Things with the Caraceni came to a head before Xanxus made up his mind which way to jump, despite all Tsuna's—and Hayato's—and Takeshi's—best efforts. Their negotiations broke down altogether over the drug issue; the Caraceni launched an attack on a Vongola club that not only killed two of Tsuna's most promising underbosses but also three innocent bystanders who had nothing at all to do with the Vongola.
Tsuna wished he might have said that he saw red when Ryouhei-niisan brought him the news, that he'd lost his temper and wasn't entirely himself when he responded, but that would have been a lie. He remembered every single moment of that week with perfect clarity, because his Flame had risen up around him the moment Ryouhei-niisan had said, "There were casualties among the civilians, too." There was no clarity in the world like there was at the heart of his Will, no more lucid understanding of his own thinking and actions than when his Flame was blazing around him.
Which only meant that he was fully responsible for the decision to go to war with the Caraceni, to call out the Varia and lead his guardians against the Caraceni's strongholds and make it abundantly clear to the Caraceni that the Vongola would not stand idly by when the Caraceni exhibited such casual disregard for the lives of the innocent.
It was something he knew that he would pay for later, even when he was in the midst of battle—busy with Flame and bullets and box weapons, his guardians around him and the Varia on their flanks, pushing through the heart of the Caraceni's territory, straight through to where the Caraceni Eighth sat, his face white above the unrelieved black of his suit, surrounded by his people and clearly regretting what he had started. At least Tsuna hoped he regretted it, and not simply the reparations they were extracting from the man.
Not that it would be much comfort if the man did.
Tsuna had set aside the things that did not directly pertain to the Caraceni while they planned and executed their reprisal, so he had not been thinking of Xanxus at all while he brought his Will to bear on Tomas Caraceni, impressing upon him the absolute gravity of the Vongola's refusal to stand by while the innocent died. When he turned away, ready for the withdrawal, finding Xanxus' gaze burning into him was almost a shock—Oh, yes, Tsuna thought, calm with the weight of his Will, there was that, wasn't there? Xanxus' attention bored into him like a laser; with his Will folded around him, Tsuna could see the hunger burning in Xanxus, so strong that he almost thought he could have gathered it up and held it in his hands.
That would have been unwise—yes, unwise—to do, much less in the middle of a war zone. Tsuna put the knowledge aside again and let Hayato oversee the retreat back to their home territory, where the fallout could begin. He would not permit himself to use Xanxus' hunger against him—it wouldn't be fair, would it? Of course not.
Nevertheless, Xanxus followed them—him—home, splitting off from the Varia contingent when they carried on, heading for their home base, and following Tsuna and his people. Part of Tsuna was grimly amused by this—of course Xanxus would choose the most inconvenient possible time to decide to resume their dance around one another—but the rest of him was mostly exhausted and hovering on the edge of sick exhaustion, in no fit condition to wrestle with Xanxus over their positions in respect to each other.
Hayato was a prince among right hands; he interposed himself between Xanxus and Tsuna when it began to look as though Xanxus was going to keep following him. "Did you need something?" he inquired; it was a testament to Hayato's personal growth over the years that he even managed to keep the question from coming out in a confrontational tone. "Something that can't wait for the debrief?"
Hayato might as well have saved his breath, though; Xanxus looked straight through him and focused that burning stare on Tsuna again. "I want to talk to you."
Tsuna only wanted to crawl home to his own rooms, where he could shower the smell of gunpowder and sweat from his skin and then retreat to the comfort of Kyouko's arms, but that wasn't exactly what being the boss of the Vongola was always about.
Which was a great pity.
He kept his back straight and the exhaustion and misery off his face (resorting to battle never had gotten any easier, and some days he wasn't always sure how good that was) while he found a polite smile for Xanxus. Before Hayato could get indignant on his behalf, he said, "Of course. Let's go to my office."
He pretended not to notice the way that made Hayato frown and led the way to his office, confident that Hayato would get word to Kyouko that he'd been delayed a bit. Xanxus paced along behind him, like a lion that had somehow been brought to heel.
Not that Tsuna thought Xanxus had decided to come to heel for him.
