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On Courting Severely Scarred Assassin Organisation Bosses

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The first time… had been a mistake.

 

A drunken mistake.

 

No two ways about it – the last Tsuna remembered was sitting between Lussuria and Bel and laughing while Squalo snarled and hissed and drove the few squad rookies that had been in training alongside him hard. Supposedly incensed at the fact that they hadn’t been able to keep up with trash like Tsuna when he’d never been involved in their line of work before, when they had. Tsuna couldn’t exactly begrudge him the irritation, and he couldn’t help but feel sorry for his temporary squad mates, but he’d just been too damn relieved that this part of his training had finally been completed to really care too much. That, and the copious amounts of alcohol that Lussuria had been coaxing him to imbibe had certainly helped. He didn’t really remember too much after that.

 

Except for a single visceral memory of him thinking that Xanxus looked unnaturally eye-catching, sitting relatively relaxed with the rest of his inner circle and laughing wildly whenever one of the rookies shrieked.

 

Nothing that explained waking up the next morning with a splitting headache, a mouth that felt like something had crawled in and rotted overnight, and a thick, well muscled arm thrown round his chest and pinning him to the king sized bed he’d found himself in.

 

His deadened mind had about two seconds to connect the unique scarring gradient before his brain sparked enough to make him stiffen. And whimper a tiny little mental oh fu- before the grip the arm had on him increased tenfold.

 

He supposed he had training to thank when he somehow managed to spin himself round midair and collide against the opposite wall feet first. And the same training to thank when he somehow managed to control the collision enough to gracelessly crumple at the base of the wall instead of ricocheting back – which would have been worse than suicidal under the current circumstances.

 

“What the flying fuck?” was the eloquent reaction of his erstwhile bed partner.

 

Tsuna winced, and tried not to notice just how appealing the older man could look while still in bed, looking for all the world like a large cat lounging in the heat of the sun. And the muscled expanse of flesh clearly visible, since any sheets that had been covering them had been tossed aside by the violent motion of, well, him being tossed aside.

 

“Ah. I can explain-” he began feebly, already knowing for a fact that he really, really couldn’t, God damn it.

 

The incandescent flash of fury in those red eyes had him hightailing with the proverbial tail between his legs. Screw pride, he’d rather have his ass in one piece than deal with that volcano set to burst.

 

His only relief was that it was too early for anyone else to be awake. Except – of course except – for Squalo, who’d been lounging against the wall on the other side of the door, and had been in the perfect position to catch sight of him wrenching the door open and diving to the ground headfirst to avoid the expected blast of Xanxus’ guns. When he managed to roll to get out of immediate blasting distance, the first thing to catch his eyes after righting himself (relatively) was the sight of Squalo not having moved an inch, brows raised and looking exceedingly – unfairly – amused.

 

“Long night?” he asked mildly. Tsuna gaped up at him, not really sure how to answer that one, especially not when he’d been caught running for his life from the swordsman’s boss’ room. Still as naked as the day he was born, might he add.

 

The incoherent roar from the room behind them had him rushing to get to his feet and just go, hoping that there’d be no one else around in the near vicinity. Or anywhere between his room and Xanxus’ room. How the heck was he supposed to find his room, anyway? He’d never been anywhere near the rooms of the Varia inner circle!

 

“We’re in the North Wing. You’d want to head for the East.” Squalo offered helpfully. Still not moving an inch.

 

Tsuna winced, gave him a sharp nod in thanks, and ran.

 

The second, while definitely drunken, was not as much of a mistake. Not really.

 

This time, it wasn’t within the relatively safe halls of the Varia Compound – and wasn’t that an oxymoron. He’d been forced to sit through a meeting with the under bosses by the Ninth, and if that weren’t a chore by itself, he’d been ordered to conduct the damned thing. With barely anyone in the room willing to listen to him without a contemptuous air, and with Jii-chan sitting beside him with a serene expression on his face and a cold light in his eyes, Tsuna had been ready to collapse on his knees and cry in relief when it was done.

