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"The relationships between a boss and his right hand must be absolutely sacred," Reborn announced, and emphasized the point by kicking Tsuna in the head. "The right hand must hold unshakable loyalty to his boss, and the boss must answer that with his trust." He held up a tiny finger in warning. "Not complete trust, mind you, unless the boss is a fool, but as much trust as he places in any man. Are you listening, Tsuna?"

"Yes, Reborn," Tsuna said, quailing just a little under Reborn's unblinking gaze. "Of course I'm listening. Loyalty and trust."

"Good. The bond between a boss and his right hand is the most important relationship in the Family." Reborn paused there to emphasize the point, or perhaps he was waiting for Tsuna to ask a question, though Tsuna had no idea what that question ought to have been. Reborn must have realized that he didn't know, because he sighed. "The most important. More important than the boss's marriage, even. You don't have to love a woman to make babies with her, after all, but if you and your right hand don't trust each other, the Family is doomed."

"Reborn!" Tsuna felt his cheeks go red. "That's a terrible thing to say!"

"That doesn't mean it's not true," Reborn said, and carried on over Tsuna's sputtering. "Nothing is more important than the boss and his right hand. Between them, they will oversee every piece of business the Family touches. The right hand will conduct negotiations on behalf of his boss; when he speaks, it will be clear that it is with his boss's voice. He will go and do the things that his boss commands him to do. He will, in short, act as an extension of his boss's very will." By the time he reached that point, Tsuna had stopped sputtering and was staring at him. Reborn paused anyway, and then raised his eyebrows at Tsuna. "So, knowing all that, who will you ask to be your right hand, Vongola Decimo?"

Reborn had taken to calling him that from time to time at about the point Tsuna had entered high school and acknowledge that yes, okay, he really was going to take up the Vongola ring when the time came. It sill rocked him back on his heels every time Reborn called him that instead of Idiot Tsuna.

He suspected that was half the reason Reborn had started doing it.

This time was no different; Tsuna fell back on his hands, staring at Reborn in some consternation. "What? Who am I—I thought Gokudera was going to be my right hand!"

"Idiot Tsuna," Reborn said, and Tsuna relaxed a little at the familiarity of it. "Pay attention to what I actually said." Or else, his tone suggested; Tsuna hadn't lived with Reborn as his own personal instigator of chaos for five years without learning to take those implicit threats seriously.

So he thought about it very carefully. "Gokudera has said he would be my right hand from the very beginning," he said. "And when we went to the future, he was my right hand then."

"So what?" Reborn asked. It was amazing how dispassionate his voice was. "You wanted to change that future, didn't you?" He fixed his eyes on Tsuna's and held them there. "Who will you ask?" He held up his hand again before Tsuna could even think about answering. "Think on it," he said, and hopped down from the table.

Tsuna flopped back against his pillows when Reborn had gone, mind stunned into a sort of blank static by this sudden swerve in what he'd thought he'd know to expect from the course of his life. He stared at the ceiling for a long time before he could begin to think again.

The thing was, he'd never really thought about the issue of his right hand very much. At the beginning, he'd been in denial about Reborn's goal of turning him into a mafia boss, and hadn't really taken Gokudera's promise of undying devotion very seriously. By the time he'd finally managed to reconcile himself to the fact that this was real—this was his life—Gokudera and his fanatical, maniacal loyalty had become just one more part of the surreal new landscape of Vongola weirdness. Tsuna wouldn't have thought to question that any more than he would have questioned that Mukuro had his own agendas or that Xanxus was about as safe as a wounded lion, or that Hibari-san would insist on going his own way no matter what (but could be depended on to turn up for any promising fight).

It was Reborn who'd brought it up, thought. Tsuna thought about that, frowning at the ceiling. It never did to take anything Reborn said or did at face value. Everything Reborn came up with had an angle, or several angles, most of which were calculated either to benefit the Vongola or to teach Tsuna something (and, if at all possible, embarrass the life out of him), or do all of those things simultaneously. So what was the point of bringing up the right hand thing now?

Start with the Vongola, Tsuna decided. The Vongola would benefit from having a good boss and right hand at its head. What it was going to get was him and whomever he picked to be his right hand. That'd be Gokudera, if he just went along with things. Would that be good enough?

Tsuna fretted over the question. Gokudera was smart and knew the mafia world from the inside out. Surely someone at the head of the Vongola ought to have that kind of knowledge. And if not Gokudera, then it would have to be Lambo—hah!—or, heaven help them all, Mukuro.