"You wanted to talk about something?" he began as he ushered Xanxus into his office ahead of him, which seemed like as good a place to begin as any.
Xanxus grunted something that wasn't really a response and turned on him the moment Tsuna had gotten the door decently shut. He crowded against Tsuna, pushing against him until his back met the door. Xanxus pinned him there, caging him against it with his body, his hands heavy on Tsuna's shoulders. This close, the scent of him was almost overwhelming—gunpowder and blood, sweat and smoke, and the peculiar scent of the Flame itself, a dry smell like fire.
Tsuna raised his hands almost without thinking, spreading them against Xanxus' chest and pushing him back, because he smelled like the fight they'd just come from, like destruction and death, and this had been a mistake. He couldn't do this right now, not with Xanxus, not without losing control of himself when he could least afford it. And if he did that—if he did that, God alone knew what Xanxus might do. And if he stopped, cried off—Jesus, there wasn't anything he could do that wouldn't destroy the precarious balance of power between them, was there?
He stared up at Xanxus, at the glitter in his eyes and the curl of his mouth, and saw that that had been the point after all.
"Damn it," Tsuna said, softly, something twisting in his stomach, sick-making, as he looked up at Xanxus, because this was no way to keep going on. "Damn it, Xanxus."
Xanxus smirked down at him. "Something wrong, trash?"
"You know there is," Tsuna said, sick at heart, and reached for his Will. Xanxus' eyes changed when he did, went darker, and the sound he made was more like a growl than anything else.
It was easier to meet him with Flame wrapped around him, easier to put aside his frustration and drag Xanxus' face down to his for a kiss that had nothing of gentleness in it. Xanxus growled again, crushing their mouths together, hard and hungry, as he pressed against Tsuna, trapping him against the door. He was already hard; Tsuna could feel it against his hip where Xanxus was rubbing against him. That sent a ripple of—of anger through him, anger that this was the only way they could relate to each other, anger at himself for not being able to find a better way, a way to reach Xanxus properly.
He growled back to Xanxus and fisted his hands in the leather of Xanxus' jacket, Will blazing up in response to that anger and the hard, biting way Xanxus kissed him. He pushed against Xanxus, let the door at his back serve as a point for leverage against Xanxus' greater physical mass and strength and pushed, refusing to let it go on like this. Xanxus resisted him, no surprise there at all, and dug his heels in a refusal to be moved. Tsuna growled against his mouth again and twisted, dropping himself under Xanxus' arm and eeling out from between him and the door. Xanxus made a surprised sound and turned after him; Tsuna caught at his wrist and pulled, dragging him around and off-balance.
Xanxus was far too good a fighter to be taken in for more than a split-second; he snarled as his balance wavered, the heat in his eyes changing to something combative and fierce. Not that it mattered much when Tsuna used one of Takeshi's favorite tricks to tangle his ankle around Xanxus' and send him the rest of the way off-balance.
Xanxus went to the floor but dragged Tsuna down with him. They hit the carpet with a thump that made the glasses on the sideboard rattle. Tsuna landed on top of Xanxus, heard the breath whoosh out of him on a grunt, and still had to scramble to be fast enough to set his hands on Xanxus' shoulders and his knees on Xanxus' hips before Xanxus could pitch him off again. "No," he said, hardly knowing what he was saying even as the words tumbled out of his mouth, "no, goddamn it, I don't want this, I am so sick of fighting you, I'm so tired of this—"
Xanxus bared his teeth, his eyes glittering as he bucked and twisted under Tsuna, nearly dislodging him. "You're weak," he snarled. "You're weak, you piece of trash, and you think I'll ever forget that? You're not strong enough to hold me, you won't ever be—"
"You're wrong," Tsuna said, panting with the effort of not letting Xanxus unseat him. "You're wrong."
Maybe this had been coming from the first day they'd met, or the night the Cervello had stripped the ring off Xanxus' hand and declared Tsuna the victor. Maybe it had been foolishness to pretend there was any other way to deal with Xanxus. Tsuna didn't know. But even so, something twisted inside him when he called his Will and closed it on Xanxus, something like sorrow or regret (though those were feelings that the Flame muted and made distant, bearable for the moment).
