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Cascade

“Therefore, the next successor to the Vongola is Sawada Tsunayoshi-sama and his six guardians.”

Reborn smiled, sort of, and said, “Well done. Now we can go home.”

Tsuna stared at the small charm in his hand, given him by Kyoko, then tucked it away along with his mittens. Gokudera handed him the Vongola Sky ring and he slid it onto his finger, trembling from the strain he had been through.

And then his back arced in pain and blood gushed from his mouth.

“Tsuna!”

He had just enough strength to rip the ring back off his finger and drop it before he lost consciousness.

*

Dino was frozen in shock. The implications were staggering. After a long pause he shook himself and started snapping out orders. “Get this fucking barrier down, now! Romario, call the others!”

Colonnello whistled and held up an arm. Falco swooped in moments later and hauled him outside the death trap. Falco then returned to get Reborn out.

Dino was confused yet pleased when the Cervello’s control over the lasers suddenly worked again—perhaps whatever sabotage the Varia had effected had jammed the signal and was now no longer working?—and surged forward to go to Tsuna’s side. He pushed away the dithering and confused guardians so he could pick Tsuna up, then booked it with Romario in tow.

For once his clumsiness was nowhere to be found. He practically threw himself into the car and was joined by Romario, Ivan, and Brizio. They were halfway to Tsuna’s house before it registered to him that Reborn had slipped in without him noticing.

Tsuna was rushed upstairs and swiftly stripped down, Brizio offering up a succession of dampened towels to wipe away the blood, before a set of boxers and a t-shirt were wrestled onto the limp body and Tsuna was tucked into his bed.

Romario took over at that point, his hands gentle against the boy and glowing with Sun Flames. It didn’t take long before he said, “He’ll be fine, Capo. The rejection didn’t hurt him too badly, and he’s strong for all that he looks so weak.”

Dino exhaled in relief. “Let’s let him rest, then.”

Reborn made a disgusted sound and pointed at the door. “And I have a call to make.”

Downstairs in the living area Reborn placed a call to Iemitsu.

“What is it? I’m kind of busy right—no! I don’t want any pain killers!”

Dino’s face twisted in confusion, then relaxed. Right, Iemitsu had gone to Italy to speak with the Vongola Ninth. Fruitlessly, in the end. He was in the hospital.

“Iemitsu,” Reborn grated out.

It was a tone Dino wasn’t sure he had ever heard before, not so seriously.

“Explain.”

“Huh?” There was the sound of papers rustling over the connection.

“The ring rejected Tsuna. Explain. Now.”

Dino flinched back at the utter fury he was hearing. Then he nearly passed out when a suddenly babbling Iemitsu admitted to the truth, that Tsuna was not his son. That Nana’s pregnancy had gone so badly, the child lost, and how Nana had suffered a psychotic break. How he thought he’d never be found out, that he had found a child a few years later and “adopted” the boy, made arrangements to disguise his appearance.

Dino’s stomach was steadily churning in horror that the man had deluded himself into thinking the child he had kidnapped truly was his own son and ensured that Nana believed the same.

Of course, as Iemitsu was babbling, “I did it for my beautiful darling,” he heard a hellish shrieking from the first floor, and bolted for the stairs.

It was like a scene out of Psycho. Nana was there, a crazed look twisting her face, knife in hand, and there was bright blood staining it and the boy in the bed.

Reborn acted swiftly, knocking the woman out.

Romario went for round two of healing Tsuna as Reborn dragged Nana out of the room with a look of disgust on his face.

Tsuna briefly regained consciousness, long enough to hazily eye Dino and Reborn, then passed out again.

When Romario stood back up with a sigh Dino said with suspicious calm, “Romario, get Ivan and Brizio in here. Pack up everything my little brother has in this room, and bring it all to the hotel.” He hauled a limp Tsuna out of the bed and booked it again, to the car. Once in it he snapped out an order, arranged Tsuna on the seat, and woke up his phone.

*

Chrome tilted her head to the side, listening carefully. She nodded at what Mukuro-sama was telling her, then ghosted away to silently gather up all Vongola property from the guardians. They were so distraught-shocked-uncomprehending-stunned at what had happened that they never even noticed her illusions meant to further blind them as she stole what was no longer theirs to have.

The Varia had thrown down the rings in disgust and left.

She collected them, and the ring Boss—he was no longer Boss, though—had dropped, and skulked away. She was going to have to be at her best to get out of the country. Mukuro-sama’s ideas for returning the rings to Vongola was amusing, though.

*

Reborn was about to phone Iemitsu again when he heard the front door open. Bianchi drifted up the stairs and paused on seeing Nana laid out on the hallway floor.

“What’s this?” Bianchi asked lazily, giving him a look brimming with what she called love.

“She snapped and tried to murder Tsuna.”

“Oh.” Bianchi eyed Nana again.

“Get her to her bed, would you? Keep an eye on her. I need to go make a phone call.”

She nodded, looking pleased to do his bidding, and crouched down to gather Nana up in her deceptively fragile arms.

Reborn headed downstairs, muttering almost inaudibly, “No wonder you two get along so well. You’re both fucking mental.” He slipped outside and started for Dino’s hotel. It took only moments to get Fon on the line.

“Nǐ hǎo.”

“You need to come to Namimori and take custody of I-Pin again. I’ll have Colonnello take her to the Sasagawa house.” He ended the call without bothering to wait for a reply, and phoned the Rain.

