Grazhir :: Crossover :: Welkin :: 02

02: 2005-2006

He realized by the time Skull arrived that his mind seemed to work so much better. Had he been a true five year old that might not be the case, but he was kind of special. Byakuran had arranged the books on shelves based on the level of difficulty. Even if they didn’t correspond to how his schools had divided the material, it was still grouped in a way that made sense. It made it easy to feel like he was accomplishing things when he was able to clear a section and move on to the next one. At some point he expected it would get more difficult, but knowing his foundation was in place was comforting.

He also wondered what he and Skull could do together. Skull was expecting a mature five year old, but he was nothing of the sort. What if he fell for someone along the way? Wasn’t that a weird thought. Reborn supposedly had Bianchi as a girlfriend, but looking back… ‘Now that I think about it, he fell asleep a lot around her, especially when she showed up with food. Maybe he was just trying to deflect her obsession in a kindly way? The whole situation was creepy. She was only seventeen when she showed up, and she’d been obsessed with him even when he was still tutoring Dino?’ He shuddered and let his mind shy away from the whole thing.

“It would be nice to see Dino again, though,” he muttered as he went over the latest reports on potential investments. “But he’s just a kid right now, and not the man I knew.” He sighed and flipped the page. “Maybe if I’m feeling super confident I can crash a tutoring session and try to confound Reborn. And that’s assuming it still happens.”

Tsuna frowned and made a mental note to ask Byakuran if he knew just how similar his current dimension was to his original. His phone chirped, alerting him to a text message. Skull had arrived in Namimori and was at the agreed upon spot. Tsuna sent back a quick acknowledgment and set the reports aside, then dashed off to get his boots on and exit the house.

He found Skull as expected in that one park in town nobody seemed to frequent. He had left the Mist Net off his pacifier so that Skull would know it was him coming, and as he got closer he could see a corresponding gleam of light appear. He wanted to race over, but thought that might startle Skull, so he walked steadily. Skull’s face lit up on seeing him, and Tsuna smiled in return, finally dashing the last of the distance. “Ciao!”

“Ciao,” Skull replied. “Wow.”

“Hey, are you hungry?” he asked, eyeing how Skull had black hair instead of purple, and how he had left off the markings on his face and jewelry. “It’s almost time for dinner, so we can go to my house.”

“Okay,” Skull said with a nod. “You’re sure?”

“Yep! It’ll be fine. Let’s go!” He dashed a short distance away, paused to make sure Skull was following, then started jogging. When they arrived he opened the door for his new friend and headed in after him. His mother was in the kitchen, humming as she cooked. Tsuna slipped his boots off and put them in a cubby, then entered the kitchen with Skull.

“I brought a friend home,” he announced.

Nana twisted around to look, then beamed. “Oh my, how lovely. My little Tsu-kun has a friend. It’s nice to meet you,” she said to Skull. “I’m Sawada Nana, but you can call me Mama.”

“This is Karu-kun,” Tsuna said quickly, only just then realizing that his family name was probably a shining beacon in the darkness that was his identity for Skull. ‘I really need to think these things through better,’ he admonished himself.

Skull shook off his reaction and smiled at Nana. “I’m happy to be here.”

“You two go wash up, okay? Then we’ll eat.”

Tsuna nodded and herded Skull away, and they were back in a couple of minutes and taking seats. ‘For all I know he’s freaking out. What to do? Pray?’ He smiled as his mother set food in front of him and gave his thanks, then began eating. His mother didn’t ask any awkward questions and the meal went smoothly. They went up to his room afterward and he quailed slightly at the look on Skull’s face.

“Sawada,” Skull murmured.

“Um… Can we hold off on that until tomorrow, please? When we’re not in this house?”

Skull nodded and smiled, and looked around. “So this is your room?”

“Yeah, it’s kind of a mess,” he said, despite the fact that it was tidy. Part of his “let’s be appreciative” thing resulted in actually keeping his room clean, so his mother did not have the extra burden. “I guess I didn’t think this through, huh. We can share the bed, or I can get out one of the futons and we can share that instead. Or I can sleep on that and—”

“It’s fine,” Skull said reassuringly. “It doesn’t matter. We’re both really small, so we don’t take up much room.”

He gave Skull a wide-eyed look and nodded, then blinked when he heard that chortling sound. “Oh, that’s right. C’mon out, Quince. I want you to meet Skull.”

Quince crawled out of Tsuna’s hair and perched on his shoulder, lazily waving at Skull in greeting.

“Ciao,” Skull greeted. “It’s nice to meet you.” Then he swung the pack he was wearing off and opened it. A miniature red octopus appeared from inside and waved a tentacle. “This is Oodako.”

Tsuna felt like squeeing, his hands coming up under his chin in unconscious mimicry of his mother. “You’re right. He’s really cute.” The only other time he had seen the companion was during the assault on Mafia Land, and Oodako had been massive in size and armored.

Oodako turned a darker shade of red for a moment.

“I’m happy to meet you, Oodako-san,” Tsuna said. “Do you need anything special? Should I fill a sink with water or something?”

Skull and Oodako exchanged a look, and Tsuna just knew they were speaking to each other. It was strange seeing it in action. “I brought along a collapsible container,” Skull said after a minute. “I can fill that with water so we don’t tie up a sink or a tub or whatever.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Oodako doesn’t have to be in water all the time,” Skull explained, “but it is more comfortable for him.”

After that was taken care of they settled on the bed and, at a loss as to what else to do, Tsuna asked about Skull’s journey to Japan. That took care of the evening, as Skull described how he had cleverly ninja’d his way there, and they spent the night cozily enough. It was a little strange at first having someone else in the bed, though.

After breakfast Nana waved them off to go play, so Tsuna led Skull to Byakuran’s house. He settled onto a sofa in the living room and sent an uncertain look at Skull. “You recognized the name, huh?”

Skull nodded. “So you’re Vongola.”

He sighed and looked down briefly. “Yeah. Big, powerful family. I wasn’t happy to find out.”

“You said your father kept you and your mother in the dark, to protect you.”

He nodded. “But I really hate it. How can he even call himself a father if he’s never there? Sure, he sends home plenty of money so we have food and stuff, but he’s never around. And when he does show up, he’s kind of frightening.”