Xanxus snarled beneath him, something that didn't have words in it, denying the grip of Tsuna's Will. He fought back, Sky and Wrath and Storm twined together, a writhing twist of hatred. Resistance. And maybe not just hatred, because there was hunger, too, or something like it, in the way Xanxus lashed out at him. Need, perhaps, or something else Tsuna couldn't name while he was in the middle of fighting it—in the middle of matching his Will to Xanxus', in the midst of proving (again) that he was strong enough to claim Xanxus' service for the Family, to him, even if he wasn't strong enough to hold the man's loyalty.
Maybe there wasn't anyone strong enough to do that.
Xanxus bucked under him, a sinuous movement that was clearly aimed at throwing Tsuna off him. Tsuna seized Xanxus' wrists, grimly determined to hang on and knowing instinctively that allowing Xanxus to reverse their positions wasn't a good idea, and let his Will burn higher, pressing back against the oppressive weight of Xanxus' Flames. "You know I'm strong enough to hold the Vongola," he said, though it was anyone's guess whether Xanxus actually heard him. Xanxus' wrists flexed beneath his fingers as he snarled up at Tsuna, eyes blazing but not particularly rational. "You know I'm strong enough to hold you."
"The hell you are." Xanxus' voice was thick with—rage, perhaps, or something else. "You'll never be strong enough to hold me." His lips peeled back from his teeth, a mocking parody of a smile. "You'll never have the guts to do what it takes."
"Won't I?" Tsuna asked, gazing down at him, his intuition whispering to him. "Won't I find the strength to do whatever my Family needs me to do?"
"You'd never dare," Xanxus sneered, bucking under him again. "You don't have the balls for it."
"Don't tell me what I won't do for my Family," Tsuna said, and stretched his Will out, reaching for Xanxus with it, seeking the heart of him and seizing hold of it. "If it's for my Family, I can do anything."
Xanxus snarled under him, straining against him, but Tsuna held onto him, only half paying attention to the way Xanxus writhed under him. Xanxus' Will raged against his, burning as fiercely as a bonfire, resisting the touch of Tsuna's Will, but they were past the point when Tsuna dared let himself be distracted by that.
"You're my Family, too," he said, reaching past the burning fury of Xanxus' rage. "You've been my Family since the beginning."
Xanxus went rigid under him. "Only because the loser serves the winner," he rasped, body nearly trembling with how taut he was, Will straining against Tsuna's, trying to push him back, away, out.
"No," Tsuna said, turning the way Xanxus strove against him aside. "Because you want to be." He was sure of it now, could feel it in the desperate way Xanxus' Will battered his, trying to keep him from reaching deeper and touching what lay behind that fierce set of defenses.
"You don't know—" Xanxus snarled at him, and stopped, gasping and arching under Tsuna as he sank his Will all the way home, to the very heart of Xanxus. "What the fuck—"
Tsuna was distantly aware that Xanxus had gone still, save for the tremor in locked muscles, but only dimly so. The rest of him was preoccupied with what all Xanxus' Will and Wrath had defended, the yawning fears and emptiness of the man and the deep-set certainty that he was outside, would always be outside, the trash that no one could ever want—
"Xanxus," Tsuna said, softly, folding his Will around the heart of him, trying to ease the aching cold of it, and refused to let him jerk away either physically or otherwise. "Xanxus, my own. Stop fighting me. You already have what you want."
Xanxus stared up at him, eyes wild, though that didn't hide the fear in them. "The fuck are you talking about, you don't—I'm not—"
"You are." Tsuna tightened his hold on Xanxus' heart, touching it carefully and feeling the scars that marked it and all the wounds that had never had the chance to heal even that much, the hunger of him and the bone-deep knowledge that he would always be hungry. "You are mine, Xanxus. I take responsibility for you, the way I have from the very beginning." He twined his Will around Xanxus, stroking his heart as carefully as he would the fur of a wounded animal. "You belong to me. You are my Family, like it or not."
