Chapter 1: evaporate
Nana is a mist who was deeply hurt in her youth. All she is, all her resources and misdirection and illusions are dedicated to protecting herself. Iemitsu was safe, stupid, delusional, devoted to the idea of love and gallantry. He was also willing to take a no for an answer; she tested, to be sure. Thus he was perfect for a girl grown into a woman with walls miles high and camouflage so good you would never know who she really was, would never even know what you were seeing wasn't the truth.
Everything was fine. Tsuna was the light of her life. Iemitsu was absent, and that was good - she'd tolerated him, but now she didn't have to, but was still protected as a married housewife in suburbia.
Tsuna was special, he held the sky. They would play cat's cradle with sparkling threads of light, would practice throwing things with little balls of flame. Nana would throw mist flame and Tsuna would change it then she would change it back and so on. She would tell stories and teach him about the world - the names of thing, letters, and numbers - with illusion.
Then her safe, idiot, absent husband came back and shattered everything. He hurt her Tsuna. Made him dull and cold and slow. Crippled. That loathsome old man sealed him.
Why? What gave him the right?
Men were always dangerous. Either they were blind, stupid, and cruel with it or they were simply cruel. Taking, always taking, always entitled and righteous and vile. How could she have forgotten? Just because Iemitsu had seemed so toothless and safe - hah, what delusion - didn't mean he actually was. He was still a man, after all. And she was still married to him, he was still Tsuna's biological father and had legal rights to them both. And he had done this to her Tsuna, to her. Why, why, why? (And that night she didn't say no, didn't dare. But it hurt and if he had ever loved her it should have been obvious from her entire body, but in the end he didn't care.)
Why, indeed? Well, she was a mother. And Iemitsu was gone all the time. That gave her some leeway. And she could be strong when she had to be. Tentatively she began stretching her flame. Mist was construction, after all. She would make a key to unlock the seal, a dagger to pry it off, a flame to melt it away. Her Tsuna would be whole again.
And, again the question why. Or rather the mystery of her husband. A mystery that she had not cared about when she had thought him harmless. She would not be making that mistake again. She searched the house, thoroughly, and found papers, guns, knives, money, passports. Some of it spread out, a lot of it in a big box, a stash, buried in the garden, under the flowerbed he had put in when he bought the house.
It was worse than she had ever feared. Mafia. Vongola. The underworld. Blood, power and terror. She knew of the mafia through the yakuza - though the yakuza was mostly a joke to the rest of the criminal world. Well, Japan's protected status and relative obscurity in mafia circles would only help with what she was planning.
She succeeded in getting the seal off of her son, though it took months before he was back to normal again. Normal being sweet, curious and shy of adults but not timid. Her husband was a fool. Of course his son had been wary of him - he was a stranger. Many children were cautious around unknown grown-ups, but that was perfectly normal. Then Tsuna had been hurt and had changed. She had heard Iemitsu talking to that vile old man about her son. How he was cute, but too soft, weak. That perhaps he wasn't suited for the family business.
Now that Nana knew what the family business was, well, that just meant more leeway. She was widening the hole, and soon she and Tsuna would slip away. They couldn't stay in Namimori. They were too visible here, targets for assassins and bound and hemmed in by expectations of how Iemitsu's airheaded, civilian wife and useless son should act. But she was a mist, her special boy was a sky and both of them were pure as spring water and powerful as the very ocean itself. She made the illusionary constructs, wove them hard and fast and lasting. Tsuna helped anchor them with his flame, helped give them a presence that read as alive to any watchers. So what if the constructs weren't the best conversationalists, that the Nana clone seemed shallow as a drying puddle, and that her 'son' barely spoke? That was what Iemitsu thought of them already.
Then they were gone, evaporated, blown away on the spring breeze like morning mist. It had taken less than a year for a civilian housewife and her six-year-old son to outsmart the most powerful famiglia in the underworld. They moved north to Hokkaido, to a small village by the sea, close to the mountains. This was where her mother came from, the useless woman. More importantly, this was where the rest of her family lived, and they were of a different quality altogether. Many of the people here had flames, many of them mists.
