Tsunako had no idea what she was supposed to make of her new tutor, who seemed basically uninterested in her scholastic achievements (or lack thereof) but plunked herself down in Tsunako's room of an evening to spin stories of life in the mafia. Which was—Tsunako didn't know what it was, actually, since Bianchi-san's stories were a little alarming, but also a little (just a little) exciting. This was how it started, Tsunako told herself firmly: they hooked a person with interesting stories and then the next thing a girl knew, she was down the rabbit hole with everyone else.
As long as she kept that in mind, though, it couldn't hurt to at least listen to Bianchi-san's stories. Even if they all did tend to end up the same way. "Is the first solution to all your problems shooting them?" she asked Bianchi-san the third evening, after Bianchi-san had told her about Don Risso and the incident with the Pirocchi.
Bianchi-san pursed her lips. She was sitting cross-legged at the kotatsu, painting her nails, and drew one last red slick down her thumbnail before capping the bottle. "When negotiations break down, yeah. I suppose it is." She blew on the polish. "One way or another, it usually comes back to guns in the end." She cast a smile at Tsunako. "It's all appallingly barbaric, isn't it?"
"At least you know that," Tsunako told her.
Bianchi-san laughed and tapped the kotatsu. "Come over here and let me do your nails for you." When Tsunako shook her head and declined, she shrugged. "All right, let me tell you about the Cetrulli and the Vongola." Which was interesting, anyway, and probably more useful than a manicure that Tsunako would manage to smudge in five minutes or less, guaranteed.
On Thursday, both Yuuko and Sakura packed up their desks at school. Tsunako couldn't help overhearing them telling their friends that their fathers were being transferred—yes, very suddenly, it was strange, wasn't it? They said goodbye to each other tearfully and Tsunako went out for cake with Kyouko-chan that afternoon feeling unusually at peace with her life.
On Friday, Neya-sensei stood at the head of the class at the start of the day and introduced a transfer student, Gokudera Hayato. Tsunako eyed him as her classmates whispered and giggled to each other—well, yes, he was striking, she supposed, between the pale hair and the green eyes, though she wasn't sure about his accessories. Either way, she mused, Yamamoto-kun was going to have a rival for the members of his fan club.
Then Neya-sensei mentioned that Gokudera-kun had been studying overseas in Italy and Tsunako's brain stuttered.
No way. Oh, there was no way. But Neya-san told Gokudera-kun to take a seat and he made a beeline straight for Tsunako's row. He claimed the empty desk cater-cornered from hers; the moment that Neya-sensei started the day's math lesson, he leaned over and whispered, "Sawada-san? The Ninth sent me to be your bodyguard."
When Tsunako groaned, Neya-sensei turned around from the blackboard to give her a sharp look. "If you're so ill, Sawada-chan, perhaps you should visit the infirmary," she said. "Or perhaps study harder, if algebra makes you sick to your stomach."
The class tittered and Tsunako did her best to bury herself and her mortification in the textbook.
"Go away," she tried at lunch when Gokudera-kun followed her up to the roof. "Go away, leave me alone!" A thought occurred to her, belatedly. "How do I even know you're from the Ninth, anyway?"
"A sound question." Reborn popped up from a vent; Tsunako squeaked, wondering how on earth he did that. He gave Tsunako a severe look from under the brim of his hat. "A less sound decision is coming to the roof with an unknown individual."
"Reborn-san," Gokudera-kun breathed. He sounded positively reverent. Tsunako halfway wondered whether he was going to bow or light a stick of incense.
"Smoking Bomb." Reborn glanced at him. "You made good time."
So, okay, Gokudera-kun probably was from this Ninth of theirs. Tsunako sighed. On to other issues. "Whatever," she said. "Stop following me around. I just want to eat my lunch."
"I can't do that, Sawada-san." Gokudera-kun gave her a look that was probably to come across as serious or professional or something. Tsunako didn't quite think it worked; he just looked self-important. "The Ninth assigned me to be your bodyguard during school hours."
Tsunako glared at him. "I don't want a bodyguard." She said it slowly, making each word as clear and distinct as she could. "Go. Away."
As with most of the times she'd said that lately, no one really paid attention. "How was the Ninth?" Reborn asked Gokudera-kun, who responded with, "He seemed well enough, considering," with such fawning respect that Tsunako had to stomp over to the sunny spot where she'd wanted to eat her lunch so she could fume over her tamagoyaki. This stupid mafia thing was going to drive her crazy, she thought, glaring at Reborn and Gokudera-kun. And she couldn't even quite comfort herself that she was going to be in good company, either.
