Grazhir :: Crossover :: Welkin :: 11

11: 2015

Reborn wandered into the training room he was using and took a seat. Tsuna noticed his Sun had a peculiar look on his face, but quickly returned to giving his full attention to the spar he was engaged in with Daemon. All of them (but Daemon) were wearing the new earrings his Mist had created and were continuing to hone their skills in their new forms, as uncomfortable as it was. He had wondered where Reborn had gotten off to, but that could wait.

Twenty minutes later he was going through cool-down stretches near his Sun, eyeing him with concern, and alternately watching Romeo and Skull go at it. It had been something of a hilarious moment when Romeo had first tried to create his quarterstaff in his “new” body and it ended up being way too long to get any use out of, not to mention how one bladed end had stabbed into the floor and ruined one of the tatami.

Unfortunately, the next two names drawn from the basin had him back on the floor, that time against Colonnello. They were also trying to ensure that everyone could still fight even when tired, though the effort was directed more at Tsuna, Romeo, and Skull.

Several hours later, after everyone had been in at least one spar, they showered, got dressed, and collapsed in various spots in Tsuna’s office. “What was that expression for?” he asked his Sun.

“Nono sent me a letter,” Reborn said, then frowned. “There’s been a breakout at Vendicare.”

Tsuna managed to check his reaction and tamp it down to a mere curious rise of a brow. “And?”

“Apparently some people recently imprisoned passed around the latest news. I guess they have to keep themselves occupied somehow in there.” Reborn’s frown lingered. “Word got to certain prisoners about a new heir of Vongola.”

“Reborn, don’t make me threaten you with take-out.”

Reborn sighed. “A half dozen Estraneo and two others managed to break out and Nono thinks they’re headed this way, probably following rumors regarding my latest job. And if they do show up, he expects you to take care of the problem.”

“Son of a horker!”

A babble of angry voices rose up and blended into a cacophonous muddle, which ended abruptly when Daemon hissed like a demon fresh out of Yomi. “Gentlemen,” he said warningly.

Tsuna shook his head in abject wonder. The nerve of that old man. “Well, fine. If they come here they can expect to die. Possibly in grisly ways. Or am I supposed to show compassion or something because they couldn’t have been involved in the attack on my mother?”

Reborn shrugged. “Does it matter? They come anywhere near here and they die. This counts as a sanctioned hit, should it come to that.”

“Okay,” he said, “let’s just assume for now that they will. That means we need to be in disguise until this is resolved, which sucks.”

“Just as well I made those earrings, because I’m going to have to have an army of spies out keeping watch.”

“Did the old man say anything about what sorts this bunch are?” Skull asked. “Flame types, weapons, anything?”

Reborn shook his head. “But we are information specialists. We just need to track down this list of names on the order. And, to refresh everyone’s memory, Tsuna’s current guardians are Cloud, Mist, Storm, and Lightning. I’ll be playing tutor and Colonnello can be sneaky.”

“Or keeping an eye on the kids,” Tsuna pointed out. “Though I suppose Byakuran might be willing to stick around for a long visit.”

Colonnello shook his head. “No, it’s fine. Someone does need to keep an eye on them. Hayato is old enough to help out. Let’s keep our friend out of this. The first sign of Estraneo in the area and the kids are all going to come down with a case of stomach flu or something and be kept tucked away behind the manor protections.”

“Thank you,” Romeo said quietly.

The next week was spent on research, and during that time Byakuran informed them that two of the escapees, the “Bloody Twins”, had been recaptured after they slaughtered some random civilians. That left the six Estraneo men. For some reason, they were all Storms.

“I wonder if they have enough resolve left to do more than give me a facial scrub,” Tsuna mused, much to Fon’s amusement.

“Yeah, well, I’m sure they’ve all managed to find guns by now,” Romeo said, setting down one of the profiles.

Daemon suddenly sucked in a breath. “Found them. Just glossed them past some civilians they were about to ‘play’ with.”

Tsuna gave his Mist a look of concern, which he couldn’t see, naturally, because his eyes were closed. “Right. And none of us are old enough to drive. Great.”

Reborn cracked up.

A half hour later they were “innocently” strolling down a mostly disused road in search of a picnic spot. Funny how that was becoming a “thing”. Tsuna stopped dead when six brutish-looking men appeared, and his guardians all bumped into him or each other at the abrupt change in velocity.

The biggest Estraneo laughed harshly and cracked his knuckles. “Look, boys, it’s a baby Vongola and his little friends!”

Reborn made a rude sound.

Tsuna glanced down for a second and noted that his Sun had, for some reason, chosen to hide his pacifier. “Who are you?” he asked flatly.

The leader laughed again and nudged his closest companion. “And it seems the old man didn’t even bother to warn the baby Vongola,” he crowed.

“Look, whoever you are. We’re simply out enjoying the day. Why don’t you just turn around and walk away,” he said, trying to sound nervous.

“Hey,” the leader said sharply. “Your fucking family wiped mine out, so you’re gonna pay, pretty boy.”

Tsuna’s eyes went wide. He looked down at Reborn again and whispered a little too loudly, “These guys are Estraneo?”

Reborn shrugged. “Probably. You should take care of it.”

“But what if normal people get too close?” he protested, keeping one eye on the escapees.

The leader sneered. “You think we give a shit about civilians? The odds of us staying two steps ahead of the Vindice drops with every second. No, little boy, we will kill you and your pathetic guardians, and anyone stupid enough to get in the way.”

He had just opened his mouth to speak again when the guns came out. He didn’t see the point in giving orders, he just materialized kunai and threw. The leader went down a heartbeat later, followed by three others. The remaining two’s eyes went wide with fear and they bolted to the sides, only to be felled by Fon attacking left while Romeo attacked right.

Tsuna blew a flat raspberry. “Okay then. Storm?”

Fon nodded and moved closer to the first pair of bodies, concentrated and disintegrated them, then did the same for the others.

“That was … anticlimactic,” Romeo said.

“I’ll let the Vongola Nono know the contract has been completed. Time to go home,” Reborn said. “A picnic at this point seems a little inappropriate.”

“Yeah.” Tsuna did an about-face and began the walk back to the alternate base.

A week later Reborn reported, “Nono is apparently glowing.”

“Someone coated him with phosphorus?” Skull quipped.

