Moriturus Te Saluto
Hibari's shoulders were particularly straight, and his eyes were blank and expressionless. It was clear he disliked the idea a great deal, and yet he said nothing, until Tsuna cleared his throat. "Well?"
"I don't trust him."
Despite everything, Tsuna couldn't stop himself from smiling. "You don't trust anyone."
Hibari's expression didn't even waver. "I trust him even less than I trust anyone else."
That wasn't something Tsuna could fault him for. "I know," he said, and turned away from Hibari, running his fingers along the polished wood of his desk. "And yet I find myself believing what he says about Byakuran."
Hibari's silence was stiff and disapproving. Tsuna supposed he couldn't blame Hibari for it.
He was going to like what Tsuna had to say next even less.
"I think I know how we may be able to defeat Byakuran," Tsuna said, turning again, facing Hibari squarely. "But if I'm wrong, this could destroy the family."
A muscle jumped in Hibari's jaw, the only outward sign that he was weighing the family he'd given his loyalty to against Tsuna himself. Tsuna had never quite dared to ask him which he held more important. Had the stakes been any lower, he wouldn't have done so now.
At length, Hibari inclined his chin, just fractionally. "I assume you believe your idea will save us."
He shifted as Tsuna smiled at him; even now, he wasn't comfortable with any herbivore-like behavior. "I do," Tsuna said, storing up that 'us' to savor. "But it will be difficult."
Hibari's slight eye roll was eloquent. "Yes?"
Tsuna explained himself. As he'd expected, Hibari was not impressed, or pleased; nonetheless, in the end, he simply nodded, tight-lipped, and acquiesced.
"And that's it for today, Boss," Gokudera said, flipping his portfolio closed at the close of their morning meeting. "Security is all set for tomorrow. I still wish you'd let me or Yamamoto--"
"No," Tsuna said, and softened the refusal with a smile. "I'm afraid I need the two of you to investigate this superweapon Irie is supposed to be developing. If Millefiore has something that can counter a box weapon, we have to know."
Gokudera frowned. "I still don't like it," he said. "You should have your own Guardians with you."
"It's only one day," Tsuna told him, smiling. "It's going to be fine." If Irie was to be trusted, if he and Hibari had laid their plans properly, it would be. He had to hold to that, and hope that Gokudera would understand and forgive him once it was all over.
Tsuna hadn't left Gokudera any choice, and it was clear by his scowl that he knew it. "The minute Ryouhei gets back, he's going into your security detail," he said.
"Yes," Tsuna told him, and smiled, because there was nothing else he could do. "Unless we need him more somewhere else instead."
"Nothing's more important that your safety," Gokudera said, instantly.
"You know better than that," Tsuna told him, after a moment. "The family itself--isn't that the most important thing?"
Gokudera's mouth thinned and flattened out; he didn't reply.
Tsuna sighed and swiveled his chair away from his desk. "I think it is," he said, not looking at Gokudera. "None of us will live forever, but the family will keep going on, even after we're gone."
"Just because the family will keep going on doesn't mean we have to go risking your life foolishly," Gokudera said.
"No," Tsuna said, careful against the weight of the things he couldn't say to Gokudera, or even hint at. "I'd rather not risk my life foolishly either, if it's all the same to you."
Gokudera laughed, as Tsuna'd meant for him to do. Perhaps, later, after all was said and done, he'd remember this conversation and be able to take comfort from it. Tsuna hoped so, at least.
Yamamoto was a creature of regular habits, which allowed Tsuna to intercept the man bringing him his afternoon tea and lift the tray out of his hands. "Allow me," he said.
"Sir--" the man--Tsuna believed his name might have been Hiroshi--looked like he felt deeply conflicted. On the one hand, it was Tsuna's order, but on the other, how could he allow the boss to do something so menial as carry a tea tray?
"I'd like to speak with Yamamoto privately," Tsuna told him, to relieve his agony.
The man's face cleared. "Ah, yes, sir. I'll see to it that you're not disturbed."
"Thank you," Tsuna murmured, and allowed him to slide the door open.
Elsewhere in the house, the Vongola's western sensibilities reigned, but in Yamamoto's practice room, the Japanese aesthetic dominated. The contrast between the two worlds never failed to strike Tsuna whenever he stepped between them; the symbolism couldn't get much more obvious.
He didn't suppose it was accidental that he came to Yamamoto whenever he sought serenity, either.
Yamamoto himself was still moving through his forms. The only sound in the room was that of his bare feet slipping across the tatami mats, the rustle of his hakama and the sweep of his blade through the air. Tsuna waited for him to finish, letting the stillness of the room and the controlled grace of Yamamoto's movements soothing him into something like peace.
Yamamoto finished the final form and held it for a moment, poised and still, breathing deep, before he turned and smiled. "Tsuna. I thought I might see you tonight."
"So I gathered," Tsuna said, eyeing the tray with its two cups.
"Come in," Yamamoto invited, so Tsuna stepped out of his Western shoes and into his slippers, and joined Yamamoto, who relieved him of the tray. He poured the tea as Tsuna sat, cross-legged, not willing to attempt Yamamoto's effortless seiza.
