Grazhir :: Crossover :: Welkin :: 05

05: 2008

Tsuna made sure the blindfold was comfortable and blocked his sight before setting out cautiously. One hand was lightly touching the wall to help guide him, and he was trying his best to “listen” to some nebulous sense, his intuition. He was certain he was not succeeding when he was thwapped in the face with a foam bat and nearly knocked off his feet.

He just knew his guardians, who were watching using night vision technology, were laughing at him. Byakuran had come through after a few months of effort and turned the warehouse over to them for the time being. Work on the house they had agreed on had started, but it would be months before it was ready. They had hashed out any number of plans regarding the property they purchased and Daemon had a number of spies there keeping an eye on the workers.

He edged around a corner and had his legs knocked out from under him, ending up nose to the floor, and cursed quietly. He ought to try harder, but it was so easy for his mind to drift off into thinking about various things when he couldn’t see. He got back up, huffed, and touched the wall again. Part way down the hall—he assumed it was one, anyway—he felt a vague sense of unease and paused, unsure how to respond.

A tentative step forward increased the intensity, so he pulled his hand away from the wall and shuffled sideways. That helped, but as he started forward again he had to stop. He shuffled sideways again and bumped into a wall, so he reached out to steady himself. Further progress forward was fine.

He did fine for some time, then stepped into a shallow pool of water. The sudden difference in height saw his backside hit the floor after he wobbled uncertainly and his knee bent against his will. That made him wonder if the maze was currently trapped in segments, with different sorts of traps in each one.

He was not supposed to “cheat” by tapping ahead with a foot or using his hands for anything other than balance. Nor was he supposed to figure out ways to use his flames to accomplish something similar. He had no idea how useful his infravision would be, but that was also off the list. And on that note he stumbled into another shallow pool, but managed to keep his balance.

It took six mistakes for his intuition to start prompting him, causing him to wonder if the famed Vongola talent did not consider embarrassment to be worth worrying about. Naturally, it was about then that the traps changed again, as he realized when something landed on his head. A sack, perhaps, filled with something just heavy enough to be uncomfortable and make his knees wobble in reaction.

It took three more instances for his intuition to kick in, which gave him a sense of relief. In no time at all after that he was at a dead end and felt around for some hint. A knob made itself known, so he turned it and opened what was obviously a door.

“Well done,” Fon said.

Tsuna removed the blindfold and blinked rapidly against the light. “It seems to be working,” he ventured.

“Not immediately,” Skull piped up, “but it’s almost like it’s learning?”

“Good thing we prepared multiple corridors, then,” Daemon said, “with various configurations. Take a short break, then we can try another. How many in a day depends on how tiring this ends up being for you.”

He nodded and accepted a juice box.

*

They were sightseeing in Rome—for all the time Tsuna had spent in Italy in either life, he had never been—when he saw something that made him stop and gawk. The young man in question noticed and wandered over. “Hey, little man. Is something wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Tsuna swallowed and peered up at the guy, a dead ringer for Lambo but for the eyes; his were blue. “Are you real?” he whispered.

The man crouched down and held out his hand, an amused look on his face.

Tsuna took it, almost surprised to feel warm flesh, and looked wonderingly back at the man’s face. It finally hit him who it must be: Romeo. He vaguely remembered that one night at the cemetery, when he learned that Bianchi had killed an ex-boyfriend of hers, how the man had tried to take revenge in spirit form.

“What’s your name?”

“Um…” His guardians realized he was no longer with him at that point and hastened over. “Sora,” he chirped.

“Sora, huh? Well, I’m Romeo. Is this your family?”

Tsuna nodded.

“So why the funny look?”

“You … remind me of someone I once knew.”

Romeo chuckled, obviously not believing a word, not coming from someone who looked all of two years old. “Well, it was nice to meet you. Unfortunately, I do need to get going. You have fun, okay?”

“Okay,” he said and beamed an innocent smile.

Romeo got back up, gave a little wave, and wandered off.

Tsuna immediately frowned. Was it wrong of him to want to save the man’s life? He was—he had been twenty-one when he died? He turned to Daemon and lifted his arms in a wordless demand. Daemon promptly picked him up, so Tsuna whispered, “Can you track him for me?”

Daemon nodded and said, “Are you tired?”

He shook his head. “A little hungry, though. Skull? Fon?”

“I could go for something,” Skull replied, looking confused. Fon looked vaguely suspicious, but nodded agreeably.

Daemon set him back down and led the way to a café, got them situated at a table. It wasn’t until they had their orders that Tsuna said, “I don’t expect any of you to understand, but… I’m super curious about that guy.”

Daemon gave him a knowing look, though it remained to be seen if he had any knowledge of Romeo as opposed to Lambo. The resemblance to Lambo, and Lampo by extension, should have piqued his curiosity.

“I want to know more about him.” He bit into his cannolo and hummed in pleasure, then frowned again. Seeing Romeo reminded him of Bianchi, which reminded him of Hayato. There were gaps and fuzzy spots in his memory from his past life, but he did know that some time after Hayato had turned eight he found out about his illegitimacy and ran away—to Shamal, perhaps?

Either way, Bianchi had, at some point, claimed to have gone out with Romeo. He had died of food poisoning. Romeo’s spirit had accused her of the deed. But if Bianchi had then allegedly become Reborn’s girlfriend—he shuddered. She couldn’t have been more than fourteen or fifteen at the time, which was just sick to contemplate.

He admired Bianchi’s nerve, talent, and constancy, but her habit of hooking up with older men and her tendency toward obsession… Maybe Romeo wasn’t at fault? Maybe he had tried to stay away from her, but she was obsessed with him…? Hopefully Daemon could find out the truth.

As for Hayato, he was not sure what to do. Hayato also had issues with obsession, not to mention trust. He honestly could not see taking in a seven year old boy and training him up to be a reliable, skilled mafioso. He was back to the same issue as before. Did he meddle? Did he let this world sort itself out for the most part?

Skull laid a hand on his arm. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.” He had a sip of his milk and asked about what they could visit next.

