuss this with Decimo before you make any advances. The final decision is his.”
Takeshi lays out the whetstones on the table, coarse to fine. There is more to the art of the blade than wielding it; there is more to wielding than stance and swing. He is blooded now, and nothing has changed and everything has changed. Everything about himself that he thought was strange makes sense now.
The blades he is tending are kitchen knives. They have never cut living flesh; that would be unsanitary. Some would say that he, likewise, is forever tainted, but they need never know. His dad, his Sky, his fellow Elements – they accept him as he is. Scrape, scrape, scrape. He hones himself. To Tsuna’s left hand he shapes himself, the blade that no one suspects. Like Shigure Kintoki, he has a sharp form and a gentle one, both ready at Tsuna’s command. He polishes and oils the first knife, sets it aside, and picks up the next. The sounds of the restaurant filter through open doors.
“Welcome, your highness,” his dad says. “Would you like your usual order?” Belphegor grumbles something that Takeshi can’t hear. “Maa, you can use ours if you like, your highness. Takeshi has the materials set up.” Dad ushers Belphegor through the door; he surveys the materials on the table.
“Good afternoon, your highness,” Takeshi greets him. “Here for some emergency sharpening?”
“The Prince blunted all of his blades on the Cloud-bird’s tonfas.” Belphegor sits down and starts laying out his own knives, row on row. Takeshi slides a towel over to him.
“Ahaha, Hibari-san is a fierce opponent, isn’t he?”
“Ushishishi, the Prince sees you, peasant. Does your Sky know what you are?”
“He does, your highness.”
Belphegor selects a whetstone from the line and pulls it to him. As he slides his blade across the stone, he sings in time with the motion; a simple tune, perhaps a nursery rhyme. After a little while, he looks up. “Do you not know the sharpening song, peasant?”
“I’m afraid not, your highness. How does it go?”
Belphegor goes back to the beginning and sings a line; he stares at Takeshi through his bangs until he sings it back. At least it’s in Italian which has most of the same sounds as Japanese.
They’ve taken very different routes, the two of them, to end up in the same place. Takeshi was born to killing; Belphegor was driven to it. And he revels in it, relishes the blood. Takeshi doesn’t; it comes too easily to him. Two sides of a coin, red and blue. They work together, singing, passing whetstones back and forth as they need them.
Fuuta had gotten some rest on the long flight; the plane was loud, but the nice flight attendant had given him earplugs, and he had been tired enough to sleep through an opera. He had no luggage to collect – but then came Customs, which was an obstacle he hadn’t thought of. He shut himself in a washroom and did a quick ranking. “The number one way to get past customs is … the blue bracelet in my backpack.” He blinked and let go of his link to the Ranking Planet. Digging through his backpack, he found an indigo string bracelet. It had a little paper tag that said, ‘to avoid notice by officials.’ He put it on and snuck past the customs lines.
Tokyo station was terrifying. Not only were there even more people, but Fuuta didn’t know any Japanese. Luckily all of the signs were in Roman letters as well, but he took one look at the railway ticket machines and decided to try his luck at hiding from conductors. He did take his stolen credit card around to a few ATMs and took out all the cash he could before throwing the card away.
He was finally at the part of his plan when he was running to somewhere instead of running away. He knew exactly where he was going.
Aren't they the cutest little murderers?
And now, the pieces are all in place ...
“Did your intuition give you any idea why we need to bring extra food to our picnic?”
“Not a clue,” Tsuna sighed. The feeling was nearly as strong as the one that had led to them meeting Kawahira. Hopefully the mess they were about to land in wasn’t quite as big as that one. He had all of his Elements with him – in fact, the only members of his inner circle who were not present were Tsuyoshi, who had his restaurant to run, and Shoichi, who was away at some sort of robotics convention. On the other hand, Viper and Belphegor were along in their stated role of supporting Tsuna’s famiglia. After a week of being more or less grounded by Hibari, all of them were glad to get out to the secret base once more.
The girls were walking ahead of him, Spade padding beside them. Reborn and Kawahira trailed behind, embroiled in a totally pointless argument about whether the Hanshin Tigers were better than the Saitama Lions. Takeshi was egging them on by reciting baseball statistics. At least verbal bickering was an improvement for those two. Hibari wasn’t on the path at all, stalking between the trees beside them.
Spade stopped in mid-step. “Hold up. There’s an unknown Mist territory here.”
Tsuna extended his senses. By this time, Kokuyo Land was a jumble of Flame traces, but the unfamiliar one stood out from the background. “What does it do?”
Spade leaned forward as if smelling the Flame. “It’s to make people ignore the ones who set it.”
“Can you leave it in place, but counter its effect on us?” If the people they were about to meet were friendly, Tsuna didn’t want to take away one of their defenses. And if they were hostile, he didn’t want to alert them that his Famiglia was approaching.
Spade laid his ears back. “Of course I can, what do you take me for? Miss Chrome, please observe.”
The counter-territory took only a moment to construct, and then they were moving again. “I have felt that Flame before,” Chrome mused.
“Oh, is it your dream interloper?” Kyoko said; Chrome nodded.
“Peculiar,” said Kawahira. “This same Flame was on the young man that was in my shop the other day, asking questions.”
“The one you thought was possessed?” That was worrying. Tsuna didn’t think it was likely that someone would agree to be possessed. He had a few questions for this new Mist. He reached out with just a thread of Flame to connect with his Flames that were already there, to try to sense who was ahead of them. “I can detect four people,” he said, then called out, “Hello there! Would you like to join our picnic? We’ve got plenty!”
Reborn face-palmed, but really, Tsuna’s group outnumbered the other by four to one. He didn’t want them to panic. Following his lead, his Elements spread out around the base’s courtyard, unpacking the food and chatting. It took a few minutes, but their visitors emerged from the unit where they had been hiding.
The first was a Storm with a scarred face, in his twenties and obviously Mafia. “That’s the one I met,” Kawahira said in a voice only Tsuna could hear. The other three were teens; a sun, a Rain, and a mist who looked like Chrome’s twin brother. And they all had traces of the Flames of Night on them. Case-by-case basis, Tsuna reminded himself.
The Storm, who was apparently their front man, stepped forward. “Hello. Apologies for barging in, we didn’t expect this place … to … be …” He trailed off as he noticed Chrome. She curtsied to her doppelganger.
“I am happy to meet you face to face.”
“This is weird,” said the scruffy Sun.
“It’s creepy,” said Spade, looking back and forth between the two.
“You’re a ghost, you’ve got no room to call anyone creepy,” Hana told him.
“A ghost?” The other mist looked sceptical. Chrome picked Spade up and held him.
“This is the spirit of my ancestor.”
“I’m probably your ancestor too, young man,” said Spade. “You look just like I did in life, except for that eye.” It was bright red with the number 4 written on it; it might be a color contact, but the way Tsuna’s life was going, it was probably something weirder. It might have been scary, except for the boggled expression its owner quickly hid. Tsuna could sympathise.
