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Sass and Win

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Reborn springs into action before the rest of us can even properly react to the incoming projectile. He kicks it away with ease sending it flying past the cafeteria down the hall toward where the principals office is. The whole thing is executed with such practiced ease that I’m almost jealous.

 

Mostly, I’m just grateful that we didn’t get blown to smithereens.

 

Unfortunately, Lambo follows this up with a barrage of grenades raining down upon us. I am so exhausted that I can’t make myself move with my usual level of agility. I just kind of waver there staring up into death.

 

“INARI!” Tsuna screams at me.

 

In the blink of an eye, a small (and yet extremely powerful) hand grabs me by the back of my shirt and I am flung straight into Tsuna who takes the full brunt of having a human person slammed into his gut. We end up rolling an extra few feet after the grenades land and detonate.

 

“Now fucking what?” Hayato hisses.

 

He has three sticks of dynamite clutched between the fingers of his left hand and in his right one of his home brew creations that he concocted in the science lab.

 

“I think it’s a kid.” Takeshi says, coming to stand behind him.

 

The kid in question charges at Reborn and is quickly rebuked. He is sent skidding on his knees across the floor where he tumbles into the wall and starts wailing.

 

I have been both anticipating and dreading the arrival of Lambo. Ever since I Reborn arrived and I started ‘remembering’ things I knew that this kid was eventually going to turn up. And with him a certain problematic ‘item’ that I am unable to properly think about.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I have tried to think about it. However, every time I try to think about that particular magic item that the kid has squirrelled away in his pocket of extra dimensional space I end up with a splitting head ache and the taste of grape cough syrup sticking to the inside of my mouth.

 

I have tried bashing my skull against that metaphorical wall many times trying to brute force my way to the information that I know is just waiting there. Here is what I have discovered in my attempts:

 

I can think about Lambo Bovino as a person that exists in this world. If I am careful about how I am ‘remembering’ him I can even draw up some important plot points that are associated with him.

 

I can also think about time-travel as a concept and understand that under certain specific circumstances it is possible in this world. I just can’t think about myself time traveling. There in lyes the painful backlash of the paradox.

 

And I absolutely cannot make myself think about the ‘thing’ that I know he has hidden in his hair. I know that it’s there. I know what it does. But if I try to actively think about it things on the inside of my head start getting a little more fucked up than usual.

 

I assume it might be the universe trying to keep me from creating a world ending paradox that would result in the end of space time as we know it, so I have mostly been okay with letting this curiosity un-prodded.

 

But now, when I’m actually looking at this tiny kid sniffling on the ground with scraped knees, I’m not thinking about any of that world ending complicated stuff.

 

Who’s child is this?

 

Who let his small child go to a foreign country all by himself with an arsenal of deadly and dangerous weaponry at his disposal?

 

Why doesn’t this small child have any parental supervision?

 

I lever myself off of Tsuna and brush past Reborn who has taken an offensive stance in front of the four of us. I take a quick moment to marvel that through all of that he had somehow managed to keep Bianchi ensnared and relatively unharmed.

I kneel down next to the blubbering little boy, and he looks up at me with these big watery green eyes. He looks so sad and fucking pathetic. This kid is five and he is alone. He doesn’t have anyone except us fucking idiots, and he doesn’t even have us yet.

 

“You okay there kiddo?” I ask him as gently as possible.

 

He sniffles and gives me the most petulant look that he can muster under the current circumstances.

 

“Lambo-san isn’t a kid,” he insists with a hiccup, “Lambo-san is five years old and a professional hitman.”

 

Oh my god, this fucking kid. He’s a bratty little asshole and so fucking adorable in his outrage that it hurts.

 

“Really?” I ask humouring him. “You must be very strong then.”

 

Lambo nods excitedly, momentarily forgetting his scraped little knees. “Lambo-san is the strongest!” He declares proudly, “That’s why the boss sent him on this super important mission!”

 

“That’s very cool,” I tell him mentally promising the boss of the Bovino Family a painful death for apparently sending a literal toddler after the World’s Greatest Hitman.

 

“My name is Inari,” I introduce myself. “And over there is my brother Tsuna, and our friends Hayato and Takeshi.”

 

Takeshi waves.

 

Tsuna and Hayato just kind of stare at me with a ‘why are you befriending the assassin you idiot!?’ Look.

 

I hear Reborn’s footsteps as he comes to stand next to us.

 

“And you already know Reborn of course.” I say nodding toward the master of chaos himself.

 

Lambo gives everyone curious looks, but he gets a little nervous when he notices the calculating way that Reborn is staring at him. He tries to get back up, but his knees hit the ground and he lets out a yelp and starts whimpering again.

 

Poor little guy.

 

“Your a little banged up there buddy.” I say digging in my pocket for the stash of bandaids that I always keep at the ready incase Tsuna needs them. I pull out a handful and find sparkly cartoon dinosaurs looking back at me.

 

“Look,” I say dangling the glittery adorable dinosaur bandaids in front of his face like a piece of candy, “I have sparkly dinosaurs! Do you want one?”

 

His eyes light up and he makes a grabby motion toward them.

 

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Gimme!”

 

“Alright, show me your knees and I’ll put them on for you.”

 

“Kay.”

 

Behind me I can hear my brother and friends start to crack up as I tend to this bratty little kid. I don’t know exactly what is so funny about this situation. As far as I’m concerned they are all fucking assholes.

 

“You are surprisingly good with children.” Reborn observes as I expertly stick pink and yellow stegosaurus’ onto scraped knees.

 

I shrug.

 

I don’t really know if I am or not. What I do know is that I have a terrible soft spot for underdogs and scrappers. And this kid is both of those things.

 

“H-h-hey Reborn!” Lambo abruptly greets, “It’s me Lambo!”

 

Reborn continues to stare at this tiny little disaster child and for a second I’m almost terrified that he’s going to snub him and then we would have an entirely different problem on our hands. Instead he starts speaking rapid Italian to him. Lambo blinks at him and responds. They go back and forth for a little bit. During which time Takeshi crouches down next to me with a bright smile on his face.

 

Tsuna and Hayato are still keeping alert and watching out for enemies that might descend upon us at any moment, which I appreciate. Though I can see Hayato’s ears perk up as the conversation continues.