Skull’s brow went up.

“He’s so loud,” Tsuna complained, forgetting for a moment that he had yet to actually see the man this time around. “He likes to toss me up in the air and he doesn’t always manage to catch me. He seems to think I’m exactly like he is, which is insulting.”

“Insulting?”

“Well, yeah. He doesn’t seem to see me as a person, just as an extension of him. I should like everything he likes, want to do things he does, think the way he does, stuff like that. And yet he’s never there to teach me anything. He’s off doing mafia stuff, leaving us in the dark, sending the occasional letter that even I can see through.” He looked straight at Skull. “Really now, who in their right mind would believe that there are penguin traffic controllers in the Antarctic?”

Skull snickered and shook his head, then frowned and looked uneasy.

“Like I said, my mother is oblivious.”

Skull’s expression cleared. “I see. Have you ever really told anyone how you feel about your father?”

“Not really. Who would listen? My mother gets upset at the least hint of criticism toward him. I don’t know if she’s happy, or if she’s wearing a really good mask.”

Skull shrugged awkwardly. “Vongola Nono has four sons, though, so the odds of you getting pulled into any of that seems low.”

‘If only you knew,’ he thought, ‘and I feel like a jerk for not spitting out the truth. There are some serious disadvantages to a second chance like this, never mind the whole being cursed into toddler form thing.’

“But if you father comes to visit, how are you going to hide the pacifier?”

Tsuna sighed. “I have something that will help—a friend made it for me—but…”

“Your friend can’t be an Arcobaleno based on what you’ve said, but they’re obviously familiar with the mafia,” Skull commented.

“Yeah. The two of them set up this house for me to use. It’s got a computer and tons of books I can learn from.”

“Well…” Skull looked around. “Is there anything you’re having trouble with? Or would you like to try something like sparring instead? I don’t actually know a lot about fighting because Oodako usually helps there, but we can try.”

“Did you do a lot of work to prepare for doing stunt jobs?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Skull said, nodding. “There was a lot of exercise involved, to strengthen various muscle groups. A lot of stunts can really mess you up if you aren’t in shape and your body can’t withstand the strain. Would you like to learn about that, then?”

“Sure. Though I suppose I should find something better to wear in the near future,” he said pragmatically. Maybe he should store clothing there. Once he had funds he could afford to stock a lot of things there. “I guess we could go out back, or is it something we can do in here?”

“I think it’d be fine in here for now,” Skull said. “There’s plenty of room. But if you get into something like learning katas or practicing against a training dummy, you’d want to be outside.”

They were taking a break when he asked, “So how long can you visit for?”

“A week or two,” Skull said. “Much longer than that and people might start looking. But I don’t see why I can’t come back every so often for another visit.”

“Do you … do hits?”

Skull’s eyes closed briefly. “I prefer not to, but I have done some, yes. I also do infiltration work, spying, stuff like that.”

To Tsuna it seemed like Skull was waiting for him to react badly. Would the average five year old even understand what any of that meant? Would a seeming child who was upset with his mafioso father be angry that his new friend was also one? Getting a second chance and being cursed made him awfully introspective at times, he realized. “I hope whoever you had to kill deserved it, then.”

Skull straightened minutely and nodded. “I have strict rules for myself when it comes to that. It’s hard enough as it is being like this and not having a real choice in dealing with the mafia. If a client can’t handle my rules, I don’t need them as a client.”

Tsuna nodded. “I like that. Having a code of conduct is good. So, are there rules or something for Arcobaleno?”

Skull relaxed even further and nodded. “There are, yes, but I think break time is over.”

Tsuna sighed, but got ready to do some more work.

That evening as they were “playing” in Tsuna’s room Skull said, “There’s only one real rule, and that’s that we don’t attack each other. We have a special place we can meet, but that’s normally only used when one of us has to send secret messages.”

Tsuna aimed a confused look at Skull. “Like invisible ink? Or like code?”

“Invisible ink,” Skull said, “except that in order to read a message like that, you have to shine light from your pacifier on it.”

“And it only works at the special place?”

Skull shook his head. “No, but being there strengthens the light, so if you’re having trouble reading a message, that’s where you’d go.”

Tsuna hummed thoughtfully. “I have two questions.”

Skull nodded.

“One, I bet I can convince my mother that you and I are going on a trip with your family, so would it be possible for you to take me there at some point?”

“But I don’t even ha—oh. Yes, we could do that some time.”

“Two, how do you even write a secret message?”

Skull grinned. “It’s pretty simple. You write a message like normal, then use your pacifier to bleach it out. Only more light from one will make the message appear again. It can’t be just normal flames, or heat, or anything like that.”

“Cool,” he said. “I thought of another question.”

“Go ahead,” Skull said encouragingly.

“If you’re not supposed to attack each other, does that mean only the for real stuff?”

Skull stared at him for a moment, then nodded. “Sparring doesn’t count. But if there’s real intent to harm or kill, it needs to be resolved some other way.”

Was that why Reborn had simply negated Skull’s attack at Mafia Land? Why he let him get away? Reborn and Colonnello had been shooting at each other that day, but they treated it like some game of skill. Maybe it was just a weird way to greet each other? Or show off?

“Would you really want to go that far from home, though?” Skull asked, breaking him from his thoughts. “You’re so … young.”

“I don’t feel young,” he said simply. “I feel like I’m twenty-five years old.”

“Oh, um…”

The next day after exercises he said, “I don’t want to take up tons of your time, but I was wondering…”

“Yes?”

“How often do you think you could visit? Would once a quarter be too often? Would people get suspicious, do you think?”

Skull scratched the back of his neck and looked off to the side. “I think that’d be okay. So long as I’m careful nobody should notice. Once a quarter sounds good.”

Tsuna smiled. “Okay. I mean, I know you’re a Cloud and all, so you might prefer to drift most of the time, or something. But it would be nice to spend time together.”

“I’d like that. It’s a plan.”

