Grazhir :: Crossover :: Welkin :: 03

03: 2006-2007

He felt like the bottom had just dropped out of his world. His sight blurred and he felt as though he’d been dunked in ice water and boiling water simultaneously. “What?” he whispered. “No. No, that can’t be right. I was only just—no.”

Daemon knelt down in front of him. “I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head slightly.

“No. No! What the hell happened!?” he screamed. “How could this happen!?”

Daemon put his hands on Tsuna’s shoulders. “From what I overheard, it was Estraneo. They wanted to—”

Everything went black.

He slowly rose up from the depths, and could hear Daemon speaking as if from meters away, or from underwater. “They wanted to experiment on him so they could later use him against Vongola. I have no idea yet how they found out about him. But since he wasn’t here, they went after his mother for information on his whereabouts. And, while Iemitsu and Nono showed up, they didn’t arrive in time to prevent Nana’s death. They know Estraneo is behind this, so we can expect a purge, and the Vindice probably won’t get involved.”

“I—I’m stunned,” he heard Skull say. “Is it even safe for him to stay in this town?”

“It might be better to take him elsewhere. The materials in this house can be packed up—the books, the computer—and brought along. But he has to agree to it. I’d prefer he be elsewhere, because I expect Iemitsu will have people crawling all over this town to keep an eye out for him. I’m fairly certain he would have told you about—”

“Yeah,” Skull interrupted. “He did.”

He realized he was on a bed or couch, covered in a blanket. He felt numb. Everything was unreal except for the fabric against his cheek. He had been making such progress on his relationship with his mother, and now she was—?

“I think Welkin is awake,” Skull said quietly. “He’s crying.”

He was crying, he realized. And with that realization came heaving sobs of agony. Someone—Daemon—picked him up and cradled him in a hug. “I understand,” Daemon whispered.

Tsuna knew he must. Elena’s death had driven him to madness. He exhausted himself crying out his pain and disbelief, and slipped back into unconsciousness within Daemon’s arms.

When he next woke it was to Daemon and Skull quietly conversing, but Daemon noticed almost the second he found awareness again. “Tsuna,” he said softly. “We’ve been discussing some possible options. Would you like to hear them?”

‘I might as well,’ he thought dully, and nodded.

“Vongola mafiosi are probably going to be crawling all over Namimori for the foreseeable future, trying to find you. While you would be able to leave this house and not be a prisoner due to that anklet, your intuition would probably be constantly triggering. Skull has offered his airship as a home for you—certainly until we all have a better understanding of what will be the fallout of this situation.” Daemon paused.

Tsuna nodded slightly and pulled himself up into a sitting position. Staying in Namimori meant a lot of things, such as flipping out every time he went near his house, dodging who knew how many Vongola, and having people wonder, even if only vaguely due to the anklet, what he was doing on his own. Staying someplace new would probably be for the best. “Okay,” he said quietly. “The only reason I stayed here was—” He swallowed heavily and looked down. He felt both numb and likely to fall apart at any second.

Daemon nodded. “I can charter a plane to get us all to Italy as quickly as possible. That would be the last place anyone would think to look for you, if nothing else. It would also place me in a position to spy out the landscape and see what happens.”

“I notice he’s not saying their name,” Quince commented.

Tsuna twitched in denial of even thinking about that murderous family, but knew he would have to. It was unavoidable.

“Are you comfortable with this plan?” Daemon persisted, but gently.

“Yes.” After a minuscule pause he continued, “I trust you to make the arrangements. We probably shouldn’t waste time.”

“All right. I’ll get started, then. Skull…”

“I’ll be right here,” Skull said.

Daemon got up and moved close enough to rest a hand on Tsuna’s shoulder briefly, squeezed gently, then hastened off. Skull went to sit next to Tsuna on the sofa, and Tsuna leaned sideways to rest against him. “You’re sure it’s all right?” Tsuna asked, “Me living in your airship with you?”

“Yes. I will always be there when you need me, Tsuna,” Skull promised.

Tsuna felt the strangest sensation blossom in his chest, a kind of warmth to hold back the cold reality he had raced back to find. Or at least make it not quite so bleak.

*

The airship was pretty cool, all told. Everything was sized for an Arcobaleno. And while it was in no way fancy, it had everything a person could need, assuming they were not especially attached to things. A person who liked lots of souvenirs or collectibles would be in horror of how little space there was for things of that nature, but there was plenty of room for books in the shallow built-in shelves, beds that flipped up against the wall when not in use, and cleverly-designed storage options for other necessities.

“I like it,” he said, poking his head into the facilities. There was even an Arcobaleno-sized shower. No soaking tub, though.

Skull smiled at him and ushered him over to a little table in the “kitchen” area. He busied himself for a minute unloading some groceries, then brought some juice and fruit over. Quince made that chortling sound and dropped down to the table long enough to grab a date from the offerings and carry it off to be eaten.

Tsuna managed a tired smile before pulling a juice bottle closer and removing the cap. Daemon had disappeared as soon as they got to where Skull had secured his airship and would return at some point with information regarding both Vongola and Estraneo. He could not help but wonder what would happen to people like Mukuro, Joshima, and Kakimoto.

Things were already so different—they had to be if Estraneo had done something so … outrageous. Were those three even still alive? Unharmed? About to be killed as collateral damage by the Vongola? Living, to be rescued and placed with new families, before they had been driven to madness? Would the threat of Possession Bullets finally be laid to rest? How much of what he knew from before could be applied?

Halfway through the bottle he reached out to grab a cluster of grapes and eat them slowly. He had not had much of an appetite. Or rather, he recognized that he was hungry, but felt no particular impetus to eat. He was thankful that Skull was always nearby, and that he was not hovering or being pushy in any way.

Speaking of Skull, Tsuna noticed that his friend had flipped down one of the two beds and was putting fresh linens on it, as well as a new case on the pillow sitting in the wall niche behind. A blanket was procured from one of the storage bins built into the floor and placed as well. “It’s not much,” Skull said deprecatingly.

“I like it,” he repeated. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about much of anything right now, but I like it, this place. And it’s so different. At some point I’ll have to find a house, I guess.”

“You’re welcome to stay here as long as you like,” Skull said promptly, moving to take care of refreshing the second bed.