The only real bright spot to this latest twist in her life was that at least Yuuko and Sakura weren't around to make a big deal about Gokudera-kun's attention. He stuck close through lunch and the afternoon. Phys ed was nothing more than cardio training and laps, at least, which was a mercy: Tsunako had a sneaking suspicion that whenever the boys' and girls' classes were paired up, Gokudera-kun was going to insist on being on her team.
"School hours are over!" she tried when he followed her out the front gate at the end of the day. "Your shift is over, so go away!"
Gokudera-kun was clearly too persistent for his own good. "Not before I see you home," he said.
Where was Reborn when a person needed him? "Go away," Tsunako told him, flapping her hands at him. "I can walk myself home just fine, thanks!"
Gokudera-kun stuck his chin out like he was going to argue, but before he could, a new wrinkle presented itself in the form of Yamamoto Takeshi, who sauntered over and gave her an inquiring sort of look. "Hey, Sawada-chan, is this guy bothering you?"
Oh, because that was precisely what the situation needed. Tsunako despaired as she tried to find a smile for Yamamoto-kun, bless his helpful heart. "Oh, no, it's—"
Gokudera-kun bristled like an angry cat and put himself between her and Yamamoto-kun. "This doesn't concern you, so butt out."
And that didn't sound suspicious, oh no. Tsunako rolled her eyes.
Yamamoto-kun seemed to think pretty much the same thing. His eyes narrowed a little bit and he shifted his grip on the baseball bat that was resting against his shoulder. "Well, now, I think Sawada-chan can speak for herself, don't you?"
Gokudera-kun just bristled more. "Why don't you just keep your nose out of our business?"
Why don't the both of you stop being idiots, Tsunako thought, annoyed, and wished she had the nerve to say as much. Or maybe it was a better idea to just take advantage of the distraction. Yes, that was it. Tsunako shifted her weight, backing away from them.
Yamamoto-kun saw what she was doing, but didn't say anything about it. "I think you should stop harassing Sawada-chan," he said, perfectly even.
"Who's harassing her? Sawada-san, tell him I'm not harassing you," Gokudera-kun demanded, rounding on her. Tsunako sighed as his eyes widened as he realized she'd managed to get a couple meters away. "You can't just go walking home by yourself!"
"Yes, I can," she told him, before turning on her heel and marching off. With any luck, Yamamoto-kun would cover her retreat, and—
And luck wasn't on her side; goodness only knew why she'd assumed it would be. Gokudera-kun caught up with her in the space of a breath. "Sawada-san, it's not safe! Please, you have to let me do my job." He almost sounded like he was begging.
Yamamoto-kun fell in at her other shoulder. "Namimori's actually pretty safe, you know." He sounded like he was laughing, but there was an edge to the words. "I think Sawada-chan can walk home from school by herself if she wants to. Unless someone just can't take a hint, anyway."
"Oh, someone needs to take a hint, all right." Gokudera-kun's glare scorched across Tsunako. "Try this on for size: Sawada-san is one of the most important people in the Vongola right now. Her life is precious, and no meathead jock is going to keep me from doing my job to protect it."
Tsunako thought that threw both of them, just a little bit, though for different reasons. "I am?" she asked while Yamamoto-kun said, "Vongola?" and sounded just as puzzled as she did.
"Yes, of course, the Vongola!" Gokudera-kun pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one up. He took a drag and then used the burning cigarette to gesticulate with in a way that made Tsunako really nervous every time his hand swooped into her personal space. "Only the oldest, most powerful mafia Family in the world! Everyone wants to topple their empire, but I'm not going to let them do it! As long as I'm Sawada-san's bodyguard, the Vongola's future is safe!"
"Wait, am I really one of the most important people in the Vongola?" Tsunako pressed, and never mind that Yamamoto-kun was blinking at them both now.
"You are," Gokudera-kun assured her, taking another drag on his cigarette and exhaling a stream of smoke. He looked completely earnest; it gave Tsunako an odd, queasy feeling to think that he was maybe serious about this. "You're the only heir the Ninth has now. That's why you have Reborn-san here. He's the Ninth's most trusted hitman."
Tsunako relaxed again. Gokudera-kun was clearly as crazy as the rest of them. "He's a baby."
"He's an Arcobaleno." Gokudera-kun delivered that like it was some ultimate proof. It made pretty much no sense. Tsunako was going to say as much, but Yamamoto-kun interrupted them.
"Wait, are you two playing a game?" he asked. "Like you're in the mafia?"
"It's not a game, idiot!" Gokudera-kun yelped.
Tsunako, seeing a way of getting at least one problem off her hands, said, "Yes, that's it exactly. I'm the heir to a vast mafia empire and Gokudera-kun is my loyal bodyguard who takes his job way too seriously." She smiled at Yamamoto-kun while Gokudera-kun sputtered. "He has to keep me safe, you see, because whoever I end up marrying is going to become the tenth boss of the Vongola." A bit of a wild improvisation, that, but not wholly inaccurate given some of the things Tousan and Bianchi-san had said.