The cup warmed his fingers, and Yamamoto's easy silence was like the stillness of the room, offering the space to simply be, without explanation. Tsuna wondered sometimes whether Yamamoto knew how much he valued that. He rather thought Yamamoto did, because the man let him drink his tea in silence, even though there were questions lurking in his eyes whenever Tsuna glanced at him.
Yamamoto knew there was something coming. Tsuna didn't question how; Yamamoto could be like that, making leaps of intuition that baffled logic and drove Gokudera half-mad. He also knew when to keep his own counsel; the only indication that he gave that he knew something was in the air was by gripping Tsuna's shoulder briefly, before Tsuna left him.
Tsuna went along his way, solemn with the weight of Yamamoto's trust.
"Tsu-kun?" Kyoko's arm stole around his waist; Tsuna pressed her closer. "What are you looking at?"
"Nothing, really," he told her, which was the truth. The lamp behind him turned the world beyond the window solidly black. He was probably giving the sentries fits by standing in the window like this, outlined and backlit so clearly. He pulled the blinds; there was no need to watch Kyoko's reflection with the reality of her warm at his side.
He turned and gathered her closer, and she smiled up at him. "Mm. You've been quiet this evening," she said. Her smile turned impish. "I think you may be thinking too hard."
"Do you?" he asked, light. "What do you suppose I should do about that?"
"I might be able to think of something," she said softly, her cheeks shading a deeper pink as she stroked a hand over his chest.
"I'd like that," he murmured, and bent his head to kiss her.
Kyoko's mouth was as warm and sweet as she was, and it was good to lose himself in the taste of her, in the pleasure of simple touch and connection and sensation, to let Kyoko hold him close and to watch her face change as he moved over her, in her, and to let himself slide down into heat and brightness after her. After, he stroked his fingers through her long hair, spread across the pillows, marveling all over again at how beautiful she was.
Of all the people whom tomorrow was going to hurt, he regretted her the most, insulated as she was from the harsher realities of Vongola's daily life.
"You're thinking too hard again," she murmured, touching a fingertip to the furrow between his eyebrows.
"Sorry," he said, and smiled. "I was just thinking about how incredibly lucky I've been."
Her cheeks dimpled. "Tsu-kun."
"I have been," he said quietly, winding the silkiness of her hair around his finger. "I'd keep things like this forever, if I could."
Kyoko's smile was radiant. "So would I," she breathed, and threaded her fingers into his hair as she drew him down to kiss her again.
Chrome's sudden appearance the next morning nearly upset everything. Tsuna knew he was staring at her with unabashed dismay, because she tipped her head to the side. "Is something wrong, Boss?" she murmured.
"I wasn't expecting you back so soon," he told her, stuck on the bald truth, trying frantically to think of some plausible way to get her to leave again, before Gokudera volunteered her for security.
"It seemed like I should be here this morning," Chrome said, after a moment.
Wondering how she'd known that was pointless; between them, Chrome and Mukuro had ways that the rest of them didn't understand. It was less important how she knew and more important to do something about it. Tsuna ransacked his brain, but before he could lay hands on an idea, Chrome spoke again. "I haven't seen Ken or Chikusa in some time," she said, in her soft voice. "Perhaps I should check in with them to see what intelligence they've gathered lately."
"Yes," Tsuna told her, relieved. "Yes, that would be good."
She held his eyes, unblinking, and then bent her head in assent. "As you wish, Boss."
"Thank you, Chrome," Tsuna told her, relieved beyond the telling of it.
Chrome's gaze was dark, and perhaps sad. "Thank you," she said, and turned away, slim and straight as the staff she carried.
After the third time Lambo had managed to knock him over, he stopped and looked at Tsuna, sleepy eyes thoughtful. "Is something on your mind, Boss?"
"Thinking about this afternoon's meeting," Tsuna confessed, and allowed Lambo to grasp his hand and pull him to his feet. "I'm sorry."
"It's a lot of responsibility, to be head of the Vongola," Lambo told him, unexpectedly serious. "I don't hold it against you if you have better things to think about than playing with me."
Tsuna smiled at him. "Don't be silly. I'd much rather be playing with you than thinking about this meeting." He tipped his head at Lambo. "Come on, let's try this again, with me concentrating."
Lambo smiled and came at him, and Tsuna devoted his attention to the present moment; the afternoon would come soon enough without his brooding on it.
Even now, after years of being shot at by Reborn and other, less-friendly, people, the crack and pop of gunfire sounded strangely unreal to Tsuna.
He spun around as Tetsuo cried out and went down, crimson blooming against the whiteness of his shirt. His security detail was yelling; Vittore grabbed Tsuna's arm and was yelling ("Down-down-down!") until he jerked and shuddered and slumped against Tsuna, horribly limp and bearing Tsuna to the asphalt with his weight. These were his people, yelling and dying around him, dying for him, dying to protect him. Even though he'd set his will to it and had resigned himself to the sick necessity of it, and knew that if it all went well, this future would be erased, and that if it didn't they'd all be lost anyway, Tsuna's heart cracked with every shot and cry.
He was only barely aware of the flame of his Dying Will, blooming around him as Nagai, the last of his bodyguard, went down, thrashing and gurgling. Tsuna eased Vittore off of him and rolled to his feet, and went to greet the inevitable.
- end -