 

Lambo says something, and I have no idea what it might have been but the sound of outrage and frustration that Reborn makes leads me to believe that it couldn’t have been anything good.

 

Reborn pinches the bridge of his nose and turns away from Lambo with a somewhat pained expression. I can only assume that whatever was said was just as ridiculous as one would expect. He actually seems more worn out from this than from the acutely assassins that we have been dealing with all day.

 

“I can’t stand that family,” I hear him mutter before he abruptly re-centres himself and hops onto Tsuna’s head.

 

“Dame-Tsuna we’re taking the cow with us.” He announces, his tone leaving absolutely no room for argument.

 

“What!? Why!?” Tsuna asks incredulously. “He just tried to kill us! Doesn’t that me he’s one of the assassins sent here to kill ‘Vongola Decimo?’”

 

“Bro, he’s like five.” I tell him flatly.

 

“So?” He fires back. “Reborn is like two and we don’t doubt that he could kill us all in a heartbeat.”

 

I sigh. There is no point opening that particular can of worms. Instead, I look back down at Lambo who has finally stopped crying and busy being enchanted by by Takeshi juggling some spare change. Which I’ll admit is pretty enchanting.

 

I look at Tsuna who glares back at me in a sad attempt at putting his foot down.

 

I quirk an eyebrow at him.

 

The glare wavers.

 

I flutter my eyelashes at him in my best pretty, pretty please expression.

 

He looks away.

 

Victory is mine!

 

“Fine,” he relents.

 

“Hey Lambo,” I turn back to our new little buddy with a big smile.

 

Takeshi has balanced a small stack of shiny coins on the tip of his nose and Lambo is giggling in glee. Seriously, who sent actual literal baby away?

 

“We’re on a super secret, super dangerous mission right now,” I tell him conspiratorially. “Do you think that you can help us out?”

 

“Why would we need a snot nosed-“ the rest of Hayato’s outrage is muffled behind Tsuna’s hand.

 

He obviously knows nothing about dealing with small children.

 

Lambo doesn’t seem to have noticed though. He leaps to his feet with his hands on his hips and his chest puffed out with all the self importance that a five year old can muster and gives us all a cocky grin and a haughty laugh.

 

“Of course! Lambo-san is super strong and brave!”

 

This fucking brat is too fucking cute.

 

“Good because I’m very scared, so I’m going to need your help.”

 

“BWAHAHA! Don’t worry fratello! Lambo-san will protect you from all the bad guys!”

 

They guys are all trying so hard not to laugh as I beseech this child for his help. Tsuna has one hand clamped over his own mouth and the other over Hayato’s. I hear a small chuckle escape Reborn before he turns away.

 

Takeshi isn’t even trying to hide his own amusement. He laughs brightly, “What a cute kid.”

 

A moment later I hear Hayato mutter, “fucking softie.”

 

I will get him back for that later, when we aren’t all in mortal danger.

 

“Enough,” Reborn says cutting short our moment of levity. “Focus up boys.”

 

He hops onto Takeshi’s shoulder as he is the tallest perch among us. Takeshi takes it in good grace. Though the whole picture is kind of weird considering that Reborn is still holding the tether that is keeping Bianchi bound and out of our hair. She is still watching all of us intently though which is uncomfortable.

 

“We aren’t out of trouble yet Dame-Tsuna,” he warns. “Don’t get cocky because you took down one hit woman.”

 

He nods his head toward Bianchi glowers at the rest of us the best she can with a gag in her mouth.

 

“I think we’re at four now actually.” I say absently thinking back on all the fights we’ve had today.

 

“Hn?”

 

“That illusionist person, Bianchi, and Verde’s robot dudes,” I list counting them off on my fingers.

 

“Verde?!” Reborn snaps.

 

“Says ‘hi’ by the way,” I tell him flippantly as I deliberately miss the point.

 

I pull myself to my feet and gather Lambo into my arms.

 

“And that’s not counting all the guys that Hibari took out either,” Takeshi adds. “He’s gotten more points than all of us.”

 

“At least that asshole is good for something,” Hayato grumbles.

 

Reborn just stares at me for a moment before he starts aggressively rubbing his temples. There have been so many unexpected surprises for him today. It must be off-putting for someone who is used to dishing out the unexpected chaos not the one on the receiving end of it.

 

I almost feel bad.

 

Almost.

 

As it stands I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten the worse of the beating today, and I’m starting to run a little low on sympathy.

 

“We’re getting out of here,” Tsuna rules firmly looking around to each of us. Though some of the impact of his conviction is lost on the fact that he is standing around in his boxer shorts.

 

“You sound confident Dame-Tsuna,” Reborn says.

 

“Well, the only other thing we can do now is give up and die,” Tsuna replies. “So we are going to get out of here because I am NOT going to die in this terrible school!”

 

I can’t help it, I laugh.

 

“I am right there with you bro-bro.”

 

“Great...” and then realizing that he is standing in the hall in his underwear, “does anyone have some pants?”

 

“Dame-Tsuna,” Reborn chides and then throws a randomly materialized gym uniform into Tsuna’s face.


I wish that I could say that escaping Namimori Middle School was as easy as walking out the front door. But nothing today has been easy so far. So why would this be any different?

 

Tsuna takes the lead. The sky flame is burning like an ember on his forehead and his eyes have settled somewhere between their natural brown and the unnatural orange. I’m not sure where he is sitting on the sliding scale of Dying Will Mode, but he has his perception skill turned up to eleven.

 

Thanks to him we manage to avoid at least six more random encounters with various terrifying looking individuals. It really is fucking Assassin Con 2002 here right now. I don’t know what message board this Cassandra chick posted her call to arms on but it obviously had a very wide reach. Though I get the feeling that only about a hand full of these fuckers are actually dangerous. Most of them seem pretty... normal.

 

Well, normal for assassins at least.

 

“We should try to get out through the teachers parking lot,” he whispers. “It exits right onto 4th and it’s a straight shot to the shopping centre from there.”

 

“We could get lost in Lucky Taro’s Grocery Store for a bit,” I add with a grin. “That place is a warp in space, no one would ever find us.”

 

The four of us look to Reborn, who is still perched on Takeshi’s shoulder, for the final okay. He is the expert here, and Tsuna’s not even trying to dispute his authority anymore.

 

He silently regards us for a moment before saying, “You’re certainly not as hopeless as I thought Tsuna.”