Tsuna believed him, but at the same time knew it would probably be something of a mistake. In his eyes the airship was Skull’s way of drifting, and to have a second person there underfoot all the time lessened the value of it. But he also believed that he could visit on a regular basis and it would be fine. “I know,” he said, “but surely there will be times when you need to do a job and… I think a house is a good idea. A home base.”

Skull’s reply was an almost equal mix to Tsuna’s ears of relief and worry. “I see your point. We can sit down with a map and highlight the various territories—if you choose to live in Italy, that is—so that we know you wouldn’t be staying someplace … bad. Neutral territory sounds best at first glance, but that also means anyone could move in or through and cause problems. Maybe hiding right under the noses of friendlies would make more sense. The alternate is that later on we can find a town in Japan, so you would at least be in a familiar culture.”

Tsuna contemplated that as he slowly ate grapes. Being in Japan was of course familiar, but he had spent a fair amount of time in Italy, as well, as an adult and as Decimo. His father would probably—well, that was a good question. Who was to say anyone aside from—that anyone knew he was allegedly on a trip with “Karu-kun”? Would his father use Vongola resources to scour Japan looking for him, or assume that Estraneo had taken him to their base in Italy?

“Daemon will probably be able to figure out which makes more sense,” Skull said. “But we won’t know until he has news to share with us.”

Living in Japan would probably—maybe?—help him to come to terms with… Or maybe it wouldn’t. Living in Italy had its own risks, unfortunately.

“Your mother is dead,” Quince said.

Tsuna twitched again and squashed a grape between his fingers, the juicy insides oozing out. “You don’t pull punches, do you?”

“I don’t want you retreating into denial.”

“People are supposed to deal with grief in their own personal way,” he complained.

“I agree,” Quince said affably. “And if you want some time with it before you actually erupt, so be it. But I’m not going to let you slide off into denial. Preferably, you’ll get a house somewhere as soon as possible—Byakuran could probably lend you one—and you can blow up in a spectacular fashion and express some of that rage I sense stewing inside you.”

“Blowing up isn’t going to make her not be dead,” he said flatly.

“No, it won’t, but it will allow you to express what you’re feeling. I’ll bet you already feel guilty for feeling angry.”

Tsuna sighed and wiped his hand off. He did. He felt devastated and numb and furious. He wanted to sob all over someone’s shoulder again while simultaneously screaming at them or throwing things. He wanted to visit Estraneo and fry every scientist there. It wasn’t fair! He felt cheated and guilty and selfish. But not alone. That puff of warmth in his chest kept him from feeling abandoned or adrift.

His phone chirped, alerting him to a text. A quick look showed it was Byakuran, and Daemon had obviously filled him in. He did not feel like actually speaking, so he sent one back: yes. with skull right now.

Byakuran: i have a house you can use, in gesso territory. portici, right outside naples. you can rage there.

Tsuna: sounds good. i don’t want to impose too much on skull’s privacy.

Byakuran: you’re so sweet, tsu-kun. i’ll get right on it. later~!

He sighed and tucked his phone away. “A house is being arranged.”

“So quickly?” Skull shot him a surprised look.

“Yeah. My friend. It should be safe enough.”

Skull nodded slowly and flipped the bed back up and secured it.

*

Daemon found something very interesting when Vongola went on a rampage. The boy whose body he had temporarily stolen in another life was alive, but his soul was gone, trapped in hell or some other plane of existence. The Estraneo scientists in this dimension were far more cruel and driven to recoup their losses from having been ostracized and nearly wiped out by other families over their invention of the Possession Bullet.

Mukuro—for he had no other name to use aside from the one the boy had given himself—was their very best option for a comeback and they had ruthlessly experimented on him with increased fervor and zeal. Daemon saw an opportunity and took it.

Vongola swept the Estraneo compound and killed everyone who moved in retribution for the death of one of their own and the presumed kidnapping of a bloodline Vongola. When they finally reached the science ward they found the children, most of whom were already dead, still in cages. Tsuna was nowhere to be found, of course, but Mukuro was strapped down to a table, still just barely breathing.

‘That body,’ he thought, ‘can give me back my full power, and he’s already gone.’ He used his illusionary spy to watch as Vongola mafiosi undid the straps holding the child down. From their speech it was plain they assumed the boy was another victim like Tsuna was meant to be, but with no real visible signs of damage they were unsure what to do with him.

Daemon cloaked the boy’s form in a seeming of death and waited until they had turned away. Some of the men looked upset, some disgusted, and some regretful, but they all departed to continue sweeping the building. Only after it was safe did Daemon go in personally to acquire the disensouled body and spirit it away to safety.

The first thing he did was send a quick text to Byakuran about Vongola’s actions. Then he set the phone down and discarded the body he had been wearing, so he could claim Mukuro’s as his own. It took an agonizingly long time before he settled in properly, but eventually he was able to sit up, and laugh. “It feels so amazing,” he rasped. The vocal chords of his new body were a bit abused, but that would heal, especially with a soul in charge again, powering the body beyond simple autonomic functions. Byakuran would probably—and on that thought, he reached over to check the phone.

Byakuran: just texted him. will set up a house in portici.

He nodded and dialed. When Byakuran picked up he said, “Ciao.”

“…You sound different. Younger. Raspier.”

He chuckled. “Yes, a fortuitous occurrence. Where can we meet?”

The next day he was in Portici, at the address provided by Byakuran. The white-haired ex-villain’s brows rose up in surprise on seeing him, but he was ushered in without immediate comment. The moment the door was closed, however…

“What happened? You look like—”

“Mukuro, yes,” he said, smiling. “As I said, a fortuitous encounter.” He filled Byakuran in on Vongola activities at Estraneo, then said, “I’ve no idea where Mukuro’s soul is, but it wasn’t attached to the body any longer. That much I could tell. So why not take it? With this body I have my full power back and can be that much more effective.”

Byakuran tilted his head to the side, then nodded. “Right,” he chirped. “And with Mist Flames, you can fake being adult. Mukuro looked ridiculously like a younger you, anyway. So, all right, Vongola has wiped out Estraneo. Couldn’t happen to a nicer family.”