“Yo!”

“You need to find I-Pin and Fūta and get them to the Sasagawa house.”

“…What’s going on, kora?”

“Nana snapped and tried to murder Tsuna. Dino’s taking care of him at the moment. Bianchi is watching Nana. Someone needs to keep an eye on the kids. Fon has already been alerted that he needs to come for I-Pin’s sake.” He never noticed he had neglected to mention Lambo.

“On it!”

Unfortunately for him, by the time he made it to Dino’s suite at the hotel, the Cavallone group was long gone. He swore and headed for the train station. Another call was placed, to Iemitsu again.

“How did you change his features?” he demanded.

*

Dino was exhausted by the time they got back to his territory and his home. Tsuna was given a thorough wash by him and Romario, eased into sleeping clothes, and tucked into a bed in the private wing rather than a bed in the wing reserved for guests.

“I’ll set up a watch rotation, Boss,” Romario said quietly.

He was grateful. In the event that Tsuna woke up, someone should be there, to keep him from getting too worked up. “Thank you,” he murmured, eyeing his brother-of-the-heart’s pale and stressed face.

“Get some rest,” Romario urged.

“Yeah.” He scrubbed a hand over his face, nodded, and turned away, to seek his bed.

The next morning he entered Tsuna’s room only to be surprised. Somehow the little cow had recovered from his coma, followed them to Italy, and sneaked into the mansion and past the layers of guards, all to snuggle with Tsuna.

Lambo really was incredible, he thought, shaking his head in astonishment as he gazed at the tiny horns and messy hair peeking out of the covers. Was there an actual bond there? He had never thought to ask before, about whether or not Tsuna had actually harmonized with his guardians, if they were real guardians.

It took time, he knew. It wasn’t so simple that you picked a strong element and decided they were the one. It required trust, transparency, affection, camaraderie, to build something that blossomed into an entwining of flames. Tsuna was sure to start complaining about the distance, once he woke up, if they were true bonds.

The door opened behind him in a whisper of sound and he turned toward it. Romario was there, but also … Reborn. His former tutor had a psychotically cheerful look on his face, which made that childish part of him not yet dead want to tremble in a kind of fear or dismay.

“Dino! I’m so pleased you accepted my offer to become your personal assassin and family tutor,” Reborn chirped, far too many teeth showing in his smile for anyone with sense to be comfortable with.

He stared, his brain having trouble catching up and coping with everything, and then he let out a quiet laugh of deep relief. Reborn had chosen Tsuna over Vongola. Did he feel … betrayed?

Reborn’s smile sharpened into something ugly. “So, we have a mystery to solve.”

Dino startled like a gangly colt when Mammon faded into view. He edged toward the bed with half a thought to shield the sleeping boy.

Mammon somehow conveyed a roll of their eyes from under that hood. “Mu… I am here at Reborn’s request. The external advisor has used some twisted form of Mist to enshroud the boy’s truth.”

He glanced at Reborn, who gave him a nod, the Sun Arcobaleno’s face set back in a serious expression, eyes as cold as an underground sea and just as deep.

Dino moved away and let the Mist work.

A short time later that had seemed so agonizingly long he sucked in a choked breath. “Sebastiano…?” he whispered. The boy in the bed could be his brother in truth with those looks. His little brother.

He did not see Reborn look at them both, frowning, but he did hear him snap, “Romario, get samples for DNA testing. Now!”

He barely noticed when his Sun yanked his jaw down and shoved a swab into his mouth, so busy was he in staring at the boy who wore his own features. Romario did the same to Tsuna—what was his name, really?

Dino felt more than saw his Sun exit the room as Reborn hopped onto the bed and placed glowing hands on the boy. He nearly fell over when his tutor started to swear up a blue streak in a multitude of languages and sweat started to bead on the small expanse of his forehead and at his temples.

He knew better than to interrupt or ask questions, no matter how insanely curious he was. What on Earth could possibly make Reborn so unhinged?

As if he’d said it out loud, Reborn snarled in response, “His flames were sealed!” The Sun’s lip curled into a feral sneer, hands still glowing and doing … something. Romario had tried to explain to him once how it felt, to heal, but it was hopelessly confusing to him. Tsuna’s expression eased, so whatever Reborn was doing was helping.

Thinking back, he realized that Tsuna always looked tired and stressed, but not in the way he would have expected. Jumpy, yes. Easily startled, sure. But stressed and strained and worn thin by something more than bullies or bad grades, no.

‘A seal?’ he wondered. “On a Sky?” he questioned out loud. “Who would do something so horrific? It would have to be, right?” he murmured. “I can’t even imagine how … wrong … that would feel. Strangled? Always…”

Always trying to reach out, and never quite managing to get even a fingertip on what was so clearly in sight. His flames were gentle and fierce, warm, comforting, and always seeking, even when he hadn't understood what it meant. For Tsuna, would that be like looking through a thick pane of glass, forever denied the comfort of knowing his own soul?

Reborn eventually sat back, a vicious scowl still twisting his features. The man’s gaze flicked over to him. “Sebastiano?” It was a demand, of course, spoken so mildly.

“Uh… Yeah, right. I had a baby brother, Sebastiano. He disappeared when he was four. In Venice. I was, I dunno, twelve? Long before I met you. Father had people out looking for him for the longest time.” He paused a moment, taking in Reborn’s reaction to apparently never having been let in on this information by his father. But then, Reborn was a tutor and hitman, not a member of the family at the time.