 

We take that as our all clear to keep moving.

 

After a couple minutes I have to haul Lambo up onto my shoulders for s piggy back ride. The pins and needles in my arms have yet to go away completely and my skin has started to sting uncomfortably.

 

I’m vaguely terrified that I have given myself som sort of nerve damage by using myself as a ‘conduit.’ I’m not sure what Verde had meant about that but the more I think on it the less good it sounds.

 

Apparently Hayato thinks so too. He falls in step beside me as I, covertly as possible, examine the red and swollen lines across my forearms and palms.

 

“What have you done to yourself now.” He asks with a hiss of sympathy.

 

“I’m pretty sure I electrocuted myself,” I tell him blandly.

 

“Electo- What? How?”

 

“Magic lighting.”

 

“What?”

 

I give him a side long look and shrug the best I can with a small child clinging to my back.

 

“Dude, as soon as I figure it out I will tell you.”

 

I can tell by the look on his face that this is not even close to an adequate explanation. Hayato is a man of science after all, the ‘magic’ explanation must grate on his nerves.

 

He is about to say something else when he is interrupted by Lambo who has noticed the fun new designs on my arms.

 

“Fratello, your arms look funny,” he laughs and proceeds to lean over and prod at them.

 

It takes everything I have to bite down on the inside of my cheek and NOT scream.

 

The jolt of agony that blossoms at the point of contact is unexpected and has by hair standing on end. I grit my teeth and do my best to maintain the bland smile. There’s no point scaring the kid and string him off crying again.

 

Hayato obviously does not share my concern. The second he notices the flinch of pain he is up in Lambo’s face with a dark glower.

 

“Oi cow, don’t go poking at people without their permission, it’s rude.”

 

I immediately hear the telling sniffles of an oncoming fit and sigh heavily.

 

“Don’t worry about it Lambo I’m fine, really,” I console him.

 

This situation is chaotic enough as it is and i really want to avoid tantrum time-travel for just a little longer. I also want to make sure that my brain isn’t going to turn into the singularity when it does happen before hand.

 

Lambo sticks out his young and waggles it at Hayato.

 

“Hear that idiota?” He taunts, “Fratello doesn’t mind.”

 

Hayato’s eye twitches spastically which is somewhat concerning, but mostly hilarious that a kid has managed to get under his skin so thoroughly. That takes talent.

 

“Relax man, he’s just a kid, he doesn’t mean anything by it.”

 

I feel, more than see, Lambo making faces at Hayato as we hurry to catch up with the others.

 

I’m irritated to see that at some point Reborn had allowed Bianchi back the use of her legs. Her upper body was still bound tightly in the Leon cable but rather than being dragged across the ground she was trotting after Reborn and Takeshi. And thankfully she is still gagged. I don’t particularly want to listen to her mooning after Reborn or antagonizing Tsuna.

 

As we silently make our way through the school I settle into glaring at the back of her head.

 

The longer we go without encountering anyone or hearing anything the higher the tension in our group ratchets up. Even Lambo is able to read the general mood and is mostly staying quiet as he clings tightly to my shirt collar.

 

And then Tsuna abruptly stops in his tracks.

 

We all freeze in place and stare at him expectantly. He doesn’t really take notice and is staring intently at the empty bulletin board to his left.

 

“Kyoko-chan....”

 

An instant later the wall bursts inward covering us all in a dusting of drywall and plaster as the priest that I had seen wandering the halls before comes flying through. He goes head first through the opposite wall where he twitches for a moment and then goes completely limp.

 

“Holy shit!”

 

We all just stare at the aftermath of this completely unexpected dynamic entry. He isn’t moving. If he isn’t dead then he at the very least is going to have a hell of a headache once he wakes up.

 

How the hell had that happened though.

 

Soft footsteps start approaching the brand new hole in the wall and we all turn and gape as Sasagawa Kyoko, bathed in a divine light and wielding a broom like a pole arm steps through.

 

“It’s bad manners to burst in on the ladies change-room without knocking first.” She chides his unconscious ass, ignoring the rest of us poor mortals completely.

 

Tsuna is staring at her with this adorably star struck expression on his face. I think he is really starting to warm up to his whole, Kyoko is a badass thing.

 

“Oh, hello Tsuna-kun,” She chirps happily finally noticing us. It’s somewhat disturbing that she can just switch gears like that and go from sending a guy flying through a wall to acting like we are just casually passing each other on the way to class.

 

“H-hi Kyoko-chan,” Tsuna greets back with a weak wave.

 

“Sasagawa is a little bit terrifying isn’t she?” Takeshi whispers into my ear with a smile.

 

“Yes, yes she is.”

 

I look over the, now unconscious, assassin. He is stuck in there, well specifically his head is stuck in there which is rather impressive in an of itself.

 

“You sure taught this guy a lesson,” I say.

 

Kyoko huffs in irritation while propping her free hand against her hip.

 

“Some people are just so rude,” She tells us. “He broke right into the girls change room and scared everyone half to death.”

 

“Everyone?” Tsuna asks anxiously. “Are there still more people in there?”

 

She shakes her head. “There were about half a dozen hiding in the change room with me and Hana.”

 

“Hana is still here!?”

 

“No, she and the others got out through the teachers parking lot while I was dealing with this... person.”

 

The way she says ‘person’ makes me think that what she actually means is ‘this piece of shit.’

 

“I told her you boys would explain everything once this is all over,” she directs this at me and Tsuna in-particular.

 

I don’t know why she thinks we know anything about this FUBAR situation.

 

“Why us!?” Tsuna whines, because he has always been low key terrified of Hana.

 

“Well, all of these ‘lovely’ gentlemen have been going around looking for a ‘Sawada’, and since you two are the only ones named Sawada at this school I assumed you would know something.”

 

“Ah.”

 

Her logic is sound.

 

I have no explanation for any of this shit, but I can’t fault her powers of deduction. Even the truth is going to sound like bullshit to Hana though.

 

“We we’re heading to the parking lot to get out,” Hayato cuts in. “How’s it looking over there?”

 

Kyoko shakes her head.

 

“I wouldn’t. A bunch of black cars pulled in after the girls got out, or else I would have followed them out the first time I knocked him out.”

