Grazhir :: Crossover :: Welkin :: 01

01: 2005

“I’m not omniscient!” he heard Byakuran snarl. “I can’t tell the future, only what has happened, and at that my powers have been vastly diminished. Thanks to all of you, remember. It was not I who failed and let Tsuna be shot—that was you people.”

The guardians all went red or otherwise showed their deep and abiding sense of guilt and shame at their failure to protect their boss and friend.

He felt warm breath at his ear, and Byakuran’s quiet whisper. “Have you ever thought about what you’d do if you could live it all again? Maybe with some changes? What choices you would make?”

“Yes,” he breathed.

Byakuran nodded so slightly it almost didn't happen. “I see. I will see.”

Then it all went black.

When he woke up he was in an entirely unfamiliar place. The only thing of note in the room he was in was something that resembled a shrine, though there was no picture of a deceased with the usual accompaniments. Instead, there was a display with three keys on it. He saw eight doors, though only one of them was shōji. The other seven were all western-style doors. It was about then that he realized his body was far too small and his hands were soft and a little chubby.

“What the hell?” he murmured as he got up from his prone position. He randomly went to the shōji door and slid it open to reveal a hallway, and looked around. Directly across was another shōji door, which he opened. Behind it looked to be a living room. One end of the hall had a front door, but it was locked. Down the hall was a kitchen, and a peek inside the refrigerator revealed only bottled water and juices. The cupboards held various things and the pantry had a few staples and a selection of fruit for some reason, but overall the room was not outfitted for a stay of any length—more like a short visit, really.

Upstairs was a library, a bedroom, and a bathroom with the usual shower, soaking bath, and sectioned-off toilet. More importantly, there was a mirror. Tsuna gawked as he took in his appearance; he looked like a two year old. He was also wearing a pacifier. “What did you do to me, Byakuran!” he shrieked, then blushed as he realized just how silly he sounded. He had never really thought about it before, how incongruous Arcobaleno voices were (Reborn was the obvious exception). Colonnello sounded like a grown man, even in chibi form.

“How the hell am I the Sky Arcobaleno?” he muttered. “What about Luce or Aria? And where the hell am I? Wait, that library—maybe it has something that would help?”

He wandered out of the bathroom and back to the library so he could start rummaging through the rich offerings available. Unfortunately, most of the books contained history, or essays on the working of flames. There was nothing in particular that he could see which would explain where he was or why he was there. He had only his assumption that it had something to do with his changed circumstances. With a heavy sigh he returned to the kitchen to have some juice and an apple and, feeling very tired, he briefly visited the bathroom, then took advantage of the bed.

*

Reborn looked away and left the room as Aria approached Luce. It wasn’t his place to be there during the transfer, and besides, he was losing someone he cared about deeply. It was not that he disliked Aria; she just wasn’t Luce. Out of all the Skies he had met, Luce was the closest to being one who could have tempted him to accept harmonization. But she was the boss of Giglio Nero and already had guardians. She didn’t need him, hadn’t needed him, but she accepted him and the others anyway.

He was startled from his morbid thoughts when Aria rushed out into the hall, her eyes wide and her mouth a grim slash. “What?” he said dully, then noticed it. “Where is it? Why aren’t you wearing it?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered. “It’s not like I wanted to be the one, but… If not me, who?”

Reborn pushed away from the wall and tilted his hat back. It still vexed him at times that he always had to look up at people. “Good question,” he muttered. “Aria… I’m—”

“Don’t,” she interrupted. “I know, Uncle. Do you think you can find whoever it is?”

“I’m not the World’s Greatest for nothing,” he said, even though he knew it would be next to impossible to figure it out. They might all be connected by the pacifiers, but they were not otherwise connected by true bonds, not like guardians to a Sky normally were. Luce had never spoken much about her powers as the Sky Arcobaleno; maybe they weren’t supposed to share. If the new Sky decided to stay out of sight…

“They were probably totally unprepared for this,” she said anxiously. “What if they’re scared? How old are they? Whoever it is could be clear on the other side of the world.”

He could let her keep rambling about the mystery, but he figured she was doing it as a way to avoid breaking down in grief, and that wasn’t especially healthy. He was saved from having to say anything by Gamma appearing, so he slipped away. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘What will you be like? Are you alone? Frightened? Bitter? Angry? Where are you? Will you—’ He shook his head; he could not afford to think like that.

*

When he woke again it was to the realization that he was not alone. A quiet rustling sound by his ear caused him to warily open his eyes and slowly turn his head. Curled up on the pillow next to him was a bat, which squeaked when it noticed his attention. Tsuna was flabbergasted to realize after a moment that he could understand the little creature, and it had just told him it was his animal companion.

‘That’s right, all the Arcobaleno I knew had one,’ he thought. ‘Well, not Aria or Yuni that I remember, but all the others did. So does that mean…’ “What should I call you? And what kind of bat are you?”

The bat rustled its wings in a shrug of sorts. “I’m a type of fruit bat,” it replied. “As for a name, you can choose one. I don’t mind.”

“Fruit…” After some thought he said, “Quince?”

The bat shrugged again. “Sounds fine. Now—”

“Are you—” Tsuna went silent when the bat squinted its eyes at him in a glare.

“I’m male,” Quince said testily, “and it’s rude to interrupt. As I was saying, you’re something of a special case. Normally the Sky Arcobaleno stays within a certain bloodline, but in this case the strength and purity of your flames was deemed greater than that of the other candidate, so you were chosen.”

Checker Face had threatened to make him the next Sky Arcobaleno at the conclusion of the Representative Battle of the Rainbow, so that wasn’t outside reason.

“You have a choice,” Quince continued. “You can accept chibi form and live a much longer life, or you can age normally and die early.”

‘But I already know how to break the curse,’ he thought, ‘so does it really matter? How old am—’ “Okay. You don’t happen to know what the date is, do you?”

“October of 2005, your birthday, actually.”

“So I’m five… Which means—” He wondered if his companion could or would pass on information to Kawahira, actually. Could he afford to let Quince in on the full truth of his situation, or…? He also remembered that Bermuda was convinced that Checker Face could spy on them through the pacifiers, so… Or was that the watches? “The front door is locked.”