Reborn gave the Cloud a sarcastic smile. “He’s thrilled with your performance, Tsuna,” he said and shook a piece of paper with a flaming orange seal at the top. “He might have put a good word or two about your guardians in there somewhere.”

Tsuna rolled his eyes and sent a look at Daemon.

“Glowing is probably a good description,” the Mist said with a tilt of his head. “Gleeful? No. Very pleased, in any case. He’s been making confirmation noises.”

“I’m not even fifteen yet! Nor am I Catholic,” he added as an afterthought.

Reborn’s mouth twitched.

“Confirming you as incipient Decimo,” Daemon explained ever so patiently, “though he doesn’t seem to actually be gearing up for that so much as mulling it over. After all, you don’t have all your guardians yet.”

Tsuna slumped in his chair and tried to ignore the sound of a boy screaming down the hallway, followed quickly by a girl screaming down the hallway in Mandarin Chinese. “At this rate I’ll be Decimo by the time I’m eighteen. Ugh. We may have outsmarted ourselves, you know. If nobody knows we’re Arcobaleno, we don’t have quite the same intimidation factor when it comes to looming—figuratively speaking—over Nono or that man.”

“True, true,” Colonnello said, “but this way is the best shot we have at preserving our present life, even if we will have to do double the work for eight to ten years, assuming the eldest half-sibling is a Sky.”

“Are we sure wiping out the Vongola Famiglia isn’t an option?” Tsuna whined. “Because I’m sure we could prop Dino up to fill in the gap.” In point of fact, he seemed to recall telling Giotto and the other previous heads that he might well destroy Vongola, and they had still given him their blessing to be Decimo. That option was looking better and better all the time. He remembered the horrible, terrible things he’d had to do as Decimo the last time around. After a quick shudder of despair he noticed Daemon was smirking at him, so he childishly stuck his tongue out.

Daemon’s smirk got wicked.

He thought about what he’d just done, blushed, and looked away.

“Okay, enough flirting,” Reborn said briskly.

*

Tsuna was plating up lunch when Daemon’s head snapped around to look at him. “I love you, Daemon, you know that, but I am getting a little weirded out by you acting like Regan in the Exorcist.”

Skull cracked up and had to steady himself with one hand before he could finish setting out the cutlery.

Daemon scowled.

“Oh come on, it was a joke!”

“Fine. But yes, I have news.”

“That man found the lost island of Atlantis and was promptly eaten by a chimera?”

“No, sadly. Xanxus got free of his confinement and is now back as the head of the Varia.”

A wine glass hit the floor and shattered just as Reborn strolled in reading a letter and saying, “Huh, Aria is warning me that things might get a little crazy soon.”

Tsuna groaned and finished getting the food ready, then began to ferry plates to the table. Hayato came in with the kids in tow, then rushed to help. Thankfully Skull’s little mishap had happened out of the general flow of traffic, so it could be dealt with after they ate.

A quick meeting was held in Tsuna’s office. “I think,” Reborn said once they were settled and any eavesdropping children were directed away with one of Daemon’s wards, “that we should go visit Dino, to get him up to speed.”

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s see. You, me, Daemon, and…” He looked at Fon and Colonnello, neither of whom had gone yet.

“I will stay here,” Fon said, “to ensure my charges behave themselves.”

Colonnello nodded. “Sure, I’ll go. Would be interesting to see Cavallone Manor.”

Arrangements were made, clothing was packed, children were threatened (it was already a serious downer for them that Tsuna was taking a trip, because someone else had to do the cooking), and they all piled into the car the next morning.

“Sorry for the short notice,” Tsuna said as they took places in Dino’s office.

Dino eyed him funny. “Short? Try extremely short. Your idea of notice was to knock on my front door!”

“For all we know someone is tapping your phone lines,” Colonnello said, “leeching off your internet connection, and selling pictures of you in the shower taken with a very long range telephoto lens!”

Reborn made a rude noise. “Don’t be ridiculous. I used to live here, remember?”

“Okay, okay, settle down,” Tsuna said firmly. “We have a potential situation, and we want you to be aware of it.”

Dino nodded. “And then we can have a proper visit.”

“Right. In case you hadn’t heard yet, Xanxus got free somehow and he’s back as head of the Varia.”

“Oh boy,” Dino said with a sigh. “And from what I know, the possibility exists that he will somehow manage to push the issue of succession.”

“Correct, my cute little former student,” Reborn said. “You need to be aware, on guard, and ready to come south at a moment’s notice.”

Dino nodded again. “Well, considering what he’s already tried, I wouldn’t put it past him to scheme his little black heart out. You having trustworthy backup is always a plan. I had heard there was some Varia operation going on on some island, but the knowledge that Xanxus was back in charge… No.”

“Thank you,” Tsuna said warmly. “Also, if you do need to come south, please be warned that we’ll all look a bit different. We’ve come up with a way to…”

“Consider them costumes,” Daemon said. “We don’t want Vongola or anyone else knowing what we really look like.”

“So you can go back to your real lives at some point,” Romario said.

“Correct. You already know of the alternate location, so that is where you would go, though I don’t see why we couldn’t put you up at Est Manor as before.”

“Okay,” Dino said, “we will have emergency response packs ready. Now, for the important stuff.”

“If you can convince your cooks to bail for the afternoon, yes, I’ll cook dinner for us.”

Dino glowed with happiness. “That, too. But what I meant was, is your current appearance an example of one of Daemon’s costumes?”

“Yep. This is the look for the Sky Arcobaleno. I look too much like my mother and that man might have caught on.”

“Huh. Well… So let’s visit!”

*

“These are the new earrings I came up with,” Daemon said. “The first set made you all look a little too much like yourselves.”

“True,” Fon said, then went over to a mirror to put his in.

The others followed suit and there were identical exclamations of shock from everyone but Tsuna thirty seconds later. Tsuna turned around and gawked. He now had nearly identical sextuplets for guardians. He could tell which one was Daemon by the hair colour and the fact that he was having hysterics in the corner.

“What the hell?” Colonnello said, his blue hair identifying him. All of them seemed to be based in part off Tsuna’s appearance, but had Reborn’s liquid black eyes and hair in the shades of their flames.

Fon eyed Daemon patiently. “Enjoying your little prank?”

Daemon just laughed harder and slammed his hand down a few times.

