Grazhir :: Crossover :: Welkin :: 04

04: 2007

Daemon had said it was all right to bring Fon back to their base, and that he would be wearing a disguise. Tsuna knew the odds of Fon being able to recognize Daemon were minuscule; it was still better to be cautious. They abandoned the sand pit and brushed off. As they started to depart Lichi flung himself out of a nearby tree and landed on Fon’s shoulder.

Tsuna gave the monkey a nod of greeting. For some reason it made him wonder what had happened to Cosmo. Their partners were very special, after all. Would Cosmo, at some later date, end up with another Sky?

They made it to Tsuna’s house without further delay and, as they entered the kitchen, he said, “I would make your favorite, but…” He shrugged and got his supplies out, then stamped his foot on the floor to make the built-in riser they had added pop up and give him the height he needed to work.

He diverted temporarily when Quince flew in to land on his shoulder. “Ah, Quince, I’d like you to meet Fon,” he said, heading to get some fruit for his friend. “Fon, this is my animal companion, Quince.”

Quince chortled both as a greeting and over the dates Tsuna had produced, and flew over to a perch so he could eat. “Things going well so far?”

“Yes. And Daemon will tinker if necessary,” he replied.

“My companion’s name is Lichi,” Fon supplied as Oodako squiggled into the room and took position in the secondary sink.

Tsuna smiled and nodded again, then went back to preparing lunch, a simple enough stir fry that anyone could enjoy, even if it wasn’t particularly exciting. Skull helped by setting the table and getting the rice going. He was seconds away from dishing the meal up when a chibi-sized version of Daemon wandered in.

Tsuna eyed his Mist in bemusement and shook his head, then started getting rice into bowls, stir fry on plates, with Skull assisting again. Once they were all seated he said, “Fon, this is—”

“Velo,” Daemon interrupted smoothly.

Tsuna huffed and began to eat, pleased to see that Fon started eating, as well. “Anything come in while we were gone?”

Daemon glanced his way and nodded. “A few more requests. I drafted out a refusal on one of them for you to look at.”

“Oh?”

“Wrong side of the tracks wanting information on an alliance family.”

He nodded. “I’ll check it in a bit. It’d be nice if they’d all get the hint, but it will probably only make them more persistent.”

Daemon shrugged. “For every mostly sane mafioso out there is another one who is too stupid to live.”

Skull snickered. “I’m sure it amuses you to make them back off, if necessary.”

“Of course.”

“Are you part of an alliance family?” Fon asked.

Tsuna tilted his head and considered. “I’m not technically a part of any family but my own, and the alliance bosses don’t know me from a random child in the corner daycare. I chose to refuse requests from families on that side, because of the types of activities they indulge in. Unaffiliated families who stay away from those things are welcome to send in jobs so long as they don’t cross my lines.”

“Why me specifically?”

“Because you’re nice to me,” Skull answered bluntly.

Fon smiled faintly and nodded. “What about the others?”

Tsuna sighed and had another bite before answering. “I’m not sure. Verde seems deeply dug into his research and might not appreciate being interrupted. I’m also not certain about the ethics of some of his experiments. Mammon is part of the Varia already and may be harmonized with Xanxus. Colonnello is busy at Mafia Land and he seems happy, but it’s a possibility. Reborn… I have some ideas about Reborn, but not for some time. I think Reborn would have a hard time respecting me until I’ve … established myself a bit better. I’m an unknown, after all.”

Fon nodded. “Ever used a gun?”

He shook his head. “I did consider it, though, somewhat out of curiosity. They seem to be awfully popular. But I decided I didn’t like the idea of something that could be taken from me.” He thought Fon looked pleased by that, though it was such a minute shift in expression that he could not be sure. Tsuna finished up his meal and set his hashi down. “I expect that you’ll want time to transition so I won’t offer a new job just yet. But once you’re settled…”

Fon smiled slightly and nodded, setting his hashi down. As Skull slid off his chair and began to ferry dishes to the sink Fon produced a set of papers from his pocket and slid them across the table.

Tsuna glanced at the top page long enough to verify it was the job data before tucking them away. “If you follow me, I’ll get your pay.”

A minute later they were in Tsuna’s office and he was seated at his desk, tapping away on his laptop. Once the funds were transferred into a holding account he printed off a card with the account information and handed that over.

“I will contact you once I’m established in the country,” Fon said.

*

Skull left shortly after for both a job and some alone time, so Tsuna sat down with Daemon to ask about something that had been bugging him. “Can you still warp?”

Daemon gave him a sly smile. “Yes. Or rather, I assume so.”

His first reaction was to feel stirrings of anger. Daemon could have saved his mother? He still couldn’t eat anpan without tearing up.

“However,” Daemon continued, eyeing him knowingly, “from the memories I received, I have serious doubts. It’s entirely possible that the Vindice would notice and bring their attention down on us.”

Tsuna deflated. “And that’s why you use constructs so often.”

“Yes. I have not been willing to risk your safety on the off chance it would go unnoticed. The Vindice would be unlikely to actually do anything—I have a physical body, so its use is not against their laws—but we would be on their radar in a much more uncomfortable way. At present we as mafiosi are of no more interest than any other. Less, perhaps, as we’ve stayed well within the laws. And, if those memories are accurate, every time I used it, everything around me was destroyed.”

“Okay. I’m sorry for doubting you.”

Daemon shook his head. “No. If you’re concerned about something you should speak, even if it’s doubt prompting it. I don’t exactly have the best track record, Tsuna.”

He huffed a laugh. “Funny how I’ve become friends with so many people who tried to kill me.”

“Not Xanxus.”

That made him laugh for real. “That’s supposed to happen this year, right?”

“Yes. Why? Would you like to become the Varia’s new Sky?”

Tsuna gawked. “Ah, no. I don’t think I’m crazy enough to qualify. Though that does remind me…”

“Thinking of working on Zero Point Breakthrough?”

He shrugged. “It’s so weird, this being able to use my flames without having to be shot, without having to go into what Reborn called Dying Will Mode. I hated being shot. It made me capable of fighting, but I lost control. It was all … instinct? Intuition? But to get Zero Point working again I’d have to—the only thing I could think of would be sparring like I used to.”