“Looking back, I think that’s when his health started to decline. Losing Mamma was one thing, but then this… But… Wait, wait, I’m confused. If he’s not a Vongola, how the hell did he manage to do their signature technique?”

“He’s just that good, I suppose,” Reborn replied. “Or I’m just that good of a teacher.”

*

“Any idea why he’s still out?”

Reborn spared a glanced at his former student—now boss—and sighed, something he would normally be hesitant to show openly. “The seal really messed with his flames, his mind, his entire body. His—pathways—were like aged cobwebs.” What should have been supple and responsive was sticky and sluggish and far too fragile in appearance to his mind’s eye, the view from the reflection in the mirror of his flames.

Instead of a brilliantly constructed web it was layer upon layer of trash. Fixing it had been a real challenge, and under other circumstances he would have welcomed it. But not this. Not for the boy he’d been contracted to teach, a boy who remained a mystery, and by people who had obviously conspired to snuff that bright flame.

And why? Because a narcissistic imbecile did not want his adorable and helpless “tuna fish” to have anything to do with the mafia. Condemning that same child to a life of misery or torture was all right, though? Strangling his soul? If he could get away with it he knew exactly where he’d plant the bullets.

He wasn’t feeling too charitable toward Nana, either, but she had the excuse of mental illness.

Thankfully—and not something he would ever say outright—Dino had accepted his offer, had displayed relief and gratefulness that Reborn had chosen Tsuna over Vongola. He was allowed to be fond of Dino, now that he was no longer a job.

Tsuna, though… He had yet to make it plain that the tutoring contract was void due to the lies uncovered, that his student technically did not exist. The Ninth was injured and presumably still recovering in that infirmary Dino had arranged for in Namimori. His people would not transport him back to Italy until it was safe to do so.

But he always had an out. He was too old and too canny to not keep that option available. He might not be a Cloud, but he would not let himself be chained, not like those so pathetically grateful to be recognized as part of a family, any family. He had standards, thank you very much, and the only person he would ever bind himself to for real would be a Sky strong enough to hold him.

The only one who’d come close in all these years had been Luce, and he hadn't trusted her from the moment he laid eyes on her, not with all the mystery involved and the decided lack of answers. The money had been good and the missions challenging, but trust? No.

Dino had his trust, if only because he knew that boy almost inside and out. Tsuna had it, too, for much the same reasons. He practically raised Dino and crafted him into a worthy adult, and he still intended to do the same for Tsuna. It would help if they knew who he was, though.

Romario wandered in looking harassed and held up a document.

Reborn immediately said, “Let’s have breakfast first. News on an empty stomach is unsettling.”

Dino shrugged and nodded at his Sun, so Romario placed a quiet call. A short time later they were seated around a cozy table about to tuck in. Lambo chose that moment to wake up and tumble out of his cozy nest with Tsuna so he could take his place at the table.

The disturbance woke Tsuna that time and blinked his eyes open. Dino rushed over to help him sit up, stuffing an extra pillow behind the boy’s back. Romario helpfully moved the table and chairs closer so Tsuna would not feel left out.

It was not until Reborn had eaten a few fruit slices and was enjoying a sip of coffee that he nodded at Romario.

The paper was slid over to Dino as Romario said, “They’re a match. They’re brothers.”

He watched in mild amusement as Dino’s forkful of eggs tumbled into his lap when he stabbed himself in shock. The fork was then flung with admirable strength and accuracy to vibrate in the wall. “I can’t believe it. Over a decade of searching and wondering… Vongola will pay for this.”

A sidelong look revealed that Tsuna was beyond confused. He really needed to get on with lessons in Italian, and they might serve to distract the boy from what he was shortly to learn. The little cow brat was being surprisingly well behaved, which he found suspicious, but he let that slide for the moment.

Another sip of coffee warmed his mouth, but he almost spit it out when the cow said, “Why did Mamma try to kill Tsuna?”

The larger part of him wanted to snarl at the brat or kick him across the room. But. The cow was the only guardian who actually managed to follow Tsuna. He wasn’t exactly interested in the reasons just then, only the actions. “Because, my fuzzy-headed little menace,” he said, “it turns out that Tsuna isn’t who everyone thought he was. He is, in fact, Dino’s little brother. He was kidnapped when he was four.”

Lambo gasped and turned a shocked look on Tsuna.

「What’s going on? Where am I? I don’t understand what happened.」

Dino shifted uncomfortably. 「I don’t quite know how to tell you this—」

“Sticking plaster,” Reborn murmured.

Dino took a deep breath and nodded. 「The reason the Vongola Sky ring rejected you is because you’re not a Vongola.」

Confusion twisted Tsuna’s features. 「Not because I was too weak? But like Xanxus…?」

「Iemitsu isn’t your father. You’re my little brother. Your real name is Sebastiano.」

Reborn was again amused, this time because the boy fainted dead away.

*

Lambo was given the job to keep an eye on Tsuna—Sebastiano. ‘God, that will be difficult to get used to,’ he thought. ‘I hope that…’

A commotion in the outer room distracted him, and following on the heels of that was Romario entering his office. Just as well. He had already been too distracted by events to bother with his paperwork. He could only pray Reborn never noticed or he’d be feeling plenty of regret along with everything else.