The door opened and Byakuran breezed in, stopped dead, and dissolved into a puddle of laughter.

Tsuna rolled his eyes and closed the door again.

“Prank it may be,” Romeo said, “but is it such a bad idea? We sure as hell can’t be identified as ourselves.”

“I vote yes~!” Byakuran managed to get back up and find a chair. “Think how creepy it’d be! You’d be like the Children of the Corn or something.”

“We have really got to stop watching American horror flicks on movie nights,” Tsuna muttered.

*

Tsuna set the phone down and sighed, then went off to drag his guardians to a training room to work off some steam. He was pissed about a number of things, first and foremost that all this Vongola stuff was negatively impacting his business. If it all went to hell in the end, he supposed he could open a bakery catering to mafiosi with a sideline of killing off the unruly ones.

Several hours later, once they were cleaned up and had regrouped, he said, “Dino called. Apparently that man decided that they were great friends for some reason and Dino could help him deliver the Vongola half-rings.”

“His subordinate, Basil, is going to play decoy,” Daemon said, “not that he’s aware of it.”

‘I swear,’ he thought, ‘so many things stay the same. I wonder if that man still taught Basil an archaic form of Japanese?’

Daemon gave a faint nod. “However, as I’m sure you know, the protections here will prevent that man from ever stepping foot on the property. He’ll have to slum it in a hotel.”

“That won’t stop him from observing the battles,” Tsuna said morosely.

“No, but I can keep him away from you if you like,” Daemon pointed out. “Don’t worry about it. I expect you’ll have some kind of Verde-level confrontation with that man at some point, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” He flashed up a quick message—for Tsuna’s eyes only, presumably—of: i let byakuran know.

“So any second now we could have a lot of civilians in a screaming panic,” Colonnello mused, “because the Varia is not known for it’s cool and collected behavior.”

“More to the point is that this Basil person is going to be trying to find us and has no real hope of it,” Reborn said.

Fon sighed. “I guess it’s time for another picnic.”

“I’m not cooking for that,” Tsuna said tiredly. “We’ll throw some store-bought stuff in a basket, so that if it gets trampled it’s no big loss.”

“I wonder who’ll show up,” Romeo said quietly.

“Maybe Squalo,” Reborn said.

Romeo adopted a look of recall. “He’s the Varia second in command and ran the place while Xanxus was out of commission. Rain, Sword Emperor after defeating Tyr, the previous Sword Emperor, has a fake left hand with attached sword.”

Reborn nodded. “I suggest we play this a bit less competently than when we handled those escapees. Put the onus of effort on CEDEF. Basil is a decoy, so the idea is obviously to fake out whichever Varia does come, to buy time.”

“So you think they’ll get the fake rings, return with them to Varia HQ, and assume they’ve won by default, only to figure out at some point…” At least Reborn was making it easy for him to say things like that.

“Yes.”

“We could just skip the picnic,” Skull said. “I mean, do we really need to conveniently be out and about just to stage a moment of ineptitude?”

“What if the Varia tries to kill this Basil person?” Romeo asked. “Just because he’s an unwitting stooge of that man’s doesn’t mean he deserves to die.”

“Good point,” Skull said with a sigh.

“So, a picnic,” Fon reiterated.

“Fine. Daemon, if you would please go pick up some mass-produced ickiness to put in the basket?”

Daemon nodded and departed, morphing into his proper adult form on the way.

“Hayato will be in charge of our junior division again,” he continued.

Romeo scowled. “Lambo has never quite been the same since that boy strapped him down with duct tape and gave him a haircut.”

“You mean you like it when he flings grenades with wild abandon in the house?” Fon asked disbelievingly. “We all saw what he did to your sitting room when you scolded him for eating an entire crate of grape candy.”

Romeo looked down. “Fine. You may have a point. Lambo can no longer hide stuff in his hair. At least until it grows out.”

The first thing Tsuna had done was confiscate the Ten Year Bazooka when Lambo was upset enough to produce it, distracting the kid with a bundle of grapes. It was tucked away in a box labeled castor oil and shoved into the attic behind one of Daemon’s “wards”. True, Byakuran was no longer bent on world domination, but nobody needed to have visits from the older version of Lambo—or anyone else, for that matter.

And Colonnello was better than Valium when it came to calming someone down. Just a little Rain Flames applied the right way and Lambo behaved himself, at least for a little while. Romeo was having his own effect on the chaotic cow, and Lambo was eager to emulate his beloved Daddy, so with time Tsuna expected Lambo to become a mostly-functioning member of society far sooner than in his previous life.

His phone chirped so he checked his text messages. Dino was letting him know they were preparing to head south in the morning and that Basil would be leaving at around the same time, though from a different location.

“Heads up, guys,” he said. “We can expect the show to start tomorrow afternoon.”

*

There was a park on the edge of the city that was oddly avoided by the masses that day, though there were a few hardier souls who braved the area to have a picnic of their own. Daemon had set up redirections with some holes in them, to limit the number of potential civilian casualties or potential visits to the hospital for reasons of sudden, crippling insanity.

Tsuna and his guardians (a construct was playing the part of “Sun”) rolled on in with a picnic basket being pulled along in a red wagon.

“It’s oddly quiet today,” Daemon said, looking around. “How about over there?”

Tsuna nodded and changed course, reading the message flashed up in front of their eyes as he walked. Basil was getting nearer, and so was Squalo. They took up positions under a huge oak tree and he opened the basket. Daemon had purchased some stuff from the local bakery in addition to the mass-produced ickiness, so they could at least have a snack before the show started. He grabbed a tart from the tray on top and started munching.

He had just finished it and was contemplating having another when a “stranger” hastened by and hauled him along. Tsuna stubbornly dug in his heels, causing Basil to do a face-plant into the grass. “Who are you?” he demanded quietly.

Basil pushed himself up and shook his head to clear it, then turned a wide-eyed look on him. “Young master! I have something for you, but it must be kept safe from—”

And as if summoned, Squalo appeared. “You!”

Basil grabbed ahold of his arm again and started dragging. Tsuna found himself behind another huge tree moments later and a box shoved into his hands. Out of habit he refused to accept and the box hit the grass a second later. “Who are you?” he cried. “And why are you trying to give me things!?”

Basil groaned softly and grabbed the box so he could tuck it into his pocket. “Perhaps that will be sufficient?” he muttered. “No, that would—oh dear.”