Xanxus shuddered, entire body wracked by the shiver that ran through him then. Tsuna felt the way that ran through Xanxus' Will, the way it made Xanxus' heart twist, yearning after that promise. And he felt the way Xanxus resisted it, jerking away from hope like it hurt to touch. Which it did; touching him like this, Will wound around Will, Tsuna could feel the way Xanxus had learned to associate hope with being hurt, over and over, and could not be surprised when Xanxus said, hoarse, "You're lying."
"No." Tsuna closed his Will around Xanxus, pressing against him, insisting that he recognize this truth. "You are mine. My own. I swear that you are my Family and that I will not let you go, nor leave you."
Xanxus' stare was dark, fixed on him. Beneath Tsuna's hold on him, his heart twisted again, wanting. He wet his lips. "Prove it."
Tsuna stroked the bruised places of Xanxus' heart, trying to soothe them, and watched the shadows moving in Xanxus' eyes. "How?"
"Show me." Xanxus' expression was one part challenge and one part plea. "Show me that you want me."
Tsuna drew a breath, feeling the resonances of that in Xanxus' Will, the things that Xanxus wanted and did not (could not?) name. "If that's what you want." He released his grip on Xanxus' wrists and stroked his hands up Xanxus' arms, following the tense line of them, and cradled Xanxus' face between his palms. "Anything, if it's for my Family."
He felt the flutter in Xanxus' heart as he bent his head and kissed him again, pressing his mouth against Xanxus' as slowly and coaxingly as he could, stroking Xanxus' heart at the same time and trying to gentle it. Xanxus lay tense and still beneath him, not kissing back, but Tsuna refused to let himself be deterred by that. He ran his thumbs over the lines of Xanxus' cheekbones, caressing them the same way he was Xanxus' heart, trying to show him how truly he meant that Xanxus was his, was wanted. "Mine," he said against Xanxus' mouth. "You're mine."
Xanxus' lips moved against his, shaping words that were barely audible. "Keep saying that."
"I will, until you believe me." Tsuna kissed him again, still coaxing and slow, and touched the bruised and torn places of his heart. "However long that takes." And it would take a long time, he could see, a very long time before Xanxus might be able to bring himself to believe in the truth of what Tsuna was promising him, given how thoroughly he'd learned not to trust.
"Show me," Xanxus said again, breathing the words against Tsuna's mouth. He could feel the flex of Xanxus' Will against his, wanting something that Xanxus didn't seem to know how to put into words.
Tsuna could, though it gave him a moment's pause. "Xanxus…"
He could feel Xanxus flinch away, already withdrawing, sure of being rejected, and responded to that, setting aside his own qualms to close his Will on Xanxus' heart, claiming every part of it and holding it in the heart of his own Flame, refusing to let Xanxus pull away from him.
Beneath him, Xanxus made a sound like a stifled groan, another shiver rolling through him as Tsuna seized complete hold of him. Tsuna, mouth running dry, swallowed at the sudden relaxation of Xanxus' body under his, feeling how all the resistance was melting out of him, and remembered their last encounter and the way Xanxus had gone pliant for him when he'd taken control. "My own," he said, barely able to whisper it, holding Xanxus' heart in his Flame just as surely as he held the man's face between his palms.
Xanxus' lips were parted and his eyes half-closed as his breath quickened. "Show me," he said again.
A corner of his mind pointed out that it was ridiculous to even think of carrying on like this on the floor of his office, that he didn't have anything that might make this easier, but Tsuna didn't dare let go of Xanxus for even long enough to coax him to the couch. "Anything for my Family," he said again, even though he couldn't quite believe that this was where they had ended up, and kissed Xanxus again, stroking his tongue into Xanxus' mouth and feeling the way Xanxus responded to that in the shifting movement of Xanxus' Will.