 

There are a few concerning bits of information in that statement, but the one that I’m latching on to is ‘the first time.’ I survey the priest who I had assumed was down for the count, What with the massive head trauma and all, and I see his fingers start to twitch.

 

That sickly off-red flame is starting to swirl around his fingers, and head in the wall or not he is much too close to Tsuna for my comfort.

 

“Hold him,” I tell Takeshi, shoving Lambo into his arms.

 

I grab Tsuna by the arm an pull him behind me ignoring his yelp of confusion.

 

“Reborn!” I call and gesture madly toward the man who is now well on his way to to melting the wall.

 

He swears.

 

I don’t know what he said because it’s in Italian, but I know what swearing sounds like, and it is definitely that.

 

Reborn pulls aggressively on the Leon-cable sending Bianchi crashing to her knees as Leon snaps back into handgun form and settles into Reborn’s grasp.

 

He fires.

 

The bullet slams into the back of the priests head with deadly accuracy just as he pulls himself free. For s moment he just says there on his knees, ridged and twisting, and I am terrified that somehow he survived that shot.

 

And then he falls back through the wall limply.

 

We all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

 

We do not look at the rapidly spreading pool of blood.

 

“Was that one of the Sicilian Alliance’s Enforcers?” Hayato asks weakly.

 

“It was,” Bianchi answers breathily as she pulls the gag out of her mouth. “Poor Antonio didn’t stand a chance against my darling Reborn.”

 

Hayato flinches violently as she begins to speak and noticing moves back a step.

 

Yup, she is just as creepy and crazy as she was before. I’m not sure why Reborn decided to drag her along with us on this super fun field trip of death and not, you know, knocked her the fuck out and left her tied up in the cafeteria with an admission of guilt stapled to her forehead. But then I am not the all mightily Machiavellian master of chaos that Reborn is.

 

So I’m going to trust he has some reason.

 

But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.

 

“Hello Hayato,” She says suddenly turning her attention away from Reborn and focusing on Hayato with a sickly sweet smile pulling across her pretty face. “I had no idea I would be running into my darling little brother. Really it’s been years, you should visit more often - Daddy misses you.”

 

I would have to be blind not to notice the heart attack she is giving Hayato right now. Tsuna is bristling with outrage, and he breaks out of my hold to stand firmly at Hayato’s side and gives her the best stink eye that he can muster.

 

There is probably a ‘smart’ response to all of her creepy antagonism. And under less stressful circumstances I would totally put forth the effort to think of it. But right now I want to do the ‘fun’ thing.

 

Shucking off my shoes, I pull of my socks and wad them into a ball and jam them straight into her irritating smiling mouth. She lets out this glorious shriek of outrage that is muffled by the socks. Really, it’s like music to my ears. She had absolutely no right to be all smug and condescending about anything.

 

She’s the bad guy.

 

And more importantly: She LOST.

 

“Blah, blah, blah, shut the fuck up nobody cares.”

 

The hysterical giggle that tears itself out of Hayato’s throat tells me exactly how badly her words had been fucking with him. I’m glad I could bring some levity to this otherwise fucked up situation.

 

Lambo takes this as an emotional cue and starts to laugh along with him.

 

“Stupid face!”

 

Bianchi makes a move to rip out her nice new gag but is stoped in her tracks by Kyoko. She deftly grabs both of Bianchi’s arms and twists them up behind her back.

 

Kyoko is much more competent at this than all of us combined.

 

“Who is this?” She asks as Bianchi struggles vainly in her grip.

 

“Uhh-“ Tsuna stares wide eyed at her. “An assassin?”

 

He looks a little bit more than a little bit lovestruck. I think he is really starting to like the fact that Kyoko could kick his ass without breaking a sweat.

 

She huffs.

 

“Do all assassins have such bad manners?”

 

“I think it’s in the job description.”

 

They are adorable.

 

I look away from their general cuteness and turn to watch Reborn. His posture gradually relaxes into something a little more normal. Leon transforms back into his chameleon form and scurries back up Reborn’s arm and reappears on the brim of his hat.

 

He strolls over to where Kyoko has Bianchi keeling and restrained and steps in close enough too make eye contact through the curtain of red hair. For a long, drawn out moment, he just stares at her.

 

And then a terrifying weight of an unnatural presence surrounds him. The pacifier around his neck lights up.

 

As do Leon’s eyes.

 

“Bianchi,” he begins, his voice light and casual. “You can attribute the fact that you continue to draw breath to our past partnership. However, do not think that I will keep extending this mercy if you continue to fuck with me or my kids. If you utter another word that is not extremely helpful. If you so much as twitch in a way that is even remotely threatening you can consider this mercy forfeit.”

 

Well... damn.

 

I don’t think I’ve ever heard Reborn say ‘fuck’ before.

 

Somehow, its scarier when he says it.

 

We all watch with bated breath as he and Bianchi have their intense stare down. Tsuna has gone completely ridged as he watches Reborn intently. His eyes have turned a vivid shade of orange.

 

I don’t know if it’s because he’s super freaked out, or if its because he is in the midst of having some sort of ‘realization of great truth.’

 

I’m just caught up in how cool Reborn looks right now, even in his cursed baby form. It’s no wonder why he was able to inspire so much fear and respect in the mafia, even when like ninety-eight percent of them have no idea that he is actually an adult man.

 

“Capire?”

 

Bianchi is absolutely still, and then she nods slowly.

 

“Bene,” he says, tapping her gently on the cheek before walking out of her visual range.

 

“Dame-Tsuna,” he calls out as he reaches into his jacket for something.

 

“Yes’sir?!” Tsuna squeaks, snapping to attention.

 

A second later my brother is fumbling to catch a role of lime green duck tape that our tutor throws his way.

 

“Make yourself useful and make sure she is well restrained this time.”

 

“Yes’sir!”

 

He springs into action working with Kyoko to make sure that our prisoner (?) wont be going anywhere in the near future.

 

“It doesn't look like we’ll be leaving through the parking lot any more,” I say trying to steer us back on topic.

 

We will have plenty of time to marvel at Reborn’s badass-ness later.

 

“Which is a shame because I think Lucky Taro’s is having a two for one special on bubble tea today and that would have worked out pretty good for us. Now we’re going to have to go by the ‘worst route possible’ - the sports fields.”