“After Vongola left I went through the building myself, destroying anything questionable. So, even if they go back—perhaps to convert the compound for their own use—they shouldn’t find anything that some fool could be corrupted by. I doubt that Nono would be tempted, but someone lower down might be.”

Byakuran nodded. “You think Tsuna will be all right here?”

“Yes. I assume you’ve chosen it because it’s got room for him to fall apart?”

“Yep! And it’s still fairly close to the shops, so it should be the best of both worlds in that respect. I suggest, however, if you go personally to get Tsuna, that you cloak yourself in illusion. He might flip out if a child Mukuro showed up on his doorstep.”

Daemon flashed a sarcastic smile. “Yes, I had planned to. He’s already had enough of a shock. I admit, I feel some tiny sliver of empathy for Iemitsu, but…”

“Elena knew, though. Nana was clueless and mushroomed, and not protected well enough,” Byakuran said snidely.

“Yes. That difference alone is enough.”

*

Tsuna was busy staring at a wall when Daemon arrived at the airship, but his intuition kicked in and he shortly found himself eyeing Daemon, trying to figure out what was different. He was about to inquire, but realized that perhaps bringing the subject up in front of Skull was not the best idea. “Ciao, Daemon,” he instead said.

“Tsuna. The house is ready, so whenever you’d like to set up there, I can take you.”

He turned to Skull and said, “You’ll come, too, right? So you know where I am? And you’ll be just as welcome there always, as I am here.”

“Of course,” Skull replied softly. “We can set out in the morning…” He trailed off, eyeing the two Arcobaleno-sized beds.

Daemon shook his head. “Not an issue. I will simply stay at a hotel overnight.”

Skull looked embarrassed for a moment, but quickly recovered and offered refreshments.

Once they were all seated at the table Tsuna said, “Any news?”

“Vongola swept through the Estraneo compound like a plague of locusts. Unfortunately, none of the children they were experimenting on survived.”

Tsuna looked down. ‘I don’t know how to feel,’ he thought. ‘Mukuro scared me. So did his two … friends. But…’

“Either the scientists panicked and killed them personally to ensure no one else could get their hands on any of it, or walking away from them to confront the intruders resulted in their deaths, as the scientists were not there to monitor them. I went through the place myself after Vongola left.”

Tsuna looked up sharply and saw Daemon nod slightly. ‘So he made sure any Possession Bullets were destroyed, I hope, and any notes regarding their manufacture. I just hope none of the Vongola mafiosi found any of it during the massacre and walked away with it.’

“A thorough sweep,” Daemon added.

‘I swear, he’s reading my mind,’ he complained. ‘It doesn’t change what happened, but it’s good to know they’ve been stopped. They can’t torture any more of their children.’ He realized he was crying again when water splashed the table’s surface and reached up to angrily dash away the tears. ‘Am I crying for me? For my mother? For Mukuro and his friends? And here I am embarrassing myself again by crying in front of other people.’

He slipped off his chair and ducked into the bathroom, the only place of privacy on the airship aside from where Skull’s motorcycle was parked when not in use. Tsuna blew his nose and splashed his face with cold water, then took a deep breath and emerged. To say thanks to his mother for her teaching he was going to make dinner for them.

*

Skull was called away by a client not long after they arrived at the house in Portici, which was both good and bad in Tsuna’s opinion. He wasn’t quite ready to let go of his friend, but he also wanted to speak freely with Daemon. But before he had to leave they were able to investigate the house, which had a surprising number of bedrooms on the first floor and plenty of living space on the ground floor. The kitchen was fully stocked and there was a convenient stepstool available so that Tsuna could actually cook for himself more easily.

“You did something, found something…” he said, once they were alone.

Daemon smirked at him. Moments later he reduced in size and age.

Tsuna gawked at the face before him. “What happened?”

“The only body left alive was this one,” Daemon said simply.

He knew the statement was more loaded than it sounded. “I remember, Mukuro said he’d been to Hades six times. Did he—did he not make it back this time?”

Daemon shrugged. “I can only assume so. When I found the body it was still breathing, it still lived, but the soul was missing.”

Tsuna didn’t bother to question that assessment. Daemon knew he had been worried about Mukuro; he sincerely doubted the man would up and kill him just to have a different body. But then he remembered—“Oh, so you can access your full power again, huh. Does that mean…” His gaze dropped down to his knees for a moment.

“I never saw it in the past, but you are so very much like Elena,” Daemon said, his expression curiously blank. “I’m not going anywhere, Tsuna. I may not always be right there standing next to you, but I absolutely will not abandon you.”

He felt that warmth blossom in his chest again. Did he feel that because he truly believed them? When Skull had said much the same, and when Daemon had just then?

Daemon sighed and reached out to pat Tsuna’s tiny hand. “That was harmonization.”

“What?” That comforting sensation of warmth that never left him was a proper bond? He had never felt that before. His mouth dropped open slightly at the realization that he and his friends from his original dimension had never really connected meaningfully. “Was I really that pathetic?” he whispered, the sound of his words hitching in his throat.

Daemon sighed again. “Tsuna, there’s every possibility that you spent so much time avoiding anything dealing with the mafia that you were incapable of harmonizing.”

“But I ended up being Decimo!”

“So? You never wanted it, or guardians. You never understood what any of it meant, right? You met, uh, Gokudera, knew he was mafia, and immediately shunted him off to the side in your head. Maybe you went and did things together and had fun, but you never allowed yourself to really get close, because that would have been getting too comfortable with a mafioso. The same with the others. Friends? Perhaps. But not guardians, and not harmonized. And even then, you all did so well.”

‘I couldn’t even accept them as real friends?’ he wondered. “Did the sealing have anything to do with it, or was it really me being in denial so much?”

Daemon shrugged. “I’m trying to remember those who were sealed back then. The thing is, none of them were ever unsealed and they were kept away from the mafia, so they were never given the chance to attempt harmonization. I don’t know. It’s possible the sealing adversely affected your ability, but I can’t say that with any surety.”

‘That’s a delicate way of putting it,’ he thought. To get his mind off his previous ineptitude, he said, “You said the anklet will keep me from being noticed by Nono and … him. You’re a really strong Mist, so…”

“It should still hold up against another Mist,” Daemon replied.

“What’s it like to kill someone?” he heard himself ask.