It was not until both Skull and Fon had gone off on jobs that he was able to speak openly with Daemon. The need for secrecy upset him and made him feel guilty, but… He shook his head at the thought.

“It’s amazing how much he resembles them.”

Tsuna nodded and related what he knew. “But who knows how much of that applies here?”

“Why do you care?”

He shrugged. “I’m not sure. I was just so surprised, seeing his face, and it brought up a lot of memories. It reminded me that not only was he poisoned to death, but that Bianchi may be a problem if I try to bring Reborn into the fold. He was tutoring Dino during the time period when she became an issue, because I recall Dino telling me she kept trying to kill him.”

“I see. Well, I have a spy on him. As for Bianchi, I can force changes there, should it be needful, but you know what that means.”

He grimaced. “I guess we can table the issue of Bianchi until later, when I’m ready to make that move.”

“And Hayato?”

“I have no idea,” he said with a sigh. “We were close, I guess, we trusted each other, but… The only reason he ever found an in to the mafia, got taken seriously, was because Reborn decided he’d be my Storm. No one would take him seriously before that, not even his own father. It’s not my place to say whether or not he involves himself for real with the mafia, but—”

“You’re right,” Daemon interrupted, “it’s not. Because even if you interfere, he may still end up as a working part of a family, and not necessarily a good one. It depends on how desperate he gets. The memories I obtained say he never even used his flames until you went to the future. Before that it was all dynamite. Now that’s understandable, up to a point. He already is mafia, though. He was born to it, and was aware of it. If you aren’t willing to take him on yourself in some way, the most you can do is find a decent family that can be convinced to take him in and train him.”

His eyes watered at the thought of what his once-friend might be driven to in order to find acceptance. “He has so much potential,” he whispered. “He’s an amazing pianist, he’s so smart…”

“There’s still the issue of what he wants.”

Tsuna drew his legs up and wrapped his arms around them, resting his chin on his knees. “Will you try to find him and keep an eye on him? If he’s getting into trouble, maybe we can cut some kind of deal with a family we do business with, or make an offer of some kind contingent on him attending school and … I don’t know.”

Daemon nodded. “I will do so. But I want you to remember that even if you do bring him in, it’ll never be the same relationship. He’s not the same person. You’re no longer the same age. He won’t be your Storm, he’ll be a Storm. Don’t paint a nice pink glaze over your memory and delude yourself, Tsuna. It’s not fair to either of you.”

Fair enough, even if he was loathe to admit it. “I don’t even know why he’s so different. I don’t feel that way about Takeshi or Ryohei. I guess because they had family members they were close to without the same complications, and they had support. I can’t count Bianchi, because she didn’t even seem to notice or care just how much damage she’d done, even if she did care about him as her brother. You’d think after watching him repeatedly keel over on seeing her face she would have…”

“You identify with him more because of your own father.”

His brow furrowed. “Maybe I do.” After a sigh he uncurled and sat properly, then pulled the file of pending requests over.

*

With the inclusion of training for both his intuition and Earth ring to his already regular schedule of tai chi and Sky Flame practice, his days were full and tended to blend together. Requests continued to come in and they picked up a sparse handful more clients, but not so much that they were struggling to keep up.

Two months of surveillance brought about the news that Romeo was a freelancer who frequently masqueraded on jobs as a delivery person. Romeo had something of a gift for talking his way into short-term stints with various companies all so he could legitimately get onto a property. Tsuna wondered if that was how he had originally met Bianchi.

“I’ve never witnessed him using flames, but he tastes like Lightning.”

“Huh.” Tsuna propped his head against a fist. “Somehow I’m not surprised. It’s stupid of me to do, but I keep imagining him as an older Lambo, just maybe without the cowardice.” He pulled the pending folder closer and flipped it open. Careful perusal of the available jobs highlighted one of interest. “He might want to stay a freelancer, but I don’t see the harm in testing him with the odd job. Someone that naturally smooth could be an asset.”

Daemon stole the job specs from him and read it through, saying, “Well, not everyone with active flames even uses them for jobs. Even so, he seems to be using the concept of them in terms of drawing attention away from the real goal, which is in his favor.”

*

Romeo idly flipped through his mail, setting the bills aside. The high quality envelope sandwiched between two letters caught his attention. Center back had an engraved address, but no name, just an odd compass rose with the right spike shaded orange. He grabbed a knife and carefully slit it open and slid out the contents.

“A job offer?” he muttered. “Who the hell are these people and how did they find me?” He set the letter down to fetch himself a soft drink and reclaimed his seat. A prickling sense of paranoia stalked up his spine as he thought about how whoever they were had been surveilling him for months and he had never noticed. “They’re good, but I am officially creeped out now. But…” He sipped his drink and sat back, glancing at the letter. “This is their first overt move. If they’d wanted me dead they could have done it easy, I guess. Maybe they’re picky and I meet some criteria? Shit. No pressure, right?”

In the end he set it aside and, in the face of other jobs, forgot about it entirely until a second missive came in. When he saw that symbol on the back he grimaced before opening the letter. “Another offer. Shit.” He went to the phone and dialed. “Yo, Shamal. You got time?”

“Well, I am kinda—”

“Man, look. I got something here I have no idea what to do with. I was hoping we could meet and maybe you’d have some clue.”

He heard an aggrieved sigh. “Fine. Meet me at the piazza. And you better be buying.”

Romeo rolled his eyes and hung up, then set out. Shamal was already waiting when he arrived at the little café bordering the square, so he slid into a seat. After being served he laid the two envelopes on the table and slid them over. “You recognize that symbol?”

Shamal grabbed the top envelope and stared at the back, then dropped it on the table. “Information broker, fairly recent, so I don’t know much about them, just rumors.”

“Which are?”

Shamal shrugged. “Rumor says they don’t deal with the shadier side of things, but I don’t know how accurate that is. Maybe they’re getting enough business and are looking to expand.” He waved a hand around carelessly and sipped his espresso.

“No name?”

Shamal shook his head as he eyed a young woman walking by, an appreciative smile curving his mouth. “Just ‘Est’ is all.”

