Sawada Tsunayoshi was most definitively not hiding, nor was he drowning his worries in drink. No, he was simply nursing a few sips of aged scotch in the peaceful solitude of the linen closet on the third floor of Vongola Mansion. Really. Because no student of Reborn's would be suicidal enough to do something as silly and cowardly as hide in the collective face of only a dozen other mafia bosses.
No, what Tsuna was doing was giving his guardians some valuable experience in handling important political affairs with potentially devastating fallout in his absence. Right. Reborn would be proud, really. This was precisely the sort of thing he did.
"Oh god I'm gonna die," Tsuna whimpered pitifully.
"Not before I murder you, trash," came a low, rasping growl from just outside the door. Tsuna jumped in fright, choked on a mouthful of scotch, and banged his head on the shelf above him. The door creaked open ominously and there stood Xanxus in all his wrathful glory. He reached in and snagged a fist in the collar of Tsuna's shirt, dragging him out of the closet and down the hall.
"You think you can just foist your responsibilities on me, huh? Fuck that, you chose to contest my claim as Decimo, now you can deal with the consequences like a man."
"Wait, Xanxus, please I can't do this, don't make me do this! Oh my god, who thought it'd be a good idea for me to take the lead in this conference?"
"Oh please. It's not like anything important is ever discussed at bullshit events like these. You just smile and remember everyone's name and try not to offend them, and we might just make it out of this without a new blood feud."
"No, no, it's not that easy! Xanxus, listen, do you know who's coming?! There are lots of important guests who will probably get really beaten up as collateral damage because Mukuro is here, and Hibari is here, and Byakuran too, not to mention Levi and Belphegor and they're all gonna try to kill each other and–!"
"Oi, watch your goddamned mouth. The Varia knows how to behave at political events. Maybe your little mutts will even learn a thing or two about quality from us."
"Perfect! All the more reason for you to take over!"
"Fuck that. You know what heading one of these things means? No booze for the duration."
Tsuna stared in horror, and Xanxus actually cracked a grin. Granted, it was a demented, sadistic grin, but there it was.
"Yup. Servants are under orders to provide you with sparkling cider the whole time."
Outside on the lawn, the newly arriving mafia groups paused as a tormented howl echoed across the manor.
Hayato's fingers itched to light up a cigarette, but he knew he couldn't spare the time to enjoy a smoke. There was so much still to be done, and families were already arriving! Damn it, the conference didn't start for a whole hour, so why the hell were they here?! He vaguely recalled Coyote Nougat mentioning to him that various famiglie had the tendency of arriving early to mingle before more serious business – insofar as truly serious affairs were ever really discussed at the conference – but he had dismissed it as exaggeration; why would prideful Mafiosi arrive so early and appear so eager? But damned if the man hadn't been right, and damn Hayato himself for not listening.
"Oi, have the servers take champagne out to the lawn! You, bring chairs out for infirm and elderly guests! Turf top, go out and greet the guests with the baseball freak! And damn it, when will the meal be finished?!"
"Oya, oya, Hayato, why so worked up?" a chilling, disembodied voice echoed in his ear.
"Shi–! Mukuro, damnit, stop creeping around! And make yourself useful, can't you see we've got a crisis on our hands?! The guests are arriving an hour ahead of time, the dinner's not ready and the tables aren't set, there's no entertainment or refreshments on the lawn, and the Tenth's nowhere to be found!"
"Kufufufu, as much as I'd like to help out, I'm already doing my part to keep Kyoya occupied and away from the guests. Hence the, ah, current delitescence. He's become quite energetic lately, has –"
"TENTH! I'm coming, hold on!"
Verde found it terribly unfortunate that his presence had been 'heavily recommended' at the Annual Vongola Alliance Conference this year. Really, hadn't these barbarians any concept of the intricacies of scientific experimentation, of the necessity of his presence in overlooking them? So many variables, so many developments, so much potential for error, and even a moment's absence or presence could prove crucial in averting disaster or discovering a miracle.