Squalo could be heard approaching, and Tsuna expected the turf would never again be the same if those sword strokes meant anything. He took the opportunity to hasten back to his guardians, who were eyeing events with bemused expressions.

“So, who’s the crackpot?” Romeo asked.

Tsuna shrugged in deceitful denial and took another tart as Basil whipped out his weapon and began to battle Squalo. “I considered screaming out, ‘I need an adult!’ but decided against it.”

Daemon snickered and checked his phone, then flashed up another message: dino will be here shortly to save the day.

Reborn twitched a finger at Tsuna, so he leaned against the branch his Sun was perched on. Reborn whispered, “I’m augmenting Basil a bit, just to make sure he lasts long enough. He’s decently trained, though, I’ll give that man that much credit.”

He nodded. None of them had ever actually seen Basil, not even Reborn, so as far as they were concerned the teen was a crackpot. That was their excuse, and they were sticking to it. The civilians had already all fled, so they were out of danger, at least, though it did mean it was likely the police would be arriving shortly.

“Well, Squalo is Varia, so… The fact that Basil is holding up this well really says something,” he whispered back. “But seriously, how could anyone possibly assume we’d just divine who the kid is? That man didn’t even bother to forward a picture. For all I knew he could have been trying to get me to hold on to his drug stash.”

Fon overheard and snickered.

“He really likes saying that word, doesn’t he,” Romeo complained. “I take it you have be certifiable to even qualify for an interview with the Varia?”

“Yep,” Colonnello said. “And speak at least seven languages. Pig Latin doesn’t count.”

Dino chose that moment to appear with his men and as he passed by their tree he waved. “Hey, little brother. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

Tsuna had another tart, managing to grab the last one before Skull could, and smiled triumphantly before he bit into it.

“I will get you back for that,” Skull promised. “I will hurt you so bad. You will rue the day!”

He scoffed. They were about fifty-fifty in the shooter they liked to play.

Dino came back and looked in the basket, then frowned.

“Don’t worry, Dino-nii,” he said, and leaned closer when an arm wrapped around his shoulders. “I’ll make us all something decent.” He noticed that man enter the park and frowned. “The sooner the better. Let’s pack up and go, guys.”

“Should we grab the crackpot?” Romeo asked, eyeing the unconscious Basil.

“Uh, sure,” he said. “We can put him in the wagon, I guess.”

Romeo and Romario went off to drag Basil to their group, dump him in the wagon (Daemon grabbed the basket), and they all headed back to the alternate house. Reborn sat at the head of the wagon and kept a hand on the younger Rain, shaking his head every so often.

At the house Basil was stripped down, had all the blood washed off, and chucked into a spare bed to sleep it off, though Romario also checked him over with his flames to see if Reborn had missed anything. After that they all trooped off to the kitchen to talk while Tsuna started cooking a proper meal.

Dino produced the real box of Vongola half-rings and set them on the island. “Yay. You’re not going to have much time, you know. Not that you need much, but still.”

Tsuna nodded. “Different story if I was still in Japan, but yeah. We’ve done our homework. We know exactly how they fight, and we’re expecting them to try to pull some seriously underhanded moves.”

“That man is a royal pain in the ass,” Dino complained. “He strutted in like he was my best friend, told me how it was going to be, and more or less ordered me to haul ass south. Our families are allies, for fuck’s sake! We’re not Vongola’s subordinates! Please tell me you’re going to fire his ass once you’re made Decimo.”

He smiled. “Yes. After all, what’s the point of an external advisor you don’t know and can’t possibly trust.”

“You already have someone in mind?”

He grinned wickedly. “Yes. But that’s all I’ll say on the matter for now.” He was just getting ready to dish up some baked penne when Basil stumbled into the kitchen looking confused.

“I have failed,” Basil moaned.

“No you didn’t,” Dino replied. “I hate to break it to you, kid, but you were a decoy.” He tapped the box on the island.

“And you’re probably a hungry decoy,” Tsuna said, “so grab a seat at the table.”

Basil blinked a few times and nodded. He pulled out a chair and sat down, still looking confused.

Once everyone was set with pasta, salad, and bread, Tsuna said, “Have at it, guys.”

Everyone dove in, though Basil was a bit hesitant. He quickly enough had a bite of his pasta and whimpered. Tsuna eyed him curiously as he chewed on a forkful of salad.

“This is so good,” Basil said. “Thank you very much for including me in your meal. And for healing me. I tried my hardest to stand firm against Squalo, but…”

“You’re welcome,” Tsuna said. “I still don’t have a clue who you are, though.”

Basil’s jaw dropped. “What?”

“Oh, that’s right,” Dino said. “This is Basil. He’s a member of CEDEF.”

Reborn looked Basil up and down appraisingly. “Aren’t you a little young to be an agent?”

“Uh…”

“Basil, you already seem to know Tsuna,” Dino continued, and then introduced the guardians.

It was about then that the Rain finally seemed to wake up to the fact that all of Tsuna’s guardians were identical except for the hair. “Did I sustain a head injury?”

“You have a problem with sextuplets?” Reborn asked dangerously. “Are you questioning my ability to find loyal and skilled guardians for the incipient Vongola Decimo?”

Basil went pale and shook his head fervently.

“You can blow someone up later, Reborn,” Tsuna called down the table. “We only just got this fellow healed, after all. At least let him get a good meal into himself before you decide to go all Terminator.”

Reborn sent a playful glare his way and went back to eating.

A minute or so of silence passed before Basil spoke up again. “I was a decoy?”

Dino nodded, giving Basil a sad look. “Sorry, man. Sawada gave me the real set of rings and sent you off with some fakes. I’m just glad we arrived in time to make sure you lived, and still had all your limbs. I mean, Squalo is incredibly skilled, and really doesn’t have a problem with the idea of killing. They are an assassination group, after all. I really don’t get what Sawada was thinking, but…” He shrugged and forked up more pasta.

“He was probably hoping to stall,” Tsuna said for Basil’s benefit. “That guy with the girlishly long hair will go back to what’s-his-face, hand over the fakes, and we get some extra time before they’re discovered. I had no idea the head of CEDEF would throw one of his men under the bus like that, though. Seems awfully harsh.”

“He—no, that cannot be it,” Basil protested.

