Grazhir :: Crossover :: Welkin :: 06

06: 2009-2010

“Ciao, Uncle Reborn.”

He hopped onto a chair and tilted his hat back with a smile. “Aria. You know it’s always a pleasure to see you. What’s this about, though? Because your letter didn’t sound…” He shrugged.

She smiled back. “This will sound strange, I suppose, but you know I have that funny little talent, like Mother had.”

“And you saw something?” he ventured.

She hummed. “I can’t make much sense of it, though. I don’t know if Mother ever explained, but the more it happens the more vague it sometimes gets. I do know that someone is going to make you an offer soon, and that the best possible outcome would be for you to accept.”

His brow furrowed faintly. “A job?”

“Yes, but… Nothing normal, not a hit. It’s odd, whatever it is.”

He took a sip of the espresso that had been placed in front of him. “Best possible outcome?”

She bit her lip. “Not directly. Not immediately. But if you take it, it’ll lead to something you want.”

“Any thoughts on what that might be?” he asked curiously. Half the time he didn’t even know what he wanted, unless it happened to involve espresso or food.

She shook her head and said, “Just something you’ve held close. Maybe more, but definitely one.”

‘What on Earth could she mean?’ he wondered as he had another sip. He held a lot of things close, and most of them so closely he did his damnedest to never think about them. Hope was an almost foreign concept for him, after all, and why drown in despair?

“We’re having ossobuco for lunch,” she said. “Can you be tempted to stay?”

He hummed happily. “Feed me.”

*

When February rolled around Tsuna remembered that Dino had turned seventeen and it was time for Reborn to become his tutor—assuming that aspect stayed the same. He was not sure of the exact date when Reborn started, but if he asked Daemon to check, or asked Byakuran to keep an ear to the grapevine… Either way, he wanted to wait until the issue of Romeo was settled, and to give Reborn a chance to get comfortable as a tort—tutor.

‘And speak of the devil,’ he thought as Daemon strolled in with a blank look. “I don’t like that look.”

Daemon shook his head slowly and gestured for him to follow. Tsuna frowned and got up to follow; they ended up in one of the training rooms. Daemon closed the door, then waved a hand, seemingly for no reason. “I don’t think you will like what I’m about to tell you,” he said.

“I guess that means that man didn’t fall off a cliff or something,” he joked.

Daemon looked him in the eye. “Tsuna. Iemitsu … remarried.”

“…Nani?” The next thing he knew half the training room was destroyed and he was panting, from anger? Effort?

Daemon picked him up and held him close.

“I didn’t think it still hurt so much,” he whispered.

“You did a beautiful thing when you tried so hard to get closer to your mother,” Daemon said quietly. “It was heartbreaking when she was stolen from you. I can understand how it must hurt to know that he’s…”

“Moved on?”

“Perhaps. In part, at least, so soon.”

“Or entirely. I know, people do. Most people don’t mourn forever or hold that memory so close.”

Daemon chuckled at the unintended barb and laid his cheek atop Tsuna’s head for a moment.

“So who is it?” He half did and half did not want to know, but knowing was better in the long run, just in case.

“Some desk jockey at CEDEF going by Calea.”

“That man is married to his work,” he said bitterly, “but at least this time he’s gone for someone who’s in the know. I’ve always wondered if my mother was just a pretty princess from some fairy tale for him. He met her when she was a waitress in a restaurant, you know? She used to get lessons off-shift, to help her learn more cooking. Her parents had her late in life and… I guess I never wanted to think about him moving on, because it was always about what he wanted, what delusions he was spinning in his head about his perfect life, his—” He shook his head.

“I hesitate to bring it up, but there remains the possibility he’ll have more children,” his Mist said softly.

He sighed; hearing it said hurt for some reason. “Yeah. Any other news I should know while I’m still in a good place to explode?”

“One good and one neutral,” Daemon replied. “The neutral is that thus far Hayato is still at home.”

He nodded.

“The good is that Reborn has agreed to take up tutoring.”

That brought a smile back to his face. “He’ll be torturing Dino?”

“Yes.”

“I sometimes still feel so bad for him.”

Daemon took a seat on one of the benches along the wall and shifted Tsuna in his arms. “Because he had to…”

“You don’t have to be delicate,” he said, giving his Mist a ‘look’. “Trying to train someone broken. This one will never know just how much of an influence he had on this stranger he’s going to meet, this Sky Arcobaleno he’s been looking for. I’m no longer that boy who associated flames with pain and fear and humiliation, or lack of control. I may understand what Nono’s intentions were, but he ruined me.”

“And then you saved Byakuran, and he saved you in return.”

“And you.”

“All right, so I’m no longer completely lost to reason,” Daemon said. “And I have you. Which, admittedly, I was not expecting when I visited to say I planned to cause a little mayhem.”

Tsuna almost giggled. “I guess I got lucky. Something really nice as reparations for the last go around?” Of course, that made him remember what had happened just previous and he sobered up.

Daemon rested his chin atop Tsuna’s head, as if sensing the change in mood, again.

He took in his new view, decided he had an unhealthy attachment to sanity, and said, “You have a very nice neck, you know?”

His Mist went still for a moment, then drew back slowly so he could look Tsuna in the eyes. He seemed to be amused, but Tsuna could not quite be sure of that. “Thank you.”

“…You’re welcome.”

“What about the rest of me?” Daemon teased.

Tsuna was horrified to realize his face had heated up, which meant he’d blushed.

*

“Excellent!” he praised. Romeo had managed to project a shield to ward off the foam kunai Tsuna had been flinging at him with deadly accuracy. “You’re really getting the hang of this!”

Romeo smiled a little more widely than usual and gestured for him to continue.

Over the next hour Romeo became more proficient in getting a shield between himself and incoming projectiles, but Tsuna could see the signs of exhaustion setting in, so he relaxed and began collecting his fake weapons.

“I can keep going!”

He shook his head. “You know better,” he admonished. “You’re starting to tremble, Romeo. It’s time for a break. Possibly time to stuff you full of food.”

Romeo sounded off a flat raspberry and nodded. “Starting to see why boss types are so often called grandfather.”

Tsuna paused in his rounds and said, “Are you implying that I’m doing the male equivalent of mothering you?”

His Lightning smirked. “More like babying me?”