“Yes. You needed time to adjust. You also need to learn more about being an Arcobaleno.”

“The library doesn’t have much of interest, though,” he protested softly.

Quince let out a tiny snort. “But there is a place here that does, back where you first woke up.”

He nodded and sat up, only then realizing how hungry he was. It made him wonder if his mother was freaking out over him not having gone home yet. After a breakfast of juice and more fruit—he was amused to see just how much Quince enjoyed sharing that meal—he tidied up and returned to the shrine room, paying more attention than the previous time.

The seven doors had subtle engravings on them, and for the most part they aligned to a type of flame. The only one that confused him was the seventh, which would have to be Sky, because the symbol was a simple circle. Since he was a Sky he tried opening that one first, and went inside to see a series of small portraits lining the walls. ‘Past Sky Arcobaleno?’ he wondered. ‘Is this some kind of memorial? Why would Kawahira do this? I mean, I guess he kinda felt bad about having to sacrifice people for the Tri-ni-set, but…’

The most recent portrait was of Luce, but he could already see a spot for himself, though the image itself was blurry, as if it was trying to resolve itself. ‘And why am I in chibi form, anyway? Aren’t Skies supposed to age normally and die earlier, all so they have a chance to reproduce or something? Am I able to change forms at will?’

Quince fluttered over to a shelf and pointedly tapped a claw.

The material there reiterated what Quince had said regarding the choice, but also answered his question about the form change. If he really wanted to he could switch back and forth, but every time he did it he would cut his life that much shorter. His connection to Quince afforded him certain advantages. Quince could alter his size, such that he could fly Tsuna places, much like Fantasma could for Mammon, or Colonnello’s Falco. Of course, he could fly on his own, assuming he could learn to emit flames from his hands without a set of gloves.

But he had a power similar to Quince’s power of echolocation. Being an Egyptian fruit bat was the only reason Quince could do it at all, but it was telling in that he had to make a clicking sound. Tsuna did not, but he was seeing in infrared, ghost images of heat signatures. Total darkness could be turned to his advantage, using one or both methods. After working his way through the materials on the shelf he returned to the main room and eyed the other doors. All of them were locked when he checked them.

“Any hints?” he directed at Quince, who was hanging from one of the beams overhead.

“You get to figure this out on your own.”

He sighed and looked at the shrine. ‘Three keys, but six locked doors. Eh…’ He grabbed the rightmost one and heard two faint clunks. He returned to the Sky door and found it was locked; he also realized that none of the knobs had keyholes. He tried the next door to the left, the Sun door, and it opened for him. ‘Why that one?’ he wondered before entering.

The most recent portrait was of Reborn. “Oh, wow,” he whispered, “this has his real name on it. But I can find each of them once I figure out how to activate a bond with them.” He turned around and went back to the shrine, hoping that replacing the key would unlock the Sky room again. He heard the same two clunks, and sure enough, the Sky door opened for him.

Tsuna grabbed one of the books and reread it, just to be sure he was remembering what it said correctly. ‘This sucks. The only way I can think of to “accept” the other flames is … by resolving my feelings for my previous guardians? I guess?’ He shoved the book back on the shelf and sighed. To put off having to even think about that he started messing around with the keys. Each time he removed one he would hear two clunks.

All three keys in place opened the seventh door, the Sky door. Picking up all three keys, however, only granted him a single clunk, which confused him. What other door was there? After a moment he face-palmed and sighed, then went to check the front door; it opened easily. ‘What to do? What to do?’ he wondered. ‘I should probably go home for a bit.’

On that thought he tucked the keys into his pocket and stepped outside. A quick investigation oriented him and he was off. When he entered his house his mother was in the kitchen, humming as she prepared lunch. ‘Did she even notice I was gone?’

“Tsu-kun,” she chirped. “Go wash up, okay? Lunch will be ready shortly.”

He sighed and headed to his room to get fresh clothing, then went to take a shower, being careful to transfer the keys to a pocket in his new outfit. His mother didn’t even seem to notice that he was younger as he climbed up onto a seat. ‘Still,’ he thought, ‘that will be helpful. And if I’m being honest with myself, I was never all that nice to her. I took advantage of her even after Reborn showed up and started trying to bully me into being a proper mafia boss. But that’s not something I can ever explain, so what can I do differently this time?’

He smiled and thanked his mother when she set food in front of him, and tucked in. Quince was blending in with his hair, and even if his mother noticed the little guy, she might not have bothered to say anything. Perhaps he could ask his mother to teach him how to cook? Looking back, it bothered him that not only had Kyoko-chan and Haru-chan been switched out with their future selves, but had ended up relegated to cooking and cleaning up at the base. True, they had volunteered, but what else had they to do with their time while essentially being confined to an underground complex?

It was also true that he and the others were busy being trained to within an inch of their lives and did not have time to deal with the mundane realities of life, but he doubted that any of them had been appreciative enough of the girls’ efforts. There was a lot he hadn’t been properly appreciative of.

He gave his mother a slightly distracted thank you at the end of lunch and wandered off to the park to think. He hadn’t been there for very long when he was approached by a pre-teen with white hair and a purple mark under his eye. The boy sat down and gave him a guileless smile, then offered him a bag of marshmallows. “Want one, Tsu-kun?”

“What exactly did you do?” he asked as he grabbed a handful.

“Not I,” Byakuran demurred. “After all, I am the me who belongs in this dimension. Rather say, what did my counterpart do?”

Tsuna rolled his eyes and popped a marshmallow in his mouth.

“That wound was fatal, and you seemed to be open to the possibilities, so…”

“Fatal,” he repeated. “But the power of your Mare Ring…”

“Greatly diminished,” Byakuran chirped, “not negated! So, he sent your soul here, your memories. He also sent some to me, and one other person.”

“Please tell me it wasn’t Reborn, because I don’t think I can handle his Spartan training at this age.”

Byakuran shook his head, making his hair flutter around distractingly. “Anyway, there’s no reason why you can’t start training your powers.”

“At five years old?”