“Why are you a cat?”
“Excessive curiosity,” Spade said drily.
“Kufufufufufu.” (“Santa maria, he’s even got my laugh.”) “These are Eduardo Lancia,” the Storm, “Ken Joshima,” the Sun, “and Chikusa Kishimoto,” the Rain. “And I am known as Mukuro Rokudo.”
“Hahi, like the Rokudo Sennin?” exclaimed Haru. “Does your eye have six different magic powers?”
“Eeeee! A Rinnegan in real life! Awesome!”
Hana said, “Haru, do you ever think you read too much manga?”
“Haru doesn’t understand the question.”
Mukuro sneered at her. “Kufufufu, you have no idea what I have endured to gain my powers. Do any of you know what it feels like to be thrown into Hell?”
Tsuna had a good guess. “You feel cold all the time,” he said softly. “Cold down to your bones. The world looks dim and faded, and it aches just to move. You eat but you’re still hungry; you sleep but you’re still tired.” He knew by Mukuro’s expression that he had hit the mark. Meanwhile, Hayato hugged him around the shoulders with a whimper; Tsuna reached up to pet his hair. “It’s all right, Hayato. The worst effects were gone years ago.”
“Doesn’t help,” Hayato grumbled. In fact, all of his Elements were giving him horrified looks. Yes, it had been bad, but it was over, mostly.
“You, too?” said Mukuro. “And you still …” he waved around at the cheerful picnic being set up.
“I got out. And so did you,” said Tsuna. “I don’t know exactly what happened to you; it’s none of my business. But if shelter is what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right town. Do you want to eat while I do introductions? It’ll take a while.” Ken was drooling at a dish of yakitori, and Lancia was giving longing looks at a jar of olives.
“Kufufufu, acceptable.” For a few minutes everyone was busy with handing out the food. Iced tea was poured and passed around; Hana multiplied extra bowls and chopsticks. Reborn guided Lambo and I-pin in lighting the campfire. Belphegor demanded that someone wait on him; I-pin took on the task, imitating her Shifu, who was doing the same for Tsuna. That got a couple of odd looks from the newcomers, but Fon just smiled serenely.
It turned out that none of Mukuro’s group had any concept of a balanced diet; Ken filled his plate with meat, Chikusa took a rice ball and one of every kind of pickle, and Lancia picked anything that looked Italian. Mukuro himself chose nothing but sweets, and had a brief stare-down with Viper over some chocolate-covered strawberries before Tsuna broke them up. “You can each have a third of the strawberries,” he said, “and leave the rest for everyone else.”
Meanwhile, Spade looked glumly at his plate of chicken and fish. “I never realised how monotonous the feline diet is. I should talk to the pervy doctor about altering my metabolism; I miss vegetables.”
“Indeed,” Fon said, slightly louder than necessary. “One prefers a fresh block of tofu to any sort of meat.”
“Annoying.” Hibari’s voice filtered down from the trees. Chrome filled a bento box from the picnic foods and conjured a flying carpet to deliver it to him.
Once everyone was settled down and eating, Tsuna went over all the names, finishing up with, “And these are Viper and Belphegor, they’re visiting. What do you all think of Namimori so far?”
“Kufufufu, it will do nicely for my plans!” Mukuro’s Flames flared ominously. “Perhaps you would care to join me, dear Tsuna, in revenge for what was done to each of us?”
Tsuna’s plans were more about prevention and protection, but there was a bit of revenge in there; how would Mukuro’s plans compare to his own? “Oh? What kind of plans?”
“Kufufufufu, I’m going to bring down the Mafia!”
“So, you’re going into law enforcement?” It seemed like a logical conclusion to Tsuna – even the Vongola were cautious of a strong police force. Mukuro, however, looked bewildered.
“Er, no, I was going to manipulate the Famiglias into slaughtering each other.”
Spade said, “Are you me? Serious question.”
Reborn was looking at a Leon-laptop. “Right, because that worked so well the first two times.” He read from the screen. “Mukuro Rokudo, age fifteen, single-handedly slaughtered the Estraneo family; they had been experimenting on their own children, including him. Taken in by the Dracone Famiglia, and mind-controled Lancia, there, into helping massacre them too. That got him and his associates arrested by the Vindice five years ago.” Which would have been when they were ten.
“Kufufufu, Famiglias are all the same. The Dracone were only interested in exploiting my powers.”
“Still, you might want a plan that doesn’t land you in jail again,” Tsuna pointed out. “Plus, there are always going to be Flame users, orphans, and outcasts. You can’t stop the game by removing the players.”
“Oh? And what is your plan, then, dear Tsuna?”
“I’m going to change the rules.” Even if it took a lifetime – and it probably would – there would be no more experimenting on children, or sealing them, or turning them into assassins.
Mukuro laughed again. “Such a soft approach won’t get you very far. Be cold and ruthless – that’s the kind of strength you’ll need in the real world!”
“The real world?” Spade hopped onto Tsuna’s shoulder where he could look Mukuro in the eye. “You are fifteen, and you’ve spent most of your life in confinement. What can you possibly know of the real world? Whatever you skim from others’ minds is no substitute for experience.”
“Do you say that I’m wrong, cat?”
It was Fon who answered: “What you have spoken of is force, not strength. Think on that.”
Mukuro paused for a moment, the only sign of his confusion, even though Tsuna had a feeling he’d been off-balance from the start. In this eclectic company, who could blame him? As Spade had pointed out, even a normal picnic might be outside his direct experience; he was doing a good job of hiding it.
“Kufufufu, you have interesting minions, dear Tsuna. Is your birdy going to come down and join us?”
Hibari’s voice came from above, “I do not crowd with herbivores, much less pineapples.”
Mukuro’s eyes narrowed. A swirl of Mist extended toward the tree Hibari was in, forming into thorny vines as it went. Tsuna sensed Kawahira thread his own Mist into them, ready to disrupt the construct if it got too dangerous. All the vines did, though, was dump Hibari off his perch. The Cloud landed on his feet, growling. “Pineapple, I will bite you to death!”
“Bite to death! Bite to death!” chirped his new pet bird.
Mukuro smirked at him. “Wouldn’t that make you a herbivore?”
Hibari lunged; Kawahira took control of the vines and held him back. Tsuna pinched his nose. “Thank you, Kawahira-san. Hibari-san, please wait until we’re done talking.”
“Shopkeeper, you were hiding your skills from me,” Mukuro said to Kawahira.
“And you hid your face from me,” Kawahira retorted. “You’ll fit right in here; misdirection is a local specialty.”
“Kufufufufu, I wonder why that is. Mafia that act like civilians, weird Flames everywhere – there’s something strange about this town.”
“Weird Flames? Do you mean these?” Tsuna let his own Flames out a little; as isolated as Mukuro had been, Tsuna could believe that he didn’t recognise them.
“They are yours, dear Tsuna? What are they?”
“Sky Flames,” Tsuna said simply. Lancia stifled a gasp.