 

The sneer on Xanxus’ face when he’d caught sight of him limp on the ground in the study of his suite of rooms had been gratifying in its predictability. As had been the permission to raid the older man’s liquor cabinet – not something to be taken lightly, when the Varia leader drank down half the cabinet on one hand and emptied the other half by throwing it at incompetent fools that came to yammer at him. Or at Squalo, but that was different, as the entire inner circle swore. Tsuna wasn’t sure he could understand how, especially when he’d seen Squalo spitting curses and clearing shards of glass from his dripping hair on more than one occasion, but he didn’t really have much room to talk. Not when he spent most of his days mollifying his Cloud guardian by offering him sparring sessions. Or when he turned a blind eye to the sparring sessions that took place between Hibari and Yamamoto – especially those, since they left both his friends torn apart worse than anyone outside the Famiglia could manage. Sometimes, some relationships didn’t have any words capable of explaining them.

 

Whatever the reasoning, Tsuna couldn’t find it in himself to feel surprised the next morning when he woke up with a hard, warm form at his back and a hard arm curled around his chest and pinning him in place. Again.

 

He peeked over his shoulder, hoping that he’d have some chance of dislodging the arm faster than the first time around, but sagged into the sheets when he realised that the older man’s eyes were open. Still glazed over in sleep, but open all the same.

 

“Ah. Good Morning?” He offered hesitantly, when he realised that the sleepy red eyes were slowly gaining lucidity. Lids shuttered once, twice, and then Tsuna found himself sailing through the air all over again, in a rather unpleasant retake of the last time this had happened.

 

At least the velvet tapestry at his back was better cushioning than the hard concrete in the Varia Compound.

 

One look into a snarling face made him hightail as fast as he could, feeling vaguely relieved that at least this time his rooms weren’t as far off as they’d been before.

 

Consequently, the third and fourth times were just as dangerous to his health and well being, though thankfully both had occurred within the Varia Compound on days when he’d gone back for ‘additional practice’, as Jii-chan put it. No chance of nearly being caught naked, or at least, no chance of nearly being caught naked by someone who could spread the news around and make life miserable for him. Which had nearly happened in the Vongola Estate, and actually would have happened if he hadn’t ducked into a handy unlocked room to escape the notice of one of the younger capos and a maid he was in the process of seducing.

 

And anyway, Xanxus didn’t toss him as fast as he usually did. Tsuna counted it as some form of improvement. Obviously, he had to be proven wrong immediately after. At least he could say that this time around, neither of them had been addled by ridiculous amounts of alcohol.

 

From what he’d heard before starting out from the Estate, the Varia had been sent to execute a fledgling organisation that had been trying to worm their way into Box and Flame experiments that had been started by almost any major group that was both a part of and apart from the Mafia. Tsuna didn’t think there was anything wrong in getting involved, but Timoteo had mentioned that the group had been desperate enough to try and restart the old Estraneo experiments – experiments that were still spoken of only in hushed tones in the Cosa Nostra. Especially in recent times, once the news had gotten out that the 10th generation Don of the Vongola Famiglia was freely claiming one of the survivors of the experiments as his Mist Guardian.

 

But, judging from the hassled expressions on the faces of most of the Ninth’s Guardians, and from the furious expression on Reborn’s face, Tsuna had the sinking feeling that something had gone wrong. Very wrong.

 

It was only later - when he was lying in bed bruised, battered and aching with pain and satiated pleasure in equal measure – that he heard that Mammon had been snatched from the strike team that had been sent in. And they hadn’t been able to track him down or take him back for nearly twelve hours. He didn’t need to hear the curses and snarls Xanxus was whispering into his neck to know just how close a call they’d had. The only reason Mammon had still been in one piece when they’d found him was that the Mist Arcobaleno’s control over illusion had been powerful enough to protect him even while he was unconscious and attached to a machine that was supposedly a bastardization of the old Gola Mosca system.

 

Tsuna sighed, and made sure not to move too much, not even too sure that he could. And wished he could offer some more comfort, and tried not to feel guilty pleasure at the fact that Xanxus had been the one to latch onto him when he’d stepped into the older man’s office.