The entire table looked at him with pity, shaking their heads. “You can always come work for me,” Dino offered. “I mean, I already have a Rain, but I could always use more good men.”

“But he’s always been such a good master to me,” Basil further protested.

Romeo looked ill. “Master? What the hell kind of a kinky relationship do you have with that man?”

“I think he means more like a sensei,” Tsuna ‘explained’.

“Oh, I see. Still…”

“Personally, I am somewhat peeved that CEDEF did not bother to warn any of us,” Fon said in his mildly reproving way. “That says much in terms of trust, or the lack thereof. It’s hardly conducive to a good working relationship when we’re left in the dark and expected to all blossom a talent in prescience.”

Basil’s expression just kept getting more and more woebegone, though the corners of his mouth twitched up every time he shoved another forkful of food into his mouth. “Where is the boss, anyway?”

Reborn stared. “None of us even know what he looks like, kid.”

“But—”

“Hell, I’ve only known what he looks like for less than a day,” Dino said.

“But—”

“Someone actually tried to tell me the guy is my father,” Tsuna said with a scornful laugh, “but that’s patently ridiculous. I mean, come on! What kind of a father would abandon his child like that to nearly be murdered by Estraneo along with his mother?”

But—”

“Right, who’s ready for dessert?” Tsuna asked cheerfully.

Fifteen minutes later the table was being cleared and dishes were being washed. Basil’s phone chirped insistently. He pulled it out and accepted the call. “Basil here.” A pause. “I am well, sir… Uh, actually, I have no idea where I am… Yes, he’s here… Yes, they are… Yes, sir, I’ll meet you there… Ciao.”

Daemon swept in disguised as Sebastian and hustled Basil away before he could say another word and returned half an hour later. “I think we may have short-circuited his brain.”

“Good,” Fon said.

“He spent the entire ride to the hotel mumbling to himself about how that man couldn’t possibly have done those things, and was planning to ask a lot of hard questions. But, given how persuasive that man can be… Only time will tell.”

“So we keep reinforcing our point of view,” Colonnello said. “From what Lal has said the kid’s all right, but he’d be even better if he didn’t look up to that man so much. Of course, Lal would be better off if she didn’t look up to that man so much, too.”

As per usual, once Dino and his men were in their rooms for the night, Tsuna and his had a meeting. “So,” he said, gazing at Daemon.

“Keeping a half dozen spies in place around Nono.”

He nodded and opened the box. Seven half-rings were inside. He removed the Sky ring and handed the box to Reborn. Once everyone had their rings he said, “A part of me says we should wear them on our toes, but that would be asking for awkward questions.”

Daemon nodded. “Yes. The rings must be verified prior to each battle. The problem is going to be figuring out where the battles will take place, and which one will be first. And we have yet to receive any notice from Nono, which I find appalling.”

“I am more than a little pissed off myself,” Reborn said. “I didn’t think Nono was so petty that he’d let me fly blind over a little something like custody.”

“Or maybe that man has been filling his head with made up nonsense,” Colonnello offered.

They wrapped things up and trundled off to bed, knowing there really wasn’t much more that could be said.

The next day Daemon rolled his eyes and said, “Xanxus knows they’re fakes. And… Right. They’re discussing their plan to kidnap Nono. Xanxus did pay attention to how Nono does that seal, so he’s getting a fake lined up, and will create the necessary documents to get this party started.”

“Kidnap?” Fon asked.

“Yes. They plan to use him as a power source for a Gola Mosca, who will be acting as the Varia Cloud.”

“Thoughts on how long before we rescue the old man?” Tsuna said. “He won’t learn anything if we get him too soon, and they might have to bust him out at least once a day to make sure he’s fed and all.”

“That’s an excellent point,” Skull said. “Daemon, is it possible to ensure that the Cloud battle isn’t first? From what you’ve said we’ll know what all the following battles will be a day in advance, but…”

Daemon frowned in thought. “I think so, yes. But it depends on us getting official notice of the battles. The Cervello should appear for that. Once they do I can tag them with spies and manipulate the situation.”

“So we need a replacement,” Fon stated. “Think Byakuran might have a prisoner we could use?”

“I’ll ask,” he said. “If he doesn’t we’re going to have to scramble for someone who actually deserves to die. We also have to go over our game plan in terms of—”

Romeo arched a brow.

“Well, do we just wipe the floor with them? I want to know what you all think.”

“We win four battles, we win the rings,” Reborn stated. “You saying that makes me wonder if they’re planning to throw some of them for the purpose of actually getting to the Sky battle, which is always last.”

“I’m also wondering if they plan to kill instead of defeat,” Skull said.

“Just as well I’m not an Arcobaleno if I do end up going against Mammon.”

“How about this?” Romeo said. “We base it off when the Cloud battle happens. We win the first three, let’s say…”

“And if Cloud is next, it’s a lock,” Daemon continued. “But if not, we consider throwing the next one in order to get to the Cloud.”

Tsuna considered what had happened the last time. Cloud had been sixth, which worked out beautifully in terms of Xanxus’s plans. They still had no actual proof that Xanxus was adopted. Nono had squirreled that information away somewhere and Daemon’s spies had not found it, or it’d been destroyed. The only way for that to come out was to let Xanxus and his men think they had the upper hand during the Sky battle.

He honestly wondered, again, just how much the Varia had pulled their punches during those battles. Lussuria probably had not been faking and to have his knee plate destroyed? Levi had only won because Lambo had fucked around talking too much. Hayato had almost won, but he was inclined to think that win was genuine on Bel’s part, just not as easy as he had expected it to be. The idea of Squalo purposely taking a dive after becoming the Sword Emperor was ludicrous, but he supposed he could see it happening if Xanxus had ordered it. Mammon had lost due to arrogance.

And Gola Mosca? That was meant to be a loss, and a nail in Tsuna’s coffin.

If they just bulldozed through the battles, then what? How would Xanxus scramble to respond? To react? Would he just give the signal for Mosca to go out of control and kill them all? A terrible accident that left the way clear for Xanxus to claim victory? Tsuna still had no clue why the man had thought the Sky ring would accept him the last time around, or was that part never something he knew about?

He realized after a moment that Reborn was gently shaking his arm and eyeing him with concern. “You in there?”