During the remainder of Skull’s visit they did their routine in the mornings after breakfast, spent time in the afternoon sneaking around town, and in the evenings they would simply talk. Tsuna badly wanted to ask about the events that led up to what Reborn had called the Fated Day, but he felt it was much too soon. Maybe once he had known Skull for a lot longer he could ask. Reborn had never gone into detail about any of it and he had never felt like he could ask.

Skull left with a promise to be available on Saturday afternoons (Tsuna’s time), and to plan for a visit in February. He felt sad when Skull disappeared into the distance, but took a deep breath and set his feelings to the side. It was time to return to finances, books, cooking lessons, and the exercise routine Skull had taught him.

*

“That was a very interesting visit.”

Skull nodded. “He sure is mature. I saw more than a few instances of him acting like the five year old he is, but overall I can almost believe when he says he feels twenty-five. I like him. He seems genuinely nice.”

“I think so, too.”

“He mentioned going off on a trip… What do you think of the idea of extending those lessons on sneaking around and making plans for a visit to another town or city? Kids like amusement parks, don’t they?”

“Most of them seem to. If you feel confident you could arrange a trip to Tokyo Disney. It’s a fair distance from Namimori, but it’s not like you’d be taking him out of the country. And you’d have plenty of opportunity to show him how to travel without being noticed. Or you could look a bit closer. Kobe isn’t that far away from him, so how about you investigate what the city has to offer?”

He pursed his lips and nodded. “Yeah, I’d feel a bit weird taking him all the way to Tokyo, so… We can go through Kobe and pick up some information. Then it’s back to Italy.” He sighed.

“Do you think he’ll be a good Sky?”

“Yeah. He didn’t seem too upset that I couldn’t be there all the time. He seemed to understand that I need to go off and do things. But that could also be that he’s not expecting much, not with a father like his.”

“He showed a marked amount of perception when it came to his father,” Oodako commented. “Or at least I think so.”

“No, I think you’re probably right. What I know of Sawada says he’s completely committed to his role in Vongola. But still, why even bother to get married and have a child if you’re just going to park them in some out of the way place and stay away most of the time for their protection? ‘I love you with all my heart, but now that you’ve borne me a child, let us never see each other again!’ ”

Oodako waved a few tentacles around in his version of laughter.

“Well, I’m not going to speculate too much on all of that, I guess,” he said. “Let’s get through Kobe, and then we can sneak on a plane. I’d like to wash this dye out of my hair, too, but that can wait until we’re out of Japan.”

*

By the next time Skull visited Tsuna was starting to see dividends roll in, so he had money to spend. He had asked for and received another Mist Net, so that he had a gift for Skull. After all, it had to be costing Skull money—either in direct expenses or in loss of income—to make these trips, and Tsuna wanted to show his gratitude in an enduring way.

They met at Byakuran’s house, since Skull knew where it was, and the first thing out of Skull’s mouth after a greeting was, “How do you feel about visiting Kobe?”

“Um… Sure! Why Kobe?”

“It’s not too far away, for one thing. I can teach you about traveling like this. We can spend time seeing the sights, and you can see ways of handling people who tend to want to coo at you and find your mommy.”

Tsuna laughed. “I have a present for you.”

Skull blinked. “Oh?”

He nodded and held his hand out with the net on it. “I have one, too. It masks my pacifier. I don’t use it when you’re going to be visiting, because I always want to make sure you know it’s me coming. I’m not sure why you’d want to sneak up on another Arcobaleno, but maybe it would still be of use to you.”

Skull accepted the gift and stared at it. “Your friend?”

“Yep. He thinks of all sorts of neat stuff.”

“I’m not sure, either, but—” Skull stared at the net again, his brow going all crinkly.

“Is something wrong?”

“No, no. I just thought of a use for it. Colonnello is in charge of the training ground at Mafia Land. If we ever went there he’d know. But with these…”

He pulled out his own net and used it to encase his pacifier. Skull shortly followed suit. Once that was done Tsuna asked, “Mafia Land?”

“Oh, yes. It’s a man-made island that motors around on a circuit. It was paid for by the, um, better families. It’s a huge resort with rides and shops and restaurants, that sort of thing. Generally speaking, you need to have the right connections to get access. Colonnello is the Rain Arcobaleno—”

Tsuna nodded.

“—and he uses the back end of the island as a training ground. I understand that some people go to him specifically for training. He also helps out with security.”

Skull went on to tell him a bunch of things he already knew, but Tsuna listened attentively. Skull might tell him something Reborn hadn’t bothered to, after all, or that he had not thought to ask about. As he recalled, he had been freaked out during most of that whole episode, first on the trip over with that damn game of hide and seek, and then by being thrown to the sharks in more than one sense.

“I wonder if my friend could swing us a way in,” he muttered.

Skull eyed him oddly, but let it pass. “But for now, if you’d like to visit Kobe…”

“Yep!” They headed off to the Sawada home. Nana was easily convinced (“You really weren’t kidding,” Skull commented after they left.) and they went off on their journey. Tsuna was shown the best ways to deflect adult interest, the best hiding places on trains, and how to navigate an entirely unfamiliar city.

Tsuna had a blast. Skull was an uncritical companion who seemed to have endless patience when it came to explaining things. ‘But,’ he reflected, ‘that might partly be because he thinks I’m so young, even if I don’t act like a typical child.’ The contrast between Skull and Reborn was stark, but he could not help but hold a lot of fondness for his former tutor.

By the time they returned to Namimori he felt a lot more confident about the idea of exploring, to waste less time on getting freaked out, and to feel a sense of adventure. ‘Though,’ he admitted, ‘there’s a huge difference between going it alone and having a friend with you.’

His next visit with Byakuran and Daemon saw him asking, “Just how close is this dimension to my original one, do you think?”

“You could try that weird thing people do,” Byakuran drawled, “where you exchange greetings first.”

Tsuna frowned. “You’re right. That was rude of me, and I apologize. Hello, Byakuran. Hello, Daemon. I’m really happy to see you both again.”

Byakuran smiled and shoved a bag under Tsuna’s nose, inviting him to snack (which he did, getting a handful of marshmallows for himself). “As to your question, I have no real idea. I can see sideways, across dimensions, but I need the Sky Mare Ring to really get going with that, and Aria probably has it right now. Still, what I’ve been able to see makes me think it’s really not that much different. But sometimes it’s the tiniest of differences that makes things veer wildly off expected course. And there’s probably a lot of things that aren’t readily apparent that are different, and won’t make a big difference, or won’t come into play until down the road.”