‘I guess that explains the symbol to some degree,’ he thought, and flagged down the server to pay the bill. “Thanks, man,” he said to Shamal, then got up.

“I don’t get a full meal?” Shamal complained.

“Yeah, right. For that little amount?” He rolled his eyes and returned home. At the very least he was somewhat reassured regarding the offers. Shamal cited rumor, but Shamal was much higher up in the skeletal hierarchy of freelancers, and had regular access to better information. The man claimed Reborn as a friend of sorts, for heaven’s sake! That was high class, rank S-level of cool.

He heaved a sigh and got out some supplies to write a letter with, wishing this Est person or organization used email, but understanding the value of dead drops or the equivalent. What he got back was a simple enough job. They wanted the layout of a particular machine shop. He slid into a job with one of their suppliers long enough to make some deliveries and have some time to poke around.

Romeo had no clue why they wanted the information, but the completed map was sent back and he received a card with information on it for a temporary holding account. Along with it was a request to investigate the raw materials they were using and, if possible, records regarding those materials. He frowned until he saw the second sheet, which let him know that a client ordering from the shop was receiving substandard work, and the goal was to determine if it was the shop’s fault or if they were being scammed by their suppliers.

“I’m starting to feel like a detective,” he muttered, but nodded. It all still seemed aboveboard, so he prepared for round two. He still couldn’t tell if he was being watched the whole time and that creeped him out in a major way, but he didn’t allow the feeling to interfere with his work.

*

“Huh. Just a single machinist pulling a scam,” Tsuna said. “Well, whatever. It’s up to the client to decide how to handle that.” He wrote up a report and tossed it in the out-box, updated his database, and printed off a card for Romeo.

“He seems skilled,” Fon commented. “Are you considering him as a guardian? You do seem rather taken with him.”

Tsuna wrinkled his nose. “That makes it sound like I like him.”

Fon smiled. “Sure you don’t think he has—what was the term?—cooties?”

He blew a flat raspberry at his Storm. “Keep that up and I’ll send you to infiltrate a daycare facility with Daemon as your daddy. And I don’t know. I understand and accept the role of a Lightning Guardian, but we deal in information.”

“And you’ve been attacked already.”

“By a—” He could not think of a good word.

“And that you took care of. A special case … perhaps. But how many is Daemon fending off on his own? I’m not sure you understand how this feels from the heart of a guardian, Tsuna. When it’s just one of us here, the others worry. I know that Skull needs his time away, it’s just the nature of his flames, despite how happy he is to spend time with you and us.”

He huffed a laugh. “You, too, huh? Are you suggesting I give him serious consideration for that? Because I’m kind of dense at times and I don’t always get subtlety.” He still didn’t know what he felt about Romeo. Some of the time the very idea almost felt like a betrayal of the boy he never gave an honest chance to, but other times he agreed that a Sky needed the bands of his personal rainbow filled with vibrant colour. “I never have considered myself a social person.”

Fon’s brow went up. “Yes.”

Right. “For now I’ll just keep sending jobs his way. He may eventually become curious enough to ask.”

“Like myself? Like Skull?”

He nodded. “Want to help me go over what’s available and pick something for him?” He was interested to see what Fon might choose. It would give him some idea of his Storm’s thoughts without directly asking.

*

“You do realize we’re being followed, yes?” Fon said quietly.

“That white van with the tinted windows?” he replied. “The one straight out of a cliché? I had no idea going out for gelato would be so exciting. Wanna bet on it? Human trafficking, pedophiles, child pornography?”

Fon coughed. “When you say things like that I almost forget just how young you really are. So how do you want to handle this? Innocently wander down an alley?”

“I’ve never run across a situation like this before,” he admitted. “I mean, they could be anyone, right? If they aren’t mafiosi…”

“Worried about the Vindice?”

“Yes,” he replied, trying to remain relaxed. “I know the police is never an option.”

“So long as they make the first move it doesn’t matter. We can either kill them for their presumption or let Gesso know what’s going on in their territory. I’ll have to sit you down to make sure you’re straight on the laws, though.”

Tsuna smiled a bit sheepishly. “Yeah, not a bad idea. Well, I’d rather play bait for this bunch than let some actual children be harmed, so let’s head down that alley coming up. I wonder if they’re picking on us because we’re Asian.”

Fon pulled his phone out as they rounded the corner and kept a discreet watch in the reflection from the cover’s screen. “Three of them,” he whispered.

He looked down for a second in lieu of a nod and Fon put his phone away. Tsuna could hear quiet footsteps coming up behind them, out of sync with each other. The hair on the back of his neck rose as they got closer and he had to push down the desire to shudder. Then a hand came down to grab his hair and pull his head back. He caught of whiff of chemicals from the left.

Just as kunai formed in his hands and he was turning to attack he spotted someone at the end of the alley. But then he was stabbing into the side of the knee of the man who had him, though it cost him some hair when his attacker went down. He followed it up by launching himself off the man’s groin so he could stab the second one in the thigh.

Fon had knocked one out and joined him in taking down the third. The witness came rushing down the alley; Tsuna pivoted, ready to attack again, but relaxed when he realized it was Romeo and turned back to the attackers. Fon was ensuring all three were unconscious, so he released his kunai and pulled out his phone and dialed. After two rings it was picked up.

“Ciao~!”

“Yo, got a problem,” he said, turning back so he could eye Romeo, who looked comically confused. “Three men just attacked me. No idea if they’re active or not, but it’s your territory, so…”

“Where are you?” Byakuran demanded. “Are you alone?”

“No, I’m not,” he said and gave the location. “They’re knocked out at the moment. Got a van back on the street they were following us in.”

“I’ll be there in … ten. Ciao.”

He flipped his phone shut and held it loosely.

“What the hell,” Romeo said. “I know you. I remember you. It was in Rome.”

He gave a little wave. “Ciao, Romeo. You have a good memory.”

“It’s Sora, right?”

“Um… Yeah, Sora.”

Romeo frowned at him.

“This is Arashi,” he said, nodding at Fon.

The frown stayed on Romeo’s face as he said, “And these three?”