“And the best person for that would be Fon.”

“Yeah. But then he’d know.”

“If you harmonized with him it wouldn’t matter.”

“And that’s another thing. I realized, I never chose any of my guardians last time. Reborn chose them, or … him. Oh, he’s a strong Rain, let’s drag him into this. He’s a bloodthirsty Cloud, he’ll do fine.”

Daemon picked him up for a cuddle, which made Tsuna grimace slightly at the minor humiliation involved, and said, “You’ve already made such strides. There are so many factors at work. But you’re gaining guardians through real feeling, and respect. Does it make you upset with Reborn?”

“Mm, no. He was just doing his job, and I wasn’t being cooperative. I certainly wouldn’t have sought out guardians on my own. I have you two right here in my heart at all times. But now I wonder just what Reborn thought of me. Was I only a job? A troublesome, uncooperative, frightened job?”

Daemon gave him a squeeze. “Well, that’s the thing, Tsuna. For someone in Reborn’s position, as a tutor, he can’t afford to let himself care too much. I’m willing to bet that his relationship with Dino changed quite a bit after, though he would always have something of an advantage being in a perceived position of authority. But while he’s actually tutoring, if he cared too much, it could get in the way of actually teaching. He’d be prone to doing it all for you, keeping you safe, instead of teaching you to protect yourself. And right now, I don’t think you want that.”

“No,” he admitted.

“What do you plan to do about him?”

“I was thinking of crashing a tutoring session, but that won’t be for a few more years.”

“Plenty of time to train, then. And speaking of which…”

“Yeah. Let’s go.”

*

Fon looked around his bolt-hole with minor dismay. No matter how well he cocooned a place dust always found a way in. With a tiny sigh he set about cleaning, using his fine control of his flames to disintegrate the dust before wiping everything down. When he was done he unpacked the essentials and set out to do a little shopping.

Only once those were put away did he send a text to Welkin about his availability. An invitation to visit came back within a minute, so he set out. It was mildly unfortunate that his safe house was a fair distance from Portici, but if things worked out he could always set up a new one closer by.

He did find it interesting that Welkin was in Gesso territory, but set that aside for the moment. At the house he was ushered in by Velo and escorted straight through the house and out back, where Welkin was—were those kunai? Made of flame? ‘Interesting,’ he thought as Welkin nailed what he presumed was an illusionary target that was zipping around the space.

His Sky was not defenseless it seemed. Lounging in a chair up against the back wall of the house was a boy of perhaps eight with spiky white hair and a purple mark under his left eye. The stranger caught sight of him and waved. “Ciao~!”

Welkin let the kunai in his hand vanish as he turned, a smile quickly gracing his face. “It’s good to see you again. Fon, this is—”

“Dolce,” the stranger said.

Welkin rolled his eyes. “Fine. Dolce.”

‘Still being cautious, I see,’ he thought, and gave Dolce a nod of greeting. He would have to consider becoming a lot more familiar with the Gesso Famiglia. The boy was obviously mafia and it was not unlikely that he was Gesso as well. And that meant Welkin had allies.

“Well I am,” Dolce said with a grin, dipping into a bag and popping a fluffy white thing from it into his mouth. After a second the boy offered the bag to him.

He took one to be polite and nibbled on it. ‘Pure sugar. No wonder the boy is so…’

“You’re a lot of things,” Welkin said dryly, then moved over to grab some himself. “You settle in okay?”

“Yes. That is an interesting attack you have there.”

“Oh? I wanted something … versatile.”

And considering the varied uses of kunai, it was a good choice. Attack, restraint, even as digging and climbing implements.

“How do you feel about lasagne?” Welkin asked suddenly. “Because I have one in the oven and it’s almost done.”

“…It is fine,” he replied. It seemed his Sky was set on feeding people regularly rather than just getting down to business. It made him wonder how many cultures’ cooking Welkin could manage.

Welkin nodded. “I should clean up, then.”

“I’ll set the table~!” Dolce said, jumping up and tucking his sweets away.

Fon followed them back into the house and to the kitchen. Velo got drinks on the table and took a seat, then said, “I trust the trip was uneventful.”

“Nothing of note happened. How long have you known Welkin?”

Velo’s eyes gleamed. “Years, decades. The friendship is more recent, though.”

He nodded, not sure how much of anything Velo said to take as fact. It was bad enough that Velo was obviously wearing a disguise and his Mist powers must be mighty indeed for Fon to be unable to see through it. He thought perhaps even Reborn, famed for being almost immune to illusion, would have trouble with this man.

Even so, with Velo being harmonized with Welkin, he trusted that the man would not attack so long as he was not a threat to the Sky. Perhaps he was badly mistaken, but he thought Welkin was courting him. The thought of a Sky actively pursuing him… Luce had been a wonderful Sky, but she never needed them. He had been on his own for a long, long time, and he enjoyed his solitude and freedom, but a part of him badly wanted what Skull had, what Velo had, that warmth in his heart and a place to call home.

He was shaken from his thoughts when a ding sounded, and on its heels came Welkin, freshly showered, to swoop in and retrieve the food from the oven. Velo got up to get a bowl of salad from the refrigerator, which he placed on the table, then fetched several cruets filled with dressing. Dolce immediately portioned it out and set the smaller bowls in place as Welkin ferried two plates over. One was set in front of him and the other to Dolce, but Welkin was back in moments with the other two plates for himself and Velo.

As he gave one of the cruets a good shake before pouring a little dressing on his salad he made the assumption that Skull was either off on a job or drifting. As much as Skull was contrary when it came to Cloud personality, he was still the sort to require a lot of time off by himself. He took a bite of lasagne and hummed. “My compliments.”

Welkin’s eyes gleamed with warmth and … something else, something darker. “Thank you. My mother—” His voice hitched slightly. “—taught me how to cook.”

Given that reaction it was highly likely that Welkin’s mother was dead, and not from natural causes. He cast about for something else to talk about, but was saved when Dolce spoke.

“I think you should get a tattoo.”

Welkin raised a disbelieving brow. “Why?”