“I was still my charming psychotic self before you got transferred over,” Daemon said. “It was only gaining those memories that hauled me up short and got me to do something other than obsess about the continuing power of the Vongola. Try not to worry about it too much.”

He sighed and nodded.

“How’s your money grubbing been going?” Byakuran asked.

“Oh, fine. I have dividends rolling in, so… Like you said, so long as I check every so often and make trades where my intuition twinges, I should be fine. I don’t have a lot right now, but it’ll keep building.”

“Any problems so far with those books?”

He shook his head. “Surprisingly, no. But I will set aside anything I’m having trouble with.”

Daemon nodded. “And your progress on the other Arcobaleno?”

Tsuna looked to the side in mild embarrassment. “Well…”

“You don’t have to get in contact with them yet,” Daemon said a shade huffily. “But you should probably be in position where you can. A lone Sky is a painful thing, Tsuna.”

“…Oh, that reminds me. What are the odds of one of you being able to get me and Skull access to Mafia Land?”

“So you can see Colonnello?”

Tsuna shook his head. “No, I’d just like to visit without having a lot of pressure on me at the same time. It seems like it’d be a fun thing for us to do. The last time I didn’t get to enjoy any of it, and I’d really like to.”

“And with those nets in place, Colonnello wouldn’t be alerted to other Arcobaleno in the vicinity,” Daemon said.

He nodded. “It’d be my choice.”

“I see.” Daemon’s eyes went hazy and his gaze drifted off to the side. “I could manage it. I’ll get to work on it and get back to you.”

Tsuna beamed. “Thanks!”

*

“Are you going to arrange things to get him out of Namimori at the right time?”

Daemon looked sidelong and smiled. “Of course. I’d prefer not to risk it, Nono deciding to preemptively seal his flames, especially with the change in eye colour as a clue. I just need to do some spying first, to clarify exactly when the old man plans to make that visit. Then I can set things up.”

“We should probably ensure that any notification Nana gets is delayed until after those two leave.”

Daemon nodded. “A fair point. It’s true that there’s every possibility that the visit would be entirely innocent in the end. Tsuna might not do whatever he did to alert Nono, and the old man wouldn’t make the attempt. But just as importantly, I’d rather keep him away from Iemitsu for now. From the memories I was given, they never got along, not really, and things only got worse as Tsuna got older and more pressure was piled on his shoulders.”

Byakuran giggled madly. “Well, a delusional man married a delusional woman. How they managed to produce a boy like Tsuna…”

*

Tsuna stared at the fence in dismay. His attempts to recreate X-Burner in his chibi form had been … exciting. This latest attempt had badly scorched an entire panel of the bamboo fence enclosing the yard behind Byakuran’s house.

Quince lowered him to the ground with a chortle and moved to his shoulder. “So, that was fun,” he commented.

He sighed and sat down. “Damn. I really thought I was getting somewhere. Not having to divide my attention by also controlling the hover helped, but…”

“But maybe it also affected the strength of the attack output?” Quince suggested.

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. ‘I’m starting to think those contact lenses did me a disservice. We were really pressed for time, and I had to be able to control it as quickly as possible, but in the end, it didn’t teach me anything except how to watch a monitor to know when to act.’ He sighed again, upset over the self-imposed task in front of him.

“How about trying a different style of attack?”

“Huh?”

“Well, from what I can see, you’re trying for this big blast of flame. But isn’t that a waste? And you seem to have to wait a while before you can even launch it, which gives an enemy too much time. Perhaps a more narrow, focused attack? Something you could use at multiple ranges?”

He plucked some grass and started playing with the blades.

“Hm,” Quince said. “Narrow, focused, multi-ranged. Maybe multi-purpose?”

Tsuna frowned. That sounded like a lot. But then he remembered a game he used to play and brightened up. “What about something like kunai? They could hurt, but they could also pin someone down.”

“That sounds like a workable idea,” Quince said. “It fits the general idea. They could be held or thrown, and used for a number of tasks. You wouldn’t have to spend much time creating one, and maybe once you figured it out, you could then work on making them more dense, pack in more flames to make them more effective as an attack.”

Tsuna felt the stirrings of excitement. “Yeah. They’d also be a lot less flashy. Compact, flame-efficient, and not having to wait to, um, power up. Okay! That’s my new goal!”

“You’ve been working really hard, so I’d say it’s time to do something else for a bit,” Quince suggested. “You can think about the idea and we can come back to it tomorrow.”

He hummed. “I think you’re right.” He checked the clock inside and saw it was almost time for dinner anyway, so he headed home and dashed upstairs to clean up. His mother served oyakodon that evening and promised she would teach him how to make it the week following, for lunch.

Tsuna felt closer to his mother than he had ever been as a result of not only trying to be more considerate, but actively doing things with her. When they went shopping he took an interest in what she was planning to buy, because it would affect what they would be eating during the week. He learned that some things she bought daily, to ensure their freshness. He’d had no idea his mother was so meticulous when it came to things like that.

He still could not tell if she was truly happy, though, or just wearing a smiling mask to cover sadness or resignation. It was a very good mask, if that’s what it was. He was learning a lot from those trips, and from the cooking lessons. How to decide between brands; how to ensure produce was fresh; how to prepare things such that they cooked evenly and harmoniously; what tools to use for what situations; the importance of planning and timing; and how to stick to a budget.

“I don’t think your daddy would approve,” his mother said one day while shopping, a mischievous smile on her face, “but this can be our little secret, right, Tsu-kun?”

He returned her smile, but felt a little cold inside all the same. He nodded emphatically and asked, “Can we make dango for a treat?”

“Oh my, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? Okay! We’ll do that. Let’s see, we’ll need…”

He managed, after a week of trying, to finally shape his Sky Flames into a kunai and fling it in the general direction of the fence.

“Good job,” Quince said.

