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Samsara

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Samsara

λ0
Alpha

“My real job is to make you a mafia boss.”

“Wha—!? A mafia boss?”

“I was assigned by a certain man to train you to become an astounding mafia boss.”

Tsuna gaped at the baby—toddler?—in front of him. The suit Reborn was wearing did nothing to detract from the absolutely huge gun he was holding, aimed right at Tsuna’s face. “Hey!”

“Should I shoot you?” the baby inquired casually, sighting down the length of his gun.

“Helloooo,” he drawled. “Is your head okay?” Who could possibly take a little guy like this seriously? The gun probably shot water.

“The method was left up to me,” the baby continued, ignoring what he’d said, then paused when his stomach rumbled. “But not right this moment. Later.”

Tsuna watched as Reborn whipped his bedroom door open and strolled off, then heard him thumping down the stairs. ‘Maybe it was just a joke?’ he wondered. Even so, he was feeling even worse than he already had. The thought of eating dinner with his—at times—obnoxiously cheerful mother turned his stomach.

He got up and headed downstairs. As he approached the door to the kitchen he heard, “Tsuna? What about dinner?”

“I don’t want it,” he replied, stopping just before he would actually be at the doorway. “I’d prefer to eat out today, so can I have some money? And about that tutor…”

“Hm?” his mother said. “Oh! The contract states that Reborn-kun will live here until your grades go up.”

His eyes went wide and he shifted forward to look into the kitchen. That baby was sitting at the table with his mother, tucking in to a meal. His heart sank down even below the level of his feet. The gods must hate him.

*

“We have a new transfer student who was studying overseas in Italy, Gokudera Hayato.”

‘Huh,’ he thought, ‘Reborn’s homeland.’ The girls in the class were all giggling and whispering to each other. ‘Hm. Girls are interested in that type?’ Gokudera looked sullen, almost angry. He was the sort you did not want to meet in a dark alley. His hair was silver which, even in Japan where people were wont to dye their hair odd colours, was fairly odd.

He was startled out of his wits when Gokudera strolled down the aisle toward the seat pointed out to him and, without so much as a pause, slammed his knee into Tsuna’s desk and tipped it to the side.

‘What the hell?’ he thought shakily. ‘I know I’m a loser and all, but is it written on my face? Come get me?’ He tried to get his heart to stop racing as he fixed his desk and listened to the students around him. They were already talking about forming a fan club.

Class finally ended and he was free to take a break from not paying attention in the first place. As he walked down the hall to stretch his legs he accidentally bumped into an older student, one of the third years. His eyes went wide as the older boy turned to look at him, and Tsuna dashed off around the corner and through half a dozen hallways, miraculously not tripping, bumping into anyone else, or slamming into a wall.

He fled through an exterior door and flattened himself against the wall out there. “That was close,” he muttered. “I could’ve been beaten to death.”

“Your pathetic behavior was an eyeful,” a voice practically snarled.

His head whipped around to see a silver-haired person lighting a cigarette. “The transfer student…?” he murmured. “I’ll just be going now,” he said and started to edge away. The last thing he needed was to be attacked by yet another person. Why the new boy seemed to hate him was a mystery, and he saw no point in hanging around to give the kid the chance to do something worse than he already had.

“If a coward like you were to become the Decimo, the Vongola Famiglia would be finished,” Gokudera said nastily.

‘What the—?’ “H-how do you know about that?” he asked. ‘Does everyone over in—?’

His thought was cut off when Gokudera snarled, “I refuse to accept it. I’m the one who’s fit to be the Decimo!”

“Then be it,” he cried. “I don’t want anything to do with it!”

“I’ve been watching you since the volleyball tournament,” Gokudera said, turning to face him properly, though his hair swung down to obscure parts of his face. It only made him look more menacing. “It’s a waste of time to further evaluate a weakling like you.”

‘Kami-sama, I have a stalker!?’

“You’re a nuisance.” Gokudera shoved his hands into his pockets and brought out—was that dynamite!? “Die right here.” The boy’s cigarette was put to use in lighting the fuses.

The next thing he knew those two sticks were headed his way. Naturally, he froze up like an ice statue and a small part of his mind began gibbering in fear, along with sending out multiple prayers. Then he heard a gunshot and landed on his ass. The sticks hit the ground near him, but the fuses had been—

“Ciaossu.”

‘Kami-sama, it’s him again. I should have known things would only go from bad to worse.’

“You came earlier than I expected, Gokudera Hayato,” Reborn chirped, a ridiculous smile on his face.

“Wait! You know each other?” he said, his gaze darting back and forth between them.

“Yes,” Reborn drawled in his child’s voice. “He’s a member of a famiglia I called over from Italy.”

“Then he’s—” He eyed Gokudera again, even more unhappily.

“It’s my first time meeting him, as well, though,” Reborn added.

“So you’re Nono’s highly trusted assassin,” Gokudera said, his voice a mixture of suspicion and something else that Tsuna couldn’t quite interpret. “You weren’t kidding about me becoming a candidate as the successor if I kill Sawada, right?”

His eyes widened in shock and fear.

“That’s right. Well, let’s get on with the killing, then.”

Gokudera someone how managed to produce a whole lot of dynamite, and whatever Reborn said next was not something Tsuna heard, as he was too busy fleeing for his life. Unfortunately, in his panic, he ended up in a dead end, a little courtyard of sorts created between two extensions off the main building. He looked back in time to see all that dynamite flying his way.

“Fight with your dying will,” he heard distantly, right before he felt something impact his forehead.

‘I regret ever getting out of bed this morning,’ he thought, right before he fell asleep. He never even felt it when the dynamite exploded and tore his body to shreds.

Chapter Text

λ1
Clarity

He woke up, which in and of itself was confusing. More confusing to him were the changes in his body. A trip to the bathroom revealed that he seemed to be five years old. Again? Tsuna eyed himself carefully in the mirror as he realized he had managed the trip without once ever teetering on the brink of having one of his customary clumsy moments.

Had it all been a very vivid dream? Reborn, Gokudera, the mafia?

His mother gave him a bright smile when he entered the kitchen, and served him breakfast when he sat down. Right then, at the moment, he was happy to see her, her cheerfulness not bothering him as it usually did.

Usually?

Why did he feel so illogically mature? And since when did he use words like illogically?

Life was amazingly boring at five years old, he discovered. His not so subtle hints in an attempt to get his mother to buy a gaming console went ignored, so he spent a lot of time in the local library doing something he normally hated: reading.

Why did he hate it so much?

After all, he was having a good time in the library. Seriously, what the hell was up with that dream?

*

His mother was acting very strangely. She was humming constantly and cooking way too much food. Was she a purveyor of fine medicinal plants?

Wait—how did he—the dream, of course. Still… What was going on?

Every so often his mother would take something from her pocket, gaze happily at it, then tuck it away. Unfortunately, he was never close enough to see exactly what it was.

“Kaa-san?” he asked uncertainly. “Is something…?”

“Oh, my little Tsu-kun!” she chirped. “Daddy’s coming for a visit!”

He blinked, and again. He wasn’t even sure what his father looked like. “Okay,” he said with a shrug, then wandered off to go read.

Unfortunately, when his so-called father arrived, accompanied by an old man referred to as Nono—his brain started making associations, but that Reborn chibi had never showed him a picture, so he could not be certain—he was climbing a tree.

His father’s loud and boisterous “greeting” startled him so badly he lost his grip. He fell, scared out of his mind at the thought of hitting the ground from so high up with such a fragile body. The world was suddenly tinted with a haze of amber-orange. Sadly, the delightful colouration of world did nothing to cushion his landing.

When he opened his eyes it was to see his so-called father peering down at him, his expression a mixture of worry and annoyance. ‘How odd,’ he thought. ‘I annoy him?’

The old man’s face came into view, and before Tsuna could do anything, a finger was aimed at his forehead, alight with orange flames. The expression of resigned sadness did nothing to appease his rapidly growing anxiousness.

*

When he woke up he realized the world had dulled.

What had happened? The old man—the ninth Vongola boss?—had Sky Flames, presumably, given the colour, but…

Why was his brain so sluggish? Why did he feel so cold?

Tsuna rolled out of bed and landed with a thump on the floor, his legs having refused to work quite right.

‘I remember this…?’ he thought. ‘This is—those bastards. They caused it?’

His days were then a vague and translucent repeat of his memories of his first childhood. Though, the only thing he remembered with clarity of his younger years was an episode where his so-called father had tossed him into the air repeatedly, despite his terrified shrieking, and had eventually missed catching him. The rest of that memory was lost to what he now realized was a haze of “magic water”.

His fury was like a tsunami, but the breakwater of whatever was done to him cut off any avenues aside from a twisted expression.

*

Being chased by bullies was nothing new. Being chased straight into heavy traffic…? He would forever remember the feeling of being hit by a car and catapulted into the side of a building, the sound of his bones snapping under the impact and the feeling of all the air leaving his body, never to come back.

Chapter Text

λ2
Differential

Tsuna sighed as he examined his five year old face in the mirror, then sneered as he remembered his most recent death and the ultimate cause of it. He heard his mother bustling around on the ground floor and frowned.

He took a seat right there on the floor and did the math. He had been fourteen when he died the first time, seven the second time, and he was five again. Did that technically make him twenty-six? And his mother, the woman who kept him fed and housed, but never seemed to see.

“Tsu-kun! Breakfast is ready!” she called up the stairs.

His mother cheerfully served him and nodded at his mumbled, “Itadakimasu,” and delicately began to eat.

He escaped soon after and booked it to the library. His brain was working properly again and he was not tripping over thin air, so the building was again a place of wonder and knowledge, not a haven used for hiding from the nastier elements of school-aged children.

‘If this sort of thing is going to keep happening, I might as well learn as much as I can,’ he thought, ‘especially if I have to deal with that whole mafia thing again. Assuming I live so long.’

French, Italian, and whatever other language caught his fancy. Surely the librarians would assist him. A childish story about how his Oto-san worked in far away countries and how Tsu-kun wanted to be able to surprise him on his next visit.

During the evenings, while his mother was busy with whatever it was she did (he was starting to wonder, but could not work up the enthusiasm to spy and find out), he worked on trying to manifest his flames.

The cold wasn’t there and the old man hadn't done whatever it was he’d done this time—some kind of seal, he supposed—so perhaps if he could gain control of them ahead of time, rather than hoping to live long enough for Reborn to show up and brag about making him into a perfect mafia boss, he could escape being sealed this time around when they visited.

His breakthrough only came after he, in something not quite approaching desperation, learned how to meditate. And then, when the flames burst wildly free from his fingertips, he was puzzled to realize they were a reddish-brown colour, not orange as he expected from his first life.

“Now what can I do with these?” he murmured curiously. It was not as though Reborn had ever gotten to the point where he had explained much of anything beyond intimidating “facts” about the Vongola Famiglia. Sure, sure, orange flames, Sky Flames, Flames of Dying Will, Flames of the Sky.

He scoffed, still unable to see what the point was.

Still, he would try, to get a handle on them, even if they weren’t the colour he expected.

*

Ironically, it was when he tumbled out of a tree that it all made sense.

His hands went out in a futile gesture, to ward away the cold, hard ground rushing up to meet him. And then he just … stopped. Tsuna hovered there, staring at the packed dirt beneath him, his hands wreathed in those reddish-brown flames. He blinked a few times, hoping to make his sight make sense again, then abruptly dropped, letting out a soft, surprised sound of mild pain.

Tsuna sat up and stared at his hands, then up the tree. “Well I can’t see doing that again on purpose,” he muttered, “or flinging myself off a bridge. And I don’t think any adult would take me seriously if I wanted to go bungee jumping or anything similar. But what…?”

He huffed, got up, brushed off his clothes, and retreated to the library to look up supernatural phenomena.

‘Telekinesis?’ He somehow doubted it was so simple, but it gave him a starting point. If he could learn to move things with his flames, as if he had telekinesis, then perhaps he could figure out what it really was.

He had no help in this. No friends, no allies, no one he could trust. And knowing that, at some point, it was likely the mafia would come calling, expecting this silly civilian boy to head the largest, bloodiest mafia family out there, he could not take the chance of looking for help.

It did raise the question of whether or not his mother had a clue who she was really married to.

That caused him to sit back, ostensibly riveted by the contents of the book in his hands, and think. He went over every moment he could recall from his previous two lives when it came to Sawada Nana.

She was oblivious, an air-head, a brainlessly devoted housewife for a husband who was never there. But was she really? If she was, had that man chosen her for exactly those reasons? Tsuna didn’t even know what Iemitsu did for a living, though if he himself was a candidate to head the Vongola, why wasn’t his father ahead of him in line?

Did his father not have flames?

Was the man angry or jealous that his son did? Was that why he was never home? He couldn’t bear to be around someone who had what he wanted?

Or was there some other reason?

He wondered if the man had purposefully chosen an oblivious civilian to start a family with, one from a distant country—though the man’s name alone strongly suggested he was actually from Japan—so he could fend off any “offers” from the Vongola to find him a suitable wife with which to breed up potential heirs?

The whole situation was horribly confusing for him. When Reborn came back around, he would have to consider asking a lot of hard questions.

But for the moment, he needed to figure out these oddly coloured flames.

*

In the end he got careless.

His mother had managed to catch him at his practice, as he worked on new ways to use his flames, to mold gravity to his wishes. During a phone conversation with her husband she had mentioned the pretty lights. Tsuna only heard it in passing and gave no particular thought to it. It was only later that he realized what must have happened.

He woke up one morning with a sluggish brain, a cold that ached in his bones, and a marked tendency to trip over nothing. It was like wearing a brightly glowing neon sign that said to all the nasty-minded bullies in town, “Come get me.”

His dear, sweet mother, never batted an eye when he would come home covered in bruises, leaking blood, his lip or eye swollen. She either truly was oblivious, or was so far into denial it made no difference.

His grades plummeted like boulders in a lake. The day she actually called him “dame” was the day he began to work overtime to force the seal to break, exerting as much pressure with his will as he could.

Perhaps he should not have been so surprised that when it did break, he literally exploded and rained small bits of himself all over the landscape. Had he been capable of being surprised at that point, that is.

Chapter Text

λ3
Exiles

‘Orange again,’ he thought, gazing at his flaming hands. ‘Good thing my work to see my resolve made visible doesn’t seem to bother with what type of flames I have. I wonder if I can still manage the other one.’

He could.

The impending visit from those two had him scurrying to the library again, to research ways to fake a fever. He would remain tucked up in bed, recovering from whatever illness he had conveniently and coincidentally contracted, and be in no position to alert the men to the fact that he was able to use flames, or that he had any to begin with.

Once he was safely beyond that point—and wasn’t it so much fun to have to deal with that man being all sappy and cooing and generally acting like an utter moron—he relaxed again. However, his opinion of his mother took another nosedive when he saw just how she acted around her husband.

It was like the sun, stars, and moon all hung off that man, and there was nothing else in the world except him and her. And the sheer amount of food and booze!

Still, she housed him, kept him fed… Maybe not every Sawada Nana was exactly the same, but they all shared certain characteristics, and he knew he was never foremost in her thoughts. It was a harsh truth and it made his chest burn and his heart ache, but it was what it was.

He pushed all that aside and focused on his plans. One, work with his flames. Two, more languages. Three, not getting caught again and inviting another visit that would see him sealed.

*

Reborn arrived again to bring chaos into his life. That same flier was deposited innocently into the mail slot, and his mother jumped on the offer with alarming enthusiasm.

‘I have to wonder,’ he thought seriously, ‘if she said yes because she’s lonely for adult company in the house. If so, she’s going to be surprised.’

“A home tutor is coming today,” Nana informed him, her hands clasped up under her chin like it was just the cutest thing. She relaxed and brought up a flier. “Will raise your child to be the new leader of the next generation. Grade and subject doesn’t matter. Reborn.”

He managed to refrain from rolling his eyes. “Why?”

She stared at him. “…Why not? It’s probably a tutor from a professional business school for young men. I’ve wanted a teacher like this for you.”

He paused at that. True, his grades weren’t stellar, but neither were they the complete embarrassment he suffered during his origin life.

“Ciaossu.”

Reborn had slipped in, a small suitcase in one hand, Leon perched on the brim of his fedora.

“I’m a bit early, but as a service, I’ll evaluate you now.”

Tsuna was amused to see that his mother was openly confused at the apparent age of this so-called tutor.

“Well, let’s get started,” Reborn chirped.

Nana quietly slinked away, possibly to go make tea and escape back into the land of oblivion.

Reborn smirked and cracked open his suitcase, revealing gun parts. “I lied,” the chibi said as he swiftly assembled the rifle. “I have no openings. My true line of work is assassination. My real job is to make you a mafia boss.”

“…”

Reborn took that as some kind of a response and continued, “I was assigned by a certain man to train you to become an astounding mafia boss.”

“Why? Did I win the lottery in Yomi to be awarded this … privilege?”

“The method was left up to me,” was the response, which naturally answered nothing. The faint quirk of the chibi’s brow did say something, however.

“You’re telling me I’ve been tapped by some stranger to be the heir to their criminal empire,” he said dryly.

Reborn plastered a clearly fake look of surprise on his face. “Not a stranger, no.” There was a short pause when the chibi’s stomach audibly growled. “But later. I’m hungry.” Reborn made the gun disappear and trotted off downstairs.

Tsuna sighed. Not so different from the last time, and not any more apt to actually answer questions. It made him wonder just how long he’d live this time, and—

‘Oh, now there’s something,’ he thought. ‘I need to not run into Kyoko-chan in the morning, or at least not care if I do. I’d rather not get into another stupid fight with Mochida-senpai. He’s a jerk, to be sure, but I don’t know the first thing about kendo and I’d prefer not to embarrass myself, again, by running around in my boxers.’

He heaved another sigh and went downstairs for dinner.

The next morning he got up before Reborn had a chance to use an attack as an alarm and got ready. Reborn stole bits of food off his plate, but he ignored that. If the “child” was going to be a brat he would simply ignore the bad behavior. He could emulate his mother in some respects.

Unfortunately, they did run into Kyoko. She took one look at Reborn and squealed. “How cute!”

Tsuna kept on walking, but could hear them talking.

“Ciaossu.”

“Why are you wearing a suit?” she asked ingenuously.

“Because I’m in the mafia,” Reborn said matter-of-factly.

She squealed again. “How cool! Well, good luck. Bye bye.”

Tsuna was already a good distance ahead by the time Reborn caught back up with him. Tsuna was caught up in wondering if it’d be worth the trouble to learn how to use some kind of weapon. Definitely something to consider.

Reborn gave him a sidelong look—and wasn’t it weird and a bit frightening that he had already developed a sense of where the chibi was and what he was doing—and said, “Who’s the girl?”

“Hm?” He glanced over and down for a moment. “Oh. Sasagawa Kyoko is one of the school’s idols. There’s usually one girl and one boy, sometimes more, in other grades.” Maybe he should take up the study of psychology?

That evening he was given the run-down on previous contenders for the dubious honor of becoming the next boss of the Vongola Famiglia.

“The most qualified, Enrico, was shot in a feud.”

‘Who takes pictures of stuff like this?’ he wondered.

“The second son, Massimo, was drowned,” Reborn stated, holding up a second picture.

‘Seriously. They had time to take pictures of these things, but not actually save their lives in the first place? These have got to be mock-ups or something.’

“The favorite child, Federico, was found reduced to bone.” Another picture was held up. “So the only candidate left to be the tenth is you.”

Instead of freaking out (though he was more than tempted to) he said, “How do you figure?”

He got another slight frown for that before Reborn whipped out a family tree. Giotto di Vongola had become Sawada Ieyasu in Japan, and was Tsuna’s however-many-times great grandfather.

“You are part of the bloodline and a legitimate boss candidate.”

“And if I say no?”

“There is no saying no,” Reborn said cheerily, though his eyes narrowed just a touch. “Don’t worry. I’ll make you into a fine mafia boss.” Then he swiftly got ready for bed and hopped into his hammock.

Tsuna stared for a bit, then shrugged. He would play a game, but expected the chibi would shoot him for making noise. He was about to find something to read when a book bounced off his forehead.

‘Oh,’ he thought, vaguely remembering something similar. He shrugged again and opened it to read.

The Mafia Boss, it was titled. ‘A leader who rules a criminal organization… Able to move a number of trusted members with one hand… Willing to risk even his life for the family… Surrounded by the respect and admiration of all… Seen as a hero by the children of the slums…’

He wondered who wrote this crap in the form of a child’s picture book.

A gun was shoved in his face. “Oh, is that so?”

He tossed the book aside, and then caught it as Reborn tossed it at his head.

“You’ll read that every day. It’ll help teach you to become a good mafia boss.”

“I had no idea reading obvious fairy tales romanticizing a life of crime was required reading for the brainwashing program you’ve obviously set up. And how is it you’re qualified as a tutor? Do you have a degree? Is there a mafia university or something?”

Reborn paused as he went to turn back to his hammock and kicked him in the head.

“Ah, I see. Too insecure in your abilities to suffer actual questions about your competence,” he said, nimbly skipping away and out the door. He knew Reborn would get him back for that, but at least his brain worked properly that he could back talk the chibi.

*

When Gokudera showed up it was much the same, which was mildly surprising. Based on not always having the same flame type, he had decided that on his death he awoke in a parallel universe, and had not just been yanked back to a specific point in his original time-line, as if he was being respawned at a checkpoint.

That begged the question: were certain people fundamentally the same? Or were certain events predetermined somehow?

He knew what was coming. He knew he needed a reason so that he did not die if—when—Reborn shot him. Gokudera was just another bully as far as he was concerned. True, he didn’t have nearly as much trouble this time around, because he wasn’t sealed, but Gokudera’s actions seemed pretty clear.

A rough punk who thought all it took was violence to get his way. And this was the life Reborn and “a certain man” wanted for him? To drench himself in pain and blood and suffering? Is that what family was supposed to be? Abandonment, seals, denial, coercion, and drowning?

Class was boring after he righted his desk, though he took some small satisfaction in how the other students looked at Gokudera askance for his oblique attack on someone who mostly blended into the background. Had he been Dame-Tsuna he knew they would likely have laughed and approved, but he was not, so they did not.

Later on that day he was facing a familiar situation. Gokudera was eyeing him so maliciously, so ready to murder him if it meant he could be what Tsuna had no interest in. The boy was so desperate and violent and uncaring of anyone but himself.

Perhaps he should ensure the boy died as repayment for Tsuna dying the first time?

‘I dunno,’ he thought. ‘Is that really fair? This isn’t the same boy, no matter that he’s his alternate. I wonder how many parallel worlds there are?’

Hayato was having his conversation with Reborn, and Tsuna saw the desperation hidden beneath the tough exterior. Hayato was a puppy, a desperate, starving puppy, so ready to commit murder just for power and recognition and something like respect.

And Reborn expected his student to—what? Win the confrontation and take this mewling puppy on as his subordinate? He felt so jaded and lacking in compassion just then.

A thought struck him just then. Why the hell was he even sticking around for this crap? He ducked away on silent cat’s paws—Reborn was not unwise to the tactic, but Gokudera was too caught up in words to notice—and booked it to the library again.

He knew that confrontation would be restarted, but this was a little breathing room for him. Too bad there were no internet cafés in Namimori, and he himself had nothing more than a gaming console. Rather difficult to try to do some research on the silver-haired boy without an internet-connected computer.

The second he sensed—as he was on his way home—that he was being stalked, he diverted to that one park no one ever seemed to visit. Something about being haunted by ghosts?

“There you are!” Gokudera snarled.

He was forced to think about the boy again. Sure, he seemed awfully stupid if he believed he could become the Vongola Decimo without being of the blood, and was stupid enough to attack Tsuna with the intent to kill, but did that mean he should murder the boy in an alternate universe form of revenge? Probably not.

Maybe he was suited for mafia life after all if he could puzzle his way through a moral dilemma such as that without freaking out.

“It’s time for you to die!”

He somehow managed not to roll his eyes at the boy. Unfortunately, he would have to come up with a decent regret in order to live this time, rather than one which would see him dead so soon, again.

“Fight with your dying will,” Reborn almost sang as he fired.

‘I regret … not dealing with this properly the first time it happened,’ he decided right as the bullet pierced his forehead.

What followed was, in retrospect, ridiculous. The forced ignition of his flames removed his control and he had very little to do with his body’s actions in defusing the situation. Apparently instinct and his intuition were in charge.

Gokudera eventually messed up and dropped lit dynamite at his own feet, and froze up in fear.

Tsuna’s will decided to save the poor kid who had been attempting to murder him, and it was then that the flames sputtered out and stopped making him into the perfect night light. Now if only there was a way to not be stripped down to his boxers when Reborn got sadistic and shot him…

He was obviously going to have to come up with a ready supply of whacko “regrets” to use, if only to confuse the hell out of his tutor.

“I was mistaken!” Gokudera practically screamed as he dropped to his knees and bowed. “You’re the one who’s fit to be the boss! Tenth, I’ll follow you! Command me to do anything!”

‘Anything?’ he wondered.

“Having the loser serve under the winner is a family rule,” said Reborn, who popped up out of nowhere.

“Actually,” said a much more subdued Gokudera, “I really didn’t have ambitions to become the tenth. It’s just that when I heard that the tenth gen candidate was a Japanese guy the same age as me, I felt I had to test his strength.”

Tsuna stared at him blankly.

“But you’re much more than I expected!” Gokudera smiled, which was almost as alarming as his menacing look. “For putting yourself on the line to save me, I’ll place my life in your hands!”

He hummed. “First order.”

“Anything, Tenth!”

“I will only respond to Tsuna-kun, so you can only call or refer to me as Tsuna-kun.”

Gokudera looked as if someone had just punched him in a tender spot. “But…”

“Only Tsuna-kun,” he said firmly, then bolted so he could go find something to wear. Honestly. He didn’t figure he would always be able to avoid being shot with those stupid bullets, but at this rate he was going to have to stash extra clothing all over the school and town.

He wasn’t a damn ninja with seals to store stuff in, though he did wonder if flames could in some way manage it. He also wondered if it was simply that Reborn was so good at reading expressions and body language, or if he really did have some bizarre power that allowed him to read minds. Either way, he needed to figure out how to send confusing or misleading signals.

*

He sighed when Yamamoto stood up for him and included Tsuna on his team for PE. Even without the seal he still didn’t like most sports. Team sports, anyway. He never felt as if he could trust or depend on others to play fair with him included.

He did admire Yamamoto for his obvious skill at baseball, though he had no plans to try to emulate him. The boy was popular and hard working, though not at academics. The game went well enough, though their team lost, and he was somehow the one blamed, probably because everyone else actually was on the baseball team and played together fairly often.

As such, he was the one stuck with cleaning up. To his surprise, Yamamoto showed up a few minutes into things with an offer to help. Tsuna blinked a few times and nodded. “Thanks,” he said quietly. At least Takeshi was actually willing to assist with something everyone was supposed to take a turn at, not pawn it off on whoever was at the bottom of the heap skill-wise. It raised his opinion of the boy.

“You played really well today,” he added after a moment.

Yamamoto hesitated, obviously busying himself with cleaning for a minute. “It’s not going that well.”

“Huh?” He eyed the other boy in confusion.

“Lately, no matter how much I practice, my average is dropping and my fielding is screwing up. At this rate, it’ll be the first time I don’t start since the season began.”

If only he understood half of what Yamamoto had just said…

“What should I do?”

“Uh…”

Yamamoto laughed suddenly. “Just kidding.”

“I don’t know much about baseball, actually, or sports in general,” he admitted. “Doesn’t your team have a coach? I mean, what have they been saying?”

“Oh, the coach is really enthusiastic about training. I guess I’ll stay here after and practice like hell!”

‘Okay,’ he thought. “I hope it helps. If I knew more I’d…”

Yamamoto gave him a friendly clap on the back, then got back to work cleaning up.

Reborn was nowhere in sight when he got home, and he had already finished his homework for the day while still at the school, so he set that out in plain sight and turned his attention to his console. A game sounded like just the thing.

His tutor phased into existence at some point while he was caught up in things, and casually broke out a gun and disassembled it. “So, I hear you got asked for advice today.”

He hummed. “Yeah. A guy on the baseball team. But I don’t know anything about that, so I asked him if his coach had given any words of advice to the team.”

“Not a fan of baseball?” Reborn drawled, which sounded really weird coming from someone the size of a baby and with a voice to match.

He shook his head, eyes still on the game. “Not any sports, really. Some people seem really cool about it, like Yamamoto-san, but too many of them are all about shoving it in other people’s faces, like being able to hit a ball or swing a sword makes them super special and that they deserve people falling all over themselves to make them happy. Far too often it’s about greed and selfishness and arrogance.”

“Feeling stung that you didn’t do so well in today’s game?” Reborn taunted.

He shook his head again. “Why would I? I’m more likely to care about someone like Yamamoto, because his passion is personal and he works hard. Maybe it’s his dream to play in the big leagues. The others just seem to want something to brag about.”

“Sports like that teach teamwork,” Reborn pointed out, obviously going for a different tactic.

“Yes,” he agreed, still mostly focused on his game. “But that only works when the other people involved genuinely want to learn teamwork, and want to help their teammates, either to get better, or to shore up their weaknesses as others would theirs. If they’re just in it for the glory they’d be more likely to beat a teammate down for not being what they expect or demand them to be.”

“And Yamamoto himself?”

He furrowed his brow, trying to get underneath the obvious to see what Reborn was really driving at. “He seems driven, but I think he’s … floundering. He asked out of the blue, and when I didn’t jump to answer, he laughed and said it was just a joke. I think there might be something wrong, I just don’t know what, exactly.”

*

A student slammed into the classroom and said, “Hey, everyone! Yamamoto is about to jump off the roof!”

Uneasy and frightened murmuring started up amongst his classmates, lunch and conversations immediately forgotten.

“When he stayed after school practicing yesterday he went too far and broke his arm. C’mon! He’s on the roof!”

Tsuna packed up his stuff quickly. Wrong, sure. But suicide-level wrong?

“Tsuna-kun, let’s go!” Kyoko said, looking back at him over her shoulder from her position at the doorway.

“I’m coming.” He arrived in time to hear Yamamoto say something about the baseball god having forsaken him. He sent a look of disgust at the crowd and trotted over to the rusted and decaying fence that surrounded the rooftop.

‘And maybe I should send in an anonymous complaint about a severe lack of safety?’

“If you came to stop me it’s no use,” Yamamoto said dully.

“Obviously your coach’s advice was more aimed at your teammates and not you,” he said quietly, hopefully quietly enough that the rather noisy crowd would not overhear. “I don’t pay much attention to sports, but it’s clear you have the passion and drive to succeed at your dream.”

“I broke my arm. I’m not good enough.”

Tsuna snorted. “So if I broke my leg because I tripped, I’m not good enough to ever walk again? Are you seriously trying to make me believe that due to a mistake you have no other recourse but to take your own life? I’ll be sure to let your father know your last words. I expect they’ll be of comfort to him.”

Alarm set in to Yamamoto’s eyes.

“I can see the gravestone now,” he continued relentlessly. “My beloved son, who took his own life, because the god he believes in must surely have it out for him, rather than seeing that accidents like this happen every day to people all over the world. It was so clearly a sign from a god that he had no other choice but to leave his father to grief. Such a good boy. We’ll miss him.”

Yamamoto’s mouth had gone all pinched. It looked like a combination of anger, insult, and chagrin.

“If you’re going to do it properly, ask your father. I’m sure he has a sharp knife you could use. Not quite a sword, but it is more the thing, traditionally speaking.”

Yamamoto’s breathing hitched and the whites of his eyes had gone a bit red.

“Are you ready to come away from the edge yet?” he asked. “To sit down with your father and talk about this? Perhaps he’s experienced something similar in his life? Perhaps he could understand your feelings? Because it’s a bit insulting that the person who probably means most to you isn’t a part of this conversation.”

Yamamoto spared a quick glance at the crowd. “But all of them…”

“What about them? Have any of them ever cared about anything except how well you do at baseball? Do any of them know the first thing about who you are inside? Or do they just care about how good you can make the school look, and them, by extension?”

That obviously hit a nerve, he realized, judging by the sharp look in the other boy’s eyes, one that bordered on contempt. Yamamoto nodded, and then carefully slipped back through the gap in the fence.

“Maybe we should mention the pathetic state of this fence to your father? Maybe a concerned parent would have more weight than mere students in getting it fixed,” he murmured. “It’s disgraceful.”

Yamamoto nodded and the two of them quit the roof, neither paying much attention to the crowd. Surprisingly, the students gathered there had the sense to just let them go.

“Sometimes,” he said as they walked toward TakeSushi, “I wish I could fly. Be up there in the sky where there’s freedom and the world is quieter. But then I think of something like the myth of Icarus and wonder if it’s such a good idea.”

“Huh?”

“Icarus and his father, Daedalus, were attempting to escape from the Greek island of Crete. Daedalus crafted wings for them, from feathers and wax. He warned Icarus to neither fly too low nor too high, for the sea would dampen the feathers and make them too heavy to be of use, and the sun would melt the wax and make the wings fall apart.

“But Icarus ignored the warnings and flew too high, too close to the sun. The wax melted, the wings fell apart, and Icarus fell into the sea, and drowned. So I want to fly, but not too high. Too low would be like saying I wasn’t trying hard enough, but too high is like saying I’m arrogant and deserve my downfall. Preferably not death, though. People our age have a lot of living yet to do, you know?”

Yamamoto became very thoughtful at that point.

“There’s so much out there in the world. I spend a lot of time in the library. It’s quiet, peaceful. Books don’t lie to you. Well, okay, the people who write them might have lied, but the books themselves… They just try to open up new worlds of knowledge for you. Or fiction, with new worlds entirely.”

He laughed after a moment. “Huh. I don’t normally talk this much. You’re peaceful to be around,” he said with a smile. “Oh, we’re here. Do you want me to come in, or…?”

“…I’ll be okay,” Yamamoto said. “Thanks.”

He nodded. “I’ll see you around. Oh, and my name is Tsuna.”

“Takeshi,” the boy said, then disappeared into the shop.

*

“Is there something wrong at the school?” his mother asked one morning.

Things had been a curious mixture of hectic and calm since he had talked Takeshi down from the edge. Numerous new people had come into his life, not all of them welcome. Lambo was a goofy little boy dressed as a baby bull (though it was easier to just call him a cow more generically, though calf would be more accurate) who had been convinced by his famiglia, the Bovino, that it was necessary for him to assassinate Reborn.

All that said to Tsuna was that the Bovino were either delusional, trying to ditch the kid on someone else, or trying to get the boy killed. Lambo was desperate for attention, and his mother’s habit of caving to the child’s demands was doing no one any real good. It was hard to get the kid to behave when Nana insisted on undoing any progress forward.

Haru was also delusional, in his opinion. She seemed to be convinced that young children were pure angels. Anyone with even a smidgen of common sense would see Reborn and know his “purity” was in question. And to delude herself into thinking that Lambo and I-Pin (another newcomer) were perfectly normal children?

Kyoya was as much of a cypher as always—well, to anyone who had not spent time exploring the animal kingdom. But Reborn had decided the Cloud was a part of Tsuna’s growing “family”. Sure, because Tsuna displayed such stellar leadership qualities.

The same was true of Ryohei, Kyoko’s older brother. He was a year older? Around that, anyway, and in the year above them. He was … extreme. He also seemed to have a very poor memory and wasn’t all that bright, which was hilarious in a way given that he was a Sun. Ryohei-senpai had been tricked, in Tsuna’s opinion, into agreeing to be a part of the family.

Bianchi was a complete menace, but at least she had stopped trying to kill him in the name of love, and it was amusing to see her reaction each time Shamal was in the area. He did wonder why Shamal refused to treat males, though. Perhaps in another world there had been a time when he needed help, and Reborn had had to force Shamal to do so? Considering everything he had experienced thus far, it was not outside reason.

Fūta was a bit odd, but as much as the kid was sweet and talented in a very peculiar way, he was also rather devious and manipulative. On the other hand, he and I-Pin were often helpful in keeping Lambo from going off on a rampage of chaos.

Giannini was also a complete menace, but he had only been around for a short time. Still his “modifications” to everyone’s weapons (or ammunition, in Reborn’s case) had caused a lot of trouble and anger. Poor Hayato had been chibified for a full week due to the man’s tinkering with the Ten Year Bazooka.

The most interesting person he’d met had to be Dino Cavallone, Reborn’s former student and his brother in tort—ahem, tutoring. Dino was a boss in his own right, commanding five thousand men. According to what he had heard, especially when Fūta was involved, Dino was a good man who tried his best to keep the people in his territory—mafiosi and civilian alike—safe.

Since he was part of the alliance it meant his family didn’t do the really awful things. It was bad enough this demand that Tsuna take over an organized crime family. To have learned it was one of those without morals would have been just cause for any number of reactions in his opinion. Offing himself wouldn’t likely help, but there was always a chance that in some world he was born to a different family (preferably one that had nothing to do with organized crime).

“There was another assault case there, wasn’t there?”

He snapped out of his memories and tried to pay attention.

He must have looked confused for Reborn said, “Last weekend, eight prefects from the school were found with serious injuries. The victims, for some reason, had their teeth extracted. One was missing all of them.”

Tsuna was about to comment when he remembered his mother was right there, busy making some food or other. For all he knew there was a bake sale coming up she had volunteered for. He found it hard to take her seriously once he had realized she treated him almost exactly the same whether he was a sealed mess or competent.

She stayed the same, despite other people being different.

“Why would someone do something like that?” he instead asked inanely.

“No idea,” Reborn replied.

‘Liar,’ he thought.

“Hey, Tsuna,” his mother said. “Maybe you should go learn some hand-to-hand fighting skill for self-defense?”

“I wasn’t aware I was made a prefect,” he muttered before having some rice.

“I’m worried about you,” his mother insisted. “You should learn to protect yourself! Besides, a man needs to be strong, too, right?”

“Right,” Reborn chirped.

“I’m still clueless as to why you think I’d be attacked.” He finished up his breakfast, grabbed his bag, and left for school. The best he could figure either the yakuza were up in arms about something, or a new gang had rolled into or had formed in town. That they were attacking “the establishment” was interesting, and pointed away from him.

Of course, not knowing their end goal, that may or may not change. He still felt it odd that his mother was suddenly worried for his health and safety. On the other hand, Reborn embodied chaos, and the fact that there was chaos in the making in his sleepy little town meant it was likely his tutor would push him to be involved, even if the road to get there was convoluted.

Reborn caught up to him when he was halfway to the school and shoved a bunch of fliers at him. They were all for things like kendo, karate, wrestling and the like.

“When did she get all these anyway?”

“If Fūta were here he could come up with a ranking list of the best fighting styles to suit you.”

Fūta had left while he was at school one day, though his mother had no idea why. He had rolled his eyes once out of her sight and dropped the subject.

“You could always join the boxing club,” Reborn suggested.

He exhaled in frustration. As they neared the school he noticed a lot of prefects milling around. He had yet to comprehend how anyone would want to wear that absurd hairstyle in public, though it did make them very visible as part of Hibari’s Disciplinary Committee.

“Considering how many cases there’ve been, it’s no wonder they’re jittery,” Reborn commented from his position on the wall.

“This is mischief without meaning.”

Tsuna jumped a little, then turned so that Kyoya was in his range of vision.

“But of course, these sparks that have ignited must be severed from their origin.” Kyoya’s phone went off, the familiar tune of the school playing.

When the prefect went to take the call Tsuna nodded and turned away, to continue on to the school.

“He’s an acquaintance of yours, isn’t he?”

He looked back over his shoulder.

“Sasagawa Ryohei was attacked.”

‘Aw, fuck,’ he thought, then turned and booked it toward the hospital. Ryohei had lost five teeth and had clearly seen his attacker, someone dressed in the uniform of a school the next town over, Kokuyo.

A lot of students were at the hospital visiting those who had been attacked. He felt a sense of dread that the phenomenon was no longer confined to prefects. Kusakabe and one of his fellow prefects wandered by on that same floor, speaking of Kyoya, who had gone to deal with the issue.

‘How?’ he wondered. ‘How would he even—unless he knows the uniform and went to Kokuyo to scout out information?’

He didn’t manage to get very far (between speaking again with Ryohei and watching as Kyoko freaked out about her brother’s injuries—and believed his tall tale of climbing the chimney in the bathhouse) before Leon’s tail dropped off.

*

The boy from the woods was sitting on stage in the third floor cinema, though in truth it more resembled a place for plays, not films.

“I’m happy that we could meet again.”

Of course, the boy turned out to be Mukuro himself. He had kidnapped Fūta and had twisted his thoughts to get him under his control. True, Tsuna managed to break that control over Fūta, but Mukuro was skilled with illusions, amongst other things, and would have trapped Tsuna in them if not for Reborn snapping him free with well-placed pain.

Mukuro could summon physical helpers, such as deadly, venomous snakes. But worst of all was something that should have been eradicated from the mafia world: the possession bullets. Everyone in the room was simply another body for him but for Tsuna himself and Reborn, the only people who had not been cut by Mukuro’s trident.

He would remember all of this, for the next time, he thought, as the countless sticks of dynamite from a controlled Hayato exploded all around him.

Chapter Text

λ4
Scramble

Reborn adopted a solemn look and began to read.

Dear Vongola Tenth Boss,

I have heard of your development from your home tutor there. As the highest ranking member of the Vongola Family, I’m giving you this order. The time has come for you to take the next step.

Within the next twelve hours, you are to capture Rokudo Mukuro and his gang of escaped convicts. You are also to rescue the hostage at the same time.

Best of luck,
Ninth Boss

 

P.S. If you are successful, I will send you one hundred years worth of tomatoes at daybreak.

Tsuna rolled his eyes. That had to be a trollish addition by Reborn.

By the way, if you refuse your mission, you’ll be a traitor, and you will have to die.

He turned around without a word and headed home.

*

He had spent his “formative” years—meaning, the years since he woke up yet again at age five and before Reborn ever came anywhere near Namimori—working on a number of things.

Languages, of course. If he ever did manage to make it to adulthood and had to step into the role of Vongola Decimo, live in Italy, and deal with bosses from various countries, it only made sense for him to be able to speak their native languages fluently, and not have to rely on someone who might not translate well enough.

He also spent time trying to figure out how not to be so susceptible to illusions. It was not as if he could find a handy Mist local to Namimori and ask for their help. It was one thing to be prepared when he ended up inevitably confronting Mukuro again, as he had already scouted Kokuyo Healthy Land to keep the theatre’s composition fresh in his mind.

A lot of time was spent on physical conditioning. He found he was pretty much hopeless when it came to using a weapon. He tried knives, swords, whips, tonfa—whatever he could get his hands on. He was hopelessly inept with anything but his fists and his flames.

He groaned. Odds were he’d end up with those damnable mittens again. Having that as the last thing he’d seen (dynamite aside) before dying horribly again…

In preparation for the expected events of his future he had started early with Takeshi and Ryohei, though finding out that Ryohei was a girl this time around was something of a shock. Instead of Ryohei, it was Rei. She was also Tsuna’s age, whereas Kyoko (still female!) was the older one.

That had taken some getting used to.

Dealing with a sword-obsessed Takeshi was far easier in comparison. This version had skipped baseball entirely and taken after his father more directly. He was not, however, in the kendo club.

Rei was still a Sun and Takeshi a Rain. Kyoya was still a Cloud and still fiercely territorial with regard to Namimori. He was also just as psychotic about “crowding” and “herbivores” and keeping the peace.

His mother… Well. Tsuna was starting to think of her like a robot. Japan as a country had developed some very, uh, potentially perverted technology. There were times when he wondered if Nana had secretly been replaced by one of those robots along the way, one sophisticated enough to be considered more of an android.

One thing he had driven himself to learn was ways to use his command of what he decided to call Earth Flames to subtle effect. He was a lot better now keeping his thoughts private from Reborn, but the chibi was still frighteningly observant and intelligent. He would have to be subtle to get his use of Earth Flames past the radar, so to speak.

*

“I will defeat you.”

Leon exploded in response. So to speak. He was like some alien life form hovering in the approximate center of the theatre, with spikes extruding from his body mass holding him up, braced against the walls, floor, and ceiling.

Dog boy loped forward under Mukuro’s control and sliced through Leon’s main mass. As expected, certain items were ejected. Mittens came to land on his upturned face—or would have had he not been expecting them.

He shot a disbelieving look at Reborn for the sake of looking clueless and slipped them onto his hands. There was a bullet inside, though a part of him wondered why. He also wondered why Leon could not have fashioned him rings or bracelets or anything that wasn’t so damn embarrassing.

Ken came after him again with the trident head and he blocked it with one hand. Force meeting force saw him sent backward and Ken forced to stop.

“He repelled the attack…?”

Tsuna let the bullet slide out of his right mitten and held it so that Reborn could easily see it, but not so much for Mukuro’s puppet bodies.

Reborn hummed and darted forward, snatching the bullet away. “How interesting!” he chirped. “Never seen a bullet like this before. We’ll just have to shoot it and see what happens.”

He very much doubted that after having gone through the explanation of Dino’s experience with Leon, twice now.

“Not going to happen, yo,” said a possessed Hayato. Dynamite went flying in a high arc.

He chose to live through the attack, subtly using Earth Flames to alter the trajectories and provide a buffer around him. Long enough for Reborn to shoot him, anyway, just as the dynamite went off.

“You got him with the bombs,” Bianchi said.

“My my, he’s seriously injured now,” Ken added.

He truly thought for a time that the bullet was ineffective against someone who not only had control of his flames, but was also far more knowledgeable than Reborn might have expected. The pain was unwelcome, but that would pass, one way or the other.

Then the recriminations set in. He could see in his mind’s eye the various people in his life complaining about aspects of himself, rebuking him. But there were also people cheering him on, like Haru, Rei, and Kyoko. Even Lancia.

“My rebukes don’t have to be spoken out loud, right?” Reborn said.

“Oho… At a time like this, you still have spirit in your eyes? But, it’s still time to end the show,” Barcode boy said before surging forward. “If you die here, it’ll be no problem for me in the long run.”

Tsuna reached up to grab the trident head in his mittened hand, and watched with some awe as that same mitten transformed into a gauntlet. A strange sense of calm overcame him. Emotions were muted, anxiety was washed away, and he was fairly certain he had Dying Will Flames burning on his forehead again. This time, however, he was in control of his actions.

“Mukuro, even if I’m dying, I will not give up,” he said as he rose to his feet.

“That aura on your forehead… I see, you were hit by that bullet after all. But you seemed to be a lot more fired up during the fight with Lancia earlier.”

Reborn piped in with, “The Rebuke Bullet brings out the calm fighting will in Tsuna. It’s a completely new bullet—different from the Dying Will Bullet—with a totally new hidden power.”

‘What is it about mafiosi and the need to explain everything in the middle of a fight?’ he wondered.

Barcode scoffed. “All I see is a person who’s lost his fighting will or a spirit which has sunk into despair. Either way, you are not a match for my skills.”

His intuition let him know that Dog was leaping at him from behind, so he slammed a hand back into the quickly approaching face and launched the blond back.

“Not so fast,” Barcode said. His yo-yos came out again and launched countless poisoned needles.

His intuition said no, to the needles and to the figure. Instead, it directed him off to the side. He bolted toward thin air and punched. The real Barcode went flying.

“Impossible,” Hayato muttered.

“He couldn’t see through the illusions of the State of Hell before…”

Reborn went off on another lecture for some reason, but Tsuna didn’t bother to pay attention.

Hayato and Bianchi went for him, hoping to beat him down, into submission. He let them wear themselves out trying to land a hit on him, and listened. He was going to have to see if his intuition could be trained or strengthened outside of fights. But he listened, so he knew exactly where to land a hit of his own on each body, though the non-calm part of him was seriously contemplating breaking their damn legs.

“Striking to cause nerve paralysis comes from his intuition, too,” Reborn lectured.

“Will you keep an eye on them?” he asked Reborn, then gazed around with intuitive senses. He knew Mukuro had to be hiding somewhere, if only because he refused to believe that with bullets like the ones Reborn favored around, the one Mukuro had used had actually killed him.

A suddenly visible Mukuro scoffed. “Your sense for battle has improved markedly, I’ll give you that. But you’re pushing your luck if you think that is all it takes. Out of the six battle skills I possess,” Mukuro said, readying his staff, “there’s one more I haven’t shown you, remember?”

“The fifth path,” Reborn said in a bored tone, “the state of humans.”

“Exactly. This world we live in is the state of humans. Because I hate this world, I hate this skill the most. If possible,” Mukuro said, reaching up with one hand to press fingers against his red eye, “I would rather not have used it.”

Mukuro pressed his fingers into the eye socket; fluids began to leak out. “The state of humans truly is the ugliest state. Because, it is also the most dangerous skill.” His hand dropped back to his staff, revealing that the eye was whole, though the kanji visible within in had changed to “five” and there was rather a lot of blood staining that side of the boy’s face.

“Beware of that black aura,” Reborn cautioned.

Mukuro charged forward.

As fights went it was interesting for Tsuna. He was gaining actual experience against someone aiming to kill him for not being very cooperative. He learned that the mittens would, when in gauntlet form and passed through the flame at his forehead, also burst into flame, and allow him to fly.

After that it was short work dealing with Mukuro. True, a part of him wanted to just end his opponent, but the letter from the Ninth had said capture. The others were too damaged to worry much about. Though what he was supposed to do with them once they were all down…

He shattered Mukuro’s trident and, because it was there and annoying him, used his Sky Flames to burn away the black aura the other boy was sporting (Reborn called it purifying). That bit about Mukuro wanting to use his body as a vehicle to possess mafia and civilian leaders the world around so he could bathe the world in blood was … ambitious.

