“I…I don’t understand,” Tsuna stammers as one of the maids places an expensive cup and saucer filled with mint tea before him. “Why wasn’t I called when the first death happened? I know– I know my birth was my father’s shameful secret, but I’m an apothecary! I could have helped!”
Across from him at the small sitting table he’s been ushered to, the Grand Spymaster Daemon Spade purses his lips and considers the question. Since Tsuna’s arrival here mere hours ago, he has been the pinnacle of perfection, of consideration. It’s clear to Tsuna that Daemon is grieving in his own way, but more than that he’s trying to hold up a kingdom that isn’t his to bear.
He hadn’t expected to find this when he spent four days in non-stop travel across the kingdom’s borders to reach his birth place. He’d expected to find his brothers in mourning, his mother in tears at the loss of her husband. He hadn’t come with the intention of harming anyone or trying to usurp his brothers - merely to offer comfort and perform the rites for his father’s body before vanishing back into his old life.
And yet, that is the opposite of what has happened. There are four bodies where there should only be one, four tombs that need preparation, and an entire kingdom that now needs a king, or at the very least, an heir.
“I cannot fathom the reasons for your father’s casual dismissal of you as a resource,” Daemon says at last. “But coming at it from the angle of a nobleman, I can give you a rough estimation of a theory based on my own experiences with the upper social circles, if it pleases Your Highness.”
Tsuna nods. “Please,” he says, and does his best not to laugh when Daemon twitches at the politeness being used. Tsuna’s not going to act like he’s better than the man across from him, and he’s not going to acknowledge a title he hasn’t earned.
Daemon clears his throat. “Well then,” he says, idly stirring his drink as he speaks. “Among our own ranks, children born out of wedlock are considered a black mark against the lady in question, unless she or her husband are having ‘difficulties’. And even if that child should grow to become one of the finest swordsmen in the kingdom, or a grand apothecary capable of fixing any problem, it is still considered a taboo in our circle because of the circumstances of birth.”
“That’s… that seems so ridiculous though,” Tsuna murmurs, clutching his tea a little tighter. “To essentially orphan a child through no fault of their own, and place the blame of a parent’s actions on them. That’s so stupid.”
He thinks for a moment Daemon will argue, but the man merely bows his head. “As you say.”
Tsuna runs a hand over his face, tries to force his thoughts away from the what-ifs he can’t fix, and more towards the future. Namely, getting his family buried and their deaths settled. “Has the kingdom been notified?”
“Not yet. I’ve withheld doing so until they were properly buried. We’re not going to be able to make a grand orchestra of this like the royals usually like to do - the kingdom has too many enemies prowling around right now, and not enough hands to keep us safe. I recommend whatever you desire to do, we do it quickly, and then notify the criers to spread word.”
Tsuna nods. It makes sense - even if he can already see the whispering gossip that will fester post-burial. Whispers of him being unkind, uncaring, and the damage that will come to his reputation because he didn’t follow the pomp and circumstance of tradition. But all those are things he’s dealt with before - because even now, his method of running an apothecary, of serving the public, is very much non-traditional, and all the masters whose wisdom he’s picked up despaired over him for it.
“Let’s get started,” he says. Daemon nods, sips his tea, and rises.
“After you, Your Highness.”
“Tsuna,” he corrects, and once again ignores the twitch Daemon gives. “It’s just Tsuna.”
Tsuna cleans the family crypt with the fury and madness of a man looking to grieve. Daemon thankfully doesn’t interrupt much during this time, having his own checklist of things to prepare for the solemn day that’s creeping up, but every now and again Tsuna will catch the man staring as he enters or exits the crypt, looking at him in something like vague discomfort and disbelief. Tsuna expects him to say something eventually - even the most blue-blooded nobles can never hold back from commenting on him, his appearance, his life, his existence.
And sure enough, Daemon eventually reaches that point. “Doesn’t it trouble you,” he asks in a stilted tone, as if unsure about the ground he’s treading on, “To have to enter and exit the tomb so much?”