“Why not? The sooner you start, the sooner you can protect yourself. Or did you forget about those assassins who kept showing up? Besides, you’re an Arcobaleno now. It’d be downright silly if you didn’t start immediately. It’s not like you have to have a ring to use your flames, though having one helps. And in your case, the pacifier acts as one, so you’ll get used to a different mindset anyway.”

He nodded and ate another marshmallow. “Eh… Are you just visiting or…? Don’t you have a famiglia to inherit in Italy?”

His new “friend” just laughed happily. “I can live wherever I want, Tsu-kun! It’s one of the benefits of being ridiculously wealthy. If I ‘argued’ for a secondary base in Japan of course I’d get what I wanted.”

He rolled his eyes again and wondered why he was being so accepting. He had obviously gone insane at some point. Either that or the Byakuran of his dimension had skipped a few bits during the transfer.

“But no, I haven’t moved here. I’m just visiting for the time being.”

They were half way through the bag when another person showed up. Tsuna did a double-take on seeing pineapple hair, but the person in question was much too old to be Mukuro. That meant—“Oh my,” he whispered.

Byakuran giggled. “That’s right! Aren’t you pleased, Tsu-kun? Your two greatest enemies are now your friends!”

Daemon Spade took a seat and shoved his hand into the bag.

“Do I even want to know whose body you hijacked?” Tsuna asked dryly.

Daemon smirked at him. “No one you know. But I thought, once those memories flooded in, I’d come see you, stick around, maybe incite a little mayhem. After all, I do have some interest in whoever it is who ends up as Decimo.”

He frowned. “Wait a minute. I can’t be both, can I?”

“Hm?” Byakuran shoved another marshmallow into his mouth.

“The pacifiers are one part of the Tri-ni-set. I can’t be an Arcobaleno and also carry the burden of the Vongola Sky Ring, right? I don’t have to be Decimo?”

Daemon arched a brow at him, then shifted his gaze to the side briefly. “I think you’re remembering that explanation wrongly. And are you forgetting that Nono’s sons are still alive right now?”

“Oh, right,” he said, feeling relieved. He was in an alternate dimension, so it was entirely possible that one of those three would survive and he would remain out of the running.

Byakuran laughed happily and aimed a somewhat frightening look his way. “I think we should stuff that brain of yours full of knowledge.”

He shrank back for a moment out of reflex, then realized he was not actually adverse to learning. ‘What the hell?’ he wondered.

Daemon snorted. “You haven’t had your flames sealed,” he drawled.

“Damn it, don’t read my thoughts!” he complained.

“I wasn’t. It was plain as day in your expression,” Daemon protested. “You have the mind of an adult and free-flowing flames in a body where they were never sealed. Do you have any idea just what kind of complications sealing a person’s flames can produce?”

“So you’re saying all my incompetence and general lack of anything resembling a brain was caused by Nono trying to keep me out of the mafia?”

Daemon nodded. “It was done back in the day, for much the same reasons. Every last one of those kids ended up klutzy and scatterbrained at best. I won’t even go into worst cases. For that reason, the method was expunged from the Vongola records as the process was deemed too detrimental to the subjects. Nono obviously figured out how to do it on his own, which was pretty clever of him.”

“So Enma really was that, uh…”

“Yeah,” Daemon said. “Gifted with his flames, but still a magnet for bullies. Granted, the fact that I brutally murdered his parents and sister had to have messed up his head. But I didn’t do that this time. Wait, I won’t do that this time, I mean; it happened in 2009.” He glanced at Byakuran and said, “This is mildly confusing.”

Byakuran shrugged. “Being somewhat insane, I just find it amusing. But that brings up a good point. Tsu-kun’s flames cannot be sealed again by a well-meaning but ultimately irresponsible old man.”

‘Irresponsible?’ he thought.

“Yes, irresponsible,” Daemon said. “He had no real idea of the potential ramifications of his actions, yet he did it anyway. It was an experimental procedure, and he used it one of his own family members, his own blood. Did he ever apologize?”

“Well, now that you mention it, no,” he admitted. “And now that I think about it, I’ve already noticed differences. I’m not tripping over my own feet all the time and I don’t feel like nothing really matters. Before it was like … what was the point in bothering to try? And then the kids in school went from making fun of my clumsiness to outright bullying me. It’s not like I remember everything clearly, but I know I wasn’t bullied from the start. I never made the connection with that visit from Nono, but why would I have?”

Daemon nodded. “Well, unfortunately, despite having been around for ages, I don’t know as much about Arcobaleno as I might like, so a lot of it you’ll have to figure out personally. But that doesn’t mean we can’t help you with making sure you actually learn the normal things, and even help you train with your flames.”

He stuffed another marshmallow in his mouth and pondered the wisdom of telling them about that house he had woken up in. Something told him it was not the best idea; Kawahira would probably not appreciate that someone other than an Arcobaleno had gone inside, after all. The Arcobaleno probably had some code of conduct they never shared with outsiders. And for all he knew, they gathered every so often and threw wild parties. A funny little chortling-chirping sound came from his hair, making him wonder if Quince could read his thoughts.

Byakuran stopped mid-chew and aimed a curious look at him, so Tsuna said, “That’s Quince you heard, my companion.”

“Quince? Not Quincy?” Daemon asked.

He shook his head. “He’s a fruit bat, so…”

Byakuran grinned. “How adorable! And he blends into your hair so well. Speaking of which, is it darker than it used to be? Your eyes are definitely different.”

“Huh?”

Daemon snorted softly. “You didn’t even look in a mirror?”

“I did,” he protested, “but I was more interested in gawking at my size. What happened to my eyes?”

“They’re a really pretty amber colour, with darker rings,” Byakuran said. “There’s nothing wrong with brown, I suppose, but now they match your flames.”

He nodded, intending to check later on. After heaving a sigh he said, “How do you want to go about training?”

“Well,” Byakuran said, “you’re kind of stuck with that whole school thing down the road, so it’ll have to be in the afternoon after that actually starts. Not every day, though. And I can’t be here all the time, anyway, so I bought you a phone!” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a cell phone to hand over.

“What?” he said, automatically accepting the thing.