Tsuna shrugged. “Dunno, but they were going to chloroform us and who knows what next.” He pointed at the cloths that had dropped to the ground. “We got it covered.”

“You say that like I’m going to walk away,” Romeo retorted. “Who are you really?”

He exchanged a look with Fon. “Not really relevant at the moment,” he said. “If you want to stick around that’s fine. It shouldn’t be too long.”

“I think I’ll stick around long enough to make sure you two get home okay.”

“Because we’re two helpless little kids?”

Romeo made a rude noise. “Yeah, right.”

“I am fairly certain you ruined this one’s knee,” Fon commented, eyeing the wound.

Tsuna shrugged. “Maybe he’ll learn something from the experience,” he said a bit unfeelingly. At least neither of them was in danger of bleeding out, not with having been stabbed with solid flames.

Right about then he heard the sound of a motorcycle; it squealed around the corner and jerked to a stop. Byakuran jumped off and dropped the stand, then stalked over. “My people are a few minutes behind me,” he said, then gave Romeo a look. “And who are you?”

“Romeo.” He looked a bit weirded out at a pre-teen questioning him like that.

“Right,” Byakuran said dismissively. “You searched them at all?”

Tsuna shook his head. “You got anything?”

Byakuran grinned and produced a bag of marshmallows. “Always~!”

He grabbed a handful and started munching. Reaction was setting in with the adrenaline wearing off and he wanted a pick-me-up. They waited in companionable silence, though Romeo shifted restlessly, and a car pulled up a few minutes later at the near end of the alley.

Four men in suits stepped out and headed their way. They efficiently tied the men up and hauled them off to be dumped in the back of the van, as well as collected the cloths. Two men got into the van and drove off while the other two returned to their car and departed.

“I’ll walk back with you,” Byakuran declared.

Tsuna nodded and they set off, his friend wheeling his bike, and Romeo following along behind with Fon.

“You called…?”

“Not yet.”

Byakuran shook his head slowly and laughed. “That’ll be fun.”

The remainder of the walk passed in silence, and it was not until they arrived that an awkwardness descended over the company, due entirely to Romeo. Fon simply raised a brow when Tsuna looked his way and Byakuran grinned. He heaved a sigh and said, “Would you like to come in?”

Romeo stared at him. “Yes, actually.”

“Okay,” he said with a shrug, and continued on in. He headed straight for the kitchen and got drinks for everyone, then hopped up onto a seat and got his phone out again. Daemon picked up on the first ring. “Hey, uh, had an incident.”

Daemon snarled softly. “You’re all right?”

“Mm. Home at the moment. I—”

“It can wait,” Daemon interrupted. “I’ll be home shortly.”

Tsuna stared at his phone when his Mist hung up on him. “I don’t think he’s happy.”

“Is it relevant now?” Romeo asked pointedly.

“Why do you want to know? I know I’m precocious and all, but…”

“You were a real cute kid when I saw you the first time, but what I saw you and your friend here do a little while ago…” He huffed a cynical laugh. “You’re active, Sora.”

“I’m very active. I take my exercise very seriously,” he said innocently.

Byakuran raised a hand over his mouth that completely failed to hide that he was laughing.

Romeo pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fine. You’re mafia.”

Tsuna gasped and leaned forward to whisper, “How did you guess?”

Daemon strode in looking like a thundercloud to snatch him up and check him over. Once he was satisfied he stole the seat and kept Tsuna in his arms. “What the hell happened?”

Fon sighed. “Three men were following us in a white van. We decided to deal with it. They’re in custody right now,” he said, angling his head toward Byakuran.

“And you,” Daemon said to Romeo. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I was walking past an alley and happened to glance down it, saw these two about to get snatched. They took care of it, though, before I could get close enough to even help.”

“And I suppose Quince was here.”

“You know he prefers to sleep during the day,” Tsuna replied.

Romeo brushed his hair back off his forehead. “Who are you people? I know you’re mafia. Normal people don’t produce weapons like that out of nowhere, never mind two year olds.”

Tsuna leaned forward again. “Okay. Have it your way. I’m one of your employers.”

Romeo gave him a skeptical look.

“The first job I sent you on involved suspicions regarding a machine shop. You sent back the layout, then determined that one of the workers was pulling a scam.”

“Holy shit,” Romeo whispered. “No way. You’re a baby!” He ran a hand through his hair again, then his jaw dropped. “Wait a minute.” He looked at Fon, then Tsuna. “Are you like that Reborn guy I hear so much about?”

“What have you heard?” Fon asked.

“He’s little, like you two, but everyone calls him the world’s greatest hitman. He’s like a legend. I’ve never actually seen him, but Shamal knows him. They’re friends of a sort, he says.”

“Trident Shamal. Yeah, I know of him,” Tsuna said. So Romeo knew of Reborn, but not Arcobaleno? How odd. It was bad enough Romeo had witnessed anything unusual. If he said anything to Shamal, the odds of it getting back to Reborn were high. “Oh, there’s something I wanted to get from my room,” he said and looked at Daemon expectantly.

Daemon promptly stood up and began to leave the room with him. Tsuna looked back at his two friends and mouthed, “Keep him here.” Down the hall he whispered, “Damage control? I was really surprised that he happened to be there. You know I deal better with potentially fatal surprises and not ones like this.”

“You’re actually giving me permission to tinker with an ally’s mind?”

“I kind of think it’s probably necessary,” he said reluctantly. “Just enough that he doesn’t talk about any of this to anyone outside the situation.”

Daemon nodded, then created an illusory teddy bear and offered it to him with a smirk. He wrinkled his nose and accepted it, wedging it between him and Daemon. Back in the kitchen Daemon reclaimed his stolen seat.

“Well,” he said, “now that you know a little bit more about one of your employers, are you still willing to be employed by me?”

“Uh…” Romeo stalled by taking a sip of his soda. A few sips later he said, “You’ve never given me a job I was uncomfortable with. I’m not exactly highly sought after so the jobs I’ve been doing for you have been a great help financially. So yes.”