His eyes went wide. “You little…” He formed and threw kunai so quickly Romeo had no chance to react. Seconds later Romeo was pinned to the wall; but instead of being shocked his Lightning just laughed. He sighed at having allowed himself to be baited and released the weapons.

Romeo stepped forward and began helping him clean up.

Once that was done they walked slowly inside to the kitchen, where drinks and snacks were produced. “We’ll keep on with that for a while yet, but once you think you’ve really got it we can move up to real sparring.”

“Do you ever go out on jobs?” Romeo asked.

“Only in the very beginning,” he said with a shake of his head. “We needed all of us out there, and experience is something everyone needs.” Never mind that it had been his honest introduction to stealth beyond what Skull had taught him, and he’d had the enormous advantage of Daemon’s anklet. “If it was needful now? Sure. But the thing is, guardians tend to go a bit insane if their Sky is wandering around alone outside protections.”

Romeo snickered quietly. “You get into trouble even when they are with you. I suppose I can understand that. Well, I think if it happens, that’d be great. I’d like to harmonize with you. And—”

Tsuna felt the warmth in his chest blossom another aspect and smiled wryly. “Welcome, Lightning Guardian Romeo.”

“I—” Romeo looked stunned and had one hand to his chest. “Oh, wow. I understand now. It’s like an almost tangible reminder of how I feel, and how you must feel, even if we never say it out loud. It’s amazing.”

He patted Romeo’s other hand understandingly. If he had one true regret for his past life aside from the relationship with his mother, it would be this, missing out on harmonization. Reborn had done his best, but he’d been working with flawed, broken material. He pulled his phone out and sent off a brace of text messages, to let the others know, while Romeo was lost to the new bond.

He shortly got back replies and thought about what he could make for dinner, for everyone, since they would be returning home, at least briefly. Deciding to go for middle of the road he set about making sauce for stuffed chicken parmigiana.

The others managed to show up at exactly the right time. Tsuna was just pulling dinner out of the oven when they swept into the kitchen. Skull promptly zipped over to the refrigerator and pulled out the expected salad, and Fon set the table with Daemon’s help. Romeo went to get wine.

Once they were finally all seated and served Daemon said, “So…”

“Well,” he replied, casually brushing his fingers over his pacifier.

Fon and Skull exchanged a look, then nodded.

Tsuna eyed his Mist, who had a look on his face he interpreted as agreement on that point, so he said, “Okay, the biggest secret, Romeo, that you’ve only partially caught onto, is that of the Arcobaleno.”

“What do rainbows have to—uh…” Romeo’s brow furrowed. “Okay, stupid question the way I meant it.” He took a bite of his chicken and waited.

He smiled. “In this sense, Arcobaleno is the term for the strongest seven, the top for each flame, and all of us are … tiny.”

Romeo’s gaze flicked over to eye Fon and Skull for a moment. “So that Reborn guy is one, too. Why isn’t he here?”

“He’s on my to-do list,” Tsuna replied. “My real name is Tsuna, by the way.”

The others chimed in with theirs.

“And—this is the part that you’re going to have trouble with.”

“Oh?” Romeo’s brow arched up.

He laughed nervously. “Yeah. I’ll be nine years old this year.”

“You’re shitting me, man. This is like the initiation joke or something?”

Everybody at the table shook their heads. “No, that really is his age,” Daemon said. “I’ve known Tsuna his entire life. He’s—” He looked at Tsuna, who nodded. “He’s a Vongola by blood, a direct descendant of Vongola Primo.”

“But—why aren’t you with them? I mean, I can’t imagine they’d just—” Romeo flailed a hand around in confusion.

“I was kept a secret for the most part,” Tsuna replied. “For my safety, supposedly, though that didn’t stop assassins from murdering my mother. Skull, Daemon, and I left Japan the next day. You should know I wholeheartedly despise my father.”

“Do I dare ask?”

Tsuna shrugged. “He’s the current head of CEDEF, Iemitsu Sawada. In the unlikely event you run across him you’ll know to be cautious. After all, I’m missing, possibly presumed dead. The only ones who know the story are my guardians and Dolce.”

“Oh.” Romeo looked thoughtful. “Does that mean you’re an heir?”

“Technically, yes. I’m fourth in line. Fifth if Xanxus still counts,” he said dubiously. “But unless they somehow figure out I’m alive or I tell them, I won’t be under consideration.”

“Then by my count I’m unaware of three other Arcobaleno,” Romeo said.

“Colonnello is Rain. Last I checked he works at Mafia Land. Mammon is the Varia Mist. The final one is Lightning Verde, a scientist. And before you ask, those assassins I mentioned a ways back?”

“Yeah?”

“They were sent by Verde. Seems he did not appreciate an offer of funding. But he has no idea he tried to assassinate a fellow Arcobaleno. I’ll save that information for if and when it becomes useful.”

Romeo frowned. “Did you do anything? Retaliation? At all?”

Daemon laughed creepily. “I did. I sent back an unmistakable message. Verde threw an epic temper tantrum when he got it.”

“Right.” Romeo shook his head and went back to eating.

Afterward Fon hauled Romeo off to firmly impress upon him the duties of a guardian while the rest cleaned up.

*

“Tsuna.”

He looked up from his manicotti and paused. “I know that look. I’m not going to like this.”

Daemon offered a humorless smile as the other guardians all watched. “Ienari Sawada was born two days ago.”

Tsuna looked down at his meal and ate more of it. He had known it was probable; now it was fact. He wondered how many more would be born as the years rolled by. “I trust that man will forgive me for not sending the usual.”

“You know as well as I do that the knowledge will be strictly limited. Sending the usual card would only send him into fits of paranoia.”

He almost laughed. Much as he disliked his father, the child was innocent. And this one likely had far better protection from the start. “Probably. And I’d rather not imply that the Sky Arcobaleno cares that much about the man’s family as to be keeping an eye on him. It might have the opposite effect and swell his head further.”

Daemon sneered. “In other, more amusing news, Reborn is gleefully torturing his student.”

He did laugh then. “Good to know. I need to plan out my approach.”

“You’re going after him soon?” Romeo asked.

“Yeah. Daemon got the foundation in place, so we just need the right scenario.”

“He’s super smart, Tsuna,” Skull said. “He’s probably going to see through this.”

He smiled. “Probably. Doesn’t mean I won’t have fun tweaking his nose.”

Skull chortled happily. “You plan to spy on him at all?”