“Ah, I’m sorry. I guess I was lost in my thoughts. It’s just frustrating not really knowing what Xanxus has in mind. If he’s trying to maneuver to a Sky battle or just kill us all one by one. But if he plans to use Nono for Gola Mosca, what are the odds that he means to lose that battle, so he can accuse us of murdering the man?

“Why the hell doesn’t he have a proper Cloud in the first place? I’ve seen how the Varia is constructed. Why didn’t he promote someone from the next tier down? Why use a machine? Is it rigged somehow?” He frowned and ran a hand through his hair.

“Is your intuition saying anything?” Reborn asked.

“It’s—” How could he say it that didn’t come across as suspicious? “For some reason I’m remembering a conversation from ages ago. Skull and Fon were there, and Fon asked if I was prescient.”

“I remember that,” Fon said slowly. “You said something about Xanxus’s appearance, how he doesn’t resemble Nono or his brothers.”

Tsuna nodded. “Right, that’s it. Why it’s bugging me again now…”

“What if he’s not?” Daemon said in a way that suggested a sudden revelation or a wild idea. “What if that’s the reason behind the coup d’état?”

“What?” Romeo said. “That he might be adopted? Could that be it? An illegitimate child would be looked down on, maybe, but still be in the running.”

Reborn pulled out a gun and swiftly disassembled it. “That would explain a lot,” he said slowly as he began cleaning the pieces. “And it would mean this is as much about Tsuna as it is about Nono. Revenge on the man who never told him the truth, who lied by omission, and gave him false hope, and against an actual blood member of the Vongola who, to him, is being handed power on a silver platter.”

“A previously clueless, civilian-raised teenager,” Skull added.

“Yeah, because any of this shit is my fault,” he snapped, then sighed. “Sorry.”

Skull bounded over and wrapped him in a hug. “It’s been a weird day. How about we just go to bed and start picking stuff apart again tomorrow. We have to wait until Daemon picks something up for most of it, anyway.”

Tsuna nodded. “Okay.”

*

“I am confused,” he said slowly.

“What’s there to be confused about?”

“They had no idea who I was or why I was there? Did no one warn them about the rings?” He watched Iemitsu’s face carefully.

Iemitsu laughed heartily. “I told Dino.”

“…And?”

“Dino was trained by Reborn, so he should have told him, and then Reborn would have explained it.”

‘What? What the hell kind of explanation is that?’ he thought. ‘It’s not Cavallone’s job! Was the man supposed to pull that idea out of thin air? “Um…”

“The rings got delivered, right?”

“Well, yes,” he admitted, or so Dino had said.

Iemitsu shrugged and grinned. “Problem solved!”

‘But what about me? I was fighting for my life against the Sword Emperor! It was only him slicing through my jacket and causing the box to go flying that…’ He looked away, feeling doubt for the first time ever in his—no, not his master—his boss. Had the man really—what had the young master said?—thrown him under the bus? ‘No, I can’t call him that. I shall have to ask if I—what I should call him, how I should refer to him.’

Iemitsu had already told him he expected Basil to help train … Tsuna. But he was realizing that he didn’t even know how to contact him. He wandered away to his room without saying anything more and prepared to shower before bed. As he undressed he heard a crinkling sound and frowned. A slip of paper was in his pocket, with a phone number on it.

His frown deepened. It absolutely had not been in his pocket previously, so the only ones who could have done so were—he grabbed his phone and entered the number into his contacts list and gave it a name of YM for the time being. It could have been whoever healed him, or it could have been the man who drove him to the hotel. Either way, it was someone connected to the Decimo.

Basil shredded the paper into the shower and watched as the tiny pieces swirled away, then locked his phone and stepped under the water. They had cleaned him up, but even though his clothes had been given a quick going over they were more or less hopeless, and he felt dirty having had to wear them again.

Assuming his boss didn’t command his attention in the morning, perhaps he would wander off to see the town and call that number. And if he did, the day after that.

*

Daemon’s mirth caught the attention of everyone. His phone had just rung and, after glancing at the display, he cackled and accepted the call on speakerphone. “Sebastian speaking.”

“Oh, um, ciao. This is Basil…”

“Yes. I trust you arrived safely at your hotel room.”

“Yes, thank you for the ride. It was very kind of you.”

“Tsuna asked that I ensure your safety,” Daemon said smoothly.

There was a long pause. “The boss mentioned that he expected me to assist with training…”

Tsuna nodded.

“I see. If you tell me where you are I can come pick you up.”

“Um… I’m right near a place called Pizzeria Schirra…”

“Yes, I know it. I will be by soon.”

“Thank you. Ciao.”

“Ciao.” Daemon disconnected and tucked the phone away. “Well well.”

“I would say … provisional access? I’m very curious to see just how…”

Daemon nodded. “We’ll see. I’ll return shortly and then loop back around as Mist.” He morphed into Sebastian and left.

“So…”

“This is nice,” Skull said. “Basil is supposed to help train … you? And this is the first we’re hearing of it? Strategically speaking—”

“We need to keep him off balance,” Colonnello said.

“Seduce him with food,” he said.

“Get him to talk about himself,” Fon added.

“And if all else fails, intimidate the hell out of him,” Reborn said.

Romeo sighed. “Or one of us could try sparring with him so Tsuna could get a better idea of his skill.”

Skull nodded. “You can do that.”

“Okay. I need to get something ready, then,” he said, starting toward the kitchen. “It’s almost lunch time, anyway.” He pulled some sauce out of the freezer and set it to thaw in a pan, then began making dough.

Romeo ghosted up behind him and peered over his shoulder.

“If you want, can you get pizza toppings? I decided on stromboli.”

“Sure thing, boss man.”

They worked together in companionable silence and got everything ready for the oven. It had just been closed up when Basil was escorted in and abandoned to their tender mercies. “Ciao, Basil,” he greeted as he moved to wipe his hands on a kitchen towel. “I hope you’re hungry.”

“…Ciao. Hungry?”

Tsuna gave him a patient look. “It’s getting close to lunch. When I heard you were near a pizzeria it decided me on what to make. Can I get you something to drink?”

Daemon drifted in and went straight to the refrigerator. He pulled out two cans of Sprite and handed one to Tsuna, the other to Basil. He then grabbed two more and handed one to Romeo.

Basil stared at the can in his hand. “Thank you.”

Tsuna cracked open his can and took a sip. “I trust you’re well.”