“Are you willing to consider working for me exclusively?”

“So long as you can keep up at least as much as you’ve been sending my way, yes.”

“Will you keep your mouth shut about me? This house? My friends?”

“Considering that I’d probably end up with a serious case of dead if I didn’t…”

Tsuna said, “Well, Omertà exists for a reason. So, okay, finish up any outstanding jobs you have with other people. I will give you a phone number you can use—it’s to one of the spare phones I keep handy. Also, you’re invited to have dinner with us here once a week, or really, any day you drop by to pick up jobs.”

Romeo blinked. “Are you usually this cozy with agents?”

“There are only four of us, five including you. It’s like a family.”

“Oh. Is your name really Sora?”

“It is right now,” he said teasingly. “So, you know Arashi. My white-haired friend here is Dolce. And this—” He patted Daemon’s arm fondly. “—is Kiri.”

After Romeo left a few minutes later Byakuran raised a brow at Daemon, who smiled. “I planted a compulsion in his head to keep quiet. We’ll know if he tries to go against it if he starts getting headaches. But nothing I’ve seen so far in my surveillance of him suggests he would talk. He’s got a sweet deal with us, steady work. He’d be a fool to blow it just to ask impertinent questions. And if he is a fool, I’ll wipe parts of his memory, and then go after anyone he spoke to.”

He nodded, not entirely happy, but he had been the one to prompt his Mist to the action. He had to put the protection of himself and his guardians first, and his friends. Byakuran could take care of himself, he knew, but he was still a close and trusted friend, even if not close in the way of his relationship with his guardians.

Over the following months Romeo was a regular feature at the house. Tsuna was amused that his potential Lightning soon enough forgot to treat him as his appearance suggested and instead assumed he was as much of an adult as Reborn must be. Whenever Fon was at the house rather than off on a mission he would pull Tsuna aside for an hour at a time and teach him about mafia law and how it applied to the Vindice.

The second time Romeo showed up for dinner Daemon started in. “So what would you say your strengths are?” he asked.

Romeo looked surprised by the question, but readily enough said, “Infiltration, mostly. I can handle myself in a basic fight, but I’m not well-connected enough to get real training. I learned what I know on the streets.”

That caused Tsuna to frown in thought. Even if Romeo didn’t see it that way, he was responsible for the young man now, and training fell under that. If he ever wanted to be more versatile Romeo would have to make an effort to learn, and Tsuna needed to be the one offering. He could take what he had learned from Skull and Fon and pay it forward with Romeo.

“You ever killed anyone?” Daemon asked bluntly.

Romeo blinked and shook his head. “Never needed to.”

“Are you opposed to it?” Daemon asked just as bluntly.

“…If it came to it,” Romeo replied, “a choice between my life or my attacker’s? I’d do my damnedest to take him out.”

“You’ve been very effective so far,” Tsuna said, “but I’m offering you the option to become more effective. I will train you.”

That Romeo looked only mildly skeptical was to his credit.

“I know of families who start training their children to be assassins as early as three years old,” he continued, thinking mainly of Bovino and Estraneo. “It’s to your benefit to know how to handle small opponents. We have to make up for issues like reach in other ways, and you might not be expecting those. I take care of my people.”

“And they take care of you,” Skull muttered.

Tsuna flashed him a grateful smile and nodded. “That you do. We’re a family.” They were a Family, too, but that wasn’t as important to him. After all, being the head of a Family led people like Nono to think it was all right to use experimental and untested techniques on mere children. Not so bad as Estraneo, but still not good. To Romeo he said, “You’re usually on a job for part of the week, but I think we can manage at least two days a week for training.”

Romeo seemed a bit conflicted, but eventually nodded. “Yeah, okay.”

Tsuna had ulterior motives, of course. He would never be able to determine if Romeo would suit as a guardian if he did not spend a fair amount of time with the man, but he also genuinely wanted to help him improve. If they were a good fit, then good, but if not Romeo would still be skilled, even if he eventually found a position elsewhere.

*

He walked around in slow circles as he waited for his heart to get itself under control and for his breathing to settle down. Who knew being trained by his tiny employer would be so draining? Even having agreed to it he had been skeptical of the value, but now he understood just how badly he could be trashed by a smaller opponent, and Sora was not afraid to do things that “manly” men would avoid.

It was humbling and humiliating to be taken down by someone the size of a two year old, repeatedly. Even more so when Sora admitted to only having a few years of training under his belt. Worse, he was given to understand that Arashi could take him down in seconds, and never be noticed doing it if he was so inclined. He sipped some water and continued his cool down walk. He had made the mistake of shrugging off the warnings the first time and paid for it dearly when his muscles seized.

When he had asked about the strange weapons Sora had seemingly created from nothing the answer he got flabbergasted him. Why had nobody ever told him about Flames of Dying Will? Finding out that they suspected he was a Lightning appeased him somewhat and he easily accepted the offer of training there.

But that led him straight to all the physical training. Apparently stamina was very important, knowing your body, and your limits, or what you could be pushed to. Sora promised that as soon as he was up to a certain level he would add in beginning exercises with flames. He was coming to genuinely enjoy Sora’s company. It was nothing specific, nothing in particular he could put his finger on, but still… He was surprisingly nice for what amounted to being a mafia boss. His boss.

People he had worked for in the past had been reasonably nice, but not very warm or even welcoming. Perhaps part of that was his lack of knowledge when it came to the more … supernatural … aspects of the mafia? Perhaps it was because he wasn’t born to a family. He had certainly never cared in the past. Times had sometimes been tight, but he usually made enough money to survive and often beyond that.

Working for Sora and spending so much time at the house helped him feel a sense of community, of belonging.

“Hey, you all right?” Sora was aiming a look of curious concern at him.

“Yeah, just deep in thought, I guess.”

“Okay. If you’re cooled down we can move on.”

He nodded and took a seat at the table there. So long as the weather cooperated they stayed outside.