“You have a visitor, Boss. From Vongola. You’re not going to believe who, either.”

His brow went up. Romario seemed both faintly amused and irritated, their bond was not disturbed, and his gut wasn’t screaming at him. So he nodded. “The formal reception room. And make sure Reborn is there. I will come in thirty minutes. That should be enough time for everyone to properly mobilize.”

Romario nodded and quit the room.

Dino dragged a hand over his face. He was so happy. He had his brother back, even if Tsuna—Sebastiano—had spent much of his time sleeping or humoring Lambo by playing with the child. Reborn had chosen his brother, and by extension, Dino and the Cavallone.

He was also a bit worried for Sebastiano’s mental health. His father-figure (if anyone could even call Iemitsu that without hooting in derisive laughter) had abandoned him, his mother-figure had tried to murder him, and he wasn’t even who he’d thought he was.

He sighed and checked the clock. How odd that at times thoughts passed through one’s head at ludicrous speeds yet were still comprehensible, and at other times, so slowly that it took seemingly forever to think a single thought. He got up, straightened his clothing, and headed off to this meeting with a Vongola.

Dino nearly did a double-take on seeing Federico di Vongola seated there, along with an unfamiliar man. Reborn was eyeing the two with an expression that could charitably be called freezing. Dino took his seat, feeling anger all over again.

“To start, let’s make this clear. Cavallone is now neutral when it comes to the Vongola. Faith has been shattered. Trust abused. With that in mind… Please do explain your purpose here.”

Federico nodded. “First, my companion is Marcelo, my Mist.”

Dino nodded politely.

“I was there, during the battles,” Federico began with. “So I knew something was horribly wrong. But with your indulgence, let me start farther back in time.”

Dino nodded again.

“When Enrico died it was a tragedy—for some. He was my brother, yes, and there was a bond there, but we were not close. Still, death is part of our trade. But then Massimo died. Again, a tragedy.

“I had to step back and think at that point. I looked around at the luxury, how so much was handed to us, even Xanxus. And no one acted as a restraint. Father? He was worse than useless in some ways. He stopped seeing the consequences. A reverse, in some ways, of that old saying: can’t see the forest for the trees.

“So… Two brothers were dead, both without sons or daughters of their own. There’s time, right? Plenty of time. Obviously not. So I started planning, for I suspected I would be next. Marcelo was an enormous help to me, my only true guardian in the end. The others? Sycophants pushed on me, but originally that didn’t matter to me.

“Death has a way of making you think, especially when you can see it creeping so close. Marcelo and I faked my death. It was clear Father was incapable of rallying the family, and it was becoming clear to me that my own supposed guardians would be of no use. I chose Marcelo because he had the greatest chance of helping me to succeed, and we bonded for real during the planning and execution.”

Dino badly wanted to inject a few questions, but he held his tongue. It was better, when possible, to let the other guy talk himself out. No telling what they might reveal, and he knew even if he did not catch a lie, Reborn would.

“So when the attempt came, Marcelo with his wonderful flames made sure I lived, and we fled. We got jobs, like any normal person, though true, in a place where we could keep our ears to the pulse of the world. We got word of the battles.

“I was shocked. After all this time, the old man finally decides to name an heir, the son of the Young Lion. And it is my brother, Xanxus, back from wherever Father had stashed him, as his opponent. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Xanxus was adopted.

“Father lied to all of us, for all those years. Let us believe Xanxus was ours.” Federico paused for a moment. “Then I saw the boy also be rejected. Another lie, I thought. Another falsehood dangled before us. So. I made up my mind. I intend to force the issue of succession. Father has no other options now, not unless he’s hiding an actual bastard child in the wings, and has hidden them with yet more lies.

“Marcelo slipped into the hospital long enough to find out how the old man was doing, and then we got on a plane. The boy was missing, you had left, so we came here. I had a gut feeling of sorts. I could give you chapter and verse on my conflicted clusterfuck of feelings when it comes to my father, but none of us have that much time.”

Dino exhaled softly. “Iemitsu kidnapped my brother and Timoteo sealed his flames. I have already submitted a formal complaint to the Vindice, along with the proof of blood.”

“I don’t expect Cavallone to reinstate the alliance as if nothing happened,” Federico responded when it became clear Dino would say no more for the moment. “I respect that you choose neutrality, especially after the crimes committed by our elders. Given that you have contacted the Vindice… I will have to go see Xanxus next. I could use his support, assuming he doesn’t try to kill me the second I show up.”

“I’d ask you to convey my regards, but he did try to kill my baby brother. For what it’s worth, I hope you do get his support.”

“I figure he’ll be expecting you,” Reborn added. “And consider this my official termination of the contract I had with Vongola. I’ll send along a written copy later.”

Federico nodded and rose to his feet. “We’ll be going, then. Thank you for your time.”

He rose as two of his men escorted the Vongola out, then dragged a hand over his face again once they were out of sight.

“Mammon had a spy in the vicinity and caught their arrival. It followed them in and, I must assume, relayed the entire thing back to Xanxus. What kind of welcome they get is up for debate.”

“Why am I not surprised?” he muttered. “Lunch, and then … more paperwork.” He wandered off muttering under his breath.

*

Tsuna was feeling more than a little confused of late. The battles, the rejection, the removal from Japan—at least he had Lambo for company, though that was not to say he was unhappy that Dino and Reborn were also there. Though not being able to communicate easily was upsetting.