The story of Estraneo was revolting, but not unexpected at that point. Most people didn’t go off the deep end without a good reason to.

Right about the time the Vongola medical personnel that Reborn called in arrived, so did the Vindice, and that … was new.

Chains, collars, tall people with bandaged skin, enveloping cloaks, and top hats.

Tsuna wondered if those bandages covering their faces were illusion or not, because how else could they see clearly enough to capture the escapees?

The other thing he learned, after seeing Fūta, Bianchi, Hayato, Takeshi, and Kyoya on gurneys, was that the aftereffects of the Rebuke Bullet were extraordinarily painful.

‘If I have to live through this bullshit again,’ he thought, ‘I am doing everything I can to avoid being shot.’

*

He knew something was wrong when he trotted downstairs to check to see if dinner was ready. The kitchen table was groaning under the weight of far too many dishes and his mother was making yet more of them.

Reborn was happily seated at the table, indulging, and I-Pin and Lambo rushed to join him in partaking of the offered bounty.

“Daddy’s coming back after two years,” his mother trilled when she finally paid enough attention to the other people in the room to answer his question about what was going on.

“Is that something to be surprised about?” Bianchi asked.

His eyes narrowed. “He’s finally been found?”

“Found?” His mother tossed a confused look his way. “What are you talking about?”

“He disappeared, didn’t he?”

“My goodness, Tsuna! Then where do you think the funding for your school and this house come from?”

“Insurance?” he said quite reasonably.

Nana blinked. “I’ve kept in touch with him all this time,” she said dreamily. “Tsuna’s daddy is digging up oil in a foreign country. He’s a man of dirt.”

“You said he disappeared.”

“Oh? That’s because Daddy said, before he left, ‘I’m going, Nana. You like men who’re romantic, right? Then tell Tsuna that I disappeared and became a star in the sky or something. That way, it sounds more romantic.’”

‘My father is a moron,’ he decided, ‘and my mother…’ He grabbed a plate of food, hashi, and a napkin, and booked it upstairs to be away from the mayhem.

The next morning he went into school for the half day, then headed for the shopping district with his companions. He would call them friends, but he had lived too many years already and died too many times to feel all that comfortable thinking of them with any sense of genuine closeness.

He was having a nice talk with Kyoko about Lambo and I-Pin when he heard an explosion or something similar. A crash? He looked around a bit wildly and saw something impact a nearby building.

A few seconds later, just as he had gotten to his feet, a body crashed into him and sent him to the pavement.

“I’m sorry,” said the—he appeared to be a boy around Tsuna’s age, and had blue flames dancing on his forehead.

‘So a Rain like Takeshi.’

“Thou art—!”

‘And someone’s been learning from the wrong source.’

“Tsuna!”

“Are you okay, Tsuna!?”

Even Kyoko got in on it with, “Tsuna-kun, are you okay?”

He had just gotten up when he heard, “Vooooiii!” He looked toward the voice to see a tall man, with long silver hair. He was dressed in black and had a long sword strapped to one hand.

“What’s this? Outsiders parading around?”

‘You’re in my country, asshole.’

“I’ll slice up any trash who gets in the way,” Leather-Fetish promised menacingly.

*

‘So, that happened,’ he thought in bemusement. Takeshi and Hayato had been shown just how far behind they were in terms of training when faced with someone the calibre of Leather-Fetish—Superbi Squalo. Basil (or more properly, Basilicum) was far better trained than those two, but even he was not good enough to do more than delay things.

It was strange to be called Tsuna-sama. Or had he said Tsuna-dono? Tsuna shook his head and shrugged.

Dino had arrived, along with his men, to save the day and, after Squalo got away with the rings Basil had tried to give to Tsuna, handed over the real set.

He left the hospital Dino had set up in something of a pother. All this mafia stuff was encroaching on his life more and more. The shopping district had taken some heavy damage during the confrontation, and now he had—

He stopped dead. There was a veritable forest of clothing hanging outside his house, drying in the sun, all sized for an adult male, and quite a few of them looked like jumpsuits. There was a whole lot of orange.

Bianchi was quick to tell him that, “Papà is back. Mamma went out to buy more food. Papà quickly devoured enough to feed twenty people, after all.”

To add to his quickly deteriorating day, he realized that the children were all drunk on sake or, as “Papà” would put it, “magic water”. As for his father, that man was passed out in the living room, surrounded by empty booze bottles and beer cans, empty dishes, and was clothed only in his underthings.

Tsuna turned away in disgust and snatched up two of the children. It was a bit of a struggle getting up the stairs, but he managed (judicious use of Earth Flames helped lighten the load) and put the two to bed. He then tracked down Fūta and slid him into a bed as well, then hid in his own room.

The next morning he was woken at four o’clock by a moron who wanted to go “catch breakfast”.

“I have school. I’ll pass.”

Iemitsu sulked off and Tsuna fell back to sleep, only to wake up later to Lambo’s goofy laugh which, for some reason kept getting softer then louder then softer then louder…

‘Oh,’ he thought muzzily. ‘I bet Dad is playing with Lambo.’ He only woke up properly when he heard a cry of pain, and then his father promising to make it better with more “magic water”. He fell out of bed and dashed downstairs, dramatically whooshing the sliding glass door open.

“You can’t make Lambo-kun drink sake!”

“Hey, Tsuna~! You’ve been sleeping ever since Daddy came home,” the man said with a sulky pout. “I thought you were avoiding me and that broke my heart.”

‘If only,’ he thought, and grabbed Lambo and I-Pin, hustling them back inside. He barely had enough time to get ready for school as it was. The two kids were pushed into a bedroom to play and he continued on to his room so he could prepare.

He reached up to scratch an itch and his hand bumped into metal. Tsuna awkwardly looked down and saw that he was wearing a chain necklace, and one of the half-rings was threaded through it. “Did you put this one me?” he asked Reborn, who was cozily watching television.

“Not me. But it’s yours just the same. That Vongola ring is the proof of the next Vongola boss.”

“I’m not even fifteen yet, never mind an adult,” he protested.

Reborn shrugged and had a sip of coffee. “That ring is the identifying proof of the rightful successor. Some malicious people are starting to target that.”

“The guy from yesterday.”

Reborn nodded. “The long-haired guy—his name is Superbi Squalo and he’s a member of Vongola’s so-called ultimate independent assassination team. The Varia is a group with a high level of loyalty and they’ve accomplished a lot of missions, but regardless, they’re a team that works in the darkness, so they never come out in the open.”

‘Which contradicts what happened yesterday.’

“But one day they started to lose control. The day after that man appeared…”

“And when they realize the rings Leather-Fetish took were fake, they’ll come here, right?”

Reborn nodded again, though he also gave Tsuna an odd look for the nickname. “Those fakes were pretty high quality, so I figure it will take around ten days for them to figure it out. So that gives us time to train, so you can take on the Varia.”

Tsuna huffed and pulled on his school things, grabbed his bag, and took off.

“Feel free to talk to Daddy about anything~!” his father said as he rushed by.

‘Yeah, right. I wouldn’t trust you with a broken toy, never mind my thoughts or problems.’

Takeshi and Hayato were waiting for him halfway to school. They each also had a half-ring. Somehow, in trying to get the two to give them back, his, Dino’s (funny how he kept popping up), and Reborn’s words saw them enthusiastically agreeing to the upcoming fights. All because there would be danger.

‘Great, my so-called guardians are adrenaline junkies and possibly suicidal.’

*

He was still a little peeved.

Bad enough that his father was part of the mafia (it made sense, considering his Vongola blood had to come from somewhere, and he was fairly certain his mother wasn’t secretly off doing hits or gathering information or—well, in theory, she could have been the one keeping him safe all this time by taking out assassins come to murder him, but…) and the External Advisor to the Vongola.

It was terrible that Lambo had been shoved into the Lightning Guardian role and nearly killed, all because he had the Ten Year Bazooka and Iemitsu was certain that alone would win the day. More fool he, then.

It was decent that Hayato actually listened to him and broke off the battle for the Storm Ring and had somewhere learned that his own life held as much value as anyone else’s, but it was sickening that his father had drafted in Mukuro, of all people, as his Mist Guardian, via a nice young girl who hero-worshiped the boy and was only cooperating because Mukuro said to.

So sure, no worries there that his Mist(s) wouldn’t suddenly turn on him and stab him in the kidney or something. Sure, sure. He wasn’t even the least bit concerned over whether a double-cross was in the planning.

The most interesting thing from that battle (aside from Mukuro kicking Mammon’s infant ass) was when Mammon said, “I denounce you and your reincarnation cycle rubbish! Humans will repeat the same life many times in infinite cycles.”

It made him wonder if he was stuck in exactly that, because he seemed to recall that reincarnates lost all memory of their past lives and began anew. But he was remembering everything.

Reborn had been teaching him, with Basil’s help, how to figure out (and presumably master) the Vongola technique called Zero Point Breakthrough. How constantly being pitted against Basil in a nearly no-holds-barred sparring match was supposed to accomplish that was beyond him. Something about how he was supposed to go from a neutral state to plus and minus, like a pendulum or something.

True, he could think of some potential uses for it, such as figuring out how to absorb Basil’s flames when he attacked, and being able to freeze a person… But it still seemed like a very situational technique, and it took a long damn time to swing to the point where it could be unleashed.

He heaved a sigh and gazed out over the battlefield for the Cloud Ring. The field was fenced in with barbed wire straight out of a prisoner of war camp, with motion-sensitive Gatling gun emplacements (presumably to make things more “exciting”), and land mines.

Xanxus thought the whole thing was a hoot judging by the way he laughed.

The Cervello started the fight.

Gola Mosca launched itself forward on jets of flame (real flame, not dying will flames, because a machine didn’t have a will), raised one “hand” and launched missiles.

Kyoya seemed to wait forever, until the last possible second, and then struck with his tonfa. Tsuna exploded right about then and rained down bits of flesh over the general area, victim to a missile Kyoya had diverted from his person.

Chapter Text

λ5
Future

“Fuck my life,” he muttered as he stared up at the ceiling. Thankfully, getting blown to bits was one part sheer terror and the rest velvet dark bliss. And then waking up, again, as a five year old.

He held up a hand and summoned his will, and immediately gawked. His flames were purple with streaks of indigo. “I’m a Misty Cloud?” It took until he was off in his now-usual training area for new lives that the obvious smacked him in the kisser like a frozen mackerel.

“I’m not a Sky,” he breathed. “I can’t be the Vongola Decimo.”

He returned to the house for lunch and immediately stopped short on entering the kitchen. There was another boy there, seated at the table. The kid looked remarkably like Iemitsu, rather like how his appearance followed Nana’s features.

“Tsu-kun~!” warbled his mother. “Wash up and come straight back. I’m just about done.”

He wandered off to the bathroom long enough to wash his face and hands, then returned and took a seat. He spent the meal just observing and listening. The boy’s name was Ieyoshi, Tsuna’s fraternal twin.

He wondered what flame the boy—his brother—held.

This was going to change events, his own flames notwithstanding. When Iemitsu and the old man showed up… Well, he might see then what flames were at hand. For himself, however, he would need to spend as much time as possible away from his family, to figure out how best to use these two new flames.

And, of course, as much time as he could manage at the library. There were always new languages to learn, and history to brush up on, just in case details were different.

*

He sat quietly in his room pretending to read his book (sadly, an age-appropriate picture book) while his brother played in the yard. Their father and the old man were visiting, but he felt like an old hand at avoiding trouble, so he was fairly relaxed.

His brother was the “adventurous” type, and he was babbling to himself about pirates or ninja or something, dashing around in the grass and partway up the one tree. Tsuna kept his brother in his peripheral vision as much as possible without appearing to do so; no point in cluing in the adults.

Would his brother show off his flames?

Yes, he would, having tripped over an exposed tree root and face-planted into a short horizontal skid. After a moment of silence, the crying started. Tsuna had to wonder if it was intense emotion that triggered the first flames and not just facing death, because his brother’s hands had an orange aura about them, showing he was a Sky.

Iemitsu noticed, much like the man had in Tsuna’s first two lives, and took a moment to confer with the old man. Nothing happened right then, probably because their father glanced up at the window to see Tsuna reading there (seemingly engrossed and facing somewhat away), but he lay awake that night, waiting, and eventually heard the two men enter his brother’s room.

He could only assume they had sealed his brother’s flames.

That assumption was proven right when Ieyoshi went from an athletic, adventuring type to a clumsy, slightly fearful, and rather dim-witted little boy.

‘Right. I need to spend as much time as humanly possible figuring out my new flames. Odds are I’m going to die horribly again, but knowing it now will help in the future, this one or the next.’

*

He was seven when he realized something, and promptly smacked himself in the face for being so blind and so stupid. His brother was a Sky. Tsuna was a Cloud. Sure, Kyoya was in town and could serve that role, still being a Cloud, but what were the odds that their father and/or Reborn didn’t look straight to him as a possible Cloud Guardian to Ieyoshi?

‘Aw, fuck, I am so not doing that. Huh,’ he thought. ‘Xanxus didn’t have a proper Cloud Guardian at the Scramble Battles. Maybe I should drift that way and see if I can join as a mook, maybe work my way up? It’d mean getting my hands filthy, but shouldn’t a potential mafia boss know those deeds?

‘Seriously, was the ninth trying to keep me “innocent” or something up to the point where I’d be dunked into the deep end for real and possibly react even worse? I kinda think the ninth generation is a bit dippy. How can they expect a person to just take up the reins and know next to nothing of the kinds of decisions they’d be forced to make?’

He sighed. Never having gotten that far he had no way of knowing exactly how the Ninth had planned to handle the transfer of power, what training he would have received in Italy. If he left he would have to fake his own death, so that no one would come looking for him. He would also have to figure out a reliable way to disguise himself.

Next on the list was sneaking into Italy, and then somehow making enough of a name for himself that the Varia would come snooping, to see if it was worth recruiting him. He could also try, with a disguise, pretending to be older, so that it would not look so odd that he was seeking to join the Varia.

‘Uh, wait a second.’ He grabbed some paper and did the math. ‘The Cradle Affair should happen this year? That means—well, it’s extremely doubtful I’d be able to get an in with the Varia in time to actually see Xanxus, but it would still mean eight years of missions and training prior to the Scramble Battles—assuming all that goes the same.’

With that in mind he spent his training time figuring out how to fake being an adult, or at least a teen. If he was good enough at it he could conceivably “borrow” a passport and identification at the airport, from some lone traveler who was due to hop on a plane.

Wreathe the guy in Mist Flames to get him to leave the airport and essentially be out of his mind for a day or so, and take his place long enough to get out of Japan. He could wipe the identification of fingerprints at the other end—or burn all of it—and switch to a different disguise, and then do it all over again to get where he was aiming for: Italy.

‘So, right, twin goals. The disguise, and likewise being good enough with illusions to fool people into thinking I died. Going missing wouldn’t be so bad, but that would always leave it open for our father to keep looking for me.’

*

Namimori was conveniently near the sea. Not right on it, but close enough for the beach to be a valid destination for a family trip. A small “accident”, some illusionary sharks…

Sawada Tsunayoshi was declared dead.

He did not overly concern himself with the reactions of his mother and brother. His mother had long since been relegated in his mind to an android and his brother barely registered as an actual human being, if only because he did his best not to get attached.

After that he finagled his way onto a plane to Italy, though it took him several days of tracking people at the counters to find someone he could imitate. That man was ensnared and led away long enough for Tsuna to “borrow” his passport, identification, and phone, plus any cash he had on hand.

That supplemented the money he had been able to “borrow” from the yakuza in Namimori. As it was, he was going to have to use his flames to both acquire food (either by stealing money and using that, or by stealing the food directly and propagating more of it) to survive on while he figured out how to survive in general in a strange land, with no friends, no one to trust or lean on, and no real clue how to find jobs that wouldn’t see him dead inside of a week.

How sad was that, he thought. All that time dealing with Reborn, and he had no clue where any family held territory, not even the one he belonged to. He rather wished he had asked Hayato more about his life after he’d run away from home.

*

He had spent quite a bit of time using little Mist spies (anime and manga had contributed greatly to his ideas for flame use) to eavesdrop hither and yon, and finally got an idea of where the big players were located.

After that it was a case of tracking down the exact location of the Varia mansion-headquarters-party palace (it could happen, right?) and setting himself little missions. One, risk getting shot-beheaded-gutted-defenestrated in order to sneak in and map the place.

Two, having established the layout, sneaking in to leave notes about holes in the security, that last night’s dinner was sub-par, and that Lussuria really needed to pick one colour and stick with it for his hair. He thought of them as little “love notes” to his future family.

If nothing else, all these messy deaths and rebirths were doing wonders for his mental stability. He would probably fit right in with the Varia. Well, assuming he didn’t kill half the non-core, non-elite members for being too stupid to live.

Too bad arranging an accident for Levi probably wouldn’t go over well. Or it might, who knew? His replacement might be worse, though. How Levi counted as Quality…?

Counterfeiting and money laundering became new skills of his. He propagated copies of existing notes, then passed them off as real with merchants local to wherever he was, using a little Mist as required. Stealing the money in the first place was (at first) challenging and exciting.

Tsuna was starting to understand why Hayato could be so gung-ho to jump into trouble, except that he thought Hayato was more about putting on a tough front and thinking such behavior was a requirement rather than his sort-of-but-not-really friend actively being an adrenaline junkie.

Obviously, it took a certain kind of person (read: psychotic whackjob) to do well in the Varia.

There was a twisted sense of pride in successfully screwing over merchants who were cruel to street kids or bigoted when it came to obviously foreign people, even those who spoke the language fluently. (Gods help him if he ever went to France. He had heard things about France.)

Sadly, if he was still aiming to join the Varia, having already killed and gotten the resulting horror out of his system was probably a good idea. Or a bad one. He was having trouble of late keeping things straight along those lines.

‘I wonder if all people with Mist Flames are at least slightly mental,’ he wondered. ‘I have learned to better understand Kyoya, though. I keep wanting to stake a claim and defend it against all comers, but I can’t afford to do that yet. It does make me wonder what the other flames would be like.’

“You look lost.”

He startled a little. The voice had been too close, which meant he had failed at keeping alert enough while meandering through memories. Tsuna turned slowly to see a man somewhere between twenty and thirty, perhaps. “Eh?”

“I could help,” the man said, smiling slightly. “It really gets me to see kids on the street.”

Tsuna was currently his real age, and looking rather scruffy to boot, so it was unsurprising that someone took him for the street urchin he was. He adopted a suspicious look and let his gaze dart around for a bit before coming back to rest on the man. “Help?”

The man nodded. “I baked too much earlier. I may as well help someone who needs it with some of the extras. I’m Carlo.”

“…Jun.”

“Up to you, kid. I have some extra pandoro and panettone. I was thinking of taking the excess to an orphanage.”

‘How convenient those are sweet breads and can be seen as a treat. Looks like a child predator. Maybe this would be a good first kill. I get to take out a menace to society and not feel too bad about it.’ He eased up on the suspicion and added some hopeful hunger to his expression. “Um, I suppose I could… I mean…”

The man just waited patiently, which meant he was an old hand at this sort of blasphemy. Perhaps in the beginning he had rushed in and suffered the delights of a child screaming in fear and had to run before the police or alarmed nearby persons had arrived to investigate.

“I am a little hungry,” he said. “Where…?”

The man’s smile widened slightly. “It’s not far. Maybe you can help me package up the rest so I can take it to the orphanage? That’d be a fair exchange, yes?”

Off they went, and Tsuna was unsurprised in the least to find he’d been led to what could charitably be described as a pedophile’s wet dream. On the surface it was innocent enough, but Tsuna could spot a number of things which set off alarms in his head, like odd, nearly-invisible outlines of things on the walls.

The man led him into a kitchenette and retrieved some of the aforementioned bread. Tsuna noted that the man was very particular in which pieces were set aside for him, and which were for “Carlo” (he refused on principle to believe it was the man’s real name).

‘I expect the bread is drugged, then,’ he thought, ‘so let’s turn that around. Dosage for a child wouldn’t affect him the same way, but it’d be a starting point for my use of Mist.’ He shot a grateful smile at Carlo and reached out for the food, employing Mist Flames to ensure the man (who, insofar as he could tell, did not have active flames) took the wrong bread, and to ensure the man failed to notice that Tsuna only pretended to eat the presumably untainted bread.

Success was realized when the man’s eyes started drooping, so Tsuna played along and pretended to be awfully sleepy himself, all while sending waves of Mist at Carlo to help the drugs along. Once the man was unconscious he tied him up in Mist Flame ropes and started poking around.

One of those outlines was a rotatable panel. The other side of it had manacles for wrists and ankles, positioned about right for the average-sized child. His stomach lurched twice as badly when he noticed dried blood on the metal, and he honestly worried that he might throw up.

He tossed a hard look at the unconscious predator and set to work. The man wouldn’t fit well into those manacles, but Tsuna didn’t particularly care. The whole point was to ensure the man wouldn’t escape and somehow survive what Tsuna considered appropriate punishment.

It took some doing, but he eventually had Carlo locked into place and a ball-gag fitted (another one of the man’s “toys”, found behind another panel). He loosened the man’s belt and wrestled his trousers down off his hips, then cut away the man’s undergarments.

He made a sound of disgust. Not for Carlo’s equipment, for that in itself was nothing unusual. His disgust was reserved for what the man must have done with it, to still too trusting, naïve, street kids just hoping for a few moments of kindness.

He found a knife in the kitchen, taking the time to slip on a pair of gloves first so as to not leave fingerprints on it, and approached his would-be torturer and soon-to-be victim.

A few calculated slaps got Carlo to wake up. Tsuna smiled when the man realized his predicament and alarm stole over his features.

“I don’t know exactly what you had planned,” Tsuna said quietly, “but I know it was bad. Were you planning to have your way with me? Sell me on the black market as an organ donor? As a whore, a slave? I don’t really care in the end. You will pay for your presumption.”

The man looked torn between fear and the certainty that a mere child could not truly harm him.

Tsuna smirked and held up his knife. “This is what should happen to child abusers,” he said, then reached down and grabbed the man’s equipment, pulled, and then sliced down. There was a surprising amount of blood. He dropped both knife and genitalia, then stepped back a ways.

“I imagine that hurts,” he said. “Hopefully it won’t take too long for you to bleed out. I have things to do, places to be… Maybe in the next life you won’t be such a disgusting waste of humanity.”

It took longer than he expected, actually.

Once the man was undeniably dead, Tsuna swapped out his gloves for a new set and rifled through the man’s pockets for cash. ‘Should have done that before he woke up, but whatever.’ He would take the food in the place, but without knowing how much of it was drugged, it just wasn’t worth the risk, and the clothes stored there were all too big.

He poked around a little more, tapped a few spots that looked as if they housed more secrets, and then covered himself in illusion to hide the blood. Tsuna was safely away a few minutes later, hoping that someone would eventually smell something and call the police.

*

Since his first kill—the throwing up everything he had eaten in the prior week part had not been amusing, nor the disturbed state of his stomach for quite some time afterward—he had continued to interfere in nasty situations, in and around stealing enough money or food to survive.

There were always out of the way places he could bed down in relative safety (such as oddly-shaped roofs). A tarp and some illusion generally took care of the rest. He also listened, because information was valuable.

Unfortunately, he had learned very little from Reborn regarding the various families in Italy. True, he knew that “Vongola” was supposedly a “good” family, as were the Cavallone. Dino himself was a good man and his people clearly adored him (even if not one of them would ever use the word “adore”). Even Fūta ranked Dino highly.

When not gathering information, money, or food, or keeping an eye out for people who ought to be kicked out of the gene pool, Tsuna spent time in the library, learning whatever he could that might conceivably be useful.

The sounds of a struggle came to his ears so he cloaked himself in Mist Flames and wandered that way. ‘Oh, look, another rapist.’ He watched for a few moments, just to be certain he was interpreting the situation correctly, then acted.

Mist was used to distract the rapist with the sound of siren nearby. The man startled, looking with alarm toward the sound. Tsuna took advantage of the man no longer feeling in control of the situation and smothered him in Mist. The girl was likewise smothered, if only to get her to fall asleep despite the circumstances.

He was nice enough to use illusion to cover up her bared skin, partly for modesty’s sake and partly so he didn’t have to look at it. The man, however… Tsuna prompted him to move a bit farther down the alleyway as he set up Mist barriers which should keep the general public away. The woman might be found and given help, but the man was hidden away.

He had been poking around medical texts of late, mainly to see how he could use his Cloud Flames in the event he was injured (such as propagation as a response to blood loss) and had a little something he wanted to try out. The rapist had volunteered to be his lab rat.

Tsuna concentrated hard and began to propagate the man’s platelets, hoping it would cause clumping and clog up the veins and arteries, and result in death due to either a lack of oxygen being distributed to his system, or that his heart would fail trying to push blood through increasingly smaller conveyances.

What he did not expect, in the least, was for two people to move through his Mist barrier like it was nothing more than smoke, and eye him up.

One was Mammon—which explained why the simple barrier was useless—and the other was clearly Belphegor.

Tsuna cocked a brow up as he observed them as they observed him, though he did not lesson the effects of his flames on the rapist, who proved at least part of his theory by dying.

“Mu… So you’re the one who’s been stealing our kills on occasion,” Mammon said.

Belphegor grinned psychotically. Tsuna was torn between wondering if that meant he was shortly to die yet another messy death, or if the older boy was thrilled to find someone even vaguely like him.

“I didn’t realize that garden variety rapists were the Varia’s sort of thing,” he said as calmly as he could. “Was this one more naughty than I realized, then?”

Mammon ignored that and said, “You’re clearly active. You will be coming with us, boy.”

“Or die,” Belphegor added, still grinning. “Your choice. You’d be beautiful clothed in bright blood and razor cuts.”

“Yeah, no,” he said. “I’m not ready to die, so I guess I’m coming along.”

*

He looked around the “mook” quarters with some distaste, but considering he had been living on the streets for several years, he had to admit it was bliss in comparison.

The lives of mooks were rather regimented. Training sessions were mandatory for newcomers and people below a certain level of skill. And no one got to go on missions until a baseline competence was proven.

True, he had proven he was a capable killer, especially after having unknowingly managed to off at least two Varia targets, but he was still a mook. His assigned “name” (if he could call it that) was 893CM. Tsuna wasn’t sure he appreciated every yahoo out there knowing his flame types, but whatever. No one had picked up on his Earth Flames.

(And considering it was probably assumed impossible for a person to have active flames from both “sets”—he assumed there was a second set, anyway —he could understand why they went unnoticed.)

Assuming he lived so long, he already had a new name picked out.

He sighed. The Varia was headquartered in what once had been a monastery, so the mook rooms were monastic cells, just large enough for a single bed and a set of drawers. Or, as he had been informed, “There’s no sense giving mooks anything approaching luxury when far too many of you wash out in no time flat.” (And by “wash out” he clearly meant die.)

If nothing else he was getting training by competent people who expected mooks to shut up and do the work. Minor grumbling was ignored as a way to blow off steam, but anything more was met with a response of either a bullet to the brain or a far more intense workout, depending on how much of a pain the mook in question was.

He learned that it was fairly uncommon for there to be women in the Varia, and those who were tended to pretend otherwise, at least until they had proven they were more than a match for any sexist twats lurking in the ranks.

Tsuna had long since learned to create what he called Bounding Boxes, an idea he’d picked up from a combination of geometry and video games. In his case, the box delineated a cube of space that no one could get into (more complicated than the simplistic barriers he used against civilian interference), and that would collapse as soon as the person he made it for (only himself, so far) exited through one of the “walls”.

He protected his sleep that way, in case another mook decided to go after him at his most vulnerable. The faces of the cube held properties of confusion, to gently drive most people away, and his Cloud Flames were used to propagate the density or intensity of that confusion. Mist Flames drove that part based on intent. They were his flames, even seemingly separate from himself in the cubic form, so they would still act on his will.

During his free time he worked on trying to duplicate another game trick, colloquially referred to as Hammer Space.

Take a single thing, such as a pouch or messenger bag, and use his flames to propagate the interior’s dimensions. Nothing was technically solid, he knew that from his research. Just because the space between molecules was too tiny for the human eye to discern did not meant it didn’t exist. He could use that space. To store things and, if he was clever, to move through.

*

Squalo eyed him with some skepticism before slinging a folder across the desk. “Fuck this up and don’t bother coming back. It’s way more fun to hunt you down before killing you.”

‘Yeah, yeah, it was in the handbook.’ Tsuna grabbed the file and started reading. It was the lowest rank mission that could be assigned. Do enough of them and do well and you could bump up to the next level. The mission in question was a hit, with very little in the way of complexity.

Find the target—the data in the file gave a rough outline of the man’s general schedule—kill him, and get away clean. The target was the same sort he’d been killing already, though this one liked to drug his child victims, take compromising photographs to sell, and then sell the child to a black market organ dealer. The guy got double the money, essentially, as people into child pornography would pay well.

There could be more to this test, he realized. The information might not be solid. So he committed to memory the man’s face—full front and profile—along with the other data listed, then nodded and placed the folder on the desk. “On it.”

Andrea Torti was not hard to find, which meant the folder had not been purposely misleading—or at least, not all of it was. To be careful and cautious Tsuna shadowed the man for several days before he even considered acting. The time limit on the hit was one week, mostly because it was bottom rank and in Italy.

Once he felt confident to move, he tried the same trick as his last kill. The man was eating lunch in a well-populated park, so Tsuna amused himself feeding the ducks while he concentrated on propagating the platelets in Torti’s blood.

Assuming it worked again and had not just been a fluke last time, there was no way medical personnel could clear the man’s blood vessels quickly enough to save his life. Tsuna ran out of bread just about the time his target keeled over. He took bonus points for the man having face-planted into his lunch.

Once he was certain Torti was beyond help he scrunched up his empty paper bag, tossed it into a nearby waste bin, and returned to base in a roundabout way to report to Squalo.

“Decent job,” Squalo said.

Tsuna wondered if contracts for mooks went through Squalo because he was in charge while the boss was indisposed, or for some other reason. He would have expected the core Cloud, Ottavio, to be the one testing him.

“See Mammon for your pay,” Squalo added, then waved him away in dismissal.

*

A random mook hunted Tsuna down—and, incidentally, interrupted his practice time with guns—to say that Mammon wanted to see him. He nodded and the mook raced off. Tsuna unloaded the gun, cleaned it, and put everything away before he tracked Mammon down in their office.

“That’ll be a standard deduction for each minute of my time you wasted,” Mammon said without preamble. “A mission for you.” A folder was indicated.

He nodded and began to read. He was being sent—he paused in shock. He was being sent not on a hit, but to infiltrate a family opposed to Vongola. The Todd Famiglia was known for being especially bloodthirsty. The job was to infiltrate in whatever way made sense to him in order to determine if they were naturally inclined toward it, or if there was some family-only drug being used.

‘Somehow I don’t think I can propagate a person’s tendency toward spilling secrets,’ he thought unhappily, ‘but I could use Mist to fool them into talking to the wrong person, or no person at all. Also, see if they have a lab at their base where they’re cooking up bizarre drugs. This will really put my facility with Mist Flames to the test.’

He spent a good hour going over the information in the folder, to be certain he had it all memorized, before he even thought about relinquishing it and going off to gather supplies. Everything was stored into his version of Hammer Space, exhaustively tested with things that he wouldn’t cry over if they were lost, like random bits of crumpled paper, bad cooking, and various other types of objects.

So far, nothing had disappeared into the void, spoiled faster than normal, been altered into an extra-dimensional being better left as a gift (or sacrifice) for Cthulu, or really, anything particularly weird. He had yet to try putting a live being into his subspace pocket and wasn’t keen to try. What if a mouse shat all over the interior?

‘If only I could figure out the trick to moving between molecules I’d be effectively invisible to these people,’ he thought. ‘Without worrying that someone in the vicinity is resistant or immune to illusions. Though to be fair, it seems rare in people without Mist Flames.’

It took several days for him to scope out their headquarters and get a sense of how their people moved around, where, and when. Only then did he start poking around inside the compound. He wasn’t too nervous doing so considering he had done the same at the Varia’s headquarters and had never been caught.

But it wasn’t “Quality” to assume otherwise. He had been hearing that term a lot of late.

How it could possibly be considered Quality to cut off your own hand and install a prosthetic one with a sword attached… And all because the guy Squalo defeated also had one? How was it Quality to be a jealous, simpering, boss-fixated person who nearly defined all brawn-no brains?

One thing that was true of much of humanity—and the Todds were no exception—was that rarely did anyone ever look up. Human beings were not wired that way, though they could be trained to pay attention to things above eye height.

Thus, Tsuna used his Earth Flames to assist him in creeping along at ceiling level, while his Mist Flames kept him invisible to the naked eye. Thankfully, the Todds were not a large family, so surveying the interior of the compound only took a week, and he had brought a fortnight’s worth of food.

A hammock inside a bounding box in the attic sufficed for naps. He did not want to sleep for more than a few hours at a time, though it left him feeling dragged out and a bit translucent, so to speak.

He was running out of places to look when he finally spotted a secret door, mainly because something about the wall had reminded him of the guy he castrated and his little playhouse. He settled into position in the upper corner nearest the door to wait.

All the practice keeping above eye level was grinding use of Earth Flames into reflex rather than conscious thought, which was both good and bad. Good because he would not have to actively think about it, and bad because he might use them at the wrong time and tip people off.

Then again, people might assume he was like Mammon, in that he had a little something extra going for him.

He was eventually able to determine, through use of spies, that there was no particular automation on either side when it came to security, so he slipped through the hidden door when no one was around, and navigated back to creeping along at ceiling level.

It was a long, boring wait until the people on shift cleared out, but even then he was cautious. He had stuck his hammock to the ceiling so he had a place to rest comfortably and fashioned a bounding box, large enough to cover his position, without impacting the floor space beneath his position near a wall.

Taking care of his base needs was a bit barbaric, but needs must. He took catnaps for a day until he had a better idea of the lab’s schedule, then set to work poking into everything and taking copious pictures with one of the cameras he had appropriated from the child pornographers he had dealt with.

The Todd “scientists” were cooking up a mixture of benzodiazepines and anabolic steroids. So, a mixture of anxiety-reducing drugs to calm the nerves of mooks, plus performance enhancers. A little research (both from reading the lab reports and at the library on the way back) revealed that a common enough side effect was increased aggressiveness and violence.

Tsuna spent a fair bit of time in his hammock during an overnight stop on his way back to HQ, protected by a Bounding Box, writing up a report on his acquired laptop, also including the photographic evidence.

The entire thing was tossed onto a USB drive and handed over to Mammon when he got back.

“I’ll drop a note in your room about your pay,” Mammon was generous enough to say before taking the information and turning away.

‘And I will be paying a delivery fee, no doubt,’ he thought on his way out.

*

Tsuna had had surprisingly little contact with Ottavio by the time the Big Fuss happened. By then he was firmly planted in the Elite ranks, but his missions always came from Squalo or Mammon, or very rarely, Lussuria.

He was both liked for being an oddity as a Cloud (meaning he did not bite the heads off everyone who so much as looked at him funny) and eyed strangely (mostly for the same reason). The room upgrade gave him something akin to a studio apartment, though it was underground.

More security than an aboveground room, more space, but no windows—well, he made some fake ones—and no having to worry about blackout curtains not quite getting the job done.

He still used a Bounding Box when he was sleeping. No sense in letting down his guard simply because he was better skilled and more trusted within the Varia. Jealousy was not alleviated by logic and reason, after all.

The Big Fuss, as it turned out, was Boss being somehow defrosted. He never did get the details on that, but considering he was Elite and not Core, that mostly made sense.

Even more interesting was the fallout of some big job, which Tsuna—now called Heul—knew nothing about until an emergency call came in for high-ranking members to serve as backup on some island.

“So let me get this straight,” he mumbled. “Ottavio made a deal with low-ranking soldiers to smuggle arms, but the army found out, people started panicking, and Ottavio dropped them like a hot potato. The soldiers got rightfully pissed and decided to attack Vongola personnel here on the island.”

“To be more precise,” Mammon said (which meant an extra fee for said precision—he was fairly certain the Mist kept a roaming invisible-to-everyone-else whiteboard for on-the-go note taking), “the personnel are counted as hostages. Their real target is Ottavio.”

“And once Boss realized the situation and that Ottavio is the one who screwed him over—” Squalo broke off when Xanxus strolled over with a dangerous look on his face.

“Orders, Boss?” Squalo asked

Xanxus had scars on his face. They were odd. In places they looked faded, while in others raw. Was it a result of battles, or from being frozen? Tsuna had not gotten a good look at the man before, in his most recent previous life. Xanxus had always been sitting some distance away, or on the opposite side of whatever arena, during the Scramble Battles.

Speaking of which, those were quite possibly due to come up soon, which made Tsuna spare a moment of thought for his brother. Was Reborn there with him, torturing him in the name of making him into “good” boss material?

“The Cloud trash is upset we didn’t all end up dead because of his soured deal. He’s brought in a Gola Mosca, and he’s not aiming it at them.”

Squalo growled and swished his blade around.

“Shark trash, you and the baby trash are my backup to take out that Gola Mosca. The rest of you trash, fuck up those damn soldiers!”

Tsuna nodded and took off with the other non-core members. His squad headed for the northwest part of the island. He was a bit shocked for two reasons. One, that there were so many low-ranking soldiers around to beat the crap out of or kill. Two, that over one hundred Vongola personnel were at the meeting and apparently all of them were so damn useless that they couldn’t even properly defend themselves.

What was this place, really? A Vongola retreat and all the people were cooks and maids? And completely incompetent when it came to wielding a kitchen knife for anything besides food prep? Or household chemicals? Spices? Had these people no sense of creativity?

He amused himself by propagating the aura of fear he induced with his illusions, to demoralize the other side and make it easier for himself and his squad mates. He had long since lost most of his morals when it came to killing—those who deserved, anyway. Innocents remained off the table.

It was a stupid tactic if the other side thought of it first.

If he thought of it first, though, it was potentially brilliant.

His squad cleaned up in their area and went to see if anyone else needed help. He noticed off in the distance that there was a big dust up in progress, presumably Boss having fun.

This was an opportunity to see Xanxus in a different light. He had no way of knowing how things might have gone last time around if he had lived. Xanxus of that time had been furious, violent, and seemingly bitter—about what he wasn’t sure.

‘Not being primary pick for Decimo, sure,’ he thought as he absently slammed a fist into a soldier’s solar plexus to take him out of the game. ‘But I get the feeling there was more to it than that. And I’m not necessarily in a position to be in any way involved if those Scramble Battles happen again. I also don’t think I can coincidentally take a holiday in Japan and find Namimori to be fascinating for some reason.’

*

Tsuna managed to slip the odd spy into Boss’s office by virtue of using the space between molecules to hide them, thus adding heavily to the odds they would not be found, even by Mammon.

Granted, he himself could now slip between the cracks in the fabric of the world, but it was much harder to slip in and stay there, unmoving, than it was to slip in and go somewhere. Standing still even in normal situations was difficult, unless he was lost in thought. Standing in line somewhere meant twitching, shifting his balance, looking around…

His spies reported something of great interest. The Scramble Battles were on, even if no one but Boss and his top men were aware of it. Yet. Boss was planning the whole thing out with his men. How to kidnap Timoteo, for one.

His brow went up in surprise. They were planning to use the old man as the power source for a Gola Mosca. He knew from the island incident that those things, while powerful, were a bit tetchy when it came to function. Why the old man as a power source…

He thought back to his most recent previous life. What if he had lived through the Cloud Battle? Would they have found Timoteo inside that machine? To what end? There was something so obviously staring him in the face, yet he could not see it.

He scowled in frustration.

Xanxus was planning to fake letters from Timoteo. Mammon was a dab hand at forgery, so that part would not be at issue. Xanxus knew how to make the same seals as Timoteo—probably taught alongside his brothers by their father.

Boss was going to set things in motion, utterly against the Ninth’s wishes, which meant that Ieyoshi was being prepped, and Xanxus had obviously caught wind of that.

Still, Tsuna was confused. He could understand being upset, not only at having been frozen, but also at someone else, someone younger, being first pick to take over the tenth generation. Xanxus had been raised alongside his brothers, despite his unfortunate origins, with the belief that he was a viable heir, so he had every right to expect he could be picked as Decimo after his brothers had met unfortunate ends.

True, having blown up (so to speak) and gone on to plan and execute a coup had to lose Boss serious points on the scale…

At least he knew that it was nothing personal, when Xanxus had come after him previously.

He shrugged. He would simply have to send spies along with Boss and the core Varia and hope they lasted long enough for him to get a report at the end.

*

His eyes went more than a little wide as he absorbed his spies’ reports. Placing Timoteo into that Gola Mosca was a trap. Xanxus planned it all out, to essentially maneuver Ieyoshi into being the Ninth’s murderer, to give Boss leverage and reason to kill Ieyoshi, his guardians, and have the support he needed to take on the role of Decimo.

What no one expected (aside from two people, apparently) was that Xanxus was adopted. The rings were blood-locked or something, however that worked. Boss had been rejected when he wore the ring.

Timoteo had taken in a lost lamb (more accurately a starving lion well accustomed to mauling anyone who got in his way) and pretended to be his father, all for the fact that the boy had Sky Flames? And then led him on to believe he was of the blood? That he could inherit?

What a bastard.

He could sort of understand Xanxus’s reaction now. His methods were dodgy and involved a crew of underage innocents, but still, he could see the logic behind it all. The sense of personal betrayal Boss must have felt. There was probably so much more he wasn’t privy to, but he had enough.

In the end, Ieyoshi and his people had survived, though the Varia had proven that Ieyoshi learning how to do Zero Point Breakthrough (just as Tsuna had learned) meant little when Mammon could so easily and quickly reverse the effects with the complete set of Vongola rings.

‘Something to remember if I get to that point again,’ he thought a bit morosely.

Xanxus was easily proved to be startlingly intelligent, and more than capable of planning a half dozen steps ahead. Once you filtered out delightful terms such as “trash” when applied to oneself, and the alarming frequency of curses, he wasn’t such a bad sort, and definitely excelled in his position as leader of the Varia.

He could respect a man like that, preferably if he acted a little less on his emotions.

*

Not long after Ieyoshi had ascended to Decimo in fact, displacing an increasingly aged and fading Timoteo (being used as a battery had done the man no good), troubles started up. At first it was thought that families from the wrong side of the tracks were stirring the pot, hoping to find and exploit weaknesses in the newest leader of the Vongola.

Tsuna—still going by the name Heul—was not the Varia Cloud Officer. But then, neither was anyone else. He was, however, most often tapped for high-levels jobs, or tasked with some sort of oversight when it came to the Cloud Division as a whole. Not useless, he concluded, and possibly being considered.

Either Xanxus was in no rush to fill that role, or he was being very particular when it came to Clouds in general, especially since the last one betrayed him and essentially got him frozen for nearly a decade. It was a bit strange still that Tsuna’s age was nearly a match for Boss’s, if one went by functional time.

Not knowing if Xanxus had been in any way aware while he was iced…

Squalo stormed into the break room for the Elite and slammed his hand against the wall. “The CEDEF installation in Belarus has been compromised. Every last person assigned there simply vanished. Fucking incompetent trash, all of them,” Squalo bitched, “but they’re still Vongola. Put together a team and go investigate.”

The others on break slowly turned to look at Tsuna, who sighed in resignation. All the work, but not the title or the pay increase. “Right,” he said. “On it.”

“Take a card with you, just in case,” Squalo replied, then stormed off again.

Mammon preferred it when operatives used Varia credit cards for big things, simply because it made the accounting easier, but in general their use was highly frowned upon due to the trails they left behind. Anyone caught using a credit card against authorization was summarily shot, and not in the head first. More like a few extra places to start with, to get the message across, before being nailed right between the eyes.

He finished up his meal quickly and hastened off to see Mammon, first to get one of the credit cards, and second to see who was available to take with him. He ended up with Jace (Sun), Leto (Lightning), and Mela (Storm).

Mammon gave them permission to use the Varia jet to get to Belarus that much more quickly, as well.

Tsuna nodded and exited with his crew. “Get packed and meet at the entrance in an hour.”

“How long, you think?” Mela asked.

“Assume two weeks, with four weeks of rations just in case. And get something to eat if you haven’t already.”

They took off, and he hastened to his apartment to pack, more for looks than out of need. Anything of true value would be Between, plus extra supplies for everyone going, some extra weapons just in case, prosthetics for disguise purposes…

*

“We went over every cubic inch of that place,” he reported, his three crew nodding behind him. “There was nothing physical to find in terms of, say, a struggle. It was as if every last one of them just got up and walked out, never to be seen again. Food was still out in places and starting to spoil. Some of the toilets hadn't been flushed, showers were still running, things like that.”

“And non-physical, trash?” Xanxus near demanded.

“Evidence of Mist Flames, but that’s almost to be expec—hang on,” he said, his brow crinkling. He looked back at his crew. “Am I imagining things, or was there a suspicious amount of—”

“Marshmallows?” Leto said.

“Yeah. So it’s not just me?”

The other two nodded.

“Yeah, now that you mention it, I saw a lot of snack packs of them,” Mela said, scratching her cheek. “I figured they had a thing for hot chocolate or something, but now…”

“Certainly couldn’t have been for coffee,” Jace muttered.

Tsuna nodded and turned back. “So, Mist Flames, and whoever crafted this attack has a sweet tooth and left a semi-subtle hint. There was still plenty of money in the usual places, clothing, food, and other supplies. Only the people were missing. They could all be dead by now and buried in a mass grave, or had their minds twisted to serve someone else.”

“After being tortured for information, presumably,” Mammon said sotto voce.

Tsuna offered no opinion on that. For all he knew it could be a group who simply hated the Vongola and wanted them all dead. And if they’d already done their homework, torturing information out of the Belarus CEDEF group would be pointless. It couldn’t be just any random psycho, not unless they were exceptionally good and had fixated on that office for some reason…

Yeah, he had nothing.

Xanxus scowled and waved his hand—which was better than him flinging an empty (the man did not waste booze) glass or bottle at them—in dismissal. “Baby trash will inform you about your pay later.”

Tsuna nodded and quit the room.

*

“What the everloving fuck?” he said disbelievingly, staring at Squalo.

“You heard me,” Squalo growled.

“The Sawada trash hatched some plan to swap with their ten-years-younger counterparts,” Xanxus said, fury on his face. “Fucking trash could barely hold it together during the Scramble Battles, and now they’re back, in the middle of this? The Sawada trash has clearly lost his damn mind.”

Mammon had, after extensive research (best never to ask for the details as to how that research was done), determined that Vongola’s enemy was the Gesso Famiglia, now the Millefiore Famiglia, a melding of Gesso and Giglio Nero.

The goal? Byakuran Gesso wanted to collect all pieces of the Tri-ni-set (the Arcobaleno pacifiers, the Mare Rings, and the Vongola Rings) and use them to recreate reality. For some reason.

“And we get to pick up all the slack, as usual,” he said slowly. His promotion to Cloud Officer was only notable in that his pay for missions suddenly increased drastically and he was shoved into the Cloud Officer’s room one morning and told he would have to pay for his own décor.

Didn’t stop him from using his Bounding Box technique every time he slept, despite the added security.

‘It’s amazing that with the passage of time, I grow more and more disillusioned with Vongola,’ he thought. ‘The ninth generation should have been put to pasture way before they finally went willingly, and my brother and his people are… Ugh. Though, to be fair, there might be a me in some other dimension that went through this as Decimo, and made the same decisions. Which is pathetic, really. Maybe next time I should arrange things to my liking early. Something to think about in my copious spare time.’

*

His death was glorious, if you were the type to ascribe glory to what was the eventual fate of all mankind. Or as someone once said, the debt that all men pay. His sixth death involved a large group of Black Spell members, a vat of melted marshmallow, and a toasting fork. Once again, it was best not to think about it too much or remember just how embarrassing it all was—or would be if anyone but himself would ever be aware of it in his next life.

Chapter Text

λ6
Balance

On waking up, his first thought, after a good long stare at the depressingly familiar ceiling, was, ‘Well, do I fake my death immediately, or try something new?’

After a quick check he established that he was a Sky primary again, which meant he had four flames to play with. He would ponder things over the next few days or a week, then decide.

Tsuna got up, took care of the usual morning things, and wandered downstairs and into the kitchen. His mother was there, humming, fixing breakfast, so he slipped into a seat and waited patiently. She had food on the table and was halfway to the door to call him down before she realized he was there, which was … odd.

He wondered if each dimension was just that little bit more off from his original norm that it all became increasingly surreal, and in consequence, made his mother into that much more of a caricature of a person.

“…Tsu-kun!” she said after a pregnant pause. It was like she had to take a moment to refresh her memory as to what her son looked like.

Well, he assumed he was still her son. Why else would he be there? Perhaps he should have actually looked in the mirror during his time in the bathroom—just to be sure? He gave her a blank stare out of confusion.

“Go wash up,” she said. “Breakfast is ready~!”

He looked at the table, where he had watched her put plates of food in place, then back at her. “I did before I came down. Like I do every morning.”

Nana’s expression showed skepticism, but for all he knew she could be puzzling over who the small child was in her home. Then again, maybe this dimension featured a Tsuna accustomed to wallowing in filth and he had displaced the wretched excuse.

Nah.

“Okay!” she said enthusiastically. “Let’s eat!”

‘What the everloving fuck?’ he wondered as he muttered, “Itadakimasu,” and tucked into his meal. The second he could he was out the door and to his usual training ground, only to blink in surprise when there was a house there instead of being that small park no one ever seemed to frequent.