Tsuna bit his lip. “Don’t know. It’d piss him off, I expect. But I did it to you and Fon, so, it’d only be fair.”

“If you want to,” Daemon said, “coordinate with me. That way I can ensure you don’t peek in when he’s in a situation where it’d cause problems.”

He nodded. It would be unfortunate if he did so when Reborn’s inattention toward Dino could result in injury, or worse.

“Peek in?”

He smiled at Romeo. “It’s an ability I have as the Sky Arcobaleno to take a long distance look at what another Arcobaleno is doing. I assume Sky only, anyway, because of the harmony aspect. That and because I sat down and reconciled in my mind exactly what the roles of each guardian are and how I felt about them. The roles, not the people in them, I mean,” he said, twisting the truth a bit.

Romeo simply nodded, so he knew Fon had thoroughly grounded the young man on that score. He already knew Fon had taken over half the training to ensure his Lightning was progressing when it came to physical fighting, focusing again on defense first.

“I have some ideas,” Daemon said, then smiled in a way that made Tsuna shudder before forking up more of his dinner. Later that evening, in the privacy of Tsuna’s suite, Daemon said, “It’s … insane.”

“Kami-sama,” he muttered.

“But before I get into that, I checked on the way in—”

“It’s a wonder you didn’t crash into a wall, then,” he commented.

“—and Reborn is presently safe to spy on,” Daemon finished with a glare.

“Okay.” For this one he closed his eyes as he reached up to hold his pacifier. His mental eyes opened to show Reborn in the act of freezing mid-sentence. A pulse of flame went out in the split second it took for him to continue what he was saying. He somehow made it seem like the hitch was entirely purposeful, but that was Reborn for you.

“You don’t really mean that, do you?” Dino asked, a pleading look on his face.

“That look has ever worked, when?” Reborn said, smirking smugly even as Leon was tasting the air with his tongue.

“But—Reborn!” Dino whined.

Tsuna released his hold and opened his eyes. “He’s good. He barely even twitched.”

“Well, we can arrange for a few more times,” Daemon said, “though the more you look the more twitchy he’s going to get. But—”

‘Do you break off like that for dramatic effect or something?’ he thought, then scowled when Daemon smirked suddenly. “Stop reading my mind, damn it.”

“Either way, this one time is going to set him off balance and on guard. He’s going to be expecting the other shoe to drop. He’s highly intelligent and may come up with a response plan even faster than Skull did.”

“I’m getting the feeling you’re leaning toward not peeking again, so that this is his only warning that the world is going to tilt soon,” he guessed.

His Mist nodded, a sly smile creeping in. “So, this idea…”

*

Tsuna skipped along the edge of the drive leading to the Cavallone mansion, diverting frequently to chase after butterflies and squeal happily. He pretended not to notice the arrow formation of flies that buzzed off toward the manor house and continued acting like a starry-eyed two year old on holiday from parental control. He accidentally-on-purpose managed to get all the way to the circular drive out front before anyone challenged him, and at that it was Dino.

“Hey there, little guy,” Dino said soothingly as he tried to pretend he hadn’t just tripped over thin air. “Where are your parents?”

Tsuna beamed a smile at him and waved, momentarily stunning the blond when Daemon, who was blending into the scenery somewhere, caused sparkles to appear and a rainbow to halo over Tsuna’s head. “Ciao!”

“Uh…”

Tsuna thrust his arms up in a universal demand and beamed again. “Up!” Dino staggered back from the assault and almost fell over. When Dino did not immediately comply he repeated, more forcefully, “Up!”

“Okay, right,” Dino muttered, and came close enough to pick Tsuna up and settle him on one hip. Tsuna just prayed his once older brother didn’t trip and smash him into the dirt. “Um, you haven’t said. Where are your parents, little guy?”

“You can be my daddy if you want,” he chirped as Dino carried him through the tunnel and into the inner courtyard, enjoying being able to freak out someone who had once used his position to do the same to him.

Dino squeaked and tripped again, but saved them both from a painful meeting with the ground. “But don’t you have a daddy already?” he asked in a panic.

Tsuna patted his arm fondly. “But I like you!” he chirped. “And I have no idea where my daddy is. Maybe on a pirate ship?” He gasped. “Maybe he’s secretly learning how to be a ninja?”

Dino laughed nervously and started looking around for help of some kind. Romario appeared on the upper walk and started down, which made Dino heave a sigh of relief, but Tsuna simply beamed at the man and waved. Daemon’s cracked ideas kicked in and Romario nearly tumbled the remainder of the way down in a move better suited to the young master.

Reborn decided to get involved at that point and strutted out of hiding to stare piercingly.

“Ciao!” he said brightly and waved. “I’m Sora!”

Reborn, being no fool and ridiculously perceptive, somehow spotted the concealed pacifier—perhaps it was the chain he noticed?—and said, “You’re telling me He picked some random Japanese person to be the Sky Arcobaleno?”

‘Well, damn,’ he thought with a vague pout. He had worn the pacifier backward and under a hoodie, but that obviously was not enough for Eagle Eye over there. Of course, there was that little matter of not wearing the net over it… He patted Dino on the arm again and said, “Down, please.”

Dino twitched and set him down, deciding to pose for a dictionary picture for the word “confusion”.

Tsuna’s brow went up once he was the same level as Reborn. “I hardly think the choice was random,” he said, dropping the act completely, “or are you implying that my flame strength and purity is in question?”

Reborn’s eyes narrowed at the challenge. “That remains to be seen,” he said. “How about you show me? Have a little spar with my student here?”

Tsuna eyed Dino, trying not to let his residual fondness show, then turned his attention back to Reborn. “Rules?”

“Well…” Reborn idly ran a finger down the barrel of his gun as he contemplated the situation.

Dino freaked, his hands going out to flail around in a panic. “W-what? I don’t even want to have anything to do with any of this!” he cried, then shrieked when Reborn shot a bullet past his face.

“What weapon do you use?” Reborn finally asked.

“Usually just myself and my flames.”

“Wait a minute!” Dino objected. “Sky Arcobaleno!?”

Tsuna shot a dubious look at Dino, then returned his attention to Reborn. “Does your student suffer from comprehension issues?”

“He’s a little skittish. Still working on that.”

“I see. I’m sure you’ll do a fine job,” he said confidently.

Reborn smirked. “I always do.”

“Um, hey?” Dino said.

Reborn fired again. “Just you and your flames, huh?”

“Hai.”