“Well, I’m making progress,” he replied. He was pleased. They had come up with a plan and he was succeeding. Unfortunately, unlike in a video game, he did not just magically gain a skill and be able to use it flawlessly from the start. ‘Maybe this is part of what Reborn was trying to teach me,’ he thought. ‘Maybe that was why he seemed so frustrated at times that it took me so long to use my flames without being shot first.’

“Time for a break?” Quince said.

“Yeah.” He still had a little time, so he went inside and entered the shrine room. He pulled the keys off his ankle bracelet and stared at the doors for a while, contemplating, then opened the Storm door. Inside he sat down and prepared to deal with his feelings regarding Hayato.

His first thought was that Hayato had always been loud and flashy. He was all sound and fury, but Storms were like that, right? But they were always so focused on the attack. There rarely seemed to be a time when Hayato would think about a situation before acting; he just went on the offensive, even if that was putting up a confident and even arrogant front.

‘He did become less volatile as we got older, though,’ he admitted. ‘I was less worried about him exploding into action at the least provocation. But that’s the role of a Storm, right? Relentlessly attacking. Hayato fit that well, despite his other flames.’

Was Fon an example of a mature Storm, or was he another oddity like Skull? Fon had all the tranquility of a Rain. But Tsuna remembered an expression about the eye of the storm, how it was eerily calm there. That seemed like Fon, and yet he had no doubt the man could be ridiculously lethal.

Hayato had been young and raw. ‘Maybe part of it was his family? I get the feeling he always felt alone, like an outsider. Is that partly my fault for not being more understanding? Is that why he always seemed so… He was trying to prove himself? And I just wanted a friend and was trying to ignore all the other stuff as best I could.’

But there were other things about Hayato that had upset him. Reborn had said that mafiosi respected women, and Hayato had anything but respect for many of them. Bianchi was one thing; they were blood family and had a twisted history. Was it still connected in part to Hayato having been an immature Storm?

Tsuna had wanted a friend; Hayato had wanted a boss. That still came back to him to some degree. He hadn’t tried to understand where Hayato had been coming from. He shook his head and covered his ears and sang his way into denial. Maybe the issue wasn’t so much Hayato’s behavior as his ability to understand and respect that nature, and understand how he could direct it, rather than try to control or negate or deny it?

His pacifier glowed, causing him to look down in surprise. “Oh.” There was a distinct red tint to one section.

“Hey,” Quince said happily. “You seem to be getting the hang of this. Do you plan to peek in?”

“Not yet,” he replied. “I think I’ll get all of them linked first. And when I feel comfortable with the idea, I’ll choose whom next to peek in on and contact.”

“Fair enough.”

Steady work over the next week saw him able to produce a kunai in decent time—far faster than powering up an X-Burner attack. He decided to focus on one thing at a time, so speed was his first choice. After that he would work on aim. He supposed if he got bored at any point after mastering those two tasks he could visit the idea of the guns Xanxus used, though getting a similar set…

One of his friends might help, but guns were something that could be taken from him. No, he was better off for the present focusing on the kunai and becoming as versatile and skilled as possible with them.

His next shrine visit took him to the Lightning room. ‘Ugh, Lambo,’ he thought as he took a seat. ‘I ended up being rather fond of him, but I don’t think I ever really accepted him as a guardian to me. He was so young at first. And I’m really mad at my father for pushing him into things. He had no clue what was going on most of the time. Sure, when he got going he did a good job, but I don’t think the idea of drawing damage away from the rest of us meant running so we could come at them from behind.’

Tsuna snorted at the image of a wacky chase scene like out of some anime. But his issues with Lambo were much like the others. Being so focused on denial that he never could accept. Lambo was loud and obnoxious, and that did actually serve to draw attention away from others. The idea of little Lambo being used that way, though… He shuddered. The Lightning battle with the Varia had been horrifying.

Lambo was just as likely to fling himself into danger as Hayato, but with far less of an arsenal. At least, until he had gained a box weapon. Maybe Lambo was so obnoxious in part because he just wanted people to pay attention to him? Had that little conversation they’d had so long ago after Lambo’s first assassination attempt on Reborn caused the kid to latch onto him, because he’d paid attention and listened?

Verde was cool and composed and seemingly utterly disinterested in anything but science. Another direct contrast. ‘I suppose I could become one of his backers,’ he mused, ‘help him to do his thing, though I kind of worry about what he might work on, if it’s ethical or not. Come to think of it, a lot of my guardians were messed up. Hayato had a horrible home life, and so was Lambo’s. Who in their right mind gives that many weapons to a five year old and lets them smuggle themselves off to another country?

‘Takeshi was driven to attempt suicide. Mukuro was tortured. Chrome was neglected at best. The only one who seemed halfway normal in that sense was Ryohei.’ He shook his head. ‘This is about Lightning today, not everyone else. Lambo was supposed to mostly act defensively, to hold the enemy’s attention so we could attack. But I never bothered to understand any of that, I just wanted him out of the way and safe. He might have been safer if I’d taken the time to work with him, helping him to get better, and accepting that there was value in the role he was supposed to fill.’

His pacifier shined again, a brilliant green wedge appearing, so he heaved a sigh and got up.

*

‘Is this what it was supposed to be like?’ he wondered. He had progressed to creating kunai almost as fast as he could think of doing it. They were all kind of sloppily formed, but he was having no real trouble making them. He felt a vague sense of joy in being able to make use of his power, and not have to be forced into it. He didn’t need to be shot and he didn’t have a—‘Well, actually, I do have a whatever. The pacifier counts. But still, it all seems to come so smoothly now. Did the sealing mess even that up?’

He glanced down at the latest kunai in his hand. “So I should probably work on making them more regular.”

Quince chirped an agreement. “Then aim.”

‘It’s like an extension of my will,’ he thought. ‘Like I finally get that it’s my power, my intent, and it’s mine to use, to protect myself, or others … or even kill. Though I’d prefer to avoid something that drastic again.’

He wandered into the Mist room a short time later and took a seat. ‘I probably don’t even need to come to these rooms to do this, but I might as well, since they’re here.’ Mukuro scared him, but in a different way than Hibari. Mukuro liked to make creepy comments about possessing his body so he could use it to destroy the mafia on his journey to destroy the world. Did Mukuro, in the end, blame everyone for what happened to him? Or had he just been driven to the point of lashing out at anything that moved?