‘Well, shit. Uh…’ He cast around in his memories for an alternative and came up blank for the moment, so instead he went to the library. Maybe settling in with learning yet another language would help him to relax and think a bit more clearly after the shocks of the morning.

*

It took all of a week before he was thoroughly fed up. He had actually made it into his twenties last go around, so being treated like the five year old body he was inhabiting made him want to commit physical violence.

This version of his mother was even more of an airhead than usual, and seemed genuinely surprised each morning to notice him sitting there round about the time she made it halfway to the hall to call him down.

‘Are other people getting crazier, or is it me?’ he wondered.

He knew that the old man and the sperm donor would be arriving soon and contemplated how to handle the visit this time. In the end, he decided to, as usual, conceal the fact that he was a Sky, definitely conceal that he was active, and also pretend to be dumber than a box of rocks.

That way, in theory, he would never be under consideration for Decimo. Vongola could not afford to have a moron in charge, right? Maybe if the main branch candidate proved to be incompetent, Timoteo would be more proactive in getting his sons married off and procreating? Maybe?

He could hope.

When they did show up, Tsuna put on his best imbecile face and smiled vacuously.

“My little tuna-fish!” Iemitsu cried joyfully.

Tsuna promptly screamed in terror and hid behind his mother. “Nooooo! No eat Tsu-kun! Mama save Tsu-kun! Bad man wants to eat Tsu-kun!”

Nana just smiled vacuously herself and welcomed her husband home. Oh, and that strange man she had never before met, but that her husband swore was just like family.

Tsuna made a right nuisance of himself during the visit. Every damn time Iemitsu so much as glanced in his direction he would let out a piercing scream of terror and hide behind whatever was closest, whether it concealed him or not. And when not doing that he was smiling vacuously and holding conversations with potted plants.

Occasionally he would loudly say a prayer, asking whatever Japanese god he could think of offhand, for safety from the strange blond man his mother took pity on such that he would not be eaten as a meal.

Iemitsu went from beaming and happy to confused and pouting and more than a little disgruntled.

Tsuna also felt a bit vindicated when he overheard Timoteo quietly say to Iemitsu, “I do sometimes wonder at your choices, my boy.”

“I just wanted you to meet my adorable family,” Iemitsu said plaintively.

“…Yes, adorable.” The look on the old man’s face clearly said otherwise. “Well, I am a busy man, so…”

“Yes, of course. Let me say good-bye to my wife and—” Iemitsu suddenly stopped and huffed. “I’ll be right back.”

Tsuna didn’t even pause in his spirited debate with a bonsai tree regarding the merits of kitties versus turtles, and did it want some tea?

Iemitsu returned a few minutes later and made the mistake of looking Tsuna’s way; he was rewarded with another piercing scream of terror and his “little tuna-fish” begging the bonsai to protect Tsu-kun from the bad man.

Iemitsu heaved a heavy sigh and departed with the old man.

Hopefully Tsuna would never see him again, but he was not foolish enough to hope for such liberty from idiocy.

*

He realized after some thought that it was all very well, the idea of sending spies to keep an eye on the Iron Fort and its inhabitants, but at such a distance it was just as likely the spies would not survive long enough to impart much of anything to him.

And if he got close enough to ensure it, it would mean that indeed, he would have to fake his death again. True, he could fashion that such that the incredibly dense façade he had presented earlier would mostly account for being so stupid as to mistakenly drink antifreeze because of the pretty colour…

Except for there needing to be a body, which is why he had “died” last time due to a shark attack. He supposed he could drown, but being allegedly eaten by a prehistoric killer was a far better option. And really, he didn’t think he could convince his mother to take him on safari so he could conveniently fall prey to a lion.

(A lion not his sperm donor, that was.)

Shark attack it was, then. He could play up his apparent stupidity at the beach, “die”, and be free to go spy on the Vongola. Or do something else, like make the world burn. Or perhaps just the mafia. There were times when he could see his way toward partially agreeing with that Mukuro fellow.

‘That seemed like a lifetime ago,’ he thought wearily.

There had been a moment, when he learned of Reborn’s death during Byakuran’s steady rampage, that he faltered. He had had so little time, comparatively speaking, with Reborn, but… He left an impression, for good or ill.

‘Well, I’ve got some time. I can get in some prep work this time, rather than scrambling the way I did last time,’ he thought. ‘Hit up the local yakuza for money or other supplies, maybe a bit farther out. Hit some of the corrupt places I know. Make sure I have a good foundation before I off myself and go start spying.’

He was subsequently very surprised when he realized, after looting the Momokyokai base in town and going to store his acquisitions Between, everything he had stored there when he was part of the Varia was still in there.

‘Kami-sama,’ he thought. ‘All those supplies I had when I died, and I still have them? And all my money?’ He broke into a fit of cackling, though he quickly got control of himself. ‘Okay, so I don’t need to prepare quite as much as I figured, but I will still make sure my skills are sharp in this new body, toss in anything else I might need, replace some stuff…’

*

He had found another unused spot to replace his customary place at that park no one ever seemed to frequent but was now a home, and had been using it to hone his skills in his latest incarnation.

Tsuna was reminded that it was not necessarily a good practice when he was attacked. Not by bullies, for he had not particularly been noticed by other children at or around his age, but by adults, men who were clearly mafia.

They also clearly knew exactly who he was, what bloodline he held, and just how much money they could make by kidnapping him and selling him. Or breeding him, he supposed, after brainwashing him into compliance?

He was a bit … angry. After setting up a Bounding Box, his Earth Flames were brought to bear and one by one their legs and arms were crushed. Tsuna smiled slightly. He figured it would be difficult for any of them to aim a gun at that point. Flames, on the other hand… They sounded like they were in a lot of pain, so that might prevent any use, assuming they were active.

Would they have sent actives after him? He shrugged, then trapped three of them in an illusion, the pain they were experiencing making it almost too easy. The fourth one he trapped in a separate illusion, one in which he was present, as an adult.

“So what’s your story?” he asked, wearing the face of a nondescript Japanese male of around twenty. “I mean, why go after some little kid?”

The target stared at him stubbornly, despite clearly being confused. One moment in agonizing pain, the next pain free but unable to move, and his comrades nowhere in sight.

Tsuna smiled. “I might not be able to make you answer my questions satisfactorily, but I can make you scream until you shred your own throat lining and burst the vessels in your eyes from the force of it. If you’re feeling particularly shy about talking, I can give you a demonstration. But, you know, it would get worse, of course.” His smile widened and took on an edge more commonly seen on the likes of Prince the Ripper.

“So, the kid? What’s the deal, man?”

It took some persuasion to get the guy talking. Tsuna carefully propped the man upright and then wrapped him in what seemed like miles of metal wire, the ends of which were all attached to a windlass.

“Sure you don’t feel like talking?” he asked, then shrugged and smiled again. He set his hands on the crank and started turning it. “Those nice wires are going to get pulled tighter and tighter, and slice into your skin. Eventually, they’ll slice right through you and you’ll be in so many parts, just like a puzzle. A really gory puzzle, but… I’m sure some people out there would love to play with one like that.”

It took several cranks before the wires bit enough for the man to start babbling. He still did not seem to realize he was in an illusion.

The Vantarsi Famiglia had, through a series of overheard words, spotted paperwork, and—the big kicker—Iemitsu bragging loudly at a public café about his “adorable little tuna fish”, come to the reasonable conclusion that the blond was not referring to something the man kept in his salt water fish tank, and was in fact speaking about his offspring.

Tsuna’s smile sharpened again, this time in anger at his useless father. He had to wonder if his mother would have been harmed or even killed had he been at the house when this lot showed up to do the snatch.

“Maybe I just didn’t go wild enough last time,” he muttered, eyeing his victim. “Definitely gonna have to… Right, well, time for you to die.” He dropped the illusion and the man screamed in pain again, the effects of his crushed limbs pressing in on the man unabated again.

The other three had been reduced to mere whimpers and moans.

“But, before you die, I’m going to rifle through your pockets for loose change,” Tsuna said cheerfully.

*

He took one last look at his hometown and boarded a train to Tokyo. Once he got to Italy he would find a place to live and start setting out spies, one set for the main CEDEF office and one for the Iron Fort.

Tsuna—Heul, again, should anyone ask—had every intention of assassinating Iemitsu. But he also wanted a very good idea of how things worked at both those places so he had a better idea of the consequences.

He was tempted to off Timoteo, simply for the crime of sealing a Sky in so many dimensions. He had avoided it…? He thought back, trying to remember clearly. Things started to blur after a while. He had been sealed in his first three lives, but not the other three. But Ieyoshi had been during the life he had a brother. Four out of six was not a good average. Two thirds of the time sealed? Very bad.

Timoteo had other crimes to his name, though none quite so directly personal for Tsuna.

Working for the Varia, and eventually becoming Cloud Officer, had not given him a clear enough picture of exactly how those two worked. He knew the Varia inside and out, but the Varia operated on an entirely different set of rules, customs, and expectations.

‘Ooo, now there’s an idea,’ he thought. ‘Maybe I should see about pulling a Basil and getting recruited for CEDEF? Hide right under their very noses? As a Cloud, I think. Anything else would be… Yeah, Cloud. But…’ He frowned. He would need a much better way to disguise himself. Holding up an illusion for hours was fine. He had plenty of experience in doing that. But twenty-four-seven?

‘Maybe I can figure out how to anchor an illusion disguise to an object?’ Tsuna absently accepted a can of Sprite from the flight attendant along with a plastic cup of ice, giving her a nod of thanks, and went back to figuring out his latest self-imposed challenge.

By the time the plane landed he decided to attempt anchoring a disguise to flame-reactive metal—a ring, to start. And if that worked, a piercing would probably be better in the long run, so long as it was someplace that would remain unnoticed.

He had enough experience to be subtle enough to slip past Mammon’s exalted skills and senses and was practically immune to illusions himself. That might have more to do with his soul being jumped around dimensions than tons of hard work on his part, though. Maybe all the reinstancing had done something like made his soul denser or whatever, and therefore less susceptible to trickery?

He shrugged. Philosophy wasn’t his thing.

It was only after he gave customs and security the slip and made his way out of the airport and to a shady hotel that he cracked. Approximately two minutes after the Bounding Box was in place and he was contemplating what to have for dinner that he picked up and flung a cheap vase across the room to shatter against the wall.

“Gonna fucking kill the bastard,” he muttered roughly. “He practically led them straight to us.” Tsuna fetched a set of glasses from Between he wasn’t sure why he had and, one by one, flung them against the wall. “Fucking trash. So smug and confident, and then he boasts in public where anyone could hear. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened in more worlds.”

In his other lives—the ones where he stayed in Namimori and actually lived beyond a certain point—

He paused to laugh a bit hysterically.

Under the right circumstances, assassins did start showing up in Namimori, but only after Reborn had come and the level of secrecy had lessened. It had surely not gone unnoticed that Vongola personnel and the Cavallone Famiglia had developed an interest in a sleepy little Japanese town.

Curiosity killed the cat. Or possibly the cat’s prey. Or in Tsuna’s case, his cats had the stuffing beat out of them and were presumably shuffled out of view by an emergency visit from a Vongola clean-up crew.

Or something.

For all he knew, Reborn had a super secret ray gun that ran off Storm Flames and zapped them out of existence the second Tsuna’s back was turned.

But back to the sperm donor.

“Okay, first. I need to get spies in place. Concurrently, I need to get my hands on an unaligned or Mist ring to test my anchoring idea. Third, find a decent hole in the wall to live. And last, consider the idea of hiding under their noses.” He took a deep breath and set about cleaning up.

*

An illusion anchored to a ring seemed to work fine, but testing it was a different matter entirely. It was bad enough being in the mafia’s homeland as a five year old pretending to be an adult. Tsuna shrugged and tested it locally first, around people he was reasonably certain weren’t active.

When that passed muster, he moved on to an area with a light mafia presence, some of whom were known to be active. That was also fine—or at least, no one did any obvious double-takes or started speaking into cell phones or ear pieces in a suspicious manner.

That being so, Tsuna tried one other test, this time after tracking down Mammon in town near the Varia mansion and strolling by while window shopping. Again, no reaction. He found it hard to believe the Mist would flat out ignore a strong Mist presence right there in Varia territory and he could sense no spies from the Arcobaleno following him.

‘Well, worst case is I’m captured and tortured until my brains explode into insanity or dribble out my ears. Best case is that it really does work. Fuck it.’ He returned to his apartment and set up a video camera (amusingly, one from a future) to record him while he slept, to ensure it wasn’t him keeping the illusion going without realizing it.

When he was finally well enough satisfied (he tossed in his sleep a lot, it seemed) he slipped a disguise ring over one of his toes and called it good. If people couldn’t see it, they wouldn’t think about it. It was harder to change on the fly, but that was a downside he could live it. A piercing would be even more difficult to quickly change out.

*

For his next trick he purchased several panes of glass, such as for a photograph frame. They were placed Between, but one of them was not stored, not exactly. His spies at CEDEF had located the archive, which meant he could move forward on his reading.

The pane of glass Between was situated on the line, the edge, the border between Between and not, one face peeking out in front of Tsuna, with the other face peeking out inside the archive. His spies were responsible for placing material (for they were limited in just how much they could do aside from observe, even with the boost of Earth Flames) in front of the glass.

For Tsuna it was like reading pages through a window. A bit awkward, because he was imparting instructions to his spies while holding the pane of glass in position on the edge of two parts of space, but it enabled him to read classified documents without having to personally infiltrate the room.

He could do the same with computers, but he had yet to track down which machines were connected to the file server. Still, quite a bit of information was already stored in the archives, so he would still get a good grounding on CEDEF.

Tsuna was still iffy on the idea of infiltrating CEDEF as a recruit, but he might be able to figure out some other job he could take that would bring him into semi-regular contact with the group. He didn’t need to do it, but wanted it as an option.

He could build up and memorize the layout of the place using his spies, so if he ever needed to sneak in or storm the place, he would be able to plan ahead of time based on the knowledge he gained now.

Then he found out about the Flood of Blood, and cracked a second time.

*

His job with the office supply company was going well. Not only did he get to make regular deliveries to CEDEF (they used a lot of sticky notes and paper clips), he was also unlikely to ever run out of paper products, pencils, staples, and so forth for the conceivable future.

And Vito in accounting was in for a rude shock. Short his pay and expect to get away with it? Tsuna smirked. When the next audit was done, Vito was looking at dismissal, if not jail time.

Absolutely no one needed to know that Tsuna had learned, after his glass experiments, to reach through Between to grab things long distance. Or, say, plant manufactured evidence.

Now if he could just figure out how to step from place to place using Between rather than taking the long way through it…

Whereas the main CEDEF office was laid out more like a normal, sane building (at least the aboveground floors), the Iron Fort was a confusing maze liable to send most screaming off the deep end. Visitors were escorted through the labyrinthine hallways to whatever meeting room had been chosen.

The roof of the Iron Fort had a very clever feature. The central block of the building was constructed along more normal lines, like a manor in miniature inside the external square. Between those two parts of the whole was a hallway of sorts, an outdoor area, also in a square. An oddly shaped courtyard, for all intents and purposes. The “roof” above all of it was mere illusion, fashioned to seamlessly blend with the roofs of the internal and external parts of the whole.

It was also an interesting weakness to be taken advantage of by anyone aware of it.

Tsuna had spent the last several years, in and around doing his mundane job of delivering office supplies, refreshing his knowledge of Italy. What families, their territory, their allies and enemies, and what, if anything, they were known for.

It was all very good exercise for his memory, if nothing else, something he had begun when he joined the Varia, though his focus then was somewhat different. Some families truly did seem to care for the people in their territories. The Cavallone Famiglia was one, though they were not the shining example they became under the leadership of Dino.

The Scorpione Famiglia, while considered on the “good” side, were rather neutral toward their people, and the current Don was… Tsuna’s spies had found proof that Hayato truly was a bastard child. For all the noise and fuss in the mafia about adultery and bastards, the Scorpione Don apparently had no problem being a hypocrite.

True, Bianchi’s mother was dead, so it was not an affair in that sense; Lavinia was not married to him, nor did she plan to do so. Tsuna wondered if part of the reason their father had gone wonky was because both of the man’s loves had died on him.

Tsuna supposed he shouldn’t be quite so judgmental over the fact that even the “good” famiglie had sometimes serious flaws. Compared to a family like Estraneo they were veritable saints.

He was adding information about the Tomaso Famiglia to his map—normally stored Between—when one of his spies sent a pulse to catch his attention. A quick check told him it was one active at CEDEF. Unfortunately, it would have to wait, as his lunch was almost over and he had deliveries to make.

That evening he grabbed take-away from a local restaurant and went home to his quiet apartment, checked on the anchored Bounding Box he used for security, then sat down to eat. As he did so he investigated the spy which had alerted him to new and presumably interesting information.

Someone had fired shots into houses of bosses who were closely allied to Vongola. CEDEF was set to investigate, with Iemitsu as the lead. Not so odd in that Vongola had enemies. Not so odd even that this enemy would go after them obliquely, by working to shatter the alliance.

‘I’ll just have to keep an eye on the situation.’

He was alerted again, multiple times, and condensed the information into a bullet list.

  • The CEDEF investigation discovered that the bullets used in the attacks could be linked to a Makoto Kozato, a dealer of fine arts.
  • Kozato was the boss of the Shimon Famiglia, based in Japan, not all that far from Namimori, coincidentally enough, and if not exactly an ally of the Vongola, certainly not an enemy.
  • Shortly after the start of an investigation into Kozato, twelve CEDEF members were slaughtered in an odd form of paint job, wherein their bleeding corpses were all stuffed into a hotel lift.
  • The incident was given the name “Flood of Blood” for the way their blood dripped down from the top floor to the very basement.

(Tsuna thought the mafia was more than a little over-the-top dramatic at times.)

  • Kozato’s gun was found at the scene of the crime and Iemitsu Sawada disappeared.
  • That very same night, Kozato’s house was attacked and he, his wife, and their daughter were killed. Only the son, Enma, was left alive.
  • When questioned by Timoteo about the incident, Iemitsu denied any involvement, despite there being eyewitness accounts to his presence on scene.
  • Timoteo declared the incident unsolved without investigating further.

And Tsuna cracked.

*

Memorizing the layout of the Estraneo compound took him a few weeks. Tsuna had plans to start his own “Flood of Blood” with a family he had every reason to despise. He figured he would do a few test runs before going after CEDEF and the Vongola.

He was sick of the lies and the hypocrisy and the arrogance and the belief that Vongola had the right to do so many of the things they did.

Tsuna was still sane enough (and capable of reasoning) to realize that someone could have been impersonating Iemitsu, but for Timoteo to just not bother to get the truth of the matter? Was it because he did not want to find something that would tarnish Vongola’s reputation, or because it involved the old man’s favorite pet?

No matter.

For Estraneo he wanted to try something new, something that wouldn’t necessarily peg the killer by a particular flame type, but first he needed to get any children out of the way (which sounded funny even to him considering he was coming up on being nine years old himself). He did remember from his encounters with Mukuro that the children were unwilling, or at least had never been asked to be used as lab rats.

In a rare show of common sense, the Estraneo scientists did not work round the clock. They relied on their security to keep their test subjects contained at all times when not otherwise actively being experimented on.

What he was going to do with them, however… As silly as it sounded to him, an orphanage would have to do. When Mukuro and his two tools had escaped originally it had been 2010, so Mukuro was already close to the breaking point. Tsuna knew if he did this there was every chance that Mukuro and his “friends” would do something similar to the one he’d originally known, but if he did not interfere it would happen anyway, most likely.

‘Now I’m just playing word games in my mind,’ he admitted. ‘I could kill them, too, for how dangerous and unstable they are, but they’re victims right now. They deserve a shot at freedom and to choose their own futures.’

To that end, after he was sure the experiment ward was locked down for the night and the majority of the Estraneo were safe and cozy in their beds (guards excepted), Tsuna started, after sedating the children, transporting them through Between to an orphanage he had picked out and leaving them for the moment in a Bounding Box just inside the front door where they’d be safe.

For the rest of Estraneo he had a little gift for them. Thallium salts, much like arsenic, were considered a poisoner’s poison, and for good reason. Colourless, odorless, and tasteless, water soluble, and a fantastic way to kill, quickly or slowly.

After making sure he himself was safe from the stuff, Tsuna released his poison into the ventilation system using his spies, in quantities heavy enough that medical help in time to save them would be extremely unlikely. Each sleeping person got a nice sprinkle just in case, since the poison absorbed nicely through the skin.

The guards on duty were handled a little differently. It was entirely possible that those outside would be adequately poisoned once they came in off duty (likely confused as they had not been relieved on schedule) and experienced all the “dust” in the air, but he preferred to be proactive and ensure their deaths.

Another round of spies was sent out, each wisp of Mist-Earth Flame encasing another dose of the poison. Each spy targeted a guard and burst, showering the unfortunate Estraneo with its payload.

The ones with the best chances of survival would be active Suns, but…

Tsuna kept an “ear” out for news regarding Estraneo, to see how his visit played out. If it all went wrong he would be fleeing the Vindice, after all. If he could fool Mammon he might well be able to fool the Vindice, but there was no sense actively inviting a test.

While he waited to see the fallout, he wondered if the portals the Vindice used were doing essentially the same thing as he did moving through Between, just via a different method. Those portals were super cool and all, but awfully flashy (or intimidating, depending).

Eventually, after nothing much of anything happened except “good” famiglie rejoicing that the Estraneo had been anonymously wiped out, Tsuna chose another training target by the expedient of tossing a dart at a map of Italy and checking to see what “bad” sorts lived there.

“Sometimes I think all this being alone stuff is bad for my mental health,” he muttered as he started the work of planning out his attack on the Todd Famiglia. “Or maybe the dying and waking up part. I can’t exactly blame Mukuro for being bugnuts considering the kind of crap I’ve been through, though he’s always had it far worse in the immediate sense what with all the torture.”

A part of him wondered if this Mukuro would go down the same path as before, though who he would target was a curiosity given that there was no longer a convenient, young, presumably still weak heir to the Vongola. He supposed he would have a better idea of things if Mukuro went after the Serpente Famiglia again.

The Todd Famiglia was taken down in a very similar manner to Estraneo. It would clue in anyone paying attention that it was likely the same killer(s), but given his methods, the odds of anyone being able to trace it back to him were low.

It did make him wonder, though. He had targeted two “bad” families, so he expected the “good” ones would not worry overmuch about themselves. Still, he would not be the least bit surprised if Vongola and others did a rework of the ventilation systems for their compounds and outlying installations.

It would not stop him.

*

Iemitsu was having lunch at the café he favored. Using thallium salts again was out of the question. There was too much risk of an innocent getting dosed and ending up in the hospital, if not dead. Also, it was likely that the sperm donor had enough sense to check anything intended for consumption for poisons or drugs.

There were plenty of things he would like to test as assassination techniques, but he was no longer Varia with a steady supply of targets, so he was going for something he knew would work and could not endanger anyone else.

Tsuna was in the building across the street (having arrived there via Between) and watching the blond from two floors up, far enough away to not be noticed, but close enough for his flames to get the job done. He concentrated and had his flames propagate the man’s platelets as quickly as he could.

Iemitsu dropped dead over his quail and rice.

Tsuna smirked as CEDEF personnel rushed toward their boss from their nearby base, and stepped Between to make his exit.

Back in his apartment he grabbed a drink, took a seat on his couch, and sighed. “So now I’m a kin-slayer,” he muttered, then had a sip. “I really miss the Varia. They’re all mad, but… That just made it easier to fit in. I’m starting to understand how Reborn can be so chaotic. Sometime it’s all just too much and you have to do something.

“I don’t think I should be alone next time. It’s pointless this time, with my plans, but I don’t imagine things will go any different. Something will kill me. If I’m a Sky again, I think I’ll play along, sealing aside, and see how far I can get. There has to be an ultimate point to all of this. Why am I stuck in this loop? Is there something I’m supposed to learn? Or stop?”

He sighed again and drowned his sorrows in his juice. His mind might be that of an adult with too many years, but his body was still a child. No booze for him. Not yet, anyway.

*

It was just about the time that his army of Mist-Earth wisps (each carrying a payload of thallium salts) were exploding in the faces of the Vongola adults that Tsuna got a very peculiar visitor.

He was tall and dressed very strangely. A checker pattern dominated his clothing—shoes, gloves, tie, his jacket—and the right cheek of his face. His hat looked like iron (which had to be an uncomfortable weight) and also carried that same pattern. His left cheek looked like it had been scarred by fire, but even as he looked it faded away.

‘Mist?’ he wondered.

“You’ve been causing quite a lot of trouble,” the man said, his voice like silk, smooth and fluid.

“And you are…?”

“A name is meaningless, but you may call me Checker Face.”

He hummed, not quite sure how to react or even feel about the intruder. “You don’t look like the Vindice, so why do you care what I’m up to?”

“You are messing with the balance of the world, little one.”

Tsuna blinked. Was the guy actually seeing his real form, or…? He eyed the guy up and down. “Right,” he said skeptically. “The balance of the world.”

Checker Face’s mouth twitched. “You humans are so ignorant. Balance is required, and you just wiped out the holders of the Vongola Rings, one third of the Tri-ni-set. The three forms of the Tri-ni-set serve as the foundation of this world. They guide the growth and development of life on Earth while maintaining a balance in its life force.”

Tsuna’s brow went up. He knew the Vongola Sky ring was blood-locked, but if what this yahoo was saying was true, it was a huge risk to take, the assumption that the Vongola would always be. The arrogance was staggering.

Then again, he had no idea what Giotto had been thinking at the time, so who knew? He might have been trying to keep them in a family that could be trusted with them. If so, the joke was on him considering what Ricardo and later generations had done in the name of the Vongola.

“Three forms?” he asked.

Checker Face nodded. “There is a song: ‘The Sea knows no bounds; the Clam passes down its form from Generation to Generation; the Rainbow appears from time to time before fading away.’ Each part serves a different purpose.”

“The sea… Are you referring to Giglio Nero?”

Checker Face nodded again. “A clever deduction. And the last part?”

“The Arcobaleno pacifiers. You’re saying that the Arcobaleno… They’re going to die, aren’t they. Be replaced.”

“Yes. The holder of a pacifier can only serve the role for so long before they are … unable to serve.”

“Like a non-rechargeable battery?” he guessed, feeling a bit sick. “Once it’s sucked dry, that’s it, time for trash heap? And then you choose another seven suckers?”

“Such indelicacy,” Checker Face said disapprovingly. “Humans serve their purpose, for the privilege of even existing on this world. There are certainly enough of you. One hundred fifty thousand of you die every day, but twice that are born. You’re a plague. It’s only right that you should serve as part of what keeps the balance.”

His nose wrinkled in distaste. “The Vongola rings are blood-locked. Is that what has you so upset? Your system just crashed and burned? You failed?”

“Due to your actions this world is dead. Perhaps not right this moment, but its end is inevitable. You can boast that you’re the World Ender. Are you proud, little human? All our work through millions of years, and it ends here.”

“All things end,” he replied. “To think otherwise is to delude yourself.”

“You will end,” Checker Face said threateningly.

“I’m aware of that.”

“I could let you live, to witness the end, but I think not. I’ll have enough to deal with trying to fix the Vongola rings in time for it to make a difference, and I don’t need you getting in my way and destroying what remains of the balance.” Checker Face waved his hand negligently.

Tsuna was quite literally scared to death by illusions. Checker Face was clearly exponentially more powerful with Mist than any normal human he had ever encountered for him to be so affected. As his heart failed and the life left him, he wondered if the Mist before him would or had figured out that he was dealing with not only a child, but a bloodline Vongola child.

Chapter Text

λ7
Grudge

He wondered, as he stared up at an all too familiar ceiling, why it was that Checker Face hadn't jumped all over Byakuran for his efforts in gathering up all pieces of the Tri-ni-set. Perhaps because the bloodline inheritors for the Mare and Vongola Sky rings had not been killed?

The Arcobaleno could apparently be replaced, and the Mare Sky ring did not seem to be blood-locked. Even so, why let the man get away with it? Byakuran had killed the Arcobaleno and had possession of the pacifiers. Tsuna had no idea how the man had supported them.

Or was it simply that Checker Face was waiting for some unknown signal to swoop in and steal them back? Inflict them on a new generation of the “I Prescelti Sette” as chosen out of what powers were available?

He scoffed. As if anyone could replace Reborn. He wasn’t as sure about the others, but Fon and Colonnello seemed like all right people for the most part. Not Verde, but he might be the end result of soul-crushing bitterness.

Kind of like how Tsuna went off the deep end after the Flood of Blood, except he had the chance to start over again. It would never erase his deeds, because he sincerely doubted the worlds he died in ceased to exist, but he did have the opportunity to try again.

Skull was a bit harder to understand. He had only met him the one time that he could remember, during the invasion at Mafia Land. The poor guy didn’t even seem like he wanted to be there, and sure as hell wasn’t happy with having to deal with Reborn and Colonnello.

And what was with that, anyway? Why were those two such assholes to the Cloud?

Where did Colonnello get off on being such a dick to a former civilian when he was the same? The man had a background in COMSUBIN, which was part of the Italian military, for fuck’s sake. If that didn’t say civilian to mafiosi he didn’t know what did.

He had to assume it was connected to him being military special forces, and therefore feeling a sense of superiority. Tsuna got the feeling that Skull had no clue about much of anything when he was dragged into the Arcobaleno mess, however that worked.

Tsuna heaved a sigh and got up. His mother would be calling out to him soon, so best he get ready.

‘What am I going to do this time?’ he thought. ‘I said I would play along, so there’s that. But what about Byakuran? I really don’t want to experience that whole mess from the Decimo side. I seem to recall…’ He thought hard as he washed up, trying to remember the details of two lives before.

‘Something about how he got his hands on—no, wait. Shoichi got his hands on ammunition for the Ten Year Bazooka, after some kind of incident with Lambo. Oh, right. The Bovino sent along a crate of stuff to the Irie family after Lambo had attempted yet again to kill Reborn.

‘Reborn had deflected the missile and Lambo was sent flying off, to crash land at the Irie apartment. The crate that had been delivered apparently also had a bag for Lambo, but since it never got properly delivered to the little cow…

‘Shoichi ended up with ammunition and messed with it. His trips to alternate futures was what tipped Byakuran off. So if I can ensure Irie-san doesn’t have the chance…? I also know where Gesso is, so…’

“Tsu-kun~! Wash up, now. Breakfast is ready!”

*

Ryohei was back to being male, but he was dying of stage four cancer. Shoichi was drafted in by Reborn as Sun Guardian, complete with nervous disposition and dodgy stomach.

Tsuna had made it a point of tracking down Chrome—Nagi, originally—and befriending her. Her excuse of a mother had met with an unfortunate accident, and Nagi was accepted into the Sawada household without a second thought by Nana. She was his Mist.

Tsuna had gotten to her early enough after he woke up that he was able to shore up her confidence. She might still be soft spoken and caring, but she was no longer a shrinking violet of a wallflower. He used Mist to ease her way into his school, to get the paperwork handled.

Nagi might one day come to hate him for his actions, but for the time being she was simply relieved that her abusive mother was out of the picture, and that Tsuna had provided a safe home for her, and a brother. A mother figure, too, though not much of one.

Tsuna nearly laughed the first time Nagi gave him a look that said, “Is she for real?”

He had taken her to that one park no one ever seemed to frequent for a picnic in response. “My mother,” he said softly, “is… Sometimes I think something inside her broke when my father went away. She always seems to act like barely any time has gone by, you know? Like a visit from him is just around the corner, always.

“Or maybe she just loves the idea of it all. He’s in the wings somewhere, not here, and unable to shatter any of her romantic notions or delusions. I don’t really know, and asking her is pointless. But she keeps us fed and clothed, we have a place to come home to.”

Nagi had just nodded, her eyes downcast, and served herself some anpan.

He shouldn’t have expected a six year old girl to truly understand, and she hadn't, but that was all right. He treated her as his sister, watched out for her, and she gave him her loyalty and support. As they got older she probably understood that he viewed her from a loftier position, like a much older brother, but he never overtly showed it.

It was hard to connect to someone genuinely a child.

Reborn had a bizarre soft spot for Nagi. More proof that the Sun had a heart, somewhere deep. Looking back, Tsuna was fairly well convinced that Reborn was fond of Dino. He might even have grown fond of Tsuna himself, given time and opportunity.

Tsuna knew what was up the moment Nana let out a happy squeal and announced she had won a contest. A cruise!

Tsuna tried to look happy. In a way he was, for her sake. She was clearly thrilled.

“A luxury cruise ship~!” she warbled, clasping her hands together under her chin. “It’ll be like a high-class hotel,” she said dreamily. “Soft beds, high-class food like steak…”

He almost snorted. Anyone who believed that was clearly under the spell of advertisers. Yeah, okay, maybe Kobe beef was some kind of special, but…

“And there are swimming pools and casinos and even concert halls~!” she burbled excitedly. “And at the end, it’ll reach a tropical paradise! The tropical sun will take away all your worries!”

He almost snorted again. They lived in a subtropical climate. From an adult perspective it was clear his mother had no clue the island moved on its own, or even about basic geography in their part of the world.

His mother suddenly came down to Earth. “But it’s only for two people, the tickets I won. We can’t just leave Lambo-kun and I-Pin-chan home alone by themselves.”

“I’ll take care of those brats for you, so don’t worry.” Bianchi was posed in the doorway, arms crossed, leaning nonchalantly against the door frame.

“You two should have a chance to enjoy yourselves once in a while,” Reborn added, an innocent smile on his child’s face.

Predictably, his mother was openly pleased and excited at the offer, completely forgetting that she had two other children in the house. True, Nagi was old enough to keep an eye on the two younger children, and Fūta wasn’t too young, but his mother was being unthinkingly dismissive, or even cruel. Tsuna was just happy neither of them was in the kitchen to hear any of it.

Reborn and Bianchi saw them off at the cruise ship.

After Tsuna and Nana dropped off their things in their room they headed to the dining room. The place was just as magnificent looking, with dozens of huge round tables covered in snowy white linen, gleaming with polished glasses and cutlery. Waitstaff were everywhere, in sharp black trousers, white jackets with black lapels and bow-ties, and a white towel folded over one arm.

‘So does this mean they’re all trained sommeliers?’

The man at the doors they entered by looked at them inquiringly.

“The name is Sawada,” his mother obligingly supplied.

His brow furrowed almost imperceptibly. “Sawada-sama? Hm… Did you not already come and eat?” He glanced over at the table with seats reserved for them.

Tsuna followed his gaze to see what he expected to. It looked as if someone had had a fine meal prior to their arrival. Nevertheless, the man led them over and waved an elegant hand, then helped Nana with her seat.

It was only after he left them, murmuring that someone would be along shortly to take their orders, that a contented groan arose from a seat across the table and Nana went to investigate. The size of Lambo’s stuffed stomach rivaled his poofy hair as he sprawled on his back on the seat cushion.

“Can’t eat any more,” Lambo muttered.

Bianchi, Reborn, and I-Pin showed up on schedule and Tsuna asked the expected question of, “How did you all get in here?”

“We charged right in the main entrance and beat all the guards, of course,” Reborn said matter-of-factly.

Tsuna blinked at him, wondered why he had fallen for it previously, and nodded, then sat right back down and waited for their promised waitstaff to arrive.

Reborn’s eyes narrowed—or at least he thought they did, since the Sun was in his peripheral vision—then he vanished.

Sadly, Tsuna had not yet been able to order when some rough-looking men came over to ask, “Have you seen any suspicious looking kids around here?”

He blinked innocently and shook his head. He had, but Reborn was suspicious by default, and he was fairly certain they were referring to Hayato, who probably had actually stowed away. Then he turned away as a nice man arrived to take their orders. He ordered steak, of course.

A minute later a disgruntled Reborn pushed aside the tablecloth and popped out from underneath. “Aren’t you worried?”

Tsuna leaned sideways to get a better view. “Why would I be? You’re perfectly capable of making your own decisions, and it was your decision to … sneak on board with extra people. The very idea of you getting caught is laughable.” He rolled his eyes and straightened up, hoping his meal would arrive soon.

It was not until an hour later, as he and his mother were taking a stroll on deck, that he was unpleasantly reminded of something that happened previously. Naito Longchamp and his famiglia were on board. “Oh, look!” he exclaimed softly, steering his mother in another direction.

“Oh, what is it, Tsu-kun?” his mother asked, looking both expectant and confused.

He raised a hand to point, then let it drop. “I thought I saw…”

“Yes?”

“I thought I saw him for a second, but I guess that would be silly.” He was saved when he did see Nagi, and impatiently tugged his mother that way.

*

Reborn was in a sulky mood as they disembarked at Mafia Land. Why on Earth Haru was part of the party he had no clue—unless it was simply Reborn being a trollish dick. ‘What, he has to suffer through his psychotic stalker Bianchi, so I’m forced to deal with Haru? Pfft.’

As expected he was directed off to the front desk to “inform” them of their arrival. The “front desk” was in an office labeled “Information”, which in and of itself was suspicious. ‘I was such a naïve fool the first few times I made it into my teens,’ he thought despairingly.

He couldn’t sense Reborn anywhere nearby, so he diverted off to the bathroom, dithered around for a few minutes, then emerged and beelined for his mother and the others. If Reborn wanted to force him into a training session with Colonnello, he’d have to do better than that.

Sure enough, a very disgruntled Reborn showed up about twenty minutes later and hauled him away to the train. Well, metro. He thought it would better be considered a metro, anyway.

“And we’re going…?”

“To the backstage of Mafia Land, of course,” Reborn said chirpily.

“Of course,” he said agreeably. “Is that where we’ll put together our dance routine for later?”

“You’ll find out when we get there.” Reborn scowled slightly and looked away.

The train schussed to a stop and the doors opened automatically.

“So you had the guts to come. Tell me your name,” Colonnello demanded.

Tsuna raised a brow. “Interesting that someone like you would be so stuck in a civilian past with an outfit like that,” he muttered.

The blond scowled harder.

“Ciaossu, Colonnello.”

“Reborn!”

“Take this!”

Tsuna rolled his eyes and took a seat off to the side, deciding to run an experiment. His Mist Flames came to bear to try to trick the two Arcobaleno into thinking he was standing there gawking at the “friendly” greeting the two were giving each other.

He honestly wondered if they did it to intimidate people, or if they were more in the frenemy category. They appeared so earnest about their attempts to kill each other. He about busted a gut in silent laughter when his Mist Flames proved themselves against Reborn, of all people.

When the alarms went off he heaved a sigh of relief and stood up, still covered by Mist. He would blend into the illusion of himself as he, Hayato, and Takeshi raced away from the training ground to go find Tsuna’s mother and the others.

What he was really interested in was another look at Skull. He kept in mind the sight of the Sun and Rain pacifiers glowing, not understanding why there was a warning system built in. Reborn’s pacifier hadn't glowed when they had approached Colonnello, but both had when Skull began the attack?

‘So it’s not just proximity?’ he thought as he raced down the tunnel with his two … friends.

What he didn’t get, once he was chivvied off to the front lines, was how Skull managed to have backup of … himself? And yet, the chibis with him didn’t seem to share a damn thing with the Arcobaleno except size and a vague approximation of his outfit?

‘Either there’s something funky in the air, or my sense of perspective is hosed,’ he thought, eyeing the situation. The multitude of mafiosi on the “good” side were so thrilled to get into a fight that they gave themselves orders, relieving Tsuna of the responsibility.

Oodako showed up from the forest to protect his companion from bullets. Tsuna had to question why the octopus was wearing a face mask that may or may not have been a reverse rebreather. Surely an Arcobaleno companion wasn’t limited by the same things as a normal animal of their type?

“Reliable help has arrived!” cheered one rather bulky man with an Uzi.

“Why is Reborn-senpai here?” Skull questioned, tilting his helmeted head in confusion.

“Ciaossu,” Reborn chirped. “Didn’t you notice your pacifier glowing?”

Skull’s head tilted the other way.

“We don’t meet often,” Reborn continued. “We should have a drink. And turn that thing—” He pointed at Oodako. “—into tako sashimi.”

Skull’s fists clenched. “You… Don’t spout nonsense!”

Tsuna took a few steps back and produced a bag of popcorn from Between.

“I’ve received orders from the Carcassa boss to come! You’re the enemy I have to obliterate!”

“Excuse me!” Tsuna called out, flinging some of his popcorn at the two chibis.

Both heads turned his way.

“So, yeah. Purple guy with the cute octopus. Why the hell are you taking orders from a trash family like Carcassa? Do they have blackmail on you or something? Because I’ll totally give you a job with the Vongola.”

Reborn’s eyes went wide with something like horror.

“Wha—?” Skull breathed.

“Absolutely,” Tsuna said firmly. “So how about you trot on over here and we can talk, and the Carcassa can do their own damn job. Which, knowing these guys—” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “—means they’ll be fish food shortly. They take their family entertainment very seriously, and I’m pretty sure one of those volleys took out the roller coaster.”

Skull dithered around as Reborn sent a betrayed look at Tsuna. “You wouldn’t…” his eyes said.

Tsuna smirked and nodded. ‘I would.’

Skull trotted over and came to a stop in front of Tsuna, who obligingly crouched down.

“Want some popcorn? Or do you not eat while your helmet is on?”

After a minuscule pause, Skull flipped the faceplate of his helmet up and grabbed a handful of popcorn to munch on.

“Oh, wow. Your eyes match your flames. That is so cool. Mine are just boring brown.”

Skull smiled slightly and nodded.

Right about then Colonnello flew in on Falco and blew up the ships. Who knew anti-tank weaponry worked so well on battleships?

“So, I heard a rumor you were a stuntman before,” he said. “That must have really sucked when you got hauled into all of this. Really throws your career path into the dumpster, am I right?”

“Yeah!” Skull complained. “I was real good, too! I was making a big name for myself. Had a job with a really cool outfit in France that’d been around for ages.”

“Shit, man, that really does suck.” He snorted. “So, what are you interested in? I mean, people like us don’t have much of a choice when it comes to this mafia stuff, right? There has got to be something I could put you to work doing that you’d enjoy, or at least not hate.”

Skull looked thoughtful.

“Well, we’ll think of something. Or, hm. I take it that stunt work is really taxing on the body?”

“Yep! You can do terrible damage to yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing. Why?”

“Don’t you think that’d be a useful skill to have? I’ve already had people trying to assassinate me.”

Skull nodded, then tilted his head again. “I’m sorry. I just realized I have no idea who you are.”

Tsuna laughed. “Tsuna, the poor civilian bastard tapped to be the tenth Vongola don.”

Skull’s eyes went wide.

“Hm, grab a shoulder. Let’s go get something to eat, yeah? Popcorn is great, but it’s not much of a meal.”

“Okay!” Skull responded enthusiastically, and perched on his shoulder.

Tsuna got up and sauntered off through the crowd.

*

Unfortunately, Skull knew very little about the cursed pacifier he bore, though he was far more willing to talk about it than he suspected Reborn ever would be. They had agreed, in the end, that Skull would be his personal advisor and strategist, not that much of anything came of it in the end. He already had a very good idea of what sort of salary that would merit and was paying the Cloud out of his own funds, which were accruing nicely from his investments and the sale of various items he had “acquired”.

All Tsuna still knew was that they were a type of battery. The pacifiers, the Mare rings, and the Vongola rings, the difference being that the pacifiers were more directly leech-like and ultimately fatal to their bearers. The Sky was the worst off, having to hold not only the Sky but buffer the rest, which cut the Sky’s life span down considerably once they “took office”.

In truth, he wondered how it was that Giglio Nero managed to produce enough Skies to support giving over one of them to the Sky pacifier so often. To the best of his knowledge—because he had coaxed quite a bit of the story from Skull—Luce gave birth around the time of the change, and only lasted long enough for her daughter, Aria, to take on the burden. It remained to be seen if Aria could produce her own replacement. She had during his Varia life.

Then again, the Giglio Nero Skies were said to be prescient, so they probably knew exactly when to procreate, though the idea of doing it all on some schedule determined by Fate was just… Ugh. Tsuna himself was none too keen to find himself a woman and start producing babies to carry on the damn empire that Vongola saw itself as.

Children raised to the idea of leadership and power. Assuming he lived so long, anyway.

He was missing pieces of the puzzle regarding the pacifiers and was as yet unsure where to dig deeper. How could he figure out a way to replace them, to save yet another generation of their strongest from enslavement to an object, to the will of the world—or more accurately, Checker Face’s vision of how balance would be kept.

The rings were far more gentle, but he questioned how it was the Vongola rings even worked. During the lead-in for the Scramble Battles he was given to understand that the true rings were separated each into two, to keep them safe? Kept in a vault?

How could that possibly be true? Surely they needed to be whole and worn in order to leech off the flames of their bearers? They had to have lied to him. The rings must have been separated shortly before the battles, for the ring that rejected Xanxus appeared to be the real thing. Once those were over they were given over to the tenth generation, for them to start feeding their hunger.

He snorted to himself. Vampiric rings. What a concept.

Were the pacifiers made of some sort of flame-reactive material that wasn’t metal? They did look translucent, after all. They encased the colour of the flames, rather than be the colour. A captured star. Was there significance to their shape aside from suiting the baby forms of their unfortunate bearers?

Based on what Skull had revealed—that when Checker Face approached him he had been carrying an unlit, clear pacifier—he also had to wonder if the pacifiers the current Arcobaleno wore would cease to be once their replacements were brought online. If new pacifiers were fashioned each time, because they, too, wore out and had to be replaced.

He was missing something, and he couldn’t tell if it was right there staring him in the face, or if he had yet to encounter a vital hint.

*

“How exciting it must be!” Nana said excitedly.

“Eh?” Tsuna looked up from his breakfast to cock and eyebrow at his mother.

“There’s going to be a group of new students transferring to your school, right?”

News to him.

“What’s a group of transfer students?” Lambo asked cluelessly. “Is it a kind of flavor?”

Nana giggled and shook her head. “It’s not food, Lambo-kun. Because of that recent earthquake… They feared another might happen, so they moved here, because Namimori is pretty much free of earthquakes.”

“Uh, right,” he said slowly. He ate the last bite, got up, and booked it to school. It was a duty day for him, so getting there early was preferable. He was halfway there when Reborn popped up like a clipped yen coin.

“I’ve received a dire message from the ninth,” his tutor stated, looking solemn.

Tsuna badly wanted to voice the sarcastic reply running through his mind.

“It’s a notice for the Inheritance Ceremony of the Vongola Famiglia.”

He felt a sense of dread steal over him. This was the farthest he had ever gotten in a life where he was in the line of succession.

“Mafiosi from around the world will be there to see you officially acknowledged as the inheritor of the Vongola, the incipient boss.”

“Yay, I’ll be paraded around like a prize pig at the fair. Bacon for everyone. I can’t wait,” he deadpanned as he passed through the gates to the school grounds. A short time later he was at his classroom and making sure everything was tidy.

Their homeroom teacher got their attention with a clearing of his throat—it sounded more like he was about to hack up a lung, but that wasn’t uncommon in heavy smokers. He glanced at Hayato and shook his head sadly.

“As all of you know, seven students from Shimon Middle School have transferred in and will be starting lessons here today. Two of those seven will be with you in Class 2-A. Be sure to take good care of them. Now, then, I’ll have them introduce themselves.”

The teacher glanced out the still open doorway. “Come on in, Kozato-kun, and … Shi … Shi … to … kun?”

A girl stepped in, dressed like some glam rock star from 70’s America. “My name is Shitt P! Call me Shitopi-chan!”

‘How she fits through any door with those weird plastic tubes around her…’

“My talent is hakko! My favorite food is pi-pu, pu, piiiii…”

‘Fermentation?’ he thought. ‘Is she talking about a flame type? There’s something other than Flames of the Sky, more than what I call my Earth?’ Movement to the side showed that Hayato was having one of his UMA fits and was furiously scribbling down notes in the little book he used to keep track of aliens and whatnot.

“Er…” Their homeroom teacher blinked a few times in confusion, then said, “Very well. Next up is you.”

The boy looked a lot like Tsuna used to be, but with bandages on his face. He assumed for the moment that the boy was a beacon for bullies. He had striking red hair and red eyes; Tsuna could see even at that distance they the boy’s eyes were odd. He was thin and slouched a bit and wore was was presumably the uniform of his previous school.

“I’m Kozato … Enma,” the boy said almost sotto voce.

“I’m sorry, what?” the teacher said, one hand up to the ear nearest the the boy. “Couldn’t hear you there.”

“Kozato Enma,” the boy repeated, looking embarrassed.

“Still too soft! Once more!”

Tsuna felt bad for the kid. He looked so depressed and unhappy.

*

That afternoon on the walk home—he had stayed late to make sure 2-A was adequately tidied up—he came upon two bullies threatening Kozato. His eyes narrowed and he sped up. “Leave the kid alone, trash,” he said in a low growl.

“Yeah, what are you gonna do about it?” one of them said with a sneer.

“Man, you’re clueless.” He chuckled disparagingly. “Aside from the fact that Hibari-san will be informed about your transgressions on his territory…” Tsuna set his bag down out of the way and quickly snapped a fist into each face. “Now fuck off like the trash you are and stop bothering innocents.”

The two scrambled to their feet, clutching bloody noses, and booked it.

Tsuna sighed and turned to Kozato to hold out a hand. “Hey, you all right? I’m sorry you’re getting such a bad welcome in our town. I can help patch you up if you like.”