“A phone,” Byakuran said slowly. “You use them to communicate. Also, I’m giving you an account with seed money in it. You probably aren’t aware of this, but we Skies tend to have that whole intuition thing going for us, and that means we can make an absolute killing in the stock market. So, I expect you to get right on that.”

Tsuna blinked a few times. By the time he went home for dinner his brain had been stuffed full of plans and he knew the upcoming weeks and even months would be … interesting. But at least his two “friends” wouldn’t expect him to start until November, so he had some time to adjust. He also had the nagging feeling he had forgotten something very important, but could not put his finger on it.

The next day he returned to the Arcobaleno house and entered the shrine room. He stared at the display and fingered the three keys he had taken from it, then set a notepad and pencil down so he could make notes.

All three keys in place opened the seventh door. The sixth door opened when the rightmost key was removed. Those were already written down, along with none being the combination for the front door. He methodically created combinations and tested doors until he knew exactly how to trigger the lock he wanted. ‘But which one do I want to connect to first?’ he asked himself. Even now, Reborn scared him a little, even if he thought his Reborn would never truly hurt him. The man hadn’t wanted him dead, just bearing a spine and pride and drive and … all the things Nono had stolen from him.

He closed his eyes and sighed. “I can’t deal with Reborn right now; I need to find my own confidence instead of using Reborn as my backbone. So … I’ll go for the opposite, then. I’ll go for the little guy.” He laughed humorlessly at his joke and unlocked the Cloud room. He took a seat inside, gazing without really seeing at the picture of Skull, and started giving some serious thought to both Hibari and Skull.

Hibari had always scared him. He respected Kyoya’s power, his frightening competence in a fight, and his unyielding nature, but he had still been scared of him. He had never felt any kind of a real connection to Hibari, even as they got older and he moved properly into the role of Vongola Decimo. Hibari had done what he damn well pleased, and if his interests happened to coincide with Tsuna’s, so be it. Tsuna had never felt he could entrust a task to Hibari if he knew that task did not in some way benefit the man or was not something Hibari would likely have done of his own volition.

In contrast, Skull seemed to be the Arcobaleno whipping boy. Reborn and Colonnello both treated him like a lackey or errand boy, and he had the impression they felt that way even prior to being cursed. Why? Because he was comparatively the weakest of the bunch? Verde didn’t often go on the offense, at least not personally, but perhaps his brains and scientific prowess made up for his lack of overt physical threat?

Skull and Hibari seemed like exact opposites. Hibari didn’t give a damn about approval or having friends and Skull seemed to just want someone to care. Based on what he knew of a Cloud’s role in a famiglia, Skull’s personality was at odds with his flames. Therefore, not every flame-user behaved in a manner consistent with the norm.

‘That’s great,’ he thought, fiddling with his pacifier, ‘but I’m not sure knowing that helps. I guess it’s true that I trusted Hibari-san to get a job done, but I never trusted that I could be the one assigning them, and I never really felt like he had much respect for me. I sometimes felt like I was just another challenge for him to overcome. Still, he did train me, even if he was horribly brutal about it, and I guess he wouldn’t have wasted his time if he thought I was hopeless.’

It was when he had to squint that he realized the pacifier he was idly messing with was glowing with increasing brightness. “Is this … it?”

Quince made that odd chortling sound again and said, “It indicates progress. Whatever you’re thinking is obviously working.”

He nodded and went back to considering his relationship with Hibari. The older version had trained him, so perhaps there was some measure of respect there, even if he had never showed it in a way that Tsuna could easily understand. ‘I never really thought I could control Hibari, though, so at least I understood that much. Of course, if Nono hadn’t damaged me, I might have been able to understand any of this better before,’ he thought with a touch of bitterness. ‘The more I think about it the more upset I get. He’s directly responsible for my childhood being an unending torment. His intentions might have been good, but the results were horrible.’

His pacifier dimmed slightly and that prodded him into realizing that he was getting off track. ‘Clouds,’ he thought. ‘Aloof, drifting, solitary clouds. Except that clouds in the sky usually come in groups and are often quite fluffy.’ He laughed at the thought of Hibari being fluffy, though he did seem to have a serious soft spot for small animals. Maybe his relationship with any Cloud Guardian wasn’t about being able to give orders, but simply in being able to trust that they would look out for the interests of their Sky and famiglia, outward appearances to the contrary.

The pacifier took on a distinct purple tint in one segment, startling him back out of his thoughts. He grasped it with both hands and closed his eyes; almost immediately he got a sense of where Skull was, and could actually see him. The Cloud Arcobaleno suddenly stopped dead and looked around with jerky movements, as if he could tell he was being watched without being able to pinpoint a direction.

‘That would be one way to irritate Reborn from a distance,’ he thought in amusement, ‘though I expect he’d make me pay for it later.’

Skull darted off to the side, into cover, and kept scanning his surroundings. It allowed Tsuna to see that he was in a recognizable place. Venice, if he was not mistaken. He released the pacifier and opened his eyes. “No sense turning him into a paranoid wreck,” he muttered.

“So you found the Cloud Arcobaleno?” Quince asked.

“Yeah. I don’t have any idea how to get into contact with him, though. It’s not like the average five year old can hop on the plane at a moment’s notice,” he said, then thought, ‘But then Lambo-kun was never average.’

“Considering you look more like a two year old…”

Tsuna heaved a sigh. It also occurred to him that Quince had been listening in the entire time he had been talking with Byakuran and Daemon, so if his companion was going to betray him to Kawahira, he already had all the ammunition he needed. That being so, and remembering how Reborn, Colonnello, and Fon had been with their companions, he decided to simply trust that Quince wasn’t wired that way. “Well, I guess I could ask for help. But I can also experiment with this and see if there’s a way to send a message through.”

He got up and headed to the kitchen for some juice and remembered to grab the keys before taking a walk.

Over the next few days he checked in on Skull, waiting until the afternoon to do so because of the time difference. It was helpful that he realized he need not close his eyes; the image would seemingly project onto the wall, he just had to have the pacifier enclosed by a hand. When Thursday rolled around and he settled down to take a look, Skull not only immediately darted into cover, but brought out a piece of paper with a message on it. “Why are you spying on me?” it read in Italian.