“And you’re just wandering around the countryside, unguarded.”

Tsuna giggled merrily. “I know you’re not that stupid.”

“So you do have guardians.”

Tsuna licked his lips. “Are you applying? Because I might have an opening you could … fit into.” A part of him was dying of embarrassment inside over what amounted to flirting with the Sun. But if he was not mistaken, Reborn was amused.

“Depends on a lot of things,” Reborn replied, “including how you use your tools. So let’s see you in action.”

“Again, rules?”

“Well, don’t kill him, obviously. Try not to maim him too badly.”

Dino had a fresh freak out, but stayed, which was interesting to Tsuna considering the number of times he himself had bolted when something he didn’t want to face was thrown at him. It increased his respect for Dino. “I can work with that,” he said, then advanced deeper into the courtyard.

A few more bullets got Dino to skitter closer and shakily uncoil a whip. Tsuna flashed back to his first time using one and almost blushed. “You ready?” he asked kindly.

Dino’s expression screamed no, but he nodded.

“I’ll let you start,” he offered.

Dino did know how to use the whip, even then, but he could tell the blond absolutely did not like the idea of using it against someone his size. The first crack went so wide. He nodded and created two telescoping kunai, one per hand, then dashed forward as they extended, and used them to vault up higher and spin.

Dino went flying back when he was kicked and hit the wall in time for more kunai to pin him in place. Tsuna landed lightly and shook his head, then flung one behind him to intercept a bullet. “No fair,” he said, looking over his shoulder. He turned and approached Reborn, letting the kunai holding Dino dissolve. “He’s pretty young, I see. Resistant, from what I heard. I have no doubt you’ll whip him into shape.”

Reborn twitched in an aborted eye roll. “I forgot how you Japanese love puns.”

He beamed a smile, sparkles and rainbow halo appearing again.

“Would you stop that,” Reborn said testily. “We are not in an anime.”

Tsuna giggled in genuine mirth.

“Why are you even here?”

He let his eyes go wide. “I have a meeting with the Cavallone Nono,” he said. “Meeting you was a wonderful bonus. And your cute little student.”

Reborn stared, then froze for a split second when a disguised Daemon popped up behind Tsuna and snatched him into his arms.

“It’s time, Sora.”

“Okay,” he chirped.

“Let me guess,” Reborn said flatly. “Kiri?”

“You got it, Taiyo!” he replied. “The question is, do you want it?”

Daemon walked away, toward Romario, without giving Reborn a chance to respond, but he could hear Dino saying, “What do those words mean?”

*

Reborn frowned, but the expression was quickly wiped away before he spun around to stare at Dino. “That was pathetic, you pipsqueak.”

“But he’s so tiny!” Dino protested.

His brow went up in disbelief. “Are you implying that you think my size makes me any less lethal?”

Dino figuratively backpedaled, shaking his head violently.

“Laps, my dear student, for even entertaining the idea!” he ordered. He didn’t even have to lift his gun as a threat; Dino dashed off to begin. He kept a covert watch on his student as he ran the encounter with the Sky Arcobaleno over in his mind.

‘Is this what Aria meant?’ he wondered. ‘I don’t believe in coincidence. I take this job and end up meeting the one person I’ve been looking for, not all that long into it? He as much as flat out said he was willing to entertain me as a guardian. The little bastard practically dared me.’ He took a moment to fire a warning shot when Dino slowed down.

‘On the other hand, I would not be the first,’ he groused. ‘Whoever that Mist is he’s good. I didn’t even fucking notice him until he decided to show himself, even though I knew he had to be here somewhere. Not Viper, though, no way in hell. I think he charges if you so much as breathe his air these days.’

He ran over the encounter again. ‘Interesting tactics. Never seen that before. He was being gentle with Dino, but it still showed some of what he could do. Oddly enough, he doesn’t seem the least bit upset about being cursed. Or he’s just that good of an actor. Do I—my God. Do I try?’

Later that day he met with the Cavallone Nono to discuss Dino’s progress. In between topics he said casually, “We had a visitor today.”

Nono broke out into a smile. “What a charming you—well, we have no idea how young or how old, do we. I’ve used Welkin’s firm for years.”

“I missed the memo on that,” he said reluctantly, not that Nono would hear such in his voice. ‘Welkin?’ he thought. ‘How many variants on the same word does he use?’

“Oh, wonderful firm,” Nono practically gushed. “Efficient, discreet, reliable. I admit, I was slightly hesitant at first, them being so new, but I have never regretted it. I gave them a test job first, of course.”

He was just about to ask just exactly what they did when Nono added, “They’ve been of great assistance in tracking down the men trying to nibble at my flanks.”

‘Information brokers, then,’ he thought, ‘though I could have done without that image.’ He slid back into a discussion of Dino’s progress, and later, back in his own suite, debated his options.

*

Skull laughed himself silly over their description of the visit. He was still chuckling when he took off on a job. Fon returned from his and displayed a small smile of amusement. Romeo just enjoyed the atmosphere, never having met Reborn, but he laughed loudly over Tsuna’s description of Daemon’s special effects, then staggered back when Tsuna beamed at him and Daemon obliged with more of the same.

“Good God,” Romeo said breathlessly. “That there’s one serious bit of weirdness.”

“But effective,” Daemon said smugly.

It took a week, but a letter arrived through the usual channels, from Reborn. It was nothing special, just a short note that mentioned how interesting their meeting had been. ‘His way of expressing interest? I doubt he’d be blunt with an associate as opposed to a student.’

“He’s very cagey, depending on the situation,” Fon opined. “This is definitely interest.”

“Will you help me write a reply?” he asked. “I don’t know that anyone could claim to know him well, but you’ve known him for ages.”

“Of course. I admit, a part of me…”

“Wants to tweak his nose?” he asked with a faint grin.

Fon smiled again. It was a gradual thing, but around Tsuna, at least, he was far more open in demeanor. For outsiders it was that cool, serene smile that conveyed a hint of amusement for the world in general, but never any depth. Skull was much the same. To outsiders he was a bit loud, a bit arrogant, and seemed to try too hard. With them he was boisterous, earthy, and genuine. It did, unfortunately, mean having to listen to more than a few raunchy comments about women, but Tsuna just shrugged those off.