Kozato gave him an indecipherable look before using his hand to leverage himself up. The pupils of his eyes were like the four points of a compass. It was really cool in Tsuna’s opinion. Everyone had cooler eyes than him, he was so jealous!

“That kind of thing used to happen to me. You know, because my father hasn’t been around in forever. People start rumors, about my mother,” he said. “They’re … unkind. But it stopped when I proved I could fight back, at least enough to get them to back off.”

Kozato nodded slightly and stooped back down to gather his things.

Tsuna helped, gathering up books and papers, so he could hand them over.

Kozato looked up as he accepted his things, but stilled for a moment, his eyes somewhere around Tsuna’s upper chest.

Tsuna looked down and realized the Vongola Sky ring was showing, the chain having come free from being tucked inside his shirt. It was then that he noticed Kozato had something similar.

The redhead quickly stuffed all his things into his bag and scurried away, leaving Tsuna with a confused look on his face.

‘Eh?’

“He’s not just a normal transfer student,” a suddenly visible Reborn said. “Here, you should make sure the kid gets this. He left it behind.”

Tsuna accepted the damaged book Reborn offered. ‘More like you ensured he left behind.’ He nodded and walked away with a word.

Wisps of Mist scouted for him and eventually located the boy at the canal, not too far from the bridge, so he headed that way. Kozato was in the process of trying to repair the tears in his uniform trousers, which Tsuna found impressive until he realized the poor boy had sewed one leg to the other.

Kozato sighed and slumped. “Go ahead and laugh,” he muttered.

“Uh, no,” he said, reaching out a hand to steady the boy. Unfortunately, Kozato was as clumsy as he once was and they both ended up in the canal. “At least it’s not deep,” he said as he helped the boy out of the water.

“I came to return this book to you,” he said, “though it’s pretty beat up. And wet, now. You want to come dry off at my place? It’s not far from here.” At least the splash into the water had ripped the bad job Kozato had done and allowed the boy to walk properly again.

Nana welcomed the strange boy enthusiastically, promising to bring up a snack straight away. Tsuna had barely gotten Kozato bundled into some replacement clothes when his mother was back with a tray of food.

“How wonderful~! You’ve made a new friend,” she burbled. “Feel free to stay for dinner if you like! Oh, I’ll sew your trousers for you.”

“Thank you,” Kozato mumbled.

Nana wandered off, only to be replaced with Lambo and I-Pin.

“Tsuna! Let’s play assassins!” the cow cried, waving two grenades around.

He sighed. “It’s getting late, Lambo-kun, and you know it upsets Mama if you damage the house. How about you go take your bath. I’ll come tuck you in later, you and I-Pin-chan.”

Lambo pouted and skulked off.

“It’s cheerful here,” Kozato commented, staring at the two retreating children.

“Lively would be a better way to put it.”

“You should probably not bother with me after today,” Kozato said, his head swinging back around. “You’ll only get pulled into the bullying that always happens around me.”

He shook his head. “And if I see it happen again, I’ll do something about it again. I know what it’s like to get kicked around. If you don’t want to hang out, then I won’t try to force you, but that won’t stop me from doing what’s right. The people in Namimori are more than aware of what awaits if Hibari-san catches them crowding or hurting what he calls small animals. If they’re so stupid as to disregard the warnings, well, I am happy to remind them, and a lot more gently than he would.”

Kozato gave him a wide-eyed look.

Tsuna’s intuition pinged. He reached up and caught a grenade, which he tossed out the window so it could explode harmlessly, then turned to eye his little cow. “Lambo-kun…”

Lambo scowled and stomped his foot, then raced off.

“That boy…”

*

Hayato managed to scare Kozato off the next morning. Tsuna had run into him on his walk to school, but the moment Hayato raced up, Kozato had bolted like an uncoordinated rabbit.

“Weird,” he commented.

The remainder of the walk consisted of him absently listening to Hayato babble on about UMAs, but he was startled to note that Hibari was atop the school, facing down a tall, busty female with long hair and legs that reached forever. She wore the same uniform as Kozato, so she must be one of the seven transfers.

“You came, Tsuna!”

He looked away and over. Takeshi was there. “Why wouldn’t I be here? I mean, it’s a school day.”

“Let’s get up there and watch!”

‘Yeah, no, let’s not,’ he thought. He followed everyone inside, but peeled off as they headed for the staircase to the roof, and instead went to classroom 2-A. He settled in to review recent work, trying to ignore the sounds coming from above through the open windows.

Reborn showed up, looking annoyed. “Why aren’t you up there?”

“Because it’s none of my damn business,” he replied.

“You should be concerned about our guests.”

“And why is that?”

“They belong to the Shimon Famiglia. They’re a mafia family, and they’ve been invited to the Vongola Inheritance Ceremony.”

“Right,” he said, still not looking up from checking his work. “All seven of them, I suppose. And based on what little I’ve seen, Kozato-san is the leader. Am I right?”

“Yes,” came from behind him.

Tsuna glanced back over his shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear that. You don’t look like you want that any more than I do.”

Kozato looked skeptical for some reason.

“The connection between the Shimon Famiglia and the Vongola dates back to very old times. They’ve known each other since the time of Primo. Now, though, they’ve become such a small family that I hadn't even been aware of them,” Reborn said.

“Somehow I doubt that,” he said dryly. “Your pride would demand otherwise.”

Reborn sulked. “What happened to the sweet, innocent boy I was promised?”

Tsuna snorted. “You relied on the word of that delusional sperm donor who pretends to be a husband and father. He wouldn’t know the truth if you rammed it up his—”

“Tsuna!” Reborn said sharply. “He’s family.”

“I will never consider that man my blood, and nothing you can say will change my mind. Unless you plan to brainwash me, Reborn. Though why you’d want me infected with his idiocy is beyond me. I wouldn’t trust him to administer a roach motel.”

“You can’t display an attitude like that in public.”

“I fail to see why you defend him. Are you here for me, or to be his advocate? I like you, Reborn, but that won’t change what I think or how I feel when it comes to him. Pretty words and excuses don’t change the facts. He lied to us and abandoned us, and he always will given a choice. That’s just who he is.”

“Tsuna…” Reborn tilted his hat down to shade his eyes.

“Don’t worry. I can pretend I don’t despise the man if he’s there at this stupid ceremony being planned. But let me put it to you this way, Reborn. You’re more of a father to me than he is. Make of that what you will.” He looked away as other students began to file into the classroom.

*

“Why don’t you run away?”

Tsuna looked over to see Kozato stretched out on a bench, nursing his injuries.

“I’m always thinking about running away.”

Tsuna sighed. “I see they got you again.”

“When humans use power they use it rashly. The mafia and school bullies… They’re all like that. So why don’t you run?”

“Because I know they’ll have the entire family out to track me down, and possibly allies, and that’s assuming I have the skill to sneak off under Reborn’s watch. If I’m forced into this, they’re going to be forced to deal with how I want things done. And if it means the destruction of the Vongola, so be it. That’s what they get for being shortsighted and arrogant.”

“You should consider the ninth’s feelings.”

Tsuna heaved a sigh.

“For the sake of the ceremony,” Reborn said, popping up out of nowhere as he usually did, “the ninth has sent out heartfelt invitations to all the families connected to Vongola. No matter how small or weak they may be. He was very pleased to know that one of those families went so far as to transfer for the ceremony. He thought you could become good friends, considering you’re all around the same age.”

His brow went up. He had nothing against the idea of being friendly with the Shimon, but he wasn’t about to force them into it. He’d only met two of them anyway.

“He also said that he expects the Vongola Famiglia to take care of the Shimon Famiglia, since they’re extremely weak.”

Tsuna frowned. “Since when it is polite to denigrate a potential ally like that to their face, Reborn? You’re small. That doesn’t make you weak. Where is the ninth’s proof that he can say something like that so casually? Or is that you being a snob again?”

“…Of course, there are some out there who aren’t in favor of Vongola being powerful. I expect there will be groups that will boycott. After all, the ninth did write in his letter that he’s caught wind that opposing groups are already on their way to Japan in order to interfere with the ceremony.”

“Of course there—” He jumped sideways in response to an urgent ping from his intuition and made sure Kozato was safely out of the way.

Something that looked like a bizarre grappling hook crashed into the ground where he’d been standing.

“They’re arrived already, haven’t they?” Kozato said, his eyes wide and his shoulders hunched.

‘Cloud Flames,’ he realized. The huge, frightening looking man—man?—had his right hand replaced with that hook and he could apparently slingshot it at targets. ‘It looks like he’s using his flames to propagate … himself? Make himself bigger?’

“Don’t you even think of losing to him, Tsuna,” Reborn said seriously as he grabbed Kozato and hauled him out of the way.

Tsuna frowned and pulled on his gloves, then lit his flames. The second his gauntlets had settled, he launched himself forward and slagged the man’s weapon with his Sky, then slammed into his jaw, knocking him unconscious.

“Is it just me, or is he a pathetic excuse for an assassin?” he asked no one in particular.

Reborn glided over thanks to Leon and took a closer look. “This is Tattoo of the Pesca Famiglia. Looks like he was in ‘hyper mode’ due an altered version of a dying will bullet. They’re not even worth our time.”

Tsuna coughed. “I thought those bullets were a Vongola creation. Where the hell would Pesca get their hands on any to alter?”

Reborn shrugged, which did nothing for Tsuna’s peace of mind. He let his flames die out as he said, “Will you call a crew for clean-up, please?”

Reborn gave him an opaque look, then used a transformed Leon to make a call off to one side.

“You’re actually pretty strong,” Kozato commented.

“More like annoyed,” he said as he tucked his gloves away, “but I thank you for the compliment. I’m just glad you weren’t harmed. I can’t go any length of time without something squirrely happening. Having the Chaos King over there around doesn’t help.”

Reborn paused for a moment in his call to smirk happily.

“Why is this my life?” he muttered, frowning at the assassin.

Somehow he ended up bundled off to a restaurant and squashed into a booth with Hayato, Takeshi, and Shoichi, with Enma and some of his family members on the other side. Reborn was disguised as a napkin holder for all he knew.

“Why isn’t everyone here!?” Hayato demanded.

“Hayato,” he said wearily. “You know Hibari-san hates crowds. Lambo-kun is too young to be involved.”

“We called Nagi-chan,” Shoichi added, “but got disconnected.”

“We tried to call our members, too,” said one of the ones Tsuna didn’t know, “but Kato Julie is out right now, and Shitt P is busy meditating.”

“Wha—!? Meditating? Her?” Hayato immediately started scribbling in his book. “So she communicates with the depths of the Earth around this time of day,” he muttered.

Tsuna rolled his eyes, wanting nothing more than to bash his head against the table. “I don’t even get why we’re here. Shimon may be associated with Vongola, but that doesn’t give us the right to ask anything of them.”

Hayato looked like he was having a seizure. “But, Tsuna-kun…”

He shook his head. “No. The only thing we’re going to do here is to say this. Kozato-san, you already witnessed one instance. I don’t doubt more might try. But they should be targeting me, so you should be all right. Please be on alert just in case, you and your friends.”

“Families underneath the Vongola should cooperate,” Hayato protested, then flinched back when Tsuna turned burning eyes on him.

“Underneath?” he said softly. “You think Dino-nii is beneath me? Is that what you’re saying? And people we’ve only just met recently are beneath us? You disappoint me. I-I don’t know what else to say. I apologize, Kozato-san. I need to go, before I do something stupid.”

He got up and walked away quickly, before he lost his temper for real.

*

He had just gotten word that the Giegue Famiglia had been attacked while after an alleged enemy of Vongola in Namimori when Reborn alerted him to the arrival of a limousine outside the house.

“The ninth is looking forward to meeting you.”

He saw and recognized Coyote Nougat and Ganauche III, though he was not supposed to. “They are…?”

“Some of the ninth’s guardians. They’ve come for you. So let’s go.”

Namimori hosted a surprisingly large and fancy hotel for a town that was not a tourist trap. He had to wonder if Vongola had a hand in that, though aside from the Sawada family, Tsuna couldn’t imagine why anyone would bother.

“This way, Tsunayoshi-sama. Ninth is waiting for you on the top floor.”

‘You know there’s money involved when you enter the penthouse suite and see a patron gardening.’

“Over here,” Timoteo said. “Thank you for coming, Tsunayoshi-kun.”

His mind froze up on how to address the man, so he bowed his greeting.

“Let’s have some tea,” the old man said kindly.

One of his men poured seconds after they took seats at a small table near the greenery.

“As much as I have heard you are not fond of the idea of becoming a mafia boss,” Timoteo began, “the only one who can return the corrupted Vongola to it’s original state is you, and only you, Tsunayoshi-kun.”

For a moment he was speechless at the sheer amount of manipulation packed into that statement. Unless there was a real bastard child in the wings, yes, he was their only chance. By their own rules Iemitsu was ineligible to take on the role of Decimo, and Timoteo was unlikely to live long enough for another child of the blond to get to an appropriate age to take over if Tsuna refused. The appeal and the flattery were just icing.

“Original state?” he asked once he collected himself.

“I’m sure you’ve heard already,” Timoteo responded. After a sip of his tea he continued. “The purpose of the first generation Vongola Famiglia that Primo founded was to protect the townspeople. They would fight for their loved ones, but they didn’t abuse their power. What you have been doing is very much like their ways.

“Things began to change from the second generation. Given the form the ring took for you, a form that no other generation has been able to obtain, it must mean that Primo and I are thinking the same thing. That Vongola in its current form must be destroyed. You’re the only one who would be able to carry on the will of Vongola. Think about it carefully, yes?”

“Why now?” he asked. “Why hold this ceremony so soon? I’ve not even finished middle school.”

“It is true that you’re still a little young to work in society, but Primo was about your age when he founded the vigilante group. I am not getting any younger, Tsunayoshi-kun. There is only so much time.”

His eyes hardened. “Why me?”

Timoteo affected to look confused. “There is only you.”

He nodded. “Right.” He let it slide for the moment, the unspoken refusal on the old man’s part to address the real question he asked.

“The sooner you become boss of Vongola, the sooner you’ll see and end those fights and murders that you so hate.”

He blinked in surprise at a second round of manipulation, not to mention the blatant lies. The old man must think he was shockingly naïve to believe something as ludicrous as that.

“Oh, dear,” Timoteo said, raising a hand to his forehead as if in chagrin. “It must sound like I’m asking you to succeed me directly after the ceremony. I’m sorry. I assure you, if you are against the idea of it all come the day before the ceremony, you should say so then. I’m certain the people who have come as witnesses will understand.”

He wondered just how often Xanxus’s hackles must have been up given the utter swill that came out of Timoteo’s mouth when he was trying to convince someone to his way of thinking. The only thing that would have surprised Tsuna more would be for the old man to bring his Sky Flames to bear in an effort to get his way.

“Now, then, how about some dinner, Tsunayoshi-kun?”

He had decided on the ride to the hotel to ask some hard questions during this meeting, but now he could tell he’d get nothing more but the same evasions, lies, manipulations, and guilt trips.

He smiled awkwardly and shook his head. “I-I’m…”

Timoteo smiled and Reborn said, “I’ll be staying the night since Ninth and I have some things to discuss.”

He eyed his tutor. “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

Ganauche saw him out of the penthouse and Tsuna was glad to be gone. Didn’t stop him from leaving behind some spies to see what went on in his absence.

“Do you really think Tsuna will agree to succeed you as boss by your sugar-coated words back there?” he heard Reborn ask.

“I sensed that there was a moment when that child seriously considered the idea,” Timoteo replied. “It’s enough.”

“Is this it?” Reborn asked.

Tsuna frowned; he would have to wait until he could recall his spies to get a visual on whatever it was his tutor just referenced.

“Yes. This is what has been passed on from generation to generation since Primo’s time. It is Vongola’s … sin.”

‘What the everloving fuck?’ he wondered.

When he got home he was surprised that Enma was there. “Hi,” Tsuna said. “Want to come in?”

Enma nodded. “I wanted to thank your mother for her help the other day.”

“Oh, sure. She’d love to see you no matter what. That’s just who she is.”

Nana brushed off Kozato’s thanks and ushered the two of them upstairs to Tsuna’s room, and returned moments later with a snack for them.

Tsuna blinked and shrugged. “The ninth told me today to decide whether or not I want to become boss by the morning before the ceremony,” he said. “He said to decide as I wished, but I could tell he honestly wants me to become boss and revert the family back to how it was in Primo’s time.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Kozato asked apathetically.

“Ah… Sorry. I don’t normally have anyone I can talk to about things like this who isn’t already too close to the situation. I thought you might understand how I felt, given some of the things you’ve said. I presumed, and I apologize.”

“Don’t put me in the same category as you.”

‘Okay, this is getting weird.’ “What do you mean?”

“Unlike your lot, my family has had a lot of scary things inflicted upon us by other mafia families. Because we’re famous as a small and weak family. You could never understand our pain.”

‘Right, I’m not about to get into a dick measuring contest when it comes to pain with someone who’s clearly having an emo spell,’ he thought. He nodded and ate some onigiri rather than saying something that would likely bleed sarcasm.

“Tsu-kun~!” his mother called. “The bath’s ready!”

Kozato immediately got up. “Good evening, Sawada-san.”

‘The older I get, the less I think I understand,’ he thought as the redhead headed out. ‘And that’ll teach me to reach out to people.’

He took his shower, then settled into the tub for his evening soak. Since his spies weren’t transmitting anything else of particular interest, he recalled them. The “Vongola Sin” turned out to be an ornate glass or crystal vial with some dark liquid in it. Like blood.

*

On his way to school Reborn popped up like a clipped yen coin. “Ciaossu! Have you decided?”

“Like I have a choice,” he said stiffly. “You may as well just call the man and tell him yes.”

Reborn tilted his hat back and eyed him intently. “I’m getting the feeling there’s so much you’re not saying.”

He snorted. “It’s disappointing, Reborn, that he clearly thinks so little of my intelligence, critical reasoning, and kami knows what else. The sheer amount of manipulation and lies made me nauseous. I’d rather not be in the same room with him again until I must for the ceremony.”

“I see.” The hat tilted back down and Reborn remained quiet for the rest of the walk, then vanished somewhere as Tsuna passed through the school gates.

He hadn't been home for very long when he got a call from Hayato. Takeshi was in the emergency room. He’d been found in the locker room after baseball practice. He dropped the phone and bolted. It was hard to connect to any of them meaningfully, but that didn’t mean he lacked a heart.

Hayato was waiting when he got there. “He’s in surgery right now.”

Nagi was present, and Shoichi. Lambo was in one of the waiting room seats, looking confused and upset.

Ryohei was also there, looking fairly well dragged out due to his condition. “I was the one who found him,” he said. “I was on my way home and heard something as I passed the baseball team’s locker room. The door was open, so I went in to check. Yamamoto was lying in a pool of blood… I called an ambulance.”

Tears dripped from Nagi’s eyes; no surprise there. She felt deeply, and her heart was kind and loyal.

Hayato’s fists clenched. “I won’t forgive whoever did this,” he swore.

He felt his tutor approaching. Tsuna looked up in time to see him appear around the corner, carrying a cup of coffee. Once the chibi got close enough he said, “I found a lead. Yamamoto left a message in blood, before he passed out. A good portion of it was covered up, probably the part that revealed the culprit’s name.

“However, next to that the letters ‘deritoto’ had been written. Doesn’t seem like anything, which is probably why it wasn’t covered up. I didn’t get it at first, but then I tried romaji, which changed it to ‘delitto’. In Italian it means—”

“Sin.”

Reborn nodded.

“But what does it mean?” Ryohei asked.

Reborn sent a solemn look at the dying Sun. “From here on…”

Ryohei nodded. “I get it. I need to go, um… Yeah. Will someone keep me updated on Yamamoto?”

Tsuna gave him a nod.

Once Ryohei had cleared out Reborn continued. “Sin is the name of the small bottle or vial the boss of the Vongola inherits at the ceremony with each new generation. ‘Sin’ is something Primo created to leave the memories of his battles to all his successors within the family. It is the proof of the Vongola boss. In legends they say the bottle contains the blood shed during those battles.”

Tsuna stared blankly at his tutor. That sounded like a Disney-fied version of a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.

“Whoever it is, they obviously know that the only time it’s seen by the eyes of the public is at the ceremony,” Reborn said. “It seems likely the culprit will be there tomorrow.”

*

‘For how long has Namimori been hiding a freakin’ castle?’ he wondered. ‘Or is this some elaborate Mist construct and I’m just not sensing it properly? Or was this where Giotto ended up living when he retired to Japan?’

There were tables outside, covered in snowy linen, with clusters of people around them as they waited. Groups of security personnel were doing body checks on guests, to collect any and all weapons.

The doctor who handled the surgery reported to Yamamoto Tsuyoshi that, “His condition is severe. We were able to save his life, but there’s a good chance he may never walk again.”

For anyone who knew that it might seem a tad odd that Takeshi was there with them, outfitted in a suit like the rest of them. Nagi was handling that part, making it appear as if the boy was whole and hale.

The ninth had been swift to lock down on any reports regarding Takeshi’s injury or condition. The idea, as presented by Reborn, was to have him appear to be there and have people watching to see who, if anyone, reacted oddly.

Naito Longchamp was certainly fooled, but he was not the best test.

Dino also appeared not to notice, but Tsuna never was certain whether or not the Cavallone Don had anything resembling intuition in the way a Vongola Sky might. If he did, he was smart enough to keep his expression schooled and hold his questions until a better time.

“I didn’t expect this day to come so soon,” Dino commented, smiling at Tsuna. “You make me proud!”

Tsuna smiled back, unable not to. His fondness for the blond persisted from the moment he met the man.

“Let’s talk later,” Dino suggested, just as there was a loud, “Voooiii!” in the background.

The Varia had arrived, sans Xanxus. Some of the people milling around outside froze up in fear, their eyes wide and their mouths gaping.

“It’s been a while, scum!” Squalo focused on Takeshi. “Voi! You haven’t been skipping training, have you!?”

Takeshi scratched the back of his head and laughed. “Of course not!”

Squalo nodded and slung an arm around Tsuna’s shoulders, and leaned in close. “Where the fuck is Yamamoto, scum?”

Dino leaned in as well. “We won’t pry if you don’t tell us, but… We can help.”

Tsuna shook his head, worried that Nagi would lose her cool over it. “Later,” he said quietly.

The two men pulled away and started toward the castle. “See you inside!” Dino called back.

“Am I too weak…?” Nagi whispered.

“You’re doing well.”

Tsuna glanced back long enough to see Mammon providing some moral support to his Mist.

“They’d have to be real experts to see through an illusion of that level. Have some confidence.”

Nagi’s eyes went wide. “Thank you.”

“Let go of me,” Mammon said, head tilted down to stare at Belphegor, who was holding onto one foot like the Mist was a bizarre balloon.

A commotion started up over at security, and Tsuna nearly rolled his eyes when saw that Enma was being harassed. He strolled over quickly and put a stop to it. “Why are you bothering invited guests?”

“We’ve never even heard of the Shimon Famiglia!” a guard protested, still eyeing Enma.

“So you decided their invitations must be forgeries?” he asked. “Or did you not even bother to check them?”

“Look, boy, you—” The guard shut up once he saw who was making the protest. “Oh.”

“Please check the invitations. I know this group and I know they were invited.” He pivoted and started off. “I just know this day will only get worse,” he muttered to himself.

“It’s time to go in,” Reborn said.

Inside was a sea of black. Even most of the women were in black, though a few stood out in colours like blood red. The hall inside the main doors was three storeys high and the room was flooded with light from the myriad windows.

Tsuna and his group—Hibari had shown up at the last moment, surprisingly—walked down the aisle and came to a stop in front of Timoteo, who had his usual kindly smile gracing his face.

“We shall commence with the passing of the bottle, which is proof of the Vongola boss since Primo’s generation. It will be handed to Vongola Decimo, from Vongola Nono,” Coyote announced as he walked up with a balding man bearing a pillow, which in turn bore a glossy, dark-stained wooden box.

Unfortunately for Tsuna, he could not very well use mirrors or wisps to figure out who was itching to jump at that “artifact”, and had to trust in others to be his eyes.

“Now, the inheritance…”

Timoteo picked up the box and unfolded the sides, revealing the Vongola Sin to the assemblage. “I pass this on to you, Decimo.”

And then a god-awful hellish shriek of noise started up, causing everyone to cover their ears. Smoke bombs went off to further confuse things.

The ninth’s guardians surrounded him, pushing Tsuna into the circle as well. But when it calmed down, the old man’s arm was bleeding and the Vongola Sin was cracked on the ground, the blood splattered on the carpet and nearly invisible against the red pile.

“Are you all right, Ninth!?”

“It is fine. Seal off all the exits. Do not let anyone leave.”

“The exits are sealed,” Brow Nie Jr reported, one hand pressed against his earpiece. “We’ll start analyzing the security footage now. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes to find the culprit. Everything is as planned.”

Tsuna’s brow went up at this evidence that he was excluded from the plan. Not that it surprised him. He was just a boy, and at the moment, a pawn.

“It looks like their motive was to destroy the Sin,” Reborn stated.

“It seems that way,” Timoteo replied. “Do not worry, Tsunayoshi-kun. That was a fake, a replica of the Sin made to lure the culprit into action. The real one is stored safely in a vault in the next room. The flames that shield it is made of our seven properties and cannot be destroyed by any weapon or dying will flame.”

‘Pretty damn confident about that. Weren’t you also confident about Xanxus being on ice?’

“To have planned this far… You’re incredible, Ninth!” Hayato said in awe.

Tsuna wished for a handy wall so he could bash his head against it.

“Bad news! The vault was broken into!”

Everyone rushed into the next room, like sheep. Tsuna felt so very tired. More Vongola arrogance. More reactionary twaddle.

“Huh!?” Brow Nie Jr grunted. “Something’s in the room.” His gun came out and then fell apart into its component pieces.

‘The Shimon Famiglia,’ he thought. ‘There’s no other explanation.’

A volley of ice shards came flying straight at them, but a barrier of Lightning Flames went up as protection. It failed.

When the dust cleared, the Shimon Famiglia was there, posing. Enma had the Vongola Sin. “We’re taking this back. This blood belongs to the Shimon Famiglia. We needed this to unlock our power, and to gain our revenge on Vongola.”

Enma cracked open the vial and poured some of the blood on his ring.

Tsuna checked out mentally during the ensuing episode of story time, about how the Vongola Primo had betrayed the Shimon Primo, how the Shimon were then spit on by the rest of the mafia world because their alleged failure had caused Vongola to lose some battle.

‘And really,’ he thought, ‘this all sounds like severely one-sided history to me. I know Giotto could not have been a saint, but even I’m having trouble believing he would heartlessly betray his friend like that. There’s got to be more to this.’

Enma stepped forward to show the Vongola just how weak they really were, to humiliate them the way they’d been humiliated. Enma was an Earth, so Tsuna knew exactly what they could be facing. One by one his “guardians” were picked up and slammed into the walls or ceiling.

“Do you want to know why I have yet to attack you, Tsuna-kun?”

“You don’t have the right to be so familiar, Kozato-san,” he said flatly.

“I want you to feel the pain the first boss of Shimon was dealt by Primo.”

Tsuna played it straight, with only Sky Flames and his Hyper Intuition. He was nothing special, after all. He didn’t have Cloud Flames, or Mist Flames, or … Earth Flames. Not in front of so many witnesses, anyway. It wasn’t fun to be slammed into the ceiling and held there.

“So weak,” Adelheid said scathingly. “And Enma’s power is still incomplete. The Shimon ring and the blood of Shimon’s first boss will finish merging in seven days.”

“This is your only chance,” Enma said. “In a week, you won’t even be able to lay a finger on me.”

‘It is at this point I really want to say that if the Shimon Primo had Earth Flames he must have sucked balls at using them if he couldn’t take on an army with gravity.’

“We should go, Adelheid,” Enma said. “If we kill them all now, they will never taste of the pain Shimon has gone through.” He switched focus and yanked Nagi over to their side, where the one Shimon guardian Tsuna almost never saw, Kato Julie, took possession of her in his arms.

“I’ll take you along, too~ We have date plans~!” Kato said.

As a final insult, Enma crushed all seven Vongola rings before they left.

‘Was it worth it?’ he asked himself. ‘To hold back through that farce? To not show what I can do? To let them kidnap a friend, because the boy I was in my origin world would not have had any way to handle this situation aside from sheer panic?’

His impact with the floor drove all the air out of his lungs and nearly broke his nose.

‘Wait a minute. That child just shattered part of the Tri-ni-set. Why the fuck isn’t Checker Face here throwing the mother of all tantrums!? It’s official. Nothing makes sense anymore. This is all just a bad dream. There’s no logic anymore. I mean, seriously, what the everloving fuck?’

“There is still hope.”

“Who!?”

“I can see there is light, even with these blind eyes.” The ancient man was—sporting a mohawk?

‘I definitely lost my mind at some point,’ he thought as he rose to his knees, then his feet. His suit was a total loss. ‘It’s no wonder I have trouble taking any of this seriously.’

“Ninth. You certainly have grown old.”

“Grandfather Talbot! You came to the ceremony,” Timoteo replied.

“Yes, though a bit late. I had to take care of my sheep, you see.”

“That’s Talbot,” Reborn said for peanut gallery. “The oldest metal craftsman who has worked alongside the Vongola. It’s rare for him to show himself. It’s said he’s been working for Vongola since Primo’s time.”

‘Eh? Is the dude like Checker Face, then?’

The wizened mohawk mummy crouched down carefully to examine the rings, which had somehow conveniently all ended up in the same place. “Ouch. They’ve taken quite the beating. Ho ho ho, so the opponent was the Shimon ring aided by the Sin, eh? No wonder you were defeated. Good boy, I’ll fix you right up. What say you? The Vongola rings are writhing to be reborn.”

“The Vongola rings are still…?” Timoteo trailed off.

“They’re still alive. Their shells have merely been destroyed.” Talbot switched focus in a heartbeat to Tsuna. “So you’re Vongola the tenth. You’re exactly the man the rings say you are.”

‘Kami help us all, because I don’t think I want to know.’ “Please stop poking me with your stick,” he asked as politely as he could.

“Hey, geezer!” shouted Hayato. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? What do you mean the rings are telling you things!?”

“You wore one of these and yet didn’t even know?” Talbot asked condescendingly. “Within powerful rings dwell spirits. With spirits they are able to feel.”

‘And the wand chooses the wizard, Harry.’

“To hear those voices is my job. The Vongola rings are telling me of new possibilities.”

“You mean to say the rings can be fixed!?” Timoteo said.

“More or less. But not to their original state. As such, they would only meet the same fate if they faced Shimon again. It can’t be helped, as the levels of the rings are too different. With the Shimon rings bathed in the blood of the Shimon’s Primo, their powers are multiplied. No, no, these would have to be upgraded.”

“With!?” Hayato demanded.

“Is that not obvious?” Talbot said, then flipped one arm out dramatically. His cape had myriad objects attached to the inside. It was a wonder he didn’t clink everywhere. “With this,” he said, having detached a vial from his collection. “The blood of Vongola Primo, Penalty.”

Tsuna was exhausted. Everyone was so fucking emotional and dramatic and he just wanted to take a nap at that point. All the gasping and surprise and shock and…

“Now, then, we have the materials. If all goes well, the Vongola rings will obtain a power like never before. But if we fail, they will lose their spirits. They will never shine again. The probability is half and half. What will you do, tenth?”

‘Uh, oh, I’m supposed to say something here, right?’ “I… Um…”

“You must do what you think is best, Tsunayoshi-kun.”

“Ninth!” someone protested.

“We all agree!” Hayato cried. “Right?”

Of course he’d say yes, to go ahead with it. He was at least mildly pissed off that Takeshi had nearly been killed and might never again walk. He was at least mildly pissed off that Nagi had been hauled off like a sack of potatoes, potentially to be sexually assaulted by a pervert. And he was at least mildly pissed off that he couldn’t just crush the fuckers when he had the chance, for the crime of blaming innocents for something that happened centuries ago. “Please!” he implored Talbot with as much emotion as he could pack into his voice. “Upgrade the rings!”

‘Okay, so I guess Checker Face is probably watching and waiting to see if the rings survive. And if not, then he’ll flip out. I guess.’

*

The Vindice showed up when Tsuna and company arrived on the Shimon Famiglia’s “holy” island.

“We have come here to fulfill our promise to Vongola Primo Giotto and Shimon Primo Cozarto. Giotto and Cozarto were bound by their unfaltering friendship. For that reason, Vongola and Shimon must not ever cross swords with one another. And thus, should that situation ever arise, we created a law that the losing side shall be erased from existence forever. This is the second time that this law has been put into motion. The losing participant in this fight will be confined in our prison for eternity.”

“I like the sound of it,” Enma said. “For eternity.”

Sun went first; it was a tie. They were both hauled away.

Tsuna sent wisps off as spies, to canvass the island. To find Nagi, to figure out where things were, for what it was worth.

One alerted him to his Mist. For a brief moment she thought she was seeing Mukuro. He knew Mukuro had reached out, as he had previously. That he had found Nagi. Maybe it was just one of those things meant to be. Those two could be siblings, after all.

But why would Mukuro have anything to do with Kato Julie?

Lightning was next. Lambo won.

Storm followed. Hayato won.

Tsuna still had no clue how to get to Nagi, or why she’d been taken beyond her value as a lure to force them to the island. Though, given what a poor opinion the Shimon had of Tsuna, why they thought he’d care…

Enma showed up, crazed out of his mind. Blaming Iemitsu for the death of his father, mother, and sister. So naturally, Tsuna must be as much of a bastard.

Tsuna was only “saved” from being atomized because the Shimon Earth ring had not yet finished its merge with Cozarto’s blood. Adelheid hauled him away, promising she would be the next to fight.

A spy caught his attention, which caused Reborn to misinterpret his blankness and kick him in the head. Kato was bothering Nagi again, and he knew about her contact with Mukuro.

“To be blunt, the one who devised this fight between Vongola and Shimon… It was done by me~!” Kato said happily. “I have two goals. First is the annihilation of the Vongola, right? Adelheid and Enma are really trying their best with that. And the other goal is you, Nagi-chan~! To be precise, I’m going to use you as an entrance to get into your master.”

Tsuna blinked a few times in confusion, still not paying attention to Reborn. Kato wanted Mukuro’s body? For some reason?

“I plan to take Rukudo Mukuro’s body for my own~!”

“You’re… You’re Daemon Spade, Primo’s Mist Guardian,” Nagi whispered.

“I’d prefer you submit that body of yours to me of your own will.”

“No! Absolutely not!”

“Nufufufu. Then, I’ve got to punish you. You’re going to be mine,” Kato—Daemon—said.

Tsuna saw Daemon’s mark appear in his eye, a spade. And just like that, Nagi was under his control.

‘Well, shit.’

Cloud was next, which meant Adelheid. A helicopter buzzed in out of nowhere and dropped Hibari off.

‘Sure, why not. Anything is possible at this point. Even Disciplinary Committee members who know how to fly choppers.’

While that was going on, he was still paying attention to Nagi’s situation.

“Sawada Tsunayoshi has inherited the thick blood of the Vongola Primo,” Daemon informed Nagi. “He’s a dangerous factor. We must eliminate the remainder of the Vongola Primo’s bitter legacy. In order to do that we need my own abilities. You know what it is you can do for me, right?”

“…Yes.”

“Say it with that mouth.”

“…Yes. …This body and Rokudo Mukuro… I offer them to Daemon-sama.”

Hibari won. What a shock.

The memory they got that time actually felt important. Cozarto had come to aid Vongola. They were surrounded. When Giotto found out he immediately made the decision to rescue him and his people.

Daemon Spade, however, said it was reckless and impossible. He would go, pave a path of escape for the Shimon.

Hibari noticed someone approaching. “Who are you?”

“Looks like you found me,” Kato said. “Oh well.” Nagi was half hidden behind him.

“Julie!” Adelheid cried out. “You’ll take care of Enma, won’t you?”

“Of course,” Kato said airily. “Leave it to me. You did well, Adel. And from here on, I’m going to go ahead and leave my place in Shimon.”

“Julie!?”

“Looks like I don’t have any need to continue this awful charade. Adel, I needed you to lead the Shimon as its passionate driving motivation, but… You being taken away permanently will dismantle the family. The Shimon guardians have nothing left. And when Enma fully awakens, he’ll have emotionally gone past the point of no return, so there’s no problem.”

Tsuna mentally checked out again until the point that Takeshi dropped in out of fucking nowhere to save the life of his counterpart—the one who tried to brutally murder him—and face down Daemon Spade in Kato Julie’s body, all while Nagi was holding up a barrier that, allegedly, would kill her if it was broken.

Mizuno Kaoru saved Takeshi from a back attack, and thus lost the Rain battle.

Tsuna was still confused as fuck by Daemon’s insistence on wiping him out. If he was dead, and Iemitsu was clearly incompetent, just exactly who did Daemon think was going to lead Vongola, the bloodier, nastier, all around more disgusting version of the family? Because with blood-locked rings…

Was Daemon planning to break his mind and use him as a puppet? Why was he like this? What was the twisted logic that made up his insanity?

Why was the next memory, after he beat the sense back into a psychotic Enma (he was starting to believe in Naruto’s therapy jutsu), so focused on showing a clear pacifier when it came to the Vindice?

Is that where they originated? When the Arcobaleno were replaced and the present set were sucked dry? If they somehow clung to life, or unlife… Is that what Vindice were? They—or one of them—had their own flame, not of the Sky or the Earth.

“Should I call you … Bermuda von Veckenschtein?”

The chibi-sized Vindice with a clear pacifier.

Reborn flipped out, demanding of the Vindice who were present to share the memory, “Why do you possess that clear pacifier!?”

“We have no reason to tell you,” was all he got as a reply.

He had never, in any life, seen Reborn flip out like that, but it did prove just how deeply he felt about being enslaved to a pacifier.

A bit later—it might have been hours and several fights on and possibly saving Enma’s life—Daemon had pulled a bluff and stolen Mukuro’s body, broken out of Vendicare, and brought himself back to the “holy” island to wipe out Tsuna.

And boast, and monologue, and laugh psychotically. And also show just how fucked in the head he was with how he kept warping the body he was wearing. It was almost amusing to see a pissed off Mukuro inhabiting the body of a passing owl.

There was a battle, wherein Tsuna could finally openly use Earth Flames—some bizarre thing where his Vongola ring merged with Enma’s Shimon ring—and how did that work, anyway? Now poor Enma was short a ring? Tsuna got it all, and Enma got the satisfaction of helping? Or something?

Daemon was defeated, and it was revealed that somehow the man had interpreted “protect the weak” to mean wipe them off the face of the Earth and turn the family into a bloody totalitarian regime that encompassed the world.

But everyone was happy! The Shimon Famiglia members had been set free by the Vindice (and Shoichi), Mukuro was allowed to keep his body and not have to go back to Vendicare for his efforts in defeating Daemon Spade, and it was all so saccharine that Tsuna wanted to gag.

Back in Namimori, Tsuna died when a small yappy dog startled him into falling into an open manhole, which wouldn’t have been so bad, but he knocked himself into unconsciousness when his head hit the metal rim and he drowned.

In sewer water.

Chapter Text

λ8
Possession

‘Checker Face was so powerful,’ he thought as he stared up at that depressingly familiar ceiling. ‘I couldn’t even begin to withstand his illusions when he brought them to bear on me. Maybe…? Maybe when Byakuran acquired the pacifiers in that one dimension, Checker Face fooled him too? Stole them back and used illusion to make Byakuran not realize it? Slaved them to a new set of Arcobaleno?

‘Though, that begs the question… I just don’t get why the administrator of the Tri-ni-set seems so fucking casual and unconcerned about the pieces, when he was so quick to end my life.’

“Tsu-kun~! Breakfast is ready. Wash up and come down!”

He rolled his eyes and went to get ready.

After breakfast he scurried off outside. That small park that no one ever seemed to frequent was still that small park that no one ever seemed to frequent, so he made himself comfortable to begin the usual opening exercises of each new life.

‘Okay,’ he thought as he stared at his flame covered hands. ‘The full group again, which means I have to worry about being drafted in as Decimo. Fuck. So I not only have to decide how I’m going to handle that, but also how to track down Daemon Spade and avert that whole Sin and Penalty crap with Shimon.

‘It was bad enough during the war with Byakuran and everyone running around with those stupid box weapons, because really, everyone needed yet more power, right? But to then add in Primo’s blood to give the Vongola rings a boost?

‘I already know how to divert Byakuran, so that’s cool. Just have to pay attention when the time comes, assuming I’m even here. It’s Daemon who is the problem now. Shit. The Flood of Blood happened in 2009, so I have a few years yet until I know for near certain where the man will be, but it’d be way better if I could find him much sooner.

‘I’m almost curious as to what would happen if I let it slip that I was a Cloud to the old man and the sperm donor, then fooled them into thinking that Timoteo had successfully sealed me. And then faked my own death because a seal on a Cloud caused me to self-destruct. I think I’m good enough with Mist to pull off a death without needing a body. Or I could just find a victim of Momokyokai and transform that. Either way, I’m not going to find Daemon by wasting time here.’

A part of him sat up in delight at the idea of potentially causing the two men he most disliked to feel guilt over actions they took which led to the death of an innocent child. He was not so nice as to not occasionally take pleasure in the pain of others, especially given what those two seemed prone to doing in nearly every dimension.

‘Really, you’d have thought Spade would have loved Iemitsu for being such a narcissistic dick. So long as you can make them think it’s their own ideas, a narcissist will defend to the death their course of action, because they’re convinced they must be right, and that they have the right. Or maybe I just hate him so much I attribute every bad thing I can think of to his character.’

Tsuna shrugged. His father was and always would be a sore point.

Maybe he should just play it cool and fake them out with the wrong flames, fake them out on thinking he was sealed and therefore no longer the concern of Vongola. He wouldn’t have to fake his own death, because he could fake his mother out with tales of having extended sleepovers with a “friend”. Something like that.

He would have to tightly plan those trips, to leave messages in Italy for Daemon to find, to hopefully get curious enough to come track him down in Japan. If it came to it, and it was better in the long run for Tsuna to move base to Italy, then he could fake his death and do so.

He shook his head and heaved a sigh. No. For so long as there was any chance that he could activate flames, he would always be in danger of being forced into serving the Vongola. True, pretending to merely be a Cloud would offer quite a lot of protection, but it was still more of a risk than he was willing to take.

The last go around, after having decided to play along, to be around people… Things had gone so badly, and he had struggled with giving a damn about any of it. The bright points were saving the Shimon, especially poor Enma, and learning about Daemon Spade. Even a bit more about the pacifiers and the Vindice.

‘Fuck. I’ll give it some time. I can use my tricks to plant spies in Italy, get those hints scattered around for Spade and use my glass to spy more directly. Convince those two I’m just a helpless little tuna fish. The screaming was hilarious, though, so maybe that again. It really doesn’t hurt to make them think I’m more of an airhead than my mother.

‘Okay, I have a basic plan,’ he decided. ‘Time to get to work.’

*

He reached Between repeatedly to drop his spies, wisps of Mist-Earth Flames, and used his panels of glass to see with his own eyes so he could direct them. Seemingly innocuous messages were inserted into many newspapers, though he wasn’t sure just how effective they would be given the technological advances in the world.

Then again, he had trouble seeing Daemon Spade glued to a smartphone as a side effect of being addicted to the internet. Especially after seeing the man parade around in his poncy finery from the Dark Ages of Primo’s time.

His work was interrupted by The Visit, so he plastered on his best “idiot” face and waited for his cue. The second Iemitsu started babbling about his adorable little tuna fish, Tsuna let out a piercing scream of terror—and a child’s scream could be an ear-shattering, impossibly-thin blade of pain—and moved to “hide” behind the bonsai tree he had been having a conversation with, shrieking out a prayer to Kami-sama to save him from the bad man who wanted to eat him.

Nana smiled vacuously and welcomed the stranger into their home—the one Iemitsu insisted was just like family—and offered tea.

Iemitsu started in on the sake straight off. He added cans of beer when every look in Tsuna’s direction resulted in another piercing scream and prayer to Kami-sama. The second the blond’s eyes were turned away, Tsuna would resume his conversation.

Being called in for lunch was another opportunity to ham it up. Tsuna held his hands up like blinders to either side of his eyes, so he could avoid seeing the scary blond man, but that meant he was unable to eat the food his mother put in front of him.

His eyes went wide and teary, his nose red, and his lower lip trembled dangerously. An almost silent keening noise issue from his throat, of fear and frustration.

Iemitsu let out a low growl—which only caused Tsuna to keen slightly more loudly—and roughly pushed his chair back. Tsuna could hear him exiting the kitchen. After a minute, when he deemed things safe, Tsuna dropped his hands and dove into his meal.

It was only when he was done and “chanced” to look directly at the old man, that his eyes went wide again, his mouth dropped open, and he pointed.

“What is it, Tsunayoshi-kun?” Timoteo asked softly.

“…Jiji-san needs to get help! Jiji-san has fuzzypillars eating his face!” He reached up to dash his fingers over his own brows and the space between his upper lip and nose.

Timoteo’s kindly smile stayed fixed in place. “I see.”

“Tsu-kun doesn’t want the fuzzypillars to get him,” he said breathily, shaking his head back and forth.

Nana giggled and clapped her hands together. “Aw, my cute little Tsu-kun~! Go upstairs and play now, Tsu-kun~!”

He beamed at his mother and gratefully took the excuse to escape. All visible memory of his fright over the fuzzypillars was gone as he tumbled off his chair and bounced out of the room, babbling about his play date with neko-chan.

“Neko-chan?” Timoteo asked.

“My little Tsu-kun has the most adorable little stuffed kitty,” she burbled happily.

Tsuna giggled to himself all the way up the stairs.

Once the two interlopers were gone he got back to his work of trying to flush Daemon Spade out. In a fit of inspiration he got out his acquired laptop and began to write a play. A play about a noble man and his noble love, of the—well, there were a lot of flowery words and inside references, but basically he scripted out a play involving Daemon and Elena back then, though he changed enough of the surrounding circumstances that most people in Vongola who had a chance of knowing their history would pass it off as a coincidence.

Hopefully.

And hopefully, it would catch Daemon’s eye, get him wondering, thinking. It didn’t matter if it made him angry, to see a tweaked version of his death, how he was made to face how badly he warped and twisted Elena’s wishes, even if he didn’t believe the reassurances of the one trying to make him see.

Getting it produced wasn’t an issue. He had quite a lot of money stocked, though he had to launder quite a bit of what he had stored Between since it came from an alternate dimension and would be seen as forgeries. Converting precious metals to funds was far simpler, and he made it a point to start keeping plenty of that on hand the moment he realized what he stored Between stayed with him no matter what subsequent dimension he ended up in.

But he had enough to pay for a group of aspiring stage actors to learn the play, practice, and perform once each night over the course of the summer in an outdoor amphitheater he rented.

All without leaving Namimori.

He knew he was getting somewhere when his spies noticed other spies lurking nearby, so he allowed one of his to be slightly more obvious rather than having it hide at the edge of Between. Tsuna had long since made it a practice to gloss his glass panes with Mist on the other side, to hide them, so he could view without worrying about an audience.

So he was in a perfect position to see the other spy notice his, though he could not tell if the other spy was Daemon’s. On a whim he had his spy shift shape into a spade, just to see what would happen.

If a wispy little Mist spy could show shock, this one did. Somehow. It was as if its little eyes went wide and it startled in place.

Tsuna took a moment to scribble down a note (Earth Flames were used to hold the pen and paper, so there would be no fingerprints, just in case) and then drop it through Between so that it fluttered to the ground under his visible spy. The spy was sent to perch behind the note.

The opposing spy cautiously approached to see: Have you come to your senses yet? Or are you still a psychotic whackjob that Elena would be disappointed in?

He could just imagine it, that little wisp of Mist, putting its tiny hands on its nonexistent hips and scowling. Or maybe he could because the damn thing was doing just that.

Tsuna scribbled another note and delivered it: Seriously. I don’t see the point in even trying to open a proper dialogue with you if you’re not in your right mind.

The other spy moved back and forth in a floaty form of pacing. As it did so it kept getting larger. Legs sprouted from it, and arms, and really long hair. Eventually it came to a stop in the form of a translucent Daemon Spade.

Tsuna had the urge to put on mirrored sunglasses for some reason. He could only hope that Daemon could not pinpoint the location of his window and actually use that spade trick on him to subvert his will. Or possess him.

Unfortunately, the spy couldn’t transmit sound, so Daemon resorted to writing messages in the air with Mist.

“I have been considering the possibility that I might have been a bit hasty in my interpretation of my beloved’s dying words.”

Tsuna snorted.

His own spy stopped pretending to be a spade and rose up into the air, forming words as well. “I see. And have you reconsidered this potentially hasty interpretation? Because I can get behind the idea of making a bunch of clams behave better, though it would potentially require some serious tweaking.”

Daemon’s brow went up. “Which clams in particular?”

“Oh, some crusty ones,” he replied. “The lead crusty’s clamlets probably need new role models, too, though the youngest is actually delightful once you get past all the swearing.”

“The youngest isn’t even a true clam.”

“I’m well aware of that. But he’s damn effective. The crusty clam just oozes manipulation and lies and guilt trips…”

Daemon smirked. “This, coming from a fellow Mist?”

“I am unappreciative when a crusty old clam tries those tactics on me and expects them to work.”

“You obviously know who I am,” Daemon said. “May I know your name?”

“…You may call me Heul, for the moment. If it turns out to be possible that we can work together without fear of backstabbing, I will reveal my true name.”