Daemon blinks a couple times at the short answer, and then curls his lip. “Language lessons will be first,” he announces to no one in particular. Tsuna sighs softly, reaching for the smallest plate on the table. The chefs have outdone themselves, as usual, but there’s something in him that balks at the amount of untouched food that’s being prepared.
“Am I ruler enough to make a suggestion to the chefs?” he asks before Daemon can slip away again.
The man blinks at him. “Of course you are, sire. You are the last heir now. If we can give you anything, we will.” As if that’s just common sense. Grand.
Tsuna nods, and after eating, goes towards the kitchens. From what little he recalls of his childhood, they were a grand, warm place to visit when he was still allowed to run around. He’s charmed to find that’s true - and even more charmed to find out who the head chef is.
“Hello Gummy,” he greets, and the man whirls around, eyes wide enough to pop out of their sockets.
“It’s the Little Fish!” he cries, and reaches out for a hug even as the rest of the kitchen stares in alarm. Tsuna smiles as he’s hugged, patted on the shoulder, and welcomed home. Gummy - or Gerasimo - was his favorite person to hang around with when he’d been smaller, and running about the place. And Gummy always kept an eye on him, to ensure he didn’t get into trouble. Due to his constant moving around, Gummy had crowned him as ‘Little Fish’, and the name stuck.
“How have you been? Are you hungry? Come, come, sit!”
“Head chef,” one of the butlers murmurs, “That is our king.”
Gummy stares at him, and then looks back at Tsuna. “Are you a king now, Little Fish?”
Tsuna considers the question. “I have a shiny crown, a dead family, and an entire kingdom in need of some serious care and consideration. But I don’t think that makes me a king.”
Gummy nods. “Yes, that is what I thought. So you are not a king, then?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m just Tsuna.”
“Ah, a pity. If you were a king, I would bow and scrape and kowtow to you.”
“I wouldn’t want that,” Tsuna says, wrinkling his nose. “That’s just silly. It’s much more practically to look me in the eye and stand straight when I speak.”
Gummy’s grin is infectious. “And that is why you are not a king. Because you operate by common logic instead of royal decorum. Welcome home, Little Fish. Now!” He slaps his knee, and settles on a wooden crate behind him. “Tell me what Gummy can do for you.”
“How much food gets thrown out at these grand meals you make me?”
“About half, usually more, with as little as you eat.”
Tsuna nods. “I don’t need that much food, and there is absolutely no excuse to be so wasteful. So from now on, I would like you to make smaller meals. Enough to serve one, two at most, with a second helping should anyone desire it.”
Gummy nods, his crinkling smile coming back. “Excellent. And?”
“Where is the nearest orphanage to us?”
Gummy thinks. “Some five minutes away. You want us to give them the leftovers?”
“Yes. From now on, anything that isn’t eaten, wrap it and send it. Orphanage, street kids, homeless, I don’t care. Give it to them. Nicely. Don’t just throw it on the ground and have them scramble for it.”
Gummy’s grin has gone wide. “It can be done, Little Fish. Oh it will most certainly be done.”
And done it is. Although Tsuna can tell almost immediately there’s a certain group of staff that don’t approve of the move - he catches them curling their lips as they help tie up the food and stick it on the back of the cart the next morning. That, he decides, will be the second change to get made.
He hauls in those people in that make that kind of a face the second week, and doesn’t bother beating about the bush on the matter. “If you have a problem with what I’m choosing to do, speak.”
Predictably, none of them do. Many of them bleat out the tired old lines he’s heard in courts - of course we have no issue with your decisions, sire, you have our full support no matter your choices, we are behind you one hundred percent, your wish is our privilege, sire–
He shakes his head at the end of it. “There is no place for liars and kiss-asses in my home. Since none of you have the balls to tell me what you actually think, and what your issue with me giving food to those who have none is, then you may take your leave. Pack your bags. I’ll have someone drop you off in the town. Seek your fortunes elsewhere.”