“Kufufufu, do you really expect me to believe that?” Ok, that was not the reaction that Tsuna expected. Mukuro continued, “Even I know that Skies are the Bosses of the Mafia. And you, dear Tsuna, are too soft and fluffy to be any kind of boss.” That … kind of made sense, given how Mukuro thought the world worked.
All of Tsuna’s group looked at him like he had lost his mind; Belphegor tipped over laughing. “Ushishishishishi …”
The Vongola, the Yunque, the people of Namimori, and all his Elements. Tsuna smiled. “It’s been working for me so far,” he said. “Do you at least know what color Sky Flames are?”
“Kufufufu, orange, of course – ”
Tsuna shaped his Flames into a visible, very orange ball. Mukuro stared.
“Herbivore! Herbivore! Pineapple!” chirped Hibird. Spade batted at it with one paw.
“Hey,” said Ken, “Isn’t that one of the birds you summoned, Mukuro?”
“Kufufufu, so it is.”
Tsuna could tell that it was a real bird, not a Mist construct; was that one of Mukuro’s eye powers? “Did you bribe that creepy old man to cooperate with you?”
“Indeed, dear Tsuna. And he still went off on his own as soon as we were free, the ingrate. I take it he’s here as well.”
“He was. Briefly.” Tsuna looked aside. “He attacked the wrong person, and now he’s in an urn at the Buddhist temple.” Along with many other would-be assassins.
“Kufufufu, you intrigue me, dear Tsuna. I wish to observe you further.”
“As long as it’s just observing, I don’t have a problem with that,” Tsuna said. “Though, can I please ask that you stop mind-controling Lancia-san without his consent.”
“Not a problem at all, dear Tsuna,” Mukuro said much too quickly, which suggested that Lancia was not an unwilling victim in this. There had to be more to that story than the few sentences that Reborn had related.
Tsuna was just glad that they were settling things calmly. Mukuro might act cold and ruthless as he thought he needed to be, but Tsuna could tell a lot by the way his companions acted. None of them was afraid of Mukuro; they were his family. Naturally Mukuro would respond with violence if they were threatened, but only then. They had been through hell, so Tsuna was willing to give them a chance to find shelter in Namimori.
So of course that was when cold black Flames erupted from the ground. Great, that was all this day needed.
The Vindice that appeared might have been the same ones that Tsuna had met the last time; aside from Bermuda, they were hard to tell apart. They also had suspiciously good timing; had they been listening to Tsuna and Mukuro’s conversation? Tsuna’s Elements took defensive stances. Mukuro’s group bristled like cornered animals. Tsuna spread his own Flames out to counter the Vindice’s chill. “Hello again, Bermuda-san. What brings you to Namimori this time?”
“I think you know, Hidden Sky.” Bermuda pointed at Mukuro. “That one and his associates escaped from Vindicare Prison after they were arrested for heinous crimes. We have come to reclaim them.”
“Kufufufu, my associates?” There was a hint of strain in Mukuro’s voice. “These are my tools, nothing more.” It was a blatant lie, but the kind it would be rude to point out. Mukuro had a strong will, to stand up to the Vindice after spending five years – a third of his life – in their prison. Not to mention that the Vindice’s aura was similar to the ‘hell’ that he and Tsuna had both experienced. Tsuna made a decision.
“Bermuda-san, I’m calling in my marker.”
“Explain your reasoning.”
Tsuna took a deep breath. “Since escaping from prison, even Vindicare, isn’t forbidden under Vindice law –”
“An oversight we will be correcting.”
“ – There are two charges, right? The destruction of the Estraneo and Dracone Famiglias. Your laws forbid unprovoked massacres; Mukuro-san had plenty of provocation to kill the Estraneo, since they were experimenting on him. And Reborn’s report said they were experimenting on their own children; that means that Mukuro is technically an Estraneo too, which makes that whole thing an internal conflict.” Tsuna tilted his head. “Actually, wouldn’t that mean that Mukuro-san gets to inherit any assets they had left?”
“If such were the case, then the amount would be divided equally among the survivors,” Bermuda noted. “…Mammon of the Varia, what are you doing?”
Viper had a camera in hand and was busy snapping pictures. “I have an interested buyer.”
The Vindice all turned to stare at them, then at each other. “You will cede ten percent of all sales, including retroactive,” said Bermuda.
“Mu, turn a little more to the left, please.”
Bermuda ignored them. “Continue,” he told Tsuna.
Right, where was he? “As for the Dracone, did anyone ask the opinions of Mukuro, Ken or Chikusa before putting them in Dracone custody?”
“They were children, requiring adult supervision.”
As if that ever mattered in the Mafia. “If they were that young, they can’t be held responsible for their actions. If they were old enough to be responsible for their actions, then they were being held against their wills, and acting in self-defense. You can’t have it both ways.” Tsuna took another deep breath. “And they didn’t wipe out the Dracone indiscriminately – they left at least one alive,” he waved at Lancia. “I’m guessing because he was the only one there who didn’t treat them like weapons instead of people.” That was it; that was all the reasoning he could come up with.
The Vindice silently conferred for a long, nerve-wracking moment. At last Bermuda said, “Your arguments are sound. These four are free to go; however, they will be held responsible for any future offenses. Hidden Sky, your marker stands.” With that, the Vindice burst into black Flames and departed.
Viper put away their camera and reached for a strawberry. “Mu, this has been a profitable day.”
Lambo burst into tears. “Waaa, that was scary!” Tsuna scooped him into a hug, and looked around the courtyard; everyone was shaken by the Vindice’s aura, especially those that hadn’t been present the last time. Spade stuck his head out from under a picnic basket.
“Are they gone? Stupid instincts.”
“Hayato, I think we could all use a hot drink,” Tsuna said.
“Right, Decimo. Can I get a show of hands – coffee? Tea? Hot chocolate?” He started the brewing right on the campfire, and soon the scent of roasting coffee filled the air.
Mukuro eyed Tsuna suspiciously. “What do you want from us?”
“Well, if you’re going to stay in Namimori, there are only three rules that are mandatory.” Tsuna counted on his fingers. “One, no criminal work. There’s an exception for the Momokyokai who run gambling and other illegal entertainment, but everyone else has a civilian job. Or school, in your case.”
“School?” muttered Ken, as though he wasn’t quite sure what the word meant.
“Two, don’t talk about the town to outsiders. Silence isn’t our only defense but it’s a good start. And three, no hits on residents. Self defense and sparring are allowed, but please keep the collateral down.” There was a slight pause before they registered that he was done.
“Nothing about tributes?” asked Lancia. Why did money always come into it?
“Those are voluntary,” Tsuna answered. “There are a few other things that might get you laughed at, bitten by Hibari-san, or owing a round of drinks, but nothing else major.”
“No tests?” asked Chikusa.
Spade spoke up. “I would like one, non-invasive test – to find out how closely Mukuro is related to Chrome. Those looks can’t be a coincidence.” Mukuro gave him a narrow-eyed look, then nodded shortly.