He had been healed and … something was different. The face he now saw in the mirror was one thing, but he knew something inside had changed.

“Tsuna-nii,” Lambo said, tugging at his sleeve.

“Yes, Lambo-kun?” The little boy had been surprisingly not annoying since he had woken up. He wasn’t used to a Lambo who wasn’t laughing that silly laugh, or boasting, or demanding things, or crying.

“We’re supposed to go to the garden.”

“Oh, um, right. Thanks, Lambo-kun, for reminding me.” He reached down to take Lambo’s hand and walked with him to the garden.

Dino was waiting for him, with a stack of paperwork on a lap desk he was working on. That was quickly tidied away when the blond realized they were near and Tsuna was treated to a welcoming smile.

“I had the weirdest dream,” he said as he sat down on the grass next to Dino. “My mo—Nana was trying to kill me with a knife.”

“Uh, yeah…” Dino seemed terribly uncomfortable all of a sudden. “That really happened. We stopped her before she did too much damage. Romario patched you up and I got you out of there after asking my men to pack up your things.”

Tsuna realized after a few seconds that water was leaking out of his eyes. He was crying? He never cried. Crying never solved anything, and it made most people torment him even more. So why now?

Dino wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close.

“But why?” he whispered.

“Don’t know. She must have overheard the conversation Reborn was having with Iemitsu about what happened and … snapped? He said she had a breakdown when her child died during birth, so… I think I get why she snapped. I mean, I’m so conflicted right now. I’m over the moon that I have my baby brother back, but at the same time I’m furious and so willing to just start, I dunno, stabbing people or strangling them with their own intestines.”

He felt a little shocked by that. He knew Dino was strong, that his people loved him, but he seemed so nice, for the most part. The very idea of his… Tsuna sniffled a bit. He really did have a big brother. It was weird, having family who seemed to so wholeheartedly welcome him, to be so happy to have him around.

He leaned in when Dino pulled him closer. He had always known something was off about his mo—about Nana, but never to this extent. His “father” had never been in the picture enough to matter to begin with aside from that terrifying memory of being tossed around, and most recently, how uncaring he seemed of anyone if it didn’t suit the picture he had in his head.

To change the subject he said, “Did you bring Lambo-kun, too?”

Dino shook his head. “No, actually. I was far too worried about you to spare a thought for anyone else. Shortsighted of me, I guess. He found his own way here. I think it’s because he was almost ready to leave the hospital anyway, and he just followed the bond he had with you.”

“Bond?” He turned his head to look at Dino rather than greenery or Lambo playing with some action figures he had produced from his hair.

“Oh…” Dino gave him an uncomfortable look.

“He wasn’t ready to know,” came from behind them.

Tsuna practically jumped out of his skin, but Dino merely twitched.

“And yes, the only real bond he has is with the cow brat,” Reborn stated, circling around to stand in front of the two. “Let’s do an experiment, shall we?”

It was not a request, he knew, not with that expression he was so familiar with on his tutor’s face.

“Close your eyes, Tsuna.”

So he did.

“Now wait. Dino will watch over you while I get this set up.”

A few minutes later Reborn was back, swishing through the grass. “Tsuna, keep your eyes closed. Look inside yourself. Tell us where Lambo is, or at least point in which direction.”

Look inside himself? What the hell did that mean? He took a deep breath and tried anyway, because he really didn’t feel like getting blown up or shot. Sometimes it was just better to give in to the indomitable force known as Reborn.

The only things he could hear were his breathing, Dino’s, nearby birds, and the sound of the breeze ruffling foliage. Was he supposed to somehow look into his own heart? Was there some weird hub in his chest where flames from people he cared about connected, like petals of flame on a flower? Connected, yet separate and distinct?

Maybe he should pretend there was a green thing in his chest, with a wisp that led off toward Lambo-kun? He had heard once that belief was more powerful than truth, that belief could work miracles.

He was going to stare into himself so damn hard that he would find what he was looking for and it would lead him toward the goofy little boy who was too damn young and desperately needed someone to look out for him. Lambo needed a lifeline, a big brother of his own, and Tsuna realized he had no problem being that person.

Slowly, he lifted a hand and pointed. “I think … if I walked … I would find him in about five minutes.”

“Good.”

His eyes flew open in surprise. Reborn was giving him a look, a dare to say one word about what was essentially a compliment. He was briefly distracted when an arrowhead of insects buzzed away in the direction he had pointed.

“We should probably bring in a tailor,” Dino suddenly rambled. “Get you a new wardrobe. Lessons on Italian, too. Hm…”

“What happened to…” My friends, he was going to say. They were, in a way? Right? But claiming them meant that they would truly be dragged into all this mafia stuff. Ryohei was so happy to box and his sister hated so much when he fought. Takeshi and his baseball. Was it even possible anymore for them to remain separate, now that they were known? Had gone up against the Varia?

The whole thing made him so unhappy. They were good people, but were also people that made him want to hide away at times, to just find a place of silence where there was no shouting or arguing or crazy antics.

They had families who loved them, a place to call home. It had been made clear he would have to move to Italy anyway, when the time came, and it always hurt, the idea of them being taken away from their families, their lives. Who had that right? It would be different if they showed up years away, having chosen to follow him, as adults, not children.

“I don’t know,” Dino said.

