"…and never, ever accept red flowers. All right, I think I got all that." Kyouko sat back, one hand rubbing her forehead.
Unità’s lips quirked in sympathy. "You’re doing very well, for someone who’s never even traveled abroad before."
Kyouko’s soft smile was more wry than usual. "And here I thought that, once I was done with the university entrance exams, I wouldn’t be studying any more."
"You’ll likely be studying this for years," Unità warned. "You have a grace and social ease that will serve you very well, but the small customs that let a woman fit in, here, take time to learn."
"I understand," Kyouko murmured, and straightened her back with a determined breath. "So. About this… this kissing thing."
Unità’s lips quirked. "Well, it depends on how well you know the other person …"
Antonio looked up with a brilliant smile as Unità led the girls into his dress shop. "Donna Unità! We haven’t seen you in too long! Are you looking for a new gown, perhaps?"
"Ah, now, you know my workday clothes can’t be that elaborate." Something Antonio was volubly disappointed over at every opportunity, but at least she had some consolation for him today. "Not for myself. I just wanted to introduce my young friends, here." She smiled. "They should know who to go to for the best."
"Indeed, indeed!" Antonio beamed upon his newest victims. Unità hoped both of them were taking notes on his tactics. "Friends of the Family?"
"Oh yes," Unità murmured, laying a hand on Kyouko’s shoulder. "The Vongola Tenth’s young woman, and her best friend." She nodded to the girls, eye crossing Haru’s briefly. "Antonio has a great many customers from our world, so you can relax here."
Haru’s eyes widened a hair, recognizing the implication, and she turned to Antonio with a sparkling smile of her own. "Oh, how wonderful! I was so hoping to find someone who would really know about fashions here!" She clasped her hands, eyes wide and entreating. "Are we dreadfully out of style? Tell me the worst! I can take it!"
Antonio enfolded her hands in his, clearly delighted at finding a kindred spirit. "No, no, you do very well!" He stood back and cast a professional eye over her outfit, and Kyouko’s. "A bit young, perhaps…"
Haru now had a definite gleam in her eye. "So, what would you recommend?"
Unità firmly suppressed her amusement. Haru was already well on her way to a contact that would give her a wide window onto the world she intended to move in.
Kyouko had caught on too, and her shoulder was tense under Unità’s hand. Unità guided her over to a chair while they waited for Antonio and Haru to finish their heart-to-heart. "Would she be any happier waiting at home beside you?" she murmured. "I can tell you already she wouldn’t actually be any safer."
Kyouko sighed silently. "I suppose not."
"She’s a natural," Unità observed, dispassionately. "Let her run and find her place."
Haru’s bright, open laugh wound through the shop like a silk scarf.
"It’s for you, boss." Gamma held out the phone. "The Vongola’s wife."
Unità stretched, behind her desk, redirecting her thoughts from negotiations with the Barassi to the reasons why her sort-of-protégée might be calling her this evening. "All right." She tucked the phone against her shoulder. "Kyouko?"
"Unità-san, what is the… the… acceptable thing to do when the boss of another Family suggests I sleep with him?"
Unità pursed her lips, wondering who had been foolish enough to try that. "What did you do?"
"I pretended I didn’t understand what he was talking about." Kyouko’s voice was tight.
"Perfect! Well, no, perfect would have been pulling out a gun and shooting him." Unità grinned a bit at Gamma’s expression. "Unfortunately we can’t always achieve perfection."
"I wanted to," Kyouko said fiercely.
Unità softened her tone. "I know. But to keep Sawada’s face for him, to keep it the mafia way, you need to let him do that when it’s in public."
Kyouko sighed. "I… don’t think that would have been a good idea either. At least not this evening."
"And that’s why acting like you didn’t understand was perfect. You left no openings at all."
After a long moment Kyouko murmured, "I was a little afraid you’d say that. That means I have to keep on doing it."
"Yes." Unità had nothing to offer that would soften that necessity. She could hear the deep breath Kyouko took, over the line.
"All right. Thank you, Unità-san."
"No problem." Unità smiled wryly as she hung up. "Oh, stop looking like that," she told Gamma. "I’m sure Kyouko wouldn’t actually shoot anyone." After a pause to let this obvious truth sink in she added, "Haru probably takes care of that."
Gamma’s snort at this reminder of the feisty girl his counterpart was so explosively courting made her laugh.
"Have a seat, Haru." Unità waved at the straight chairs in front of her desk as she signed and sealed the letter to the Girasole for Tazaru to carry. "There. Now, what did you want to see me for?"