Tsuna took a moment to thank Reborn for having beaten several languages into his head, but he still had no idea how to respond. As it was, he simply held the vision for another thirty seconds to see if Skull would add anything to the paper, then released the pacifier with a feeling of frustration.

On Saturday Skull was already sitting somewhere quiet, wasn’t wearing his helmet, and had a piece of paper ready, so he had obviously figured out the regularity of the odd contact. “I picked up a throwaway phone,” it read, followed by a number.

Tsuna frowned and debated as to how to respond. But if he never took the chance, how would he ever know? He fetched out the phone Byakuran had given him, awkwardly dialed one-handed, and held it to his ear, all while keeping the link open.

Skull answered almost immediately. “Ciao.”

“…Ciao,” he replied. “I’m sorry for making you feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know any other way to…”

“You are…?”

“You can call me … Welkin,” he said. “Sky Arcobaleno.”

Skull moved the phone away from his ear and stared at it disbelievingly, then brought it back to his ear. “Really?”

“Yes. I was experimenting with how to get to know the rest of you and, well, the only thing I seem to be able to do so far is peek in. I can’t even hear anything.”

“Who else have you contacted?”

“No one. You’re the first.”

Skull stared at his phone again for a second. “Oh. Wait… What—right, she’s gone, I guess.”

“Luce?”

“Did you know her?”

“I’m afraid I never met her, but I was made aware of who the former holder was.”

“Do you … understand? What’s happened to you?” Skull asked quietly.

“Yes, I do. Would you be willing to talk to me every so often? I don’t exactly have a lot of friends,” he said, making a face at the truth of that statement. He had Byakuran and Daemon, but they wouldn’t be with him all or even most of the time, and he was honestly worried about being able to relate to the kids he would end up going to school with.

If it wasn’t for the fact that he didn’t want to worry his mother and also send half the Vongola into a screaming panic, he would have strongly considered just disappearing. But his mother had already been lied to and essentially abandoned by Iemitsu, so he couldn’t see himself doing the same thing, even if he would have to lie about his physical circumstances or do a lot of fast talking.

Skull remained silent for several heartbeats, then chirped, “Sure. I’m Skull, by the way. Where in Italy are you?”

“Italy?”

“…Yes. That’s where your phone number is based.”

“It is? Someone got the phone for me. I never actually looked at what number it had, or even thought about it. I can’t exactly travel under the circumstances, so maybe he did that to confuse people as to my whereabouts?”

Skull scratched his head. “How about this? Send me a text message if you want to talk, and if I’m not in the middle of something I’ll call. But if it’s going to be a while, I’ll send back a quick text to let you know.”

“That sounds fine. It’s one way to become familiar with each other. And hopefully at some point we could meet.”

He could see Skull nod before the Cloud said, “You said … you can’t exactly travel right now. Does that mean you’re, uh, small?”

“Yeah. I don’t look any older than you do. And there are other circumstances surrounding me that make it really difficult for me to just sneak away for a while.”

Skull’s expression twisted briefly. “Are you aware of—? I mean, if I said Omertà…”

“Then I would say that the Vindice are responsible for making us uphold it,” he replied easily.

Skull exhaled and nodded. “Okay.”

“What were you before?” he asked.

“I did stunt work,” Skull replied, confirming his memory that the Cloud had been one in his original world. “But now I’ve been caught up in all this. What about you?”

“Supposedly just a regular person, but I was born into a family and kept a secret. For my protection, of course.”

Skull’s brow slid up at the tone. “So you’ve never—okay. That’s kinda cool, actually. Neither of us was… I still do stunt work when I can, but it’s not easy getting jobs in this condition. I’m mostly forced to do other things.”

Tsuna noted that Skull sounded really forlorn about that. “I’m sorry your life was stolen from you,” he said, then immediately plowed on with, “I notice you wear a motorcycle helmet a lot. Were you able to get one your size or…?”

Skull grinned. “Yeah. It took some doing, but I got one. But I have other ways of getting around, too. I have this really cool airship!”

He vaguely remembered something about that. “Your own airship? Wow. So you can fly anywhere and not have to worry about sneaking onto airplanes or pretending to be a kid and have to have some flight attendant constantly cooing at you and calling you sweetie or something equally annoying?”

“Yep! And it has room for living quarters and a place for my motorcycle, and for my animal companion.”

“A floating home. That would really be something. Being able to just drift away from everyone when you want. But do air traffic controllers give you trouble?”

“Well… I tend to use it over the ocean and stay out of regular flight paths. But yeah, I can just drift off when I need to, assuming I remember to stock plenty of food. I like it. What kind of companion do you have?”

Tsuna laughed softly. “It’s funny, because I was really scared of them before. I have a bat, a fruit bat. He’s real cute, and it makes me wonder why they scared me in the first place. Watching him eat makes me laugh, because he seems to get so much enjoyment out of it.”

“Does he have any cool powers?”

“Apparently he can change size so that he could fly me around if I wanted him to, but I think I could probably fly on my own.” Maybe if he started early enough he could replicate what he did before, just minus the gloves. “What about yours?”

“I have an octopus,” Skull said cheerfully. “He’s real cool. He knows what I want him to do by watching my hands.”

“An octopus? Does that mean you could wear the right gear and he could take you diving? Can he change size, too? Because I’d think it’d be awkward having him with you in a city or something.”

“Yep! He’s super cute when he’s tiny. We like to—” Skull broke off as a chirping sound interrupted. “…That’s my alarm. I have to go for now.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll send you a text soon and hopefully we can talk again,” he said, kind of disappointed that they couldn’t speak for longer.

“I hope you do! Ciao!”

When Skull hung up he released the link and put his phone away.

*

Skull relaxed as he felt that sensation of being watched vanish. Welkin had said he couldn’t hear anything, but… “No,” he muttered, “I’m going to accept what he said at face value. He seems really nice. I’m kind of annoyed with myself for having set that alarm now, but we can talk again later.” He glanced at his phone. “Maybe I can send him the occasional text just to say hello? Even if we don’t get to talk right then?”