Tsuna continued, “You can take your time deciding what you want to do. Have you considered law, Mukuro-san? I think you’d make a great lawyer.” If he had the nerve to bait Hibari and talk back to the Vindice, a mere courtroom would be no challenge.
“Kufufufu, what about my powers?”
Tsuna shrugged. “What about them? I have three Mists that answer to me, and more I can hire freelance. I’ve got Sun, Rain and Storm covered as well.”
Mukuro actually looked slightly offended. “Why did you bother to help us, then?”
There were many reasons that Tsuna could give, but Mukuro wouldn’t understand them yet. In the end he simply said, “Because I know what it’s like to go through Hell.”
Mukuro: Join me, and we can rule together!
Tsuna: Waaay ahead of you *sigh* ...
Tsuyoshi is closing up the restaurant when his son tumbles in with Reborn in tow. He raises an eyebrow at the combination. “How was the picnic?”
“Ahahaha, it went really well, even when the Vindice showed up.”
“Fluffy-Tsuna talked them down. Again.” Says Reborn. “Tsuyoshi, I’m going to get drunk in your living room now.”
“I might join you.” It’s too easy to forget just who they are loyal to. Tsuna-sama acts so ordinary, so rarely exercises his power, that it’s a shock to be reminded how powerful he is. Tsuyoshi knows that Tsuna-sama wants them to forget, wants casual familiarity and so he makes sure to give it to him. But news like this makes it difficult.
He shoos Takeshi to bed and gets out the good sake. “That boy will be the death of me,” Reborn begins.
“Maa, but what a way to go.” Tsuyoshi fills their cups. “Why were the Vindice there?”
“Ah, that. Do you know the name Mukuro Rokudo?”
“Rather infamous, wasn’t he, for massacring two famiglias … no way.”
Reborn grinned. “Would I lie?”
“Yes. Yes you would.” Tsuyoshi has made rice balls out of the day’s leftovers, and he nibbles on one. He already has a guess where this is going.
“Him and his three minions. It was beautiful to watch; Fluffy-Tsuna had him on the back foot the whole time, then convinced the Vindice to let them go free. He didn’t even have to blackmail them this time.”
Tsuyoshi chuckles. Months later, Reborn is still bragging about that, despite Tsuna-sama’s insistence that no actual blackmail occurred. “Are Rokudo-san and company likely to make good neighbors?”
“Fluffy-Tsuna thinks so.” Reborn tips back his cup. “You should hear what he said to Hibari, though …”
Hayato knew he was being clingy, but he couldn’t help it. To be reminded what his Sky had suffered – to hear it compared to actual hell – and then to watch Tsuna-sama in all his glory face down the Vindice a second time. He longed to take Tsuna-sama aside and spend a while grovelling at his feet.
Duty came first, as always; the little kids were understandably shaken by their encounter with the undead. It had taken him and Tsuna-sama, along with Nana and the baseball idiot’s Flames to get them to sleep. Reborn had been there, too, but he was the least restful person on the planet. Now Nana had gone to bed herself; Takeshi had left for home and taken Reborn with him, which left Tsuna-sama alone with Hayato. He knelt before his Sky, looking up eagerly for his next command.
“Take me to your room, Hayato.”
God, yes. Hayato stood, offered his arm, and the next thing he knew Tsuna-sama was sitting on his bed and taking off his shirt. Hayato paused for a moment to admire the sight. “Come and give me a back rub,” Tsuna-sama said, and flopped face-down on the bed.
This was just what he needed; a chance to be of personal service to his Sky. The skin was warm and smooth under his fingers, the muscles under it were firm. He could feel every breath that Tsuna-sama took, the beating of his heart. How had he gotten this lucky? From a bastard living on the streets to Right Hand of the most wonderful Boss in the world. Hayato stroked the length of his back and he stretched out, hands tucked under his chin. He was so relaxed, even with Hayato straddling his hips, all but pinning him; he was defenceless like this. Hayato would never raise a finger against him, and to know that Tsuna-sama knew that … he took a deep breath and steadied his hands. If his Sky wanted a back rub, he would have the best back rub that Hayato could deliver.
“Mmm. Hayato?” Tsuna-sama wiggled, and then rolled over under him. Now they were face to face, and their bodies pressed together in … places. “Hayato, I can tell you’re happy to see me.”
“Always, Cielo mio.” He was doing a bit more than seeing him at the moment. “You’re not going to ask if I have dynamite in my pocket?”
“Do you?” Tsuna-sama asked curiously.
“That too.” Tsuna-sama giggled, then hooked an arm around Hayato’s neck, pulled him lower, and kissed him. On the lips. Hayato overbalanced and almost fell on top of him, catching himself on his elbows just in time. Tsuna-sama took the opportunity to wrap his hands around the back of Hayato’s head, while his tongue explored his mouth. Neither of them knew what they were doing, but like hell was he going to ask for lessons from either Reborn or Shamal.
“We’ll figure it out,” Tsuna-sama murmured against his cheek. His hands moved to Hayato’s shoulders. “Do you feel like going a bit further than second base?”
Hayato nodded eagerly. He had imagined doing all kinds of things with his Sky, though he would wait for Tsuna-sama’s leave to act on any of them. And if Tsuna-sama wanted to lay hands on him in a sensual way, Hayato was entirely willing. He slid his hands down Hayato’s back to his waist and then further, under his waistband to cup his ass. Hayato arched under the touch, which pressed him against Tsuna-sama in the front. Tsuna-sama made a pleased noise.
“What would you have me do, Cielo mio?” asked Hayato.
“Hmm.” Tsuna-sama moved his hands in small circles while he thought about it. Hayato was still supporting himself on his elbows, so his dexterity was somewhat limited. The rest of him, though … “Use your lips on my neck,” Tsuna-sama decided.
“Yes, Decimo.” Hayato bent his head down. Tsuna-sama’s skin was silky, with a faint scent of coffee and chocolate. His heartbeat pulsed against Hayato’s lips; no one else had ever trusted him so close. He closed his eyes and lost himself in the sensation.
Shoichi settled deeper into the train seat next to his colleague. They had been exchanging emails for a while on the box animal project, and finally met up at the tech convention in Tokyo. One thing had led to another, and now he was taking Spanner home with him. Er, in a completely platonic sense. “Last chance,” he said. “You’re sure you don’t mind leaving everything behind?”
“Everything truly irreplaceable is right here.” Spanner showed him an SD card he kept in his shirt pocket. “And how could I pass up an opportunity like this? Not only do I get to pursue my dreams, but I get to do it in wonderful Japan!”
Shoichi chuckled. “I know you’re a Japan-otaku, but try not to get too carried away.”
“Yeah, but – it’s Japan! Look, real live bamboo!” A clump of it was growing in the ditch beside the tracks. Spanner offered Shoichi a lollipop, and he accepted it.
“Well, if there’s anywhere you can hide out from your family, it’s Namimori.”
Spanner lowered his voice. “Is it true you have a Sky there?”