He honestly had no idea why Mukuro had agreed to be his guardian for the Varia battles. Simply because it gave him a chance to fight? To beat down someone so skilled? Chrome, for all that she was Mukuro’s vessel for so long, was at heart a shy and relatively innocent girl. The most interesting thing he knew about Mammon was that he could sneeze on a piece of paper to locate someone. They could all use illusions, but when had any of them actually used those illusions to—‘What did Reborn say again?’—render the famiglia’s true form intangible?

Mukuro was strong, both in spite of what happened to him and because of it. That he could accept. But that was no real help. He could kind of see how Daemon’s actions were suited to the role, even if Daemon veered wildly off course after Elena’s death. Daemon used his illusions to great effect in altering people’s perceptions of the family’s strength, and yet…

‘Daemon’s already doing it, though,’ he realized. ‘He’s been helping me to disguise what I am. He’s been using deceit to make people perceive me differently, to hide me from my fellow Arcobaleno. He’s helping me to be stronger by using deception to give me the chance I need.’

And with that, his pacifier reacted.

*

Tsuna had gone online and looked up actual kunai so he had something more than just a game reference to go by, or anime. That helped him to firm up the ones he was making, though they obviously lacked the wrappings. A little experimentation got them to a size that suited his hands perfectly.

He had been able to use X-Burner with either hand used for stabilization as opposed to attack, so in theory he could throw with either hand. He was a bit more awkward with his left hand, so he focused on that more heavily, to try to keep them in tandem in terms of skill. The scorch marks on the fence worked fine for a target; he could choose from various more heavily-discoloured patches. The trick would be, later on, working against a moving target. How he could manage that—? ‘I’ll figure it out later.’

Inside the Rain room he sat down to contemplate Takeshi, Colonnello, and the role of a Rain Guardian. Takeshi drove him mad with that dopey look of incomprehension and his persistent belief that it was all a mafia role-playing game. But was that really so crazy? Did Takeshi do it not realizing just how much it stressed Tsuna out, that horrible feeling that Takeshi wouldn’t take things seriously and would die because of it?

Colonnello did not immediately figure in anywhere. He was yet another anomaly to Tsuna’s perception. The man seemed cheerful enough, and if Ryohei’s reactions meant anything, encouraging enough. Perhaps his relationship with Reborn, that sort of friendly rival posturing thing they had going on, was clouding his perception. Colonnello had managed to calm Ryohei down, and that was a miracle.

Squalo was also a mystery. How was that man a Rain? Or was he yet another side of the personality that supposedly described one?

Takeshi was a peacemaker. Sadly, most of them were too young for too long to be anything but raw and insecure. Hayato clashed with Takeshi almost as much as he had with Lambo. Tsuna had not helped matters often as not by freaking out so damn often. ‘I should have taken more responsibility,’ he thought. ‘Even if I only viewed them as my friends, I should have done more to keep things calmer and backed Takeshi’s efforts up when it was more than just one-on-one, because it goes both ways.’

His pacifier lit up with a wedge of blue light, so he nodded and got up in preparation of heading home.

*

Tsuna sighed heavily and opened the Sun door. Even then, he hesitated before entering, but eventually did, and took a seat. Ryohei, Reborn, and even Kyoko to an extent. There was also Lussuria to consider. Ryohei and Lussuria both fit what Reborn had said about a Sun Guardian in terms of fighting styles, but Reborn … not so much.

They both used their bodies as their weapons. So true, like the Sun, they could harm, but they could also heal. Sun’s power of activation was extremely useful. So maybe that was part of the puzzle there? Did exceptional reflexes count as using one’s body to attack, even with a gun?

Ryohei was so very visible, so passionate, so … extreme. Like the Sun, radiating over everything without even thinking about it. Lussuria was extravagant and flamboyant. Tsuna snorted quietly; the man had ended up with a peacock for a box weapon animal.

What was he supposed to accept about Suns, though? “This one is harder,” he muttered.

“How so?” Quince replied.

“I’m not really sure about this one. I get what that book said, but… What am I accepting? That a Sun Guardian is a front-line attacker along with a Storm, but they have the added benefit of being able to augment or heal?”

“That sounds reasonable, but it’s obviously not enough.”

‘Um, let me think… I need to understand how I as a Sky fit with a Sun? Am I supposed to be directing them? Or trusting that with a vague hand wave in the right direction they’ll do what they’re supposed to do? That I can rely on a Sun to help patch us up?’

The elephant in the room was Reborn, of course, and if he was wearing his Master PaoPao costume, it wasn’t even that insulting of a comparison. Reborn was grandiose in personality, if not size. He was like a sun shining brightly with confidence, charm … arrogance, sadism. ‘Huh, now there’s a thought. A Sun’s power is activation. Maybe it wasn’t used in the conventional sense, but in a way, if I look at it right, Reborn was trying to, well, activate me. Heal me? Certainly improve me. He just might not have been using his flames to do so, not directly, anyway. Does a Sun do that in some way for the whole family?’

His pacifier glowed, and he stared at it in disbelief. He had obviously cottoned onto something in his mental meanderings, but he remained mystified as to exactly what.

*

“I managed to get you access to Mafia Land,” Daemon said. “You said Skull will be back in May, correct?”

“Yeah.”

Daemon produced a piece of paper and an envelope and laid them on the table. “This has the everything you’ll need. I used fake names, of course.”

Tsuna looked at it and nodded. He was Welkin Est, and Skull was Cirrus Est. They were good to enter mid-May, right around when Skull would be visiting. “This is wonderful. Thank you,” he said, smiling at Daemon.

His friend reached into a pocket and produced an ankle chain, which he set on top of the paper. “And to help, one of these. If he’s wearing one, too, officials will either overlook you two being on your own, or automatically attach you to existing adults as dependents. You should be able to go on any rides you want, even though you probably won’t meet any height requirements—”

Tsuna made a face.