And yet here he was, forced to…mingle with these common minds for hours for the sake of the research funds provided to him by the Vongola Alliance. The scientist heaved a tremendous, put-upon sigh. It was so troublesome to be in such high demand. Well, he conceded, there were a scant few other minds worth conferring with. That pair of weapons designers from Vongola, for instance. What were their names again? Giovanni and Sprinkler? Something like that. Their creations would make for adequate discussion, as would the newest program designed by that quaint redhead of the Gesso. Even the Vongola's new Storm Guardian was able to provide decent philosophical conversation. So perhaps the trip could be redeemed after all, if only they would cease their interacting with lesser minds, and if only that damnable mist brat would stop casting fruit illusions around him…!
Verde grit his teeth and forcibly calmed himself, a flick of his hand dispelling the apples fox-trotting before his eyes. Such base illusions would never hold before the mental fortitude of a genius of his caliber. He spared a brief glare for the mint-haired teenager staring at him from across the lawn, making a mental note to prepare a…gift for the child. Something suitably toxic, like arsenic, or cyanide, or perhaps a cocktail of both.
Lethal formulas synthesizing themselves in the back of his mind, Verde turned his attention back to the road, where more cars were appearing. It was only just nearing time that the conference might soon begin, but all allied families arrived early to socialize and strengthen bonds.
Among the copious, faceless masses, only a few stood with any distinction. There was the Palachov Don with the Giegue, and those plebian fools from the Tomaso, and the inimitable Leilei brothers. Trad 6 had yet to make a showing, but Verde supposed this was understandable, considering the recent disappearance of the don's niece.
The Cavallone, Simon, Gesso, and Giglio Nero were already here – a day early, as expected of Vongola's closest allies – and Los Seis Brazos from Nicaragua had shown at the same time as the Torego. Alessio Montelli and Mirella Fierro, head secretaries to the Prime Minister and President of Italy, respectively, had arrived two days prior under disguise and with CEDEF escorts. All of the Arcobaleno had arrived as well, but for that one arrogant bastard.
Ah, it seemed Reborn had finally deigned to show up, and–
Dino had been thoroughly enjoying his conversation with Squalo and Naito Longchamp. Or rather, he had been chatting lightly with Squalo when the young boss of the Tomaso came waddling up, bowlegged and swaying, and promptly began jovially spewing utter nonsense in the Varia commander's face, to Dino's undying amusement.
He knew, of course, how desperately Squalo hated events like these. The man had never cared for paltry things like 'words' or 'diplomacy,' but knew that they were necessary to maintain Vongola's reputation. It was strain enough for the swordsman to minimize his cursing and lower his voice in polite company, but it was quite frankly a miracle he had yet refrained from brandishing his sword at the complete gibberish the Tomaso don was obliviously babbling.
Dino snickered at Squalo's reddening face and lips pinched to keep from bellowing something like 'Dumbass!' or 'Moron!' or 'Go suck face with a wild tiger!' He took a sip of champagne – he was rather impressed by the speed with which the servers were now distributing the glasses through the crowd, but that was Vongola for you, after all – when he glanced in the direction of the new arrivals.
He promptly choked on his drink, hacking unpleasantly and then groaning in pain as Squalo took it upon himself to clear Dino's throat with a hearty smack to his back.
"Voi, the f-heck happened to you, Cavallone?"
He could only gesture weakly in the direction of the line of black, tinted sedans, one of which had just deposited Reborn – with a guest.
Poor Boss, Chrome thought sympathetically. She had heard his screech of misery and come running, only to find him huddled in a corner with Xanxus laughing above him. Business as usual, really, but unpleasant business all the same. She had quietly interposed herself between the two leaders and gently led Boss away and into a lounge just in time for Bomb-man to come rushing in, red-faced and completely disarrayed and wailing for Boss.
He had been horrified by Boss' twitchy, neurotic form, and was currently trying – with marginal success – to convince Boss that the no alcohol rule for the leader of the conference was actually quite necessary, particularly in Boss' case. Chrome remembered with a faint blush the last time Boss had imbibed out of nervousness. She hadn't realized he knew so many pick-up lines, nor that he was willing to test them out on anyone and everyone his eyes had alighted upon.
So Chrome was actually quite grateful for that customary rule, which if she recalled had been instated after Vongola Fourth had tried to drunkenly cajole the other dons into a game of Risk, using their real territories as barter.
She was just about to mention to Boss that he could get as drunk as he wanted after the conference when Bomb-man froze, paled then reddened and then went a sickly green as he touched the microphone ear piece that he had been using to coordinate the event with the mansion staff.