He put the phone away and hastened off to his motorcycle, put his helmet on, and sped off to the airship. After getting his bike parked and his helmet stowed, he wandered into the tiny kitchen and got himself a snack, giving a little wave to Oodako, who was splashing around in the sink. “I talked to the new Sky,” he told his companion. “He said he reached out to me first. I wonder why me and not one of the others.”

“Why not you?” Oodako asked.

Skull scoffed. “You know why.”

“No, I don’t. So what if Reborn and Colonnello aren’t all that nice just because you didn’t come from a mafia background? Why would a brand new Sky necessarily be anything like them? You can’t judge everyone by those two.”

“I know…”

“Then don’t just know, believe,” Oodako said firmly, flipping a tentacle in his direction for emphasis. “Give this new Sky a proper chance.”

He nodded, trying to be optimistic. It was hard. He was a Cloud, but he wasn’t anything like a normal Cloud, so there was that small issue of actually caring about others, and wanting to be liked. Maybe Welkin was as nice as he sounded. And maybe he just wanted a friend, too. “He says he’s not in Italy, that he didn’t even realize the phone he was using had an Italian number. I wonder where he is. And he’s small!”

Oodako clung to the rim of the sink. “Small? Like you? Why would—?”

Skull shook his head. “Well, Luce did take on chibi form after Aria was old enough. It just seems strange that he started out small.” He gasped suddenly. “Does that mean he’s a lot younger than normal? What if he wasn’t an adult when it happened?”

“Did he sound like a child?”

“Mm, not really, but at the same time, yes. His voice was young, like Reborn’s but without the lisp, but he didn’t come across as being young, not really. He sounded too mature and knowledgeable to be a mere child.”

Oodako settled back. “It’s possible, I suppose. If he really was the best choice, I doubt Checker Face would have quibbled over something like age. If he was old enough to be self-aware and capable of understanding his situation…”

Skull sighed. “He’s probably older than I think and younger than I’d like. Well, he wants to talk on a regular basis, so I should be able to get to know him. And maybe I’ll be invited to come visit. He said he was born into a mafia family, but he’s been hidden.”

“So either his parent wanted to keep him out of things, or was worried for his safety.”

“I guess. He sounded bitter when he said it, so I think it was kept from him and he discovered it.”

“So maybe only one of his parents is a mafioso and has stayed away from him and the other parent in an effort to protect them. The other parent probably didn’t know, either, and may still not. But, that brings up another point,” Oodako said. “If he felt—let’s assume it was the father. If the father felt his family needed to be protected, he’s probably not a lower level mafiosi. Or if he is, he’s with one of the not so nice families that will use your loved ones against you.”

“Like the Triads?”

Oodako sort of shrugged. “Maybe not quite that formalized, but… I’m going to lean toward this Sky’s parent being someone higher up. But it’s all just a guessing game at this point. For all we know he could be an Estraneo and his father hid him and the mother away for very good reason.”

Skull shuddered.

*

Over the course of the week he spent the mornings with his mother, getting her to teach him how to cook, but in the afternoons he spent time in darkened rooms at the memorial house working with Quince on navigating by echolocation. He would blindfold himself and then let Quince guide him through a dark room. By himself, without the blindfold, he relied on infravision instead. Some materials lost heat faster than others, and it all resolved to shapes and perspective. Still, if he was stuck in a dark place he would not have to stumble around and bash into walls so long as Quince was there to help or his eyes were uncovered.

He also experimented with trying to produce flames from his hands, but only ever at the memorial house, so he could fly again. Maybe being an Arcobaleno would afford him the chance to better deal with hard and soft flame output, so he wouldn’t need something like those contact lenses again. He had no plans to start attacking people with X-Burner anytime soon, but if he could do it without needing to wait so long for Spanner to come up with the things again…

On Saturday he settled in to hopefully talk to Skull again, and sent a text message asking if he was free. It was a pain to manage given the archaic quality of the phone—he was used to a much more advanced version, after all. His phone rang about thirty seconds later, so he answered with, “Ciao.”

“Ciao! So I’ve been thinking,” Skull said. “You speak Italian really well, but you’re not in Italy. How many languages do you know?”

“Four. Did you have a good week?”

“…It was fine. Nothing really exciting happened. Oodako and I went fishing and collected a lot of seafood to store on the airship.”

“That name is Japanese,” he commented unthinkingly. ‘And very literal.’

“Yep. He’s named after the one in that Godzilla movie, but he’s way cooler. What did you do this week?”

“I decided to learn how to cook. I like to eat, but I don’t think I’ve been all that appreciative of those who’ve cooked for me in the past, so … yeah. If I learn how to do it myself, I can cook for myself and others, kind of a way to say thank you.”

“I can see that,” Skull replied, “and it’s a nice way to look at things.”

“I’ve also been learning how to work with my companion. Quince is pretty patient. I was considering making a dummy or something so I could practice against it. Being this size kind of throws everything off. I mean, I should know how to defend myself, right? Not everyone is going to be nice to me.”

“That’s likely accurate,” Skull said slowly. “Some people see Skies as being like royalty, but some people see them as a good way to get a family under their thumb. Are you—do you have any guardians?”

“No, none,” he admitted, assuming that Skull meant other Flames of the Sky. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to just find some or if, um…”

“If the other Arcobaleno would serve that way?”

“I don’t like the word serve,” he said immediately, “but I understand what you mean. But regardless, a Sky doesn’t seem to live as long, so is it really fair to harmonize with people only to have to…”

Skull didn’t say anything for a long stretch. “But, you’re still alive. Isn’t it only hurting yourself if you don’t make connections?”

“I am making connections, or trying to,” he replied, “just not necessarily trying to make anyone feel responsible for me.” He knew it wasn’t the end of the world if a guardian died. Nono had gone through more than a few himself. But it still had to hurt when it happened. And for a non-Sky to lose their Sky? He had trouble comprehending just how that would affect—had affected—his guardians from his former life. Had they fallen apart? Would they be all right? Was it like someone had squeezed their hearts painfully? Had Reborn tortured them all for failing?

“It’s a two-way street, Welkin,” Skull said. “Both sides have to make decisions. You can’t force anyone to harmonize. You both have to want it, even if you don’t realize you do.”