“—and order in restaurants, and so forth. All you have to do is pass along the dates during your next weekly call, so that Skull is prepared. You’re lucky, actually. Mafia Land is going to be in between Japan and South Korea, so this worked out fine. You won’t have to take a plane anywhere, just get to Fukuoka and take a ship to the island. How is your training coming along?”

“I’m doing fine with the books,” he said. “Way better than I expected to. It’s hard to believe at times that Nono really did so much damage, but I also can’t deny it. I just thought I was stupid.”

Daemon’s mouth twitched.

“But so far I’m not having any real issues. I’m finally able to go over this stuff from the start and actually understand. As for my flames, I’m making progress on an attack. I decided that X-Burner was much too flashy and over the top, so I found something better suited to my size. I need a lot of work on my aim, and even my speed, but I think it’s going well. At some point I’ll need to figure out some kind of moving targets.”

“Well, if you’re having trouble with that when the time comes, I can assist during times we’re together, using illusions. Aside from that, for something physical, some mechanical contraption—I’ll give it some thought. Or maybe Byakuran can devise something.”

“Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Care to show me this new attack you’ve come up with?”

Tsuna smiled. “Sure!” He spent the next few hours showing Daemon what he had been working on and listening to suggestions and advice. Daemon had eyed the damage to the fence with a faint smirk, but did not otherwise comment. Daemon also showed him what he meant regarding targets, which occasioned some hilarity at Tsuna’s expense given just how bad he was at hitting them.

When Saturday rolled around he sent the usual text to Skull that afternoon. His phone rang thirty seconds later and he answered with, “Ciao!”

“Ciao! How are things?”

“They’re great,” he replied. “My friend came through! I have information for a trip to that island, for when you come visit next time. We have access, and I have another present for you.”

“What dates?”

“The ship departs on the fourteenth out of Fukuoka, and we can stay for a week. It’s expensive, but the work I’ve been doing means I’ll be able to afford it.”

“Your half, you mean.”

Tsuna laughed. “Mine or both, but I’m not going to get all pushy and insist I pay for the whole thing. I have my pride and you have yours, right?”

“Right.” Skull sounded relieved. “Okay…” There was a rustling sound. “So I can arrive on Friday, which gives us plenty of time to get to the ship.”

“Yep! I already looked it up and it’ll take us about three and a half to four hours by train. So we can go, stay in a hotel overnight, then board the ship in the morning.”

“Sounds good. I’m looking forward to it,” Skull said, hints of excitement in his voice.

They spent the next half hour going over their respective weeks, though considering how little changed on a day-to-day basis, that wasn’t much. So he used some of that time to talk about what new dishes he had learned about making.

Getting Nana to agree to the trip went just as smoothly as before, which made him feel a little guilty inside at the deception. “Oh, Tsu-kun,” she said happily. “Karu-kun’s family is so nice to include you! You know, you and I should consider going on a trip, too, and taking Karu-kun with us.”

Tsuna smiled agreeably while feeling like a complete jackass inside. But, on the other hand, there was nothing really saying they could not do something like that. “I think that’d be fun.” His mother would probably continue to overlook any oddities, so was it really such an awful idea? “I’ll ask and see what he thinks.”

“Okay!” she chirped. After a decisive nod, Nana turned away to continue working on hanging the laundry. Tsuna helped by getting clothespins ready as she needed them, and by bringing one of the empty baskets back in once she was done. She gave him a happy smile inside and shooed him away to go play.

Skull arrived a few days later and sent him a text, so Tsuna got his pack ready and let his mother know he was going. She handed over a cloth-wrapped box of anpan to share and waved as he headed out. Tsuna met Skull at Byakuran’s house and double-checked that he had everything, and then they hopped on a train.

“This is going to be really fun I hope,” he said, then remembered the brochure Daemon had procured for him. He opened it and held it between them. “I’m not so sure about that roller coaster.”

“I’ve heard the safety systems are the absolute best,” Skull commented, eyeing the picture. “Can’t afford to lose any kiddies, after all. This says the place is loosely divided up into sections based on country.”

“Is that so people from all over the world would have at least something a little familiar?”

“I think so.”

“You know, since we’re so small, we can go on all the rides and no one will think it’s weird,” he said. “Though I don’t know what’s supposed to be exciting about Whirling Teacups.”

Skull hummed. “How about we go on each ride and rate them afterward?”

“Okay, but… Maybe we should start with what seems the least exciting and work our way up? That way a really cool ride doesn’t make the others seem boring in comparison.”

“Right. I like that idea.”

They spent a lot of the trip discussing what order to do the rides and having some of his mother’s anpan, and then after their arrival in Fukuoka, checked in at the hotel. They had dinner sent up by room service, not particularly wanting to eat in the dining room. Tsuna finally remembered the anklet he had for Skull and handed that over. “It’s supposed to help with preventing people from asking awkward questions.”

“Your friend is a Mist, isn’t he,” Skull said as he attacked the chain around his ankle.

Tsuna nodded. “He indirectly helped me to understand the role of a Mist in a family.”

“Have you connected with the others yet?”

“Connected, but not contacted,” he said. “I’m not ready to do that. I want to be more confident and more skilled before I try again, because—well, you took the news well, and I’m really happy about that, but what says the others would, too? So if I’m better at all this, maybe they won’t notice. I’m really glad I met you first, because I don’t have to pretend a bunch of stuff. I never feel like I’m—I feel like it’s okay that there’s a lot I don’t know. Because you won’t judge me.”

Skull’s eyes took on a distinctly watery cast. He looked away almost immediately, but Tsuna could see a tentative smile peeking out.

He decided to change the subject to alter the mood and asked, “How do you think I’d look with blue hair?”

Skull blinked a few times and tilted his head. “Blue? Why blue?”

“Because I read something about how blue and orange are opposites, and therefore pair well as colours. Brown hair is kind of boring.”

“Maybe a blue-black?” Skull said. “But it’d mean having to dye your hair on a regular basis to keep up with growth. Or—wait. Maybe not quite so dark, but you could use semi-permanent dyes to alter the colour and not have to worry about roots showing. Unfortunately, even those can be really harsh on your hair.”

“Oh. Maybe not, then. That sounds like a lot of work. Not like putting on some makeup.”