 

Everyone pulls a face at this declaration. Because running through a large wide open space is the stupidest plan ever when trying to avoid multiple hostiles with fire arms. I am desperately hoping that someone has a better plan than this.

 

“Unfortunately,” I continue, because I am fairly sure that if I stop talking at this point I am just going to dissolve into another panic attack. “I don't think we have a cardboard box large enough or inconspicuous enough for all of us to sneak out under. Which means that this is probably going to be a fight… again. Not that I’m not totally down for another fight, but today is getting a little long and with the amount of stuff that we've already done I'm not sure that-”

 

“Ragazzo,” Reborn cuts me off mid-monologue.

 

“Mmhmm?” I squeak.

 

“Relax.”

 

“Kay.”

 

I close my eyes and take three deep breaths.

 

A hand rests on my shoulder.

 

A familiar hand.

 

The most familiar hand.

 

I open my eyes and meet an identical set gazing into mine.

 

“Hey bro.” Tsuna says wryly.

 

“Hey.”

 

“You okay.”

 

“Nope,” I pop the ‘p’ sound.

 

“Yeah, me neither,” he agrees. “But well have time to panic and cry once we get out of here.”

 

He reaches out and grabs my free hand in his and squeezes it tightly. Somewhere in the distance I can hear the somewhat inexperienced trumpet of a bugle horn. It is so out of place and yet it’s the somehow it's the most familiar sound that I have ever heard.

 

And then I realize…

 

Oh, that's you isn’t it Tsuna?

 

A call to arms sounding clear through the panic. I take another breath and shut my eyes again listening closer, and I can hear the drum again. The somewhat manic rhythm of a snare drum that playfully beats along side the horn egging it on to get louder and more confident.

 

And it’s me.

 

It’s such a familiar song. Each note is accompanied by a flash or orange burning behind my eyes and the sensation is painful in a distant sort of way. This isn’t a pain that I am going to bend to. This is too important.

 

So I listen, concentrate, and remember.

 

Two small boys running up a flight of stairs to answer the call of a much beloved voice.

 

And then the rest of the memory burns as I try to chase it.

 

I blink my eyes open.

 

Tsuna is still there gripping my shoulder.

 

“You still with me?” He asks.

 

“Always.”


Our group is too big to try for stealth anymore. Now we are going more for an expeditious retreat while avoiding as many of the hostiles as we possibly can. Tsuna has taken point and is doing his best to lead us through the winding halls without too many encounters.

 

There are a few though. But our group deals with them pretty expertly. My favourite moment was when we managed to get the jump on a group of them and Kyoko and Takeshi did this awesome combo attack; where she used her expert broom handling skills to smack them all up between the knees and Takeshi followed up by clobbering them all across the back of the head with his bat.

 

Lambo has been having the time of his life. I don't think he really understands what's going on, which is probably a good thing. If he did actually comprehend how much trouble we are in it would be much harder to keep him calm.

 

Well, some sort of calm at least. Somehow he had gotten shuffled into Hayato’s care. Those two play against each other like a well practiced comedy routine which is amazing in its own right. and it's keeping Hayato’s attention off of Bianchi which is also helpful.

 

I’ve noticed something concerning as we’ve been going though. I'm pretty sure we've all noticed it at this point.

 

We’re being herded toward the gym.

 

All other paths out of the school are being guarded. All other hallways are blocked off. Most of my favourite access panels into the ventilation system have someone posted in front of them.

 

And the vast majority of the mobsters that we've been seeing now are all sporting the same insignia somewhere on their getup.

 

A dagger and a rose.

 

I'm going to take a wild guess and say that Cassandra Della Rosa hadn't entirely trusted that random criminals answering her job posting would be able to get the job done. I get the feeling that she sent the bulk of her own personal forces to make sure the job got done.

 

This woman doesn't want anything from us.

 

There is nothing that we can say or do that will de-escalate this situation. There is only one thing that she wants and that is Vongola Decimo dead. She wants Sawada Tsunayoshi dead…

 

Though going by the information that I have gathered I don't think that the name they got from Vongola HQ is Sawada Tsunayoshi.

 

It’s nice to know exactly what the old man thinks I'm good for.

 

I’ll make sure to return the favour next time he comes home for a visit.

 

It doesn't really make much of a difference at this point anyway. We have all been spotted now. And I don't think they are all collectively stupid enough not to have noticed the whole ‘twins’ thing. Me and Tsuna might not be identical but we are pretty damn close. Close enough that they have probably realized that something is fishy with their orders.

 

By time we’re standing in front of the gymnasium doors the enemies have started to close in on us. There are a lot of them coming out of the woodwork now.

 

We press close together as we turn to face them.

 

“Cover me,” Hayato whispers.

 

We shift as unnoticeably as possible to allow him to slip into the centre of our defensive conglomerate with Lambo still firmly attached to him. He starts shifting slightly with something underneath his blazer and I am abruptly reminded that , oh, yeah, Hayato wears explosives and other fun area effect weapons under his clothes.

 

I resolutely ignore what he's doing and focus my full attention on the man who is now approaching our group.

 

Spokesman or general. I can’t really get a read on any hierarchy that these guys might have since they are all dressed in the same black on white get up. I'm going to assume that since he’s stepping up he has at least some sort of rank in his criminal order.

 

“Reborn, how nice to see you again,” He speaks with drawling accent and focuses in on Reborn who is lounging comfortably on my shoulder. “Though you have a great deal more useless baggage attached to you this time. How’s about we help you out with that.”

 

By which, I infer, he means ‘look the other way while we kill these kids.’

 

Yeah, I don't think he actually knows Reborn so well.

 

“I don't think so,” Reborn says steadily.

 

The man blinks at him in incredulity before bursting into humourless laughter. I feel as everyone tenses up. Tsuna has one of his hands gripped into the back of my shirt, Takeshi and Kyoko tighten their holds on their makeshift weapons, and I hear a quiet ‘tink-tink’ sound as Hayato continues to work at a furious pace behind me.

 

“Still funny,” The laugher finally dies down and he steps a few paces closer. “Kiddos this guy here has always been such a fucking riot, and that's not counting how fucked up he looks either.”

 

I bristle at the complete lack of respect and feel a surge of static run up my arms. I’ll admit that the only thing that is keeping me from flying off the handle is the sharp tug Reborn gives to the back of my hair.