“Is it too personal a question to ask if you’ve harmonized with a Sky?”

“I haven’t, but I haven’t found one I really felt comfortable with. I didn’t come from a mafia background, so the concept was foreign to me. And Skies are rare, anyway. It’s not like we all get the chance.”

“Oh.” Was Reborn like that, too? It seemed like the only Arcobaleno he knew of that had a boss was Mammon, and he didn’t even know if actual harmonization was involved. And that made him try to remember exactly when the Cradle Affair happened. Daemon or Byakuran would probably know.

“Hey, you okay?”

“Huh? I’m sorry, I got lost in thought for a minute. Do any of the Arcobaleno have a Sky?”

“Well, Mammon sort of does, but I’m not sure if it’s a real bond. He won’t even give you the time of day usually unless you fork over a lot of cash, so asking him a question like that would probably be really expensive. I don’t think anyone else does, though.”

“I wonder why,” he mused. “Maybe people are chosen to be Arcobaleno also based on the odds of them even wanting to harmonize?”

“…I don’t have any idea,” Skull said.

Tsuna got the distinct impression that Skull had meant to say something else entirely, but was not willing to push the issue so early on. “Are you part of a family?”

“No, I do freelance work. That way I can pick and chose what jobs I take.”

“That makes sense,” he replied, wondering when it was that his Skull had gone to work as a strategist for the Carcassa Famiglia. Maybe here it would never happen. “I would prefer to be able to choose. I can try to hide myself away from the mafia world at large, but I don’t know how well that will work. I’d rather have friends I enjoy spending time with and can trust over all the stuff I suspect goes on in the average family.”

“Do you know much about the one you were born into?” Skull asked.

“Yeah, unfortunately. I’m not saying they have a bad reputation or anything, but… I have reasons for not being entirely comfortable with it.”

“And they don’t know that you know.”

“Right. I wasn’t supposed to know anything. I think they hoped I wouldn’t have active flames. If they ever figure out I do, well…”

“You know, I’m kind of confused at this point,” Skull said slowly. “How is it that nobody’s noticed how small you are?”

“Um… I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention to any hints I was inadvertently dropping, huh. Will you promise to keep it a secret?”

“I promise,” Skull said immediately.

“Um… I’m only five, and my mother is kind of oblivious.”

“What!?” was shrieked in his ear. “Five!?”

“Ow,” he said plaintively.

“Sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to be that loud. Oodako and I had wondered if you were younger than normal, but I didn’t really expect it to be true. You sound way too mature to be five. I guess you’re really smart.”

‘I don’t know about that,’ he thought, ‘but maybe now that my flames have never been sealed…’ “Maybe?” he replied. It was too easy to fool his mother, and too easy to actually forget he had shrunk even smaller than this body’s proper age. It was surprising when he thought about it, but perhaps part of the process involved made it easier on the ones cursed, to adjust. “Or maybe being made into an Arcobaleno does something to your mind.”

“I suppose that’s possible. Still, five. Wow. I see what you mean now about not being able to travel easily. But you said you have at least one friend there?”

“Two, but they’re kind of new and not here all the time. I guess now that you know you could visit, if it wouldn’t bring down any suspicion on the area. I mean, do people keep track of where you are? You must be fairly well known, right?”

There was a long pause, and Tsuna almost wished he had decided to spy through the link just so he could see the expression on Skull’s face.

“There’s a few things I can do to disguise myself,” Skull finally said. “I don’t have to have the airship with me, though it would mean not having my home there.”

“Oh, well, my mother wouldn’t mind you staying. She’d just be happy I had a friend visiting.” He might as well go for broke. If it all blew up in his face, well, being known as the Sky Arcobaleno meant Nono wouldn’t dare try to seal his flames. Of course, if that were known, it might shunt him straight into the running for Decimo again, based on his obvious specialness or something.

“A vacation sounds nice,” Skull said cheerfully. “What country are you even in?”

“Japan.”

“…Japan?”

“Yes.”

“Okay,” Skull chirped. “Japan it is.”

They ended the call after Skull had memorized the location. His new friend would start making plans and they could go over them the following week. Or he would shortly be getting an emergency visit from Nono, but he could hope not.

*

Skull hit the button to end the call and stared at Oodako. Speakerphone was a wonderful thing. “Wow.”

“Five?”

“Five years old. He’s five! And as much as he does seem to understand, there seems to be a whole lot he doesn’t.” His mouth twisted unhappily. “Can you imagine not being in any particular hurry to get guardians? I mean, I can’t say I know or understand how the mind of a Sky works, but… He’s five, he’s mostly alone, but he doesn’t want people to feel responsible for him? What kind of a childhood has he had?”

“He said his mother was oblivious. That means anything could have been happening in his life and she might not notice. You should still be careful, though, because we don’t know how accurate Welkin’s assessment is. He’s five, so he might be missing some of the details.”

“Well, I can use semi-permanent dye,” Skull said, “and not bother to put on makeup. And I can put away the piercings for a while. I do the right things and most people would never realize I was anything other than a child.”

“True,” Oodako said agreeably. “We can also probably rule out something like Estraneo, but it depends on what he actually found that clued him in to being mafia.”

Skull nodded. “That’s true. We have no idea what he found or just how deeply it went. He might have a skewed idea of what his family is like. If it really was something like Estraneo, I would like to believe that the father wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave references to that laying around, even if he was stupid enough to leave something Welkin could find.”

“Well, either way, he’s obviously very smart. He said he knows four languages already. Unless his mother has been raising him multilingual on purpose, it says to me that the boy is bored and he’s probably been spending a lot of time learning on his own. Really smart children often have trouble relating to their peers and go off into their own little worlds.”

Skull hummed thoughtfully. “Let me get a notebook so we can start making a list of preparations.”

*

Byakuran and Daemon showed up on Tuesday as he was on his way to the memorial house, so he diverted from his plans and went to spend time with them instead. They ended up in a house on the outskirts of town that Byakuran had apparently bought. Once they were seated Byakuran handed over a key, and then a set of boots.

Tsuna eyed the boots with confusion.