“It only takes me three minutes to do mine,” Skull said.

“That’s not so bad. Maybe you can show me at some point. Maybe I’d look interesting with some, or maybe I wouldn’t, but it’d be fun, right?”

Skull nodded. “Maybe during our next visit. I can bring some stuff along, different colour eyeliners. I don’t really use anything more than that.”

Tsuna had no idea what he would look like with the kind of makeup Skull wore, but he was willing to try, even if all he ended up doing was laughing at his reflection. It was something they could do together, and that was all that mattered to him.

The next day they spent exploring the ship. Tsuna barely remembered what the first one had been like, not with spending so much time running around in a panic trying to find people he thought were stowaways. They sat for a while and sniggered together over adults in the karaoke lounge; some of them had truly awful singing voices.

Mafia Land itself was just as amazing as he remembered, though, for all that he had only seen it in flashes or from a distance. He had a hard time getting to sleep that night because of it. His mind kept wandering back to the view off the bow and their plans for their stay.

The next morning they blended into the crowd for debarkation and followed the swell of people to the hotel, but waited patiently while the other new arrivals were getting their card keys. But eventually they were looking around a compact yet luxurious room and setting their bags down. Tsuna made sure he had the essentials—key, credit card, phone, and the brochure—and grabbed Skull’s arm to hurry him along.

The very first attraction on their list was breakfast, followed by the underwater tour. On one side of the island’s “front”, opposite the beach area, was an aquarium of sorts. Tsuna and Skull went down the stairs into the underwater viewing area and pushed up to the front where they could see better. The entire wall was clear, allowing them to see the sea life swimming around.

“I think it’s designed this way,” Skull said quietly, “so that we can’t see the island’s propulsion systems.”

Tsuna nodded and eyed the fish. As they were not all that deep down, there was still enough light from the sun filtering in to highlight the wonderful colours some fish sported, and he could clearly see how fish moved in schools. “I saw this movie not too long ago,” he confided, “called Finding Nemo. Looking at these fish, it’s easy to imagine they’re like people. Except for the part where they’re really tasty.”

Skull snickered. “I like fish, too, but I admit I never eat octopus.”

Tsuna shuddered. After seeing a tiny version of Oodako he didn’t think he could, either. “Yeah, that’d be way too weird. No takoyaki for me.”

Unfortunately, nothing other than fish was in the vicinity, so they soon enough got bored with watching the schools dart around and went back to the surface. “Time for the Whirling Teacups,” Skull said, glancing at the map on the brochure.

*

They were on the Ferris Wheel when Tsuna’s intuition fairly screamed at him in alarm. He stiffened up in surprise, never having had it react quite like that. Skull touched his arm and gave him a look of concern. “Welkin? What is it?”

“Something horrible is about to happen,” he whispered. “…S-something at home?”

Skull grimaced and grabbed his hand instead, to give it a squeeze. “Soon as we’re off the ride, we’ll go, okay? Um… Oodako can get us across the ocean. We’ll run to the hotel, get our things, and go.”

“O-okay,” he said shakily.

Twenty minutes later they were at the far end of the beach, packs on their backs, being set into place by an enlarged Oodako. Tsuna wrung his hands the entire trip, sick with anxiety. They hit the coast of Japan at approximately four o’clock and went straight to the train station to buy tickets. Luckily, there was a train due to leave in fifteen minutes.

While they waited Tsuna thought to shoot off a text to Daemon. Byakuran was in Italy, so contacting him would probably be pointless. Daemon called instead of texting back.

“What’s wrong?”

“My intuition is going haywire. We just got back to Fukuoka and we’re going to get on a train in just a few minutes. Something is really wrong at home. Are you anywhere nearby?”

“No, but I can be there within a few hours. What time will your train get in?”

Tsuna glanced at his ticket. “We get in right around eight o’clock.”

“I can be there in time to meet you, then we can go see what’s happening. All right?”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“But if I’m to be there in time, I have to get going myself. I’ll see you then.”

“Okay. Bye.” He tucked the phone away and fidgeted, wishing the train would be there sooner. They had discussed it on the way, flying instead of using normal transport. But while Skull could attempt to use Tsuna’s flame boots, he had no experience with them, and while Quince could size up and carry Tsuna, he couldn’t possibly fly faster than a train could go.

“That your Mist friend, or the other one?” Skull asked.

“Mist. C’mon, train. I know it’s going to be hours yet, but I can’t help but—”

“I know,” Skull said softly. “I wish there was more I could do. But even if I had my airship right here, we still couldn’t get there any faster. The only ones who could would be the Vindice, and somehow I don’t think they have a telephone, or would be willing to be used as a taxi service.”

Tsuna laughed a bit hysterically and nodded.

Close to four hours later they emerged from the train; Tsuna was feeling utterly frazzled, not to mention exhausted. Daemon was there, but in a disguise. Tsuna only recognized him due to the eyes, though it was possible that Skull could not see them the same way.

“There you are, good,” Daemon said. “Introductions later. Let’s go.” He led them to a car and ushered them inside, then began driving. “I’ll park a street away, and I’m also putting illusion disguises on you two. We have no idea what we’re walking into, after all, though the darkness will help as much as it might hinder.”

Tsuna nodded.

There was a car outside the house, not quite a limousine, but it may as well have been one. All the lights were on downstairs. “Do you recognize that car?” Daemon whispered.

“No. Well, maybe? I’m not sure.”

“Okay, stay here for a minute. I’m going to sneak in close and take a look.”

Tsuna badly wanted to ignore that and just rush on in, but he had learned something about caution, so he nodded and bit his lip as Daemon skulked off in the shadows. Skull edged a little closer and grabbed his hand again, giving it a squeeze.

What seemed like hours later Daemon returned with a frightening look on his face. “We need to go. I’ll explain at the other house.”

“But—”

“Tsuna,” Daemon said sharply. “Trust me on this.”

He exhaled heavily and turned away. After another short car ride they were in Byakuran’s house. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” Daemon said slowly. “First, your father and Nono are in there.”

Tsuna grimaced. “And?”

Daemon glanced at Skull, then looked back at Tsuna. “Your mother … has been murdered.”