 

I settle for glaring at him and mentally willing him to spontaneously drop dead.

 

“The ‘Worlds Greatest Hitman,’” he mocks, “It looks like your slipping a bit considering that we got the drop on you. You should have heard the way that Bruno was shitting himself when you first showed up. He called up the Lady, we hadn't even known he was over here watching those brats, he was so sure that you were going to figure him out and shoot him in the head. But it looks like you and Vongola both still have that problem spotting Mists.”

 

“Well, I did shoot him in the head.”

 

They are talking about the individual formally known as Mrs. Nakamura. I guess his real name had been Bruno… that whole situation is still giving me the worst feeling inside.

 

“That you did. Poor fucker. But hey, you did me a favour because now I don't have to pay that ugly fucking Estraeno ass.”

 

“If you have a point I would appreciate if you got to it,” Reborn counters. “I don't have all day to spend listening to the monologuing of no name riffraff.”

 

The look of outrage on the guys face is priceless. I can’t help but chortle as I realize that all this time he's been talking to Reborn like he knows him personally. And Reborn has no fucking clue who the hell this asshole is. This isn’t him being fastidious or anything, he honestly has no clue.

 

It’s hilarious.

 

“You're suck a cocky prick,” he mutters once he's gotten himself back under control. “Its time someone knocked you down a peg.”

 

He reaches into his jacket and pulls out a gun and levels it at my head. He takes there long strides and suddenly the barrel is pressed against my forehead and I hear the distressed exclamations of my brother and friends around me.

 

I am really getting sick of people shoving guns in my face.

 

“Fratello?” I hear Lambo whisper from behind me.

 

I’m sick and tired of these assholes in general.

 

“We’ve got you beat. You’re surrounded you dumb fucks there is no getting out of this. I don't care how good you might think you are there is no escaping from this. I am going to shoot this unfortunate fucking kid and his face and drag his corpse back to Roma where I will gladly tell the lady that the Vongola has suffered another tragic loss. And there is nothing that you or any of these fucking brats can do about it!”

 

I hear the click of the safety.

 

My brothers harsh cry of “Wait!”

 

And then I hear Lambo wail.

 

“What the fuck-” The random mobster on stage left doesn't have a chance to finish his thought because in an instant the entire area is consumed in an explosion of pink.

 

Reborn takes this moment to grab me roughly by the collar of my shirt and send me careening into Tsuna and sending us both crashing to the floor. A second later there is a shot.

 

A wet gurgle.

 

And a thud.

 

I'm not paying attention to any of that anymore. Because Lambo had used THE THING. I'm fairly certain that everyone is just confused about where all the weird cotton candy pink smoke had come from. I hear Hayato yell, “Fucking Cow! What the hell did you do?!”

 

Meanwhile, I am busy staring into the gaping maw of the universe as my brain turns itself inside out with remembering and forgetting and infinite possibility and probability. Its many armed and many eyed incarnation of madness staring back into me an laughing.

 

I just barely manage to keep myself standing.

 

“My, my,” a deep voice cuts through the chaos ringing though my head. I stare up through the clearing smoke and see a familiar face. “What sort of trouble has little me gotten himself into now?”

 

“Who are you!?” Tsuna shrieks in anxiety and confusion. He has me clutched protectively in his arms as we both gaze up at-

 

Lambo.

 

Ten years later Lambo to be exact.

 

His eyes light up as he looks down at us. “Hey boss,” he greets with an easy smile.

 

“And Fratello too.” He continues, “ I was wondering when little me would be running into you guys. You two look like a mess. Is there anything I can help with.”

 

I have no words. I just keep staring at him. My brain is still trying to reorder the universe and has taken all other functions offline. Tsuna doesn’t seem to be doing any better. He just lets out a long, ‘Hieeeee!’

 

“Um, I don't know what's going on here, but we are still surrounded if you want to help with that.” Kyoko says pointing over Lambo’s shoulder to the swarm of gun toting gangsters wearing suits.

 

“Ah, yes, I can see how they might be a problem.” He fishes around in his pockets and pulls out a set of copper horns which he deftly attaches to his head. “Hey, hey, Fratello look at how cool I get in ten years.”

 

And he charges forward with lightning sparking at the horns.

 

“Who the hell is that!?” Hayato demands, gesturing madly with the stick of dynamite in his hand.

 

“Lambo.” I answer blandly staring intently after him. He had asked me to watch after all.

 

“Lambo is a baby.” Tsuna says flatly.

 

“Yes, and obviously time traveling witchcraft was used to switch baby Lambo with Lambo from ten years in the future.” I watch as he changes into three of the gangsters electrocuting them with a blast of green lightning gathered between the horns.

 

It is pretty damn cool.

 

I am also going to assume that, that is what Verde had meant when he had mentioned a conduit.

 

“…What?” Tsuna looks so very lost.

 

“We should probably help them out right?” Takeshi asks with a dangerous smile.

 

I reach up and hand and he drags me up to my feet, “yeah, we cant let those to have all the fun.” I say nodding toward where Reborn and Lambo were making there way through the crowd of gangsters.

 

At some point Lambo had realized that Reborn was there and was now in the midst of antagonistic jibes as he attempted to show him up. Reborn was taking it in stride, by which I mean he is completely ignoring Lambo and demonstrating his own proficiency with firearms.

 

Tsuna sighs, “He called me boss didn't he?”

 

“Yes, yes he did.”

 

Me and Hayato stoop down to haul him to his feet and he gives our rag tag group of idiots a solemn once over before the small ember of sky flames that had slowly been burning out on his forehead reignites in a blaze.

 

“Okay,” he declares. “Let’s do this.”

 

Kyoko shoves Bianchi to the ground and out of the way and twirls the broom in her hands. It has been a surprisingly effective and durable weapon throughout this event.

 

“We have your back Tsuna-

 

Hayato starts us off by lobbing a shower of dynamite down on the sea of dumb-assess in suits. I just barely catch a glimpse of the blue vile that is thrown into the mix.

 

“Brace yourselves,” he says.

 

There are multiple detonations followed by screams and swearing. And then a blue haze begins to rise from the ground and we watch as a dozen or so just drop.

 

“Ha! I have been waiting to do that!” Hayato crows in pride.

 

“That was cool.”