Daemon gave him a searching look. “It depends on what’s running through your head when you do it. But even if you think they deserve it, it’s still possible to feel guilt for taking a life, or regret. You killed Byakuran, Tsuna, remember? You didn’t do it for yourself so much as for everyone that Byakuran hurt or killed, for Yuni, your friends, and the Arcobaleno. Do you regret it?”

He shook his head. “It made him human again. But that is kind of a special case.”

“True. You still killed. So the question is not about what’s it like to kill someone, but rather what it’s like to kill a specific person. I killed many people as Primo’s Mist Guardian, but we had a purpose and a cause. For an assassin that cause might be money, or it might be getting madmen off the streets and the money is a welcome bonus.”

He had to admit that the police would have serious trouble pinning blame on a flame-using criminal or even a regular mafioso. How could you possibly handle someone like Daemon or Mammon with their varied and so very realistic illusions? Or a person who could disintegrate any prison you tried to put them in? For all that he had preferred never to think about it, the presence of the Vindice showed that the mafia had its own form of law, and structure.

Were warring famiglie all that much different from warring states? Was it better for a group of criminals to be organized and actually try to maintain some kind of order, as opposed to the anarchy of individuals all out simply for themselves? ‘Or am I rationalizing this? Estraneo killed my mother. I want to kill them in kind. Except, of course, they’re dead already.’ He suddenly felt so tired. “I’m going to rest for a bit.”

Daemon nodded. “I’ll be around here somewhere, but if I don’t respond it’s because my attention is with one of my spies.”

*

Over the next several weeks Tsuna spent a lot of time destroying things with his kunai. As a result, his aim got a whole lot better. It did not, in particular, cool his anger, but it served to keep him on an even keel and prevent him from snapping at anyone. Daemon helped him out from time to time with illusionary targets that moved around fluidly. Even so, he was beginning to have some peculiar thoughts.

Casting his memory back to that day so long ago at Kokuyo, to when Kakimoto and Joshima had lain there, broken and defeated, and still defended Mukuro, and even Estraneo, baffled him. Estraneo had come up with something so powerful, so horrifying, it was no wonder other famiglie had tried to keep them penned in or pick them off one by one. But Joshima and Kakimoto blamed outsiders for driving Estraneo to higher heights of depravity.

Why were they so unwilling to blame Estraneo? Because they were blood family? ‘I don’t understand,’ he thought, nailing a target with two kunai in a row. ‘I blame my father all the time for his idiocy. He never tortured me the way Estraneo did its children, but… Maybe I’ll never understand. But I’m starting to understand how someone could be a hitman.’

Naturally that brought Reborn to mind, but for him—? ‘I wonder if he just liked the adulation. Maybe the challenge? Maybe something in his past made him want to—’ The idea of Reborn being a White Knight made him break out into a giggling fit. ‘Why on Earth did he ever turn to tutoring?’ he wondered. ‘Did he master all the challenges of being a hitman and wanted a change of pace? Or maybe he wanted a different way to be sadistic. What is wrong with me that I think about him so often?’

“Maybe you’d prefer him for a father figure?” Daemon asked, scaring the wits out of Tsuna, who had been so absorbed he’d had no idea he’d been anywhere nearby.

He clutched at his heart and glared at his Mist Guardian, then widened his eyes. “A father?”

“He at least would tell you when you did a good job, I assume.”

“Yes,” he admitted, “but he also bullied me a lot.”

“Bullied you,” Daemon repeated, coming to sit down. “All right. Bullied you? Or was he trying very hard to push you past the damage Nono caused? We don’t actually know if Reborn was aware of the ramifications of sealing or if he was even told it’d been done.”

He frowned. “So he may have thought I really was that pathetic and lazy. No wonder he used to get frustrated, or seemed so gleeful when he had an excuse to explode something in my face.”

“That’s assuming he didn’t know,” Daemon pointed out.

“He seemed to respect Nono a lot, so maybe he didn’t. Because if he did and he still acted like that, I kind of think he was taking his frustration out on me, then.”

“I’m going to assume you care about his opinion.”

“Well, yes. I can’t imagine he’s too much dif—actually, is he different?” Daemon would know, right?

“Not that I can tell.”

‘And that was both informative and useless,’ he thought. ‘After all, Byakuran didn’t see anything particularly odd, and yet… So what does that mean to me? Is that right? I keep thinking about Reborn because I want his approval? Because he was more of a father to me than mine ever was?’ He shook his head slightly. ‘I think I prefer the idea of an older brother.’

Daemon shrugged, and Tsuna wondered how much Daemon was “reading” and how much he was inadvertently saying out loud. “If you want him to approve, well…”

‘Approve? How could I possibly do that?’ he wondered.

*

Skull returned for a visit and was much impressed by his increase in accuracy.

“Daemon has helped a lot with that,” he said. “And even if it doesn’t help my mood, exactly, it still helps. I think I’d go crazy without…”

Skull nodded. “Sometimes… I used to think that Death itself hated me. I healed from just about anything, you know? It’s not like I wanted to die or anything, but I couldn’t help but think … what about when I’m old?” He laughed jerkily.

“And now we’re this.”

“Yeah. I can still do it, heal super quick.”

“A blessing and a curse, rolled into one,” he observed grimly.

Skull gave him a startled look, then nodded.

Someone unscrupulous could find out, and use that to torture someone in Skull’s position endlessly. And all that might be left in the end was the broken ravings of madness. He felt a bit mad himself, but something about seeing Skull again made an idea come to mind. “You said … you don’t really like doing hits.”

“Right.” Skull looked at him oddly, as if trying to divine what was in his head.

“But you do spying and stuff.”

“Yes.”

“What if we started an information brokering … business?”

“…Preferably not helping the kind of people who weren’t linked to Mafia Land.”

‘Well, he doesn’t seem to be against the idea, so it can’t be too crazy, right?’ “Not the ones who deal in…” Tsuna wrinkled his nose. “Right. You would still be involved, but not having to feel you had to do things you didn’t care for.”

Skull looked a little lost at first, but nodded despite that. “So, what? You, uh, send Daemon off to gather information about who might need information, so we can get it and then offer to sell it to them?”