Of interest was that Fon and Skull did not receive messages from Reborn about him. Skull was expected, but Fon? Tsuna wondered if Reborn’s friendly rival got one, or if Reborn was being cautious—selfish?—to keep everyone out of the loop. He and Fon devised a reply, had Daemon look it over for a second opinion, then sent it off.

It was while they were waiting on a reply that Daemon shared some information of interest. “One of my spies witnessed Enrico being torn apart in a gun fight.”

Tsuna groaned.

Romeo looked between them, confusion evident, but said nothing.

Quince decided to flutter into the room, despite it being broad daylight, and settled on his perch. “Worried they’ll all go the same way?”

“Yes, of course.”

“You shouldn’t assume they all will, but you should probably prepare in case they do.”

“I don’t want to come out of hiding,” he whined.

“Do you plan to meddle?” Quince asked bluntly.

He sighed.

“Because you already know your father is out of the running. What happens if they all die to rivals, and none of Iemitsu’s children are Skies?”

“Surely one of them will be!” he protested.

“Say that one is. Then what? Ienari was only just born. You’re already quite a bit older.”

Quince didn’t have to follow that line through to its logical conclusion. With no proof of his demise they would start looking again, should Massimo and Federico also die. Ienari would be all of four to Tsuna’s thirteen. A boy that age would be nothing but a pawn and certainly dead if the Varia managed to free Xanxus ahead of schedule. “Fuck.”

“Tsuna,” Quince said patiently, “stop freaking out. Plan for the worst, but don’t assume it’ll go that way. And also, try to remember you have guardians and you’re working on completing the set? You are never alone. You are not a lost little boy.”

‘Well, technically I’m all three,’ he thought with a hint of amusement. “All right. You’re right to push the issue. It only hurts me in the end if I slide off into denial.”

Quince nodded. “You’re welcome. Now… Some fruit, perhaps?”

He smiled and went to fetch some, then tucked himself into a chair with a book he wouldn’t be reading to think about his options. It always came back to the same question: did he have the right to meddle? Had he not already? And Daemon was just one man. Spies were one thing, but those same spies could not be Daemon, just extra sets of eyes or weak hands.

‘You know what? It’s Vongola’s problem,’ he told himself. ‘Yes, I may get dragged back into all this, but it’s on their heads, the lives of their heirs. The only damn reason they didn’t completely fail with me is because I wasn’t there, so they basically still failed. I am not responsible for their mistakes or their laxity, only for my own. I will continue to try to win Reborn, then move on to Colonnello. I will have my family. And if it happens, we, as a family, can prepare.’

*

The little café he was enjoying made the best cannoli. Reborn slipped into a seat between one heartbeat and the next, so Tsuna smiled. “Konnichiwa, Taiyo!” he said happily.

“Ciaossu, Sora,” Reborn said evenly.

“I haven’t ordered yet,” he assured the man, “but I am looking forward to the sweets they have. The tiramisu is very good.”

Reborn stared for a moment, then said, “Are you fond of coffee?”

He shook his head. “More of a tea person,” he said as he twinkled his fingers at a server. A girl hastened over and cooed at them, calling them adorable. Tsuna beamed an innocent smile her way and watched her melt. “Ciao!” he chirped. “Daddy gave me some money so we could play pretend grown-ups!” he said proudly.

“Oh, I could just eat you right up,” she cooed.

Tsuna giggled, then tried to look very adult. “I would like to order some of your finest chocolate milk to start,” he said importantly.

She sighed and jotted that down, then turned her adoring gaze on Reborn.

“Espresso, please.”

The girl looked a bit taken aback by the choice, but Reborn gave her a heart-melting smile and she caved. A minute later she was back with the drinks and away again with their orders. Tsuna busied himself with people watching until after she slid the plates on the table and departed. “We all have our ways, I suppose,” he commented.

“When you’ve been around as long as I have,” Reborn said as he picked up his fork, “you learn how to … translate.”

He nodded and sent out a quick pulse of—‘Okay, I really need to stop reading Naruto manga,’ he thought, ‘because I will actually call it chakra at some point and embarrass myself.’—flames to ensure his milk and cannolo were untainted, then had a sip.

A quick, secretive smile flitted over Reborn’s mouth. “Good to know you can do that.”

“I assume you can do the same, even if not necessarily in quite the same manner,” he replied. He didn’t think a non-Sky could check for disharmony in what he consumed.

“Of course.”

“As much as I enjoyed playing the last time we met, I’d prefer to be more blunt.”

“Go on,” Reborn said, placing another bite of tiramisu into his mouth.

“I spent a fair amount of time when first I awoke like this considering whom to contact, and you came to mind straight off. However, your reputation is not something to be … ignored. To be frank, you were intimidating.” Tsuna was amused to see a smug look flicker over Reborn’s face. “I decided I would have to establish myself first or you would never take me seriously.” He paused to have a bite of his cannolo.

“The ninth speaks of you and your firm quite favorably,” Reborn commented.

“I am pleased to hear that, and my men will be also. They work hard. I also had to acquaint myself with my changed circumstances. Work out the kinks. Once I did, naturally I thought I’d check around and see where you were.”

“You have some way to spy on us.” It was not a question.

Tsuna had a sip of milk before answering. “Of course. I’m going to assume Luce never used it.”

Reborn’s brow shot up. “How do you know that name?”

A smile curved his mouth. “I know a lot of things, but I don’t always share unless my heart is involved.” Not quite beating Reborn over the head with a clue hammer, but close enough.

“You will never be Luce.”

“Good,” he replied, still smiling.

Reborn’s eyes narrowed and he had more tiramisu.

“There was a second issue regarding you,” he said, then diverted to have more of his treat.

Reborn waggled his fork impatiently and had a sip of his espresso.

“Mm, frisky. I like that. It’s very simple, Taiyo. I’d heard some rumors and had to investigate. Why even consider risking a bond with a potential guardian who isn’t himself?”

His former tutor frowned.

“Would it even mean anything if your memories truly had been tampered with? I was pleased to find out that wasn’t accurate. I can accept a lot of things, like bitterness, because I’m bitter myself about a number of things. But someone who’d deliberately had his memories tampered with? As a cheap escape? No. Once I addressed my two concerns I had a peek, then arranged a meeting to see you in person.”

“You’re giving me a chance based on that.”

Tsuna shook his head. “I’m giving us a chance. You may end up not liking me, after all.”

“Point,” Reborn conceded. “I am contracted to a long-term job, however.”