 

He couldn’t be blamed for feeling at least a little angry when he’d been tossed at the wall as usual the next morning, right?

 

“God damn it, Xanxus, this has to stop! It’s not like this is non-consensual or something, you bloody hypocrite-”

 

One glance at incandescent red eyes and the dark scars spreading over Xanxus’ face and shoulders had him cringing and diving for the door without another word, figuring that staying alive was a teensy-weensy bit more important than fighting for his pride.

 

One good thing about the fifth time was that in its aftermath, Tsuna finally managed to make up his mind and decide that enough was enough, and he really wasn’t cut out for winning over overtly violent assassins. Or Executioners. Or whatever it was Jii-chan had decided to call them off-late.

 

The resolution didn’t last for too long, of course. The sixth time was fast and hard and over in what seemed like a lifetime fitted into ten minutes against a shelf in one of the rarely used storage facilities within the Estate. Tsuna found himself panting desperately for breath, arms still curled around the older man’s broad shoulders and fingers clenched into the white cloth of his shirt. He could feel the bruises left over from the wooden bolts still digging into his back with every breath, could still feel the bruising grip Xanxus’ fingers had on his thighs, and gave a low groan when the older man pulled away with a grunt.

 

He didn’t say anything when Xanxus left without another word. He could have said no in the beginning, after all. And he didn’t.

 

“But he just makes it so damned hard to say no, y’know?” he complained a few days later, waving the spoon in his hand.

 

Squalo looked about as unimpressed as he had the first time, in the process of sharpening one of the many smaller blades he’d taken to carrying once Yamamoto had mastered the art of throwing the smaller blades he carried.

 

Why aren’t you saying anything? This is your boss I’m cursing out here!” he snapped, shoving the spoon back into the tub of dark chocolate ice cream he’d unearthed in the swordsman’s room earlier that morning, once he’d managed to escape the fallout of the seventh time.

 

“Right. Just so you know, brat, I’m happier not knowing the intricacies of what happens between the boss and whatever he decides to fuck. Ergo me being as uninterested in whatever the hell the two of you get up to.” The other man said snidely, raising the slim blade in his fingers up to the sunlight streaming in through the window behind him, then nodded with a satisfied air and set it down, reaching for the next.

 

Tsuna grumbled, and shoved the spoon into his mouth.

 

“He’s an absolute asshole.”

 

“VOOOOI. Don’t tell me, tell him.”

 

“Thanks but no thanks. Haven’t you seen me ducking and running since this started?” Tsuna shot back, rolling his eyes at the smirk Squalo shot at him.

 

“Whatever the fuck you’re going to do, you’d better do it soon before the baby guardians decide to raid this place.”

 

Tsuna choked on his mouthful of ice cream, somehow managed to gulp it down, and turned to stare at Squalo through watering eyes.

 

“What?” he croaked out. The swordsman snorted, not quite meeting his eyes and sliding his fingers through his loosely bound hair with studied disinterest.

 

“Oh, just something the fool brat mentioned the last time I spoke to him. He’d said the other brat had been tearing his hair out in worry.”

 

Tsuna automatically translated ‘fool brat’ to Takeshi, the ‘other brat’ to Hayato and promptly groaned, falling back limply into the bed he’d commandeered earlier in the day.

 

“You’re joking, right?” he asked hopefully.

 

“Fuck no. Why would I want to.” Squalo grumbled back.

 

“Well. Fuck.” Tsuna muttered helplessly. The bark of laughter that earned did nothing to reassure him.

 

Heading his worried (over-protective) guardians off at the pass was thankfully a lot easier than he thought it would be. He'd nearly stayed where he'd been, camping out in Squalo's rooms until the end of time, but Squalo had quickly begun to get more irate than amused by the end of the day, and he'd been kicked out with the warning to not let “-The brats create any trouble if you know what's good for you, Decimo.” He would have ignored the warning and just hid out somewhere else if the swordsman hadn't tilted his head just so, with a specific look in his eyes that heralded a great deal of pain if whichever baby squad member he was speaking to didn't just shut up and follow orders. Tsuna should know, he'd been on the receiving end of it an enough number of times along with fellow trainees to have it burnt into his mind.