“Exactly,” he said with a firm nod. “We’re involved, because we kind of have to be involved, but we aren’t doing anything we aren’t comfortable with. And if we gain a reputation, people will take us seriously and actually come to us. We’d just have to turn away anyone … you know. Like Estraneo.”

“And be clever enough to avoid those same people when they inevitably come looking because we won’t play nicely with them,” Daemon said from the doorway. “And yes, I can certainly help with that. I think it’s an interesting idea, Tsuna. So, step one is for me to go do some digging, and we can dig ourselves a place in this world.”

*

Tsuna looked up in surprise when Skull set a slice of cheesecake on his desk. Raspberries had been used to make a small smiley face on the top, while a sauce of the same was drizzled down the edges. “What’s this?” he asked in confusion.

Skull produced two more plates, three forks, and took a seat as Daemon appeared and also took one. “It’s your birthday,” he said with affectionate exasperation.

He blinked and scratched the back of his neck. Apparently grief had a funny way of totally upending your sense of balance and time in the world. “I’m six?”

Daemon nodded. “In case you’re having trouble here, that means you set aside the paperwork for a while and attempt to enjoy yourself.”

He sighed and shuffled his paperwork into one of the top drawers, then dutifully took up his fork. A quick strike down nipped the end off the slice and the fork made its way to his mouth. He paused on tasting just how creamy and delicious the cake was, then quickly resumed eating. After a few bites he said, “Thank you. Dare I hope that my present is finding out that that man got drunk again and ended up with tattoos all over his face, or no hair, or…?”

Daemon snorted softly. “Unfortunately, no.”

Aside from Iemitsu using Vongola resources to scour Japan in a panic—and to some extent, Italy, simply because Estraneo had been based there—there had been little of note heard from that sector. Nono might have been concerned for the emotional and mental well-being of his External Advisor, and his missing blood family member, but that did not translate to losing his head, in a panic, like that man.

Tsuna could not decide if Iemitsu was panicked because part of him genuinely cared for his son, or if it was all just as abstract as before. He shook his head and concentrated on his food, humming happily as the taste of sweetened cheese and raspberries hit his tongue again.

“A meeting has been called,” Skull said, eyeing him carefully. “Reborn sent out messages to the Arcobaleno.”

His fork paused halfway to his mouth as he took that in. “At the spring?”

Skull nodded. “He seems concerned that it’s been a year and none of us have run into you, so he wants to meet to talk about it.”

“Do you think any of them would notice if I were to peek in on you during that?” he asked.

Skull’s lips pursed in thought, then he shrugged. “I have no idea. Maybe not, because it’s a targeted connection to a realized bond.”

“It’s also possible that Skull’s anklet will help keep it confined,” Daemon pointed out.

“When is it?”

“The first of November. That gives everyone some time to arrange things. The message came in this morning.”

Tsuna had another few bites before he said, “Are you okay with going? Daemon could try to spy if you’re not.”

Skull gave him a quick smile. “It’s fine. It’d look suspicious if I wasn’t there. Besides, me being there gives you the chance to spy directly in addition to anything Daemon can manage, especially since you seem to be able to hear everything now. That gives us two or three different perspectives to work with.”

“Makes sense, and I see your point,” he replied, realizing that Skull was correct. If he did not go, the others might find that odd given the situation, especially since it had been Reborn instigating the meeting. He ate the last of his cheesecake and set the fork down with a sigh of mingled pleasure and regret; it had been very tasty.

A little over two weeks later he and Daemon were settled into comfortable chairs, both of them spying, using Skull as their anchor point. If nothing else, it allowed both of them to know exactly how to reach the Pacifier Spring. Their friend got there first which, after a moment of reflection, was probably what Skull had been going for. After all, Reborn and Colonnello seemed to think Skull was their lackey, so it made sense for him to be there early, as a reflection of his alleged position in the group.

He shook his head slightly. If he ever did harmonize with those two he would have to be creative when it came to enforcing the idea that Skull’s only true master was Skull. He was intensely grateful that Skull and Daemon did not expect him to make every decision, but they would listen when he suggested things, and that they suggested things themselves. They were a team, and they respected each other. It did, unfortunately, leave him with a lingering sense of regret for his past.

If nothing else, this second chance had given him a chance to grow as a person, especially knowing his lifespan was artificially limited. He was more understanding and compassionate, far less lost, and more likely to be assertive. He was technically in charge of their team, but he did not feel intimidated by their greater experience, and they did not treat him condescendingly for his relative lack of it.

Fon arrived next, slipping into a spot around the spring between one moment and the next. “Ciao, Skull,” he said in a calm and somewhat kindly manner.

Skull nodded. “Fon. I hope things have been well.”

“Yes, thank you. And you?”

Skull tilted his head contemplatively for a few seconds before replying, “Yes.” Then he added, “I’ve been able to avoid taking on any hits this past year.”

Fon nodded and produced a faint, serene smile. “I am pleased for your sake.”

Tsuna’s brow went up. What an interesting response. Fon and Skull might not be in any way close, but he did appear to respect Skull’s aversion to killing. Any further conversation was delayed as a bickering Reborn and Colonnello arrived.

“I don’t think that—”

Reborn interrupted with a scoff. “You do your thinking with anti-tank weaponry. Not a lot of room there for depth.”

Colonnello scowled and reached over to thump Reborn, though his attack was easily dodged. “You and your prissy insistence on finesse and elegance!”

“Considering how many more of the fairer sex I have enjoyed the company of…” Reborn trailed off with a smug smirk.

Colonnello growled.

Tsuna had to wonder if it was a dig at the blond’s “relationship” with Lal Mirch, or rather, the constant holding pattern those two had been in until after the—he frowned, reminded that he knew he’d forgotten something important, but had no idea what it was or what it was connected to.

Daemon gave him a sidelong look, but quickly returned to fixing a distant, unfocused gaze on the wall.

“After all,” Reborn was saying, “you’d think you’d have gotten somewhere by now, after all these years.”

Colonnello half-heartedly fired on Reborn. “That’s a perverted thought, in these forms.”

Reborn fired back, not appearing to in any way aim, and yet the bullet flew past Colonnello’s face after the man tilted his head slightly. “Ciaossu, Fon.”

Fon sent a faint smile Reborn’s way and nodded, then nodded at a scowling Colonnello.