“So, Dying Will Flames. The best way to describe them is to say they’re a form of high-density energy. They come from your life-force, but don’t take that to mean that using them shortens your life or anything. I mean, you use energy every day and it replenishes with food and rest. I suppose it’s possible to use so much so quickly that you can kill yourself, but most people would pass out before they got to that point, just like you can only run for so far before you keel over for a long nap.”

He smiled and nodded.

“The flames themselves have multiple variations. One is type. Another is purity. A third could be considered strength, but it’s interwoven with purity. We’re fairly certain you’re a Lightning, and the base quality for Lightning—or Thunder, as some choose to call it, though I fail to understand why—is hardening. Lightning Flames can be used to harden and increase the firmness of objects. They can also be used independently of an object, projected in the form of a barrier, or as a weapon, such as a blade or electricity. The basic role of a Lightning is to draw damage to himself and away from the rest of his allies, serving as a lightning rod of sorts.”

“And yours?”

“I am a Sky. The base property for Sky Flames is harmony.”

Maybe that explained some of the ease he felt around his employer?

“All flames can be used offensively, just some are better suited than others. For example, the base quality of Storm Flames is disintegration. Arashi told me once he actually used his flames to disintegrate the dust in one of his places rather than doing it the normal way,” Sora said with a grin.

He laughed. “Okay. What’s purity, then?”

“In a nutshell, your resolve and strength of will. The more resolve you have the purer the flames. Part of that can be mitigated by experience. But stronger purity means more effect. A relatively impure Storm Flame might only pit the surface of something. For Lightning, a fragile barrier that shattered easily. On the flip side, someone determined to protect could create a very strong barrier that gave himself or his allies time to deal with whatever problem.”

“And the other types?”

Sora nodded. “A Sun’s power is activation. That can mean regeneration, for healing, or augmentation, such as making muscles work more effectively for periods of time. A Rain’s power is tranquility, but offensively they are capable of doing things like freezing water. Imagine the horror if you were facing one in a heavy storm? A Cloud’s power is propagation, or replication. They throw a knife and it’s suddenly a dozen, as an example. Mist is construction, but what you’d most commonly see is illusions. Or rather, you might fear you’re losing your sanity. Those are the basics, though.”

“Okay. How do you draw them out? You made it look so easy.”

For some reason that sent Sora off into gales of laughter. When he finally got himself under control he said, “Let’s just say I had problems at first and leave it at that. But at some point it finally clicked in my head that it’s an extension of myself, of my will, and then it was much, much easier. I could work on refining it.” Sora raised his hand and a weapon appeared in the time it took to blink.

He looked at it curiously.

“It’s a kunai,” Sora explained. “They can be thrown, used to dig with, as an aid in climbing, to pin something in place, and of course, to stab people with. If my resolve slips it’ll vanish, no matter how solid it seems. It’s just compressed energy. And because it’s energy I can stab people and they won’t bleed out, even though it can be fatal. It takes a fair amount of time to learn to use your flames with any kind of surety, and using them in a potentially fatal situation can be a bit shaky at first.”

“Have you been in many?”

Sora sighed. “More than I’d like. You saw one attack. The one before that was two assassins. And before you ask, I killed them. I don’t like that I was forced to take lives, but I will defend my own. That ties back into resolve, which is important for using your flames.”

“I can see that. Is this kind of like how some people can perform amazing feats under duress, like the example I always seem to hear of a mother lifting a car off her child?”

Sora nodded. “Similar, yes. I think that’s more of a chemical reaction, but still similar. In some respects it’s no different than any other skill. Do you know languages other than Italian?”

“French.” Most people took a language option in school.

“And in the beginning, it took a lot of effort and concentration, perhaps a shift in the way you thought.”

“…Yeah, you could say that,” he agreed. He reached over to grab one of the tarts sitting on a snack tray that had been brought out and left covered.

“Same thing, or close enough. Now, to actually express flames or use them we’ll need to get you a ring to use as a focus. They’re made of a reactive metal and attuned to a flame type.” Sora thumbed the Earth ring he was wearing.

“You can’t do it without one?” he asked, not recalling any seeing any rings on Arashi or Kumo, though Kiri wore several.

“Under certain circumstances, yes, but that’s well beyond anything we’re dealing with right now. There are other items, as well, but rings are the accepted method. Easy to wear, even if not necessarily easy to afford.”

Romeo frowned. “How much would one cost me?”

Sora shook his head. “Nothing, unless you feel really strongly about paying me back for one, in which case I’d just take a percentage of your payment on jobs until it was paid for. You’re a part of this family, and family helps each other.”

He felt such a strange tightening in his chest at that. He had heard the words before when it had come up, but hadn’t assigned any real depth of meaning to them. Sora meant it. He still had no idea how they’d found him or why they had chosen to employ him, but aside from a certain measure of reserve from some of them he was treated warmly.

Sora seemed to understand he was feeling a bit befuddled or conflicted, and said, “It’s not for a bit, anyway, so don’t worry about it for the time being. For now I’ll continue on with an explanation of Dying Will Flames.”

*

Tsuna had realized fairly quickly that what little information he had from Bianchi was suspect. She had claimed her relationship with Romeo was horrible and fraught with problems. That might even have been true. But the implication was that Romeo was the source of the problems, and he was having a hard time seeing it. There were two issues which complicated that long ago discussion, and those were Bianchi’s age at the time and the presumed incompatibility of their flame types. As well, that he was in a different dimension and other things had already proven different.

He liked Romeo. He was stable and well-adjusted and, while skeptical at times, willing to listen, and more importantly, listen to an apparent two year old with every indication of sincerity. He was also doing his best during the training Tsuna was giving him. He knew someone like Reborn would accuse him of being too soft, but that only meant he had to keep training himself toward the day he arranged to crash that party.

He had never asked Skull or Fon in any detail about how they felt being Arcobaleno, or how hard the adjustment had been for them. Had they been forced to give up people they loved? Children? Had Reborn? The only one he had any clue about in that respect was Colonnello. It was not something he would ask about. He would rather listen if they wanted to talk. Some things were just too personal to bring up.