“Because I have one?”

“And should I bleach all the colour out of my hair because yours is white?”

Dolce smirked. “That would be taking admiration a bit far.”

It struck Fon as he listened to them banter that Dolce sounded far too old for his age. The more time he spent around Welkin the more confused he got. Velo had said decades, so did that mean Welkin was in his twenties and they had known each other since practically birth? Or was he a lot older and his flames had only become active once he was chosen? Even so, why was he in chibi form like the rest of them? Did he already have children out there somewhere and preferred to extend his life rather than remain in adult form?

“—could braid the sides,” Dolce was saying.

“Ah, sure,” Welkin replied, “and I can cosplay as Legolas while I’m at it, except that I don’t think green and brown are really my colours. It would take forever for my hair to get long enough to do that anyway.”

Dolce shrugged. “Mere details.”

Fon stared as Welkin’s hair turned a platinum blond and lengthened considerably, resting over his shoulders in loose waves instead of spiking up all over the place. “I don’t think it’s really you,” he commented.

Welkin shot him a confused look, then his eyes slid diagonally downward, then stared at Velo expectantly. Velo, he noticed, had something of a haunted look on his face. A moment later Welkin’s hair returned to normal and Velo became very interested in his meal. Welkin’s expression twisted for a split second, and Fon was left with several questions about what had just happened, none of which he was willing to ask.

“Fine,” Dolce said into the awkward silence. “Long hair doesn’t really suit you. I can admit when I’m wrong.”

“Once a lifetime or so,” Welkin said dryly. “Any interesting news through the grapevine?”

Dolce glanced at Velo before saying, “Whispers of unrest fluttering around, but nothing definite. And there’s been some muttered talk about Cavallone.”

“Oh?” Welkin said. “He’s getting on in years, but doesn’t he have an heir?”

Dolce nodded. “Fifteen year old son. He’s still in one of the mafia-run schools. I’m hearing talk that the ninth’s health is starting to fail.”

Welkin nodded. “There’s still time for him to grow up more, perhaps get some personalized attention. Cavallone isn’t large enough to be a critical loss to the alliance, but it would be sad to lose a good family, or have it headed by someone wholly unprepared for the role.” He ate the last bit of lasagne on his plate and nabbed the final tomato in his salad, and set his fork down.

“We can hope,” Velo said. “Of course, if all the bad families up and vanished on us, we’d have to find new jobs.”

Shortly after that he was led into Welkin’s office and offered a seat while the Sky shuffled through paperwork. He made the most interesting faces while he read. He would think it was a quality of a Sky, that openness, but he had met a few who nearly always sported poker faces.

Eventually Welkin looked up and said, “I have two here that I don’t immediately think of other people for.” He slid two pieces of paper across the desk for him to look at.

One was a request for any information on who might be harrying the edges of Costante territory, and the other was somewhat similar to the original job he had been given. The Dritto Famiglia was having issues with their supplier for weaponry and suspected interference, but had been unable to track down the problem. “I’ll take this one,” he said, indicating the Dritto contract, “and if I can track it down fast enough, follow up with the other.”

Welkin nodded and took back the Costante paper. That went into a folder, which was filed in a drawer of the desk. He fished a different folder out and slid it over.

Fon went over everything carefully. The precis had enough information to go on to get the job done, but the folder contained everything Dritto knew and suspected, which was helpful. Thankfully he had a fantastic memory, honed through years of self-imposed training. Once he had it all set in his mind he closed the folder, laid the precis on top, and slid it all back. A short time later he was on his way.

*

Daemon took a seat on the edge of his desk and said, “So far my spies have not been noticed. I can’t tell if he’s oblivious, unable to sense them, or simply uncaring.”

Tsuna nodded.

“From what I can tell he’s not doing anything particularly unethical. He seems to be spending a lot of time trying to simultaneously create decoy puppets and Lorenzini’s box animal weapons. He has a prototype of his Green Mosca, but it’s a far cry from what you saw. He’s also working on optical camouflage, but I couldn’t tell what stage he was at with it.”

He snorted softly. “Yeah, and then he sent subordinates after any number of bosses and heirs, including me. But I don’t think that happened until—well, not for years.”

“From what I recall he will attempt to kill anyone who either tries to stop his experiments or resists, which doesn’t bode well. However, whatever he’s doing falls within the law, else the Vindice would have hauled him away already. Aside from his casual disregard for other people’s lives, the prisoners I saw were all flame-active and had in some way gone against him.”

“He’s probably using them to try to create the decoy puppets,” he observed, “but I seem to recall that Spanner and Irie helped him with the most recent versions. Same with Green Mosca. Maybe… Maybe I can send in an offer of patronage since I’m starting to rake in the money with those investments, and perhaps point him at Spanner? Er, no. Spanner is my age, I think. Same with Irie. He’s a year older?”

“Would you like me to write up a proposal?”

“Please. I learn a lot from going over how you word things.”

“You don’t exactly do bad on your own,” Daemon pointed out.

“I know. I certainly had experience. But you’re … a wordsmith.”

Daemon smirked with pleasure. “Consider it done.”

Daemon went off to do that and Tsuna headed out back to get in some more practice. He was still debating asking Fon if he would lend his expertise with martial arts. Reborn did not seem to be incredibly skilled with any of it that he was aware of, yet he could still launch himself around and use various moves. He would like to be able to utilize at least that measure of skill.

Hopefully his exercises, the ones Skull had introduced him to and that he continued to practice regularly, would keep him flexible and less prone to muscular strain and damage, enough for a foundation for martial arts, or at least acrobatics. He would simply have to broach the subject the next time Fon was at the house.

That evening after dinner Daemon presented him with a draft and he read it through, appreciating the silky smooth flow of words penned on the page. It somehow came across as being admiring, flattering, without being obsequious. The offer itself was simple. Regular funding in exchange for a percentage of profits on any inventions sold and the possibility of ideas or even fellow scientists being directed his way.

He rewrote it and got it prepared to send out.

A week later Fon was back in his office with the data for Dritto and was looking over the folder on Costante. Daemon walked in and dropped a letter on his desk, then settled into one of the side chairs.