He kept hold of Xanxus' heart, protective of it, and kissed Xanxus until Xanxus raised his hands and set them against his shoulders. The weight of them was solid, almost heavy, but Tsuna could feel the uncertainty in Xanxus' Will as they settled against him. He made an encouraging sound against Xanxus' mouth and another when Xanxus stroked a hand along his shoulder, slowly. "That's good," he said, and took a hand from Xanxus' face to stroke down his chest and unzip the leather jacket Xanxus wore. There was a thin cotton undershirt beneath that; Tsuna flattened his hand against Xanxus' chest, stroking it through the thin cloth, feeling the heat of his skin and the rapid rhythm of his heart. "My own," he said as he spread his fingers over Xanxus' heart. "I have you. It's all right."
Xanxus made a sound against his mouth that wasn't quite a denial. Tsuna tightened his grip on Xanxus' heart and the sound Xanxus made then was nearly a moan. Tsuna kissed him again, thinking about that sound, and slide his hand down Xanxus' chest and stomach and then lower, to where Xanxus' cock was a hard outline straining against the leathers he wore. Xanxus groaned as Tsuna palmed him, rocking his hips up against Tsuna's hand with a sound that was nearly a plea.
"I have you," Tsuna murmured again, keeping his Will sure against Xanxus' heart, and undid Xanxus' belt and fly to ease his cock free. Xanxus groaned again, his head falling back against the floor and showing the vulnerable, corded lines of his throat as Tsuna wrapped his fingers around the length of him. Tsuna swallowed hard, looking at him and struck breathless by the open, wanting feeling in Xanxus' heart. "My own," he said, sliding his thumb over the slickness at the head of Xanxus' cock and making sure that Xanxus could feel that he meant that.
That was all it took; Xanxus jerked taut under him, bucking into Tsuna's hand as he came, his cock throbbing in Tsuna's hand. The sound he made was hoarse, open in a way Tsuna would never have expected him to be, and it went right through Tsuna, stealing his breath away. "Xanxus," he whispered, knowing that his eyes were wide and not able to do anything about it. "My own."
Xanxus settled again, panting, as Tsuna wiped the mess from his fingers with his handkerchief. Tsuna felt the moment when he came back down and began to be able to think again, because panic stabbed through his Will, sharp as a knife. He tried to pull away and Tsuna took hold of him again. "No," he said, hearing the Will in his own voice as he caught Xanxus' shoulders, gripping them before Xanxus could try twisting out from beneath him.
Xanxus glared up at him, eyes wild and afraid. "What—"
"You're mine," Tsuna told him again, wrapping himself around Xanxus' heart, touching it with more assurance now that he had a sense of the fears driving the man. "You're mine and it's okay for you to have what you want." He felt the way Xanxus' heart twisted again, full of self-loathing, and tightened his hold. "You should have what you want. There's nothing wrong with that."
"Not from where you're sitting." Xanxus' voice was raspy, as though he'd screamed all his voice away.
"And not from where anyone else is sitting, either." Tsuna stroked the broken edges of Xanxus' heart, trying to see what had caused them, though he was fairly sure he already knew. "My own," he said, softly, feeling the tangled ripple of emotion that sent through Xanxus. "My Xanxus. What you want. Only what you want, and no more than that. I promise you."
Xanxus' confusion was plain in the way he stared at Tsuna, eyes dark and conflicted. "You…"
Tsuna reached down to him, touching his face. "I would never take what you didn't want to give," he said, though whether that would help or not—who could say how Xanxus would handle knowing just what it was he wanted to give?
The muscles in Xanxus' throat moved as he swallowed. "Let me go." It was meant as a command, though it came out like something else entirely.
Tsuna felt the uneasiness of him, pushed to troubling new levels of self-awareness, and nodded. "Of course." He untangled himself from Xanxus' Will and eased himself away from Xanxus' body, pushing himself to his feet.
Xanxus rolled himself to his feet and restored himself to order, his face lowered and averted from Tsuna's gaze. "I'm going," he announced, still not looking Tsuna's way.
"Go ahead, my own," Tsuna told him, heart aching for Xanxus' near-palpable confusion.
Xanxus' head jerked up; he stared at Tsuna for a moment, lips shaping the beginnings of something—a question, a protest—that he didn't voice. After a split-second, he tore his eyes away from Tsuna's and all but fled the room.
Tsuna let him go and waited until the door had swung decently closed behind him to rub his forehead and wonder what on earth they were going to do now.