“Yes, I know,” he said teasingly. “Irrelevant, also, as I’d be the last person to suggest you went back on an agreement. But surely you aren’t with the young master every hour of every day. You and I can go on play dates!” he chirped, then grinned at their approaching server.

“Are you two doing all right here?” she cooed.

“We’re fine,” Tsuna said with a firm nod. “When I grow up can we get married?”

The girl blushed and giggled. “You are so cute! Okay, I’ll be back in a bit to check on you.” She wandered off, giggling quietly.

“Play dates, huh?” Reborn said with a smirk.

“Or I could be your super cool teaching assistant every so often. I have a business to run, but I have time for the things I want. Getting to know the heir of one of my clients wouldn’t be a hardship. He seems like a nice kid and I think he’ll be one fantastic Sky.” He smiled in fond remembrance of just how competent—so long as he had one of his men nearby—and kind Dino had been.

“I can ask the ninth if that would bother him,” Reborn said, not shooting the idea down. “But depending on where you’re based out of that might be one hell of a trip.”

“You let me worry about that.” He really wished they could risk using Daemon’s warping ability, though. Close to eight hours in a car was never something to look forward to. It was even worse by train. “I’d rather meet with you in a place you’re comfortable, rather than on edge looking for complications from idiots too stupid resist temptation.”

Reborn looked smug again. “I am good. People like to test themselves against me at times.”

“At the risk of fluffing your ego, yes, you’re very good.”

“You’re not so bad yourself,” Reborn said graciously. “Though Dino is not exactly a proper test. Why those?”

“I wanted something that couldn’t be taken from me,” he said with a shrug. “Although they cauterize wounds, as I’ve discovered.”

Reborn’s brow went up.

“Mm. I was attacked and stabbed one of them in the side of the knee to disable him. After all three were down I noticed it.”

“Disable? Not kill.”

“Hai. I’m friends with the heir of the territory it happened in, so I called him and he had his people collect the trash for interrogation. If it was bigger than just those three, well…”

Reborn nodded. “I see. Makes sense.” He tensed a second later.

Tsuna’s gaze slid sideways to see a chibi version of Daemon bouncing their way. The second he got close enough the remainder of his cannolo was stolen and popped into Daemon’s mouth. He sighed in resignation. “I take it it’s that time?”

Daemon nodded, obviously enjoying his bounty.

“You know, if you like them that much, you could have just asked me to make some for dessert.”

His Mist laughed creepily. “I already paid the bill.” Then he turned to Reborn. “Ciao, Taiyo.”

“Kiri.”

“Okay, well. Unfortunately, duty calls,” he said to Reborn. “Let me know.”

“I will do so.”

Tsuna had a last sip of his milk and slipped off his chair. Daemon took his arm and they walked off. The second it was safe Daemon reconfigured himself to adult form and picked Tsuna up, but it was not until they were in the car that either of them said anything.

“What do you plan to send him?”

“A nice big thing of tiramisu. He’s pretty well obsessed with coffee, anyway. I’ll have to check to see what else I could make for little care packages.”

“Aw, my little Tsu-kun, courting his Sun,” Daemon teased.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“I would say seal it with your flames, but…”

“Right. That’s a Vongola thing. Wait. I wonder how long something I, ah—I don’t know what word to use. For when I make the kunai appear.”

“Materialize?”

He shrugged. “Okay. I don’t know how long one would last. I could, in theory, band a box with my flames, except I’d only know to let them dissolve if you were watching the whole time. Maybe some other time? I don’t know.”

“Just use your usual symbol for now,” Daemon advised.

“Okay. And there’s nothing saying I can’t test the idea on the side. Wait, wait.” He tried to think back. “The missives Nono sent during that whole Varia mess stuck around because they were at the top of each paper. But if they’d been done as a seal?”

“Yes, that might disrupt the flames.”

“I’ll test it when we get home, then.” It was the first thing he did once he gained his office. A piece of paper was fetched out and tri-folded, then he placed a Vongola-style seal on it. Daemon picked it up and opened it; the brilliant orange flames sputtered out. Seeing that, Tsuna rooted around for a spare box and started working on a sort of ribbon of his flames, to band the box with.

He went through half a dozen failures before he laughed. “I’ll just keep practicing. Maybe if I can get it down I can also get that symbol ‘etched’ into it.”

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” Daemon said, then wandered off.

*

Reborn stared at the box in his hands with a healthy mixture of anticipation and suspicion. Sora had obviously sent it; there was a “ribbon” around the box made from flames, and the odd, steampunk-inspired compass rose associated with Welkin was “etched” into it. Some sort of Mist construct had delivered it straight to him, and it caused Dino to gawk like a country bumpkin on his first visit to a large city. “Dino, step back a bit, over to the wall,” he said as he carefully set the box down on a quite short broken column.

Dino skittered away and watched from a distance.

He placed his hands back on the box long enough to send a pulse of flames through it, but got a negative response. Whatever it contained was not harmful. That being the case, he carefully pulled apart the band and twitched minutely when it dissolved. He sent another pulse through and got the same results, so he carefully lifted the lid.

His eyes widened and his nostrils flared. Carefully tucked inside the box was a selection of sweets. Tiramisu, some kind of brownies, and what looked like crème brûlée. Also inside was a folded sheet of stationery, which he plucked out before closing the lid.

Taiyo,

Kiri tells me I’m a passable cook, so I thought I’d share some with you as a sign of my regard. Let me know what you think?

Sora

He folded the letter and tucked it away, then peeked into the box again. If he wasn’t careful he would start drooling from the scents rising up.

“Reborn?”

‘Ah,’ he thought. ‘A volunteer.’ He gestured at Dino and waited until the blond came over, then plucked a brownie out and offered it.

Dino, being far too trusting still, smiled and promptly had a bite, then moaned. “Oh, God.” He then proceeded to snarf the brownie down in record time and gaze longingly into the box, his fingers twitching toward it.

‘That was mildly disturbing,’ he thought, then closed the box. “Let’s go inside.” Once resettled he placed a square of tiramisu on a plate and pushed it toward Dino, who jumped on it with the enthusiasm of a crazed weasel. Moaning was again involved. Dino had also not dropped dead or complained of agonizing stomach pains.

That being the case he grabbed a brownie and had a bite. It was only through years of training that he himself did not moan. Sora had managed to incorporate coffee into them, in little rivers of gooey delight. ‘Dear Lord,’ he thought as he savored the taste. ‘And Kiri said “passable”? Wait, Japanese. They’re modest to a fault—usually.’