 

Takeshi rushes past me while I am momentary distracted by the awesomeness of science and slams his bat into the midsection of a rushing gangster with such velocity that the man flips in mid air and lands flat on his face.

 

“That was also very cool,” I mutter to myself as an all out brawl erupts around us.

 

The enemy converges upon us from all angles. At first I thought the fact that there was like fifty guys to take on a handful of teenagers was overkill. But most of these guys are going down easy. I think they went more for quantity than quality when hiring their legion of doom. None of them are even lighting up with anything looking like Dying Will flames.

 

It's an army of minions.

 

That and I'm pretty sure that we have all leveled up like crazy throughout this side-quest.

 

Somewhere through the noise and confusion I hear someone screaming into a radio receiver, “We need back up here now! Get those doors open!”

 

I whirl around the face the gymnasium doors, cold clocking one baddie across the jaw as I do so and sweeping the legs out from under the other. It’s only now that I notice the commotion that is coming from behind the door.

 

Sounds of combat.

 

A strangled scream cracks through the radio.

 

“What the hell is going on in there!?”

 

There is a heavy impact against the other side of the doors. And another. And another.

 

For a moment everything stops and everyone left standing on our side of the divide is holding their breath. Then a body flys through and skids across the floor and comes to a slow stop at my feet.

 

And ,there, standing in the doorway with a backdrop of carnage behind him is a god damn cave troll.

 

“Trespassers will be bitten to death.”

 

By cave troll I mean Hibari Kyoya of course.

 

“WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THESE KIDS!?” Screams one of the ones who have yet to get knocked the fuck out.

 

I turn and give him the biggest possible smile I can manage. It’s pretty damn big considering that Hibari is standing directly behind me dripping with the blood of our enemies. It's really nice to have a monster on the team.

 

“Welcome to Namimori!” I call. “We’re the fucking Neighbourhood Watch mother fucker!”

 

With that the last of them are dropped and the lot of us are left standing around on a pile of unconscious bodies.

 

“Boss, Boss, Boss!” Lambo calls crowding in on Tsuna with a big smile on his face. “Did you see how many bad guys I took out?!”

 

“Ahh~”

 

It’s good to know that even as a teenager he is still a brat. It is also good to know that I am not going to drop dead with the odd occurrence of time travel. Although, I don't really understand what I ‘saw’ (nor do I particularly want to).

 

“Sawada,” Hibari materializes in front of me with a murderous look on his face.

 

“No, shut up,” I already know where he is going to go with this and just NO.

 

“You cannot blame this fuckery on me. This fuckery goes so far beyond my mortal capabilities.”

 

His eyes narrow further.

 

“Tetsuya is worried about you.” I inform him abruptly.

 

I'm hoping that changing the subject will make him slightly less murderous in my general direction. It seems to work. The tonfa are lowered and his posture relaxes ever so slightly.

 

“Hn.” He kicks over the nearest body, which groans in pain. He rummages around in the coat pulling out a passport, some cigarettes and rips the insignia pin off of the lapel.

 

“Herbivorous scum.”

 

I watch as he casually walks back through the gym doors, back to his masterpiece of violent indulgence. Seriously, there must be at least a hundred gangsters in there and they are all down for the count.

 

Tsuna shrieks and I refocus my attention back on him in time to catch Reborn kicking him in the back of the knee over some sort of transgression. Lambo has returned back to his five year old form and is now snuggly in Kyoko’s care. They are both laughing at whatever ridiculous thing Tsuna said to bring Reborn's wrath down upon him.

 

Hayato seems to have the same idea Hibari did and is picking through jacket pockets looking for anything particularly interesting.

 

“I'm really glad that Hibari is on our side.” Takeshi comments as he comes to stand next to me.

 

“He's a god damn cave troll is what he is.”

 

He laughs.

 

Everyone's mood seems to have brightened considerably. There aren't any more assassins coming at us (yet) I'm not sure if there are even any more in the school.

 

And yet I can’t shake the feeling that we aren't out of the woods yet. I want to believe that it had actually been this easy. Final boss down time to go home and eat some cookies.

 

No, considering everything that has happened today, it doesn't feel like we've cleared the level yet. We still need to escape after all.

 

I have a really bad feeling still.

 

It’s been nagging at me for awhile now. Since I started hearing those bellowing roars. At first I thought it might be some weird intimidation tactic one of these assassin guys was using. But, no, none of these guys seems to be proficient in fire magic. Certainly not enough to create a presence as terrifying as the one that I had felt earlier.

 

There is more too.

 

Now that there are less people moving about I am certain that I can ‘hear’ it. The cracking of glass. It sounds like… well, it sounds like the wall of crystal that Verde’s robots had created with their sci-fi ray guns.

 

Speaking of which, I still have those don't I?

 

I fish the less charred one out of my pocket and look it over. There are a few knobs and dials along the exterior, a small LED display that shows energy levels and frequency? Not sure what that is. The chamber is illuminated in a quickly draining violet light.

 

I hold it up to my ear, ignoring the questioning noise that Takeshi makes, and listen. It makes the same sound. Quieter though and getting fainter with each passing moment. Whatever else is here it is somehow connected to Verde, which is concerning.

 

When I grip it properly the screen starts flashing.

 

Recalibrating frequency

 

Recalibrating frequency

 

Fulmine

 

Charging sequence initiated

 

I feel something prick into my hand and I do my best not to react. I'm pretty sure that if anyone realizes that I'm screwing around with potentially evil technology I am going to get so many disappointed looks.

 

It continues on for a few beats before the screen flashes again.

 

Charging sequence completed

 

I watch as the chamber that had previously housed a dying violet light is filled with a vivid green. And listening now I hear that same rhythmic beating of a snare drum.

 

I hear something else too.

 

Footsteps.

 

The staggering footfalls of something massive and getting closer.

 

“What's wrong Inari?”

 

I look up from the ray gun and meet Reborn's eyes.

 

I don't have a chance to answer.

 

I am interrupted when the exterior wall of the gymnasium is slammed inward as something outside lashes out with a titanic force. We all freeze and stare as the wall starts to crack and crumble.

 

A second blow comes and this time a massive, misshapen arm punches its way through it is covered in jutting purple crystals that have broken through the skin and seem to have taken root within the musculature.