“Oh… Yes, thank you.”

“Romario and Sun made sure you were healed up from that little altercation, in case you were wondering.” At the look of slightly confused inquiry on Basil’s face he added, “And Storm did what he could for your clothing. It’s not easy separating blood from fabric, or so he tells me.”

“…I had wondered. I must thank them.”

Tsuna smiled and gestured at the bar stools for the island, a not so subtle hint. “So, this is Lightning,” he said, giving Romeo a fond pat on the arm, “and Mist. And you’re welcome to call me Tsuna.”

Basil smiled nervously for some reason and inclined his head. “I am pleased to meet you both,” he said, then slid onto a stool.

Tsuna grabbed the next one down and sipped more of his drink. “So what’s it like, being at CEDEF? Nothing classified, I mean. Just generally.”

“…The people are nice.”

He detected a bit of strain in the Rain’s voice, but he smiled warmly. “Reborn told me Lal Mirch works there. Is she nice?”

“Oh yes, but strict. She always wants people to do their best.” Basil’s lips pursed for a moment. “I think she’s secretly a bit of a softy.”

Tsuna grinned. “I think most people have a soft spot. Reborn has a soft spot for—” He tilted his head as a bullet whizzed by. “You’re fixing that!”

Reborn scoffed rudely and strutted in. “Don’t tell people my secrets. And of course I’ll get it fixed. I’m not a barbarian.”

He set his soda down and went to fix an espresso for his Sun. “No, you’re way too snappy a dresser to be one,” he replied. “Someday I hope to reach your heights of sartorial splendor.”

“And then ignore it?” Reborn challenged.

Tsuna handed over the espresso with a grin. “Of course! I like casual clothing.” He got back on his stool and drank more of his soda.

Reborn shook his head sadly and popped up onto a stool himself, then nodded at Romeo and Daemon, who were leaning against the counter. “Someday…”

“I have this weird urge to see what you’d look like in a shinigami costume, or maybe as a ninja.”

Reborn blinked at him and shook his head again. “What’s for lunch?”

“Stromboli.”

Reborn hummed happily.

“And yes, I made yours special. All the good stuff. An entire pepper, just for you.”

Reborn hummed again and sipped his drink. “Rolled, or…?”

Basil, meanwhile, was developing a severe look of confusion and had yet to open his soda.

“Rolled, yes.” He glanced over at the clock. “Mist, will you…”

Daemon nodded and went to press an inconspicuous button near the door. A chime sounded throughout the house. Romeo started getting plates out, cutlery, napkins, and glasses. By the time everyone gathered the table was set and Tsuna was getting the food out of the oven and plating it. Everyone swooped by to grab a plate—Reborn’s had a little sun cut into the crust—and then take a seat.

His Sun—not to be confused with the construct “Sun”, who was “eating” an illusion—did not wait for the usual invitation and cut into his stromboli as soon as he was situated. It was probably just as well that Basil was seated on the same side of the table, because then he couldn’t see Reborn’s expression.

Lunch passed with generic, casual conversation and soon enough there was a quick assembly line to wash up. Tsuna hauled Basil off to the living room and gently bullied him into playing a video game, ignoring any protests voiced his way in the kindest way possible. It was only after an hour that he “gave in” and stopped, at which point Romeo said, “So, Basil, are you interested in a spar?”

The Rain blinked owlishly, then nodded. “Sure.”

“Great!” Romeo hopped up, waited for Basil to stand, then hustled him off to a training room with everyone else following. Romeo showed Basil where to change. The rest of them took seats on the benches and waited.

The spar stopped approximately one second after it started when Romeo produced his quarterstaff and Basil’s jaw dropped. “How did you do that?”

Romeo shrugged. “It’s just flames.”

“Yes, but—”

Romeo’s brow went up and he released the quarterstaff, then created it again. “It’s not that hard,” he said blandly.

Tsuna bit his lip to keep from giggling.

“Tsuna taught me how to do it.”

Basil’s head whipped around to stare at him, so he nodded. Tsuna stood up long enough to create a quarterstaff of his own, then released it and sat back down. It gave away a secret, but even if Basil told that man, it was the wrong weapon. Just because his kunai were his primary weapon did not mean they were his only one. He was an avid reader of comics and manga, after all. He was willing to take inspiration from just about any source.

“So…”

Basil jerked his head back around to Romeo and nodded. “Right.” He brought his weapon up and began.

Tsuna watched with interest. Basil was good, but he was not Arcobaleno good. Romeo wasn’t Arcobaleno good, but he had been training with them long enough as to certainly be Varia Quality and would only get better with time. He pushed Basil around with calm deliberation, blocking everything that was thrown at him and herding the Rain around the mats like he owned the boy.

When Basil started looking tired enough that he might lose muscle control, Tsuna coughed quietly. Romeo immediately backed off until Basil stopped, then released his weapon. “Good fight.”

Basil nodded, his chest heaving. “Yes, thank you.”

“Cool down,” Reborn ordered. “And since we’re in here, Rain, Storm, go get changed.”

Basil was treated to a lovely display of two martial artists dancing around the room and up the walls as they clashed, and then again when Tsuna and Skull went at it. Daemon covered Reborn in illusion long enough to effect a swap, so that he and “Sun” could have their turn. The only one of them who showed any flames was Romeo.

After a shower and getting dressed they all trooped to the kitchen again to wait on dinner. Tsuna got out the jumbo-sized wok and started preparing ingredients for stir fry.

“Do you do all the cooking?” Basil finally asked.

Tsuna looked up long enough to smile and say, “Yep.”

“But why?”

He paused in his cutting and looked up again, his smile missing. “My mother taught me how to cook. That’s the only reason I need.”

Skull broke the tension by breezing by to get the rice cooker going.

Basil was quiet again after that. He sat there and listened as the group talked amongst themselves, and watched as Reborn tried to steal peppers and Tsuna stabbed him once before pushing an entire one his way and getting a clean knife.

“We need to talk about this stabbing habit of yours,” Reborn complained playfully before getting his own knife and carving off a slice of pepper to eat.

Tsuna giggled and shook his head. “One bad habit begets another.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault, is it?”

“Just an observation, Reborn,” he said cheerfully, then started cooking.

They were shortly enough eating, and not long after that “Sebastian” swept in to escort Basil back to the hotel. Basil gave a little start on seeing him and nodded. “I have had an enjoyable day, Tsuna. Thank you all.”