Dino was eyeing the crème brûlée with hungry eyes, so he obligingly handed one over, then moved on to a square of tiramisu for himself. ‘Dear Lord,’ he thought again. ‘I think he’s trying to seduce me with food.’ He was almost afraid to try the last choice, but he would. He was brave.

*

After a month of short letters going back and forth, Reborn invited him to come help, so Tsuna and Daemon took off, leaving Fon in charge while they were away. Fon and Skull would give part of the game away, and Romeo was simply too new and too young to play single guardian, so Daemon remained his escort. Once they arrived at Cavallone Manor he adopted Reborn’s method of transport and perched on Daemon’s shoulder. Quince was snuggled into his hair.

When they arrived at the courtyard it was to see Dino being run ragged, which made Tsuna feel a pang of sympathy. Reborn lifted his hand in a salute of welcome despite his eyes never leaving his student, so Daemon went to stand next to him.

“Sora. Kiri,” Reborn said quietly.

“Taiyo,” he chirped, and was joined by Quince’s chortle.

Reborn’s gaze snapped over and up.

Tsuna stroked the back of Daemon’s neck and was quickly set on the ground, at which point Quince crawled up to sit atop his head and stare at Reborn. “Meet Quince, my companion. He doesn’t actually like daylight much, but was curious to meet you.”

“Hm. Egyptian fruit bat. Ciaossu, Quince. My companion is Leon.”

The chameleon still liked to perch on Reborn’s hat, so it was to there that Tsuna looked. “You’re a cutie, Leon. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.” He slipped a hand into his pocket and pulled out a small box, then offered it to Reborn; it was banded with his flames like the previous offering.

Reborn eyed it for a moment and accepted, clearly torn over whether or not to open it straight away.

“You know you want to,” he whispered.

Reborn sighed and broke the seal, causing the band to dissipate, then opened the box. His lips pursed for the briefest of moments. “A passable cook?” he said derisively, then took the brownie and began munching on it.

“Oh, so you liked it,” he said happily.

“Just sweets?”

“No, no. It took me a while to get the hang of Italian cooking, though. It’s so very different.”

“Hm.”

“How’s his aim?” he asked, eyeing Dino as he puffed his way along.

“Not nearly good enough yet, naturally, but he’s improving.”

“Has he been able to draw out his flames?”

Reborn shook his head. For thirty seconds or so there was silence, then Reborn looked at him and said, “I am curious.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve been wondering how he would respond to a relatively unknown Sky trying to get him to manifest flames.”

He nodded. “I can try if you like. Does he have an appropriate ring? I’m afraid I didn’t think to look when last I was here.”

“He does. I’ll have him cool down, and then you can give it a shot.”

“Sure!”

“Testing you?” Quince asked.

“Probably. Or maybe he really is curious. Dino seems awfully skittish and he said he didn’t want to even be heir, so he’s probably resisting in half a dozen directions at once.”

Quince chortled and slid down so he could burrow into Tsuna’s hair to shade himself.

Fifteen minutes later Tsuna was sitting on a stool constructed from his own flames in a shady spot with Dino in front of him. “Got your breath back?” he asked kindly.

Dino nodded, though his expression was a bit fearful. He probably thought Tsuna was as much of a sadist as Reborn could be.

“In some ways it took me a long time to easily manifest my flames.”

“What? But you’re an Arcobaleno. You’re like—special.”

He nodded. “True.” He tapped his temple. “But your head can mess things like that up. When I think of my flames I think of them as my resolve made visible, even tangible, an extension of my power and drive. I want,” he said, then materialized a kunai in his hand. “I want to be able to protect myself, to pin someone down, even to kill if necessary. It’s mine. And just like my hand obeys me, so do my flames. It means I can defend myself and my loved ones. What do yours mean to you?”

“Oh, um…” Dino looked to be at a complete loss, but Tsuna waited patiently. “I guess I never really thought about it. I’ve seen my father do it and he always seemed comfortable creating them. You make it look really easy.”

He giggled. “As with anything else it takes practice and hard work. My first efforts along these lines—” He wiggled the kunai. “—were pretty sloppy and they were rather transparent. It’s simpler to try to spark flames off that ring you’re wearing, like a light. An orange light, but still a light, and useful for when you need to stumble somewhere in the dark.”

Dino laughed softly.

“Try, for your own sake, to spark flames off that ring. They’re yours, they’re a part of you. They’re created from your life force.”

Dino began to freak out.

“Settle down, please, gaki,” he said gently. “I don’t mean it in the sense that you spend life. It’s like having the energy to walk or run or swim. It’s replenished when you eat and rest. It has an odd little relationship with stamina for that reason, which is why most mafiosi who’re flame active are in even better shape than normal.”

“…So that’s why Reborn pushes me so hard?”

He nodded. “Yep. I work out at least three times a week, if not more, and practice my skills. What I want you to try is to make your flames dance on that ring. Here, look,” he said, and released the kunai, then lifted his hand. After he thumbed the ring he concentrated and sparked flames off it.

“Those … aren’t orange.”

“Oh, I’ve been experimenting with something. But you see what I mean? What I want you to try? Good,” he said when Dino nodded. “It’s your power, your will, your resolve. Use it. Show the brilliance inside you. Spark that ring. Keep what I’ve said in mind, and keep trying. Because once you see it happen, you’ll own it. On a different topic, do you have any guardians yet?”

Dino shook his head.

“Not even Romario?”

“Uh…”

“It’s fine, gaki. Only someone who’s harmonized can try to explain this. When you harmonize with someone, it’s … like coming home, but in your heart. It’s like a flower in your chest, and each connection you make is a petal of warmth and affection, even love. You know, beyond question, that you’re never alone. Having that feeling helps, for a number of things.”

Dino looked exceptionally thoughtful at that, spared a moment to glance toward one of the upper levels of the house, and then stared at his ring just as thoughtfully. “Protection, huh?” he muttered. And much faster than Romeo had managed, flames sparked off Dino’s ring, flickering a brilliant orange.

“Well done!” he praised. Of course, they immediately winked out. “Try again,” he said encouragingly. “It’s probably a good goal to try to get your flames visible and keep them for increasing amounts of time, even when holding a conversation or maybe doing some exercise, so you learn to do that subconsciously. And once you can do that you can move on to using them defensively or offensively. Like, say, making a flame whip.”