“They’re flame boots,” Byakuran said. “Remember those? I figured, since I was given those memories, I could make some for you. It might take a while for you to figure out how to fly the way you did before, so these might be useful for now.”

“Oh, thank you.”

Daemon handed over a chain and a metal net. “One is for the pacifier, and the other one can go around your ankle. The ankle bracelet will help veil people’s minds with Mist, so they don’t ask awkward questions.”

“Like why I suddenly got younger awkward, or why a two year old is attending middle school awkward?”

Daemon smirked. “Obviously, it will also affect Nono and Iemitsu. But you’ll get more use out of it fending off the rest of the world.”

He nodded. “And the net is like a Mammon Chain?”

“Precisely. I suppose you could have gone to him directly and paid an outrageous sum of money you don’t yet have for him to make one, but why bother? Besides, how would you reasonably know he was capable of making them in the first place?”

That gave him pause. He had yet to consider approaching Mammon, but that probably would have been a tactic that came to mind. And that reminded him of the Cradle Affair again, so he asked.

“Eh, I’m pretty sure that happened—will happen—in 2007,” Byakuran said. “Why? Do you plan to meddle?”

“Should I? Should I look the other way? What about Mukuro? Does having this knowledge mean I should do something with it? Or is using it just a way to justify playing god? Actually, I just realized that Mammon could find me at any time just by sneezing on a piece of paper. I wonder how much he’d sell me out for?”

Daemon chuckled and shook his head. “The bracelet will protect you against that. I considered a lot of possibilities when I was planning it out.”

With that in mind he twisted around so he could latch the thing around his left ankle.

“Don’t take it off,” Daemon said. “People who know the truth, like us, won’t be affected by it. But the masses will, and it’ll prevent things like Mammon’s trick.”

“Speaking of…” He bit his lip. “I got in contact with Skull and he’s making plans to come for a visit. I wasn’t watching what I said carefully enough, I guess, and he figured out I was pretty young. He’s either being honest, or he’ll sell me out and I’ll get a surprise visit from people I don’t want to see.”

Byakuran shook his head and produced a bag of marshmallows to munch on. “Skull doesn’t seem the type, so I expect it’ll be fine. Besides, knowing you—” He rolled his eyes. “—you’ll manage to harmonize with him in no time flat.”

Tsuna sighed.

“Anyway, the other me gave you a second life for you, Tsu-kun, not so you could come here and right all the wrongs in this dimension. Use the information you have to better understand people, but consider maybe just letting the world handle itself. You already saved the dimensions! And I was a fantastic villain. So was Daemon.”

He sighed again and fiddled with the hem of his shirt.

“Besides, you can’t go on a one-man crusade. Seriously. How would you even plan to help Mukuro or Xanxus or, uh, whoever? Were you planning to ninja your way into Estraneo and sweet talk all the scientists into the realization that their experiments were evil? Kidnap the kids somehow? Sit down with Xanxus and gently break the news to him, let him sob on your shoulder, and everything ends up kittens and rainbows?”

Tsuna snorted at the idea of Xanxus, of all people, sobbing on his shoulder. “When you put it like that, it does sound awfully unlikely. I would need an amazing team to do anything, and getting around the Vindice…”

“Well, there you go. So, let’s talk money.”

A few hours later his head was spinning with information overload and he had taken copious notes, but he was handling it much better than he would have previously. His two friends had created a false identity for him so he could start raking in money, and showed him the laptop set up in the house that he could use. For all that Byakuran could be infuriatingly casual, he had spent a lot of time setting things up after gaining those memories so that he could help Tsuna survive on his own.

It would be up to him to keep on top of it, and make any transfers from accounts to the one Byakuran had set up that had a card linked to, but so long as he put a little time toward it regularly, he would probably not have to worry about money again. Quarterly revenue should suffice. He wondered how many other Skies used the tactic, or if most simply didn’t have Byakuran’s peculiar outlook and it never occurred to them. It certainly had not to him previously. Then again, maybe it only worked for Skies with really strong intuition, or intuition that leaned toward certain things.

Once the lecture was over he looked at Daemon and said, “Thinking back on it, I’m really confused about how I was able to use Enma’s ring, or how you could use any of them. Does that mean a ring is not only attuned to a particular flame, but someone can use one to alter the properties of their own? Are rings really that powerful?”

Daemon nodded. “But it also depends on the user. Someone with low flame strength and purity wouldn’t be able to do it. You could, and I could, but I doubt the Bovino boss could, or the random average mafiosi. You might say that people who stand a chance at being chosen as Arcobaleno could manage it.”

He hummed thoughtfully. “Who even makes them? Talbot can’t be the only one, can he?”

“Do you want one?” Daemon asked. “Why and what kind?”

“I don’t know that I do,” he said, “but I admit it was pretty cool being able to manipulate gravity. Either way, if a ring can transform into a type of weapon, why couldn’t I have a ring that created gauntlets the same way Enma’s ring did? I’m grateful that Leon made gloves for me, but they were super inconvenient, whereas a ring would be a lot less of a pain to always have on hand.”

“No pun intended,” Byakuran said.

Tsuna gave him an insincere smile.

“I’ll do some checking,” Daemon said. “In the meantime, you need to start making money. And we need to work out some real plans as to getting you stuffed full of knowledge. By the time you enter school you should be able to simultaneously breeze through everything and be bored out of your mind.”

“Which means he’d have plenty of time to plot,” Byakuran said happily. “In any case, I already did some checking and have plenty of books for Tsu-kun to go over and refresh his knowledge. Being unfettered means you’ll probably have a much easier time of things. Skull may or may not be able to provide some assistance, but really, anything you end up having issues with, set aside, and the next time we meet we can go over whatever it is.”

“That makes sense, though I think you two are a little weird for trying to get me to do all this so early.”

“You’re going to be bored out of your mind either way once you enter classes,” Daemon pointed out. “So you might as well be doing interesting things while there, while still knowing you can answer any questions posed to you.”

‘Kind of like Hayato, I suppose,’ he thought, remembering how he used to daydream through classes, yet always had the answer if he was called on. ‘Well, I did do badly the first time around, so I should put in some effort this time.’

Something must have shown in his expression, because Byakuran said, “The books are in the library!”