Shoichi grinned and nodded. Though he wasn’t likely to harmonise himself – he was more focused on inventing than on Tsuna-sama as a person – the Sky Flame was restful in a way few things were. Tsuna-sama’s willingness to fund Shoichi’s projects was a bonus. “He’s awesome,” he said.
Neither of them noticed the boy sitting a few rows behind them, a large leather book clutched in his arms.
Lancia still remembered how it felt when he was accepted into the Dracone famiglia. Being welcomed and supported for the first time in his life; that was what famiglia meant to him, and he was determined to share that experience with the new recruits he was put in charge of.
It had been a shock to hear the Dracone Boss’s plans for Ken and Chikusa; to use threats against them to ensure Mukuro’s cooperation. Had the Dracone only been kind to Lancia because they had no other leverage on him? Had the image of family they presented been a lie? Perhaps, but he would not be part of it. He, at least, would behave as he thought a famiglia should. That was why he was alive today when all the other Dracone had died. Mukuro might claim that Lancia and the others were no more than tools, but Lancia knew it for a backhanded form of protection. Because while Mukuro had mind-controlled Lancia, he had not been unwilling. In a subtler way, the Dracone had betrayed him too.
That decision had taken him to Vindicare and beyond. All the way to a tiny apartment in Kokuyo, Japan. He rolled out of his futon and stretched. As usual, he was the first one up; the boys had responded to relative safety by sleeping a lot, all piled together like puppies. He hid a smile and went to start the coffee.
They had only been there a couple of days, and the apartment didn’t have much in it, yet; a few pieces of furniture that Mukuro had Misted up, a portable stove and an espresso pot. They ought to have more, but what did he know about keeping house? And soon he was going to need to find a job, too – a civilian job.
About two hours later, Mukuro emerged from the bedroom. He went straight to the pile of convenience-store pastries and took a package of chocolate bread. “I received a message from Chrome,” he said. “She and some friends are coming to visit. To check up on us, no doubt.”
“Understood.” Lancia poured him a cup of coffee. “Is … Signore Tsuna going to be with them?”
Mukuro smirked at him. “Does dear Tsuna frighten you?”
“Yes!” He was not embarrassed to admit it. Sky Flames were the stuff of urban legend, and there was no telling which rumors were true. Signore Tsuna’s control of his Flames was alarming in itself, and so were the three Arcobaleno he kept company with, one of whom waited on him like, well, like Lancia waited on Mukuro. And he wasn’t even going to think about the implications of the Vindice owing him a marker.
“Kufufufu. Leave dear Tsuna to me.”
Ken and Chikusa also emerged, taking a ham-and-cheese croissant and a rice ball respectively. “Is this all the food we have?” asked Ken.
“There’s leftover pizza,” Lancia told him.
“With mayonnaise on it.” Ken wrinkled his nose. “Whose idea was that?”
“I liked it,” said Chikusa.
“Yeah, well, you’re weird.”
Mukuro cleared his throat. “Our visitors are here. Behave yourselves.” He waved at Lancia to answer the door.
Standing outside were Chrome, Kyoko, their talking cat and an adult Mist who Lancia hadn’t met yet. “Good morning,” said Chrome.
Kyoko added, “We brought you a bit of a welcome present.” Lancia looked at the box she was holding.
“A rice cooker?”
“I thought it would give you a change from eating take-out. And this one has a risotto setting.” That was surprisingly on-point; Signore Tsuna’s team were better than their age would suggest.
“Thank you,” he said, and turned to the man standing behind the two girls. “And you are?”
“Trident Shamal. I’m here to do the gene comparison that Spade requested.”
“Kufufufu, let them in, Lancia.”
He stood aside and let the visitors enter. Trident Shamal was a name he knew; not one he expected to encounter in a refuge zone. “What brings you to Namimori?” he asked.
“I hit on the wrong wife, you know how it is.”
“Really?” Kyoko said sweetly. “I heard she was single and wants to roast your balls personally.”
Shamal turned greenish. “Still totally worth it.”
Chrome created a neon sign above his head which read Perv. Then she went to Mukuro and gave him a hug.
“Good morning, dear Chrome. And thank you for the useful gift.” Mukuro turned a narrow glare on Shamal. “This gene test is non-invasive?”
“Completely non-invasive,” Shamal assured him. “I can do it with hair or saliva.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out an apparatus which shouldn’t have fit in it, built around two test tubes. Mukuro eyes that as well, then pulled a hair from his head and held it out.
Shamal took the hair and examined it. “Nice try, but I need a real one for the test to be accurate.” The hair vanished in a puff of Mist.
“Kufufufu, at least you know what you’re doing.” Mukuro handed over another hair, which Shamal put in one test tube. Silently, Chrome offered a hair of her own, which went into the other tube. Shamal fed his Flames into the device, and stripes of color started to crawl up the sides of the tubes.
“Congratulations, you’re half siblings.”
She blinked, and smiled at her mirror, closer to her than she ever guessed. Stunned eyes met hers. “As close as that – how can it be?”
“I never knew my birth father,” she offered.
“And all I knew of mine is that he was Japanese. That’s why I chose Japanese names for the three of us.”
She, too, chose her name; it was another thread to connect them. “Mukuro-nii?”
Even Reborn can't even with Tsuna anymore. Lancia isn't even trying.
He wandered along the city sidewalk, untroubled for the moment by his transformation. Cement under his paws and sun on his fur – the world looked, in one way, faded, its colors dim, and yet brighter than it had been in many years. A home – a family – a bright sky over him. He hardly knew what to do with it all; he was old to be changing his ways.
Yet he knew one older, who had managed. A shop, a lair, a pack-rat’s nest; he flicked his tail, and the door opened for him. Within was a maze of memories, of ages long forgotten. He stuck his nose into a kerosene lantern, sidestepped a sewing machine, and curled up in a patch of light.
“Good morning, Daemon-san,” said his counterpart and elder. His only elder? “Are you only here to nap on my windowsill?”
“It’s restful.” When he lost Elena, he lost everything. And now he found himself in a cat’s body. “I have descendants. Plural. What do I do with that? Tell them to clean their rooms?”
“I’m sure both of them would create illusions of tidiness.”
“I’d approve if they did.” Like him they were dyed-in-the-wool indigo, skilled in deception. Both alone and in danger right under his nose, while he was too busy plotting to see them. It was enough to make him laugh. “I’d make a horrible parent.”
“You’ve come to the wrong person for advice. I’ve been quite the misanthrope until recently.”
“Who said anything about advice? I want to complain at someone who’ll understand what I mean.”
“Do you feel too old to learn new tricks?” A barbed smile, a raised eyebrow. He turned up his nose.
“Cats do not do tricks.” He stretched out in the sunbeam. “Giotto never talked back to the Vindice. I’m starting to think our Sky needs a dozen Guardians to keep him out of trouble. At least he has some respect for traditional arts, instead of spending all his time with gadgets and gizmos.”
“I remember when iron pots were the next big thing. Everyone wanted one.”