“Do you feel they need to be here?” Reborn asked, his eyes intent.

Tsuna shook his head. “More that I—they’re okay.” He didn’t know how to say what it is he meant, because he wasn’t entirely sure himself what he meant. He did know that he was no longer in line to lead the Vongola, and that was like a mountain off his shoulders. Maybe he couldn’t get away from having guardians, because he was still a Sky, but the sheer amount of pressure on him to find-seek-acquire-lead was gone. He could take his time?

“It’s interesting,” Dino said into the silence. “Since we found out your real identity, I’ve stopped being clumsy. I remember, I never used to be when I was younger. And then you were kidnapped, and it’s like something inside me broke, or twisted. Since then I’ve been hilariously clumsy. I know, I always denied it, pretended it wasn’t happening. Admitting it was the same as saying you were gone, forever. I adored my baby brother, you know? Wanted to be the best big brother ever. And I know it’s got to be confusing for you, but I still do.”

His eyes watered. He swallowed against a lump in his throat as Lambo appeared and snuggled against his side. “My flames were sealed?”

Dino nodded. “Kind of like how Timoteo froze Xanxus, except it wasn’t your whole body, just your flames. He crippled you, basically. I don’t know if he knew what Iemitsu had done, but either way, his method for keeping you out of the mafia was devastating. Reborn said your pathways were a complete mess and he’s been—upset.”

Tsuna got the distinct impression Dino had been going to say something else entirely, but that was okay, because that weird sense of his, what Reborn called his Hyper Intuition, was saying it was to protect Reborn rather than keep Tsuna in the dark.

Then it hit him and he stared at Reborn in shock.

His tutor had that look on his face again, the one that dared him to say something so stupid out loud, or to even hint that Reborn cared about people in his own way. He was a shark in the water looking for blood, and if riled up enough, would cause the blood to flow.

Reborn adopted a smug look and radiated self-pride. Then he sobered. “I took Iemitsu too much at his word. I’m going to be keeping a close eye on you for a while, to make sure everything stays smooth. And I’m going to come up with a new methodology to teach you, starting with Italian. You can’t very well go to school here not being able to speak the language. Now that the worst of what was done to you has been corrected, I expect that you’ll try your hardest.”

His brow furrowed as he tried to work that out. “You mean I’m not stupid?”

Reborn’s mouth twisted into an ugly shape for an instant. “You’re not. You never were. The seal on your flames was like what makes you you being sat on or strangled. Your brain wasn’t allowed to work like it should because your flames were like … sand clogging up the works. And in spite of all that, you still did well using them.”

A smile started to creep onto his face, but it was wiped away when a very loud person showed up, accompanied by a sweet and devious smaller one.

“Ten—” Hayato’s mouth snapped shut on getting a good look at the four of them.

Tsuna might be the right age, but he sure as hell no longer had the right looks.

“Wha—?”

Fūta cocked his head to the side and stared in bewilderment.

Tsuna stared back, for once driven by the imp of the perverse. (He was fairly certain Reborn smirked in the background in response.)

“Hey, guys,” Dino said casually. “Have a seat. Reborn and I will just … sit over there for a bit.”

He felt a sense of loss when Dino removed his arm and trotted off with Reborn, though at least they stayed in sight. Lambo remained there curled into his side, so that was comforting. A look down showed that the little cow was snoozing, though. “Hi.”

“You look different,” Fūta said bluntly.

He nodded. “This is my true appearance. I’m Dino’s little brother. I was never a Vongola.”

Hayato looked as if someone had cold-cocked him in the face. His whole world had turned upside down in a heartbeat, and this was just another punch in the face.

“Wow,” Fūta breathed. “No wonder my rankings were so wonky when it came to you.”

He chose not to enlighten the boy as to the other issues found by Reborn. “It was a shock, but I already considered Dino-nii as a brother, so…”

Fūta smiled and moved to give him a hug. “I’m just so happy you’re safe!” Then he bundled up Lambo and wandered off a ways.

Tsuna decided to take the metaphorical bull by the horns and said, “All I ever wanted was a friend. All you seemed to ever want was a boss. I felt like you never saw me, just an opportunity. And now, I don’t even look the same, don’t have that bloodline…” He trailed off uncertainly. He was hurt by Hayato’s behavior, but when he tried to say the words, something would interrupt, or Hayato himself would go into that subservient mode, or get angry at someone and start yelling…

Hayato coughed, his ears going red. “Uh, what is your name?”

“Sebastiano, but I can’t help but still think of myself as Tsuna right now.”

“You, um, look a lot alike.”

He nodded. “Would… Would you like to start over? I could still use a friend.” If he didn’t know better he would swear a set of dog ears and a fluffy tail just appeared on Hayato like out of some anime.

“I could help you learn Italian?”

He started to nod, but was interrupted when Lal Mirch stormed into the garden looking like she wanted to gut half the world, and Basil behind her did not look much happier. How such a tiny person could make so much noise just by walking…

She shouted something in Italian, and the glare on her face was enough to scare most grown men into pissing themselves.

Reborn eyed her as Tsuna got up with Hayato to join the others. “Oh?”

“The Vindice hauled him straight out of his hospital bed,” Lal reported (as conveyed by a whispering Hayato on translation duty), glancing briefly at Dino and nodding. “It happened as Basil and I were there to hand over our resignations. Like hell will I work for an organization or family that pulls that kind of shit on innocents. It was bad enough he basically abandoned his family for years at a time! And don’t get me started on all the ru—” She stopped when her gaze had wandered far enough to notice the Dino look-alike.