Tsuna frowned when Skull was not acknowledged, but he could tell by his Cloud’s body language that Skull was feeling more boredom than anxiety. Colonnello was sulking and Reborn was impatient. It was only once Verde, Mammon, and Lal finally arrived that Reborn got things started.

*

Skull watched the proceedings with more of a mind to study his fellow Arcobaleno rather than pay strict attention to what they were saying. After all, at least two of them would assume he was too lacking to properly participate. Wearing his helmet helped to mask any facial expressions he did not manage to smother.

Fon, at least, maintained a distant sort of kindness toward him. Mammon could not be bothered unless large quantities of money were involved. Verde might eye him up with a mind to experiment, but the Arcobaleno Code should prevent more than simple thoughts.

The original unease and prickliness Tsuna’s peeking in on him caused had transmuted into a sense of enveloping warmth and affection and, insofar as he could tell, no one else could sense Tsuna’s presence. For that matter, no one seemed to be aware of Daemon’s spy. It had ridden along with Skull and then settled itself in a nearby tree.

What he did gather from the meeting was that no one had any information aside from acknowledging that they had not seen, heard mention of, or met the Sky Arcobaleno. Also, Fon sent the occasional, fleeting, sidelong glance his way. Hopefully Tsuna and Daemon would have better insight on those moments from their perspectives.

By the time the meeting broke up he had not spoken a word beyond that of those to Fon, and was the last to leave.

*

“Well, that accomplished very little,” he said dryly.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Daemon replied. “None of them aside from Fon seemed to notice anything off about Skull, for one.”

“True.”

“Fon was the only one to give Skull anything resembling respect,” Daemon added.

“Also true,” he said. “I noticed that and it made me curious about Fon. It’s not like I spent a lot of time around him before, but seeing him again…”

“Perhaps he should be the next one for you to look in on?”

“Perhaps, yes. Is he actually a part of the Triads, or just connected in some way to them?”

“He’s associated with them, but not as a proper member of that society. He has ties in Japan—with Kyoya, in case you weren’t aware—even though he himself is Chinese.”

Tsuna got halfway through a nod before his brain cramped. “Wait, what? Hibari-san?”

Daemon smirked at him. “He is Kyoya’s maternal grandfather’s brother.”

His eyes crossed, but the nod finally completed. “Wow,” he said softly. “I mean, they do look a lot alike…” And having seen Kyoya in Namimori and Fon just recently, he could definitely picture the resemblance. Either way, Fon seemed the most receptive to Skull, or at least the most polite, which was a good thing.

He and Daemon repaired to the kitchen for something to eat, then to the office so they could go over the information requests. His Mist’s efforts had borne ripe fruit for Tsuna’s idea of becoming information brokers. Requests were starting to slowly trickle in once word got around, and since there were so few Mists out there even close to Daemon’s level of power and experience, finding them physically was next to impossible.

It was a start. It also gave weaker families someone to contact to get a helping hand, so long as they could pay the fees. Any family on the wrong side of the line was dealt with by Daemon in a non-violent manner. No sense getting the Vindice involved, after all. How, exactly, his Mist was accomplishing that, he had not bothered to ask. He trusted Daemon, and he was not yet of a mind to broach that conundrum.

“How do you think Fon would react to being spied on? I mean, he’s a Storm and all.”

Daemon shrugged. “He’s also very centered. I don’t know that he would take it as some form of attack, though I expect it would intrigue him. Not sure he would come to the same result as Skull did.”

“The note,” he said, nodding, “and the phone.”

“Well, I can find out where his bolt-hole is,” Daemon assured him. “The spy from the meeting is following him even as we speak.”

Tsuna scowled. More evidence that his friends knew his mind better than he did himself. “Then I should probably wait a few days before I try.”

“Preferably. And I would prefer your attempts do not occur while he’s in his place of safety, if possible.”

He rolled his eyes. “And not on a job or around Triads or driving some kind of vehicle…”

Daemon gave him a sarcastic smile and nodded. “Yes.”

It wasn’t until Skull returned that the subject came up again, with Tsuna asking his Cloud his opinion. Skull’s brow shot up before he said, “Fon has always been the warmest of the lot. I don’t think he’d flip out if you peeked in on him, but it would probably make him as twitchy as it did me.”

Tsuna nodded. “Well, when Daemon says he’s in a good place for that, I’ll give it a shot. Either he’ll have a similar idea as yours, or perhaps Daemon can send an illusion to drop off a message.”

Skull eyed his fellow guardian. “Considering how solid some of those are…”

*

When Tsuna got the go ahead from Daemon he settled into his comfortable chair and closed his eyes for this first attempt, his hands coming up to cradle his pacifier. Fon went eerily still, then a barely perceptible haze of Storm Flame emanated from him. Tsuna nodded to himself; Hibari and Gokudera had been capable of using their flames as a form of radar. Unfortunately for Fon, he would not find anything.

The slightest of creases marred Fon’s otherwise smooth brow after thirty seconds and his eyes went a bit squinty. Tsuna giggled quietly to himself as he watched, but quickly enough sobered up. Thirty seconds later he released his pacifier and opened his eyes, content for the moment. China was seven hours ahead of Italy, so he would continue to peek in during the morning every few days.

The next time he checked in Fon again went still and sent out another pulse of flames. As before, his brow creased slightly, but that time he started moving away from the point of origin and into a nearby building. The squinty eyes came back once Fon realized that being tucked away behind walls did not cause the sensation to abate.

Tsuna was impressed once he figured out what Fon was testing, not only with the tactic, but with his own understanding. Unfortunately, aside from moving deeper inside the building, Fon did nothing of note, so Tsuna released his hold and opened his eyes.

The next time he tried he could see nothing whatsoever. ‘Oh, you are clever,’ he thought. Fon had to be in a closed room with no light sources. And apparently, his infravision did not work while peeking. ‘A shame, but it will still tell Fon something, right?’ When he eventually released the connection, Daemon was sitting on the edge of the desk, an eyebrow quirked at him.

“Completely dark room this time.”

Daemon smirked in appreciation. “Given any thought to a letter you might send?”