“Ha.” Perhaps it’s even true.
“That does look comfortable. May I?” A swirl of midnight, and his elder became his mirror, silver fur and green eyes.
He bolted upright. “Teach me!” But the sun-soaked windowsill proved too tempting, and he sank back down. “… later.”
Takeshi arrives at Kokuyo Land with Lambo and I-pin at his heels, ready to spend a summer afternoon at play before meeting Nana to help with the shopping. “Lucky Lambo wants to practice marksmanship!”
“Ahaha, you know you’re not allowed unless Matteo-sensei is watching.”
“Can we do throwing?” asks I-pin. It’s a skill that all three of them use.
“That’s a good idea. Ah – hi there, Ken and Chikusa.” The two boys are sitting in the Kokuyo Land courtyard, apparently at loose ends.
“Hey! Takeshi, right? And, uh – ”
He points. “This one is Lambo,”
“The quickest draw in the West!”
“And this one is I-pin.”
The boys don’t know how to respond, as though they’ve never heard a friendly greeting before. Perhaps they haven’t. “Maa, we were going to play catch, would you like to join us?”
“We can throw the Frisbee,” yells Lambo.
Ken and Chikusa look at each other. “What’s a Frisbee?”
It turned out, Ken liked the Frisbee. A lot. Once he got the idea that throwing it wasn’t for anything. Not a test or experiment or escaping or surviving. He could run around as much as he wanted, just because he wanted to, He even put in his Beast Fang so he could go even faster. He caught the Frisbee – in his teeth – and then noticed that the little kids were staring at him; he cringed.
“Cooool!” exclaimed Lambo.
“Ydfnk – ” Ken put down the Frisbee. “You don’t think I’m dangerous?”
“Maa, we’re all pretty dangerous around here, so we don’t mind,” said Takeshi.
“You’re not mean, so Lucky Lambo isn’t scared!”
Ken scratched his ear in confusion. Weren’t ‘mean’ and ‘dangerous’ the same thing? Mukuro had put words in his head, but that didn’t always mean he understood them.
“Throw to I-pin next!” That, he could do. He tossed the disc to the little girl, who caught it with a complicated kung-fu move.
Lambo asked, “Chikusa, do you know any cool moves?”
“Yoyos.” Chikusa paused, and added, “Throw here.” He struck the flying Frisbee with a yoyo, bouncing it towards Takeshi, who caught it.
“Ahaha, you’re both doing fine.”
He examined the bakery display case, bewildered by the variety within. The big choices he understood – life or death, that was simple – but how was he to make up his mind about this?
The baker beams at him, sunny and bright. “I haven’t seen you here before, young man. Are you new in town?”
“Indeed, dear lady.” He didn’t know what to make of Namimori and its Boss. The more he learned, the more questions he had; the whole place was upside down and backwards. Dear Tsuna, so fluffy and warm, had seen Hell; his welcoming Flame, the Sky of Bosses, and the townspeople spoke of him, when they spoke at all, in reverent whispers. He claimed to have no use for him, yet invited him and his to stay. “A certain fluffy acquaintance recommended your store.”
Her eyes go wide. “Straight to the top – you’re lucky. I’m honoured that he mentioned me. What can I get for you?”
“Kufufufu, I am still deciding.”
“All right, then. If I may ask – are you a relation of Chrome-chan?”
He smirks mysteriously; he knows better than to reveal such information lightly. He had a sister. How was he to behave towards a sister? Dear Chrome had no use for him either; he would have offered protection, instruction, companionship, but she had all those things. Yet she still sought him out, in dreams and waking.
… Perhaps she would like a lemon scone. And another for Chikusa, he liked tart flavours. Ken liked meatier foods, so a peanut butter cookie for him. For himself, Death By Chocolate, naturally. For Lancia – hmm. His other two minions – brothers? – minions were easy to choose for. Lancia, even after possessing him, was harder to understand. Why did he not fight the control? Why did he not hate?
Sesame seed, he decides. And because the pastries were priced in boxes of six – pineapple surprise, for the hotheaded birdie. He could afford the luxury of a rival, now.
Choices made and paid for, he walked free along the street. Here was a little park, with trees bathed in Sky. Further along is the school where dear Tsuna goes; he slips inside, invisible, to leave the birdie’s treat on his desk. He lurks and listens; the students know nothing of dear Tsuna’s power. They mock him; he could rule them. Why didn’t he?
Then there were rows of shops, selling a thousand needless things; a pachinko parlor, and an arcade. He was turning the corner of a flower shop when he was all but bowled over by a boy coming the other way. A young boy, fair haired, a scarf around his neck despite the summer heat, a thick leather book clutched in his arms.
He blinked at the Mist, and his eyes went blank; leaves and pebbles floated up from the ground. “Rokudo Mukuro … ranked number three in scariest Flame users. Ranked number one for worst childhood. Ranked number five for resembling a tropical fruit.”
This is an ability he has head of. “Kufufufu. And you are Fuuta de la Stella, the Ranking Prince. What brings you to lovely Namimori?”
The boy – the little prince flipped to the back of his book. “Namimori, Japan is the number one place to hide from the Mafia. Its boss is ranked number one in opposing child exploitation and number one in accepting requests for help.”
“It happens I know just where to find this Boss. Let’s see what he will make of you.” Because Mists he might have in plenty, but the power of ranking was one of a kind. He would see if dear Tsuna’s principles stood up when faced with such a temptation.
Tsuna was hunting for his Leon-modified pen. He had discovered that it could change between a fountain pen and a brush, and it also let him channel Flames into the ink while he was writing, which made it useful for official documents … assuming he could find it. “Fon, have you seen my pen anywhere?”
“One has not, Master.” The Storm was reviewing the draft of the decree that Tsuna was going to present to the Yunque. It laid out the rules he was going to hold them to, and it had taken more than a month to work out.
“I know it’s around here somewhere.” Tsuna rummaged in his school bag. “Come here, you – ” The pen materialised in his hand. “Well, that’s handy.” He laid out a sheet of scrap paper and started practicing some of the trickier characters. Across the room, Hayato and Reborn had their heads together over a page of equations that made Tsuna’s head hurt. Reborn had Leon transformed into a slide rule, and Hayato had his reading glasses on. They brought out the lines of his face so nicely. Daemon Spade lounged under the table with a history book and a red marker in his Mist-hands.
A cicada sang outside, and Reborn looked up. “We’re about to have visitors, Fluffy-Tsuna.”
Tsuna capped his pen and tried to straighten the papers which were scattered all over the living room. “Fon, can you get the door, please?”
It was Mukuro, and he had a younger boy with him. The kid took one look at Tsuna and spaced out. “Sawada Tsunayoshi: ranked number one most secretive Sky. Number one Mafia Boss most likely to be underestimated. Number seven in best handwriting. Number sixteen in shortest Mafiosi.” His eyes regained focus, and various objects dropped back to the floor; Hayato barely caught his coffee cup as it fell.
“Oi, be careful with that.”