The letter was from Verde and contained a single word answer: no. He sighed and handed it to Daemon. “It was a long shot anyway.”

Daemon snorted softly and handed it back, so Tsuna filed it away, noticing that Fon had a vague cast of curiosity to his expression as he read. “Verde refused our offer of funding.”

Fon looked up. “I cannot say I’m surprised.”

“No harm in having tried, I suppose.”

Fon did not immediately look back down. Instead he said, “Would you be interested in a little training?”

Well, that saved him the trouble of asking for some. “Yes.”

“Before I go we can go over your current routine, and I can guide you through the first of what you’d need to learn, something you can practice without supervision.”

He nodded. “I would appreciate that. Thank you.”

*

Skull came dashing into the kitchen and blurted out, “The Varia went nuts.”

Tsuna looked up from dicing onions. “What happened?”

“Xanxus led them on an assault of the Vongola base. It failed, apparently, and Xanxus has been imprisoned.”

“Vendicare?” he asked, even knowing it couldn’t be true.

Skull shook his head. “Internally. I wouldn’t want to be the poor bastard who had to bring him his meals and listen to the abuse I hear he hurls without a second thought.”

Tsuna wrinkled his nose. There was no reason to believe Nono hadn’t used Zero Point Breakthrough again to freeze Xanxus entirely, but it remained true if he had not that Skull’s opinion was something he shared. “Either way it sounds dangerous. The other Varia seem fairly tight with Xanxus. I imagine they’d try to break him out. Can Nono even trust them anymore?”

Skull shrugged. “Depends, but they are very good at what they do, and a valuable strategic resource. He could probably get by without them, but it would be an acute loss. The Varia is an odd organization. External, but still ultimately answering to Vongola. I’ve no doubt they go off on their own looking for and dealing with threats Nono might not be aware of, but they still get most of their assignments from him.”

He nodded and finished up his dicing, then tossed the onions in a pot to brown with garlic. “I don’t know if you’d be willing to talk about it,” he said hesitantly, “but…”

“What is it?”

“Well, how did you even get roped into this whole Arcobaleno thing?”

“How did you?” Skull countered.

He looked up from stirring the mixture to see that Skull looked genuinely curious. “I don’t know. I just woke up like this. One moment I was normal and the next I was flat on my back, waking up, tiny, with this pacifier around my neck. I was in a … special place, I guess. It had books about flames and history and … pictures of past Arcobaleno, kind of like a memorial. I learned what I could from the place and never went back. Didn’t see the point. For all I know it’s no longer there. What about you?” he asked, dumping in the tomatoes.

“I was contacted by a man in a checker-patterned mask and an iron hat. He managed to get into my safe house somehow. He told me all about this opportunity, that I’d been selected because I was one of the seven strongest in the world. I found out later he meant the strongest Cloud. He sent us off on a series of jobs. They were interesting, complicated, and varied. We had to work together to manage them, so all of our talents more or less came into play, and they paid really well. The final one…”

Tsuna looked up from stirring the sauce. Skull’s expression was twisted.

“We were bidden to climb a mountain in search of treasure. But when we got up there to the top, this bright light appeared, covered us, blinded us.”

“And you—”

“Yeah. Of course, we only ever communicated with Checker Face by letter after the initial visit he made to each of us. We had no way to find him after we realized what’d happened to us.”

“I’m still sorry you had your life ripped away from you,” he said softly, turning the heat down so the sauce could simmer on its own for a while. He put the lid in place and stepped down from the riser.

“So was yours, and you were—”

“Treated more kindly, perhaps,” Daemon said.

Tsuna jumped and clutched at his heart. “Please don’t startle me like that,” he said, noticing that his Mist was in adult form and Fon was also present. They had probably been listening the whole time and Daemon had stepped in to prevent Skull from blurting out Tsuna’s age in front of the Storm.

“What are you making?”

“Baked ziti—well, baked penne, actually,” he replied. “But not until the sauce has simmered for a few hours.”

Daemon snatched him up for a cuddle, causing Tsuna to wrinkle his nose. “Add some wine to the sauce? Please?”

“All the alcohol will get cooked out,” he complained, “so why bother?”

“It still adds a bit of flavor. Please? For me?”

He sighed. “Okay.”

Daemon dropped a kiss on the top of his head and set him back down. “I’ll go buy some!”

Tsuna watched him leave, shaking his head in bemusement. “Ciao, Fon. How are you?”

“I am well. Thank you for asking. I trust you are also well, and Skull.”

Fon was way too formal at times, he decided. “Skull was telling me that the Varia flipped out.”

“Oh? I wonder what prompted that,” Fon said. “I thought Xanxus was comfortable in his role there, especially considering he’s fourth in line as heir.”

“Well, he’s imprisoned now,” Skull said, “and I doubt he’d be considered even if it came to it, not after leading an assault on Vongola HQ. No idea what set him off, either.”

Tsuna stared up at the ceiling. He wondered if Daemon could get actual proof that Xanxus was adopted. It was entirely possible that Nono would do a much better job of hiding the information if Xanxus had been able to find it so easily. On the other hand, obtaining that would be a strike of sorts against Vongola, theft, and not a place he was entirely willing to go.

Fon broke him out of his thoughts by asking, “Do you sense something?”

“Hm?”

“Luce and her daughter have been known to possess a type of prescience. I wondered if perhaps it was a tendency in those potentially eligible for Sky Arcobaleno.”

“Oh. I was just thinking… I’ve seen pictures of Vongola Nono, his sons, and Xanxus doesn’t really resemble any of them. Maybe it’s just a quirk of genetics,” he said with a shrug. He stepped up onto the riser to peer through the clear lid and saw that the sauce was simmering nicely, so he shuffled off to the side so he could wash his hands, then step back down.

“Interested in some training?” Fon asked.

“Sure.”

*

He was watching a movie with Skull when Daemon breezed in wearing a secretive smile. He eyed his Mist as Daemon took a seat to join them, then said, “What have you done?”

“Just made some arrangements I expect will pay dividends in the near future,” was the coy response. Daemon snatched him up and gave him a hug, then set him back in his seat.