Tsuna felt his eyes cross at that thought. So that was a no, then. He was queasy enough about having a ten-year-old as his Lightning, and they might as well surrender now if he was going to install Mukuro-via-Chrome as the Vongola's right hand. If he wanted someone who knew about the mafia working with him, it was clearly going to have to be Gokudera.

A traitorous thought crept in then. Were there other benefits that might outweigh that one?

It all came down to Yamamoto in the end, didn't it? Lambo was right out, as was Chrome and her passenger. Hibari-san would have things—things with sharp teeth in them—to say about it if Tsuna tried to rope him into helping run the Family, and Ryouhei-san was settling down, sure, but not to the point that Tsuna would have put him into that kind of position in the Family.

And none of them were his other best friend.

If he were going to choose another right hand, his only real choice was Yamamoto, who was steady in a way Ryouhei-san wasn't, and absolutely dependable despite the way he and Hibari-san got along with each other. He wasn't as astonishingly smart as Gokudera was, true, but he wasn't stupid either, no matter what he liked people to think. And he was good with people in a way that Gokudera wasn't always able to manage.

Tsuna could see it, actually—could imagine the years unfurling ahead of him with Yamamoto standing in the place Gokudera usually claimed for himself. Yamamoto would be as much an outsider as he was; if Tsuna decided to change something, chances were that Yamamoto would support him and never breathe a word about whatever treasured traditions they shattered in doing it.

So there was that.

Now, what was this supposed to be teaching him?

That was always a tricky question; Reborn's lessons didn't always make normal human sense. It might have been that Reborn just wanted him to stop and think it through instead of letting himself be carried along by the stream of events. Reborn liked to haul him up short like that from time to time. Tsuna thought about that and marked it off the list; he was definitely thinking now, but whether it was the productive kind of thinking was still up in the air. It might have also been that Reborn had wanted him to think about the strengths and weaknesses of his Guardians—but he'd already known those, maybe as well as he knew his own Flame.

Maybe Reborn had just wanted him to think about and recognize the other possibilities. Maybe he even wanted Tsuna to make a different choice. The other future had been grim, after all, especially for the Arcobaleno.

Tsuna stared at his ceiling, feeling a false note in that. True, it had been bad, and yes, Reborn was right to want to avoid it, but—his right hand was his right hand, not Reborn's. He was the one who would have to live with the choice he made.

Tsuna nodded to himself. Yeah, that actually answered all of his questions right there. If he chose Yamamoto—where did that leave Gokudera?

Now, to the third point. Tsuna chewed on his lip, worried: just how was this calculated to cause him the greatest possible embarrassment while providing Reborn with the maximum entertainment? He didn't really know, and that concerned him.

Fortunately for his peace of mind, Reborn answered the question himself just a few minutes later by walking in and shooting Tsuna with a tranquilizer dart.

 
 

He'd nearly forgotten the time that Reborn had asked Dino-san to have him kidnapped just to see how Gokudera and Yamamoto would handle it. It all came back to Tsuna when his head cleared and he found himself sitting in front of a bank of monitors with Dino nearby, watching over him.

"Back with us?" Dino-san's smile had a measure of rueful sympathy to it. That was, Tsuna noticed, not stopping him from leaving Tsuna tied to his chair.

"If I asked you what's going on, would you actually tell me?" Tsuna asked him, testing the ropes. They were secure, but he was pretty sure he could burn through them if he needed to, which was peculiarly reassuring.

"You ever think about how much of the mafia Reborn is going to have his fingers in by the time he's through?" Dino sounded morbidly fascinated by the idea. "All he'll have to do is say, 'Jump!' and you and I will be in the air before it occurs to either of us to ask, 'How high?'"

"Right," Tsuna said, "so you don't know either."

"Not really." Dino was way too cheerful about it. "Reborn said there was something you needed to see and asked me to help arrange it." He gestured at the bank of monitors.

Tsuna looked them over and sighed, figuring that it all had something to do with the conversation he'd been puzzling over. "He really didn't have to do this."

Dino grinned. "Since when has that ever stopped him?" On the screens, the static flickered and then cleared. "Whoops, here we go."