 

That horrifying roar sounds again. Only this time I don't freeze up. This time my legs carry me forward into the gym to face whatever it is that has come for us now, ignoring the panicked calls of my brother and friends behind me.

 

I'm done with running. Done with hiding. We are getting out of here. I don't care what I have to break my way through. We are getting home.

 

The wall shatters completely to reveal the monstrosity before us.

 

It had probably been a normal human once. But now its body was enlarged grotesquely and disproportionately. There were cloud flames running under its skin. With each flash another tumorous crystal would swell and jut forth. It must be unbelievably painful, because every time it happens the monster before us roars and wails.

 

There are another two dozen suits standing behind it. All of them have that same Rose and Dagger insignia on them. All except one very tall, gaunt woman wearing large wire frame glasses.

 

With rows of stitches across her face.

 

And she stares at us in vacant intensity as the thing at her side screams in pain.

 

“Gregori fetch,” She speaks in a cold emotionless voice, uncaring, unfeeling.

 

Dead.

 

The monstrosity bellows again and lumbers for on an unsteady gait.

 

That woman is dead.

 

I don't know how I know it but I can feel it in my bones she is dead. There is nothing in there. It is a walking corpse.

 

That man who had been mocking Reborn back there. He had said a name. I had been too pissed off at the time but now it is ringing clear as a god damn gong.

 

Estraeno.

 

That's a familiar name that has some pretty heavy plot connections. I really wish I wasn't about to get run over by a stampeding monster so I had time to actually think about the ramifications of it but, oh well.

 

I raise up my stolen ray gun and take aim. The chamber is pulsing with an ecstatic green light and the thrumming of a heavy drum beat. I know beyond all shadow of doubt that this is going to work.

 

I pull the trigger and a streak of lightning blasts through the room colliding with one of the monsters legs. It shatters and the entire thing stumbles barely catching itself.

 

I can see from here that the leg is already starting to reform itself. Cloud flames property is propagation so my guess is that if we want this thing to stay down we are going to have to shatter it completely. Which is easier said than done.

 

Hibari leaps past me. Taking advantage of its momentary weakness and jamming the tonfa into its elbow with enough force that the entire arm cracks and pieces of it begin to shatter off. He doesn't give it a moment to recover continuing on with his relentless strikes.

 

Bullets whiz past my head as the suits outside start firing on us. Because apparently sending a giant crystal golem that can I finally repair it self after us isn't overkill. Return fire comes almost instantaneously as Reborn rushes past me gun raised and pacifier burning with an intense yellow light.

 

Tsuna rushes up to my side, and much to my confusion he swings a wild punch at what looks like thin air.

 

I am even more confused when he actually collides with something and in a flash of indigo the corpse woman who I was certain was still outside. I glance back to the gaping hole in the wall and see the rest of our crazy band of idiots rushing through with a hale of explosives and makeshift weaponry to take on the last of the assassins besetting Namimori Middle-school.

 

I make eye contact with the corpse woman and I watch as milky white eyes shift and suddenly I am looking into the very distinctive heterochromatic blue and red.

 

Fuck.

 

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

 

The image wavers and dissipates in to nothingness.

 

A knife flashes through the air aimed at my brothers head, as another corpse woman appears. Without even looking back Tsuna catches her wrist in mid swing and his hand ignites in a blaze of Sky Flames.

 

I'm tackling the illusion? Duplicate? Identical twin? Faster than I can even process slamming into the floor with lightning crackling at my fingertips again. The ray gun is forgotten somewhere at my feet. Its power is drained again and I don't have the time or inclination to charge it.

 

So I focus on the feeling, the sound, the frequency, and I brace myself for pain as I unleash a current of electricity from my hands like a fucking Sith Lord.

 

The illusion shakes and shutters and then dissipates.

 

I turn back to Tsuna as fast as I can. He's standing over the corpse woman. The real one, considering she is unmoving on the ground. He is giving her this extremely intense look. He has truly entered Hyper Dying Will Mode now. I can remember him like this. It’s different up close and in person.

 

If it was anyone else I would say that he almost looks frightening like this. Enraged and wreathed in flames. But all I can feel in this moment with him next to me is safe and calm.

 

Like everything is going to be okay.

 

And then the monstrosity formally known as Gregori roars shattering my moment of serenity.

 

I try to turn my attention toward it but even the slight turning of my head sends the world spinning on its axis. Everything is starting to fade at the edges and grey out.

 

I'm tapped out, done, I've got nothing left.

 

Hibari is still hacking away at the monster and not really getting anywhere other than maintaining the status quo. Most of his energy is being spent on dodging around the wild swings of its arms.

 

Reborn is alternating between taking shots at our crystalline assailant and making sure that Kyoko, Takeshi and Hayato aren't killed outright. I know I should go an help them, do something useful other than sit her on my ass, but my arms have gone numb again and my legs flat out refuse to move. Which is going to be problematic in a moment because the monster has started to use its free arm to claw its way closer to where me and Tsuna are.

 

I guess it still intends on fulfilling that last order even though its master has been defeated.

 

The flames on Tsuna abruptly flicker and die out and he crashes down next to me cradling burnt hands close to his chest and hissing in pain.

 

“Ow, ow, ow, ow ow!”

 

“Y’kay?” I slur.

 

“No!” He snaps with tears gathering in his eyes. “I set my hands on fire.”

 

“M’gic fire.” I giggle stupidly.

 

So we sit there pressed together side by side and watch as the beast claw its way closer, and closer, and closer. I am distantly aware of Reborn screaming at us both to move our asses out of the way but neither of us has that kind of energy any more.

 

And then it stops.

 

It begins to convulse violently. Shaking and shivering and bulging unnaturally.

 

Violet flames burn off rapidly flying away and scattering into the air. The crystalline growths that had mostly over taken the entire organic base begin to slorp out as the entire construct begins to collapse in on itself. It is horrifying to watch. It’s screaming in pain right up until the crystals that had been holding its throat and jaw together fall apart leaving us looking at something at we know is screaming but can’t make a sound.

 

We watch in mute terror as it slowly, slowly dies.

 

And the terrified voice of a child calls out, “Mommy?” Before it falls to pieces.

 

The last things I see before falling into unconsciousness is Trident Shamal steeping through the hole in the wall with Hayato slung over his shoulder, and Reborn rushing toward the two of us.

 

I collapse into Tsuna, and I know no more.