It was known that Ito Maki and her son, who had recently moved to the small seaside Hokkaido village, really were of the Sato family, but no one ever spoke of it. Sawada Nana and Tsunayoshi simply became lost in the mists, in layers and layers of subtle, unimportant, misdirecting vapour.
Nana continued to monitor the situation in Namimori through the clones' eyes. Sometimes she couldn't help but test the waters a little. She went out more, tried to get friends, to go out of town for a little holiday with her son. Inevitably she was stopped by freak circumstances. She showed interest in a man, who disappeared while her clone was discouraged from infidelity by way of a mist-net. She deliberately walked into an ambush by hitmen from a rival family. She pretended to panic and was hit on the head and then told she had fallen down the stairs when she woke up in hospital. No, Iemitsu didn't want his wife aware.
Thank any and all higher powers she had gotten out when she did. Her blunt-clawed husband had subordinates, mind-control and the long arm of the illegal. And he wanted her vapid and normal and loving in his absence.
Then suddenly that wasn't enough to protect them anymore. Famiglia was more important, more real than the make-believe dollhouse he had allowed them. The last Vongola heir had been murdered and now he had a use for his cute, useless little Tuna-fish.
The hitman Reborn was sent to tutor Tsuna. The years the clones had been in action had been an exercise in dodging and caution, but they had managed. The first bullet to the head and Sawada Tsunayoshi popped like a soap bubble, leaving a faint waft of mist and sky. At the house Nana's clone laughed. Then Reborn came tearing in.
"Sawada Nana and Sawada Tsunayoshi are no more. You are too late. I've won," the thing that wasn't Iemitsu's wife said. Then the mist-contruct popped, too, right in his satisfyingly angry and confused face.
Nana had been careful. There were no papers connecting the clones to her and Tsuna's new home. And she'd deliberately made her laugh cruel, made it sound as if she was a he, using ore instead of atashi. Hopefully Iemitsu would think that they had been killed.
Sawada Nana and Sawada Tsunayoshi were indeed lost. Only Ito Maki and Ito Hajime remained.
Chapter 2: fiasco
In which Reborn gets a bit of a runaround.
Reborn is stumped.
It has been a very long time indeed since the world's greatest hitman was so thoroughly stymied. Despite the shame of it, he has no idea what has happened to Sawada Nana and Sawada Tsunayoshi. Are they dead? In that case, when were they killed? Or have they been kidnapped and are being held somewhere? Reborn thinks they are most probably dead, and dead for a long time by now.
The whole situation is a disaster.
Arriving in Namimori to toughen up the next Vongola Boss, he found everything exactly as Iemitsu had described it. The town was quiet, partly due to its protected status, partly due to, as he discovered, fear of Hibari. Iemitsu's secret family was so utterly civilian. Sawada Nana acted like the light in her eyes came from the hole in the back of her head. Her son was hopeless, useless, powerless and, most of all, spineless.
Well, at least Reborn had his work cut out for him. How to turn this into a mafia Don?
It was no until after first contact had been made that everything went pear-shaped. He approached Nana as a special tutor, and she let him in, offering refreshments and vapid chatter about Iemitsu in equal measure. It was quiet hell. Nana was unfailingly polite, an attentive hostess, pretty and vivacious, and would not shut up about Iemitsu and her lovely home and her sweet, precious son. Reborn could not extricate himself for politeness' sake, and sipped coffee and suffered until salvation in the form of Sawada Tsunayoshi came stumbling in, ten times clumsier and more timid than Dino had ever managed.
If Nana had not been so utterly normal and tooth-gratingly clueless, and her son so useless, he would have expected enemy action.
Reborn quickly changed his mind upon properly meeting Tsuna. This was hell. Tsuna, soon not-so-affectionately nicknamed Dame-Tsuna, stuttered, stumbled and flinched his way through everything. And that was excluding that piercing "Hiee!!" that grated on every last nerve Reborn possessed.