“Like your weapon?”

He shrugged. “Or coating the whip you have with your flames. I’ve never tried making an actual whip, and I’d probably hurt myself trying to use one, so…”

Dino laughed again.

He shrugged again. “I had to adjust my kunai to fit my hands. I think of them as compressed flames. When I first started working with them I had terrible aim. It was pathetic.” He shook his head sadly. “But I kept trying.”

“And you pinned me to the wall in no time flat,” Dino said sheepishly.

He smiled. “But I earned that. Just like I earned my skill at cooking.”

Dino pinned him with a look of hungry adoration, then focused on his ring again, so Tsuna got up, released his stool, and wandered over to Reborn.

“You are devious, using the truth like that,” Reborn commented.

“Truth is a funny thing,” he said agreeably. “So is perception. Are you enjoying being a tutor?”

“Oddly enough, yes. You ever been one?”

“Just once. A young man a little older than Dino. He didn’t have a clue about flames when I hired him as an agent, but I was pretty sure he was a Lightning, so I coached him into showing it. He’s fairly steady at making shields now and I expect his progress to continue nicely. I mean, he’s out on jobs fairly often, so it’s not like I can run him into the ground, and I have plenty of my own work to do.” He shrugged. “I’m fairly certain paperwork was invented in Yomi.”

Reborn chuckled.

“How exactly do hitmen handle that aspect?” he asked curiously. “I mean, do you give verbal reports or…?” He had no idea. He had spent a lot of time jumping from one Vongola fire to another, which meant repeatedly being charming around other high-up mafiosi while his guardians arrayed themselves and demonstrated that they were bloodthirsty psychos. One would not think that Takeshi could be intimidating, but there was something about that dopey smile of incomprehension combined with narrowed eyes that made any number of people squirm. It said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but if you fuck with me, I will make sushi with your flesh.”

“Depends,” Reborn said. “Some people just want proof of the mission. Other people want information mined along the way.”

He hummed thoughtfully. “Does proof mean a report in the news, or more like bringing back a hand for the fingerprints or something?”

Reborn snickered quietly and fired off a warning shot to get Dino moving again.

Tsuna just hoped the kid managed to combine stamina training with flame training. Feeling helpful he called out, “Spark those flames while you run, gaki!”

“You do realize he has no idea what that word means,” Reborn commented.

“Mm. But by the time he does he’ll be used to it as a term of endearment.”

“And it’s even used that way, depending on circumstances.”

“Right. So I have a ready defense if I’m ever called on it,” he said, smiling slightly.

“Do you enjoy being a broker?”

“It’s … interesting,” he said slowly, wincing when Dino tripped over a weed. “People have a wide variety of reasons for needing a broker. In some ways it’s not terribly different from being a private detective firm for normal people. But it gives the smaller, less well-connected famiglie a way to get help—so long as they can pay the fee, of course.”

Reborn gave him a shrewd look. “And smaller famiglie are less likely to try to annex you into their control.”

Tsuna smiled. “Kiri would quickly set that notion straight, but that was originally a factor, you’re quite correct.”

“Kiri is very skilled.”

Tsuna grinned when he heard creepy laughter echo through the courtyard, but frowned when it startled Dino into doing a face plant into the dirt. He sighed and shook his head. “Maybe I could try to teach him about being in harmony with his surroundings?” he muttered. “Not that it would help him with Kiri.”

As if summoned, his Mist popped up nearby and offered juice boxes. Reborn shook his head, but Tsuna accepted with a smile and jammed the straw in place. He took a sip and hummed; it was mixed fruit. “I’m tempted to start calling you Sebastian,” he said.

Daemon smirked and shrank down to chibi size. “I’m not sure I could bring myself to attack with forks and knives, Sora.”

“Ah, so it was you. I’d wondered why my manga collection seemed disturbed.”

“And I go through all your stuff to see if you’re writing little love notes about me in your secret diary.”

Tsuna giggled madly. “You adorably creepy bastard.”

“I vote in favor, by the way. Teaching the young one to be more in harmony with his surroundings isn’t a bad idea. Though—” Daemon eyed Dino’s progress around the courtyard. “—I’m not sure it will do anything for his clumsiness.”

Tsuna sucked up some juice and nodded. “He needs a lot more work with his flames for that, though, so it’s something for another day. And so long as Taiyo does not object.”

Reborn’s lips pursed. “I’ll think about it. But what you said is already having an effect. Look.”

Tsuna’s brow furrowed as he tried to work out what Reborn meant. It hit him after five minutes of observation. “Oh. He’s so busy trying to split his attention that he’s not tripping so often. Huh. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future. He’s certainly not the only clumsy person out there, and I might end up hiring one along the way. Be kind of embarrassing if they had to defend themselves on a job and only survived because it turned into a Three Stooges routine.”

Reborn and Daemon snickered in unison at the image.

He was brought up short on his next thought to be voiced by a dainty gasp from behind them. ‘Damn it, Daemon, you could have warned me,’ he groused, then blinked when Daemon caused an illusion to form briefly in front of his face. ‘Shit, shit, shit, it’s Bianchi. What the hell is she doing here?’ He returned to watching Dino’s progress and prayed.

“You!” he heard. “You, you—how dare you?”

Tsuna raised a brow at Daemon, who responded with a tiny shrug.

“My little brother should not be obsessed with a dwarf like you!” she shrieked.

He sent a meaningful look at Daemon, who smirked and nodded. A minute later of silence he heard, “Oh! I’m going to be late for my hair appointment!” and the sound of feet running off.

He exhaled slowly. “Right. What was that all about?”

“Apparently it was a mistake to wear your emblem,” Daemon said. “It seems the young lady’s brother has developed something of an obsession with Welkin, and is considering hiring us.”

Tsuna gawked. “What the hell? Scorpioni has … right. Bianchi. She’s thirteen, suspected Storm, poisons things. Her brother is nine, suspected Storm. Nine? And he wants to hire us?”

Daemon nodded.

He rubbed his forehead in confusion. “We’ll worry about it when, since it’s business.”

Daemon nodded again. “I was hoping you’d make Pork Marsala soon,” he said casually.

Tsuna snorted softly. “Consider it done. But I want a full report regarding what just happened.” ‘Such as how the fuck she knew we’d be here.’

“So,” Reborn said, “that happen often?”