“How did you even know I yet existed?”

Tsuna bit his lip. “I know someone. They can see … sideways, so to speak. I encountered you in another lifetime. Again, so to speak. You were formidable, but not invincible. Still, I would have preferred to have you as a rational ally, not an enemy.”

Daemon looked positively intrigued. “Why so much interest in seafood?”

“Because I am a clam.”

Daemon’s eyes burned with interest. “How curious. I was unaware of any clams blessed with Mist.”

“I am more than Mist. But Mist is one of my primary weapons. It’s so delightfully versatile for a creative mind.”

“Such as how you’re doing this at all.”

The previous set of words bobbed in place, like a nod.

“I found it curious you would show no face, but now…”

“I know what that eye of yours can do. I’d rather not become your puppet. Having taken the risk to admit I’m a clam, well… I can show you a face, but it would be false for now.”

Daemon looked thoughtful for some time, his head tilted just slightly to the side, then he slowly reached out to brush his “finger” over the words still hovering in the air. A surprised look graced his face. “Ah, I see. You’re an heir, which narrows it down quite a bit, does it not?”

Tsuna furrowed his brow.

“I sense Mist, Cloud, and Sky. And something else, something I have not encountered in some time. This is very intriguing. And it eliminates almost everyone.”

‘Aw, fuck, he’s figured it out. Bastard’s too smart.’

“Tell me, Heul, do you like hold conversations with potted plants?”

“As an act, yes.”

Daemon smirked and nodded. “You’re quite something, aren’t you, to be managing this from so far away. To pull off such a grand show to catch my attention.”

“As I said, I would prefer you as a rational ally, not an enemy.”

“I’m just going to have to secure myself passage, then, aren’t I,” Daemon said. “I would love to meet you in person.”

“I’ll leave Mist markers in place, where I usually work from.”

“I will find you,” Daemon promised.

*

He was busy tapping away on his laptop, dealing with his investments, when his intuition pinged and caused him to stare into the distance. No one was visible, but he knew better. Daemon obviously noticed, because he faded into view and approached to take a seat.

“Hello, Daemon. Welcome to Namimori.”

“Greetings, Tsunayoshi.”

“Tsuna is fine, though as you saw, I go by Heul for most things. I’m curious about something.”

“Yes?”

“How do you choose bodies to inhabit? I mean… I can’t figure out what your criteria would be, aside from Mist of at least decent strength.”

“There is a synchronization ratio. Anyone active with even a hint of Mist will work, but that does not make them effective hosts. Some bodies simply fit better than others.”

“Huh. That might explain why you—the other you. Uh…”

Daemon’s brow went up.

“In that other life, so to speak, you had a very particular target. He was practically your clone, anyway. Once I actually saw you, it made me wonder if you’d ever procreated and he was a genetic throwback.”

His companion’s brow crinkled. “You are surprisingly eloquent for being so young. Did this … sideways experience … mature you?”

“You know what? Fuck it. I’m dying to tell someone. The worst that can happen in the end is I die, because if I lose my mind for real, it’s not like I’ll exist anymore to give a fuck. So it’s like this.” He settled in to explain the insanity he called life, paying particular attention to the Shimon battles—or what he remembered of them when he hadn't been checked out mentally.

“I can believe this,” Daemon said slowly, “based on several things. The qualities assigned to the Mare rings, for one. The sheer breadth of your knowledge, especially about things no five year old child should ever have encountered, is another, and even more compelling. So what exactly is it you plan to do this time?”

“Aside from try to prevent you from…” He sighed. “Primary goal, to figure out those stupid pacifiers and how to replace them in the system. Secondary goal, to avoid being sucked into the insanity and hypocrisy that is Vongola as a candidate. Tertiary goal, linked to the secondary, to get the old man to step down in favor of one of his sons. Though with the way I suspect the old man has been a horrible father, all three of those candidates are probably sub-par and quite possibly in need of a little mental tinkering.”

“Oh my. I suppose I should not be surprised after the tale you’ve regaled me with. It is clear you are a peculiar blend of ruthless and soft-hearted.”

Tsuna shrugged. “I enjoyed my time in the Varia. At least those guys are straightforward, though that might have something to do with Xanxus being so hacked off with the old man for so long. They didn’t care what your name was or what family you came from, or even if you came from one, so long as you were Quality and got the job done. It was refreshing.”

Daemon smirked in amusement. “I am going to investigate the brothers three in depth. I wish to be absolutely certain what sort of men they are before I consider action of any kind. Will you be remaining here, or striking out again?”

“I’m probably going to fake my death again and find a place in Italy, probably in Rozzano. Close, but not right on their doorstep.”

“Are you going to become all moral if I choose to obtain a new body in that delightful Mist you spoke of?”

“The one you sought last time?” Tsuna shook his head. “He didn’t deserve what they did to him, but I barely knew the kid. Maybe you taking over will give his soul a chance to be reborn to better circumstances, rather than ruthlessly experimented on until he finally gains enough power and confidence to slaughter them all. At this point, I’d almost consider it saving the kid from a fate worse than death.”

Daemon hummed. “I will track you down in Rozzano, then.”

He nodded, satisfied so far.

*

Another shark, another death, and he was shortly thereafter settling in at a cozy apartment in Rozzano. Tsuna donned his Heul disguise—the adult version of it, freshly anchored to a toe-ring—and set about dropping spies into the Iron Fort to keep an eye on Timoteo, Enrico, Massimo, and Federico.

While spies could witness all sorts of nasty or deviant behavior, they could not get into someone’s mind and poke around. Though, to be fair, Tsuna had never tried using them that way. Daemon, on the other hand, had centuries of experience, and Tsuna had little doubt he could mentally slave someone long enough to learn what he wanted with that eye trick of his, then wipe away any memory of the encounter.

“Huh, maybe that’s something I should investigate this time around,” he muttered, fixing himself a cup of oolong.

“What would that be?”

Tsuna twitched and replied, “Mind reading, essentially. And memory removal. It’s just as well I hadn't put up my usual protections, or you might have wandered off in completely the wrong direction.”

“Ah, you never did go into detail about that,” Daemon said, taking a seat at his brand new table.

“Tea?” he offered.

“Please.”

Once they were settled in with oolong and some nice bread he had picked up from a nearby bakery, he said, “There was a concept used in the games I used to play, called a bounding box. You also find them in geometry. The concept pops up elsewhere, but that was where I first encountered them.”

Daemon nodded as he buttered his bread.

“It’s a cube of Mist, so it provides protection on all sides. I propagate the disorienting properties of the Mist to make it that much harder for anyone to get inside, or even realize there’s anything there to pay attention to. I used them the entire time during the Varia lifetime. Just in case. People get jealous, irrational.”

“Like you did when you snapped?”

Tsuna rolled his eyes. “I was perfectly rational when I decided to start slaughtering entire families. I just wasn’t aware at the time that you were behind the incident that set me off in the first place, and impersonated that jackass who claims to be my father.”

Daemon sipped his tea, his eyes gleaming in amusement.

“The fact that the ninth refused to even investigate properly still remains. For someone who goes on and on about rebuilding the Vongola to closer resemble its roots, the old man is quite hypocritical when it comes to his favorites. At any rate, my spies have assured me that the layout of the Iron Fort is the same as I learned previously, so that’s comforting. The brothers, however…”

“If you take a portion of Mist Flames as if you were going to wrap it around a target’s mind and instead sink it into their mind, you get different results. You aren’t trying to seize control of their perception, but rather synchronize with their mind, their thoughts.”

“And doing so transfers what they’re thinking about,” he guessed, “rather like how my spies are ‘hearing’ things and transforming that information into signals I then ‘hear’. But it’s all mental. And then using your connection to the Mist to influence them to think in a … a certain direction?”

Daemon nodded. “True, I have it much easier. I can simply invoke my particular specialty, but I did it the other way until that manifested. Have you manifested anything of interest?”

He thought about that and shrugged. “I don’t think so. Most of the interesting things I can do involve creativity and looking at things differently. The only really odd thing is connected to an experiment I did. The results persisted even after each death.”

A quizzical look was aimed his way.

Tsuna noticed Daemon’s tea was low so he topped him off, then kept the man’s attention as he reached into Between and pulled out a notebook.

Daemon blinked.

“I don’t even remember when I got the idea,” he said, “but I wanted to make use of the space between molecules. To help hide my spies, myself, to travel, and for storage. The odd thing is that my storage is always accessible. But I have to launder any money in there each time, because they count as forgeries. I started storing a lot of gold because of that. Easier to convert to get a jump-start on investments.”

“I have never, in all these centuries, seen a technique like that.”

He grinned. “Manifestations, though… I really don’t think so. Not like you and that eye, or Mukuro and his eye, or Viper and their psychic ability. But all the weird stuff probably balances that out.”

“I don’t recall hearing anything in that story which would explain why any of this is happening to you.”

Tsuna shook his head. “Don’t have a clue. The only thing that ever rang any bells was what Viper said during the Scramble Battle for Mist, about reliving lives. But reincarnates aren’t supposed to remember anything, and they sure as hell aren’t supposed to collect flame types or … boatloads of cash…” He shrugged, completely at a loss.

“So, are you willing to avoid traumatizing poor Enma this time? I don’t care if you frame Iemitsu for something horrible. I considered at one point maneuvering him into blackmail-worthy material and using it to force a divorce between him and my mother, but I’m not sure she’d survive without that link. It’s like her entire psyche is dependent on him.”

Daemon wrinkled his nose. “I shall consider it, after spending some time investigating the man. And yes, I shall avoid the Shimon Famiglia. Let’s focus on the here and now of Vongola. See if any of those sons are in any way worthy of being Decimo.”

“I agree. Though I’m going to test the mind-reading stuff on other people. I’d rather not mess up and turn one of the brothers into a vegetable.” He paused. “A vegetable that could still produce children, one assumes, but still.”

“I do agree that it is odd that the old man has not pushed harder for his sons to settle down and begin families of their own. How is the line to continue if they do not?”

Tsuna grimaced. “He was seventy when I was… He’s sixty now, I suppose? Enrico has got to be forty, and his brothers are a few years apart. It’s long past time for them to take those steps. You know, sometimes I wonder if the reason he never pushed was because he always intended on a fallback of…”

“You.”

“Yeah. Young, sealed, stupid, naïve. Almost completely inexperienced—even with Reborn there constantly—used to being bullied into doing things… Was it all a long con? And Xanxus was never told, so that he would be likely—especially after having been iced—to fight for the title, even knowing it was beyond his reach?” He huffed a laugh. “I’m not sure if I want to know. My opinion of Timoteo is already in the toilet, but… Wow. I can’t believe that never occurred to me before.”

*

Tsuna’s spies told him that the three brothers were horribly spoiled and arrogant. His theory about the old man was gaining weight in his mind, which was a terrifying thing, the idea that Timoteo basically let his sons be murdered so he could go after the original bloodline to elevate a candidate who was too young and downtrodden to presumably have a proper backbone.

He pinched himself. ‘Settle down. No flipping out over something you can’t even prove.’

Xanxus was fourteen, nearly fifteen, so the Cradle Affair was likely to happen soonish. In a way it seemed li—oo, now there was an idea. Should he meddle?

“I sensed plotting and decided to investigate.”

He rolled his eyes. Daemon showed up at the strangest times, really. “I was wondering if I should take out Ottavio ahead of schedule. But without him reporting on Xanxus’s plans back to Timoteo, the coup might actually result in something surprising.”

“The coup he was using as a vehicle to express his displeasure that the old man lied to his face with a smile and led him on.”

“Right. Timoteo knew it was coming, and he reacted by icing Xanxus during the confrontation in his office. But if he didn’t know ahead of time, I’m not sure what would happen. Would Xanxus get an admission, finally? Would he kill the old guy? Would his men miss out on valuable personal growth time while Xanxus was a popsicle?”

“Valuable personal growth?” Daemon mouthed in confusion. “How about we mess with Ottavio to get him to copy us on those reports, without alerting the old man or even our target to the change?”

“…Yeah, okay. I’m leaning toward thinking that it’d be detrimental to directly meddle in this. Xanxus coming back and seeing how his men—Squalo especially—held the Varia together for him was probably a good thing.”

“And his attempt to murder Timoteo at the Scramble Battles?”

“Possibly very good, except for the part where I would have been his killer—or in that one instance, my fraternal twin—and probably beheaded before anyone calmed down enough to point out that the old man’s guardians are obviously incompetent.”

“Unless the old man purposely allowed himself to be kidnapped, trusting that the boy trained by Reborn would prevail, and the incident would further bind the child to him,” Daemon suggested.

“More guilt,” he said. “That’s devious, if it’s what happened. Let me think back… The last time I remember dealing with him was the meeting where he blatantly lied and guilt tripped me into agreeing to the Inheritance Ceremony after assuming I was braindead or something. His guardians were there, of course.

“I don’t recall sensing any tension between him and his men, so either they had a good enough relationship to get over any bumps that whole thing caused, or it was planned and they were in on it, which would mean they had contingency plans for either outcome. I never saw the whole battle from the perspective of candidate, because I died all of two seconds after Hibari defeated the thing, and when I was Varia, I got my intel after the fact from my spies. I hadn't quite figured out the more interesting aspects of working with Between yet at the time.”

“I’m hearing a ‘yes’ vote from you for a detailed look into the old man’s mind,” Daemon said dryly.

He hesitated. “I’m almost afraid of what you might find. I might go off the deep end again, kill the fuckers, and get whacked by Checker Face again.”

“I’ll talk you down from the ledge,” Daemon promised, the smirk on his face anything but reassuring.

He shot a skeptical look at his—whatever it was that Daemon was to him. He would have to set aside some time to figure that out. “Right. I will admit to being interested to know if the old man deliberately raised his sons poorly, or if he’s just incompetent. Because from what I can see, the three of them are pathetic, and their guardians are more like fashion accessories than useful as protection and advisors.”

*

“He had the idea,” Daemon told him some time later, “but that changed after your performance. He realized that if you truly were that stupid he would only be leading the family to utter ruination.”

“As if he hasn’t been already?” he asked dryly.

“You know how it works,” Daemon said carelessly. “At this point he is going over his options seriously, because now he is assured that his backup plan is a losing prospect.”

“You would think that after seeing how Iemitsu acts, he would have known better,” he muttered.

Daemon shrugged. “He found Iemitsu early enough to wreathe him in promises of glory and blind him to the real nature of Vongola, but not early enough to divert him from…”

“Being an idiot,” Tsuna finished. “He probably now thinks it’s genetic, the idiocy. Just as well I faked my death. I don’t … really expect him to push Iemitsu to have more idiot children,” he mused, “but either way, there is no one left alive old enough to take on the role of Decimo but his three biological sons. He’s got to push them into marriage and fatherhood, plus figure out which one is the least dangerous in terms of ruining the family.”

Daemon nodded. “The question then becomes: how do you feel about me tinkering to make one of them at least passable as a don, and tinkering with the old man to push him down that road faster, to propagate the family?”

“What about the other two?” he asked. “Would they resent these changes and fight back? Take out the chosen one? Take out each other? Their father, so it would fall to a vote? Actually, I have no idea how that works. How is the next leader chosen, if not directly by the current one?”

“Think back to those Scramble Battles you mentioned,” Daemon said. “When it comes to that, that’s how it’s handled. And yes, it’s expected that people will die, that in the end only one brother would stand, with all, some, or none of his guardians still living. And, given how pathetic the current lot is, I would not be surprised if only a single person was left standing at the end.”

Tsuna thought about that for a bit, absently folding a piece of paper into a crane. “How about we push for that,” he said eventually, starting on a second one. “Find out who’s left standing and then tinker with that person? Maybe, if we have a clear preference, meddle enough to ensure they win? And, of course, find a woman who won’t fuss much and is ready and willing to start creating the next generation.”

Daemon chuckled lowly, the sound of it sinister and decidedly creepy. “Oh, I can ensure they won’t cause a fuss.”

It was ugly, the thought of it. Some woman picked to essentially be an ornament and brood mare. On the other hand, the right woman would quite likely be grateful for being raised up with only that as her job. And it would be a job, unless the two managed to fall for each other. He and Daemon could ensure she would be treated well, not like a prisoner—except for where it came to her safety, and the safety of any children—and have access to the finer things in life.

“All those morals I started out with,” he whispered, “dashed on the rocks of reality and swept away by waves and wind…”

“How poetic,” Daemon said smirkingly. “Being a Mist… Well, it does things to your mind. Morals are generally something other people have.”

Tsuna rolled his eyes. “I still have morals,” he insisted. “They’re just a lot more personal now. They’re mine, not something I was given and told to follow like a good boy. A good boy would have taken the knowledge he had and tried so hard to live up to the unrealistic expectations everyone had of him. He would have tried so hard to save everyone, not realizing it’s a fool’s game. He would have been crushed under the guilt.”

“But you were bright enough to see what was going on,” Daemon said, almost in a sing-song. “Bright enough to fool them. Just think how far you could—”

“No,” he interrupted wearily. “No no no. You will not try that corruption shit on me. I told you what my goals are this time around. Either help, or fuck off. But none of this mind-twisting bullshit. I am a better ally whole in mind than I am as a twisted reflection of you. You sure as hell didn’t come up with the tricks I have as a Mist.”

Daemon grinned after a moment and shrugged. “Just testing your resolve,” he said sunnily.

“Sure, let’s go with that.”

*

While Daemon was off being evil for the sake of the Vongola’s continued existence—even Tsuna couldn’t pretty up their plans with soft words and a fuzz-focus—Tsuna was off amongst the civilian population trolling for rapists and other nasties so he could work on his mind-reading technique.

He would start with the inactives and move his way up to actives, just in case.

And most likely deal with them once he was done with his tests. It would be heartless indeed to let them continue to roam free, hurting innocents, ripping them to shreds emotionally or physically, or even killing them for some sick thrill.

Daemon’s explanation was enough to get him started, once he tracked down a rapist. It was shocking in some ways how brazen they could be when it came to acquiring a victim. Tsuna found one who had just dragged a girl into an alley. He reacted by slapping up Mist barriers and then shrouding the man in Mist to divert him.

The girl was gently encouraged to go, to get to a place of safety.

The man was sent a bit farther down the alley and trapped in a Bounding Box so that Tsuna would not be interrupted. Tsuna was positioned on the roof of one of the buildings that hedged in the alley and, as it was his Bounding Box, he could see into it perfectly.

His target was confused, not only by the change in circumstance, but by his inability to go anywhere. Tsuna reached out with his Mist Flames and used them to first blanket the target’s senses, to further confound him, then to insinuate themselves into the target’s mind and thoughts.

He was surprised when the man’s head exploded and splattered brain matter all over the interior of the Bounding Box.

Tsuna coughed and slinked away quietly through Between, letting the box dissipate so the corpse could be found.

His next attempt was a bit less … forceful … and more delicate. Thankfully, the target’s head did not explode. Tsuna also did not manage to, well, manage … what he was after, which was leeching information straight out of the guy’s head.

But it was progress.

Daemon was still off doing his thing, so Tsuna continued on his self-assigned mission. He varied his hunting grounds so that no one got any ideas about trying to entrap a serial killer. ‘Hah,’ he thought to himself. ‘One man’s serial killer is another man’s vigilante, right?’

He baited a pedophile into an alley and trapped him for his next try. He insinuated his Mist into the man’s mind and focused on sensing his target’s thoughts. What he got was a faceful of images, all of them featuring precisely what the man planned to do to him once he had been subdued.

None of it was pretty.

But, seeing as how he had succeeded in at least part of his mission, he tried for the second half, which was to guide the target’s thoughts in a particular direction, so Tsuna could glean information from him. To that end, he attempted to nudge the target into thinking about his home.

Of course, he had no real concept of how to do that, not having bothered to ask Daemon for details. Therefore, he began to think of home, but in an abstract way, and try to push that direction of thought into his target’s mind.

Tsuna was not prepared for when his target’s brains liquefied inside his skull.

He huffed in annoyance and slipped Between to flee the scene. He was going to have to ask Daemon for advice.

*

He scowled the entire time Daemon laughed at him.

Once the elder Mist finally regained his composure he said, “If you can consistently replicate that you will have a fantastic assassination technique in your arsenal.”

He scowled some more.

Daemon laughed again and shook his head in amusement. “Well, now that I have had my daily share of laughter, I shall update you on what I’ve found and done.”

Tsuna sat up straighter, curious.

“The, ah, crusty clam has been induced to settle the matter now, rather than dithering uselessly for yet more time, and has initiated the Scramble Battles. Right at the moment, the least useless seems to be Massimo. He is in the unenviable position of middle child, which means he resents Enrico for being older and better trained, and he resents Federico for being the baby and being more spoiled. This gives him plenty of motivation to win out over both of them.”

Tsuna nodded.

“He is a bit less maliable than Federico, but also less spoiled.”

“A happy medium, in other words.”

Daemon nodded. “With that in mind, I suggest we subtly support Massimo in his efforts to win this overall. And once he’s in position, continue that support. Help him to find and obtain better guardians, preferably ones who are focused on the job and not their hair or clothing or food or who they get to bed that night.”

Tsuna rolled his eyes. Aside from his first life where he held a passing fancy for that Sasagawa girl, the absolute last thing on his mind most days was dating or hormones or sex. Perhaps if he had actually ever bedded someone he might feel differently, but he had not, so he did not.

He paused to do the math again.

He had lived around one hundred ten years so far, and had never even reached a quarter century in any one life.

Maybe someday.

He wasn’t really surprised, thinking back on it. Even in his longest life he had too many other things to focus on to worry about that sort of partner. He wasn’t even sure where his inclinations lay, for that matter. The initial reactions of the young and very stupid were not a good indicator, after all.

He shook his head and tried to focus on the matters at hand. “Do you think the old man would try to act as an advisor to Massimo?”

“Daniella did not,” Daemon said, tilting his head thoughtfully, “but she was tired and wanted her rest. She was disappointed in her son after he took over, for she thought she had trained him well enough with what time she could spare for him directly. It became apparent soon enough that he had fooled her to a degree.”

“Not all Vongola have the Hyper Intuition,” he commented. “I distinctly remember Timoteo saying he sensed that I was agreeable for a moment to the idea of succeeding him. Clearly he was delusional.”

“You only agreed to see where it would go.”

Tsuna nodded. “What is your opinion of Daniella?”

“She was tough, but she had to be,” Daemon replied. “The mafia can still be quite sexist, so she had to do twice the work on top of ensuring that no one got any ideas about Vongola being weak simply because a woman led them. She didn’t have time to worry about Vongola’s roots, though she did try.”

“Timoteo is more and more like a snake in the grass.”

Daemon fidgeted, his lips pursing and his eyes shifting to the side. “Part of it is probably my doing,” he admitted. “I had misinterpreted…”

He was a bit stunned that Daemon admitted to any wrongdoing. “What’s done is done. Let’s just see if we can nudge things back to a less bloody path, without inviting the other side to dogpile the Vongola and their allies.”

“To get back to what you said earlier,” Daemon said, steering the conversation back to a safer topic, “to direct their thoughts you need to…”

*

“Maybe Talbot would have some ideas?” he mused.

“He has been around since time began, seemingly,” Daemon commented.

“It really makes me wonder if he’s something like Checker Face. He indirectly claimed not to be human, and I got the impression he’s really old. Like, older than you old. And while he clearly has a handle on Mist Flames, I rather doubt he manages via possession like you have. I likewise doubt that Talbot possesses people.”

“He could have found the fabled Fountain of Youth,” Daemon said with a shrug. “Or created a Philosopher’s Stone. People have only been trying to do that since ancient times.”

Tsuna shrugged back. “Makes me wonder if Checker Face looks just as wizened as Talbot under his disguise. Or maybe Talbot wears a disguise to make people think he’s not very threatening.” He sighed, sincerely doubting he would ever get answers to certain nagging questions. Life just wasn’t nice that way.

Tsuna wasn’t going to break the mind of an ally just to get answers, and he had no doubt it would take him uncounted iterations before he was strong enough to even contemplate trying that on Checker Face, never mind being strong, talented, and clever enough to find the man in the first place.

“The pacifiers are containers, correct?” Daemon said. “They contain flame, for whatever reason. The rings function similarly, but they are not so devastating.”

“Even if we made new ones, we don’t know how they function, exactly. Talbot might have ideas based on his knowledge of the Vongola rings, though.”

“Reasonable,” Daemon said agreeably. “But getting him to talk to us…”

Tsuna slumped. “Right, we’re strangers. Well, I mean, you’re not, but I don’t think most people would take Primo’s Mist Guardian being back from the dead too well. Or… Well, who knows? He might be okay, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t talk to the old man about it. Someone who has been alive that long surely has a will of iron and the resolve of a hundred men.”

“Even if we could get information from him,” Daemon replied, “we still have no idea how these theoretical containers would function in the absence of a person for them to leech off.”

“You know who else has been around since forever?” he said.

“…The Vindice.”

“Yeah. I wonder what that means. Speaking of which, do you have any idea how they do that portal thing?”

Daemon’s brow went up. “It’s clearly a flame of some kind. Based on what you can do with Mist…”

“Yeah, no,” he said, shaking his head. “I tried like hell to pull that off, and I never could. I don’t think Between is the same thing. I’m slipping through the gaps. I think they’re doing science fiction shit. Like Star Trek, but… Um, folding space? I never could quite get the hang of that stuff.”

Daemon looked thoughtful. “I never tried. Unfortunately, given that I have acquired a nearly perfect host body, I am loathe to relinquish it in order to go haunt Vendicare.”

“Um…” Tsuna bit his lip, wondering if he should share one of his secrets with his mostly trustworthy ally. “Have you figured out Between yet based on what I’ve said?”

Daemon smirked and reached up to snag a box out of thin air. “Yes.”

He grinned. “Okay. Here’s a new trick, then.” He pulled a spare pane of glass from his stash and held it up. “This is a window. If you can hold it on the edge of Between, with one face on your side, and one face on the other side…”

A long, slow sound of appreciation came from his fellow Mist. “So that’s how you could so clearly see when we ‘met’ in Italy. And as I could not see anything resembling glass… You used Mist on my side. But… Ah, I see. You also use Earth Flames to assist you in keeping the glass steady. I suppose it’s a good thing I can use those well enough, so long as I have a good medium.”

“Considering I find it hard to believe there is but a single person for each of the Flames of the Earth per generation, someone is obviously making rings for those out there. I expect you wouldn’t have issues finding one.”

“Oh, that won’t be a problem,” Daemon assured him. “More to the point is whether or not spying on the Vindice will tell us anything.”

“Um… I’ve never been to Vendicare. Can we take a trip so I have a starting point? I assume you know where they are…?”

Daemon shot a frown his way, but Tsuna could tell it was mostly fake. “Yes, I do. It’s located on the highest peak in Germany, on the border with Austria, and not all that far from Italy, as the crow flies. It will take a bit of doing to get there, and it is protected by cameras and Mist, but I expect we won’t have much trouble getting a good look at the outside.”

“And if I have that much,” he said softly, “I can ease a spy through the front door when it opens for a visitor, or a window if there are any.”

“There are,” Daemon confirmed. “Metal bars, actually, rather than windows. If you’re all right with it, I’ll go start arranging passage now. I would say, pack for a week, to be safe.”

He nodded. “I’ll toss at least that much into storage, plus food. Just in case.”

A few days later they were off, taking a train—Daemon was old school like that—to the station nearest to their destination. The cable car ride was awesome. The trek on foot after that … not so much. It was cold! It was a good thing he kept gear for all climates, a habit left over from his time in the Varia.

The exterior of the prison was blanketed in snow. The entrance had an imposing set of steps leading to an equally imposing door, and off to the sides, in the craggy stone of the mountain the prison was carved into, were barred openings that showed only darkness beyond. Torches burned to either side at the top of the door, and also to either side of the path at the bottom of the steps.

Tsuna observed things for a while from his hiding spot, then signaled to Daemon, who signaled back. They retreated some distance away and sent in spies. Once those were away Tsuna set up a Bounding Box as extra protection. Assuming the Vindice stuck to their prison when not out hunting down criminals was no reason not to be cautious.

A “look” through each of the “windows” showed that they formed part of the outer defenses and cameras were tucked into those dark recesses where they would be less likely to be seen. In other words, there was another door back there behind the one visible to those approaching on foot, and not an easy entry.

One of Daemon’s spies nudged one of Tsuna’s and floated off. Curious, Tsuna had his follow. Daemon’s spy suddenly shot up and hovered near a darker spot on the wall, up near the ceiling of the passageway. Tsuna concentrated and saw what Daemon was highlighting: a vent.

Then he wondered why Daemon didn’t just say it out loud. They were inside the same Bounding Box, after all.

He shrugged and slipped his spy into the vent.

*

“The Flame of Night.”

Tsuna rolled his eyes. “Must you be so dramatic?”

“Yes, daily,” Daemon said with a smirk. “I would not be true to myself otherwise.”

“Kami-sama,” he muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. “So what do you make of their practice? Because they were warping around so fast I could barely see them move. Something was odd, though, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“I think … Bermuda,” Daemon said. “Two things.”

“One being that he’s a chibi? I don’t need all three guesses to figure that one out.”

Daemon nodded. “Two being that I think he’s the source of their power. Think back and review what we saw.”

He did, trying to block out the sounds around him. “Um… He had a weird habit of resting on their shoulders briefly. If it’d been someone like Fon or Skull, I might have believed it to be a thing of comfort or support, but considering what Vindice actually means… Wait, support? You think he was recharging them?”

Daemon nodded again. “I suspect that they have no flame of their own. Bermuda is probably the first. He found some strength of will, some resolve, in the presumably minute amount of time between the removal of his pacifier and his death. He ignited a new flame, one of darkness, bitter spite, hatred…”

Tsuna’s lips pursed as he considered that in conjunction with Xanxus. “Baby clam has Flames of Wrath, so it’s not quite the same thing, though it might explain some of his personality. Definitely not the same thing. So yeah. This Night Flame would lean toward Mist rather than Storm, maybe a touch of Sky due to—well, no, a lot of people could fly despite flame type, so… I wonder if Earth is involved in any way, because moving that fast is like laughing in the face of gravity… Magnetic induction to launch movement… Possibly Cloud…”

Daemon obviously got impatient with his muttering and said, “Does this help us?”

Tsuna blinked and focused on his companion. “Well, if that flame holds any properties of Cloud, maybe. If there were a flame that could propagate flames directly, somehow… But that sounds almost crazy. Still, the Flame of Night might be important. Which,” he mused, “leads us back to Talbot, probably.”

He let out a sigh. That was going to be difficult. He didn’t know if even Daemon could get information out of Talbot’s head without troubles. “We should probably focus on the Scramble Battles for now?”

“They start in a few weeks.”

“Why so long?” he asked in confusion. “They’re all right there.”

Daemon shrugged. “Some quaint notion about fair play, I presume, to give each of them time to prepare.”

“Pfft. The only reason I got extra time was because of those fake rings, and even then it took me the entire time to finally figure out Zero Point Breakthrough. True, I wasn’t hampered by having been sealed at five, but it isn’t the easiest of concepts to get down. I wouldn’t be surprised if Giotto developed it purely by accident.”

The sudden smirk on Daemon’s face said that was likely the case.

“I wonder how this will affect Xanxus’s coup,” he mused. “I mean, he’s got to still be hacked off about the lies, but at least in this case, it would be one of his ‘brothers’ getting the position, not an outsider. Hm.” He quickly called up one of his panes and peeked in on Ottavio.

Daemon scooted over to share the viewing portal, so Tsuna flipped it from portrait to landscape orientation.

Ottavio was busy typing away at a report, about Xanxus’s latest plans for his coup. Only that some of the information was hours old gave indication that things were still heading forward, rather than having stalled at the news of the Scramble Battles. By all accounts, the attack was set to happen about a week prior to the actual battles.

“I guess we’ll see,” Daemon murmured.

“Ottavio still doesn’t seem to be in the know about Xanxus not being of the blood.”

Daemon hummed. “He appears to think this is jealousy-based.” The amusement in his voice was clear.

“…Which is slightly weird given that Xanxus already has such a powerful position of importance, his own little fiefdom.”

Daemon chuckled lowly. “Well, Clouds aren’t known for their people skills, Heul.”

“Bite me,” he replied absently, still reading the evolving report.

*

A week and a half prior to the scheduled start of the Scramble Battles, Xanxus and his people struck. They slithered into the Iron Fort like the seasoned professionals they were, causing chaos and confusion and giving their boss the chance to confront his “father”.

Timoteo iced him the moment Xanxus brought up the reason for his justifiable rage. The old man’s guardians promptly shuffled the results down to a sub-basement storage room and locked the door behind them. Tsuna wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the seven of them returned once the remainder of the Varia had been booted out to set up one of those barriers of combined flames, like the one that was an allegedly perfect protection for the Vongola Sin at the inheritance ceremony.

“I’ve changed my mind.”

“Oh?” Daemon’s brow went up, though his eyes stayed on the glass.

“After the Scramble Battles, while things are still in flux, I’m going to steal Xanxus. Put him somewhere safe and then let the Varia know so they can come get him. Maybe with a hint about combined flames necessary to free him. I didn’t get all the details that one time, but with that much I expect they can figure it out. If it takes too long, well, I guess a bigger hint?”

Daemon pressed the back of his thumb to his lower lip. “And Ottavio would suffer a convenient accident before they were alerted to where their boss was stored, one presumes.”

He hummed in agreement. “Definitely. I was thinking of a seaside cave or something. We could put up an anchored Mist barrier, strong enough to keep the majority out, but not so much that Mammon couldn’t get in, and lead the others.”

“And if they have any sense they would realize that letting the old man and whoever wins know he’s out would be foolish indeed. It does make me wonder, though.”

Tsuna glanced over for a moment. “Why the old man didn’t insist a new Sky take over in his stead?”

“Mm. Maybe he wanted them somewhat crippled. If Squalo was too busy keeping things together, and Ottavio remained as his spy and to introduce issues to keep them off balance and less inclined to cause problems again for Timoteo, well…”

“How does that even work, by the way?” he asked, making careful mental notes about the room Xanxus was stored in.

“What?”

“The rings being blood-locked. If they were locked to Giotto’s blood, then how did Ricardo and his line manage? Ricardo was a cousin, not a brother or son. Did they lock the Sky ring with a combination of blood or something? If it had just been Ricardo, there’s no reason I should have been able to claim the damn thing.”

Daemon eyed him directly. “That is a good question. Unfortunately, I was not present when it was done. I’d have to go with them doing it together. There is no other explanation as to why Ricardo and his line could claim it. Or, it was locked after Giotto, ah, retired, and Iemitsu has a skeleton or two in his genetic closet.”

Tsuna snorted in amusement.

*

It was while Massimo was being transitioned into the role of Decimo that Tsuna and Daemon stepped Between and absconded with the ice-encased form of Xanxus.

“I wonder if he’s aware of anything,” Tsuna mused as he used his Earth Flames to position his once and never boss inside the cave they had chosen. “But I’m content to leave it as a mystery.”

Daemon looked up from the letter he was composing (he had far better handwriting) and eyed Xanxus contemplatively. “We can hope not. Otherwise he would be in for a hellaciously boring existence—until he’s unfrozen, anyway.”

Tsuna grimaced. “Ugh, yeah. Now I hope he’s not, too. At least we’re helping his people to get him out of this way sooner than I expect would ever happen normally,” he said, being careful to speak with delicacy in case Xanxus was able to hear them talking.

Daemon nodded and slid the letter over to Tsuna, who read it through. “I can only hope our suspicions are true. And that they don’t need the Vongola rings specifically, though I expect that Mammon might be powerful enough to effect a temporary swap long enough to get the job done. Well, this looks perfect,” he said admiringly. “But you do have a way with words I quite admire.”

Daemon preened like the peacock he was.

“Okay. Let me drop this off to attract their attention and we can go.”

“Dump it on Mammon’s head. They at least will take it all in before reacting. Squalo would start yelling and attract too much attention.”

“Mm, I agree. Okay, one second…” He carefully settled a pane into place so he could see Mammon’s office—partly so he could see what he was doing, but mostly so he knew Mammon was even in there—and dropped the letter through Between so that it hit the Arcobaleno’s head and slithered off to the side.

Mammon mouth quirked in their “I am puzzled-annoyed” expression and retrieved the letter. Their hood shifted up slightly as they read, denoting surprise.

Tsuna honestly wondered at times if the hood on the Mist’s cloak was pure illusion and reacted in conjunction with movement of their face, as if it was anchored to their forehead.

After a pause, Mammon floated at double speed out of their office and to the right, presumably toward Squalo’s office.

Tsuna shifted his pane of glass back into storage mode and, after a last look at Xanxus, headed out.

He had taken all of a half dozen steps away from the cave entrance when his intuition pinged oddly. Tsuna had only just looked up when he noticed something dark heading toward him at an alarming speed. He attempted to dodge, knowing it wouldn’t be enough, and saw the alarm on Daemon’s face.

Bizarrely, Daemon collapsed a split second before Tsuna died, having had his skull crushed by a tortoise dropped by an eagle. Presumably the bird missed the rock it had been aiming for to shatter the shell of the reptile.

Chapter Text

λ9
Interlude

Tsuna blinked. And again. The ceiling above his prone form was not of the depressingly familiar variety, which confused the everloving fuck out of him. There was no ceiling at all. He was also not five years old.

‘Well, this is not what I expected.’

Tsuna screamed like a girl and bolted to his feet. “Kami-sama, now I’m hearing voices in my head.”

‘Indoor voice, please,’ chided the increasingly familiar voice. ‘I hear things at least twice as loudly in here.’

He huffed. “You fucking possessed me?”

‘Yes, the second I realized you were about to die. I was curious to see if I could join you on your little jaunts. Apparently my plan worked.’

Tsuna heaved a sigh and looked around. He was in … Venice? He looked down. And currently dressed like a damn hobo. And either in his late teens or early twenties? Seriously? He shot a nervous smile at a passing gondolier and scurried off into an alley so he could “clean up” with some judicious use of Mist Flames until he could figure out what in blazes was going on.

‘First goal,’ he thought, ‘find the date.’

‘I approve.’

‘Fuck my life, now my thoughts aren’t even private.’ He shuffled out of the alley in search of a newspaper or anything that would clue him in.

‘I’ll keep an eye out for a host,’ Daemon assured him.

Tsuna snatched a newspaper out of the air as it fluttered by and checked the date. It was 14 October 1998. A glance at his reflection in a nearby shop window confirmed his impression of his age—though it still made no damn sense to him—at being late teens, early twenties. For the sake of simplicity he choose to believe he was eighteen.

‘Next up, finding a place to live.’

‘Unless you plan on trolling the Cavallone, we should look elsewhere,’ Daemon suggested.

‘Hm, maybe Rome? That’s neutral, after all. I could set up a little business or something. We’re decades earlier than usual, so… Wow, this is so weird.’

‘Rome sounds good. If we’re lucky we can find a suicidal Mist I can take over.’

He was about to ask why suicidal, but it made sense after a moment. He ducked into another alley and set one of his panes to view a spot he knew in Rome, to see if it was clear, then traveled through Between to avoid having to take public transport.

*

Judicious money laundering and sale of gold provided Tsuna with a hefty amount of starting cash, though investing was not quite as simple as he was used to. Thankfully, it was simple enough to find shady pawn shops to offload stolen goods at, and Tsuna was an old hand at liberating goods from nasty-minded people with too much wealth on their hands.

He was considerate like that.

He purchased a two story building in Rome, the top level of which was a two-bedroom apartment. The ground floor was being renovated with more stolen wealth into his business. One section would be a bakery, because Tsuna had learned to enjoy cooking after being on his own for so many years, and the other was a shop for antiques—or rather, old stuff—things he had picked up along the way that he felt would fetch a good price, but had not yet gotten around to fencing in a previous life.

That he had to get a license to sell guns was a mere trifle.

They were old, after all, sto—ah, acquired—from a collector of antique weaponry who also dabbled in human trafficking. Tsuna also acquired rather a lot in the way of blades and other interesting implements generally used to kill people. He considered them “quaint” if only because his flames were more than enough to off someone, and usually more discreet.

Daemon had found himself a stock broker who was down enough on his luck that he was nabbed while working himself up to leap off a very tall building, so the second bedroom had a physical tenant and Tsuna regained privacy in his own mind.

He did a weird body movement somewhere between a squirm and a shudder for a moment, having flashed back to that initial incident with Mukuro at Kokuyo, and blithely ignored the odd look Daemon tossed his way.

“What do you plan to sell in the bakery part?” Daemon asked, his expression reverting to its usual “I am evil, fear me” setting.

“Japanese sweets, of course,” he replied. “What would be the point of yet another place selling Italian food? That’d be like selling Chinese food in China.”

Daemon’s eyes crossed. “I am beginning to think you’re even more insane than I am, and that’s saying something.”

“I can’t imagine why you think that. Oh, that reminds me. I never did check to see if I was a Sky again.”

Daemon groaned. “You have got to be the oddest Sky I have ever met. You barely remember you have Sky Flames most of the time, whereas most people would kill to have them.”

He wrinkled his nose. “I’m still not even sure what the hell the point is for those. Mist and Cloud are incredibly useful. So is Earth.”

Daemon’s eyes widened. “You mean to tell me—”

Tsuna sipped his oolong, one brow cocked up questioningly.

“You’ve never once harmonized.”

“Um… I harmonized my way through a wall once, but I’m so used to using Between that I keep forgetting I can do it.”

“Oh my lord,” Daemon whispered. “Reborn has so much to answer for.”

He looked up from his flaming hands. “Eh?” He had the full bunch again.

“The property of Sky Flames is Harmony, Heul, and when I say Harmony, I mean between people, between a Sky and his guardians. There is a…”

Tsuna shot his partner a skeptical look. “I don’t believe for a second that there’s some mystical connection between the crusty clam and his men. And if there is, there’s also obviously some kind of feedback loop that causes idiocy to propagate and infect them all.”

Daemon chortled. “Let me revise that statement. It is entirely possible that Reborn purposefully concealed that aspect of things from you on the old man’s orders. Clams have a habit of assigning guardians based on their political value and not personal. The odds of a bond forming…”

“Still, a bond? Like the red string of fate or something? The very idea of being bonded to most of the people Reborn chose for me is horrifying. Even when Hayato was at his best, he still managed to say and do things that made me…” Upset might be the word, he supposed. Angry would mean he cared enough to work up to that, and it was hard enough as it was to care much after so many iterations.

The idea of bonding with a young man who saw him as a means to an end, a leg up to power, was ludicrous.

Nagi was a nice girl, but even when he got to her early on she still managed to form that weird bond with Mukuro, and Mukuro was always foremost on her mind, despite having become a guardian for Tsuna. He could never trust that she would obey orders, because he could not trust that Mukuro would, and Mukuro was always the one calling the shots for those two.

Takeshi was a nice young man, but he refused to use his brains most of the time, preferring to focus on something to obsess over, and Ryohei was not much better. Kyoya could be trusted to protect his self-proclaimed territory and maybe obey if it suited his mood, though it was a step in the right direction that he paid attention at all, so Tsuna supposed he must have impressed him to at least some degree.

Lambo was the one with the most potential, being so young when encountered, but Tsuna had always been the age of a boy himself. Expecting him to essentially raise his Lightning Guardian was just plain weird.

To top all that off was the disquieting knowledge that he and his “generation” were too similar to Giotto and his lot, as if they were a mere copy, and had no business being their own people. He got the sense that some people expected them to embody Giotto’s generation; that was unacceptable to him and another reason why he hated the idea of bonding—though he was still unsure what Daemon meant by that exactly—with the guardians picked for him.

Not that any of that mattered this time. He was an adult and way too early for the usual sequence of events. He had popped in twenty years early, after all, so the sperm donor was a few years older than his current body. Tsuna snorted; he was scheduled to be born in two years.

“Clearly,” Daemon said with exaggerated patience, “you would need to choose for yourself. Giotto’s bunch was a mutual thing—well, nearly so.”

“You only joined because of Elena.”

Daemon’s head dipped in a nod. “She convinced me to help her friend and his cause. And I will admit that Giotto’s cause was admirable. Ricardo was a mistake.”

“Unless I was—no, I’m not even going to finish that thought. Kami knows what might happen if I did.”

Daemon smirked. “At any rate, bonding with a guardian involves a … a sharing of flames, so to speak. They entwine enough that you would always know where they were, and they you. You would feel them in your heart. A bond like that should be entirely voluntary, though there have been those who attempt to overwhelm a potential candidate with flames and force them.”

“Why am I not surprised,” he said. “And I’m going to guess and say you never harmonized with Giotto, because I can’t see you having been able to betray him like that if you had.”

“I did not, you are correct. I have never harmonized, only heard descriptions of what it feels like. I rather doubt anyone can possibly properly understand unless they’ve experienced it personally. I wouldn’t doubt Daniella managed proper harmonization with at least some of her guardians, but…”

“She sounds like the type,” he replied. “And being female, and given what was going on during that time period, would likely want that additional security it afforded. Well, if it happens it happens. I’m not about to go looking. I’ve done fine without it so far.”

Left unsaid were the ridiculous deaths he had experienced, which may or may not have been averted if he had actually had proper guardians.

*

He was sipping some oolong in the “bakery” part of his shop when an oddly familiar man wandered in looking as if he had just stepped off the cover of a high-end men’s magazine. Dark, wild hair, a sharp fedora with a pale yellow band, a suit so obviously tailored it practically screamed wealth, and polished leather shoes that would not dare show a hint of anything but perfection graced the man’s lean form.

Tsuna was given a brief and ultimately dismissive glance before the man strolled over to the display of antique guns in the “old things” part of the shop. Tsuna was treated to an understated display of weapon worship as the man investigated what was on offer, all while trying to figure out why the man seemed so damn familiar to him.

Daemon strolled in from the storage room, paused for slightly longer than seemed comfortable, then got himself a cup of tea and joined Tsuna. “I see we have a potential customer,” he murmured.

Tsuna shrugged, his eyes flicking from his paper to Daemon to the man before coming to settle back on Daemon. “He seems to like guns.”

The shop did very slow business, but given that they had only just opened recently, that was not surprising. That they had a customer at all was nice, though not required. It gave Tsuna more than enough time to lay in supplies and experiment with using his Earth Flames on molten metals in lieu of a proper mold, mainly to cast parts for replica guns. It was good exercise, so to speak.

Oddly-Familiar raised one hand in a gesture that clearly stated the man was used to people leaping to assist him. Tsuna shot him an unimpressed look and slowly set down his cup and saucer, then slowly strolled over to see what he wanted.

Up close he could see that Oddly-Familiar’s eyes were sharp and cold and black as a sunless sea. “Yes?”

The man indicated a British Revolutionary War Era Flintlock Dublin Castle Light Dragoon Pistol, circa 1770, listed at ₤4,615,800.

“What about it?”

“Do you honestly expect your customers to pay prices that outrageous?” the man asked, his brow cocked up in an expectant, almost condescending way.

Tsuna paused to think about when he had acquired the gun and realized he had based the price on the wrong year. “Let me check something,” he said, and wandered off without waiting for a reply. He slid aside a panel in one of the walls to reveal a screen and keyboard, which he used to check the rate of inflation over the past decade in Italy, so he had something to use as a baseline to calculate the amount backward.

The collection had been acquired in 2008, which meant he had to account for a decade of inflation to adjust the price lower, to be more in line with prices in 1998. What a pain. And what a pain to have a collector who was savvy enough to notice the issue and assume Tsuna was trying to gouge him.

Back at the customer’s side he said, “I suppose we could haggle.”

That started a spirited session where Oddly-Familiar offered a sum way too low and Tsuna countered with something not much lower than the original price listed, and it went from there. Tsuna was pleased that he managed to get the man to agree to ₤4,590,000, the amount he had calculated shortly before, rounded off to make the numbers look prettier.

Things would only get more odd once the country converted to euros a few years on, which would mean—should he live so long—he would have to calculate everything again, and he never was a fan of maths to begin with.

Tsuna packed the gun away in a tissue-lined box, which went into a crisp white bag, and accepted the man’s credit card so he could run the sale. Once everything was set and signed, he handed back the card and offered Oddly-Familiar the bag, Samsara’s violet and indigo logo stark against the white.

Oddly-Familiar swiftly tucked his card away and accepted the bag, then glanced over at the bakery.

“Everything is made in-house,” he replied to the unspoken question. “Though, there is no drinkable coffee, of any kind.”

Oddly-Familiar twitched and nodded, then departed.

“You still don’t recognize him, do you,” Daemon said.

He shook his head. “He’s oddly familiar, though.”

The Mist snickered madly and refused to say anything more on the matter.

*

Oddly-Familiar was back a month later to make eyes at the antique guns still on display. Tsuna had long since recalculated the listed prices, leaving enough room for haggling. Given that all of it was acquired anyway, any price he got would be profit, but one did not get a good reputation by demonstrably being an idiot.

Tsuna was enjoying the newspaper crossword with a side of dango and was mildly irritated that he would probably have to get up to see to the snob in his shop. He got the sense that Oddly-Familiar could back up the arrogance he radiated, which was more than he could say for too many. His intuition was pretty clear on that, and that the man was a Sun, which would explain that pale yellow band and the matching shirt.

Oddly-Familiar (Tsuna hadn't even glanced at the name on the credit card and expected it was false, anyway, so why bother) felt like the biting rays of a scorching sun, as opposed to the kinder life-giving and healing ones, though he didn’t doubt the man could go either way as needed.

If the man wasn’t active Tsuna would be highly surprised.