Tsuna was left wondering just what had caused his Mist to get so affectionate of late. “Okay,” he said slowly. “I’ll let you be all mysterious and wait patiently.”

Daemon laughed creepily and settled back to watch the movie.

Two days later a request came in from an unexpected source. Tsuna gawked at it and then blinked when Daemon snatched it up and said, “I’d like to take this one.”

Skull craned his neck trying to see what was on the paper, unsuccessfully.

Daemon laughed creepily again and swept out, leaving Tsuna to say, “The Cavallone Nono sent in a request.”

“What?”

He nodded. “Yeah. They’ve got an encroachment problem and they’re having a hard time figuring out where it’s coming from. I guess if his health is starting to decline he’s unable to be quite as … vigorous. And his guardians are probably leaning toward making sure nothing happens to him. I could see the whole system slipping because of that.”

“You think Daemon arranged for him to contact us.”

“Yep. I’m sure of it. I wonder, though,” he said, tapping the desk with his thumb. “Is this the opening move in then getting the Vongola to send us jobs? They probably pay well, and that means we’d have a cushion.”

“You seem to have plenty of money anyway,” Skull observed.

He smiled. “I do. And I’ll use it if necessary, if the brokerage fee I take for myself isn’t enough. I was considering buying this house from my friend.”

“And when am I going to get to meet this friend?” Skull asked curiously.

Tsuna stared at him in surprise. “You haven’t—no, I guess not. Wow.” He got out his phone and sent a quick text asking if Byakuran wanted to come for dinner, to meet Skull. He received confirmation a minute later, so he said, “He’ll be here tonight. Any preferences for dinner?”

“Um…” Skull stared hard at the floor in thought. “I could really go for a cheeseburger.”

“Okay,” he said agreeably. “Want to go shopping with me?”

Byakuran breezed in like he owned the place—he did, of course—and waved cheerily at Skull. “Ciao~! I’m Byakuran, but I also go by Dolce.”

“You’re so young?” Skull said in confusion.

“I’m special~!”

“I hope you like cheeseburgers,” Tsuna said, “and if not, pretend you do.”

“American, huh? Fries, too?”

Tsuna nodded. “I can start at any time.”

“Now’s good,” Byakuran said, then glanced at Skull.

“Yep.”

“Okay,” he said, and turned the oven on to pre-heat. He could have fried the potatoes, but that would have required actually purchasing equipment. As it was, he had cheated and bought frozen, seasoned, spiral-cut potatoes and intended to bake them, mainly because Skull had been drooling over them and he had no clue how to make them from scratch. The patties were already made up and waiting in the refrigerator, and he was using muffuletta for the bread.

While he waited for the oven he let Byakuran know about Daemon’s latest antics, which caused his friend to chortle merrily. “He’s so sly,” Byakuran said. “It’s quite the admirable trait.”

The oven beeped so he quickly spread some fries on a tray and slid them in, then prepared to start cooking, turning on two burners so he could heat pans both for the burgers and for the bread. “One slice or two?”

“Two,” they both replied.

A few minutes later he had bread and burgers both frying merrily, and not long after that they were sitting down to eat.

“So,” Byakuran said, “I’m betting you’re thinking that Daemon made this move to edge into the bigger fish of the alliance, with an eye toward Vongola.”

“More or less.”

“I think you’re probably right. There’s some measure of protection taking that route. You provide a valuable and reliable service… Vongola might even take this little family under their protective wing. You even bothered to come up with a family name?”

“Uh…” The idea had never occurred to him. “No. But if pressed I’d have to say Est.”

Byakuran shrugged.

*

He and Fon were doing tai chi side by side out back when his intuition kicked in hard and caused him to violently move left, pushing Fon aside. He spun around and struck with the kunai that formed in response to his intuition’s urgings. Seconds later he was staring down at two dead men. They were wearing optical camouflage suits.

“Damn it,” he swore, releasing the kunai. He grabbed his phone from the little table next to the back door and called Daemon. “Get home now. Out back. We have a situation. Yeah, Fon’s with me.” After he hung up he set the phone back down and went to investigate the bodies.

One of them still had a syringe clasped in his hand, which only added to the picture. “How the hell did he find me?” he muttered.

“Who?”

He exhaled slowly and looked over his shoulder. “Verde. These two worked for him. I can tell by the gear they’re wearing, though I didn’t realize he was that close to creating a working set. Apparently offering funding is an insult.” He swallowed hard against the rising sense of nausea.

Fon nodded slowly. “One of them seems to have a device of some kind,” he said, pointing.

Tsuna looked back and frowned. “That sort of looks like a Geiger counter.” He pressed a hand against his stomach.

“Are you injured?” Fon asked, coming to stand beside him with a look of obvious concern.

“My stomach is just…” He shook his head. “Need to figure—”

“What happened?” Daemon said angrily from behind them.

“Verde.”

Daemon came up beside him and snarled wordlessly.

“As I was saying, we need to figure out a response, something that doesn’t clue him in that I’m a fellow Arcobaleno.” He found himself being snatched up again and looked over carefully, then hugged close. “I’m okay. Unharmed, anyway,” he amended. He looked down and saw Fon staring blankly at the bodies.

After a squeeze Daemon set Tsuna down and murmured, “I will take care of the bodies. We can discuss this afterward.”

“I’m going to go sit down,” he said a bit faintly, then headed into the house to flop onto the sofa in the living room.

Fon followed and took a seat with him, then, surprisingly, reached out to take his hand and give it a squeeze.

Tsuna smiled, though it did not make it to his eyes. His free hand curled into a fist and he slammed it against the cushion. “I am so angry right now at being forced to kill.”

Fon squeezed again, then offered up the phone he had forgotten to collect. “You should probably let Skull know.”

He groaned and nodded, and took the phone when Fon released his hand. A text was sent out: urgent. lightning struck. return home. It took him far too long to actually type it because his hands were shaking. The phone went onto the coffee table and he sat back, suddenly exhausted.

“I’d like to harmonize with you,” Fon said quietly.

“Why?” he whispered, even as he felt the warmth blossom in his chest.

“Because you’re everything I want in a Sky.”