Tsuna stared at the monitors and wondered just when Reborn had decided it would be a good idea to wire so many places for surveillance. Some of them he didn't really recognize—they were interior shots of a warehouse and streets he didn't know—but others were obvious. There was his house and his room, and Namimori High. One looked like it was Gokudera's apartment and another was the Sasagawa house, and there was the exterior of Take Sushi...

And there was Gokudera's face, front and center, on the screen that had LEONCAM blinking at the corner. First his face went the color of paper, then his eyes narrowed and two spots of color appeared high on his cheeks, while Reborn's tinny voice reported that someone had kidnapped the Vongola Tenth.

Dino whistled, low and impressed, when Gokudera snapped into action, going first for his phone to call Yamamoto and deputize him into gathering up the rest of the Guardians, and then grilling Reborn on everything he knew about the purported kidnappers. "The Smoking Bomb has come a long way, hasn't he? I figured he'd go racing to save you without even thinking about it."

Tsuna didn't think to answer him, being more preoccupied by the drama unfolding on the monitors as his Guardians erupted into action. Yamamoto managed to round up Lambo and Chrome and Ryouhei with startling efficiency, no trace of a smile on his face, and even coaxed Hibari-san away from his napping place on Namimori High's roof to join the hunt. Gokudera was the heart of the frenzy, snapping out orders to Chrome that had her tapping into the mysterious network that she and Mukuro had put together for their own ends and sending Ryouhei and Lambo to go scout out the scene of the supposed kidnapping for clues.

Dino kept up a running commentary of their choices, though Tsuna wasn't really listening to him. "I really thought for sure that they'd run off to beat up some more yakuza thugs," he said at one point, during a brief lull in the search. "Guess you all really have started growing up."

On the screen, Gokudera seemed to have been struck by a thought, and went for his phone again. A moment later, Dino-san's phone began ringing in his pocket. Dino glanced at the display. "Huh." He reached over and turned the volume down before glancing at Tsuna. "Don't give it all away yet, okay? Reborn'll kill me." Then he answered, voice going crisp. "This is Cavallone."

Tsuna didn't exactly have to hear Gokudera's side of the conversation to guess what he was saying, especially when Dino-san said, "Somebody's done what?" and then "Why are you bringing that up now, that was ages ago" and then "No, really, why would I kidnap Tsuna?"

Tsuna didn't like the how cold Gokudera's eyes were. This, he decided, had gone on for long enough. It wasn't right to be doing this to his people. He opened his mouth, prepared to shout something to Gokudera.

Without missing a beat, Dino-san covered his mouth, muffling him, and said, hard and cool, "They what? Tell me what I can do to help."

Tsuna made a note of how good an actor Dino was, trying to get away from the fingers covering his mouth, while Dino promised aid for the search and rescue.

Once Dino had finished with that, he put his phone away and looked down at Tsuna. "You should have used your teeth," he said, like he was giving Tsuna a gentle reminder to wipe his feet on the mat and not—something else.

Tsuna looked up at him. "I'm not going to do that, no matter what Reborn's trying to do here." There wasn't any reason to cause Dino harm just because he'd gotten caught up in yet another of Reborn's schemes, whatever it was supposed to be—he already knew Gokudera was efficient and that all his people were loyal to him. This wasn't proving anything he hadn't already known about them.

But Dino was shaking his head. "Don't think like that. You should be treating even the tests like they're real. They may as well be."

Tsuna pressed his lips together and went back to watching his people start to take Namimori apart instead of answering him. They were efficient about it, more so than he'd have thought they would be—or maybe it was just Gokudera pushing them to be as he chain-smoked furiously and rapped out orders to the Cavallone people Dino sent to him, never once losing that hard-eyed look that worried Tsuna.

"That went a lot faster than I thought it would," Dino observed when Tsuna's Guardians began converging on the warehouse that Tsuna assumed was the one holding him. His voice went wistful. "I wish I'd had the sense to recruit the Smoking Bomb when I had the chance."

Tsuna didn't recognize the sound he made at that, but his voice was harsh when he gritted out, "He's my Storm Guardian. You can't have him."

The look Dino gave him then was startled, but his tone was mild enough when he said, "I know, but that doesn't mean I can't wish I'd been smarter way back when, does it?"

He was more on edge from having to watch his people's distress than he'd realized, Tsuna decided. "I guess not."

Dino made an indignant noise when Tsuna's people crashed into his own. "Hey!" The fight that the monitors showed—short as it was—was messy. Tsuna could tell that no one from the Vongola was holding back, and the results weren't pretty. "Reborn didn't warn me about this!"