That hand went up again, the silent demand for attention, a demand that expected obedience. Tsuna slowly took a sip of his tea and slowly picked up a stick of dango, then slowly wandered over while savoring the taste of his snack. “Hm?”

He was given an irritable look in return. Apparently the man was quite unused to people not leaping to serve him. “Your prices are still too high,” Oddly-Familiar complained testily.

Tsuna smiled serenely, then popped another sphere of dango into his mouth. After swallowing he said, “How kind of you to let me know.” He ignored the sudden sound of amused snickering coming from somewhere nearby, alerting him to the fact that Daemon had returned.

Oddly-Familiar scowled at him.

“How else am I to amuse myself if I cannot indulge in haggling, Ki-san?” he asked, smiling serenely again. Might as well have fun with stereotypes. Fon, those times he had seen the man, had always worn traditional raiment, so there was no reason Tsuna couldn’t wear various yukata, though most of the ones he picked up on an impromptu shopping trip had a base colour of violet and obi in indigo.

Daemon thought he was being too overt in advertising (some of) his flame types, but Tsuna expected that most people wouldn’t get the hint. Clouds were not the type generally to run a shop and personally deal with customers, after all, and Tsuna was aiming closer to “sober, mature businessman” than “brimming with youthful stupidity”.

Another spirited haggling session ensued, with Oddly-Familiar scowling the entire time. Tsuna thought he detected a hint of amusement in those cold, black eyes as the man countered swiftly and decisively each time Tsuna named a figure. Oddly-Familiar strolled out shortly thereafter with another crisp white bag dangling from his long, elegant fingers.

*

He was doing yet another crossword puzzle when a young woman strode in briskly. She had blue-black hair that was more blue than black, tanned skin, and a no-nonsense attitude radiating off her. After a brief glance at him she beelined for the display of depression glass.

Tsuna had acquired that from another fellow along the way—during his Varia life, maybe?—and saw no reason not to put it up for sale. It was nice enough, he supposed, and definitely collectible, but he himself had no particular interest in the stuff.

The woman did send more than a few glances over at the weapons on display, though the most she did during that visit was make a few notes about the glassware before departing. It was not until Tsuna had moved on from the crossword to refreshing his tea that he realized he knew who she was, having remembered her appearance during his Varia life, toward the end: Lal Mirch of CEDEF.

Or, she would be, assuming things went the same way.

He had no idea what her real name was. Maybe, if she returned and purchased something, he would find out.

When she did return she came with a man. He had pale blond hair, light blue eyes, and a presence that was a curious dichotomy of tough and puppy-ish. Tsuna’s eyed widened slightly as he recognized Colonnello.

No matter what angle he examined the world by, things were different. People he knew as Arcobaleno were not, which meant it had yet to happen. But he was certain that in other worlds it already had happened. So either different people had been chosen in this dimension, or the timeline was shifted.

He thought back and nearly slapped himself in the face. Oddly-Familiar was Reborn. Why were Arcobaleno candidates appearing in his shop? He was just some random fellow from Japan! A suspicious look was sent at Daemon, whose smile said “I have no idea what you’re on about, but I’m sure I wasn’t at fault”, before he eyed up his two customers again in bemusement.

He had no idea those two were inclined to homey behavior such as shopping together. He was under the impression that Lal was the poster child for tsundere everywhere, so this—? Strange. Bizarre. Peculiar.

Maybe her personality had warped after the induction?

He smiled serenely and rang up their purchases, depression glass for her and an antique gun for him. Colonnello didn’t even try to haggle down the price and was practically giddy over his new acquisition. She paid cash, but Colonnello used a card. The name on it was Illario Gallo. He knew they were military Before, so it was most likely his actual name. He was probably from the northern parts of Italy, though not definitely.

After they left he turned to Daemon expectantly. “Who are they now? And how does that differ from before?”

“Those now are the ones I remember as the ones previous to these,” Daemon replied.

“So things have shifted. It’s yet to happen. We have time?”

“Assuming Talbot knows anything of value and we can get it from him, without alerting anyone. Of course, depending on what we can get and how this goes down, you may never know them in this life.”

He nodded. He had never been given a chance to become attached to people, not really. “Does Talbot even have active flames?”

“He didn’t when he first joined Vongola.” Daemon looked thoughtful for a moment. “He was around Giotto’s age in appearance. I never once saw him show he was active, though he was extraordinarily good with metals.”

“Apprenticed to a blacksmith, maybe?” he suggested.

Daemon shrugged. “One would imagine. It never came up, as he was fairly reticent about his past. Of course, if the possibility you brought up is true, he could be thousands of years old and decided that appearing old is amusing. Maybe he learned smithing because he couldn’t go active?”

“Unfortunately, Checker Face wore gloves, so I couldn’t see if he wore any rings. I definitely don’t recall Talbot wearing any,” he said, trying his hardest to remember. “Well, he had what looked like tattoos on his fingers—but maybe they were rings. Whatever those were, they were ornate.”

“They were rings,” Daemon confirmed. “But again, I’ve never seen him wield flames. Maybe he has some odd affinity for metal and…” His lips pursed. “Crafting implements to link to a particular flame type? Without being able to use them himself. More like…”

“White?”

Daemon nodded after a moment. “If taken to mean all colours, yes, rather than black.”

“Spies first, I suppose. If any of them notice something I can check with my windows. Er, assuming you know where he lairs.”

“He is not a bear or a troll,” Daemon said with a roll of his eyes, then paused. “He might be a troll, actually, now that I think about it. In any case, yes, I do know. I’ll open a window so we can both see, which will allow you to look on your own and drop spies. And if you’re nice to me and bake me a cheesecake, I’ll even show you where on a map.”

He grinned. “Sure. Anything special?”

Daemon’s gaze wandered off to the side, then snapped back. “Some kind of berry compote as an optional sauce.”

“All right.” Daemon had a not-so-secret love for blueberries, and was fine with raspberries, so Tsuna thought a compote of those two, some ginger, and maybe a splash of orange juice would work out beautifully.

*

When spying on Talbot’s workshop and home produced no appreciable results, Daemon took the next step forward and impersonated someone high up enough in Vongola that it would not be seen as remarkable.

Apparently, accelerating Flames of the Sky amplified them. Who knew? Well, if they were accelerated to a high enough speed. He felt a bit flustered over the idea of having to acquire something like the Tevatron, a circular particle accelerator, to get all seven flame types to go fast enough to amplify them, never mind what sort of installation would be necessary to handle the whole thing, who would oversee operations, and so on and so forth.

Tsuna was a damn good thief, but that was beyond even him.

The only reason he even knew about it was being bored enough to keep an eye on scientific journals after an article in the newspaper caught his eye. He had dabbled in computer programming and hacking simply due to boredom. In general, however, he resorted to thievery, spying, and killing defective humans when he had nothing to occupy his attention.

Of course, that made him wonder… If his stash Between carried over despite the dimension, did that mean he could purposefully reach Between into alternate dimensions? Say, thieving a whole bunch of stuff from defects from a few dimensions back to sell in his shop?

No messy entanglements with the police, other mafiosi, or worrying about leaving behind any clues?

A devious smile came to his face as he decided to set aside some time to test that theory.

Reborn swept into the shop as Tsuna was about to start a new crossword, which annoyed him on the one hand, and promised the potential for amusement on the other. Reborn went straight to the guns on display—like there was possibly anything else which could hold his attention, pfft—and started to make Tsuna fear for the guns’ virtue by raping them with his eyes.

‘I really do wonder at times if he has an entire building or basement set aside just to display his treasure vault of guns,’ he mused, sipping his tea as he considered the current clue of “subordinate”. It was nine letters long and the last letter was “y”.

When Reborn finally did gesture, Tsuna took his own sweet time getting over there, whereupon he opened his mouth and said, “No.”

Reborn paused, the faintest hint of confusion flashing by.

“I’m not selling you a gun today,” he added. “I have decided, Ki-san, that you have insulted my shop by refusing to purchase anything to eat, therefore you may not buy a gun.”

“…What?” Reborn’s eyebrow cocked up in a gesture of irritation.

“Ah, I was unaware that you are hard of hearing, Ki-san,” he said serenely. “I shall endeavor to raise my voice in the future.”

“You’re not even from this country,” Reborn finally said. “Why on Earth would I want foreign food?” He said it like there was something diseased about other countries, but Tsuna could detect amusement again in the man’s eyes.

“Because to choose otherwise would prove you to be a bigoted fool, Ki-san?” he riposted mildly. “I have decided. You shall have some cheesecake,” he said, then turned away and strolled toward the bakery section.

“Cheesecake?” Reborn muttered. “But that’s Greek in origin!”

Tsuna paused long enough to look over his shoulder. “So? Greece is not Italy.” Once he got to the counter he cut a thin wedge each of Japanese cheesecake and New York style and placed them on a plate, grabbed a dessert fork, and ferried them over to his table. He sat down and stared at Reborn expectantly.

The Sun deigned, after a somewhat disbelieving pause, to join him at the table.

“Wave your magic wand over it first to be sure it’s not poisoned,” Tsuna said, serene smile firmly in place, as if he wasn’t mocking the hitman’s justifiable paranoia.

Daemon chose that moment to wander out of the back room and beeline to the bakery for some cannoli, and then join them. He prepared himself a cup of tea and began to eat.

“How do you like the touch of cinnamon I added?” he asked.

Daemon nodded, swallowed, and said, “I wouldn’t say no to you trying with that compote you made.”

He hummed, pretending not to notice when Reborn sent a nearly imperceptible wash of flames over the cheesecake before deciding it was safe enough to eat. “I could do that. I wonder how it’d taste if I mixed some lemon curd into the cheese. And baked them for five or ten minutes.”

Daemon looked intrigued. “And then also the compote?”

He shrugged. “It could be interesting Mm, I think I will try that. If it turns out well I could offer them for sale. Perhaps.” He turned to Reborn and asked, “Is the cheesecake acceptable, Ki-san?”

“It’s all right,” Reborn drawled.

Tsuna’s smile widened; that was practically glowing praise from the Reborn he was accustomed to. “Now that you have proven you are not a shinigami, alien, gaki, or other odd creature, you may purchase a gun today if you wish.”

Reborn gave him another well-disguised look of disbelief, then nodded and went to go moon over the guns on display, though he was nice enough to bus the plate and fork back to the counter. Before the man left, he ordered half a cheesecake to go.

*

He was surprised, one day, when a sudden storm swept over Rome to drench its streets, and with it brought a green-haired man with glasses into Samsara. Verde had a slightly contemptuous look on his face—either he hated the décor, or the name of the place for being rooted in religion. Mr Scientist was probably not much for religion.

Neither was Tsuna, but considering his experiences…

Verde scowled when he realized there was no such thing as coffee served in the shop, and settled for tea. He spent his time there taking angry sips and scowling at the rain dashing against the front windows.

On a whim Tsuna drifted over and asked, “Midori-san, are you familiar with particle accelerators?”

He was almost sorry he asked when an hour later the scientist was still rabbiting on about the damn things. “How small can they get?” he asked when Verde paused to refill his tea.

“They’re getting smaller all the time,” Verde assured him, “though the large ones are necessary for proper research. Why do you ask?”

“A side project of mine. I was trying to come up with ways to amplify something and stumbled over particle accelerators. I realize they may not be quite the thing, but…”

Verde got a look on his face that spoke of deepening curiosity, but was distracted when something chirped. A scowl erupted as the green-haired man fetched a cell phone out of his pocket and glanced at the small display. “Ah, I must be going,” he said, stashing the phone. “If I remember, I’ll come talk to you again.”

Tsuna watched as the man bustled out and disappeared off to the left.

*

He was in the middle of baking when Tsuna noticed a very subtle waver in the air nearby. Someone was spying on him and it did not feel like Daemon. That he could feel it at all meant it was highly unlikely to be Checker Face. He kept a mental eye on the thing as he worked, deftly tossing together any number of goods, both for the shop and personal consumption.

Daemon wandered in and didn’t seem to notice the spy lingering nearby, but Tsuna doubted the man was that undiscerning. The Mist smirked at Tsuna’s flour-dusted appearance and snagged an apple slice to eat. “I tracked down better sources for matcha and lychee.”

“So I’d no longer be getting gouged on the price?” he asked, playing along for the moment. If he was suspicious enough he would equate those to Verde and Fon, based on the colours. “You would think they’ve give a fellow Asian a break.”

Daemon scoffed. “A proper businessman will gouge anyone but his own people, his workers.”

“What, because well-treated workers make more money for him?”

Daemon nodded.

“Oh,” he said with fake wonder. “So I’ve been bribing you with good food? And here I mistakenly thought I was just being nice.”

The Mist gave him a knowing look. “I also sourced more of that depression glass. A nice, fluffy, little old lady with no idea just what she’s had gathering dust in her attic. She was thrilled to sell it all to me. She wants to buy more fabric to make quilts for her grandchildren, you see.”

Antique quilts were also highly collectible, but that was something of a cutthroat business, surprisingly.

“I hope you were at least vaguely generous.”

“Of course, Heul! But not so much that we don’t have a healthy margin for profit.”

The LED equivalent of a light bulb went off for Tsuna as he realized the spy was very likely Viper. Did that mean the meetings and missions had already begun for the next set of sacrifices? That Viper was investigating where several of their comrades had already visited?

He hummed and narrowed his eyes slightly. “When can we expect delivery?”

“It’s already in the back. I didn’t want to chance someone cluing her in to the actual value inside those dusty boxes.”

“All right. Soon as we close up for the evening I’ll inventory your find. Just as well. My current stock is almost depleted.”

“Yes, that woman…”

The spy stuck around through closing and observed as Tsuna got to work unpacking Daemon’s find, carefully washing everything, cataloging them, and preparing price tags. The handwritten invoice Daemon had left on the desk back there was checked over, noted in the books, and filed. Tsuna was beginning to get a bit annoyed at the constant surveillance, but for so long as it was there he couldn’t do anything to provoke much suspicion.

“Yeul!” he called out. “I’m going to grab a shower. If you get things prepped I’ll start dinner after I’m done.”

“Of course, darling Heul,” was called back.

They had an agreement. Tsuna could cook—heaven only knew why so well, though Daemon insisted it had something to do with his Sky Flames—and Daemon was horrible at it, so Daemon agreed to do prep work in order to pull his weight.

When he entered the apartment kitchen he eyed things and nodded. Daemon was in the mood for cottage pie, it seemed. With baked beans straight from New England. He assumed—probably rightfully—that Daemon had reached Between to nab jars of the stuff straight out of the manufactory. It may have been a mistake to teach him that trick, but he wasn’t about to try to erase it from the man’s memory.

Speaking of which… ‘That spy is damned inconvenient right now.’ But he could approach his question from another angle. “Yeul, have you seen your twin of late?”

Daemon eyed him blankly for a long moment, then smirked. “Not recently. But you know how they are.”

He nodded, pleased that Daemon had understood the real question. “Dinner will be ready in about forty-five minutes.”

“I look forward to it.”

Tsuna had shortly assembled the savory pie (he put some garlic into the potatoes on whim and sprinkled chopped spring onions on top) and shoved it into the oven, then set the table. With nothing to do for the next space of time, he settled in with a book of crossword puzzles while waiting for the timer to go off.

It was not until after he had laid down to sleep that night that he could sense the spy departing. He waited an additional half hour before acting, and tossed up a Bounding Box around the first floor to avert any other spies which might come to call, and went to find Daemon.

“My twin, as you put it, is currently up to no good in Sicily, maneuvering the Nasso Famiglia into a situation which will likely see them destroyed, or at least hemorrhaging assets. Couldn’t happen to a nicer family.”

“And why is he doing this…?”

Daemon gave him a look.

“Right, clams. So is it just me, or do you also think that was Viper spying on us?”

“Definitely Viper. And why do you suddenly have that guilty look on your face?” Daemon gazed at him intently, eyes practically boring into him.

“Eh… Wondering if I should warn any of them. The fact that Viper showed up makes it likely that they’ve already gathered and Viper got curious. I’m wondering if we should have spies on them, hidden at the edge, so they don’t notice.”

Daemon’s gaze shuttered in thought. “You’re asking this because Checker Face annoys you, or you feel some fondness for the people you once knew, or…?”

“All of the above?” he said quietly. “If we can figure out how to make the Arcobaleno Curse unnecessary, though not in time, I expect they would suffer quite a bit of pain, anger, bitterness, and betrayal, but… People can recover from that, learn from it, grow because of it.”

Daemon rolled his eyes at that. “I will never understand you.”

“Do you plan to do anything about your twin? Can you even merge with him? Would it … alter you … negatively?”

“Aw…” Daemon fluttered his lashes. “You don’t want anything bad to happen to your best friend~!”

Tsuna looked away for a moment, feeling slightly embarrassed.

“I haven’t decided what to do about my twin, not yet. I had completely forgotten until you brought it up, which is rather surprising now that I think about it. After all, I am hard to ignore.”

“A legend in your own mind,” he said facetiously, a serene smile settling at his mouth.

Daemon pouted; it was disturbingly cute. “Don’t worry, Huel. If I choose to track him down, I am confident I could either absorb him or make him see the light, much as you did for me.”

“Somehow, the very idea makes me feel dread, as if your plan might involve pretending to be Elena’s ghost and shaming him into compliance.”

“Excellent idea! But to get back to the other subject,” Daemon said. “You don’t have any real connection to these people. If you warn them now, Checkers might catch on.”

Tsuna grimaced. He really did not want to be scared to death again.

“I wouldn’t say anything,” Daemon continued. “Once we have it figured out, we can move forward. If we’re lucky, it’ll happen before they get…” He shrugged. “And if not, we’ll simply have to find them after the fact and effect a cure.”

“…Okay. And really, they have no reason to trust me, anyway. I’ll just stay on guard in case Viper sends more spies.”

*

Lal was delighted to see more depression glass and promptly jotted down prices (presumably so she could work out a new budget to pay for it all) and Colonnello drooled over the guns. Sadly, neither purchased anything there, but they did decide to grab a dozen each of bruttiboni and something he called flu-fighters to take away.

Reborn wandered in, shot another dismissive look his way, and went to eye rape the ranged weaponry again. That would have been fine—because he would have undoubtedly initiated the usual in a bit—had Verde not trundled in looking to continue their earlier, rather one-sided discussion.

There was one of those awkward moments when Reborn and Verde noticed each other, and then everything went back to normal, as if the other did not exist.

“Tea?” he offered.

Verde grimaced, but nodded, so Tsuna poured him a cup of oolong and brought over a plate with cannoli on it.

Verde briefly displayed a faint, pleased smile (Tsuna tucked that tidbit away for future reference) and said, “You wanted to amplify something?”

“Mm, yes. But I don’t know if it would be possible. The very name ‘particle’ accelerator makes me wonder.”

Verde’s brow crinkled. “What are you trying to do, exactly?”

“A type of energy which, when accelerated, will amplify.”

Verde had a sip of his tea and set the cup down thoughtfully. “Such as use of a particle accelerator to amplify the speed … but with something like kinetic energy?”

“…Yeah,” he replied. “But a particle accelerator is kind of already imparting kinetic energy to … particles?”

Verde sighed and shook his head. “Yes.”

“I guess the problem on my end—aside from not being well grounded in sciences—is that I don’t actually understand what energy is,” he said, a frown wrinkling his forehead. “I mean, I understand the term kinetic energy, if in relation to something like a ball rolling or throwing a punch, but what is it? Or light? Energy can be measured, but is it in any way physical?”

“No, energy itself is not physical. It’s more accurately described as a property of a particle or a system. Consider that… All right. You throw a punch. But aside from physically moving your body, you are also pushing molecules of air and imparting force to them.”

“So…” ‘Well, shit. I don’t see how I can ask what I want to ask without letting on that I know about flames.’ “Waves are water molecules—and salt and other stuff—but the movement comes from the effects of gravity due to the moon … I think … and that movement creates energy you can harness with whatever. Not physical. Hm.”

Flames could heal or burn or disintegrate or directly affect someone’s mind, but what was it? Aside from Reborn once saying it was a manifestation of the soul, of resolve, a … a conversion of life force to an effect? Though, he considered, it made more sense to think of it as energy extant in the body being employed for other means.

“I’ll have to think about it some more, I guess,” he said.

Verde nodded, in a surprisingly not condescending way, and said, “If it helps think of electricity, which is a form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles. Also, there is something not quite the norm about these cannoli.”

“Hm? Oh, that might be the cinnamon. There’s a touch in the chocolate. I was consi—” He was interrupted by that arrogant hand movement by Reborn. He hummed. “My apologies, Midori-san. I need to see what Ki-san wants,” he said quietly. “He’s quite fond of guns, it seems, so I expect he wishes to purchase another.”

‘Electricity is linked to charged particles. Does that mean it would also apply to flames?’ he wondered as he slowly strolled over to Reborn. ‘Are flames charging … something … some kind of particles, and that results in colour and effect? Or something? Either way, if so, in theory I could accelerate them, which should amplify them, if what Talbot said is correct.’

“I would think you’re incapable of walking at a normal speed, but I’ve witnessed you doing so,” Reborn commented. He seemed half amused and half irritated.

“Hm? I wasn’t sure if you were signaling to me or swatting at a fly, Ki-san. In my confusion, I apparently walked slowly.”

Reborn snorted and pointed at one of the guns, then named a figure. Another spirited haggling session ensued. Once at the register he added two portions of tiramisu to the bill. Tsuna included a cannolo for free, which caused the man to cock an inquiring brow at him.

“I was experimenting,” Tsuna said. “There is both cinnamon and coffee in the chocolate. Give it a try and let me know what you think should you visit again.”

The brow went down, though Reborn’s eyes went ever so slightly narrow in presumed suspicion or paranoia. “Sure.”

Tsuna smiled serenely and finished running the card—he still had not bothered to so much as glance at the name—and packed everything up in boxes, which were tucked into a crisp white bag.

Verde trundled over to the counter once Reborn had left and said, “Unfortunately, I only had a few minutes to spare. I really liked the cannoli, so I’d like a dozen to take with me.”

“All right, and I’ll throw in a free one that has coffee in the chocolate, as well, so you can see if that’s also acceptable.” They were tucked into a box and inserted into a bag, and Verde was shortly on his way, a spy shadowing him.

He would have to be careful, in case Checkers was keeping an eye on the bunch, not to get too close to their meeting place. He wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if… What was her name again? Lucia? No, that wasn’t quite right. Luce. Skull had said Luce.

Luce was most likely keeping the group in line, and preventing them (presumably) from asking too many questions. For all he knew, part of her job was to attempt to harmonize with them, though (presumably) she already had guardians. Mafia boss, hello? The very idea of her not already having guardians was ludicrous.

At any rate, it was possible that she was supposed to use her Sky Flames (somehow) to keep the clueless sacrifices in line, even if actual harmonization was most likely off the table.

‘Damn it, I’ve gotten off track again,’ he thought.

*

Tsuna was mildly surprised when a very familiar Chinese man glided in a few weeks later. Fon glided over to the bakery section and aimed a serene smile at him.

Tsuna returned the serene smile with one of his own. “Greetings. How can I help you?”

“An acquaintance of mine recommended this place,” Fon said. “Raved about the food.”

He nodded and gestured at the display. “Please feel free to browse the selection. If there is anything in particular you would like that we don’t sell, it is possible I could give it a try.”

Fon nodded and took a few minutes to run his eyes over the cases, then said, “A half dozen pineapple tarts and the same for the mantou.”

Tsuna quickly had those tucked away into boxes and then into a bag, and Fon (who paid cash) was shortly on his way. ‘I’m starting to think I’m fated to meet these people. Although, it’s almost odd that he didn’t stay long enough to have a cup of tea.’

He was sure of it when Skull turned up. The Cloud was loud and excitable, so nothing much had changed—so to speak. “Cheesecake!” Skull cried, flailing his hands around.

Tsuna stared at him blankly.

“They said that cheesecake came from here!”

‘Verde did buy an entire cheesecake a while back and had it with him when he went to what I presume is their meeting place. I guess he shared?’

His serene smile slid into place and he gestured at the display cases. “There are several varieties to choose from. We also sell jars of various compotes you can use as a topping.”

Skull’s eyes went wide. “Do you have a raspberry one?”

He nodded. If he didn’t know better he would swear he could see stars form in Skull’s eyes.

“One, um—” Skull glanced at the display again. “New York-style cheesecake, and one jar of raspberry compote.”

“Certainly.”

Skull was shortly away, clutching his bag like it held the Holy Grail or the Hope Diamond—except neither of those could be eaten.

A month later (he was starting to wonder if he and Daemon would ever figure out how to accelerate flames) the entire group sans Luce showed up and commandeered two tables.

Tsuna blinked. “The usual?”

Everyone but Viper nodded.

“And for you, Kakusu-san?” he asked, doubting he could get away with using information from four lifetimes ago without calling undue suspicion on himself.

“Something with strawberries,” was the succinct reply.

“Hn. All right. I’ll be back shortly.” He trotted off to get a tray so he could load it up with various sweets. Viper would be getting a strawberry shortcake puff and a vanilla cream fruit tart. Along with the food he brought two pots of oolong and enough cups.

Once he was done delivering the goods, he trundled off to a table far enough away that any normal person would not be able to overhear any conversation. The key word being normal. He, of course, had spies listening in at each table, in case anyone said something interesting.

‘Maybe I should have learned to read lips,’ he thought as he worked on a crossword puzzle and listened to the transferred conversations. It seemed they had just completed some mission or other and were celebrating, sort of. They were being appropriately cagey considering they were in a public place, so there was a lot of interpretation on his part.

It was clear that Reborn still found Skull to be odious, or at least laughably unpleasant, but they were seated at different tables, so the odds of property damage were low. The point being, they were already in serious danger of being chibi-fied, and he had not thought to ask the Skull from two dimensions ago how long they had done missions prior to being turned into batteries.

Viper apparently approved of his baking, as when they all decided it was time to leave, they also decided to get food to go, asking for a half dozen each of what Tsuna had chosen to serve him. Were it not for the fact that he was selling bakery-type things in his shop he would have tried seeing if this Viper would also fall in love with the strawberry-kiwi-spinach salad (with raspberry vinaigrette) he had stumbled over back then and shared one evening with the Varia core members.

He watched them go with a sense of frustration.

*

“Do you think you could get more information out of Talbot without him getting uppity? Such as what could be used to accelerate flames?” he asked.

Daemon slid a bowl of freshly mashed bananas his way. “Possibly.”

“And possibly what the deal is with the Flame of Night? They use it to warp, I know, but is that also responsible for how they can capture people with chains? What are its properties? I don’t think we can flat out ask the Vindice and get an answer aside from, ‘I have just the cell for you’.”

“The Vindice existed prior to Talbot ever showing up, but considering how long he’s been around… Now I wish I had paid more attention to them, in a fact-gathering way, rather than how best to avoid them while doing things of a questionable nature.”

Tsuna sighed and added the bananas to the batter he had going in a stand mixer. A minute later he was scraping batter into loaf pans, and then shoving them into an oven. He washed and dried his hands just in time to hear the door chime go off, so he strolled out into the shop to see Skull gazing at the display cases.

“Greetings,” he said quietly.

Skull startled and shot him a wide-eyed look. “Oh. Hiya!”

“Good to see you again,” he said kindly. “Here to try something new, or are you in the mood for cheesecake again?”

“Um…” Skull glanced at the cases.

“There’s no rush,” he added. “If you have questions, just ask. And, hm. I’m willing to give samples if there’s something you’re curious about, but aren’t willing to go in blind on.”

Skull raised his brows. “I heard cannoli is sorta similar to cheesecake…?”

“Mm, sort of, but not really. The texture is a bit different and it’s… Have a sample,” he said, then grabbed a napkin so he could fetch one and hand it over.

Skull had a bite and immediately brightened. After he swallowed he said, “I see what you mean. And it’s sweeter than I expected.”

“…Are you not from Italy, then?” he asked, both remembering what the Skull of two lives ago had said and taking note of the fact that Skull seemed to have little clue about Italian desserts.

“Technically, yes,” Skull said after another bite was consumed, “but my family moved to France when I was still quite young, and neither of my parents was much of a cook.”

“Ah, so more crème brûlée and profiterole than tiramisu and zeppole.”

Skull nodded. “I like this, though. Um, can I get half a cheesecake, a half dozen of these cannoli, and a jar of raspberry compote?”

As he boxed up the order he asked, “So what brought you back to Italy? Decided to see what your birth country was like?”

“Uh… Yeah, yeah,” Skull said unconvincingly.

“Well, everyone needs a holiday now and again, right? You taking a long break from work, or…?”

“…Something like that,” Skull said slowly. “Guess you’ve never heard of me in Italy, huh?”

Tsuna adopted a blank look. “I only recently moved to this country, and I don’t get out much,” he sort of lied.

“Oh.” Skull looked relieved. “I’m a stunt man. The Immortal Skull!” He looked so innocently proud that it verged on adorable.

“Are you really?” he asked curiously. “Immortal, I mean.” He wondered if Skull’s ability to bounce back from practically any injury had everything to do with Cloud Flames, and not because, oh, Death refused to take him or something similarly bizarre.

“So far,” Skull said cheerfully, but did not elaborate further.

“Huh. Did they make you take a bunch of fighting classes, or is it all just stuff like falling off buildings and car crashes?”

“Oh, um… Yeah, no, no fighting, exactly. I do get to substitute in for an actor taking a punch, or the other stuff you mentioned. Wearing a wig can be a pain, and I hate sitting still for all the makeup work beforehand.”

He grimaced. “That sounds hot and uncomfortable, and it already gets hot enough in places without all the extras.”

Skull nodded. “Yeah. I don’t mind a bit of flash in everyday life, but the prep for a role can be nasty.”

Tsuna eyed the violet liner Skull was wearing, expertly applied, and the purplish stain on his lips. “I can’t imagine that takes more than a few minutes to do. The hair, though, I should think would be a bother every so often.”

Skull got that look on his face again, the hesitant one. “Yeah… Touch ups every few weeks.”

Tsuna knew damn well the colour was a natural result of the man’s flames. He was mildly surprised his own hair wasn’t a bizarre conglomeration of colours at that point, but the brown he had sported in all his lives went decently well with all the colours of his flames. He still wished his eye colour was more interesting, though.

“Did you have to go to a school or something to learn how to do stunts?” he asked, mainly to keep the conversation going.

“Not exactly,” Skull said. “I had a job with an outfit in Paris, doing stunt riding. Someone in the business noticed how, uh, durable I was and made me an offer. So I did get training, but it was more an on-the-job thing.”

“Cool,” he said. “It must be nice to be recognized for native talent and to be assisted in developing it, plus get paid. Sounds like a sweet deal.”

“Yeah!” Skull said enthusiastically. “It’s loads of fun—minus the makeup and wigs. I get to do a lot of fun stuff and help make movies look really cool.” Something twittered and Skull checked the phone he produced from a pocket, then took on a downcast expression. “Ah, I gotta go.”

Tsuna smiled and handed over the bag of goods, and accepted the cash for it in return. “Enjoy. And if you’re feeling adventurous next time…”

Skull grinned and nodded, then hastened off.

Daemon had given him a smug look a bit later, but deigned not to explain why, instead saying, “I found a higher up Vongola about to take a holiday to parts unknown—one of the hidden retreats they like to reward good work with—so I plan to borrow their appearance to have another chat with Talbot.”

“Hopefully he won’t be commenting on these visits to the Vongola,” he replied. “Either he hasn’t bothered previously, or he did and he’s playing it low key, waiting to see if whoever it is is a traitor or really good spy.” He didn’t doubt for a second Daemon’s competence and deviousness, but he had no clue what Talbot was truly like under his wizened old man appearance, and what he might do if provoked.

“Should he already be suspicious and set up some kind of trap, I can just go Between,” Daemon pointed out.

“Assuming you aren’t knocked unconscious. Though I guess in a pinch you could just abandon the body and find a new host.”

“Because those are just cluttering up every intersection and park,” Daemon said dryly. “But yes, I would do it if necessary. It’s not like I haven’t had to regularly swap bodies, anyway. They do age, after all.”

Tsuna became very curious at that point. “Do you even know how to die?”

Daemon gave him a wide-eyed look.

He thought about what he’d just asked and hastened to clarify. “I don’t want you dead, I just… I mean, are you even capable of dying at this point? I’m still not really sure what happened that one time with the Daemon I originally knew. He just… It was like sand or something. Particulate Mist? I don’t know. But he kind of disintegrated and blew away on the wind. I’m not even sure he really was dead, just that he released Mukuro’s body and left.”

Daemon looked thoughtful at that, but for all Tsuna knew, the man could be contemplating what he wanted for dinner that evening rather than the rather weighty topic at hand. Finally he said, “You keep changing the subject. So, I’m going to try with a different face. It may take a while, since it’s not the sort of thing a person comes straight out and asks. Need to ease into it.”

He nodded. “All right. I don’t need to say it, but I will anyway. I know just how skilled you are. But be careful.”

Daemon gave him a carefully blank look, then dipped his head in a nod.

*

“So, where did you learn how to cook?” Reborn asked him as he indolently lounged against one of the display cases. His brow was cocked up again.

“Nowhere, really. I learned due to need. Or rather, Ki-san, because I did not wish to always rely on others to do so for me. It’s nice to take an afternoon or an evening off on occasion, and eat out, but the majority of the time, well… How do I know what I like if I don’t take the time to experiment on my own?”

“So no fancy school for you.”

He shook his head. “I doubt I’d survive one,” he said, only partly joking. “I’ve heard it’s quite cutthroat. I wouldn’t doubt some students stab each other from behind like budding assassins, just to pick off their competition and gain more time with their teacher’s attention.”

“Well, someone’s overly dramatic,” Reborn drawled in amusement. “Though I suppose it would be out of character for a chef to use a gun.”

“But not poison,” he pointed out. “Still, a knife is practically innocuous, much like a gun—or do I mean to say ubiquitous? Though, I’ve heard that there are police types who can figure things out from the bullets they find.”

Reborn nodded. “Yes, they can. Generally the type of gun used. Also, the angle of attack, and from that, a good idea of where the shooter must have been.”

He hummed. “I read a story once… A murder mystery, sort of. An impossible murder, supposedly. But it turned out that a particular blade was used, shoved through a keyhole—one of those old fashioned types—into the victim as they came to look through the peephole to see who had knocked. They came to that conclusion based on the shape of the wound, the location of it, and the angle.”

“Clever killer.”

“Mm. I expect one would have to be, unless they intended for a long stay in a deeply unsatisfying, government-run ‘hotel’. But I think we’ve gotten off track. Was there something in particular you were interested in? Eating, that is,” he amended.

Reborn smirked. “I’m interested in a lot of things. As for food… I did like the coffee you added to that cannolo. What other tricks do you have?”

“In any particular direction?” An open question like that tended to make him incredibly indecisive; there were far too many options to choose from.

“Brownies, cake… I have a powerful liking for chocolate. I like the contrast between the darkness of coffee and the sweetness of other things. I definitely liked the touch of cinnamon.”

“…I think I have an idea of what I could try,” he said. “But for the moment…”

Reborn nodded and swept his gaze over the display cases. “A dozen croissants. I’m curious to see if they’re as good as the real thing, or merely adequate.”

“You’ve clearly spent time in France, then,” he replied as he moved to box up the order.

“Ah, yes. I’m half and half.”

His brow went up. Half French, presumably. And with that accent, probably half Italian, or had an exceptionally good teacher, and/or a good ear for languages. The box of croissants was tucked into a crisp white bag and placed on the counter.

Reborn flipped out a credit card seemingly at random to pay with. Once again, Tsuna did not bother to check the name. He just ran the card and handed it back. The signature on the resulting slip was always nearly illegible, anyway.

“Give me a few weeks to experiment,” he said. “Not to say you shouldn’t stop by, but it might take me a little to figure out something new—or at least, that I’ve never seen as a recipe anywhere.”

Reborn nodded and strolled off.

In the end he came up with two things, two ways. Brownies and chocolate cake, each with what could only be described as rivers of gooey cinnamon-infused coffee and chocolate. The second version of each had pureed raspberries in them, just to see how it would taste, after adjusting for the additional “liquid”.

He had just pulled the last of his test batches out of the oven when the door chime went off, so he wandered out to see Reborn eye-raping the guns again. He hesitated for a moment, then turned back around to get samples of all four sweets, for him and for Reborn, and brought it all out on a tray.

“Ki-san~!” he called.

Reborn glanced over his shoulder and noticed the food, then turned and strolled over. “Is this it? So quickly?”

“It’s the first test batches after I worked out recipes. I figured since you showed up at exactly the right time, we could try them together. So…” He indicated four plates set aside for Reborn and said, “Two variants of each,” then picked up one of his brownies and bit into it.

He didn’t much care for coffee, but even he had to admit it tasted pretty good. The cinnamon was a bit lost, though. Tsuna nodded and tried the other one. The raspberries added a nice extra bit of flavor, but again, the cinnamon was a bit lost.

A glance at Reborn showed that he had an interesting expression on his face. Tsuna couldn’t quite tell if Reborn was pleased or what, so he moved on to sampling the cake versions. Only one of the pieces had icing, since the raspberry version had only just come out of the oven and he really didn’t want the buttercream icing to melt.

He looked up again to see that Reborn’s expression had morphed into one of open pleasure. “I think it’s not a bad start,” he commented.

“It’s an excellent start,” Reborn said swiftly. Clearly he quite liked them if he forwent drawling somewhat diffident praise in favor of such decisiveness.

“Well, if you want the rest of the test batches, you’re welcome to them. I can tell I still have some tweaking to do with the cinnamon. Anything beyond that and you’d have to pay like normal.”

“Are you sure we couldn’t work out some kind of deal?” Reborn said almost seductively.

Tsuna laughed merrily, which caused Reborn’s eyebrow to twitch. “Are you flirting with me, Ki-san?”

“What? No…” Reborn’s expression was somewhere between annoyed and chagrined.

Tsuna laughed some more. Reborn was a lot of fun when he wasn’t being entirely a trollish dick. “You’re very charismatic, Ki-san, but you’d have to offer more than flattery.”

“Such as…?” A steady tic seemed to have taken root near Reborn’s left eye.

“I’ll make you a deal, Ki-san,” Tsuna said silkily, a serene smile sliding into place. “Prove to me you can become a trusted friend to someone, with their trust returned by you, and I will give you one day per month of any sweets you want from here.”

After a surprised and annoyed pause, Reborn immediately set to haggling. They eventually agreed to one day each fortnight. Tsuna had the sneaking suspicion that Reborn was up to something, but what…

Either way, he packed up all the test batches into boxes (that he labeled quickly with a pen) and eased them into a Samsara bag for ease of carry. Reborn wandered off radiating smugness, despite having forgotten he had originally been eye-raping the weapons again.

He got an inkling when Reborn was back barely a week later, bearing an invoice and a pile of boxes filled with goods. “I expect a twenty percent commission, of course,” Reborn said smugly.

Tsuna blinked several times before he took a good look at the invoice. It was for a collection of … antique quilts? He didn’t even want to know where Reborn had found them. The man’s persuasiveness alone explained how he had managed to get them for such a good price, but twenty percent as a commission? Pfft.

After a spirited round of haggling they settled on seven percent, with a bonus of a once-per-week free meal at Samsara for a month (based on how many Tuesdays there were in a given month, as the current day was a Tuesday) per deal—and those freebies could be stocked against future use, so they would not go to waste if Reborn was busy elsewhere for some time, such as on one of his (not so) mysterious missions.

Reborn claimed one of those meals right then, and surprisingly asked for something Japanese, and not sweets.

Tsuna dithered for a few moments, then invited Reborn to not only help shift the goods to the storage area, but to join him in the kitchen upstairs in the apartment. Daemon showed up long enough to help with moving the quilts, then took over out front.

“Anything Japanese?”

Reborn shrugged. “Something you like. That way, I know you’ll make it with your full attention.”

“Uh…” He glanced around the kitchen area, then shook his head. “All right. Oyakodon it is this time, with miso soup. Feel free to grab something to drink from the fridge,” he offered, then set to work.

Reborn fetched himself a soft drink—Tsuna was nice enough to point out the cupboard which held glasses if the Sun wanted one—and poked around in his kitchen, though never getting in his way. Reborn seemed surprised by the contents of the pantry for some reason, but voiced no comment.

“Daemon” appeared right as Tsuna was getting plates and bowls ready and stayed only long enough to retreat with a tray. Reborn was either not sensitive enough to realize “Daemon” was a mere construct of Mist-Earth Flames, or chose not to remark on it. Then again, Daemon was an exceptionally good Mist, and if Tsuna could fool Reborn with Mist…

Tsuna delivered the food to the table and smiled as Reborn took a seat, then poured himself a cup of genmaicha, plus one for Reborn to try if he liked. “Enjoy,” he said, then tucked in. That Reborn clearly had experience with hashi was of interest, though it was not the fluidity of a native or one who had used them regularly.

“This is excellent,” Reborn commented between bites, a slight smile gracing his mouth.

Tsuna was just surprised that Reborn hadn't even tested the food for poisoning before tucking in.

“So what is your friend to you?” Reborn asked.

Tsuna paused, hashi half-way to his lips. “You know, I’m not entirely sure. He’s my friend, definitely. Family in a way, like a brother, perhaps? He’s devious and he’s wicked, but he has my back, and I have his.”

Reborn nodded. “And where in the Mists of time did you encounter him?”

Tsuna’s brow went up slowly. A civilian might pass the phrasing off as melodramatic, but for him it came across as a subtle way of pointing out that Reborn had clued into at least one of them having Mist Flames, if not both.

“…At a play,” he said, which in its own way was as much of an illusion as one produced by flames. “A telling of events long since past, a bygone age, the truth of which has been … distorted, shrouded.” It was true on two levels, depending on which dimension he reflected on, and the angle at which he reflected. “I don’t remember precisely how long ago, though.” Which was also true, as he only knew in general if one took precise to include things such as the exact millisecond, and if he was counting from the start of his original life, or the life in question.

“A play.” Reborn sounded mildly disbelieving.

“Mm. How did you hear about us—or rather, this place?”

“I didn’t. I was walking down the street and spotted the antiques on the wall.”

“And being the gun nut you are, you came in,” he teased.

“I am not a nut,” Reborn said stiffly, though his eyes showed amusement.

“Clearly you are if you can appreciate my sense of humor.”

“I’m flexible.”

Tsuna laughed merrily. “Ki-san is flirting with me again~!”

A very faint “Kufufufu” drifted up from the ground floor, which only made Tsuna laugh harder.

Reborn scowled and continued to eat, though his expression relaxed at his enjoyment in the food. “What other cultures can you cook from?”

“Ah, mostly Japanese and Italian, though some English and French. I have eaten the food of many countries, though. I have been to many countries, but I chose to settle here, in this nice city, where nothing much happens.”

Reborn got the underlying message, he could tell, that of Rome’s neutral status in the mafia. Reborn might go so far as to interpret that as a statement of personal neutrality, of being a certain kind of safe in terms of mafia machinations. Time would tell.

“What about you?” he asked in turn.

“Ah, I’ve been around,” Reborn said easily. “Seen plenty.”

“I imagine your avaricious desire for weaponry has taken you many places. I still wonder at times if you have a house somewhere in the wilds, with a cellar tricked out with displays for all your beloved guns, where you go every so often to set aside your burdens and relax.”

“Burdens?” Reborn said disbelievingly.

“Burdens,” he repeated. “Burdens, responsibilities, fears, obligations…” He shrugged. “We all have them, just some of us hide it better, right?”

Reborn got an odd look on his face, as if he was really looking at Tsuna for the first time, not just seeing the glossy surface of a youthful face and quirky behavior.

Tsuna wondered at times what people saw when they looked in his eyes. Did they see the weight of years and broken lives? Or did they see what they thought was some emo young man caught up in his own pitiful, transitory misery? Could Reborn see his worry, fondness, respect…?

“That is why life has such amusements,” he continued, forcing his tone to be much lighter. “Such as the amusement I get from watching you drool over the antiques, or from haggling with you, or watching your attempts to flirt with me~!”

Reborn snorted and looked away, down at his half-finished meal. “You’re delusional, Viola.”

“No,” he said softly, spooning up some of his soup. “That’s one thing I’m not.”

*

He didn’t see any of them again for a month, and when he did, it was all of them, back to celebrate another successful mission. “The usual?” he asked. When everyone nodded he strolled off to prepare two trays to deliver.

Once that was done he reclaimed his seat and picked up his pencil. He had a crossword puzzle to conquer. He wondered at times why he was being so laid back this time around, instead of pushing much harder for a resolution to his ultimate goal, or learning more languages. But the break was nice. And he wasn’t alone, so he was in less danger of going batshit insane again.

Tsuna looked up in surprise when Reborn abandoned his team mates to come sit with him. “Couldn’t resist, Ki-san?” he teased once he regained his composure.

Reborn rolled his eyes. “You’re incorrigible.”

His serene smile slid into place. “I try, Ki-san.”

“And that,” Reborn protested.

“Hm?”

“I don’t even know your name.”

Tsuna blinked innocently. “I do not know your name, either, Ki-san.”

It was Reborn’s turn to blink, probably due to his arrogance and assuming that simply everyone knew of him and would recognize him. “Reborn.”

“…As what?” he asked with a tilt of his head, deliberately misunderstanding.

There was a pause, then Reborn’s mouth twitched. “You may call me Reborn.”

“Ah. You may call me Heul. But your name… Hm.”

Reborn’s brow went up. “What about it?”

“I think…” He eyed his erstwhile tutor. “I shall remove the boring part of your name and call you … Ren.”

Reborn twitched again, though that time Tsuna couldn’t tell why. He would have to ask Daemon later what it was he was missing.

“In private,” he added.

“And should I assume that your name is a stealth pun?”

Tsuna laughed merrily.

Reborn hummed a bit sourly. “In any case, is there anything in particular you’d be interested in in terms of putting up for sale?”

He shrugged. “So long as it’s collectible, it probably doesn’t matter. And not embarrassing. Or too big to fit through the door. Or—”

“I get the picture,” Reborn interrupted. “I’ll keep an eye out. Wouldn’t do for my favorite annoyance to not have the opportunity to amuse me.”

Tsuna beamed. Reborn had openly admitted to liking him. It was the first time ever! He had finally pierced that stubborn resolve and gotten an admission out of the man.

“I thought I’d come back tomorrow for a meal,” Reborn continued. “I was thinking … Chinese.”

He nodded. “Any particular dislikes?”

“I’m not fond of organ meat.”

Not really an issue with most Chinese dishes he was aware of.

“And I’m not much for so much spice that it blanks out the flavor, or spice that numbs.”

He nodded again. That cut out a number of things, or would at least require tweaking. “I’ll make sure to have something ready to cook.”

“All right. I’ll come shortly before closing,” the Sun promised, then gave him a nod and returned to his teammates.

Fon lingered when the others left, to state, “You have a supplier for the tea.”

“Hai, Aka-san. I can arrange for more such that you could purchase a supply for yourself more easily, if that is your desire. I know how deeply unsettling it can be to live in a foreign place with no easily obtained comforts of home.”

“I would appreciate that.”

“Certainly,” he said, serene smile sliding into place. “Let us bargain.”

Ten minutes later they had a deal worked out, and Fon happily enough departed clutching a crisp white bag holding the lifeblood of Asia, and some sweets for good measure. Tsuna could do things the proper way and travel like a civilian, but that would be a foolish waste of time. He would compromise, instead, and travel Between to stock up on more tea, plus supplies for dinner the next night, rather than simply reaching through Between to acquire the goods.

He left early the next morning, purchased any number of interesting things, and was back inside of an hour, in plenty of time to finish the baking and open the shop for the day.

Reborn showed up about fifteen minutes before close and, after a long look at the guns on display, took a seat at one of the tables to wait.

It had been a slow day, so Tsuna simply closed up early, not wanting to bother Daemon. His … brother … always left a spy at home, mostly in case Tsuna needed a hand with something, despite Tsuna having learned how to fashion a “clone” of himself. Having a spy handy, though, meant they could open communications at a distance far more easily.

“So what are you making?” Reborn asked as he settled in with a soft drink.

“Guo bao rou,” he replied.

“And that looks like pork…”

“Hai. It is kind of like sweet and sour, but… Well, I like it.”

Reborn liked it, too, once they sat down to eat and the man had the opportunity to try it. Reborn spent the meal trying to weasel Tsuna’s source for antique weaponry out of him, and Tsuna amused himself by deliberately misunderstanding half of what the man said. Reborn seemed torn between annoyance, frustration, and a grudging respect for Tsuna’s tactics.

*

“I found a lead on new things for the shop,” Daemon said, reaching out to steal a handful of blueberries from the ones Tsuna was about to make a compote with.

“Oh?” He scowled at his “brother” and pulled the containers closer.

“An estate sale which, for the moment, is only in the planning stages. If I get there early enough I could be persuasive and buy the whole lot, obviating the need to bid against others in an attempt to secure the goods.”

The main reason Daemon even bothered was because it never hurt to have verifiable sources on the books in case the government came poking into the shop’s finances looking for evidence of tax evasion or resale of stolen goods or whatever. That and it gave him something to do in between visits to Talbot and general chaos.

“Sounds good,” he replied. “I’d like a break, so I think I’ll go along. It’s been quite a while since I’ve wandered.”

Daemon nodded. “Certainly. I’ll set up an appointment. We can close the shop for that. It’s not like losing a day of business will have much impact, after all.”

“Things have been surprisingly relaxing this time around,” he commented. “Almost like a rest period. It’s … nice,” he said as he started in on the compote.