“Even though there’s so much you don’t know about me? How many secrets I’m keeping?”

“It’s a bit late to worry about that.”

He turned his head and said, “My name is Tsuna. I’ll be seven years old soon.”

Fon’s eyes went comically wide.

He exhaled slowly and rested his head against the back of the couch. “I’m a bloodline Vongola,” he said, reaching up to run a hand through his hair. “I’m missing, possibly presumed dead, because I left the country when my mother was murdered. That was when I harmonized with Skull and Daemon.”

“Velo?”

“Mm.” He laughed mirthlessly. “I really hope it doesn’t take death every time to… Because that’s kind of sick to think about.” He exhaled again and angled his head so he could see Fon. “Sorry you harmonized?”

“No,” Fon said with a faint frown. “I just wish… There wasn’t even any killing intent. If there had been I could have handled it.”

He shrugged. “I told you I was prepared to kill if necessary, but I appreciate the sentiment. Still angry I had to. A part of me is hoping that Daemon does something really disgusting.”

“I did.”

He sat up so he could look back. “Oh?”

Daemon smiled nastily. “Oh yes. It took a little work, but they fit into the box I prepared. I have constructs taking care of the delivery. More importantly, the moment I brought that device into your office it went wild.”

His brows rose as he got a sharp nudge from his intuition. “…The letter? He—he treated it somehow?”

“It’s the only thing I can think of. I hope you’ll forgive me when I say I retrieved it from your desk and sent it off with another construct, along with the folder, just in case the interior got tainted. Let him send more assassins and enjoy trying to find a secret base in the waters off Sicily.” Daemon came around and nudged the table back so he could kneel in front of the couch and give him a searching look. “You’re sure you’re unharmed? You’re not just saying that so I won’t worry.”

A genuine smile crept up. “I’m pissed off, but I’m unharmed. My intuition kicked in. If anything, I should be asking Fon if he’s all right. I kind of knocked him aside dodging the needle.”

“I’m fine,” Fon said.

“Well, if Fon is agreeable,” Daemon said, giving the Storm a look, “we can always set up a room in the house.”

“Yes,” Tsuna said. “If you’d like to make a home here with us…”

Fon smiled and nodded. “I would like that.”

“Tsuna, why don’t you lie down for a bit,” Daemon suggested. “I’ll take care of dinner tonight, okay? I’ll wake you for it.”

He heaved a sigh and nodded. He just hoped he could actually sleep without being subjected to nightmares. He’d had them after Byakuran’s death, but he had also been so much younger at the time. “Okay.”

*

He motioned to Fon to wait and went off to ensure that his Sky was situated, and even insinuated a mental compulsion to drop off. It would not guarantee Tsuna would stay asleep for any length of time, but he would fall asleep. Then he returned to the living room long enough to invite Fon to the kitchen with a gesture. The first thing he did there was pour himself a glass of wine, and one for Fon when he indicated interest.

“Skull is going to have a coronary,” he said, then sipped from his glass.

“He should already be on his way. How on Earth is our Sky not even seven years old?”

“That, my friend, is one of the very few things I cannot answer in any way which would satisfy you.” He was regretting his much earlier assertion that he’d known Tsuna for decades, but perhaps Fon would push it aside as him attempting to confuse him. “But as you’ve seen, he acts more like a fully grown man. It’s easier to just think of him that way.”

Fon frowned and had some of his wine. “His mother was murdered.”

“Yes. Since he already told you he’s bloodline Vongola, and since you harmonized… His full name is Sawada Tsunayoshi. He’s a potential heir. His mother was murdered by Estraneo, and they were in turn wiped out by Vongola. The only reason he stayed in Japan at first was because of his mother. He didn’t want to abandon her the way he felt his father had. Skull harmonized with him that same night. I did a few days later.”

“I take it he doesn’t get along with his father, then?”

Daemon shook his head. “Wants as little to do with him as possible. He’s got a deep grudge there. Can’t say I much care for the man, either.” He shrugged and drank more wine.

“Do you know why he contacted Skull first?”

“No, he never told me, never explained his reasoning. He was a little careless at first, when they started speaking on the phone, and Skull cottoned on to some discrepancies regarding his age. But once Skull knew that truth, Tsuna invited him to come visit. He warned me, just in case Skull decided to sell him out to Vongola about being an Arcobaleno. It all worked out fine, obviously.”

Fon nodded. “How do you know Tsuna?”

Daemon smirked. “I’ve known the family for a long time.” The sound of the front door slamming shut made him call out, “Kitchen!”

Skull buzzed in seconds later and flung himself into a seat. “What happened? Lightning struck? What the hell does that mean?”

“First,” he said calmly, “welcome your fellow guardian. Fon and Tsuna harmonized.”

Skull glanced at Fon long enough to nod, then shot a demanding look his way.

“Apparently Verde took exception to our offer of funding. The letter he sent back as a refusal was … treated in some way, we think. It could be tracked. He sent assassins.”

Skull yanked on his hair and shrieked, “What!?”

“Tsuna is sleeping,” he said repressively. “His intuition kicked in and he took both of them out. I chopped them into little pieces and boxed them up, and sent them off back to Verde as a message, plus got rid of that letter.”

“Okay, okay. My head believes you, but my heart needs to see for itself.”

Daemon nodded. “He’s in his room.”

Skull slid off his chair and ran out.

Daemon had another sip and said, “I’m glad that you offered to train Tsuna, even prior to harmonization. He’s been working for quite some time with his kunai—he came up with that idea on his own, though his companion may have had something to do with it—but I think the training Skull has already started him on and what you’re trying to teach him will all meld together into a certain style of great versatility.”

Fon’s brow furrowed; he looked as though he was trying to recall something.

Daemon was mildly surprised that the man’s expressions had opened up considerably simply through harmonization—or perhaps trust.

“I had not been aware that Iemitsu of CEDEF was bloodline.”

He nodded. It was risky telling Fon so much so early, but Tsuna had made the decision to open up, and he would not then try to make his Sky look bad in consequence. So… “Yes. When Vongola Primo stepped down—” And the less said about that the better. “—he moved to Japan, changed his name, and made a new life for himself. Tsuna is his direct descendant.