"What did you really expect?" Tsuna asked over the sound of Gokudera's voice coming from the speakers—he was holding someone up by the hair and interrogating him in a taut growl. "You helped fake-kidnap me. Again."

"Reborn said he'd keep it from getting out of hand—shit!" On the screen, Gokudera had just stuffed a lit stick of dynamite between the man's teeth.

Dino was gone before Tsuna quite realized it, scrambling out of the room to go to his man's rescue before he could see Reborn intervene, stepping in to pinch out the fuse and look up at Gokudera, expression grave. "Is this what you want to be?" he asked.

Gokudera snarled back, "I'd be anything for the Tenth."

His answer hung in the air for an endless moment; Tsuna forgot about the ropes and the kidnapping and heard nothing but Gokudera's answer as something snapped into place, clear and focused, in response to it.

Reborn was wrong, he thought. Loyalty didn't run just one way, from right hand to boss. It went from boss to right hand, too, and both sides had to trust each other. Nothing else was right and proper.

He barely even noticed when his Flame burned the ropes away, caught as he was in the grip of this understanding and his Will. There may have been Cavallone people between him and the chaos on the warehouse floor; he didn't notice them, either. And there was chaos on the floor—Dino was yelling and Gokudera was yelling back, with Yamamoto and Ryouhei-san hanging onto his arms and only barely holding him back.

That wasn't any good, so Tsuna raised his voice a little, just to be sure that they would hear him. "Hayato, calm down. I'm okay." He'd never used Hayato's given name before; the part of him that was standing a little apart to observe all the fuss was amazed by the way everyone froze at the sound of his voice, and how Hayato's face went slack with something too fragile to be named upon seeing him. "And Dino, don't blame my right hand for doing what he thought was necessary. You agreed to this, and you said yourself that we should treat the tests as real, too."

That was all the time he had to speak before pandemonium exploded around him. He had to field an armful of Lambo and the babble of Ryouhei-san and Yamamoto's relief and what looked like Hibari-san's disdain. But that was normal and easy; Tsuna could do all that without thinking about it, and did, saving the bulk of his attention for Hayato and the shock on his face and the way his lips moved, shaping the title Tenth? silently.

Tsuna nodded and held his hand out to him, and couldn't be surprised—or embarrassed—when Hayato came to him and pressed his lips to the Sky ring. That was also only right and as it should be.

There was one other thing left to do, Tsuna thought, still standing in that calm place at the center of his Will. He looked at Reborn. "You will not do anything like this to my Family ever again."

Reborn's eyebrows went up. "Won't I?"

"You will not," Tsuna said, hearing the sounds his people made as they surrounded him—surprised, maybe, but supportive, too. "They have been tested far enough, and they have not broken. I'm satisfied with them."

Reborn was still watching him. "Is yours the only opinion that matters?"

"Yes," Tsuna told him from that place where certainty burned like a beacon. "It is. Anybody who has questions about my people will ask them of me." He was dimly aware of the looks that ran from face to face around him, pride and pleasure and surprise, but he kept his attention on Reborn. "And you will not hurt my people like this again. I will not let you."

Dino had been wrong, too. He wasn't ever going to jump for Reborn again, not without finding out why first.

Reborn—smiled. And took his hat off. "Let it be as you say, Vongola Decimo," he murmured; Tsuna couldn't detect any irony at all in his tone. Then the gravity left his tone and he added, "And it seems I can finally tell the Ninth that he can retire whenever he feels like it and know that he'll be leaving the Vongola in safe hands."

That was the sort of thing that he would have protested even a day ago, but Tsuna looked at Reborn and finally nodded. "Yes," he said. "You can tell him that, now." He reflected on it for a moment. "Though he doesn't need to feel like he has to hurry, either."

Reborn snorted and replaced his hat, adjusting it minutely. "I'll be sure to let him know," he said. "What would you like to do now, Tenth?"

It wasn't a rhetorical question, either. Tsuna let his Will ebb away and looked around the warehouse. "Is there anything we can do here?" he asked Dino.

Dino just rolled his eyes and covered the mouth of his phone. "I think you've probably done enough already," he said, waving them off. "We'll be fine."

Tsuna nodded and looked around at his Family—some of them wide-eyed, like Lambo, and some of them looking speculative, like Chrome and Hibari-san—and took a breath. "Okay, then. Let's go home."