“Lal, Basil, meet Sebas-chan,” Reborn chirped.

Tsuna groaned. “Reborn,” he whined. With only a single word he didn’t know he could figure out what his tutor had just said on his own. “You can’t call me that!”

Reborn smirked. “My other pet name for you won’t work anymore, so yes, yes I can, Sebas-chan.”

‘Well, I guess it’s miles better than Dame-Tsuna,’ he thought, giving in to the inevitable.

Lal looked at Dino, who promptly said, “Sebastiano, though we’re all still trying to get used to that.”

“Um… What’s going to happen to people like Takeshi and Ryohei?” he asked. “Will they be okay if they just go back to… I mean, I already expect that Mukuro took off the second he could. Well, you know what I mean. I’m no longer going to be Decimo, so I’m not … useful to him.”

A wave of depression swamped him and his eyes started to sting.

*

Hayato had felt deeply hurt when Tsuna had said those words, but he tried for once to step back and think it through, not just go off half-cocked and explode into angry words and gestures and toss dynamite around. Tsuna’s words had cut deeply, because they were true, or mostly so.

The logical part of him wanted to lash back regarding how Tsuna had never bothered to look deeper, either, and yet he’d saved Hayato from his own foolishness and temper. Sure, he might have lived, he might have blown off his own limbs, and he had been trying to maim or kill the boy at the time…

He rolled his eyes at his own stupidity. Had he honestly been that naïve to believe Reborn when he said he stood a chance at becoming head of a famiglia not his own? One as large and as powerful as Vongola?

Could he really blame Tsuna for not looking deeper? He was prickly and hurt deeply by his own blood, desperate to prove himself, and he had been the one to try to murder someone who was essentially a civilian, all for power. And then he’d done a complete one-eighty the second he realized that same clueless boy had saved his life, babbling on about being his and following his orders.

‘Like I, myself, was nothing more than a tool to be used,’ he realized, ‘and tossed away if I was no longer useful.’

No wonder Tsuna occasionally gave him such odd looks.

So it was his duty, as a potential friend, to open up and share things, let Tsuna—Sebastiano—see the person he was, not the one he presented, right? How could he make a true friend if the person in question knew nothing about him? How could he trust in a friendship if the person was friends with a façade?

His chest burned with the need to prove himself, but perhaps he’d been going about it the wrong way all this time. Friends first, trust first, and then worry about everything else?

*

Basil was a bit off kilter. The man he had called Master was… He remembered the taste of bile in his throat and tainting his tongue, the acid bubbling up from his stomach, when he had learned at Lal’s side just what Iemitsu had done.

The man he had looked up to, as a superior, as the one to spend so much time training or teaching him, had done something so heinous as to kidnap an innocent child—Iemitsu had admitted he had no idea if the child was even an orphan—and twist it’s features and memories to suit his needs, and then twist his own wife’s memories for the same?

Of course he’d come with Lal, after Iemitsu had been unceremoniously hauled off by the Vindice, when she said her next stop was to see the Cavallone Don, as Colonnello had phoned her with a head’s up about events.

To add insult to injury Reborn had informed them, after Tsuna and the other younger people had wandered off for a snack, that the Vongola Ninth had sealed Tsuna’s flames, like he was a criminal or something.

Reborn had been explicit, so that everyone understood the ramifications, in how the seal had crippled the yo—Tsuna. Basil threw up his hands in frustration. Sebastiano. How the seal had crippled Sebastiano and turned him into clumsy, slow-witted, bully bait. And this, to a five year old child who was supposedly a blood member of his own family.

And on top of that! Xanxus. Brought into the family as the Ninth’s bastard son simply because of his flames, then lied to and led on. All culminating in those horrible Scramble Battles, which were nearly disastrous. Iemitsu didn’t even seem to care that one of the guardians was a five year old child!

To put it indelicately, fuck the Vongola. He would stick with Cavallone if Dino would have him. He could help teach Ts—Sebastiano—to speak Italian, if nothing else. Dino had a family and business to run. As unfortunate as it was, he couldn’t spend all his time with his newly found brother.

Basil could help ease the burden, if they’d let him. And maybe Tsuna—he really needed to ask what the young man would prefer at this point, because he could not see himself calling him Sebas-chan like Reborn—would help him learn a more modern form of Japanese.

*

Reborn hopped up onto his desk and offered a sheaf of papers, which Dino took with mild trepidation. That Reborn had brought them in rather than Romario said his erstwhile tutor was expecting some kind of reaction.

He began to read, his eyes going a bit wide. Timoteo had been yanked out of his hospital bed and hauled away to Vendicare, much like Iemitsu had. Putting those two in prison was somewhat similar to putting a child molester in a civilian prison: a recipe for trouble.

In this case, however, it was more likely any prisoners who attacked them would end up dead, if only because Iemitsu was very well trained and did not need a weapon to deal death. But that assumed the Vindice housed them anywhere near the other inmates, or even near each other.

What the report did not state was how long each would have a “home” in Vendicare.

The next paper revealed that Federico had taken up the mantle as the Vongola Decimo and that Xanxus was either backing him up, or at least not trying to tear him down. Obviously he had survived his meeting with the Varia Sky. Maybe in time there would be some measure of trust between him and Federico, but that could not even start to happen until Federico cleaned up the mess that was his family.