They seem shocked - probably because they’re more used to nobles wanting to have their asses kissed than not. But Tsuna doesn’t have time to ruminate on that, and heads back to cleaning the tombs and preparing the bodies as soon as he herds them off on a stagecoach.
He receives bundles of flowers from the orphanage in the following weeks, pieces of paper with scribbled thank yous on them in childish handwriting. He writes a quick, personal letter to the heads of the orphanages, informing them of his choices and ensuring them that they will continue to receive food no matter the circumstances.
And then, not a week later, he starts the burial process.
It’s a grim duty, made all the harder by the fact that Daemon has gone to alert the papers to their situation, so that they might know who to look to in the future for guidance. By the time it’s all done, he can hear the news ringing out, and stagecoaches coming up the driveway.
The nobles arrive in great flocks, like sheep, all pomp and prettiness and enough vanity to make Tsuna choke. Tsuna himself is still dressed in the clothes he arrived in, worn with travel and time. He closes the chambers, bowing to the covered bodies respectively. Behind him, footsteps approach.
A fan raps against his shoulder. “We want to see the bodies, boy. Open the caskets.”
The disbelief and anger that runs through him then is startling. He turns to the lady, dressed in a great puffy dress, makeup laid on thick, and says simply, “No.”
The sound the nobles make sends a fissure of anger down his spine.
“No,” the lady mocks. “Boy, do you know who we are?”
“I think a better question,” Daemon’s voice injects silkily, “Is if you know who he is.”
“The help?” One voice in the crowd offers in snide tones. “Spade, get your boy–”
“Shut. Up,” Tsuna snarls, and his voice rings out across the lawn. Everyone stops what they’re doing, even Daemon, who has paused mid-step and now falls back into a waiting stance, hands behind his back. “You think you are owed the sight of my family’s corpses to satiate your damnable curiosity? I say to hell with all of you. Write about me what you will and say what you want of me, but I will be dead and gone myself before you vultures ever set foot in my family’s grave site. Now get off my property.”
“You heard our Lord,” Daemon snaps coldly, when all they do is stand there and stare. “Or do you dare contradict the voice of your King?”
That gets him quite a few shocked looks. Tsuna meets them with a cold stare, daring them to challenge him.
(He doesn’t know it, but his eyes gleam orange in this instant, the blood of his forefathers coming forward to proclaim his ability to all. It is what saves him from the nobles’ wrath then, a telling sign that he is strong enough to hold the kingdom, strong enough to lead them on.
It also tells Daemon he has not chosen wrong - this boy will be King, and one day hopefully soon, Daemon will be happy to kneel before him.)
“They will say unkind things of your ruling,” Daemon counsels after the nobles have left. “Speak of you as a tyrant who killed his own family.”
“Let them,” Tsuna says, kneading the dough that will become loaves of bread for tomorrow’s breakfast as Gummy slices potatoes into that night’s stew. “I care very little for the opinions of dressed-up fops.”
“As Your Majesty orders.”
And true to form, they do speak out against him. The nobles call him cold and heartless and tell the papers of his banishment of them, of his refusal to prove he is the last surviving family member. They speculate he isn’t truly blood kin, that he’s a murderer, an imposter.
“Let them say what they will,” Tsuna orders Daemon the following morning, when the man arrives to dress him. “I don’t care.”
Daemon’s lips purse, but the discussion is put aside as Tsuna struggles to duck around the man and get his hands on his own clothes rather than have Daemon dress him, and Daemon fights back. (“It will be your first day at court sire, you must look the part.”) In the end Daemon wins, even if he loses over the issue of Tsuna’s abnormally fluffy hair. (“I am not slicking it back, Daemon! I’ll look like an idiot!”)
(“Refined, Highness. Refined is the word.”)
(“Idiot. Like I said.”)