“Iemitsu is out of the running as an heir because he took over leadership of CEDEF. I could be mistaken, but it’s my belief that Nono would be adverse to dragging him in as heir should the need arise, simply because Iemitsu would have experience in a different kind of leadership, rather than what’s required for Decimo.”

Fon gave him an assessing look. “You said you’ve known the family for a long time. How old are you really?”

A question to be expected given his penchant for appearing at various ages, plus things he had said. “You are now my fellow guardian, and I want to be able to trust you the way I trust Skull. So I will answer. But know this: if you betray that trust I will make you regret it most keenly.”

Fon gazed at him steadily, his dark eyes giving away nothing.

“I was Mist Guardian for both Primo and Secondo, if that gives you an idea of my age.” He was impressed that Fon did not so much as twitch, not even a flicker of an eyelash.

“Does Tsuna know this?”

“Yes. He knows my dirty secrets. Skull doesn’t, but then he’s never found a reason to ask. But a lot of my past is relevant purely in relation to Tsuna, and so long as he’s satisfied so am I. When Tsuna came up with the idea of becoming an information broker I was the one to initially go out and dig up secrets or information we could try to sell. From that we’ve managed to get a steady stream of jobs legitimately.”

“I assume you’re primarily in charge of protection—of this house, anyway. I have yet to see anything like a standard alarm system.”

He nodded. “That’s why I think that refusal was treated in some way. A machine tracking whatever substance would not have been fooled by what I’ve done. It makes me wonder if I should alter the way we do things. Have a construct open requests so I can transfer the information to digital, then destroy the original request. Either that or come up with something like that machine to check for anything out of the ordinary.”

“I do not know as much about the Vongola as I now wish I did, but I have heard things,” Fon said. “What can I do to further assist in developing our Sky’s talents?”

Daemon smiled. “Continue with the tai chi, and into sparring. His power of intuition is a beautiful thing, but it’s best if he not rely on that to the detriment of skill. Now, we have several rooms available, as the house was chosen with an eye toward Tsuna gaining a full or mostly complete complement of guardians. Would you like to see them?”

He was shortly leading Fon into an area of the house he had not been invited to previously. He paused at Tsuna’s door to peek inside; Skull was cuddled up against Tsuna’s back. He nodded and pulled the door mostly closed again, then showed Fon the available rooms. Fon chose the closest unused room, so they repaired back to the kitchen, where he poured himself more wine.

“I will transfer my things tomorrow,” Fon said, reclaiming his partly-filled glass.

“Mm. Just a note. Tsuna likes to cook as something of a tribute to his mother’s memory. He’s not going to mind if you make suggestions. For—oh.”

“What is it?”

He got out his phone and sent off a text to Byakuran, then set the phone down in front of him. “Letting … Dolce … know.”

“Just who is Dolce?”

“I’ll let him tell you, since he’s an ally and not a part of this family. It’s even odds he’ll be here shortly. Fettuccine Alfredo tonight, I think. Something that isn’t reminiscent of blood or—” He broke off when his phone twittered and checked; Byakuran was already in a car. He had a sip of wine and got up to check their supplies.

*

He looked around his safe house, not really seeing any of it, but it was a place that held him in silence and helped him to think—allowed him to, even. Dolce was Byakuran, heir to the Gesso Famiglia. He had not explained how he knew Tsuna, but he was coming to understand that there was some secret the three of them held they were never prepared to share. He could live with that, uncomfortably.

From what he had overheard Tsuna saying about becoming an Arcobaleno gave rise to the idea that this … memorial … was the source of some of his knowledge. He doubted that any of the others had seen the place. So Tsuna knew things about the other Arcobaleno that normally would have required deep digging and ruthless effort.

Daemon was … intimidating, he admitted to himself as he packed up toiletries in a kit bag. If he spoke the truth of his age and experience, there was no telling what he could do, what horrors he could visit on people. There was always a faint aura of insanity surrounding the man, even in child form. But then, even Byakuran seemed tilted. There was a disconnect between emotion and understanding. He questioned, only in the recesses of his mind, what depth of empathy either of them was capable of.

But Tsuna seemed entirely normal, though far in excess of maturity for a mere child. Would that happen to anyone made Arcobaleno at such a young age? Had Tsuna not told him he would never have believed he could be that young. His Sky was impressive, though. Such a head for business, capable of killing, generally calm and collected. He would be a brilliant heir.

A rustling sound make him look down to see the net encasing his pacifier. Daemon had given it to him, along with an anklet. As he was now part of the family he was afforded the same advantages; having them was a sign of trust. Speaking of advantages, he could see where Daemon was coming from on the intuition versus skill issue, but he thought attempting to hone their Sky’s intuition would not be a mistake.

The kit bag was packed away and he started in on the clothing. Perhaps an entirely dark maze-like structure with ultimately harmless traps. If Tsuna’s intuition would kick in appropriately, to allow him to thread the maze, it might serve well in the future. He was a guardian and he would do his damnedest to ensure the safety and well-being of his Sky, but Tsuna should be capable of defending himself, too. He was, he had seen that in action, but they should never suffocate him with overprotectiveness.

Fon paused for a moment and pressed a hand to his chest, savoring the flower of warmth that resided inside. Every time he felt it it threatened to break through his reserve. The last of his clothing was packed away but for a few outfits as a just in case, and he moved on to Lichi’s things. He wondered if anyone would object to him installing a trellis of sorts up near the ceiling of his new room for his companion to play on.

*

“I think it sounds like fun.” Tsuna looked at Skull and Daemon to see their opinions.

“I’m not sure if it can be trained,” Daemon said slowly, “but I suppose there’s no harm in trying.”

“I think it’ll help,” Quince decided to comment.

He twisted around to stare at his companion. “Oh?”

“Tsuna?” Daemon said.

He waved a hand back that way.

“I think it’ll strengthen your connection to it, get you more accustomed to listening to it, and experience in the more subtle applications of its use.” Then Quince chittered in mild annoyance as Lichi stole one of his dates and bounded away with it.