The final report was about CEDEF. Leadership was currently being held jointly by Turmeric and Oregano. Presumably there would be a meeting between them and Federico, as it was the Don who appointed the leader of that organization, even if as an organization it acted mostly independently on behalf of the family. They still reported to the Don.

Not his problem, but definitely something to be aware of. He might not be allied to Vongola, though his family was still part of the Alliance. Depending on how things shook out with the new order, even that might be in question.

Vongola was personal, and in truth, his family had neither asked for nor accepted much in the way of support from them, because they hadn't needed to. Reborn had trained him well, he had over five thousand people, and they were good at protecting the people of his territory. They didn’t meddle outside of it except when warranted, such as when Reborn had asked him to help test Tsuna and his “guardians”, or when Iemitsu had asked his assistance in the manipulations surrounding keeping the other half of the rings away from the Varia.

Iemitsu might loathe Xanxus, but Xanxus, in the end, was a better man.

And that reminded him of something, in a roundabout way. He looked squarely at Reborn and said, “Do you want an official contract? Because I’m content to rely on the faith and trust I have in you. I don’t see the point in trying to chain you down.”

Reborn’s eyes gleamed. “Some you would call you stupid.”

He shrugged. “I know better. I may not know you as well as I’d like, but I know enough. I have your measure. If you were going to leave you would tell me, and why.” Left unsaid was that if he fucked up badly enough, it would be because he had not properly learned his lessons, from Reborn and circumstance and the mistakes of others, and had become fat and complacent and arrogant. And in a case like that, he would deserve the abandonment.

Also left unsaid was the uncertainty surrounding the Arcobaleno and their curse. Reborn was already chained against his will, quite literally. Dino would not add to that suffering. His former tutor was chaotic neutral, in his opinion, and having a mostly neutral ally unafraid to tell you when you were being a moron was invaluable.

The corner of Reborn’s mouth twitched up for a split second. “No contract.”

He smiled. “So be it. Welcome home.”

*

Tsuna, with some help from Hayato and Basil (Fūta was playing with Lambo to keep themselves occupied), was writing letters, for Ryohei, Takeshi, Kyoko, Haru, and even for Kyoya. He was unsure how best to word that he would not be returning to Namimori, and to thank them, for their help, their time, and in most cases, their friendliness. He also let them know he was adopted and not truly a Sawada, but had found his birth family.

“I don’t know what the return address should be,” he said quietly. “I should ask Dino-nii, I suppose. The family must have some protocol for this kind of thing?” Huh, apparently some of Reborn’s teaching had already stuck if he was using words like that so casually.

“Um…” Basil looked thoughtful. “He probably does. Let’s ask at dinner?”

Hayato nodded, seeming to think that was a fine and sensible suggestion.

“Okay,” he said. He and Hayato had been getting on a lot better since had had admitted to his feelings. Hayato was more open, and that made him feel he could be more open, more honest, with himself and others. It didn’t hurt that the healing Reborn had performed had made a huge difference.

Life was no longer struggling through a thick miasma of apathy. It was … nice. New, a little frightening and uncomfortable, but nice. He wished he could spend more time with Dino, but his brother was busy running the family. Still, he had company in Lambo, Hayato, and Basil. And, of course, Reborn, who was being suspiciously compassionate of late.

He glanced around nervously, hoping that his tutor had not been near enough to catch that thought. He was being given time to adjust, but he expected that soon enough Reborn would be back to his usual tactics and he would have to again fear being bonked over the head with a Leon mallet, or electricity, or bullets, or—

“Itai!” he cried out, rubbing his head, and glared at Reborn, who looked all together too smug.

Dino came into view, shaking his head a bit, and joined the group, taking a seat on one of the benches in the courtyard.

He left off glaring at his tutor to look at his brother instead. “Dino-nii, I have some letters I plan to send, but I don’t know what would be appropriate to use as a return address.”

“Ah,” Dino said with a nod. “Once you’re done writing them, bring them to my office and I’ll explain how it works. Once they’re ready I’ll have them sent off.”

He smiled, appreciating the fact that Dino hadn't asked or demanded to see the contents, though he would happily enough show them. It made him feel that Dino trusted he would not include anything sensitive. Of course, given that he was not entirely sure where he was in Italy… Hayato and Basil surely knew, but he had not bothered to ask them.

“I wanted to thank them,” he said, “and to tell them I was not coming back. That I was not a Sawada, though not who I am.”

Reborn nodded in approval.

Dino opened his mouth to speak, then snapped it shut when a number of his men shuffled into view, blocking the tunnel that led from the courtyard to the front drive. Instead, he rose to his feet, eyes narrowed, and went to investigate, Romario appearing out of nowhere to shadow him.

‘Which is a funny way to think that,’ he realized, ‘since Romario-san is a Sun.’

Reborn bonked him with Leon again, but it was halfhearted at best.

A short time later Dino and Romario returned, with a visitor. A young man perhaps a few years older than Tsuna, with spiky white hair and violet eyes, and an odd tattoo under his left eye like exaggerated eyelashes.

“Ciao~!” the stranger practically sang. “I’ve heard a lot of gossip recently and decided to visit the latest family neutral to Vongola. And drama is so entertaining~!”

—fin—