He opened a drawer and fished out a draft, which he handed to his Mist. It was simple enough, just a brief introduction and an invitation to reply in kind, picked up from a specific location (of Daemon’s choosing). If they moved onto phone calls, well, he would consider getting a throwaway phone as Skull had once done, and then consider moving on to an actual meeting.

“This sounds fine,” Daemon said. “I’ll scout out a good place for a drop point, one that I can get a spy to. I would add something about him staying quiet about the contact for the time being, to respect your privacy.”

“Oh, good point.” He took back the draft and jotted down a few more sentences, saying, “Hopefully he’ll lean toward respecting the request.” He handed it back for Daemon to look over.

“This is fine. Write it up nicely and I’ll have some spies deliver it.”

For that part of things Tsuna did not peek, though the route to that decision involved some debate. “But if I don’t, he might not think it was from the same person,” Tsuna said.

“And if you do, he might not pick it up at all,” Skull said.

Tsuna scowled, but nodded.

Fon did pick up the letter and did leave one at the dead drop.

i appreciate the lengths you have gone to in order to establish contact. for now, you have my word i will not speak of this.

And that was it. Tsuna frowned and glanced at his two guardians.

“Well, he is not as good as he is by being … careless,” Daemon said.

“Hire him for a job,” Skull blurted out.

“Huh?”

“Something to do with issues in China,” Skull continued. “Something relatively harmless, yet still with importance.”

“Uh…” Tsuna started shuffling through his paperwork, looking for a job that would apply to the situation. He eventually found a request from the Scaltro Famiglia. For some reason the Scaltro Famiglia had a thing for chain whips and their supplier was having issues with the group they purchased them from in China. He passed it over to Skull, who read through it carefully.

“Sounds reasonable.” Skull passed it to Daemon, who also agreed.

“Okay. I’ll write up the request.” What he showed to his guardians said, compactly, that as Fon was known to be skilled, and was in the area in question, he was being offered an information gathering job. Get in, get the information, get out, no feathers ruffled. Base pay with a bonus for speed.

It took a few days for Fon to actually agree, as if he was carefully considering whether or not to accept the job. He had the job done in less than twenty-four hours, so Tsuna was pleased to pay up and deliver on the request. He even made a profit. To Fon he sent another letter, this time asking if he was willing to do further jobs of the same type and if he had a preferred method of contact.

Text messages, apparently. Daemon handed him a new phone for use only when communicating with Fon—for the time being, anyway—and life went on. Tsuna still spent a lot of time working out to improve his flexibility, making strides in speed of kunai formation, and accuracy when throwing.

It was not until February and several jobs later that Fon finally asked: who are you really?

“Finally, some curiosity,” Daemon said. “I was wondering how long it would take for him to bite.”

Tsuna sent off a text to let Skull know of the development, then sat back, trying to listen to his intuition, or at least get it to nudge him in a particular direction. “Time to be blunt,” he declared a timeless span later.

Daemon cocked a skeptical eyebrow his way, but nodded.

“Don’t worry, I won’t be inviting him for tea or anything,” he assured his friend. “That would be compromising operational security.”

“But you want to,” Daemon said smoothly.

“Kind of, yes,” he admitted. “He’s kind to Skull.”

“An interesting metric, but one I do not disagree with.” Daemon pursed his lips. “So tell him what you are.”

‘But not my name?’ he wondered. Intuition said his usual would suffice, so he sent back a brief text that simply said: sky arcobaleno.

Sent back was: i am at odds with belief.

you asked, i answered.

there are some things only the sky arcobaleno would know.

Tsuna’s brow went up slowly and he showed the phone to Daemon. As he did so he cast his mind back to the memorial house in Namimori, to the Storm room, and to Fon’s picture. He sent back: zhu shi

*

Fon stared at his phone in consternation, not that anyone unaccustomed to him could ever divine that reaction from his expression. Whoever had been sending him jobs either really was the Sky Arcobaleno or unbelievably good at data mining. Absolutely no one alive should be aware of his birth name.

Odd how the instances of contact had only begun after the meeting at the Pacifier Spring. Aside from the topic at hand, he could not think of anything that had seemed outstandingly different. Skull had seemed a bit bored but—there it was. ‘He wasn’t pushing for attention,’ he thought. ‘He was acting contrary to his usual behavior. He didn’t even bother to argue with Reborn and Colonnello or try to gain their approval.’

He went over the meeting again and realized he had noticed, but subconsciously. If Skull had not shown up there would have been trouble, but being there and doing nothing had accomplished the goal of remaining mostly unnoticed, certainly by people who never thought much of him in the first place.

Had Skull harmonized with a—Fon furrowed his brow ever so slightly, the corners of his mouth twitching down. Had he—? Skull was in contact with their Sky? Was that why he was being watched? Because he, out of any of them, was the most likely to—not be friendly, exactly—be favorably disposed toward Skull?

This Sky, if that was indeed what he or she was, had only sent jobs of the sort involving information, which could explain why Skull had told him he’d been able to avoid doing any hits lately. A part of him wanted to immediately send out messages to the others, but his agreement stayed his hand. And he was curious. This Sky was not rushing into things. He was being calculated. Fon could appreciate that.

Daring to hope, he sent: what is that sensation?

me looking in on you.

His brow furrowed again. They could do that? Luce had never done that. Then again, Luce had been circumspect in revealing anything about the powers of the Sky Arcobaleno. He took a few moments to adjust his breathing and center himself. His phone chirped again.

the lightless room was an excellent test.

He smiled slightly.

*

It was another month before Fon took an additional step forward, having sent a text saying he was interested in meeting. Skull seemed torn between happiness and worry over the idea.

“The obvious question,” Tsuna said slowly, “is who goes.”

Skull stopped dithering around and looked at him. “He may already have figured out I’m in contact with you.”

Tsuna nodded and cast a look at Daemon, who said, “I have not seen anything which would indicate either way on that point. However, if you’re willing to reveal that information, perhaps it would be better if I were to stay concealed for the moment.”

His brow crinkled as he interpreted that. Daemon was not saying he wouldn’t be present, just not visible, and that was a reasonable thing to do. He had not spent much time around Fon in his former life. None of them, really, aside from Reborn. Prior to that others might have, but even after—he frowned. ‘After what? Damn it.’

“Where do you think would be a good place, though?” Skull said into the silence.