"What do you mean Reborn brought a plus-one?! This completely deranges the seating arrangements! He never brings a guest along! Shit, shit, damn that man's goddamn chaos!"
And with that, Bomb-man hastily kissed Boss' ring finger, gripped Chrome by the shoulders and said in a very grim tone, "I leave the Tenth's well-being in your hands, Dokuro."
She could only nod timidly.
Timoteo was thrilled. The conference hadn't even officially begun yet and it was already shaping up to be a grand old time. He was positively enjoying his light conversation with the young Uni Giglio Nero and her blond bodyguard, and it was always a pleasure to see the Leilei brothers again – such wonderful tales they spun!
In all his years, he had never thought to have the pre-conference out on the lawn. Admittedly, he was quite sure the development was accidental on the part of the Decimo Guardians, but it was a pleasant happenstance nonetheless, particularly considering the cooperating weather. They were certainly making the best of the setback, as well; almost immediately upon allowing Nougat to take a bit of his weight, a server had appeared with a surprisingly comfortable fold-up chair and table, garnished with a dozen flutes of champagne and a plate of fine cheese and fruit.
A glance around the lawn told him these small refreshment tables were being set up at every gathering, and yet more servers were weaving their way through the crowd, collecting used glasses and providing guests with more. Yes, young Tsunayoshi's administration was proving itself to be quite adaptable.
And Reborn had simply outdone himself this time. There was nothing better to promote amity among a group of volatile criminal lords than a good old mystery! Already, the crowd was closing in together, the small, individual pods of conversation melding into one as his family's allies bantered and conjectured. Even his guardians behind him were murmuring among themselves. A lover, an apprentice? A new partner, or simply a friend?
No answer seemed forthcoming; Reborn had, naturally, timed his arrival to coincide promptly with the doors opening to the mansion, an announcement for dinner echoing across the lawn. Reborn and his guest wove their way expertly through the crowd, diverting questions with non-answers and leaving a sea of disgruntled, curious faces in their wake. Timoteo offered the pair a genial smile and nod when they passed by, receiving a charmingly lopsided grin from the guest and a smug smirk from his old friend.
Quite wonderful, indeed.
Iemitsu Sawada was less than thrilled with this development. All invitees to the conference were allowed a guest, of course, and Reborn was no exception, but damn it all, couldn't the man have let Iemitsu know ahead of time? Having relinquished his position as Head of CEDEF to Basil and instead taking on the role of Head of Security, it was his job to scrutinize every guest on Vongola's grounds!
But no, not a word to Iemitsu that a potential threat had just insinuated itself into their midst. Of course Reborn was certainly capable of determining threats all on his own, but neglecting to share his guest's presence with Iemitsu was a slap to the face, an implication that he was unnecessary and incapable of performing his duty.
It further raised his hackles when Signora Mirella Fierro, the President's secretary, approached the guest and began murmuring to him in an undertone, as though genuinely familiar with the boy. She was new to the job, and likely didn't realize that simply lowering her voice wasn't enough to discourage eavesdroppers; most accomplished Mafiosi were also accomplished lip readers.
Although perhaps Iemitsu was out of practice. It almost looked like she was thanking him on behalf of the president, for the 'broom and the riding lessons.'
Mammon took one look at Reborn's mysterious guest and sniffed.
Reborn had never had such difficulty keeping the grin from his lips. Throughout the meal he scanned surreptitiously around the room and saw every eye glance at least once in the direction of his little guest, each Mafioso simply burning with curiosity. Even the younger generation, which was not quite so familiar as the elder with his predilection towards solitude, seemed to be centering their conversations on speculation over his companion.
Yes, things were going quite well. His arrival had made just the stir he had hoped it would, and as a bonus had drawn attention away from Dame-Tsuna's unforgivably obvious nervousness – that would have to be rectified. Well, he had let them all stew in intolerable wondering for long enough. Dinner was almost over, after all, and he supposed they would probably need to know his guest's identity before more sensitive topics could be broached.
Reborn languidly rose up out of his seat, and a tap to his guest's shoulder had the younger man doing the same. There was no need to clear his throat or clink his glass for attention; conversation had died down immediately upon their movements.
Despite the burning gazes, Reborn took his time. His lips curled into a smirk, his easy confidence overshadowing his companion's stiffness. That would have to be rectified as well.
"I suppose introductions are in order. This is Harry, my grandson. Treat him well, will you?"