Shooting Tsuna with a dying-will bullet was the sweetest thing Reborn had done in a long time, up until it wasn't, up until the Vongola Heir he had been entrusted with disappeared in a puff of misty flame residue.
The Nana-clone's chilling, triumphant laughter and final comment unsettled him deeply.
Just- what? How?
Namimori was one of the most secure and well-surveilled places on Earth. The abduction of a mafia civilian wife and an heir should not have been possible.
This is a unmitigated catastrophe for the Vongola. The Ninth is old, too old really, to effectively lead the Alliance. They have lost three heirs already, having the fourth slip through their fingers looks like grave incompetence. Worse, it makes the Vongola look weak. If this situation isn't remedied soon the sharks will start circling. Then there is the Xanxus situation, something that has the potential to turn very explosive, very quickly. Having a legitimate heir in place before unthawing Xanxus was paramount.
Reborn had managed to capture the smallest flame-trace from the mist clone in a jar and seal it from outside flame-influence. Hopefully that misty Sky signature would lead somewhere. Skill like that, brought to bear with such a grudge behind it, is bound to have left traces somewhere. Someone will have trained that talent, and Skies a rare, ones with such a clear mist secondary even more so. And politically, the kind of animosity that would prompt an action such as this will have left traces in the underworld. Now it's just a matter of following those traces back to the source.
Iemitsu, predictably, has a complete meltdown upon being told of the disappearance of his family. Reborn leaves him slumped over his desk and blubbering like a three-year-old as one of his subordinates tries to calm him down. Strangely skewed though the man's flame signature is, it does signal complete shock and surprise. Reborn had expected nothing less, but he had to confirm Iemitsu's innocence in the matter for himself.
Timoteo is equally surprised.
If the matter hadn't reflected badly on Reborn himself as well, it would have been funny to watch the most powerful Mafia famiglia promptly descend into chaos and then do their best impression of headless chickens. Since he is embroiled in this mess, however, it is simply painful. He wants no part of this incompetence touching him, or his ever-suave reputation.
In the end, the Ninth shows the last little bit of steel he has left in him and fixes Reborn with a piercing gaze:
Verde, mad scientist that he is, is able to analyse the flame-trace that Reborn had captured from the Nana-clone. He purifies away Reborn's flame trace, as well as the minute traces that remained of Tsuna's sealed sky flame that had soaked into the mist-clone after it spending time in a space saturated with said Sky's flames. In the end he is left with a sample that seems to belong to a female Sky with a strong secondary mist flame, somewhere in her late teens. From the flame-degradation, that also make the test as a whole somewhat unreliable, he is able to pinpoint the clones' ages to about three years. So, the unknown Sky girl will be in her late teens or early twenties by now. It is not much to go on, but it gives him a start.
With the purified flame sample Reborn will be able to match the Sky responsible, once found. The bad news is that the trace is old and years cold, and with a professional job like this, nothing will have been left to chance, left for him to discover.
Reborn might have the purified flame sample, and a basic profile to go after, but his investigation turns up a whole lot of nothing. No one knows anything, however hard he shakes them. The Superbi, the Chiavarone, the Bovino, thr Simon, the Tomasi and various other mafia famiglias don't know anything. The Varia are gleeful on behalf of their Boss, but seems innocent in this particular matter. The Triads are a bust, as are the Mafiya and the Cosa Nostra. The Vindice know nothing, even when Reborn hints Omerta might be threatened. In the end, even the pitiful Yakuza - and how the mighty are fallen that Reborn has to go to them for answers - haven't heard anything.
This is looking less and less like a Sky with a grudge, and more like a highly professional hit with the force a top-secret agency behind it, for it to remain this obscure. In the end, the criminal world is pretty small. If it had been one of the families or organisations that fall under Omerta, someone would have known, or Reborn would at least have felt a hint of that highly distinctive misty sky flame.
So he casts his net further - intelligence agencies, paramilitary organisations, terrorist networks. Anyone who could have something to gain from the true giant of the underworld toppling - because without heir, that is looking to be a likelier and likelier fate for the Vongola.