 

Hayato had been beside himself with worry, as expected. Tsuna nodded along with him and tried to offer reasonably satisfactory answers, all the while praying that he wouldn't actually bring up anything incriminating in the hallways. Takeshi drifted along behind them, arms crossed behind his head with an easy grin and not really contributing anything to the conversation. Aside from laughter. But the laughter was nearly background noise to any conversation that took place with him in the near vicinity. Tsuna made it a point to lead the two of them past the dining hall, hoping that Squalo would be inside, reaming out whichever poor fool had been given the job to ensure that Xanxus' meal for the night had been either brought in or made to specification. At least the swordsman would have the proof that Tsuna was taking care of his problems like he'd been told to.

 

See him they did, but Tsuna didn't do more than wave at him as they walked past. Takeshi did stop laughing long enough to call out a greeting, which was returned with a yell before Squalo turned back to the man kneeling before him and sobbing.

 

Hayato stopped his tirade long enough to glance over his shoulder, worry giving way to mild concern. Not for the man or the situation, Tsuna knew. Possibly because he didn't want his precious Juudaime staying in such close proximity to the Varia squad leaders and their insanity. Takeshi just looked more amused than before, the expression more genuine than the mask of a smile he had been affecting since Tsuna had met them at the doors to the compound.

 

“Haha, someone messed up Xanxus' dinner again, huh?”

 

That had Hayato jerking his attention back to Tsuna almost immediately. Tsuna's heart sank. That reaction didn't bode well.

 

“Maybe. Or maybe he decided that he wanted something else and the rookie dealing with the dinner for the night didn't switch it out in time,” he said blandly, amused despite himself. He'd been at the compound long enough to know that readying Xanxus' meals for the day were considered missions in and of themselves by nearly all the squad members. Hell, even Leviathan regularly went mad over them. Though that wasn't actually surprising, with his unhealthy fixation on the scarred Varia Boss... He was only thankful that Squalo had never been sadistic enough to land him with that particular job. Not through any particular affection or mercy, Squalo had been quick to tell him, but because if Tsuna of all people got it wrong Xanxus might just get angry enough to try and blast him to bits. And blow up the compound around them. Squalo had no interest in seeing their compound fall down around their ears because of Tsuna's incompetence.

 

Takeshi's low, surprisingly vicious snicker at his words made it clear that he already knew the background to the scene they'd just witnessed. And was possibly familiar with why Tsuna wasn't personally familiar with the task too. He was stationed at the compound every few months too, after all, though never at the same time as Tsuna. Reborn and Jii-chan wanted them reviewing their skill set constantly, and both of them had very different skill sets to review.

 

That, and Jii-chan just didn't want Tsuna to have his guardians near him while training at the compound. Jii-chan had guardians too, after all, and the older man was intimately familiar with why one didn't keep one's guardians nearby while training with entire squads of blood-thirsty assassins. Reborn wasn't personally familiar with the situation, but he'd been willing to listen to greater experience in that one instance. Thankfully. Tsuna had no interest to see his guardians pitting themselves against the entirety of the Varia because of something they considered a slight against him and Tsuna just considered an acceptable consequence of, well. Training with squads of blood-thirsty assassins.

 

The one time Hayato looked like he wanted to bring up a question about Xanxus, Takeshi was quick to distract him. Tsuna was relieved, even if Takeshi's reaction meant that Squalo had told him something of what was going on.

 

It was only when they were Tsuna's room, door locked behind them, that Takeshi allowed Hayato to actually bring up the question that had been plaguing him.

 

“Juudaime, is... is it true?”

 

“Is what true?” Tsuna asked warily. Even if Squalo had insinuated that his guardians were coming down because of unsavoury rumours, it was just as likely that Hayato was worried about something completely different.

 

Then again, Takeshi didn't leave him any room for doubt.