The boy ignored him in favour of writing down everything he’d said. “The Ranking Prince,” Reborn said with amazement. Tsuna mentally waved goodbye to what was left of his summer break, and gave his tutor an inquiring look. “Fuuta de la Stella, called the Ranking Prince. You just saw an example of his ability. Famiglias pay high prices for his rankings; the last I heard he was in the hands of the Todd Famiglia.”
“I wasn’t allowed to leave my room,” said Fuuta. “And they made me do rankings for them all the time. Always boring stuff, too. Namimori was the number one place to run away to … the Todd might still try to take me back, though.”
“You came all the way from Italy? Wow.” Another one. Tsuna tried to keep his rage off his face, but his Elements reacted. Hayato growled; Fon stood straight with his hands clasped in front of him.
“One awaits your command, Master.” Tempting, in the moment, but sending Fon to eradicate the Todd would tip his hand far too early.
“Kufufufu. You’ve had quite a resource fall into your lap, dear Tsuna. Whatever will you do with it?”
“Please don’t call Fuuta a resource.” Tsuna sighed, then realised they were all speaking Italian. How was this his life? He was saved from answering right away by his mother, coming home from shopping with Lambo and I-pin. Lambo was carrying a bunch of grapes as big as himself, and I-pin has a leek in each hand, pretending they were swords.
“Ara,” said Nana, “Who’s this?”
Bilingual conversation, yay. “Mama, this is Fuuta-kun, he needs a place to stay for a while. Would you mind if we looked after him?”
“Oh, not at all! My dame-Tsuna is so thoughtful. Fuuta-kun can share with Lambo-chan, and I-pin can share with me!” Lambo helpfully translated this into Italian, then took Fuuta by the hand and pulled him into the kitchen.
“What about his powers?” Mukuro prodded.
“What about them? He’s a kid. He should be playing and going to school.” Tsuna didn’t have that option himself, but he could make sure the younger kids did.
Mukuro looked at him sceptically. “So you say. But I have the means to see directly.” His eye flashed with the number six; Tsuna’s Elements took a step forward, but intuition had Tsuna raise a hand to stop them. “With my Heaven Path, I can enter your mind – ”
Spade laid his ears back. “Bad idea – ”
The world dissolved and reformed; Tsuna floated in a vast sky which he knew was his own mind. There were two suns dancing overhead; below, a raging typhoon with a calm eye at its center. Symbols of his other Elements drifted in between, and the black branches of the Seal arched around it all. In the center floated Mukuro, with Tsuna holding him by the wrists.
“How?” he exclaimed.
“You might have the Heaven Path, but ‘Heaven’ is my nature,” said Tsuna. He could sense the bond forming between them, brought on by the Mist’s attempt at possession, and drew Mukuro’s attention to it in case he had any objections. Mukuro studied the Flames in wonder; Tsuna’s intent was clear within them. For him and his to have a chance at the life they had missed. To have them as friends and perhaps as family, and to make sure no other child went through what they had.
“How are you even real?”
Tsuna tilted his head innocently. “When a man and a woman are very horny …”
“Kufufufu. I believe I shall keep you, dear Tsuna.” The bond settled into place; the mindscape melted away and the real world returned. Reborn was in the middle of face-palming.
“I tried to warn you,” said Spade. “Welcome to the harem; I’m the court eunuch.”
“Are you still upset about that, Daemon-san?” Tsuna sighed.
Lambo, having felt the harmonisation, dashed out of the kitchen cheering, “Mukuro-nii! Mukuro-nii!” He hugged the startled Mist around the knees.
“Welcome to the family,” said Hayato. “You get used to it eventually.”
If Kawahira is 3000 years old, he probably was around for the invention of iron pots.
Fuuta has entered the building!
Tsuna’s computer chimed, and he set aside his summer homework eagerly. Reborn had given him the laptop to do ‘the work of a Mafia Boss’ (which was becoming an old joke between them), and he did. His calling card had an email address on it, so he needed a way to answer them. And then there were the spreadsheets; piles and piles of spreadsheets. But the computer had other, more entertaining uses.
The video chat opened with Dino on the other end. “Hey, bro!”
“Dino-nii! How are you doing?”
“I’m great! And look who dropped in to visit!” Dino waved to the side and another young man leaned over his shoulder. He had a lot of piercings and purple hair.
“Do you not recognise the Great Skull-sama?” And ok, the voice was definitely Skull’s.
“I’ve only ever seen you with your helmet on,” Tsuna answered.
Dino beamed. “He’s taking a survey of the venues I run,” he said proudly.
“Crew quarters, too,” Skull added. Which made sense; like Hibari, he’d want his own minions who knew his ways, rather than put up with local workers.
“You’d have … mechanics, I guess …”
“Mechanics, assistant drivers, sound and camera guys, pyrotechnician, promo guy,” Skull counted on his fingers. Tsuna had a feeling Dino was finally going to get the stunt show of his dreams.
“How about you, bro? You’re looking kind of frazzled.”
Tsuna groaned. “I’ve got a formal meeting with the Yunque coming up.” And it was truly absurd that he was worrying about that, after the week he’d had and the Todd Famiglia on the move as well.
“Have I thanked you for cluing me in on that? I’m set to make some very profitable investments. This is going to be big.” Big? The Yunque were worldwide. Tsuna wasn’t even in high school yet! Dino continued, “I believe in you, bro. Listen to your intuition and your advisors, and you’ll be fine.”
“I’ll try.” Tsuna scratched his neck.
“They can’t be any worse than the Vindice,” said Skull. “You stood up to them no problem.”
That was because he wasn’t supposed to be in charge of them. Tsuna sighed. “Funny you should mention them …”
“Bro, what did you land in this time?”
When Haru came out of the craft store, her bag was full of awesome fabrics and a book about making dresses. Why? Because ballroom dancing was fun, and it would be even more fun if the girls had dresses that swirled and twirled. Haru was getting pretty good at making dresses; she had even made a dress for Boss, and he looked super-cute in it!
She spotted a familiar indigo robe and went closer to look: Viper had found a boutique that sold strawberry-themed merchandise and was cleaning the place out. They had a pile by the register that was bigger than they were; there were strawberry dishes, jewelry, stationery, and even strawberry-printed bedsheets. Viper was talking the cashier into giving them a bulk discount. When that was done, they loaded their purchases into a strawberry-shaped backpack that wouldn’t normally have held it all. Mist Flames were so cool!
“Hi there, Viper-san,” Haru called out.
“Mu, good afternoon.” Without asking, Viper floated onto Haru’s shoulder.
“Hahi, do you want a ride to the hotel?” Haru kept walking towards the bike racks. Soon her fabric was tied to the rear rack of her bike, and Viper was sitting in the basket.
They were halfway to the hotel when a trio of men in suits stepped in front of Haru’s bike. They weren’t wearing the badge of the Momokyokai, so they had to be outsiders. “Excuse me, miss,” one of them said in accented Japanese. He held out a picture. “Have you seen this person?”