Tsuna smiled. “It was lovely to have you here.” The second they were in the clear he exhaled and looked at his guardians.

“I think that went well,” Fon opined. “He never really got a chance to push any agenda, he saw some of our skill, and I think got a better feel for the dynamic here.”

“And a better feel for Tsuna in particular,” Daemon said. “He was regularly mystified. Tsuna is nothing like he expected, not from what of that man’s description, and not based on that man’s own personality.”

“Well he is delusional,” Tsuna pointed out. “One of my clearest memories of that man is him flinging me in the air repeatedly, despite me shrieking in fear, and calling me his little tuna fish.”

Skull frowned. “There was a wooden fish on your door.”

He nodded. “And I was too short to rip it off. Besides, I think my mother would have noticed and said something.” He paused, suddenly remembering something. “Viper’s thing… Uh… What the anklets prevent.”

“Thoughtography,” Reborn said.

“Yeah, that.”

“He has not yet tried it,” Daemon said, “but I see where you’re going with this.”

“He’s going to be awfully suspicious if he tries and can’t find any of us in order to force an early confrontation for a ring,” Colonnello said.

“So, anklets off? Or not? Because you guys don’t have names. Is he going by image or name or…?”

Daemon and Reborn exchanged a look. “As far as I know,” Daemon said slowly, “it’s by image or concept, not a specific name.”

“Do you think it’d pick up my clone?” Reborn asked.

Daemon shrugged helplessly. “I have no idea.”

“Do we actually care if they realize they can’t track us that way? The protections on both houses already block this kind of thing. We don’t actually have a need to leave the house except to get supplies, which can be handled by a construct. If they have spies out—lower tier members—they won’t see us out and about anyway. None of them have seen any of us.” He paused. “Unless Viper can lift images out of Basil’s brain without him being aware of it.”

He remembered Levi and his trio of men going after Lambo. Viper had likely given them help, though he had no way of knowing that for certain. What disturbed him about a repetition was the idea of that man coming to the rescue in any way. “Okay, we keep them on. Whenever the notice is delivered and the Cervello decide on the venue and first battle, Basil can be collected to deliver it. We don’t have to play by their rules.”

All his guardians nodded.

*

Basil was getting fed up with his boss. While it never happened directly in his presence, his boss had a habit of ranting when he was alone, but never seemed to account for sound leakage through the walls. His boss, apparently, was utterly confounded by his lack of face time with Tsuna. For some reason the man expected his son to want to spend time with him, to look up to him, and to eagerly request training.

‘Why?’ he wondered. Tsuna had, by all accounts, last seen Iemitsu when he was three? He was beginning to understand the scornful laughter during that first visit. ‘He doesn’t even spend much time with his three other sons, and they don’t live in a different country like Tsuna did originally. It’s like he’s married to his job. He spent more time with me, and now I’m thinking that’s a little creepy.’

A sharp knock came at his door, which was then opened.

‘Thanks for respecting my privacy,’ he groused.

“Basil!”

“Yes, sir?”

“Orders have come in. The Scramble Battles are confirmed. I’ll need you to deliver this—” Iemitsu waved a scroll around. “—to my little tuna fish, along with this—” He waved a second scroll. “—with information about the venue, various other details, stuff like that.”

He stepped forward to accept the scrolls with a nod, then brushed past his boss and departed the suite as quickly as possible, pretending not to hear the words called after him. He exited the hotel and hurried down various streets until he got to that same pizzeria, then pulled out his phone.

*

Tsuna looked the first scroll over with jaded eyes. He was well aware of the fact that Xanxus had been the one to dictate its contents, and to place the Sky Flame seal at the top. Nono was currently inhabiting Gola Mosca and Mammon was annoyed at his thoughtography being blocked for some reason. He set the scroll aside and unrolled the second one.

He almost laughed; the venue was a school. The battles would start in three days. As Basil was sitting there still, he flicked a look at Daemon, thinking, ‘I suppose a weather forecast would not go amiss.’

He got a slight nod in response.

“I can only assume there are going to be a whole lot of illusionists at work.”

“What do you mean?” Basil asked.

He handed the second scroll over. “Battles can be pretty destructive. If these are battles by flame type, I have to wonder exactly what we’ll be facing, and just how much damage will be done to the school. I get that they can’t just toss up an appropriate building in a few days, but… Well, whatever. It’s a civilian facility, so I expect they’ll be fixing whatever breaks.”

Basil finished reading the scroll and nodded, then handed it back with a thoughtful look.

“Unfortunately, we’ll be flying blind on the first battle,” Reborn said. “We’ll scout out the school in its entirety so we know what to expect in terms of layout.”

“You don’t attend school?” Basil said.

Tsuna shook his head. “We have tutors. It attracts too much attention to have sextuplets in a public school.”

Basil shook his head. “How did you even know you were a Sky?”

“I fell out of a tree.”

“Huh?”

“As I fell my hands were covered in flames, not that it did me any good. Hitting the ground hurt.” He shrugged. “But I’d seen them, and I kept trying to get them to come back. You should know as well as anyone what resolve can accomplish. But knowing I was a Sky? That came later. I trained myself, and that made it fairly easy to use the same methods to train others.”

“But… Are you saying you can already go into Dying Will Mode?”

Tsuna concentrated and felt the change in his eyes and could see the flickering flames dancing at his forehead. He waved his hands through them and they caught flame, too, centered on his Sky rings. “Yes.” Then he released it all.

Basil looked confounded again. He reached into his pocket and removed a small container that Tsuna recognized as holding Dying Will Pills. “I need these to do that.”

“Drugs?” Romeo said, his nose wrinkling.

“Um, not exactly. I don’t actually know what they’re made of, just that Vongola developed them.”

“Lightning?” he prompted. Not being an Arcobaleno or hundreds of years old, Romeo was a far better test of Tsuna’s methodology.

Romeo nodded and, while it took him longer to summon the necessary resolve (and because he didn’t have a pacifier to make his body act like a flame conductor), he was still able to enter Dying Will Mode and set his hands aflame. He released it a few seconds later, but he was noticeably tired.

Basil tucked the container away and slumped. “Can—will you teach me to do that? Please?”

Tsuna smiled warmly. “I can sure try.”