Tsuna giggled quietly and turned back. “Quince is in favor.” Surprisingly—to him, anyway—he had no real issues with nightmares after the failed assassination. He held a mild suspicion that Daemon might have done something, but perhaps he was being unkind. Perhaps he really had resolved certain issues that in the past would have, and had, sent him spiraling off into fits of anxiety and depression. Perhaps he really had accepted that some people deserved it, that self-defense was a valid resort.

Even in the past he had been prone to fits of anger about it—people like Mukuro and his view of other people as mere toys for him to play with, torment, and kill. Byakuran. Some could be turned, made to see another viewpoint. Some could not. Reborn had never managed to get that through his head. He would just say things like how he was too kind, sometimes.

Training his intuition might result in being forewarned much earlier, on much more subtle whispers of unease. Maybe his mo—he closed his eyes for a moment, willing himself to stay calm. “What would it take?”

“And what would we use?” Skull asked. “Noodle swords? Whiffle bats?”

“Pressure plates that set off spring-loaded traps,” Fon said. “I could see the use of foam. It might sting if it connected, but would do no lasting harm.”

“Is this property large enough to do something, or would we need to look into purchasing?” he asked. “I can’t really see us bringing in a crew to dig us an underground maze.”

“I would say bring you into one of the family training grounds,” Byakuran said, “but I don’t think we want that much notice on you. However, I know of a few warehouses we currently have empty, and I could appropriate one of them.”

“Well, considering how short Tsuna is, we could have a multi-level maze,” Daemon said, smirking.

Tsuna scowled at him. “And maybe you should have to run it, too, while blindfolded.”

“Not a bad idea,” Quince said, causing him to twist around again. “For you, I mean. Though watching Daemon stumble around sightlessly would be amusing.”

He snickered and turned back.

“Still, at some point,” Byakuran said, looking at him, “you might want to consider purchasing a small manor house. Have it modified to suit long-term use, and Daemon can always tinker with memories after the fact to ensure any workers forget about the place.”

“So, short term, use the warehouse, but I should go over the finances to see what I can swing. You’re still comfortable with it being in Gesso territory?”

“Of course, Tsu-kun~!”

“I’ll start looking around,” Daemon said, “get some prospects ready for you to look at. We can check them out, debate safety issues, construction, and prices.”

He wasn’t entirely keen on the idea of moving, again, but he could see where Byakuran was going with the line of thought. The house was large enough for all of them, but if he added more guardians, even with rooms for them, the place would become almost uncomfortably crowded. And in the end there simply was not enough room to properly train. It would give them a chance to put in far more comprehensive security, set aside room for supplies, arms, and things of that nature.

He had never had a home of his own. This wasn’t his home. Before it had been his mother’s home, far more so than … his. And as Decimo, it was the Vongola mansion. It was a nice thought, a home for himself, for his family.

*

Tsuna was busy whacking splicers in inventive ways when Daemon strode in and cleared his throat. He quickly exited the game and gave his Mist his attention.

“Verde had a massive temper tantrum once he realized what happened to his two assassins. His prototype Green Mosca is so much scrap metal at the moment. But after that he calmed down again quickly and started muttering about improving the suits. I think he believes they failed in some way during the attempt such that non-children could see his men.”

“Well, there’s no way I’m ever going to attempt to…” He trailed off. “If I get a Lightning Guardian, it won’t be him. His response to something essentially innocent was so far outside reason to me. Yes, I had an ulterior motive, but not to his detriment. He has a brilliant mind, so I’d have been disappointed in an abstract way if the relationship never developed to that point, but not upset, not without knowing him better. But this…”

Daemon nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out for any potentials, but I won’t make it a priority. Sometimes things just happen as they will.”

*

He rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he wandered into the kitchen in order to see about getting breakfast ready, but stopped dead in the doorway. His guardians were gathered around the table and a cheesecake was waiting there, topped with raspberries and drizzled with sauce. “Oh. It’s that time again?” He drifted over to the table and hopped up onto one of the seats.

Skull cut a slice and plated it, then slid it over to him with a fork. “Yes. Happy birthday, Tsuna.”

“An odd breakfast,” he replied with a smile.

“We weren’t sure we could surprise you again the same way,” Daemon said, “so we figured we’d start early.”

“How come we never celebrate anyone else’s?” he asked, watching as Skull deftly got everyone set up with a slice.

“You’re still young enough,” Fon said.

Tsuna shook his head. “No. You say happy birthday, but doesn’t that mean, ‘I’m happy to have had another year with you’? Or something like that.”

Fon looked down briefly. He wasn’t the only one. Daemon coughed quietly and said, “I don’t remember my birthday.”

Tsuna gave him a sad look. “March, the twentieth, then.”

“Going for symbolism?” Daemon commented with raised brows, then nodded.

He nipped off the point of his cheesecake once everyone had been served and began to enjoy his treat. It was just as delicious as the last time. When he finally set down his fork a small, unwrapped box was pushed his way by Daemon. He pushed the lid off and set it aside; inside was a ring. It was just a simple band with no crest, but the outer surface looked cracked, like the drained and dry bed of a river. He looked up at Daemon and said, “Is this what I think it is?”

“An Earth ring, yes.”

“Wow,” he breathed. “I’d forgotten about that. Thank you.”

“An Earth ring?” Fon questioned.

“You are aware of Flames of the Earth?”

Fon shook his head.

“There is only one family I know of, but I suppose there’s the odd person roaming about,” Daemon said. “I determined some time ago that it was possible for me to use rings attuned to those flames—even other Flames of the Sky—and managed to get my hands on one for Earth, for Tsuna to try. I could be mistaken, but it’s my belief that anyone powerful enough could learn to channel power through them.”

“It’s not a factor of Mist Flames?” Fon persisted.

Daemon shrugged. “We shall see, I suppose. But you must also consider that Tsuna is a Sky, and the base property of his flames is harmony. That alone may see him capable of wielding a flame not his own, simply because he may instinctively understand it.”

Fon rubbed his chin thoughtfully and nodded. “What property does Earth hold?”

“Gravity manipulation.”

Skull suddenly looked a bit sick. “I can think of some horribly effective uses for that.”