But Bianchi… That woman—girl, at present—was likely to be just as much of a menace. Though he, at least, should he manage to befriend and harmonize with Reborn, would ask if Reborn would be upset at having his obsessed stalker redirected. On the other hand, he wondered, if he could harmonize with his once and never tutor, if Reborn would flip out in his very scarily quiet way and maim the girl for trying to harm his Sky, if not outright kill her.

Skull buzzed into his office with a wide grin on his face. “The house is ready!”

His brows rose. “Really?”

“Yeah! When are we moving?”

He was worried for a moment that Skull would bounce so hard he’d hit the ceiling. “Well, I’d like to inspect the place first, be sure the security is good, the usual stuff—then we can pack up and move.”

“Wahoo!” Skull cried and buzzed away.

Tsuna just shook his head in bemusement. The absolute last person he would have expected to have raptures over the new house was his Cloud. He got up and followed. Skull was in the kitchen chattering at Fon. “Did somebody give him too much sugar?” he asked in an aside to Romeo.

“He did eat an entire bar of milk chocolate,” Romeo whispered.

Tsuna sauntered on up behind Skull and engulfed him in a hug, which caused his friend to go quiet. “Did somebody sneak something into the additions that I’m not aware of to make you this excited?”

“Um… I may have added a salt water pool for Oodako when you weren’t looking,” Skull said quietly.

“Oh. Okay,” he said agreeably, then squeezed before letting go. “So you guys want to check the place out now, or…?”

“I’ll get the car,” Daemon said.

The manor house was wonderful and, truthfully, much more than they needed. It also meant everyone could be anti-social if they wanted to and yet still be nearby. Romeo had a watery-eyed look of disbelief once he realized there was a suite for him—until he realized he was showing his emotions so nakedly, anyway. He sidled over to Tsuna to say softly, “Is that a hint?”

Tsuna shook his head. “It’s an option. And, as with anything else, not something I would offer if I was uncomfortable with the idea.” He had more or less accepted that he was actively trying to gain harmonization and had decided to save time and pave the way. Lodging was nothing to sneeze at, and if Romeo decided to move in it would positively impact his bank account. Tsuna just hoped like hell the man could actually actively use flames, because if not he would have to consider looking again. Either way, he had not spent all that time working with Romeo to discard him if he couldn’t.

“So, if you want to take the option…” He stared, though having to look up that far lessened the effect. Romeo’s eyes went watery again, so he patted the man’s arm and wandered off to the suite that would be his. It was way bigger than any bedroom needed to be, though he could see some advantage to having a desk in the outer room, comfy chairs, and bookcases. Having his own bathroom was also a wonderful thing. Having a bed that could fit two dozen of himself? Excessive.

He wandered back out and down to the ground floor. The kitchen was lovely and there was a separate dining area, though how much use it got remained to be seen. A library, training rooms, living areas (inside and out), his office, and other various rooms. “So, this weekend? I seem to recall that nobody should need to be anywhere on a job for a bit.”

They all nodded.

“Good,” he said with an answering nod. “We have a couple of days to pack, then.”

Daemon was invaluable for that with his constructs, and thankfully none of them had massive amounts of belongings to begin with. By Saturday night Tsuna was cooking dinner in his new kitchen, one he owned, thanks to Byakuran’s tip and his intuition.

After that it was back to the usual schedule of paperwork, jobs, investments, and training Romeo. Having him underfoot most of the time highlighted the differences between the two other Lightnings he had known passing well. It was probably too good to last, but he would enjoy it while it did. Daemon had obtained an S-rank Lightning ring and he had given it to Romeo during one of their sessions.

Romeo stared at it innocently banding his finger. “And I use this to help my flames function.”

“Mm.” He held up his hand and sparked flames off his Earth ring. “Once you know you can do it it’s like turning on a flashlight, though the batteries might seem a bit weak at first. You need resolve. You have to believe. You see right here I can do it. So can the others. So can you. That’s your exercise for now. Spark that ring. Once you can do that reliably, we’ll move on to the next step. Just don’t forget and absentmindedly practice off somewhere else.”

“I’m going to assume that this is like anything else mafia-related, then,” Romeo said. “Try not to have civilians as witnesses, but if you must…”

Tsuna nodded. “I’ve seen mafiosi do incredible things in the middle of a public space, but the civilians usually flee, thankfully. Don’t advertise it, but use it if you must. Otherwise there’d be no point in developing your skill. I didn’t hesitate to use my flames to defend myself, but I also went down that alley for the same reason, to limit exposure. It’s just luck that the only person who happened to stumble over it was connected.”

Romeo nodded thoughtfully. “Spark flames off the ring,” he said softly, staring at his hand.

“It helps if you have a reason for it,” Tsuna offered. “A goal. Maybe right now your goal is to prove you have the resolve to make that ring shine.”

Romeo looked up questioningly. “Your ring makes a reddish-brown flame, but your kunai are orange.”

“Ah. It’s not a Sky ring, but that’s for some other time. As a reminder, it’s red for Storm, orange for Sky, yellow for Sun, green for Lightning, blue for Rain, indigo for Mist, and violet or purple for Cloud.”

“And that?” Romeo asked, indicating the pacifier.

He shook his head. “Some other time.”

Romeo smiled resignedly and nodded. “Okay. So…” He went back to eyeing his hand and the ring.

Tsuna stepped away and began to work on tai chi to pass the time, yet still be available in case Romeo needed him. Fon wandered out and spotted him, then joined, saying quietly, “I put the data on your desk.”

“The Carsetti job?”

Fon nodded. “I noticed one from Skull, so he’s around somewhere, too. Or he drifted off, I’m not sure.”

“If he has, that’s fine. We’ve all been together quite a bit recently, after all.”

Fon chuckled.

He was just about to suggest they segue into a spar when a slice of green light caught his attention. Tsuna turned toward the table to see Romeo’s ring was crackling with Lightning Flames. He smiled widely and took a seat. “Good job. You got that really fast, and I’m impressed.”

Romeo returned the smile, and lost control of the manifestation. He frowned and sparked it again.