Yamamoto-kun puzzled over that for a moment and then grinned. "Huh. Okay, cool, can I play too?"
"What," Tsunako said blankly as Gokudera-kun's sputterings got louder.
"I want to play, too." Yamamoto-kun was practically beaming now. "I'll be your bodyguard, too! Hey, who knows, maybe I'll be the one you fall in love with and marry!"
"Sawada-san would never in a million years marry the likes of you," Gokudera-kun proclaimed, while Tsunako stared at Yamamoto-kun in utter dismay. "And a dumbass like you isn't worthy of being her bodyguard, either!"
"Oh, I don't know about that." Reborn dropped down onto the sidewalk from the tree that shaded the street. "He might be." He tipped his head back, studying Yamamoto-kun as they stopped. "Perhaps we should have a trial to see who should be Tsunako's bodyguard."
"What?" Tsunako demanded.
Yamamoto-kun, meanwhile, took in the presence of Reborn without remarking on it, which Tsunako realized spoke volumes about his relative sanity, none of them good. "What, like a competition? I'm good at those."
Gokudera-kun looked like he wanted to have a stroke. "Reborn-san, he's not even from the Family!"
"Remember, the First gathered Family wherever he found it," Reborn said. He paused before adding, "And you should think carefully before you accuse anyone of not being Family."
That shut Gokudera-kun up, Tsunako noted. He scowled and lit another cigarette off the first. "Fine," he bit out.
"You must be joking," Tsunako said, because someone had to say it and she seemed to be the only candidate. She said it again when Reborn promptly enlisted Yamamoto-kun and Gokudera-kun in what he termed traditional Vongola tests of strength. "Seriously, you're joking, right?"
Reborn merely took up a position on her shoulder as they headed for the park, surprisingly heavy for someone so small, and ignored her altogether. The first test was to see who could collect the most rocks of a particular quality—river-polished and slate-grey and chosen completely arbitrarily as far as Tsunako could tell—within five minutes (Gokudera-kun won that one). Then Reborn wanted to see who could run the fastest (Yamamoto-kun, not surprisingly) and who could throw a rock and hit a target the most accurately (too close to tell).
"What does any of this have to do with being a bodyguard?" Tsunako demanded while Yamamoto-kun and Gokudera-kun were racing around the park, trying to find where Leon had hidden himself.
"You'd be surprised." Reborn was watching the two of them, looking thoughtful. "Yamamoto is strong, isn't he? He might be a good addition to the Family."
"I wish I thought you were joking," Tsunako said, wistful.
The sun was painting the sky gold by the time Reborn called a halt to the proceedings. "You're both fairly well matched," he said. Yamamoto-kun beamed while Gokudera-kun glared.
Tsunako frankly despaired of both of them.
Reborn carried on. "We'll have to have a tie-breaker." He jumped down from Tsunako's shoulder and set his hands on his hips, surveying them both. "It'll have to be the thing you haven't been tested on yet. You'll have to fight."
"Hah, what, really?" Yamamoto-kun laughed, while Gokudera-kun said, "Fucking finally."
He was already producing slender sticks of—fireworks? Tsunako thought, confusedly—and lighting them with the cigarette clenched between his teeth. He flung them at Yamamoto-kun, who dodged back out of their way with a startled laugh.
They weren't fireworks. Tsunako squeaked when the fuses burned down and they exploded, dodging back herself. She was far less graceful about it than Yamamoto-kun and went sprawling on her backside as he danced out of the way of the explosions. "What is that?" she demanded, scrambling backwards as Gokudera-kun produced more not-fireworks.
"Didn't I tell you? Gokudera Hayato is the hitman known as the Smoking Bomb," Reborn said, which no, he hadn't said, and didn't even make sense. "His specialty is dynamite."
Tsunako flinched as Gokudera-kun laid down a pattern of the—the dynamite that went off in a series, bang bang bang. "Reborn, you have to stop them!"
"Why would I do that?"
"He could hurt someone with that!"
Reborn looked away from where Yamamoto-kun was dodging Gokudera-kun's bombs. He quirked one tiny eyebrow. "Well, yes. That's the point."
"Reborn!" Tsunako said, appalled, while Gokudera-kun snapped out a pattern of bombs that laid down a circle around Yamamoto-kun. Yamamoto-kun vaulted himself over them, using a park bench to bounce over them with what looked like effortless grace to Tsunako. He was still laughing, too, over the sound of the bombs exploding.
He was as crazy as everyone else around her, wasn't he?
Gokudera-kun snarled something Tsunako couldn't understand. His fists were full of dynamite now—she never would have guessed that he could be carrying so much; where had he hidden it? His expression scared her. He looked like he really did want to kill Yamamoto-kun, could do it easily. "Reborn, seriously, do something," she whispered.