Upon waking and being informed of the situation in the wider Vongola Alliance, Xanxus just laughs.
Chapter 3: vapour
A few small villages sit on the east coast of Hokkaido, with nothing between them and the endless ocean as it drops into unfathomable depths away from the continental shelf. They’re small enough not to appear on any map, and aside from paying their taxes in full and on time, they remain forgotten by both authorities and the world at large.
Maybe it is the thick, fickle mists rolling in from the ocean.
Ito Hajime grows up by the sea, the wide, fathomless ocean. His home is a small, traditional village, in a cluster of equally small, traditional villages. It suits his mother and him perfectly, better than their former home ever had. The people here are quiet and unassuming, save for running to vivid, jewel-toned eyes of every colour, indigo being by far the most common. Hajime’s eyes, a vibrant amber, are among the rarest, though.
Hajime can vaguely remember that he and his mother used to live somewhere else, before. He didn’t like it. Everything there was cold and hurt. Home is much better. He has friends here, and school isn’t impossibly hard. He especially likes the extracurricular activities. Not everyone can join, and most kids only get to do a couple of things, three at the most – save for him, due to his harmonious aspect. He needs to understand them all.
Hajime’s aspect is the warp that holds the weft of all the others together. To further that symbolism he gets to weave, and mend broken things. In the beginning he finds that part of the lessons boring, but now he is able to see the beauty in creation and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Old lady Sora, who is one of his teachers, says it was like that for her too. She looks frail and ancient, but she burns like the fires of creation itself.
Of all the single element flames, Hajime like the mist the most. In this he is very much a child of his new home, where it is by far the most common primary. This concentration of mist flames gives the village a dreamlike feel, as the landscape is ever changing with the needs of its people. Guests might be hosted in a house that wasn’t there the day before, or a leaking fishing boat mended while still on the water, or a temporary road put in… the possibilities are endless.
Most important, though, are the mists that shroud the villages from the outside. Nominally, the villages are a part of Japan, pay their taxes and fulfil their obligations as citizens – but they don’t appear on any maps and records, while satellites and planes just… don’t notice the unimportant, distant little patch of land. Surely, it’s already been mapped ages ago, belongs to someone, is someone else’s business? Maybe a wildlife preserve?
Hajime feels nothing but admiration for this subtle and skilful mist-work.
One afternoon Hajime finds his mother giggling at home. She is a happy person, but this is a bit much even for her.
The decoy mist constructs had finally come to an end, she explains, and shows him and illusion of the Vongola representative’s gob-smacked face. It is funny, but clearly it means more to his mother than just a good laugh. To Ito Maki, it is a victory, and she is vindictively smug about it for days.
Hajime has left Namimori behind a long time ago, both physically and mentally, but he is still glad for his mother’s sake.
The villages are insular, but not entirely isolationist. They keep abreast of the outside world. Some of the inhabitants work outside, and there is trade, and people who run businesses from home. (The rest of the world just doesn’t… intrude.) To educate the children there are regular field-trips outside.
Those with wandering feet often leave, at least for a while. Young people would go out into the world, to university, to work, to travel and find spouses if no one from home catches their eye. This makes the villages sustainable – a quiet lagoon not entirely cut off from the sea’s fresh water but shielded from the worst of its storms.
The villages’ flame training lends itself well to certain professions. Those active in the wider world works in various Underworld organisations but are also spread out in no few government intelligence organisations. With time this has become policy – unstated at first, but then openly encouraged as a strategy. This way the villages can remain abreast of developments in the outside world and thus be able to remain hidden and independent of it.
Not long after the mist-clones’ demises, intelligence about the Vongola Alliance begin to filter in. The World’s Strongest Hitman is looking very hard for something. In Japan, at first, then in the Mafia and branching out from there. The Vongola heir has been lost, apparently.
The search turns up nothing but dead ends. The boy is years gone.
At home, Ito Maki remains smug.