A week later they arrived at the site and entered the building. Several things happened all at once, seemingly. Tsuna felt a sudden premonition of doom ice down his spine at about the same moment he saw someone who looked suspiciously like Talbot exiting the entryway, and then his world was all but vaporized in a horrific crossfire of bullets.

Chapter Text

λ10
Omega I

‘Gods damn it,’ he thought, looking up at a depressingly familiar ceiling.

‘I agree.’

Tsuna blinked at the evidence that Daemon had somehow come with him again, despite probably not having had the time to jump bodies during that ambush.

‘I think it’s because getting dragged with you the first time linked our souls. In theory, anyway,’ Daemon replied.

Tsuna hummed. He was obviously five again, which meant whatever hiccup Daemon originally caused had been corrected or accounted for by the Powers That Be. ‘Well, I think it was pretty clear that Talbot was on to you and set up your death.’

Daemon managed to heave a sigh in his brain and convey a nod.

“Tsu-kun~! Time to get up~! Breakfast is almost ready.”

Tsuna heaved a sigh of his own and got up. A few minutes later he was downstairs having breakfast and, as soon as he safely could, booked it to that one park nobody ever seemed to frequent.

‘Keep a mental eye out for anyone, will you?’ he asked. ‘I’m going to see if I can reach through Between to grab the shop stock and whatnot. Even if it’s unlikely I’ll open a shop this time, there’s no reason I can’t fence that stuff here and start building up wealth again.’

‘Certainly. No sense letting the city have it and gain money for their coffers when you can just acquire it back.’

It was not until after a tired Tsuna finished shifting goods that he remembered to check his flames. He had unthinkingly used his usual, so the only one in question again was Sky. A glance at his flaming hands revealed that he was again a Sky and in danger of being in the line of succession. Which, naturally, was simply a way of saying it was inevitable, unless he went to the trouble of ensuring at least one of the three brothers survived.

‘Am I supposed to actually get to the point of becoming Decimo for all this to end?’ he wondered.

Daemon huffed softly in his brain and said, ‘Perhaps so, alongside fixing that little issue with human sacrifices for the sake of the world’s balance.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘Well, maybe this time, since it’s likely I’ll meet Talbot legitimately, I can ask him directly. Maybe this time I’ll see an answer to the end of that particular practice. And if Byakuran is approached correctly, he might be able to disseminate the information to other dimensions, even without the boost of the Mare Ring. He was able to learn enough from other dimensions to know how to counter pretty much anything Vongola could come up with, and that was before he got his hands on the Mare Ring to help with the heavy lifting.’

‘Such as pulling his other self over. Anyway, I need to find a body again. And what do you plan to do about The Visit?’

‘Probably fake being sick again. I don’t see the point in pretending to be an idiot once more, though trolling that pathetic excuse for a father might still be amusing. Depends on whether or not I can think of something other than my previous tactic, or if I’d have to default to that again. There’s a bunch of yakuza in town, by the way. Do you think any of them might be Mists?’

‘We do tend to be third most rare in terms of flame types,’ Daemon replied, ‘but there’s no harm in checking.’

‘All right! Let’s go track down some criminals.’ He used Between to safely spy out the situation with the Momokyokai, though he still had not figured out how to stay still while hidden that way. So he lurked at the edges of reality and stalked around the base, feeling for Mist Flames. He did not expect any of the men there to be active, but he might find a latent he could fake the death of so that Daemon could have, at the very least, a starter body.

Thankfully for his own questionable sanity, Daemon did take note of one who might temporarily serve, and a handful of spies were left to shadow the man before Tsuna ducked back out of Between into the park.

Within a few days Daemon had acquired a new body and Tsuna’s thoughts were once again private.

They just had to get past The Visit, and plans could move forward—once Tsuna decided precisely what those plans were, anyway.

*

“Darling~!”

Tsuna barely refrained from rolling his eyes as he tended to the bonsai tree his mother kept in the sitting room. Daemon (in child form) was sitting nearby, ready to hand over whatever tool he needed. It remained a mystery to Tsuna, that bonsai tree. It was always there, it always had been, and yet he never, not once, ever saw his mother do any shaping. How the tree maintained its characteristic shape, therefore, was puzzling.

“My precious Nana~!” the blond idiot nearly sang in delight.

Tsuna kept a firm check on his reactions. One would think with the way the man always reacted when he came “home” that he would be more inclined to actually visit “home”, if only to spend time with his precious and adored wife.

“And my adorable little tuna fish~!”

Tsuna gave Daemon a flat look before asking his mother, “Mama, who is that man?”

“He’s your papa, Tsu-kun~!”

“Ha ha,” he said in a dead tone. “Mama made a funny. Who is that man really?”

“…Tsu-kun, this is your papa,” she repeated, more slowly.

He shook his head in clear denial and went back to tending the bonsai. “If Tsu-kun had a papa, papa would live here. Tsu-kun’s papa must be a star in the sky,” he replied with the implacable resolve of a child.

A surreptitious glance showed him that Iemitsu’s face had taken on a hilarious cast of confusion, and Timoteo looked quietly amused. It only served to make Tsuna’s opinion of the old man drop once more, the idea that he found it funny a five year old child had no clue what his father looked like and wouldn’t recognize him if they passed on the street.

He handed over his wire cutter to Daemon, who slotted it back into its pocket, rolled up the cloth, and tied the straps in a neat bow. The two of them got up and disappeared upstairs. The view from the window he opened up nearly made him giggle (or throw up, he wasn’t quite sure) as it showed Iemitsu pouting like like a two year old at the blatant dismissal and disregard.

His tool set went back on its shelf, then he and Daemon settled in to play a game of shogi.

Thankfully, Iemitsu was quickly distracted from his emotional posturing when Nana produced food and drink, though it did make Tsuna wonder about the purpose of The Visit each time. Was it for Iemitsu to show off his adorable and precious family? So that Timoteo could get an eye on a potential heir and make some kind of assessment? Just how mercenary was The Visit, and how much of it was purely innocent?

Considering the number of times the candidate from Giotto’s line had been sealed—and didn’t that just raise questions about Ricardo’s line doing what they could to ensure the main branch never took the reins again—Tsuna had to wonder if the purpose of The Visit was to assess him for flames and as a threat. Or, as he had wondered already, if the purpose was to ensure he remained a potentially deliberately handicapped, clueless civilian, ready to be pulled off the shelf if things went south, and trained up by someone who had yet to figure out that Timoteo was almost as much of a moron as Iemitsu.

Unfortunately, Iemitsu got it into his head to “play” with Tsuna again, rudely snatching him up and tossing him into the air repeatedly. Tsuna maintained a stone-faced expression through it all, but managed his timing such that he “accidentally” kicked the man in the family jewels, causing Iemitsu to drop him and stumble out of the room.

Tsuna rolled his eyes and resumed playing shogi with Daemon.

*

Several months after The Visit Tsuna and Daemon were wandering the town looking for something to do when they were attacked. The kidnappers were starting in early in this life, it seemed. For a change of pace they used physical means to subdue the men, though Daemon produced a staff out of nowhere to fight with.

Daemon had just opened his mouth to say something when a large group of yakuza slinked out of the nearby alleys and grinned at them. “Look at you two~!” one of them said happily. “So strong!”

“We try,” Tsuna said evenly, not able to get a clear read on their intentions, and was pleased that Daemon moved to cover his back.

“So cute~!” the man practically cooed. “Well! We’re going to clean up this mess. There’s no point in making chibis do so. It was bad enough you were forced to defend yourselves against grown men. If you two ever need a hand with something, come find me. I’m Daisuke, of the Momokyokai.”

“I recall seeing your … office.”

“Good. We are a helpful organization, after all~!” Daisuke smiled and directed his people to drag the bodies away, seeming to lose interest in the two children.

Tsuna and Daemon took the opportunity to slip away so they could speak safely. A Bounding Box was placed around that one park and they sat down to have a snack pulled from Between.

“So, that happened,” he commented between bites of onigiri.

“I don’t recall you mentioning this happening before.”

Tsuna shook his head. “Never. I’ve encountered them before, mainly because Dino and Reborn cooked up that stupid scheme to test my guardians, and used the Momokyokai as the medium, but… No, they’ve never taken an interest in me that I’m aware of. And the last time assassins came after me when I was this young, uh… I handled that myself and they weren’t anywhere near.”

Daemon nodded and then smirked. “Well, Heul, this could be interpreted as an opportunity for us. We could ‘learn’ about organized crime, while still mostly staying out of it. Certainly not deciding to join the Momokyokai, for that would be imminently silly. But little Tsu-kun could learn from them, and allow them to help keep the assassins away.”

He hummed thoughtfully. Daemon had a good point. There already was an organized crime presence in town, so it would not be outside reason for Tsuna to have some knowledge of and/or experience with it. The excuse of them keeping the assassins off his back helped.

“What do you think of the idea of using them as a cover for espionage?”

Daemon’s brow cocked up.

“To start making profiles on Vongola and CEDEF. Meaning, skills learned from them used to create those profiles after someone figures out my connection to Vongola, but isn’t inclined to let them know they know, if you follow. It would give me an excuse to start poking around quietly, and assembling reports on everything that’s wrong.”

“Perhaps becoming an anonymous informant?” Daemon suggested. “Sending some of those reports to the old man both to be helpful and as warnings?”

“Right. And it would give me backing for even knowing stuff like this when the time comes—assuming I live so long,” he said with a sigh. “I’m annoyed now that we didn’t see your twin as a priority, since I expect he’ll go after that Enma’s family. I thought we’d have time, not that I’d die again after having been there for so little time.”

“I will make dealing with my twin a priority,” Daemon said firmly. “I will need to find a better host, though. And speaking of those, do you want to rescue those poor Estraneo experiments?”

“Yeah,” he said tiredly. “We can dump them in an orphanage. Maybe I can anchor a Bounding Box around the place to divert any mafiosi looking to find potential flames to abscond with or experiment on. Plus an anonymous donation of cash to help with the increased load.”

“All right,” Daemon said. “So we need to make your mother not notice when we disappear for a few days, so we can handle that. And if I get lucky I can find a better host while we’re in Italy. I would prefer a better host for when it comes to dealing with my twin, but it’s not essential. If he proves he can be reasonable, then excellent, we have an additional agent. If not, I’ll absorb him to prevent him from interfering with any of our plans.”

“I’ll set up an account for the donation,” he said. “Then we can move. Or, if you prefer, you can go hunting first, to see if you can get a better host body before we deal with the test subjects. Either way, once that’s handled, and preferably your twin is handled, we can move forward with the Momokyokai and building our repository of data and potential blackmail material.”

*

Tsuna eyed up the “stranger” Daemon had brought home with him with only mild suspicion.

“This is my … twin,” Daemon said, “Xeul, as we decided to call him.”

Tsuna nodded politely. Just because the man was an analogue of his Daemon did not mean he could trust him. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“Yeul … has told me all about you,” Xeul said silkily.

Somehow he doubted that. “It’s a shame you two don’t have secondary flames and perfect hosts. We could see if we were compatible.”

Daemon laughed creepily. “That would be amusing. Maybe I’ll look harder. I find myself very interested to know if I could harmonize—with you, that is. And besides, I sincerely doubt that anyone could possibly top me as a potential Mist Guardian.”

Xeul shot him a disgruntled look for that, but refrained from getting into a pissing match over it.

“I am more than a little curious myself at this point. I was kind of hoping I’d be able to last time,” he said quietly, “after you explained.” He sighed slightly, then eyed the native Daemon. “Are you interested in working with us, or should we just leave you be to do whatever it is you do?”

“There must be an exceptional reason why my … twin … has stuck with you for so long,” Xeul said. “I will work with you, as I would like to find out for myself.”

He nodded. “All right. How much has … Yeul … mentioned about our plans?”

“Only enough to intrigue me. I already keep an eye on the Vongola, their allies, and their enemies, but I expect you’re after something far more in depth.”

“The current plan is to investigate deeply, to find out exactly who is a problem in the Vongola and needs to be culled, what’s going wrong, and what’s being overlooked. For example, someone should have noticed by now that there’s a Vongola Sky who has yet to gain even a single guardian, probably because he’s a narcissist.”

“You refer to Iemitsu.”

Tsuna nodded. “Uh huh. He’s completely stuck on himself, delusional, and gods only know just how much he’s letting slip because he so convinced he’s got everything under control, never mind the fact that he nearly always persuades Timoteo to seal the flames of his child.

“How many divisions of Vongola are doing underhanded things under the table, and it’s not getting noticed? How many are selling information on Vongola to their enemies? How much is being handled inefficiently and wasting time, resources, and money? How much time is being spent strong-arming people who should be left alone? Giotto formed the Vongola to protect the weak and the innocent, not to profit off their suffering.

“Basically, I want reams of reports, indexed by problem, source material, et cetera, that can be used to point out just how much Timoteo has let things slip and how much of a mess he needs to clean up. If he choses to ignore what we’re sending, well, that says something. I’m extremely curious to see if his sons manage to survive this time or if they’ll assume room temperature again on schedule.”

“…Assume room temperature?” Xeul said slowly. “That’s a new one for me.”

He grinned.

“Now that we have an agreement,” Daemon said, “how about the two of us see if we can track down better hosts?”

Xeul nodded. “Let’s.”

Tsuna found himself ridiculously surprised when several months later the two Mists showed up in new bodies—that of identical twins. “Say what now?”

Daemon grinned. Tsuna knew it was his Daemon due to the familiarity of his manner. “These two went active while in a moving vehicle, which startled the driver and caused a major accident. They suffered traumatic brain injury as a result, and ended up in a persistent vegetative state. When we found them they’d been like that for six months already.”

He blinked a few times, then frowned. “You’re using flames to even be moving around, aren’t you.”

Daemon nodded. “These bodies need some serious work due to muscle atrophy, so yes. On the bright side…”

Xeul took over and said, “They’re both dual flames. Yeul has Mist and Cloud, while I have Mist and Lightning.”

Tsuna’s eyes went wide. “Seriously? And you can use them natively?”

Daemon smirked.

“Huh. Assuming things go south, would you be willing to act as my Lightning, Xeul? I really, really don’t want to have to draft in a five year old child for that. And speaking of which, how old…?”

“Eight.”

“Okay, not so bad. I mean, it’s horrible for the two kids, but they’re kind of gone now…”

“Since you’re going to be stuck dealing with school soon, we figured we would pretend to be your age and attend with you.”

Tsuna groaned. “That is going to be hellaciously boring. Good thing we’re all Mists, right?” It had not escaped him that Xeul had not agreed to act as Lightning, but there was no point in pushing the issue. “At least one of us could have a window open while suffering through school, or hiding the fact that we’re using laptops… Whatever.”

“A window…?” Xeul prompted.

He exchanged a look with Daemon, who nodded, then said, “Literally a window. I developed a trick with Mist Flames, first to allow me to store things in the space between molecules—which incidentally, seems to be someplace between dimensions, since I not only retain anything I put in there even after I get jumped, but I can reach into another dimension to take things, or place things.

“But, once I had that, one of the additional uses I came up with was holding a pane of glass, a window, on the edge of Between, with one face on my side, and one face looking out on whatever it is I want to spy on. Being able to use Earth Flames helps, so you can manipulate what you see on the other side.”

Xeul’s eyes went a bit wide at first, then he smirked in appreciation. He looked at Daemon. “You did tell me your friend was intriguing. I must say I quite agree.”

*

Tsuna was ten when the next big surprise in his present life reared its head. He, Daemon, and Xeul had made good use of their time, compiling reports (with all accompanying documentation and evidence properly stored) about Vongola and CEDEF, and sending one every so often to Timoteo from the anonymous source “Oracle”.

Timoteo was slow to respond in any meaningful way. He was apparently under the assumption that someone out there was attempting to cause discord within the famiglia, and therefore took very little of what was sent to him with any kind of seriousness.

It was a shame the man’s mother had already died, for she had sounded like a far more sensible person, and would likely have listened and done something.

The surprise came in the form of three boys who appeared one day at that park nobody ever seemed to frequent. Tsuna and his crew were there, busily spying on various operations, when Mukuro, Ken, and Chikusa strolled in as if there wasn’t a mild barrier in place to keep any curious civilians away.

Tsuna took one look at them and got very confused.

Mukuro let out a creepy little laugh and came close enough for Tsuna to see the slightly unhinged mischief in the boy’s eyes. “You rescued us.”

“Uh… Yes, I did. You were sedated, though.”

“Not so much as you thought, obviously,” Mukuro said with a hint of condescension.

“Right,” he said slowly. “So, you’re here, why?”

“The orphanage was boring,” Mukuro stated. “We wanted to meet our benefactor.”

Daemon laughed, rather creepily (which made Mukuro give him an odd and interested look), and said, “Looks like we may have to forge some identification for these three and get them enrolled.”

“Assuming they plan to stay,” he said, eyeing up the three. “Also, a word of warning. There’s a yakuza group in town, the Momokyokai. They seem to be under the impression that we three are adorable and something to be protected, so if you stick around they’ll probably treat you the same way.”

Mukuro raised a cynical brow. “What, so they can make use of us later?”

Tsuna shrugged. “Perhaps, though it’ll never happen. We took advantage of their offer to hide the bodies one day after some assassins came after me, and then ensured they continued to see us as precious. We can just as easily ensure they never quite make the jump to expecting us to become minions once we’re old enough. Besides, knowing them gives us all the excuse we need to know more than we should.”

Mukuro’s brow slipped down and a slow, crooked smile contorted his mouth. “I already knew you knew of the mafia. How else would you have found us and have the skills to rescue us.”

Tsuna got the distinct impression that Mukuro had been forced through at least one remembered life already, despite not having that odd red eye. The boy was far too mature to be explained otherwise. With that in mind, he firmly resolved to treat the kid as an adult, or at least a teen. Talking down to him would only piss him off and cause him to start trouble, and then they’d have to go to the bother of reining the kid in.

“We’ll have to find you a place to live,” he mused, giving Daemon a look. “Maybe the place next door? I’m sure we could convince them of a pressing need to move. I can’t really see us packing three more people into Mama’s house, even at the size we are now.”

Daemon and his twin exchanged an evil look and nodded. “Of course, darling. We’ll get right on it. And once we’ve gotten rid of them, you can help us anchor an illusion to keep people from realizing there are no adults in there.”

He nodded. “Sure. Once you have a general price figured out, I’ll set up an account to make the payments for it. I’ll set up a separate account to make sure the household bills are paid automatically. We’d only have to worry about normal shopping—food, clothing, and so on.”

Mukuro looked intrigued, but unwilling to outright ask for clarification or details. His two companions just stood there quietly, listening. It was obvious Mukuro had taken the lead as he always had, and they followed his cues.

“Are you three all right with that idea?” he asked, since not one of them had even nodded an agreement to their plans.

“…Yes.”

“Cool. For now, you can stay at my house if you want. My mother is…” He paused, unsure how to explain things. “She’s very gullible, for one thing, and won’t bat an eye over the idea of me having ‘friends’ staying for a time. She’s also a very good cook, which is nice, because for the most part she’s rather oblivious. I try not to tax her brain too much, and frankly, I’m still not convinced she’s not just a highly advanced robot.”

His mother, as it turned out, was delighted to have more boys to cook for. But, then, she seemed to take everything in stride, and ignore what didn’t work for her limited worldview. In less than a month Tsuna owned the house next door under an alias and had the accounts handling the regular bills.

He wondered if he should anchor a second Bounding Box over the place to prevent anyone outside the group from entering it. As it was he had the makings of an almost complete set of guardians, Storm lacking.

Enrico was already dead, so Timoteo was not living up to his responsibilities. Enrico had left behind no wife or children, and neither of his brothers had married or reproduced. The sheer arrogance it must take to be so damn confident in the face of contrary evidence was staggering. Seriously. Had Daniella procreated with a complete idiot to have produced Timoteo?

Tsuna shuddered at the idea of a version of himself having married Sasagawa Kyoko before he had woken up to reality. Maybe it was time for Primo’s line to reclaim the family if Timoteo and his ilk were an example of breeding gone straight into the mutated end of the gene pool. Things weren’t looking too good on the Primo side, either, with Iemitsu as an example, but Tsuna clearly had the brains, talent, and imagination to succeed, without coming across as delusional or a complete idiot.

Mukuro had watched with intense interest when Tsuna anchored the illusion to make people think at least one adult lived in the house, and again when he created the anchored Bounding Box to prevent intrusions. If Reborn did show up to be his tutor, he wanted a place of safety and relative sanity to hide in.

“How are you doing that?” Mukuro asked, once they were safely settled in the new house and having a snack.

“Heh. Let me counter with a question of my own,” he replied. “How many lives did they force you through before we got there to rescue you?”

Mukuro blinked, his expression going blank after that. “Lives?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. I know it had to be at least one. You are way too mature for your age. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were more, despite how young you were at the time.”

Mukuro looked deeply conflicted for several long seconds. “…Three.”

Tsuna nodded. “I’ve lived… This is my eleventh life,” he said. “I’ve learned a few tricks. And since you are clearly a Mist, I can teach them to you.”

“Mist… And Ken? Chikusa?” Mukuro asked, eyeing him hard as if looking for lies.

“Ken-san is a Sun. He can heal, amongst other things, though I cannot personally do so. Chikusa-san is a Rain. He can pacify people and affect water, as examples, also not something I have. Mist is known for its construction properties, or more commonly known, illusions. Your imagination is your greatest weapon.”

“Tsu-kun~!” Daemon sang. “If we got the right rings, you probably could.”

“Eh, probably. Mist is funny that way. Suppose I could, uh, reach out and grab some. Talbot did kill us, after all, so I feel no remorse over the idea of stealing rings from that version of him.”

Xeul chuckled.

“Talbot?” Chikusa asked a bit stiltedly.

“A metalsmith who has worked for the Vongola since the time of Primo. No one quite knows how he’s managed to live for so long, but in my last life, which Yeul shared with me, Talbot got annoyed and led him into a trap. I happened to be with him, and we were killed there. Since Yeul’s soul is linked to mine, he came with me to this life.”

Mukuro stared at him for some time, then made a leap of logic. “You’ve met me before.”

Tsuna smiled serenely. “I have. You killed me once. It was my fourth life.”

“…And yet you saved me this time.”

“I’ve also killed you, in a manner of speaking. I figured we were even at that point, so I rescue you now instead. This is the first time you’ve ever tracked me down, though.”

“And what are you, aside from a Mist?”

His smile widened. “Also a Cloud, which has the property of propagation. It means I can multiply … objects, force, other flames…”

He received a look that said Mukuro was suspicious he holding something back, but the Mist refrained from pushing.

“So, you guys want training? You’re probably already well aware that the mafia will not let go, and it’s better to be well trained so you can push back.”

Mukuro looked away long enough to assess the mood of his two fellow victims, then nodded.

“All right,” he said, then held up a finger for a moment. He reached Between to grab a pane of glass to position, remembering to gloss the far side, and started spying on Talbot’s workshop. If the time of day lined up then the man was probably eating, but it shouldn’t matter either way. He was not in there at the moment, so Tsuna quickly located the man’s supply of rings and liberated a dozen of each, just to be an asshole.

The trio’s eyes widened on seeing jewelry simply appear out of thin air and be real, solid objects, not illusions.

Daemon grabbed them and quickly sorted out the applicable ones, and handed two each over to the boys. He handed applicable rings to Xeul, if only to make it easier to channel flames, kept ones for himself, and handed the remainder to Tsuna.

Tsuna grabbed rings for every type, just to see what he could manage with the backing of Mist. No reason not to! To that end he placed a Sun ring on his finger and tried channeling flames through it. They came out a curious and weird colour, but there was enough yellow in there to give him hope that he could figure out how to narrow it down and refine his control.

“Awesome. Something to work on during my copious free time.” The remainder of the rings got tossed into his storage Between.

“Even with school?” Ken asked, finally saying something.

Tsuna scoffed. “We use illusions to cover the fact that we’re not paying attention and are instead working on our own projects. I’ve been through school so many times now that I’m heartily sick of the damn place.”

“Would you prefer to teach Rain or Sun?” Daemon asked his twin in an aside.

“Sun.”

With that settled, and their snack consumed, the three settled in to teach the three boys how to not only be active, but useful.

*

When Tsuna was fourteen that dratted flier showed up in the mailbox. He had known it was coming the second they got a report that Federico had been vaporized. By that point Tsuna had finally learned what harmonization was—and so had the others. All he was missing was a Storm, and the only one he knew offhand aside from Fon was Hayato. Given that the kid was mafia already, it wasn’t so terrible if he ended up in that role again, though Tsuna seriously doubted he could achieve harmony with the kid.

Daemon was his right hand and Cloud, while Xeul took on the role of Lightning. Mukuro could fake other flame types once they taught him how—along with the more interesting tricks Tsuna had developed as a Mist—but his body only naturally produced Mist Flames, unlike the “twins” with their now duel flames due to the bodies they inhabited.

And, while it was hardly his responsibility to save each and every person he had known or befriended at any point in time, Tsuna did take the time to ensure Takeshi did not fall into a suicidal state of depression by subtly instilling better habits into the boy, so that he no longer lived and breathed baseball.

Nagi’s mother had likewise been tweaked, though she was tweaked a second time when Mukuro took a definite liking to the girl. Tsuna had sighed and shook his head slightly. Those two seemed to be destined to entwine, and short of killing one of them, there wasn’t a damn thing Tsuna could do about it.

That being so, he simply accepted the odd relationship those two had and set it aside in his mind. The fact that he had harmonized with Mukuro meant he was less inclined to worry about being stabbed in the kidney from behind.

After school they made a beeline, not for Tsuna’s house, but the one next door, mostly because Tsuna wanted to see if Reborn would be rebuffed by the Bounding Box he had anchored in place. By the time it neared dinner, Reborn still had not found his way in, so Tsuna cheerfully headed next door with his guardians in tow.

A call of, “I’m home,” was met with, “Wash up, Tsu-kun~! Dinner is almost ready!” so the six of them fought for space at the sink before filing into the kitchen and taking seats. Well, except Ken, who immediately went to help Nana bring the food over.

The boy was nice that way.

“Oh, Tsu-kun~!” Nana burbled, tilting her head at the interloper sitting at the table. “Your new home tutor is here~!”

“Ciaossu,” Reborn said cheerily. “I’m Reborn.”

“…As what?” he asked with a confused tilt of his head, deciding to go with a recent favorite. “Wait, no, I can’t deal with that. I’m going to take the boring part out of your name and call you Ren.”

Reborn twitched, but at least that time he knew why. The cursed man’s birth name was Renato Sinclair, so it only made sense the diminutive would affect him in some way.

Tsuna beamed a smile at the chibi and tucked into his gyūdon. Mukuro’s trio left after dinner and a “thank you” to Nana, while Tsuna and his twins went upstairs to Tsuna’s room. Reborn strolled in with an annoyed expression.

“Why are they here?” the chibi asked.

“Oh, gee, I don’t know… Maybe because they live here?” he said.

“That would explain there being three futons,” Reborn muttered. “I need to talk to you, and they don’t need to be here.”

Tsuna scoffed. “What, you think any of us are going to be shocked like delicate little snowflakes when you spring it on me that I’m the last remaining possible candidate to become Vongola’s tenth boss?”

Reborn went still for a moment, and then Tsuna had the muzzle of a bright green CZ75 practically shoved up his left nostril. He wondered how Leon felt about that.

“And how would you know that?” Reborn inquired evenly, looking somewhat put out that his student didn’t so much as flinch.

“The Momokyokai took a liking to me, Yeul, and Xeul and cleaned up the bodies after some assassins came after me. It was through them that we learned of the yakuza and mafia, and eventually, my connection to it all. I’ve known since I was six who I am, and what I might be called on to do. I have no idea what that tainted sack of wind provided you with as a profile on me, but I can guarantee it’s teeming with lies.”

“And these two?”

“My Cloud and Lightning. The other three are Sun, Rain, and Mist. I lack a Storm. I have yet to run across one here that would even warrant a second look. Most of them are pathetic trash.”

Reborn twitched again, probably due to the one word.

“Oh, right,” he said suddenly, as if it had only just occurred to him. “I suppose I should mention I’m a Cloud secondary.”

The skin around Reborn’s eyes tightened a skosh. “Wonderful,” he said dryly.

“Isn’t it just?” Tsuna said cheerfully, his serene smile sliding into place. “So, how about you enlighten us as to the sheer enormity of lies that tainted sack of wind told you about me, eh, because I wouldn’t doubt he failed to mention all the assassination attempts, amongst other things.”

Reborn tilted his hat down in a move that practically cried, “Lord, give me the patience to know who to strangle first.”

*

Most of Reborn’s antics were neatly cut off due to Tsuna’s knowledge. It had the result of making Reborn incredibly grumpy. He was further annoyed when Tsuna kept calling him either Ren-san or Ki-san and accusing the chibi of flirting with him. He compensated by making all six of them go through rigorous physical training exercises, which none of them actually minded.

When Hayato finally arrived the poor boy had to deal with a united front of unimpressed, emotionless faces.

“You’re nothing impressive,” Hayato blustered, his cigarette angled to one side and drooping slightly from its spot at the corner of his mouth.

“And you’re a damn fool for courting lung cancer,” Tsuna said flatly, “not to mention polluting my lungs.”

Hayato paused in confusion, then sneered and said, “If a coward like you were to become Decimo, the Vongola Famiglia would be finished.”

“I wonder how he figures the coward part,” he muttered, mostly for the benefit of his guardians.

“I refuse to accept it! I’m the one who’s fit to be Decimo!”

Tsuna’s brow went up. “Are you truly that delusional and stupid?” he asked.

Hayato snarled and produced a handful of dynamite sticks, lit the fuses, and flung them Tsuna’s way. Tsuna, not willing to bet on Reborn getting involved, especially with the changed circumstances, propagated the earth at his feet into a wall to shelter them from the explosions.

“Ciaossu.”

Tsuna looked sideways to see Reborn in the expected spot, perched on a low wall bordering one of the covered walkways on the side of the building. He dropped his barricade, but remained ready to raise it again at a moment’s notice if Hayato got ideas.

“So you’re Nono’s highly trusted assassin. You weren’t kidding about me becoming a candidate as the successor if I kill Sawada, right?”

“That’s right. Well, let’s get on with the killing, then.”

Tsuna sighed and sent Reborn a nasty look. It was one thing for the chibi to put him through hell because he was annoyed, but to drag in a boy so desperate for recognition that he was pathetically easy prey for manipulation…

Hayato snarled as his focus switched back to Tsuna and more dynamite came out. For a split second Tsuna wrestled with his conscience and seriously contemplated letting the kid blow himself up. Instead, he put his dodging skills to work as his guardians drew back to let him handle things on his own, having been forewarned.

Only when Hayato finally got frustrated enough to mess up and endanger his own life did Tsuna do more than dodge and acted to save the boy’s life. Dirt was propagated to rise up and smother the dynamite, and to shield the boy. The second he felt the concussive force finish rippling through his protections he allowed them to lapse.

Hayato’s eyes were wide with surprise, relief, and the fading remnants of terror. The he dropped to his knees and bowed from the waist. “I was mistaken! You’re fit to be the boss! I’ll follow you! Command me to do anything!”

Tsuna rolled his eyes. “I want an essay on everything you’ve done wrong since you stepped foot in Namimori, and what you should have done instead. You have a week.” He turned and left with his guardians in tow.

As soon as they were out of earshot Mukuro laughed. “I see what you meant now. That boy is a lost and desperate puppy.”

“How could the kid possibly believe he could take over Vongola?” Ken said snidely. “He’s not of the blood.”

“If he’s that desperate,” Chikusa said quietly, “he’d probably stretch credulity for anything even remotely plausible.”

“Do you think he’ll actually do a decent job on that essay you assigned?” Xeul asked, looking like he was a hair’s breadth away from cackling in amusement.

He shrugged. “I guess we’ll see.”

A week later Hayato presented him with his essay, which Tsuna silently read. The two biggest issues Hayato had nailed were his temper and underestimating his opponent and potential boss. Tsuna decided it was close enough for government but for one issue. “You missed something,” he said quietly.

Hayato looked stricken.

“See, I’ve done my research, so I know about you. You still haven’t touched on the issue of why Shamal dropped you as a student. That happened before you came here, true, but the reason he did it still exists, and it’s affecting you even now. So you need to think about that, figure it out. You can hang out with us, train with us, but you’re not one of us, not until you get your head screwed on straight.”

The stricken look blended with confusion.

“So, let’s go. We check out just what you can do, and what you need to work on.”

*

When Squalo showed up chasing Basil, Tsuna heaved a sigh and exchanged looks with his guardians. Mist keyed to their sight only was employed to say, “We’re using the other house while the tainted sack of wind is around.”

They sat back to watch Basil battle Squalo, after sending Nana off with the kids. She had (un)fortunately been shopping at the time, and it was best to get Lambo, I-Pin, and Fūta out of the area rather than risk one of them getting hurt.

Reborn kept fingering his gun and glancing at Tsuna, but had learned the hard way that if he tried to shoot him, Tsuna would deflect the bullet using one method or another. Reborn was heard cursing Hyper Intuition as often as he praised it.

Tsuna used his Earth Flames to cause Basil to have a whoopsie moment and send the box with the fake rings skittering away from him. Squalo jumped on the opportunity and grabbed it, then took off. Dino sailed in much too late to be of any use except to cart Basil off to get checked over by a medic or healer-type Sun.

Well, and hand over the real set of half-rings.

Tsuna handed them out, but spent some time examining his before sliding it onto a finger. It felt like plain old flame-reactive metal, not half of the real thing. He honestly expected the real set to be with the ninth generation. There was literally no point in them being split and kept locked away in safes when they were a part of the Tri-ni-set and had to be worn so they could leech off the holder.

It made far more sense that the Sky version of the half-rings had been designed to test a potential heir, limited by the same blood-lock as was present on the real thing. Vongola could safely check a candidate—for the right blood, if nothing else—without risking the real thing. Whether or not the real set was quietly swapped in after the fact was something he would have to check when the time came.

Besides, why would there be two versions of a ghost Giotto to test an heir, when it should be only the original Vongola rings that might contain soul echoes of their original bearers?

Tsuna left the makeshift hospital Basil was being seen to in and headed home. A glance ahead showed that Iemitsu was already making himself at home; the side yard had blossomed with orange. He sighed and ducked into the house next door and spent a few minutes ensuring that the anchored Bounding Box would keep the sperm donor out.

When he joined his guardians in the kitchen Mukuro eyed him and asked, “So how are we playing this?”

“I have an idea,” he said, then explained so he could get feedback before committing to it.

*

They arrived at the school an hour prior to the stated time and, as Daemon and Xeul had scoped out the preparations ahead of time, went straight to the arena. The Cervello looked vaguely surprised to see them so early, but Xanxus and his people looked more annoyed.

“What … is that?” Hayato demanded, pointing at what was obviously a boxing ring, though instead of having just waist-high ropes around the perimeter, it had barred metal “walls” going up a good twenty-plus feet, with four bright lights in the corners up near the “ceiling”, plus banks of more, currently unlit.

“Thank you for gathering.”

“Now, we shall begin the Scramble Battle for the successor of the Sun Ring. Please look—”

“Hold up!” Tsuna called out.

“—over… What?” the Cervello said, managing to look confused even with the concealing hair and eye mask.

“I want to put the Sky Ring together and let Xanxus-san try the thing on. He’s the old man’s son, he’s older, so he should have first shot, right? It’s not like I wanted any of this.”

The two women looked at each other in confusion. Xanxus’s eyes widened slightly, before narrowing in suspicion.

Tsuna slipped the ring off his finger and tossed it at the Cervello. “So? Get on with it. It’s a trash move for someone to try to take away his right in favor of an unknown. All you people come trampling into my life, trying to tell me I’m going to be a good boy and obey, like I’m a dog or something.”

He knew damn well Xanxus wouldn’t risk it, but he had to try.

“Well?” he demanded. “Or were you lot going to try some fancy Mist tricks on me? Brainwash me into compliance? Though why anyone would want a brain-dead pawn as a figurehead… Oh, wait, I remember. They’d want a scapegoat, right? So they had someone to blame for what a fucking mess the Vongola is. Xanxus-san can be Decimo. I’ll take over the Varia. At least I know he’d pay attention and do his damn job, and not be afraid to take out the trash.”

Reborn groaned quietly and tipped his hat down to cover more of his face.

Xanxus laughed suddenly, a deep-throated, resonant explosion of humor. “You’re interesting, trash. Give him the ring back, woman. I want to see just how well my opponent’s men can fight. Not gonna just take his word for it.”

Tsuna raised his brow, but nodded and caught the ring when it was thrown at him. It went back onto his finger for the time being. “I guess you’re up, then, Ken.”

Ken nodded, seemingly unconcerned.

Tsuna had gone over the Varia with his people, though Daemon, Xeul, and Mukuro had assisted with spying on them so they could formulate a game plan if the fights actually happened. Lussuria had that tricked out knee, after all, and details like that were necessary to be known.

Tsuna suffered through the explanation of the arena, held down his combination of amusement and disgust at Lussuria’s idea of “flirting”, and did his damnedest to ignore that Iemitsu had shown up to watch the show. At least this time he wouldn’t be meddling and bringing innocent girls in to provide motivation.

Ken, for all that the experimentation had been cut short on the boys, had still suffered some of them. As a result his senses of smell and hearing were phenomenal (which meant he could fight blind) and he did have certain animal-like characteristics, though not the channels other versions of him had. This Ken had also received the best possible training they could give him, well before Reborn had entered the scene, and that included how to heal.

In the ring, Ken appeared to humor Lussuria’s behavior—or rather, he appeared to be hesitant and a bit confused as to how to proceed—but that façade ended when Lussuria got a bit too confident and Ken shattered Luss’s right knee after sliding under the man’s attack and hitting him from behind as he twisted his body around.

Luss went down like a ton of bricks.

Ken cracked the man’s ankle for good measure and nailed him in the kidney with a cestus-covered fist. And then, when Luss tried to get up despite the damage, Ken cracked him in the temple with a quick follow-up to the jaw. Luss went down again, and that time did not keep moving, having been knocked out.

Ken had a lot of practice with that move thanks to the Momokyokai offering up misbehaving members as punishment. Tsuna hadn't even had to persuade them into it, either. They were so used to seeing Tsuna’s group as people to teach and protect that they gleefully handed over the ones who did stupid things for use as “sparring partners”.

His Sun stood ready to nail Lussuria again, on the alert in case he recovered quicker than expected, but loosened up when one of the Cervello called the match. The Sun dipped down long enough to confiscate the chain and half-ring, then dove through the bars to get back out and rejoin his fellows.

Tsuna cocked a brow at Ken and smirked faintly. Ken gave him a feral grin in return. A glance at Xanxus showed a neutral expression, though some of his people were giving Lussuria disdainful looks.

After being informed of the next match—Lightning—they took off.

*

Xeul had an angelic expression on his face when they arrived at the battle ground for Lightning. Xeul had plenty of practical experience with Earth and was prepared to use it in subtle ways to fuck Levi over while grounding any lightning that came his way. That was on top of having centuries of life experience and practice in deflecting other flame types.

He still had not figured out the trick behind Levi’s parabolas seemingly floating, but that was of little consequence when four of his group could render them useless in a heartbeat if they chose. There were so few people out there with Earth Flames that no one took them into account when it came time to strategize.

After a long, boring explanation of the battlefield, Levi and Xeul took their places. Tsuna zoned out on most of the talking; he had already been through all this several times. If something interesting was said, Daemon would give him a nudge.

He yawned and leaned back against the waist-high concrete barrier that ran the perimeter of the roof.

Levi was a big guy, but Tsuna doubted the man was inured to the effects of electricity, so Xeul had a basic strategy. Earth Flames, subtle in use, to throw the man’s reactions off. Lightning, both as a buffer for Xeul and to act against the electrical impulses in Levi’s body. Combined with the effects of gravity it should fuck him over nicely. And finally, using Levi’s size and bulk against him with martial arts.

Xeul maintained his angelic smile through all the posturing, ignored the lightning strikes as if they weren’t happening, and then struck like a cobra when Levi made his move. The parabolas went up, but out of sync and position.

The second lightning struck and started to charge those things—and seriously, what real opponent was going to just stand there and wait to be vaporized by that attack?—Xeul dove forward, grabbed Levi’s arm on his way by, and used his momentum (and cheating, of course) to heave Levi around in a partial circle and back the other way, right in time for the guy to get nailed by his own attack.

Tsuna was not the least bit impressed by the smell of burnt hair and flesh, but it did mean Xeul had made a mockery of his opponent, all in less than thirty seconds. All while maintaining that creepy as fuck angelic smile.

A serene smile slid into place as Tsuna collected his people to depart, nodded slightly at Xanxus, and ushered them away.

*

Hayato, well primed with reports on how Bel fought with his knives, and how he would snap and go even more psychotic if someone drew blood, made short work of the wires the prince used. Using a knife of his own, edged in Storm Flames.

It was the Storm battle that made Tsuna decide he had intrigued Xanxus enough that he had ordered his men to avoid killing in these battles.

He wondered, idly, given that the Cervello were adamant about how the rings were worn during a fight, how many of these Scramble Battles had resulted in someone being choked to death or having their neck snapped because of the chain. Of course, that made him wonder if other experienced people saw Levi as intimidating and therefore failed to capitalize on the man’s piercings to cause pain and a temporary loss of sight due to head wounds bleeding like a stuck pig.

Sadly, mainly due to how little time they had had to prepare Hayato and teach him tricks beyond flinging sticks of dynamite at people, Hayato lost the battle against Belphegor. If Xanxus had bothered to do his homework he would know how little time the young Storm had had with Tsuna, as opposed to the years the others had.

Hayato wasn’t Quality, but with time he would be.

Hayato’s dolorous expression had lightened considerably when Tsuna said to him, “Considering how little quality training time you’ve had, you did very well.”

Chikusa was up against Squalo next, which would be interesting if only because Chikusa was not a sword user. They had recreated his yo-yo, with its lovely needles, needles poisoned with Chikusa’s own Rain Flames, those that were poisoned, in a way, from what Estraneo had managed to do to him.

They were, in a way, the perfect delivery vehicle for death. Chikusa had been taught how to gather moisture in the air, condense it down into needles with his flames, and “load” his yo-yo. The entire “magazine” could be swapped out at any time, the needles poisoned differently, as befit his need, simply by releasing his hold on that portion of his flames and reforming them as updated ammunition.

The fact that the battle was being staged in a sealed Building 8 that was ceaselessly being filled like a huge, bizarre fish tank, well…

Squalo wasn’t expecting the kind of attack he got, and never did get a chance to set off his paralyzing attack when he realized his opponent was not some pampered, wimpy school kid. Chikusa kicked his ass in under five minutes.

His Rain also got a faint smirk of approval, though rather than a feral grin, Chikusa responded with a deceptively mild smile.

Mukuro was up next, against Mammon.

Tsuna would have expected the Varia to get a bit more serious about all this, but Mammon was either putting on a good show under orders, or truly was too arrogant to see a real threat standing in front of them. Mukuro was a flashy bastard when he wanted to be, and could ooze arrogance as good as or better than Mammon.

Technically, Mukuro’s win should have ended the Scramble Battles, being then 4:1, but a look at Xanxus showed that the man was grinning in a somewhat bloodthirsty way.

“Cloud’s next!” Xanxus called out.

“These battles are over,” the Cervello said in disagreement. “The winner has already been determined.”

Tsuna shook his head. “And you clearly don’t get what’s going on here, lady. You want to hand the remaining half-rings over? Fine. But we’re finishing this test, this show of skill. If you no longer need to be involved, then by all means, go. Otherwise, please cooperate and arrange for the final two.”

The two women stared at each other for a while (he suspected they were using Mist Flames to communicate), then nodded. “As you wish. The Cloud battle will commence tomorrow.”

“Brilliant,” he said dryly.

Back at the house—they continued to avoid Nana’s due to the tainted sack of wind being there and occupying her every thought—they sat down for a short pre-sleep meeting.

Daemon started off by saying, “Yes.”

“Right, so they did kidnap the old man and use him as the power source.”

Daemon nodded. “Which means I need to be careful. I have a few plans worked out, though. A primary, plus a few back ups.”

Tsuna looked at him carefully, focusing on Daemon’s eyes. They were brimming with amusement and plenty of confidence. He nodded. “All right. Let’s get some rest.”

Mosca was massive, intimidating, and for most people would be more than a credible threat. Then again, mafiosi with even halfway decent training could dodge bullets, so perhaps that wasn’t saying much.

Tsuna had, prior to leaving the house that evening, reminded Xeul and Mukuro to be on the alert for any Mist tricks Mammon might decide to throw in.

The Varia had arrived prior to them which, while tiresome, was not unexpected. Mammon was no longer using Mosca as a perch, instead choosing to perch on a low wall that divided the field from the pavement that ran up to the nearest building. Unfortunately for Mammon, that meant having a much lower point of view, but Tsuna could almost understand not wanting to use Levi for a perch.

Try as he might (not very hard, admittedly) to appreciate the man, Levi was an even worse example of personality than Hayato usually was. There was just something about the man that grated on the nerves in a way that Hayato did not manage to provoke.

The battle ground was the same as he remembered from previous lives, so he discreetly paid attention to Xanxus, to his expression, mood, and posture. The man seemed relaxed and in a fairly good mood, but Tsuna couldn’t tell if that was because the man was enjoying the spars, or because he was hoping Timoteo would end up dead. Or both.

‘Blah blah blah, death trap,’ he thought, ignoring what the Cervello were saying.

When the battle started he was amused rather than dismayed. Mosca did as his memory reminded him of (hazy as that could be at times) and fired a missile.

Tsuna made sure not to be in the line of fire.

Daemon smiled and threw something with his left hand, and immediately used Cloud Flames to propagate whatever it was.

‘Ah,’ he thought. ‘That looks suspiciously like a polyurethane adhesive. I wonder if—oh, that’s locked up tight now, isn’t it.’

Mosca dropped out of the air shortly into its jet-propelled flight and hit the ground with a thunk. A thick, somewhat cloudy substance covered nearly all of it, though Tsuna assumed Daemon had accounted for the person inside needing to breathe, for one. The adhesive had also stopped up the finger guns and the missile launcher. He expected that trying to fire any of those would result in part of the construct exploding.

Was the thing’s AI intelligent enough to realize that?

Apparently it was, as nothing further happened. Daemon approached (rather cautiously for him) and unlatched the chest piece, opened it, and removed the chain from around the power source’s neck so he could claim the half-ring.

“I rather think it’s nearly cheating to not have had the ring on the exterior,” he muttered.

Daemon eyed Timoteo (who looked rather worse for wear), and slowly walked backward, saying, “He looks a bit peaky in there,” to no one in particular.

Tsuna sighed and shot a look at Xanxus. “Is he seriously that incompetent? Him and his so-called guardians?” he asked dryly. “Do they even realize he’s missing from his post?”

“Tsunayoshi-kun?” Timoteo said weakly.

Tsuna coughed. “I don’t remember the part where I gave him permission to use my given name,” he muttered.

Reborn sent him a look, then rushed forward to check on the old man’s health. He would have been followed by Iemitsu (presumably), but one of his Mists was running interference. Iemitsu was presently deeply invested in a one-sided conversation with a straggly shrub, which he appeared to believe was named Turmeric.

Basil was shooting the man a disturbed and bewildered look.

Tsuna sidled over to Dino. “Think you could hook the old man up with a bed in that makeshift hospital of yours? I’m sure Reborn will contact the right people to come, but for now…”

Dino startled like a gangly colt, then nodded. “Uh, yeah, I’ll take care of it.”

“Awesome,” he said blandly as Dino gave orders to Romario.

*

“So how aware was he in there?” he asked Xanxus while they waited for the Cervello to get their shit together.

“Eh…” Xanxus waggled his hand back and forth.

“Well, hopefully he learned something from the experience, and I’m not referring to how small his bladder may or may not be. I hear that happens when you get older. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.”

“You expect to live that long, trash?” Xanxus asked.

“Not really, but who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky this time. Or unlucky, as the case may be,” he said. “Tea goes right through a person as it is. To have a small bladder on top of that, well…”

Xanxus’s mouth twitched.

The Cervello finally dropped into place and started talking, which Tsuna listened to with half an ear. It was the same battle they always did, and he had prepared ahead.

He, Daemon, Xeul, and Mukuro had created Mist-Earth wisps and stationed them appropriately, having watched via panes as the Cervello worked. Thus, they were ready to act as extra hands to acquire the rings while the people involved were all dealing with that Death Hitter poison.

Seriously, they were mafiosi. If they weren’t finding ways to “cheat” in fights they weren’t doing it right.

Tsuna nodded very seriously at the explanation about how his people were in imminent danger of dying and then ignored it the second the fight started. Xanxus was a damn good shot with those guns of his, but Tsuna already knew that from his time in the Varia and from spying in this dimension.

Tsuna, on the other hand, was damn good at moving just enough to dodge, cheating with flames outsiders didn’t realize he had, and generally making it all look like it was luck.

“You planning to attack at some point, trash?” Xanxus inquired lazily.

“Hm? Ah.” Tsuna practically teleported across the courtyard and slammed a flaming fist into Xanxus’s face, breaking his nose. “So, are Wrath Flames a thing on their own, or just a Stormy Sky thing?” he asked, following up by speeding past Xanxus as he staggered backward so he could acquire both guns and deposit them, encased in ice, behind a chunk of rubble.

When Xanxus did find them he would be alerted to the fact that Tsuna was perfectly capable of using Zero Point Breakthrough and chose not to use it on Xanxus himself.