“Um …” It was a picture of Fuuta-kun. And Boss had said that Fuuta was hiding from some bad people who wanted to capture him, so Haru shouldn’t say anything. “Nope.”
“She’s obviously lying,” said one of the men. Haru had been practicing so hard, too. The man with the picture said,
“Let’s encourage her to be more truthful.” He pulled out a switchblade.
“Hahi!” Now they were really breaking the rules; Haru was going to need her special moves. She got off her bike, using it as a barrier like in Fon-sensei’s lessons, and let her Flames rise.
“Oho, the chick thinks she can fight!” The man came around the bike with his knife, but Haru didn’t give him a chance to use it.
“Thunder-punch! ” Her Flames discharged with a tremendous crackle, and the man flew backwards into a wall, out cold.
“Mu. For calling your attack, I shall fine you one thousand yen.” Haru didn’t see what Viper did to the other two men, but they were knocked out too.
“Hahi, is that a bad thing?”
“It reveals unnecessary information to your opponents.” Viper waved their hand, and shackles appeared to tie the gangsters up. “We should go. I will arrange to have this rabble disposed of.”
Kyoya bounded across the rooftops, hunting the fake carnivores who had invaded his territory. He was already out of sorts from all the newcomers who had turned up recently; most of them at least knew their place and joined the herd without trouble. These ones were hunting a small animal who had taken refuge in Kyoya’s territory. They would be bitten to death.
With his strength and speed multiplied, he could reach any part of his territory in minutes; his senses, enhanced similarly, would catch any squeak from the interlopers. He could hear them now, brawling with the loud herbivore.
“Extreme!” came a shout, and then the crack of a gunshot. Kyoya moved faster. Only his handsome carnivore was allowed to use guns in Namimori. When he arrived, the boxing herbivore was still standing, barely; Kyoya didn’t see much blood, so the gunshot must have gone wide. Surrounding him were half a dozen fake carnivores, two knocked out. Kyoya snarled, and pounced from the rooftop into the fray.
No holding back with these animals; his tonfas cracked the skull of the first one, and Kyoya kicked him aside. The second had the gun. Kyoya knew to watch the barrel and stay out of its line of fire, at least until he got in a blow at the false carnivore’s arm. Bones snapped, and he dropped the gun. Obstacle removed, he moved in and smashed his tonfa into his prey’s chin; he crumpled.
The third fake carnivore tried to flee. Kyoya caught him from behind, hooking his tonfas into his throat. The last one had his back to a wall, and swung at Kyoya with all the resolve he could muster; Kyoya blocked it. “For disturbing my territory, I will bite you to death.” He went down as quickly as the others.
Meanwhile, the boxing herbivore had collapsed where he stood. Kyoya snorted. The herbivore might butt horns with other herbivores, but a life or death fight was too much for him. Kyoya took out his phone and summoned the Disciplinary Committee to take the herbivore to the hospital and dispose of the others.
“Hibari! Hibari!” Hibird fluttered down to perch on his head. Unlike humans, the small animal understood its place in nature. Kyoya stalked away, looking for the next disturbance to his territory.
Lorenzo di Todd floundered back into consciousness, aching in every muscle. Damn, Lightnings hit hard, even before they brought electricity into it. He blinked; he was in the same nook that they had tried to ambush the girl from; he also seemed to be chained up.
“Hoy, you’re awake,” said his comrade Jaime. “How’s the head?”
“Blech.” Lorenzo lifted his head enough to see that the other two were trussed up as well. “No luck with the lockpicks?”
“They’re fucking mist constructs, they don’t have locks,” grumbled Vito.
“Fat lot of good you are,” said Lorenzo.
“At least I didn’t get punched out by a little girl.”
He was never going to live that down. Ever. “Urgh, just kill me now.”
“Shut it, someone’s coming.”
A wave of Storm Flame swirled through the alcove, dissolving the chains. Who had come for them? And why?
The workshop at Kokuyo Land was a jumble of computers, cables, and half-finished projects. Hayato had tried to tidy it while making a space for Spanner to set up in; now that they were working together in person, maybe they could make progress on the Box Animal puzzle.
“Welcome to Namimori,” Tsuna-sama told the young engineer. “Please remember to eat and sleep.”
Shoichi grinned. “Not to worry, Boss. I’m taking him out for authentic ramen after this.” Spanner bounced with excitement.
Hayato hid a smile. He was going to spend the evening with his Sky, watching a movie. Sure, the kids would be there too, but he didn’t care about that. Whether he had Tsuna-sama in his arms, or his head in Tsuna-sama’s lap, it would be a wonderful time. He closed the workshop door behind them and locked it.
As they came down the path from Kokuyo Land, they crossed paths with Ken and Chikusa coming the other way; Ken was carrying a new soccer ball. Tsuna-sama called out a greeting. “Shoichi, Spanner, these are Ken and Chikusa, some of our other recent arrivals,” he said. “Ken, Chikusa, these are Shoichi and Spanner, our local science nerds.”
The two former experiments took a step back. “Scientists?”
Shoichi held up his hands. “I don’t do biotech. Strictly mechanical.”
“Yeah, robotics is where it’s at,” added Spanner. Hayato had only told them the bare bones on Mukuro’s group, but they weren’t geniuses for nothing.
“What’s with all the snakes, then?” asked Chikusa.
“Blame Matteo-sensei for those.”
They parted ways at the edge of town; Tsuna-sama said, “Let’s drop by the bakery and get a treat for tonight.” Hayato kept alert; he had been receiving text messages all day about sightings of the Todd famiglia. Fuuta was safe at home with Fon and Mukuro standing guard; Tsuna-sama had not only Hayato, but also Reborn and Daemon Spade shadowing him.
It didn’t help when they entered Moko-san’s shop and found her being held at gunpoint by a pair of mooks. “I keep telling you, I’m out of the business,” she was saying. Her eyes went wide as she saw who had just come in. The gunmen turned to look and then, with barely a pause, opened fire. The next few seconds were very busy.
Tsuna-sama’s Flame blazed as he reached out to catch the first bullet – but the range was short and there was another coming. Hayato pushed forward, and grunted as the round pierced his shoulder. The mooks paled as they saw who they had shot at – wow, that was a lot of blood. There was another gunshot, from behind, Reborn’s gun; one of the mooks dropped to the floor. Moko-san beaned the other one with a rolling pin. The room spun around, and Hayato toppled over.
“Hayato!” cried Tsuna-sama, pressing his hands to the wound. “Sensei!”
Of course. Sun Flame was what he needed right now. Hayato’s Storm wasn’t any use for healing, but he didn’t care. Tsuna-sama deserved more from him than this; while there was any life left in him, he was resolved to stay at his Sky’s side. From deep within him, a new Flame answered; a yellow Flame. It was a bare flicker compared to Reborn’s, but it pooled in his shoulder to stop the bleeding.
“Now there’s a surprise,” muttered Reborn.
“Stay with me, Hayato,” said Tsuna-sama. What else could he do but obey …