Haru was fidgety today, as she sat, smoothing her skirt, crossing and recrossing her ankles. "Well." She nibbled her lip, which, Unità observed, she had learned to do in a downright charming way. "I wanted to ask, because I thought you’d know the real answer. If I’m somebody’s… if I’m with somebody, can I still flirt or would that be… unacceptable?"
Unità firmly stifled a chuckle; it was about time those two came to some understanding. "Flirting is still acceptable as long as you don’t mind being thought a fluffy airhead who can’t control herself. As long as you’re careful never to go beyond flirting, your overflowing feminine sex-drive will be a cause for congratulations to Gokudera."
Haru made a horrible face. "I thought so! Honestly, there are times when I just want to–" she broke off and settled back in her chair. "Well."
Unità raised a cautionary finger. "That’s among the lower ranks and at the very top, mind you. The hitmen usually have sharper eyes." They usually had to. "So if you’re working among them, be very careful."[?]
Haru nodded seriously. "I understand." A bit of her accustomed sparkle returned to her eyes. "With them I usually rely on my brain anyway, and it just seems to amuse them that they get to see what nobody else notices." Contemplatively she added, "Arrogant bastards."
Unità burst out laughing. Kyouko was more to her credit as a mentor, in many ways, but Haru was certainly finding her own feet in their world, even the rough parts.
Kyouko toed off her shoes and curled her feet up under her in the armchair. "Haru hasn’t heard anything, so I wanted to ask you. Some of the other bosses have been looking at me a little oddly, lately."
Unità took a long sip from her coffee cup. "Oddly?"
Kyouko frowned a little, fingers only toying with her own cup. "They don’t pay all that much attention to me. I’m used to that. But now… they’re not talking to me but they are looking at me. Only…" she made a frustrated sound. "Not the usual way. I’m not describing this very well, I’m sorry."
Unità thought for a moment and finally tipped her head and suggested, "Looking at your waist instead of your breasts?"
Kyouko blushed and Unità stifled a chuckle; even having been married for years, Kyouko still seemed so innocent sometimes.
"Well, I suppose that could be–" Kyouko broke off abruptly, eyes widening. She straightened in her seat and stared at Unità. "They… they’re watching for that?"
Unità shrugged. "I wouldn’t be surprised."
"Some of them probably want to know whether they should start grooming a son or a daughter." Unità’s mouth quirked at Kyouko’s wide eyed look. "Vongola is a very powerful Family, after all. There are plenty who would like to have blood ties to you." And more who would prefer that Kyouko never live to deliver, but she thought, by now, Kyouko might be able to reach that conclusion on her own.
"Oh." Kyouko looked down at her coffee, fidgeting with it again.
Unità’s brows rose. "You won’t have to think about marriages for your children for years, you can put the early starters off pretty easily."
"It isn’t that." Kyouko chewed her lip for a moment. "It’s… Tsuna doesn’t want to try for children, yet."
"He doesn’t think you’re too young, does he?" Unità asked, startled. She wouldn’t have thought it, but maybe in Japan…
"Oh, no, it’s not that." Kyouko managed to laugh, though it sounded stiffer than usual. "My mother was younger than I am now, when she had my brother. And Tsuna’s mother had him younger, too. No, it’s… he doesn’t…" she sighed. "He wants to wait until it’s safer."
Unità nearly choked on her coffee. "Safer?" For the wife of the tenth Vongola boss? She rubbed a hand over her forehead. "Boy has his head up his ass again, I see," she grumbled.
"He’s just worried for me," Kyouko defended her husband, instantly. "And I don’t want to push him, when he’s already concerned about the whole Family."
Something would have to be done about that, but clearly today wasn’t the day, and Kyouko wasn’t the person Sawada would have to hear from. Unità sighed. "He’s a good boss," she allowed, and smiled. "Seems to be a good husband, too."
Kyouko smiled softly. "He is." She looked up, suddenly inquiring. "Do you…"
"I don’t have a husband, no," Unità said dryly. She watched Kyouko’s sidelong glance, hesitant and curious, and added, "Nor children. There are," her mouth twisted just a bit at the double meaning of the words, "issues with that, for me."
Kyouko’s eyes were wide and stricken. "Oh. Oh, I’m so sorry."
Unità shook her head, taking herself in hand. "Don’t worry about it." She chuckled. "My people have enough of a handful just dealing with me. And I’ll leave enough to this world of ours, as it is, without adding children." She would leave a legend, in time, she suspected. Or, at least, her own personal installment of the longer legend.