Tsuna then pulled off something akin to a shell game by propagating the earth under the paved courtyard to create multiple hollow columns. He “allowed” Xanxus to see him being swallowed by one, as protection, but stepped Between the second the column finished forming so he could safely watch how his opponent reacted.

A few minutes of destruction later Tsuna called out, “Bravo!”

Xanxus’s head whipped around toward to voice to see Tsuna parked on a bench with a carton of popcorn in his hand, smiling serenely.

“So it does hold disintegration properties. That’s pretty cool.”

“Trash?” Xanxus growled.

“Hm?” He tossed more popcorn into his mouth.

“You’re not complete and utter trash.”

The serene smile came back. “I do my best to be a tricky bastard. So, are we good, or do I have to crush your skull like a grape?”

Xanxus threw back his head and laughed.

*

A close examination of the completed Vongola Sky ring revealed it was just a placeholder, but he fully expected that someone would, at some point, sneak in to replace the entire set. He was impressed that the placeholder rings were of exceptional quality, but they were not part of the Tri-ni-set.

Chapter Text

λ10
Omega II

Tsuna sighed in displeasure as he let Daemon adjust his suit. Timoteo was doing the whole song and dance with the Inheritance Ceremony and the handing over of the Vongola Sin.

“You look sharp,” Daemon said quietly. “Just bear it. You know it’s all tosh, anyway, the puffed up posturing of princes.”

“Yeah. Everyone is ready?”

Daemon hummed an affirmative. “The Varia is already in place.”

“And…?”

Daemon nodded. “Yes, just in case.”

‘Good, so a fake is in place that even the old man doesn’t know about.’ He had noticed that Enma and his crew had arrived, and he wondered if any of them used the Shimon rings, or if they had yet to be uncovered. It had been an earthquake last time and Daemon’s meddling, but… Either way, he wouldn’t mind being friendly with Enma again, though it was nothing approaching a priority.

At least the young man looked a lot happier this go around.

Reborn signaled that it was time, so Tsuna started for the door into the hall, his guardians covering his sides and back. He walked that carpeted path to where the old man was standing and came to a stop.

‘Blah blah blah, ceremony, big words, no one gives a damn except the ones who’d prefer to assassinate us…’ The serene smile on his face remained firmly in place as he accepted what was being paraded as the Vongola Sin.

That was quickly shuffled into a pocket (the box was small enough to fit, though it did muddle the line of his jacket a bit, and which everyone assumed Mukuro smoothed over with flames) to get it out of the way. The real thing was already stashed away at the Iron Fort, hidden by an anchored Bounding Box.

Tsuna nearly grinned when he spotted Talbot in a shadowy corner (a quite difficult feat considering the sheer number of windows to be had) of the hall. Timoteo paraded Tsuna around the room, introducing him to various high rollers in the underworld, and when he was finally left to his own devices, Tsuna drifted over to Talbot.

Daemon appeared out of thin air, seemingly.

Talbot looked at the two and his mouth twisted, making something truly horrific of the myriad wrinkles he was sporting, and seemed to sigh. “I would apologize, but…”

“Ah, one of those,” Tsuna said. “So you do have something. Maybe not white, but…”

“So what was it, exactly, you were hunting?”

Tsuna smiled. “I doubt this is the time or place. Perhaps we could meet later, away from all this pomp? If your workshop is in the same place, we could meet you there, or perhaps a neutral location, in Rome. I’m going to assume you won’t be quite so boom happy this time.”

“I think that would be a fi—”

“Tsunayoshi-kun, I see you have met Talbot,” Timoteo said, coming over to be a busy-body.

“Yes,” he replied. “I was curious about a man who seemed to be even older than you, Teo-jiji.” If the old man was going to insist on being inappropriately familiar, well, Tsuna knew how to play that game, too.

Timoteo got the most hilarious pinched look for a moment before his expression smoothed back out into its usual kindly old fart setting.

A spark of amusement kindled on Talbot’s face before it was covered. He handed a card to Tsuna and smiled. “Give me a call sometime, young man.”

“Will do. It was a pleasure to meet you, Talbot-san. Let’s mingle some more, Yeul.”

“Of course, darling.”

That pinched look came back, but they ignored it and wandered off.

*

The old man’s office at the Iron Fort was a familiar and unwelcome sight. Tsuna was immediately annoyed that the seats for visitors were lower than those of Timoteo and his guardians. A valid psychological tactic, but not one recommended to be used on your heir.

That being so, Tsuna remained standing.

Timoteo frowned slightly and waved at the seats. “Please, be seated.”

“No thank you,” he replied. “I’d rather not have you looking down on me. Sets a bad precedent.”

Timoteo looked startled, which Tsuna found mildly insulting.

“And booster seats would be as bad or worse,” he added. “Perhaps we can have this meeting once you’ve rectified the insult.” Tsuna sailed out with his people.

*

“What is going on?”

Tsuna looked at Reborn. The chibi’s eyes were the usual cold, black sea that took but did not give, but Tsuna was experienced enough to see the stress, confusion, and uncertainty.

“Such an open-ended question,” he replied. “See, the problem I have with you, Ren, is that I’m not sure where your loyalty lies. I don’t know if you’d sell me out. After all, you’re contracted to the Vongola, but you are not Vongola. You don’t like to be chained down, which is understandable, and I doubt there are many people you could genuinely trust.

“You came to teach me, expecting one thing and getting something so different. You’ve been amazingly patient, I’ll give you that. I suppose in that light you’ve proven to be fairly trustworthy. But without knowing whether answers will see you trotting off to share with the old man or the tainted sack of wind…” He shrugged.

Reborn stared, his lips pursed, then he said, “My primary loyalty is always to myself. You and I have not made any kind of contract.”

Tsuna grinned. “I like the precision of your thought processes at times. No, you and I have not. You are under contract to the old man, and I have no reason to trust him. Even if you were under contract to the Vongola generically, it wouldn’t matter, since I’m not the one in charge—not that I think you’d ever be so stupid as to agree to a contract like that. So, it boils down to who you think is more trustworthy and more worthy of your trust, Ren. When you have that figured out, we can talk about this again.”

*

After giving Reborn the slip, he, Daemon, and Xeul stepped Between to just outside Talbot’s workshop. A wisp was sent forward to knock on the door, just in case. Talbot had seemed a bit chagrined, but…

The door opened, Talbot peeked out, and then the man waved them forward and into the structure.

“So what was your purpose?” Talbot asked, seeming to look at Daemon specifically.

Tsuna had started to suspect the old man could “see” flames or souls or something with a supernatural sense that was not, in itself, connected to a flame of dying will.

“To uncover information on behalf of my brother.”

Talbot turned his “gaze” on Tsuna. “For what purpose?”

“Rendering the Arcobaleno Curse moot,” he said. “The most I’ve worked out so far is based on something you once said, which is that accelerated flames are amplified. If the pacifiers feed off their hosts—in a far more detrimental way than the Vongola or Mare rings—then perhaps we could come up with an alternative, using something like a particle accelerator to amplify the flames in new containers of some kind. But that also raised the question of just what Flames of Night are.”

“The changeover kills,” Talbot stated, with just enough of a questioning lilt to make it clear he was unsure.

“Sounds like you never paid that much attention,” he said, “but yes, with certain exceptions.”

“The Vindice.”

“Yes. We’ve come to the conclusion that Bermuda is the first, patient zero, if you will. Something caused him to manifest the Flames of Night in the moments between being, uh, relieved of his burden, and his death. And that he is the source of flames for all subsequent Vindice, that he recharges them, has taught them the techniques he developed…”

Talbot’s demeanor turned thoughtful at that. “I could work on containers that would be similar to the pacifiers. It’s been a long time since I’ve had something interesting to challenge me. I can also look into particle accelerators, to ensure I understand their function and purpose.”

Tsuna nodded. “The last one I looked into was the Tevatron, but that’s a bit out of reach. I couldn’t guess what size one would need to be to be of use for this. I am not a scientist, and there was only so much I could get out of Verde without cluing him in to who I was and what I was after.”

“Unfortunately, they…” Talbot trailed off with a downcast look.

“I figured as much. I’m just sorry I had to leave so abruptly. It remains to be seen how long I manage to stay here.” He handed over a card with the number of one of his private phones, the lettering infused with his flames so that Talbot could theoretically “read” it, plus an email address. He turned to go, but was stopped by a touch to his arm. “What is it?”

“I was wondering if you realized.”

His brow went up.

“There was a very good chance you were a Gesso last time.”

His eyes went wide.

*

Back at their “wing” of the Iron Fort, Daemon cackled in amusement at the still shell-shocked look on Tsuna’s face. “I’ll talk you down if you suddenly develop a craving for marshmallows,” he promised.

Tsuna snapped out of it to scowl at his oldest friend. “Jerk.”

Daemon cackled again.

“We have a meeting in fifteen minutes,” Chikusa reminded him.

“Oh, right,” he said flatly. “Let’s get ready.”

Timoteo had decided not to rectify the chair situation in his office, so shortly thereafter they were in one of the conference rooms. They were waved into seats. Once they were seated Timoteo said, “Tsunayoshi-kun, thank you for coming. It was not necessary for you to bring all of your guardians, but that is fine.”

His brow went up. “That’s interesting,” he said. “Why would I not bring them? After all, they are the people I trust with my life.”

Timoteo simply smiled a kindly old smile, the one that was about as genuine as the “leather” seats in a cheap car. “I wanted to begin introducing you to how Vongola is run.”

“Oh? Can’t imagine it’s all that different than back home. You know, like what Oracle says.”

Timoteo stared at him hard. “And how would you have any knowledge of that?”

Tsuna shot him a look like the man was senile, delusional, and probably incontinent. “Uh, hello? It’s not like we had a yakuza family right there in Namimori who took an interest when assassins kept coming after me or anything, or thought I was the cutest little thing and needed protection and training. Because sure, my knowledge of organized crime was exactly nil before Reborn showed up. And sure, they weren’t the reason why I knew exactly who I was before Reborn arrived to ‘teach’ me about my exciting new life and career opportunity. Why wouldn’t I know about Oracle? I wasn’t about to send reports using my own name, now was I? And look where we are now.”

Tsuna swept his hand out to indicate the setting. “All the warnings, ignored. I probably know better than you do at this point how Vongola is run, and exactly what’s wrong with it. I expect Giotto would be more than a little dismayed at what his vigilante group became once Ricardo got his hands on it. Now, if you’re willing to set aside the kindly old grandfather persona that’s fooling exactly no one, shall we get on with this?”

It took a good thirty seconds for Timoteo’s guardians to get pissy over the perceived disrespect and start complaining or making somewhat subtle threats.

Tsuna just sat there with an expression meant to convey, “Seriously? You have squabbling toddlers for guardians?” Then he got up and walked out, followed by his conspicuously silent guardians.

Back in their “wing” they flopped into available seats and snorted, snickered, or laughed.

“I’m almost wondering how long it takes until one of those idiots tries to off me for being an imposter,” he said.

Even Hayato looked disgusted, and he was a total fanboy at times for Vongola.

*

Timoteo eventually got his guardians to stop acting out like toddlers against bath time or bed time and picked a place to begin. He and Tsuna went over the Iron Fort itself—protocols, hiring practices, who answered to whom, and all the other mind-numbingly boring stuff that went with the reams of paperwork every boss of every kind ever had to deal with.

Tsuna started coming to meetings with printouts of any relevant reports they’d compiled as Oracle to compare against the current state of affairs. After all, it was best to clear the trash out of home base before extending the net outward.

(There were a lot of rats in Vongola. Ottavio was hardly alone.)

They had nothing better to do than comb through Vongola departments, personnel, districts, and divisions, and then move on to CEDEF. By the time they had taken the equivalent of an electric paint stripper to everything and slapped in some glue and a fresh coat of paint, Timoteo decided that Tsuna was ready to take over.

Tsuna smiled his serene smile, nodded in an approximation of graciousness, and scowled the second the old man and his cronies were out the door and off to some Vongola retreat. “Fucking trash,” he muttered.

“Do we finally get to fire the idiot?” Hayato asked.

“I’d love to,” he said. “Who I’d replace him with… Oregano and Turmeric are both quite skilled, but they also think that the Tsow is a decent leader. Hm, you know what? Let’s ask Xanxus. Mukuro, please send an inquiry to him.”

“Certainly, darling.” Mukuro promptly dashed off a letter in his remarkably elegant handwriting, got it ready for transport, then dropped it right in front of Xanxus via Between.

Tsuna didn’t need to look personally to know that Xanxus had probably just thrown a glass or shot something to express his opinion of the action and what it implied. It was more annoying that it would take extra time to get a reply—well, unless Mukuro decided to keep an eye on things and snatch any response the second Xanxus was done writing it.

A knock at the office door saw Ken going to answer it. Reborn wandered in and hopped onto the back of a chair so he would not be at a height disadvantage and said, “At least you’re in charge now.”

“Feeling up to a renegotiation of that contract, Ren?” he asked, signaling for a proper chair for the Sun.

Xeul grabbed one, out of line of sight, from Between, and moved it into place while Chikusa headed over to the espresso machine to make some. None of them actually appreciated the stuff aside from Reborn, but it was only polite to have it available for him. If he did decide to leave and return to being fully neutral, the machine would get sent to one of the communal kitchens.

Reborn paused a moment at the show of respect, then switched perch for the seat and accepted an espresso. “Yes,” he said, then had a sip. That he did not check it for poisons was a point in their favor.

He saw no reason to reveal (yet) that there were anchors in the room, installed without Timoteo’s knowledge, that could be activated at a moment’s notice to trap the occupants of the room in a Bounding Box.

Tsuna trusted Reborn, to a point, but he was a mystery to the Sun and that was dangerous.

“Now that I’m not in a position to have potentially divided loyalties, yes.”

A serene smile slid into place, which cause Reborn’s left eye to twitch in annoyance. “That bodes well. Flames aside, how much of the supernatural do you believe?”

Reborn’s brow went up. “I believe in prescience, for one. The Hyper Intuition that crops up in the Vongola, for another.”

“What about alternate dimensions?”

“…Someone I knew could see … possibilities,” Reborn said, then took a sip of his drink. “I always wondered if they were glimpses of what will be, or what could be.”

“I knew someone who could look … sideways,” he replied. “Who could see those could bes and what might happens as they … flowered.”

“…You’ve used knowledge from what was elsewhere here.”

He nodded. “I know what you are. I know how you got there. And I know your eventual fate. I haven’t lived that directly, but I’ve known you, many times. I’ve known you … Before. We have been tutor and student, parent and child, even friends. Never adversaries, though, to my knowledge. So, if I have your word not to break confidence on certain knowledge, I’ll share what I know. I don’t require loyalty, but I would prefer it. I don’t require a contract, because I know you well enough to know your word can be trusted. You might call yourself the World’s Greatest Hitman, but I know you as one of the world’s greatest teachers and healers.”

Reborn sat back and sipped his drink. “You have my word that your secrets will remain yours to tell.”

“Thank you, Renato Sinclair,” he said, enjoying very much when Reborn’s eye twitched again. “So. I am a Sky, a Cloud, a Mist, and an Earth. I am usually a Vongola, but I have been a Gesso at least once. I have lived ten lives already. This is my eleventh. The oldest I have ever been is twenty-four. In my last life, I knew you and your comrades, bar one, prior to your … cursed status.”

He turned to Daemon and said, “You know, I wonder what would happen if I opened a window to one of the earlier lives and tracked down Reborn for Ren to chat with.”

Daemon cackled in amusement. “You are the only one who can do that, Heul. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t get the hang of it.”

He shrugged. “I’ll try it in a minute,” he said, then looked back at Reborn. “Yeul is Daemon Spade. Xeul is Daemon Spade.”

Reborn blinked.

“Yeul I met two lives ago. I started early, tracking him down, because I’d only just learned of him the time before that. We became allies. And when I died, as I always do, he jumped bodies.”

“I was curious to see what would happen,” Daemon said cheerfully. “And I managed to come with. We seem to be linked now.”

“That was the life where you stole my body?” Mukuro asked.

“Well, you were an almost perfect choice for a host, darling.”

Mukuro rolled his eyes.

“Unfortunately we died early last go around and were unable to contact the native Daemon. But we managed this time, hence Xeul.”

“We found two children, twins, in a persistent vegetative state from brain injury. We were lucky they were dual flames,” Xeul said, “though that would not have prevented us from filling any position in Tsuna’s coterie. Mists are funny that way.”

“And you harmonized,” Reborn stated.

Tsuna nodded. “I was trying to last time around. I wanted to save you guys. But we were caught in an ambush and died. This life is the first life I’ve ever managed to harmonize with someone.”

“Save us?” Reborn looked rightly skeptical.

“Fuck yeah. You’ve generally been more of a father to me in my lives—where I’ve known you, that is—than the Tsow ever was, and I’ve been friendly with most of you guys. Why wouldn’t I want to figure out how to save you? As it is, we have most of the puzzle pieces, and Talbot is actively helping us this time. One of the goals I’ve had since I learned more about the Tri-ni-set is to find a way to end the curse, especially after I pissed off Checkers badly enough that he came personally to monologue at me and quite literally frighten me to death. Too bad I had no idea how to reach across back then, or I’d have opened a window to see his reaction when he learned he’d just killed the last living bloodline Vongola.”

Reborn nodded, had a sip of his espresso, and said, “Windows.”

“Mm. Hang on a second. Let me try something.” He pulled a pane from storage and positioned it on the edge, allowing Reborn to see what he was doing, even if the man wouldn’t likely understand how he was doing it. The first place he looked was Mafia Land’s backstage area, to see if he could catch Colonnello at work.

He was lucky in that the Rain Arcobaleno was putting some unfortunate souls through the wringer with his obstacle course. “Daemon, if you would…?”

“Of course, darling.” Daemon used the window as a portal for his own Mist Flames, to twist Colonnello’s perception into thinking Reborn had shown up.

“What are you doing here, kora!?” Colonnello said in surprise. “I thought you were with your student.”

“Reborn” answered that by shooting a bullet from “Leon” before saying, “Just checking something. I was never here,” then vanishing.

Tsuna hummed. “It’s probably the wrong time for Dino, so…” He reoriented the pane to look in on the Iron Fort, and nearly laughed. His Vongola counterpart had been born and suckered into taking over. Reborn was perched nearby in a hammock, reading a book, while that Tsuna was swamped in paperwork and looking particularly harried.

“Daemon, shoot him a his-eyes-only message, and remember to call him Ki-san. I want to be able to ungloss the window, but he needs to be alone for that.”

Daemon nodded, and employed his flames through the portal again.

Reborn went deadly still for a moment as the words on the page of his book writhed and reformed to read: Ki-san~! I would speak with you if you are willing. I have missed you greatly, and I expect you have greatly missed my cooking and my collection of antiques. It’s been ages since you’ve had a chance to flirt with me~!

Both Reborns scowled, and the one on the other side snapped his book shut, tucked it away, then dropped to the floor to vanish out the door.

To Ren he said, “Ki-san knew me as a Cloud and Mist, but not a Sky, as far as I know.”

When Reborn finally reached his rooms and secured himself inside, Tsuna swapped in a new, much larger pane and left the other side unglossed.

“Ki-san~!” he called, smiling serenely when Reborn’s head snapped around toward the sound. “Sorry I had to leave so abruptly, but that happens when you walk into an ambush and your intuition doesn’t kick in fast enough to avoid getting blown into little pieces.”

As a gift and to be a troll, he pulled an antique gun from his stash and dropped it in front of Reborn.

“A gift, Ki-san~! Also! Please meet an old friend and some new ones.”

Daemon (wearing his other appearance) lifted a hand in greeting.

“The most important of which,” he said, turning to look at Ren for a moment, “is yourself.”

Ren and Reborn stared at each other intently.

“What the fuck, Heul,” Reborn said flatly.

“I had no idea you knew how to swear,” he teased. “Okay, trolling aside, I was trying to prove something to your counterpart, mainly that I am not delusional and better incarcerated in the nearest insane asylum.”

“So you’re some kind of dimensional traveler. And you faked having no idea who I was.”

Tsuna shrugged. “Sort of. More like I jump dimensions each time I die, usually back to when I turn five. And when I met you, I did not immediately recognize you. I had only before encountered you in the form you have now. Same with Colonnello, Verde, and so forth. Your Tsuna reminds me of a version of me from way the hell back. He must be a real hoot to, ah, tutor. I’m guessing he didn’t manage to avoid being sealed, and therefore was or is crippled to some degree.”

Reborn’s brow went up, but he nodded. “He was. I notice you’ve picked up the Kokuyo group.”

“Mm. We rescued them when I was five. They found us when I was ten. Mukuro is like a dog with a bone at times, but he, Ken, and Chikusa are incredibly loyal and worthy of trust, not to mention skilled. I’d have been a fool worse than my idiot of a father or Teo-jiji not to take them in, keep them safe, and train them, to give them the best chance at a life where they weren’t the ones being pushed around.”

Reborn nodded. “At least now I know what happened to you. I miss Sam—” He rolled his eyes. “Now the name makes sense.”

Tsuna chortled in amusement. “Are you all right with me occasionally checking in, Ki-san? One of the things I’ve been working on for years is breaking the curse. If I finally figure it out, I assume you’d like to know.”

Reborn rolled his eyes again. “Yes.”

“Excellent. I wish you luck with my counterpart. And I’ll be in touch.”

Reborn raised a hand in a quasi-salute, then headed back out, presumably to return to his Tsuna.

Tsuna stashed both panes and sighed. “I really miss him. He was a lot of fun. Have we heard anything from Talbot?”

Chikusa shook his head. “The last thing he said was he’s still working on new containers. He’s having trouble with the material.”

He nodded. “Are you a fan of antique guns, too?” he asked Ren. “Because I’ve acquired rather a lot of them. I’ve learned a fair number of skills, you see.”

“Yes. What puzzle pieces do you have?”

“Oh, good. I’ll have to get some out of storage and see if you’d like any,” he replied. “The curse is a cyclical thing. Checkers said—because villains like to monologue when they’re about to kill you, thinking that giving away information won’t come back to bite them—that the Vongola and Mare rings were two parts, the pacifiers the third. There’s a poem or song about it all. The Arcobaleno can only serve for so long before the pacifiers have leeched too much from their bearers for them to continue living.

“At that point, when it’s drawing close, he choses a new set of sacrifices. The Sky is usually from Giglio Nero, which makes me wonder if the original leader was the same as Checkers. I wonder at times if Talbot is, too. But anyway, it’s about the balance of the world. When it comes to the pacifiers, though…

“Flames, accelerated enough, amplify in power. I asked Verde that day about particle accelerators, wondering if they could create that effect with flames. Something like new containers for the seven flames, primed, and amplified, without needing to sacrifice our best every half century or so. There’s also some question about Flames of Night, because Bermuda was an Arcobaleno, and he’s now Vindice, possibly the very first.”

Daemon snorted and waved his hand. “Let me explain. You suck at this, Heul.”

He blew a flat raspberry at his friend and reached over to grab a soft drink from his office fridge. He cracked it open and sat back as Daemon started in, with far more verbal precision, to explain what the hell they had uncovered so far.

Hayato answered a knock at the door, accepted something, and closed it again before wandering over to present a letter to Tsuna. He smiled in thanks and did a quick check for anything off, then opened it and began to read.

His eyes went a little wide when he saw that Xanxus mentioned Jace and Leto as possible candidates for External Advisor. If they were anything like the ones he had worked with back in his Varia life, either one would probably be good.

“You know them?” Mukuro asked.

“Yes. I’ve worked with both. They were good, the ones I knew. I doubt Xanxus would bother mentioning them if they sucked. It would reflect badly on Vongola to troll me with castoffs and leavings.”

“Bring them in for interviews?”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “Please do.”

Xeul leaned closer and said, “I can always have a little peek when they’re here.”

He nodded again. “My intuition will say a lot, but having a second opinion isn’t a bad idea. I’ve never been as good at poking around inside people’s minds as you have. I’d rather not have another accident.”

Xeul snickered and Mukuro was right there with him. Even Daemon left off his explanation to laugh at him.

“Yeah, yeah. You did only give me the barest of details as a starting explanation. Not my fault people’s brains can liquefy or their heads explode from an inexpert application of flames.”

Reborn stared at him for a shade too long. As he turned away Tsuna caught the corner of his mouth twitching in amusement.

*

The Jace and Leto he got to interview were similar to the ones he’d known, but that didn’t entirely surprise him. After speaking with each of them, asking questions about how they would handle the role of External Advisor and the personnel under them, he thanked Jace for his time and interest, but made the offer to Leto.

Leto of that time had struck him as being amazingly level-headed and calm for a Lightning, and he was very observant. This one seemed much the same and Tsuna’s intuition wasn’t against the idea. What the hell, right? He had to be better than the Tsow.

“Reborn,” he said, “would you be willing to help pave the way on this one? Coordinate with Lal in getting the Tsow’s stuff packed up without him being aware so he can more easily be booted out? She can change all the codes and passwords, but maybe you could figure out a distraction?”

Reborn nodded. “I’d love to,” he said, a toothy smile appearing. “If it’s timed right, you could then call him here, and he’d never even realize he’s already been locked out when you fire him.”

“Cool. Let me write up an official order for you to take with you, so Lal has little to argue against should she be so inclined.”

“Doubtful,” Reborn replied. “She often threatens to strangle him and accuses him of being incompetent. She might feel the odd twinge when it comes to ingrained loyalty to the established chain of command, but common sense will win out over that.”

“Because CEDEF operates mostly independently, but the EA is still appointed by the don,” he said, scratching his forehead. He could tell Reborn was itching to smack his hand and lecture him on appropriate behavior for a mafia boss. “Yeah, let me write that up. Soon as we’re good to go, I’ll get Leto ready, to take over the morning after. I don’t doubt Lal can teach him quite a bit. I’ll also have to write a letter to Xanxus, to thank him.”

*

“What?”

The Tsow had a hilariously stupid look of confusion on his face, and Tsuna’s inner troll frolicked in a field of flowers basking in the sun at the sight of it.

“Your services are no longer required,” he obligingly repeated.

“But—”

“You were Teo-jiji’s External Advisor. I’ve come to a decision on mine, and it’s not you,” he helpfully clarified. “I barely know you and have no intention of bothering, and I sure as hell don’t trust you to advise me on so much as how to break a rotting stick. You’re being let go, so perhaps now you can retire and spend more time with your wife. I’m sure she misses you.”

“But—”

“Are you hard of hearing, by chance? Or experiencing issues with comprehension?” he asked solicitously. “Now, if you don’t mind, I do have a lot of work to take care of. Having to repeat myself is simply wasting valuable time.”

Daemon and Xeul jumped in to smoothly usher Iemitsu out—and probably fuck with his brains to ensure he left the Iron Fort.

‘Maybe I should have asked them to plant a few compulsions?’ he wondered, then shrugged. ‘I still could.’ He jotted down a quick note on a piece of scratch paper so he wouldn’t forget.

*

They were relaxing in their communal sitting room watching movies when Tsuna’s phone rang like a ship’s bell. He quietly slipped his phone out so he could see who had emailed which account. “Pause that, please!” he said, then, when it went quiet, “Talbot sent an email. He thinks he’s come up with a solution for the containers. He’s setting up a test and wants help with priming it. Since we have four Mists, that would be the best option, I think.”

“When?” Reborn asked.

“Any time,” he replied. “We’ll go over my schedule in the morning, find a time, and set it up. He’d also like to at least try to examine your pacifier, Ren, in comparison to what he’s come up with.”

Reborn nodded.

Tsuna shot back a quick response, and then they got back to watching the movie.

A week later they had gathered at Talbot’s workshop, having stepped or been dragged through Between by one of the Mists, mainly to save time. The Mists had collaborated to leave a Bounding Box over the Iron Fort for the duration of their absence, though it was something Tsuna was considering as a permanent sort of protection in the near future.

They had the ability and motive to add further protections to their headquarters, so why would they fail to do so? It would not last beyond their deaths, but in theory, they could teach it to the next generation. Of course, that would mean Tsuna would have to find a woman to marry and have children with—not something he had any real interest in, but more of a necessary evil, and just another heart to wound when he inevitably died and moved on.

“Welcome,” Talbot said as he ushered them into his workshop and out the back, to a large fenced in yard—more like a field, really—and gestured at a mechanical contraption that Tsuna assumed was a particle accelerator, though different in looks to the one he had once investigated, and assuredly much smaller.

The mafia was generally a decade ahead of the civilians, if only because they scoffed at the normal notions of law, so he expected that Talbot had taken available examples and ramped things up considerably. It would be the sensible thing to do, after all.

“Now that we are gathered, we can test out this theory. I assume we shall be using Mist?”

Tsuna nodded. “We could try Sun in theory, but I’d rather not tamper with that leech Reborn has right out of the gate. Better to wait until we know our theory is sound, and then attract the attention of the master manipulator and get him to see reason.”

“Quite right,” Talbot said with a nod. “So, this container is where you will be focusing the Mist Flames. Spare as much as you can afford to prime this. I imagine a bit of propagation would not go amiss, either. As soon as you start filling the container, I will turn on the device, and we shall see what comes of it.”

“Question!” Chikusa called out.

“Yes?”

“If the flames are being accelerated, would they accelerate right out of the container?”

“Ah, no. In this case, the material I used is permeable from the outside, but not the inside, rather like how a one-way mirror is employed. Light passes through one side, but is bounced off the other.”

They all accepted that as at least being plausible and shrugged.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

Tsuna looked at his fellow Mists, then turned to the container and began to pump it full of Cloud-propagated Mist Flames, smiling faintly as his friends did the same.

Talbot reached over to flip a switch. There was no immediate reaction that could be discerned, but thirty seconds later the wizened old man said, “Stop priming it. Let us see if this test has produced viable results.”

They stepped back to observe the flames shifting around inside the container, but Talbot moved over to Reborn and gestured toward the pacifier.

“Go ahead.”

Tsuna spared a glance for that, but quickly resumed watching the experiment. So far, the flames inside had not diminished in the least, as one would expect after being set free of one’s body with no particular direction, or command, or purpose. The particle accelerator seemed to be both amplifying them and sending them in a similar circular path as the mechanical pathways of the machine.

He did notice when he looked again that Talbot appeared to be comparing the pacifier to the container with whatever passed for sight for him during the next few minutes, but eventually the old man said, “All right. Let us leave this to itself. I will inform you once I have come to any conclusions.”

Tsuna nodded, though Hayato was quick to voice agreement verbally to the idea. They returned to the Iron Fort via Between, and he smiled when Mukuro said, “Shall we take it in shifts?”

“Yes. I don’t expect Talbot would flat out lie, but I’d rather have the eyes of people I trust beyond doubt to also be watching. Work out a schedule so we can have eyes on it at all times. I can probably do a shift while I’m in my office handling paperwork. It’s the overnight hours that concern me more.”

“I’m thinking shifts of 9 to 3 and 3 to 9,” Hayato said. “That would give you the 9 to 3 shift here in your office, Tsuna.”

He nodded. “All right, back to paperwork, then.” He got started on that while Mukuro, Daemon, and Xeul figured out who would be taking what shift.

*

Two weeks later they had come to the conclusion that the experiment was working, but not quite well enough. Flame was being lost over time from the container, which was probably an issue with the materials used. True, the system would likely last a long time, but it was not perpetual, as the amplification gain was not covering the leak.

Talbot had clearly come to the same conclusion, as he sent a message that he would be creating a new test container so they could try again.

Tsuna nearly laughed when Mammon showed up one day in a right pother. The Mist had clearly been snooping around in their capacity as the World’s Greatest Information Broker and had cottoned on to the tests Vongola was running with Talbot.

“Why was I not informed?” Mammon demanded.

“Do you honestly think I would offer information freely to a known miser who charges everyone for anything?” he countered.

“I could be helping!”

“And have you attempt to charge me for that help?”

Mammon snarled.

“There is also the consideration that we have been testing with Mist. Having you directly involved could, potentially, be beneficial. But it could also, potentially, be detrimental, to you directly. I am not about to deprive the Varia of its most effective Mist. Now, if we were testing a different flame, a flame you could also produce, your assistance would be welcome. But, given that this is being done for the benefit of the Arcobaleno as a whole, and for any who might stand to follow, you should not expect anything in the way of compensation aside from freedom from the curse itself.”

Mammon’s tiny hands clenched into tiny fists at the idea (presumably) of not somehow gaining a heap of gold for any assistance, but quickly relaxed when Tsuna arched a brow at them.

“When the time comes that we are as certain as we can be that this will work for all seven flames, you would have been contacted anyway. All of you would. I expect you’ll need to be present in order to effect a release.”

“How do you plan to gain Checker Face’s attention?” Mammon asked, a mite more subdued in tone.

“By being obnoxious. By being blatant. Putting adverts in the papers. Writing messages in the sky. Whatever it takes to get his checkered ass to come talk to us. I’ll be damned before I let Reborn suffer one moment longer than he has to under this curse. Hm, hold on a moment, please,” he said, then shot off a quick message to Talbot. He got back an affirmative, so he had Ken ask everyone to assemble for a short trip.

He was not about to give Mammon the secret to how they traveled, but he was willing to take the Varia Mist along with them to speak to their collaborator. Daemon and Xeul activated the Bounding Box behind Mammon’s back before they all stepped through Between and emerged outside Talbot’s workshop.

A wisp was sent forward to knock, and they were shortly in the building and out the other side, where Talbot had reset things with a new container to test.

“Same as before, if you will. Prime that until I say to back off. But not the short one,” Talbot said. “I’ve no idea yet what would happen if they got directly involved so early in.”

“Right,” he said, stepping forward along with Mukuro, Daemon, and Xeul. “Go.”

Talbot flipped the switch again and, thirty seconds later, asked them to stop. “Good. We shall just have to keep an eye it again, to see if it leaks this time. With the change in the composition of the container I hope not, but we shall see. Or sense, as the case may be.”

Tsuna chuckled softly. “All right. Thank you, Talbot. We’ll be in touch.”

“Of course. Now off with you. I’m of a mind to have something to eat.”

Mammon took off under their own power once back at the Iron Fort, though Tsuna wondered if they would alert any of the other Arcobaleno. Probably not, unless they could convince the others to pony up a fair bit of money for the information.

“Same as before, I assume,” Mukuro said.

He nodded. “Might as well. We know he didn’t try to pull a fast one, but it can’t hurt to have extra eyes watching for any anomalies. I’ll take 9 to 3 again. Ren, I’m going to update your counterpart. Would you like to stay?”

Reborn nodded and perched in a hammock that was attached to the wall behind Tsuna’s desk.

Tsuna brought a pane to bear and hunted around for that Reborn, luckily finding him in his rooms. Thusly, he moved the larger pane into position and left the other side unglossed. “Ki-san~!”

Reborn’s head snapped up, the book he was holding being flipped over to rest on his lap. “Heul.”

“We’re getting closer. We’ve already run one partly successful test and have just started the second one. If this one pans out—the materials for the container had to be changed—we’ll see about finding a place for all of this to happen.”

“Do you think you can slip it under the radar?”

He hummed thoughtfully. “I was considering, however tentatively, asking the Vindice to guard everything. I don’t doubt Bermuda would love to have this under his watch, as a form of revenge if nothing else. If we could manage to free everyone without having to get Checkers involved…”

“What about a power source?” Ren asked.

Reborn pursed his lips. “In that location? Geothermal power might work.”

“Once we get a successful test I can send an envoy to the Vindice, after I make sure Talbot won’t flip out on me for inviting them to come see. If they could provide the location and the protection, I could front the cost of the machinery to keep things powered,” he said. “Kami knows I’ve got enough gold to last a dozen lifetimes.”

Ren snorted at the near pun.

“At any rate, I just wanted to update you. And see your adorable self again, Ki-san.”

Reborn rolled his eyes. “Of course, Heul. I look forward to you sharing schematics with me, and an end to this unpleasantness.”

“When that happens, be sure to thank Verde for me. He was quite helpful, even if I had to conceal what I was really after at the time.”

“Speaking of that…” Reborn trailed off, looking conflicted. “I have to assume you said nothing so as not to get yourself killed, our minds tampered with…”

He nodded. “And besides, I hadn't built up enough trust with you and the others. I’m just pleased I did think to try to reach between dimensions. At least now I know I can help not only here, but elsewhere. Actually, how conversant are you with Byakuran Gesso?”

Reborn shrugged. “He’s more than a little off, but… I haven’t met him directly.”

He hummed. “I suspect, though I could be wrong, that the only reason I can do this, speak to you, is because last go around I showed up a good two decades early and in a different family, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I fear that if I tried to reach back to earlier dimensions…”

Reborn’s gaze shuttered.

“Yeah,” he said unhappily. “Besides, I wouldn’t know anyone, most likely, depending on what year it ended up being when I looked. Byakuran, on the other hand, might be able to spread the knowledge far wider than I could, once we have it figured out, to himself or to people with the same ability. Gesso or Giglio Nero.”

“How long…?”

“I’m somewhere around one hundred thirty at this point, so to reach back to my original life… I don’t think that would work. Well, unless I get shunted sideways and back, in which case it might. I’ll have to check. Still, I imagine Byakuran and others with that power would do a far better job disseminating the information.”

“I’ll start poking around,” Reborn said.

“Cool. Anything you’d like to have for the next time? A nice cheesecake, perhaps?”

Reborn scowled. “How about that cake, with the raspberries. Or the brownies. Or both.”

Tsuna grinned. “Because I like you, Ki-san, sure~!”

“And make some for my counterpart. If he’s anything like me, he’ll love them, too.”

*

The second test seemed to be going much better. In and around the usual incidents were idiots attempting to encroach on Vongola territory (and which were promptly squashed, and generally with extreme prejudice), their observation of the experiment appeared to show that there was no loss, or at least, not a loss that wasn’t matched by the amplification.

CEDEF had been doing much better since Leto took over as the External Advisor and head, though Lal probably had a lot to do with that. He honestly had to wonder if Timoteo had curious blind spots or bouts of senility for Iemitsu to have ever ended up in a position of leadership. Having Sky Flames did not automatically mean the person was a born leader, clearly.

Hell, Dino had proven that before Reborn got his hands on the poor man.

“We’ve received word from the Vindice,” Xeul informed him.

“Oh?”

“They are willing to at least listen. They’ve provided a number to text. We send the right phrase and they’ll appear, ready to see and talk. And—” Xeul kept going before his boss could say what he knew was coming. “—I already let Talbot know we’d be stopping by. The others are assembling here shortly.”

Tsuna nodded and started tidying his desk. If Reborn didn’t see the unfinished paperwork, he had no excuse to get on Tsuna’s case about it. It was a polite fiction they had nonverbally agreed to honor so long as Tsuna regularly “just so happened” to have personally made sweets to share with the chibi.

Shortly thereafter they were back at the device, which was holding up exceptionally well that time around. Once Talbot gave the go-ahead, Xeul texted the Vindice, and they appeared out of one of those portals of theirs.

Specifically, Bermuda and Jager.

Talbot opened up the explanation, saving Tsuna the trouble of pretending he understood things well enough to be the one. Once that was over with Tsuna said, “We have discussed the possibility of the Vindice allowing us to use a sub-level for this. No one with any sense whatsoever wants to piss off the Vindice, so it’s one of the safest places on the planet for this. Toss in a geothermal plant of sufficient size to keep the particle accelerator going, and we’re golden. In theory.”

Bermuda’s head slowly went from the experiment to Tsuna. “We’re in. We shall prepare a sub-level, with space large enough to hold seven of these containers plus the apparatus, with room to spare. As for a power source…” The chibi paused, shifting restlessly on Jager’s shoulder. “There are steam vents in the lowest level, which suggests a source deep enough to provide the necessary heat. I will get back to you with specifics on that area.”

Tsuna nodded. “All right. Soon as I have that I can start sourcing a solution and seeing what kind of cash I need to pull from my reserves to pay for it.”

“The Arcobaleno should be the ones paying for it,” Bermuda observed.

Tsuna shrugged. “Probably, but not everyone pulls in the kind of cash I do from savvy investments.”

Daemon’s hand came up suddenly to cover his mouth as he turned away.

“I’m already paying for the containers and particle accelerator. What’s a geothermal power plant in comparison. If it means nobody else gets fucked over by Checkers it’s well worth it.”

Bermuda flipped his hand as if to say, “Whatever,” and nodded.

“I look forward to hearing from you.”

Bermuda nodded again, and then vanished through a new portal with Jager.

“That went well.”

*

“We have a problem,” Daemon said.

He eyed his friend, one brow going up.

“We can’t hold a meeting here of the Arcobaleno so long as Skull is contracted to Carcassa. They’re on the wrong side. So either we have to secure his freedom, or hold the meeting elsewhere.”

He nodded thoughtfully, thumbing his lower lip, and taking a long look around the room. “They piss me off, Yeul. It would be an amazing coincidence if they were to make the mistake of trying to attack Vongola.”

Daemon smirked and quit the room.

It took a month (the Carcassa apparently had quite thick heads), but Skull was successfully liberated (read: claimed as reparations) from his famiglia after they were stupid enough (read: Daemon mind-fucked their leader) to launch an all-out assault on Vongola territory, and subsequently subjected to a brutal beat-down that had them scampering back home like whipped puppies.

Skull was promptly given a suite at the Iron Fort and told to behave himself. Tsuna may or may not have bribed him with a cheesecake, cannoli, and raspberry compote.

Reborn sent out invitations to the other Arcobaleno, and within a fortnight they were having a meeting in one of the conference rooms (Arcobaleno-sized chairs had been specially made for the occasion).

“What the hell is this about?” Verde said rudely. He looked vaguely like a raccoon with the shadows under his eyes, suggesting that he had not slept well of late, or possibly been too involved in experiments to remember such plebeian needs as sleep, food, or basic hygiene.

Tsuna smiled serenely and served oolong and various baked goods, though he did speak an admonition of, “Manners, please,” as he gave Verde a love tap on his way by that slammed the chibi’s face into the table.

“We have done extensive testing,” he said once he was seated again, “regarding a solution—a cure, perhaps?—for the Arcobaleno Curse.”

Various baked goods tumbled out of various small hands at that pronouncement.

(And yes, various Mists were capturing all of it on film for later blackmail or mocking purposes.)

“This has been a joint venture between me, my guardians, and Talbot. Our Mists have been the ones to do the initial testing, partly due to how many we have, and partly because I did not wish to risk Reborn’s health or life. The Vindice have agreed to house and protect the results, which means we will all have to go there. I am personally funding all of this out my own money, not Vongola’s. If anyone feels like chipping in, cool. If not, consider it a gift for your service to the world.

“Talbot had devised the new containers to replace the pacifiers and used my thoughts on particle accelerators to amplify the flames we’ll have to donate in order to keep the system properly fed. The biggest question at this point is whether or not we attempt to involve Checkers. Talbot isn’t sure if we could do this without him. There’s probably some mystical whatsihoozits involved.” He spread his hands out briefly to invite comment and sat back.

After a brief, shocked pause a cacophony of sound broke out as various small people started talking across each other and arguing.

*

They were all standing around the installation at Vendicare, having come to check everything over before Tsuna started his campaign of obnoxiousness to get the attention of Checkers. Naturally, that was when Wonomichi appeared.

(Checkers clearly had some form of teleportation available to him to be able to insert an agent into the heart of Vendicare.)

Reborn had warned him of the dream, so Tsuna knew their time was fast drawing to a close. If they did not finish this soon, the Arcobaleno would be dead, and Tsuna stood a damn good chance of being the next Sky Arcobaleno. He had always wondered about that, when the thought occurred to him, that is. Yuni had been dragged through time by Aria.

The Yuni of the Future That Never Was was right around ten years old, and the time-displaced Ieyoshi had gone forward not quite ten years. Yuni was either barely ready to be born, or had just been born. He never had been able to determine which, because he had not been paying attention to Giglio Nero that closely.

Either way, Yuni had been dragged through time to take Aria’s place. So not only did Aria die, but the Yuni who belonged disappeared. It was a bit like murder, infanticide, with a side of suicide. It repulsed him and made him look upon the deceased Aria with some measure of contempt, despite understanding her motivation.

“I am the planner of the Representative Battle of the Rainbow,” the outsider stated, the smile on his face saying that the man was clueless and didn’t care. “I’m here to explain to you the details of the Representative Battle of the Rainbow.” He giggled; the sound of it was off, discordant.

Tsuna’s brow went up as he waited for the idiot to realize all eight Arcobaleno were in the room.

“I am Wonomichi, messenger … of…” The man stopped, the smile on his face never wavering, as he finally registered the setting. “Hahaha, this is strange.”

“Yeah, strange,” Tsuna said dryly. “Get Checkers in here, lackey. We have a proposal.”

“…Lackey?” Wonomichi giggled again.

“Yes. You clearly don’t have the first clue of the truth of this situation, and you’re useless to anyone except as a messenger. So you go tell Checkers that no one here is going to play his game and make themselves stand out as candidates for the new generation of Arcobaleno, not when we have a solution that doesn’t involve sacrificing yet more of our best to his lazy-ass plan. He can be a bigoted asshole on his own time.”

Wonomichi giggled again, clearly clueless as to how to react.

“Kami-sama, this guy is just…” Tsuna shook his head wearily. “Even simple things seem to be beyond him. What are the odds that Checkers fucked his mind over with Mist Flames to make him into a parody of a human being?”

That got a reaction. Wonomichi’s smile dropped. “He would never.”

“Yeah, right, don’t give a fuck. Stop stalling and deliver the message. We’re not going to play along with the twisted game of your flame-killer boss.”

“You shouldn’t blame him. He really doesn’t know anything.”

Tsuna’s gaze slid over to Checker Face. “Clearly. It’s not like I didn’t just say that or anything, Checkers. I think it’s interesting that you would continue with a system that will fail utterly in the end.”

“Oh?” The smile on the man’s face oozed arrogance and condescension.

“All things die, Checkers, even you in the end.”

“He’s right!” Yuni said. “Your life will not last forever. This plan will work.”

“You can see this, descendant of Sepira, the Tri-ni-set still thriving in the future.”

“Yes!”

Checker Face took the time to gaze over the room (more of a cave carved out of bedrock) and take in their proposed solution. “…Explain this to me.”

*

“So, that happened,” he commented.

Reborn scowled. “I am still a baby.”

“Hm. Suppose we should have asked if you’d have to grow up normally or if it’d be accelerated. Maybe Verde has some ideas. Time to update your counterpart.”

Reborn nodded.

The other Reborn was nudged to retreat to his room and the larger pane used to open a conversation. “Ki-san~! We were successful!”

The look of relief on Reborn’s face was indescribable, but it kind of made Tsuna want to cry. It was the face of a man seeing the gates of Heaven beckoning to and welcoming him.

Tsuna carefully dropped a set of schematics along with a set of containers into Reborn’s room. “Start with this. Talbot was the one to write everything up, so it should be completely understandable to his counterpart. Once you’re safe we can move on with other dimensions. If absolutely necessary I will open a huge fucking window and show that we succeeded, to him, to the Vindice, the other Arcobaleno, and Checkers. Is it all right if I keep an eye on you until things have been settled?”

Reborn nodded, eyeing the devices.

“We have plenty of spares if those get destroyed for some reason. We prepared well for this. I am not about to let you die, Ki-san, not if I can help it.”

Reborn’s cold black eyes warmed and his mouth twisted, the closest he had ever seen the man get to losing control out of something other than anger. He shifted his gaze to Ren, taking note of the lack of a pacifier, and exhaled slowly.

Something passed between them, some unspoken communication, and Reborn nodded.

Tsuna and his Mists kept a window open to Reborn as he went to liaise with Talbot, the other Arcobaleno, and the Vindice. It was during that time that Tsuna realized something rather important.

He had been both Gesso and Vongola. One moved through time from past to present, one lived across parallel worlds. He had been moved sideways and back, he lived forward. There existed the possibility that he could deliberately step into another dimension, though he was unsure if he would obliterate a counterpart by doing so.

There was also the issue of Ghost. Tsuna wasn’t too keen on the idea of turning himself into a human-shaped mass of Dying Will Flames simply because he stepped into a dimension where he already existed. Not a problem for the ones he had died in, but it made him against the idea of trying it anywhere else, assuming he tried it at all.

He also noted that Checkers had been able to draw all of the Arcobaleno into a shared dream, which gave him ideas, but that could wait for another time and another day.

Right now his goal was to free his friend, and as many others as he could.

*

Tsuna looked up at a depressingly familiar ceiling and said, “Fuck.”

‘I agree.’

‘Hn.’

Everyone else chimed in in turn.

Tsuna felt tears of frustration come to his eyes.

‘At least we’re all here, Heul,’ Daemon said.

The party had been a joint one. Tsuna had opened a wall-sized window (and hadn't that been fun to obtain without the damn thing breaking) between his dimension and Ki-san’s and provided all the food. Counterparts were freely talking through the glass, overjoyed at the return of their adult forms. Verde had come up with a way to safely accelerate their growth until they were twenty, which seemed like a safe enough age to stop at.

Tsuna had gotten up to refresh his plate, tripped, and snapped his neck when he slammed into the wall.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he whispered.

“Tsu-kun~! Wash up now~! Breakfast is almost ready.”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Instead of going to wash up he set a Bounding Box around his room and opened a large window to his previous life.

He laughed nervously, causing everyone to snap their attention from the seven dead bodies in the room to the portal.

“Sorry, everyone. I always die in some hilariously stupid way. I wish I could have stayed longer. We’ll keep in touch, I promise. But I have to go. Mama is calling me for breakfast.”

He stashed the wall-sized window Between, and then the one he was presently using. He could update Ki-san’s dimension in a bit.

“Time to find you guys bodies.”

fin