The hours roll into each other from there, as Daemon attempts to catch Tsuna up in time for the first meeting with the noble families, and Tsuna struggles to learn and recall every bit of information the man shoves into his brain. In the end, as he stumbles into the throne room and Daemon stands behind him while the head butler goes to open the doors, the best he can recall is that he’s supposed to be polite.
Unfortunately, that’s very much thrown out the window as soon as the first words escape the portly nobleman’s mouth. “Where is our King, imposter?”
Daemon opens his mouth, perhaps to caution him not to respond, but he never gets there. Tsuna, already tired from the lessons and the struggle of maintaining his own person underneath the weight of kingship, loses what little temper he had left.
Sky Flames slam the occupants of the room to the floor, voices crying out and Daemon himself on one knee, struggling to stay upright. Tsuna himself is on his feet, fire blazing across his forehead as his eyes go orange.
“You will learn to mind your manners in my presence or you will leave. I have no room for your lip, or the lip of any other of you useless fops. You are leeches upon my society, and I do not listen to the voices of leeches.” The room burns a little more, and the nobles whimper and whine like cowards, begging to be let up. Tsuna’s eyes narrow, and he almost looks as if he wants to strike them.
It’s Daemon that saves them all in the end. Because for all that he loathes the nobles, Tsuna has grown fond of the man who has held the kingdom together in trials, who chose to shoulder the burden of teaching him instead of shuffling him off through butlers and trainers and teachers. A man who is far more intelligent than most, and who wields that intelligence like a weapon.
Daemon reaches out and manages to grab his wrist. Not hard, but enough to get his attention. The trembling muscles and the sweat on his brow tell Tsuna a lot, and the black guilt that slams into his stomach is enough to quell his Flames back to a mere shadow of what it was before. It’s easy for him to turn his hand and catch Daemon’s own wrist, humming a low tune as he calls the Sun Flames he’s learned over the years into his Spymaster’s body. Daemon’s soft sigh is both grateful and relieved, and he gets to his feet without a struggle.
Tsuna returns to his seat and allows the nobles to climb to theirs. “As of now,” he continues, in a much more moderate tone, “You all will either work, or you will leave. There is to be no argument of this. Are we understood?”
The hasty nods he gets assures him there will be no arguments. Daemon squeezes his shoulder a bit, and they move on to other things.
“That could have gone worse,” Daemon says, once the nobles have left - far quicker this time than originally. “It could–”
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” Tsuna interrupts. When all Daemon does is blink at him, he continues. “My temper towards people has never been the best. I get frustrated too easily, speak my mind too much. And today that very nearly caused me to kill you. I’m sorry. I’ll work on getting it under control.”
He doesn’t expect laughter, but laughter is what he gets.
“My Lord,” Daemon starts, and then shakes his head and corrects, “Tsuna. You are hardly the most volatile King to grace these halls. And you are not a criminal for speaking your mind so freely. Yes, there is a certain amount of pretending and flattery that the nobles have come to expect. But you are the King - if it is your design to speak plainly, then do so. And you don’t need to apologize for hurting me, because you didn’t hurt me. It’s my own fault for not throwing up a shield in time.”
“But the Sun Flames–?”
“Restored my energy and took away the adrenaline that was preventing me from getting a proper grip on myself. Now that I know how strong you are, I’ll be more prepared in future. Please do not fret so.”
Tsuna doesn’t look so sure. “Then promise me at least you’ll tell me if I do hurt you, and the same for the rest of the household staff. I don’t want any of you hiding those things from me just because you think I’m above you.”
“I will ensure the others know. And I myself have never been a liar, despite my Mist tendencies. I assure you, you are safe.”
Tsuna nods. “I still want to work on controlling my temper. Even if I’m not the worst, going off like that in every meeting is going to make people think I’m a tyrant eventually. I’d rather not die that way. Will you help?”
Daemon nods, and then to Tsuna’s shock, kneels and takes Tsuna’s hand in his, kissing the ring on it. “It would be my honor, Tsuna.”