Kyouko’s eyes on her were still curious, and a little thoughtful, but she let the subject lapse with the grace she’d learned so well. "How is your Family doing, lately?"
Unità leaned back and crossed her legs, smiling. Business was easier to talk about, yes. "Very well, especially since that new partnership in Monreale…"
A scuffle outside her sitting room caught Unità’s attention and she went to the door in time to hear Haru’s voice clearly.
"I can walk perfectly well, you know, there’s no need…"
"The boss concerns herself with you. That’s all the reason I need." That was Gamma, and a breath later he turned the corner and she saw them.
Haru was scooped up in Gamma’s arms, being carried and clearly fuming about it. She was also bruised, lip split, dress torn, one of her high heeled sandals missing. Unità’s lips thinned and she pulled her door all the way open. "Bring her in, and call for what we need," she ordered.
Gamma set Haru down carefully on the couch and nodded to Unità, the same grimness she felt turning his eyes hard.
"Haru." Unità crouched down in front of her and caught her hands, hoping to capture her focus, too. "What happened?"
Haru’s eyes were bright and a little glazed. "It was at the bar. At Tommaso’s. Some of the Donnola were there, making a delivery, and you know we’ve been trying to figure out why they’re suddenly so cozy with the Scoiattolo. So I chatted them up." Her mouth twisted and then she winced as it pulled the cut on her lip. "Bad timing I guess. I was just getting somewhere when some other men came in. I didn’t recognize them. They came after the Donnola men and shoved me aside…"
"More than shoved it looks like," Gamma noted, coming back in with a glass of water and another of something Unità was pretty sure was much stronger, trailed by her house doctor, Renato. He handed the smaller glass to Haru while Renato made disapproving sounds and started cleaning her cuts. "Tazaru says it was the Scarafaggio," he added.
Haru swallowed the alcohol in three gulps, gasping a little. "Thanks."
Gamma handed over the water, one corner of his mouth curling up.
"There were six of them," Haru continued. "They… they shot three of the Donnola before the rest of the bar jumped in and they ran." She was breathing deeply, tiny shudders shaking her.
This might be the first time Haru had seen death that close. Unità stroked her hair back. "All right. That’s all I need to know, Haru. Just catch your breath."
Haru nodded, jerky, hands tight around her water glass.
"Haru!" Gokudera was through the door before anyone quite realized he was there, and pushed Renato aside. He stopped short before catching Haru’s shoulders, hands hovering. Finally he settled for taking her arms, gently, where there weren’t any bruises. His voice was hoarse. "What happened?"
"She got caught in the middle of the fight with some Scarafaggio at Tommaso’s tonight," Unità supplied, briefly. "They weren’t careful."
Gokudera’s first expression was relief, but it turned colder and colder as his eyes tallied up Haru’s injuries. He stood. "Thank you for informing me."
Haru caught his hand, eyes wide. "Hayato, don’t be an idiot…!"
The intensity of his eyes didn’t change, but the ice turned hot for a breath as he knelt down in front of her again. "Haru." He leaned in and kissed the uninjured corner of her mouth, very gently. "I’ll be back soon, okay? Don’t worry."
Haru’s eyes were wide and dark, watching him stalk back out the door, and she opened her mouth again.
"Don’t." Unità took Haru’s face and turned the girl to look at her. "You have to let him do this, Haru."
"I know." Unità sat on the couch and gathered Haru close. "I know. But an injury to you is a dishonor to him. He has to avenge it."
As Haru shivered and silent tears soaked into Unità’s shoulder, she wondered if, perhaps, she had misled Kyouko. Maybe she was giving daughters to her world after all.
Unità sat in her study, watching the stars come out through the tall window. She had attended Cavallone’s wedding that day and watched the Vongola allies mingle, watched her family laugh and stand proud, watched Kyouko, with Haru shadowing her, pass through the gathering unnoticed offering a smile here, a word there, charming the argumentative and separating the drunk, leaving all Sawada’s eagle-eyed bodyguards nothing to do.
Watched Reborn watching her. Knowing.
She sighed. She’d thought to have a little longer, but it seemed not. She would just have to hope she had done all she needed to do for the next little while. She told herself that firmly and scrubbed her sleeve across her eyes.
"Boss?" Gamma tapped on her balcony door and held out two cans of beer temptingly. "Want to come take a breath of fresh air for a while?"
She took a breath and pushed herself onto her feet, stepping outside. "What is it, Gamma? I don’t really feel like playing around, tonight."