He blinked and looked up. “Well, it’d be a lot to ask him to come all the way here.”

Daemon chuckled. “That’s simple, Tsuna. Offer him a job where he would have to gather intel in Italy, and include travel expenses in the pay. Then he would already be in the country and you could meet him easily enough. Sticking to Gesso territory is not a bad thing. Or, we could try for a neutral location, but that carries its own risks.”

Tsuna sighed over having missed the obvious and shuffled through the pending requests. One had come in from the Garofano Famiglia looking for information regarding the Tagliare Famiglia, and it should suit well enough. “Okay. I’ll write it up, along with a meeting place. A play park or something. Then it won’t look so odd for three chibis to be there.”

Not long after Daemon had one of his constructs leave the letter in the usual drop location Tsuna got a text accepting the job, plus confirmation on the meeting. When the day arrived he and Skull were making sand castles in one of the play pits, dressed in matching hoodies (appropriate colours a given), with Daemon lurking nearby.

They knew Fon was approaching when a message formed in the air just long enough for them to read it—and of course, their pacifiers glowed—so they were unsurprised when a third “child” joined in sand manipulation. Tsuna looked up and smiled. “Ciao. You can call me Welkin.”

Fon nodded. “Ciao. You already know me as Fon.” His focus switched briefly to Skull. “It is good to see you again.”

“Morning!” Skull said cheerily.

“You harmonized.”

Tsuna nodded.

“Is it just you two?”

Tsuna temporized by saying, “You are only the second Arcobaleno I have peeked in on and contacted.” He dribbled water into more sand and began building another tower. “I didn’t think rushing into things would be wise. And besides, I had to adjust.”

Fon’s eyes narrowed just the slightest bit. “You spied on the meeting.”

Tsuna smiled. “Of course.”

Fon turned to Skull. “What does it feel like now, to be peeked in on?”

“It was creepy at first, but after harmonization? It’s warm, Fon. It’s like a blanket of home and affection and respect.”

Tsuna turned wide eyes on his friend.

Skull flashed a smile at him, then added a little flag to the tower he’d just completed.

“What do you hope to accomplish by this meeting?” Fon asked.

Tsuna shrugged. “I wanted to meet you. Skull keeps telling me I should make more friends. Besides, it doesn’t hurt in the least to potentially have another person capable of running missions. Not everyone is well suited to gathering information. Too many mafiosi just barge on in and cause a mess.”

“So you’re an information broker. I had heard word that a new broker was making a name. I admit I did not expect it to be the Sky Arcobaleno.”

Tsuna shrugged again. “I realize that some people need to kill, because some people need to be killed, but I prefer to avoid that personally if possible. Since I don’t have a choice but to be involved with the mafia, I found a way that allowed me to pick and choose. The same for Skull. The same for you, should you choose to join us.”

“And when it ends up with someone needing to be killed?” Fon asked.

“Then whoever feels like doing it does, or me, if necessary,” he replied. “I don’t like asking people to do things I won’t do myself. So if it came down to it, I’d be the one to volunteer.”

Fon eyed him for a moment. “And have you killed already?”

“Not in this lifetime,” he replied. “But I’m prepared to do so if necessary.”

“It’s just you and Skull?”

Tsuna smiled and shook his head. “I have two guardians.”

Fon’s brow furrowed faintly. Assuming he believed Tsuna’s statement of him being the second Arcobaleno to be contacted, that left only a non-Arcobaleno. “Happenstance?”

“Not exactly. My other guardian was a friend first. Would you be interested in further jobs? They can be anywhere we have requests for. It was … not useful, exactly, but … helpful, that you were in China and willing, but if you were interested in other places…” He shrugged.

*

He busied himself with packing wet sand into a mold and starting a tower. Welkin had the eyes of a Sky, both accepting and lethal. He was casually cagey in how he answered questions. So much of what he said could have deeper, not immediately obvious meaning. “Not in this lifetime,” was an example, and how he didn’t have a choice but to be involved. For someone like Skull the meaning would be obvious, but for Welkin? Not so simple.

And this other, yet to be seen guardian. Not an Arcobaleno. Whoever it was could easily visit China on a whim, it seemed. If it truly was just the three of them, and if it was the third making those trips (because while he had no doubt Skull could be exceptionally sneaky, he was a known quantity and somewhat visible in his movements), and had never been noticed or felt, he (or she) could easily be a strong Mist, which meant they could be watching even now.

If this mysterious guardian was a Mist, that meant Mammon was out of luck. Then again, it was entirely possible that Mammon had harmonized with Xanxus, the only one of them who had found a Sky. Until Skull. He finished carving the crenelations on his tower and started another one. Deciding to go off on a tangent he asked, “How are you at martial arts?”

Welkin looked up and made a face. “Not very. But I started almost immediately learning how to defend myself in this form. Martial arts requires a proper teacher, and it’s doubtful I would feel safe in a normal dojo, and I question how seriously a sensei would take me.”

If nothing else it was a potential way to get closer to this Sky. He nodded, admitting to himself that he remained curious and, deep inside his heart, hopeful. Skull looked so happy and content. He wanted that for himself. He nodded again and said, “I am willing to take additional missions.”

Welkin’s eyes warmed, though he did not smile. “Any preferences?”

“The country does not matter.”

Welkin rolled his eyes and bit his lip briefly. “So I could offer you jobs all in Italy and it wouldn’t bother you?”

“I love my country, but I am not chained to it,” he replied, amused by the response.

Welkin looked off to the side for a few moments, his eyes seeming to focus on nothing but air, then nodded. “How frequently? It’s a little slow yet still, but picking up.”

“I am … comfortable,” he said, “so even if things were a little slow, that just leaves more time for other activities.”

“Do you have a base here in Italy?” Welkin asked practically.

He nodded. It would have to be cleaned given how long it had been since he spent any real amount of time in it.

“Would you prefer to keep on with a dead drop and text communication or something more personal?”

“Either is fine.”

Welkin looked off to the side again, rubbing his lower lip in a way incongruous for a seeming child, and Fon suspected again that the other guardian was a Mist and present, and writing messages in the air to impart advice. “Okay,” Welkin said with a nod. “Hungry? I’m going to be making lunch anyway, so…”