"They're your bodyguards," he said, utterly indifferent. "If you want something done, do it yourself."
Yamamoto-kun dodged another handful of bombs; Gokudera-kun followed them with more, doubling the number of bombs flying through the air, then tripling it. "What can I do?" Tsunako whispered, squeaking as Yamamoto-kun dove out of the way, his escapes getting progressively narrower. "Reborn, please!"
Gokudera-kun had so many bombs in his fists that she had no idea how he was controlling them all. At her elbow, Reborn sighed. "Do it yourself," he said as Gokudera-kun raised the double-handful of bombs; as he sent them hurtling through the air, he fumbled a few of them.
As Gokudera-kun stared in horror at the bombs sputtering around his feet and Yamamoto-kun tried to get clear of the mass of them, Reborn shot Tsunako.
The sensation of the world slowing down and flame rising up through her was no less disorienting and no less exhilarating the second time around. Suddenly Tsunako could see every burning fuse of the bombs lying at Gokudera-kun's feet and bracketing Yamamoto-kun and how to end this. She sprang forward, pinching out the fuses, snuffing them all out, absolutely determined to end this stupid, pointless fight. "Stop this!" she yelled as she worked, "stop it, stop it, stop it, this isn't what I want, this is stupid! You're both stupid, what makes you think this is a good way to settle anything?" She picked up the last sputtering bomb and pinched the fuse out, and then hurled it away from her before rounding on them. They were wide-eyed; Gokudera looked absolutely stunned. "Find a better way!" she told them. "Work together! Both of you can be my bodyguards!"
Then the spell, or whatever it was, wore off, and Tsunako realized that she'd just surrendered the bodyguard fight and, oh yes, that her clothes had fallen off again. She squeaked and lunged for them as Yamamoto went red and turned his back, hauling Gokudera around with him.
"Interesting." Reborn sounded thoughtful. "Is that your judgment, then?"
"What are you talking about now?" Tsunako demanded, face burning as she hustled back into her school uniform.
"The trial, of course. Is that your judgment?" he asked.
"Sure, yeah, whatever." She was sick of the entire thing. "If they both want to be my bodyguards, fine, as long as they stop trying to kill one another."
"Sawada-san…" Gokudera turned as she was getting the blouse settled around her; before she quite knew what he was doing, he was kneeling in front of her as she tried to hold her blouse closed with her one free hand, because he'd taken the other and had his forehead pressed to the back of it. "My life for yours, I swear it." When he looked up, the burning light of loyalty in his eyes struck her breathless. "I'm your man now."
"Um," Tsunako said, because she had no idea what she was supposed to do with that. Well, maybe she did; Bianchi-san's stories came floating back to her. "Thank you," she said, uncertainly. "Your service is, um. Appreciated."
"Oh, is this the next step in the game?" Yamamoto asked. Before she could say anything, he'd come over and stooped over her hand. "My life for yours," he said as she sputtered at him.
Reborn, standing back, just looked pleased. "Very good." He clapped his hands, the sound sharp. "Now, for your first job, it's time Tsunako was home safely."
And as Yamamoto and Gokudera came to attention, Tsunako realized with dawning horror just what she'd let herself in for.
"So you met Hayato!" Bianchi-san said later, after Tsunako had finally finished complaining about her day.
Tsunako stopped and stared at the fond smile Bianchi-san was wearing. "Wait, you know that guy?"
Bianchi-san's smile turned crooked. "You could say that. He's my brother." When a moment had passed, she added, a little too casually, "Different mothers, of course. How is he?"
"You mean besides completely crazy?" Tsunako asked. Bianchi-san shrugged. "Um. Fine, I guess." Far as she could tell, anyway. It wasn't like they'd really interacted that much. She stared at Bianchi-san hard, but Bianchi-san went on brushing her hair and didn't seem at all inclined to produce a stick of dynamite from anywhere. "He tried to blow Yamamoto up," she essayed.
"Still using the dynamite, then." Bianchi-san sighed. For a moment she looked—worried. Yeah, worried. Then her expression smoothed over again.
But that suggested something that had been nagging at Tsunako for a while. "Okay, if you're the, um, Poison Scorpion, and he's the Smoking Bomb, then what's Reborn's special code name?" Assuming that Gokudera hadn't been making up the part about Reborn's being the Ninth's most trusted hitman.
"He doesn't have one," Bianchi-san said. Right, Tsunako thought, of course he didn't, he was just a baby. Then Bianchi-san added, "When you're that good, you don't need a name. Your reputation speaks for itself." She smiled as Tsunako swallowed her squeak. "So! Let me tell you about the Cizeta tonight."