“There’s a lesson right there,” he continued. “Keeping your resolve for that while other things are going on. Here’s what I’d like you to practice. Start with five minutes at a time, keeping that ring lit. When you can do that reliably, bump it to ten. Then we’ll have to see about keeping that resolve while you’re doing something else, such as tai chi or even sparring.”

Romeo lost it again when he looked up. “And later on, using it for real.”

He nodded. “But don’t go overboard. It can be exhausting. Even beyond learning to shape it to some use is learning to only use it when you need it, to specific effect. Throwing out a quick shield, or Tasing someone, and still carrying a lot of whatever is going on with just your body or a weapon. Getting too deeply into flame use can make you act on instinct rather than conscious thought, and instinct isn’t always the right response. After all, running from a large predator in the wild is just as likely to get you killed as trying to fight the thing.”

“Yeah, though I don’t see myself going on safari anytime soon. So, okay, I can set aside an hour a day at first, get going with it. And when I think I have a good hold on it, you’ll step back in.”

“Right. And once we get to a certain point, we can test things like just how solid you can get a shield, perhaps by using both mundane and flame weapons. That way you could both know just how much they could take, and consider if you need to expend more effort to get them even stronger. Also, how they react to differing flame types.”

Romeo heaved a sigh, but nodded. “It’s a lot of work, but yeah. I mean, when you told me you guys thought I was a Lightning I was really stoked. You know, seeing you make those kunai… But I guess you don’t get what you want if you don’t make the effort. I kinda doubt anyone else would have gone to this much trouble to help me. I still don’t know why you have.”

“I had a feeling,” he replied. “And I told you, you reminded me of someone I once knew. It made me look closer. We found you had a good reputation, so I decided to take a chance. I hope you’re not unhappy…”

“What!? No, no. I’ve never had this much fun or been in such welcoming company. I was kind of a loner in school, really. Which, from what you’ve said about personality types is hilarious.”

Tsuna grinned. “Hey. Just because a bunch of seeds all come from an oak, it doesn’t mean all of them grow up exactly the same way. I don’t put much stock in the zodiac, either. It’s really simple to just assign people categories and stop seeing the minutiae.”

Romeo looked down for a moment, possibly in embarrassment.

“Hey, I got curious based on the surface appearance,” he reminded him. “That doesn’t mean it stays that way.”

Romeo’s gaze slid over to Fon for a moment, then back to Tsuna. “And your friends? Or are they guardians?”

Tsuna’s brow rose.

“I got curious, started thinking about things I’d seen before, power structures, did some discreet research. You’ve got a Cloud, Mist, and Storm. And a Lightning.”

Tsuna chuckled. “Yes, they’re guardians. As someone once told me, a lone Sky is painful thing.”

“Am I under consideration?”

“Yes. And try to keep that flame going while we talk.”

Romeo sparked his ring again. “What happens if I don’t … suit?”

“That depends. You do good work and I have no problem keeping you on if you want to keep working for me. If you do suit—and that’s something that depends on both of us, not just me—then you become a guardian. My question for you is to ask how much you even know about what that entails.”

“Oh, uh… Probably not enough. They sounded like a combination of bodyguards and top rank right hand man types, sort of,” Romeo said uncertainly.

Between one second and the next Fon was seated at the table and part of the conversation. “There is more to it, but essentially, yes.”

Romeo jumped enough to bang his knee on the underside of the table and sucked in a breath at the pain. “Right. More to it?”

“There’s a … connection,” Fon said. “It’s like a warm spot in your chest that never goes away and lets you know you’re never alone. But it’s only between each of us and Sora, not between each other. We’re his guardians, though we guard each other when needful.”

“It’s the same,” Tsuna confirmed, “though since I have multiple connections…” He shrugged. “But yes, you know beyond question that you’re never alone.”

“How long does it take?”

Fon smiled faintly. “Depends. It took months for me, but part of that is learning to trust each other.”

Romeo looked at Tsuna, so he said, “Again, months for each for the foundation, but the literal formation of the connection is quick when it does happen.”

“There was that little matter of deaths being involved,” Fon muttered.

Romeo’s brows shot up and a worried look flitted over his face.

Tsuna coughed and said, “I harmonized with Arashi after I killed two assassins after me. Kumo and Kiri after someone close to me died.” He could tell Romeo wanted to know more about that, but not until and not unless they harmonized. “Hopefully just coincidence, because it’s a sick thought otherwise.”

“You’re not exactly like the usual mafia bosses I’ve heard of anyway,” Romeo said.

Tsuna shrugged. “I don’t exactly consider myself one, and it’s not like I have a territory carved out or anything. You dig your own hole when there isn’t one dug for you.”

“Hence information brokering.”

He nodded. “We don’t have a choice about being mafia, but we do have a choice how we participate.”

“Did you ever find out about those three your friend hauled off?”

He exchanged a look with Fon before saying, “Child prostitution and pornography. They like ’em young. The whole lot’s been taken care of.”

“Dolce is obviously connected to Gesso in some way, since this is their territory, but I suspect I would have to ask him directly to hope for an answer.”

He nodded again. “It’s just a suspicion, but I rather think he won’t answer unless we end up harmonizing.”

Romeo hummed, then grinned. “If we did, would I get to learn some of your secrets?”

“Yes.”

“Because I suspect names around here are a fluid thing.”

Tsuna cracked up. “Perhaps. But it’s also true that some Skies, for whatever reason, end up with guardians who take on themed names. One Sky I’m aware of has guardians named after various sweets. Another for flowers.”

“And speaking of those names… Maybe I’ll try learning another language. You’re using Japanese.”

“Yes,” he confirmed.

“Native?” Romeo asked, eyeing his obviously Asian features.

“Yes,” he said, deciding it wasn’t that personal, and it was unlikely Romeo would ever connect him to a missing child of the Vongola, assuming he was even aware of any of that, not with how that man had hidden them.

“I get the feeling I’m the only one who doesn’t know Japanese.”

Tsuna smiled. “To be fair, I only know four languages, but I’m working on a fifth. I’d also like to point out you’ve kept that flame going for quite a while now.”

Romeo looked down in surprise; his ring was still crackling with greenish flames.