 

“There are rumours that you're too close to Xanxus. That that's the reason you allow yourself to be sent to the compound as often as you do – that Xanxus is controlling you.”

 

The words were hard. And delivered without any trace of humour. All the more unsettling when said by Takeshi's smiling face. Hayato choked and whirled on him, red high on his cheeks and furious on Tsuna's behalf. Tsuna grimaced, and slowly sank into the chair set out in front of his desk, not really in the right state of mind to be seated behind it, as was expected of him.

 

“Are they really that bad?” he asked ruefully, smiling at Hayato when he whirled back, eyes wide and horrified.

 

“Juudaime, what did that shitty bastard do – he better not be hurting you in any way if he knows what's good for him-” he growled out, voice rough and angry. Takeshi cut him off with a hand lightly pressed against his shoulder, glancing around the room and smile still firmly in place. Tsuna sighed, recognising the action for what it was. And understanding why Takeshi hadn't left the smile behind in the corridor when he shut the door.

 

“You were right, no voice recorders in here Takeshi. There are cameras, but they were kind enough not to record anything my room. It's a privilege, the only other people without voice recorders stuck in their rooms are the Varia squad leaders.” he said mildly. Takeshi glanced at him and nodded once, smile widening into a grin as though he'd said something funny.

 

Tsuna wished at times that Takeshi's training hadn't been quite so successful. He wished at other times that it had been more necessary than it actually was in practice – he'd heard the whispers from other trainees while at the compound, that Takeshi had barely required any training at times. That he was a natural.

 

No one likes to hear that one of their best friends is a natural born hitman. Even if they were already familiar with that fact. No one likes to hear other people talking about it, voices low and awed. Impressed.

 

(Scared.)

 

Cameras?! You'd better be joking, you baseball idiot! Why- Juudaime-”

 

Tsuna shrugged at him, smiling. Hayato sighed, and walked forward to slump into the other chair that was set out beside his. Takeshi nodded along to something that had apparently been said, walking forward to stand easily in front of both of them, in a move that would contribute to whatever scene he was planning out mentally for the cameras.

 

“Juudaime, that is- is he-” Tsuna could almost fill in the words in his head. Is he hurting you. Are the rumours true. Why were they true, if they were. And more questions along those lines. Tsuna was relieved to not have them actually voiced out.

 

Hayato was such a hypocrite. He'd had enough relationships over the years. It wasn't like Tsuna had ever stopped him from his indiscretions. Then again, Takeshi had usually been around to clean up after the particularly messy ones. Tsuna was just glad it had never had to be him. He had no idea how to deal with jilted lovers. Takeshi had almost brought it up to an art since their teenage years.

 

“Tsuna.”

 

Tsuna looked away from Hayato's awkwardly grimacing face, and up at Takeshi. Who was still giving that unnaturally cheerful grin. But his eyes were warm. Steady.

 

He could read the question there as easy as breathing. Just as he could read the question in Hayato's twitching fingers and knotted brow.

 

“I'm fine.” he said easily, leaning back into his chair. And he was. The rumours weren't comforting, but they just meant that he hadn't been very discrete off late. They weren't career ending, the rest of the Families out there were just too damn scared of both the Vongola and Varia to scoff at anything that might make that bond stronger in any way. And the underbosses and assorted caporegimes of the Vongola were always on the look out for anything to test him with, the rumours were just another test among many that he'd gotten past. That these rumours had a base in the truth was completely irrelevant – and, anyway. Tsuna wasn't being controlled in any way.

 

He gave a helpless laugh and scrubbed a hand down his face, raked it roughly through his hair.

 

“I'm fine.” he repeated, and reached for the flicker of cold fire within his core that all the training at the compound had made easier to sense.

 

“Takeshi. Who started the rumours?” he asked, voice set and eyes hard. Hayato straightened beside him, the worry on his face getting tucked away for another day and a more private conversation. He turned to face Takeshi as well, arms crossed and fingers held steady against his flanks.

 

Takeshi smiled, and let the names slip free from his lips.

 

There was nothing for the longest time, after that. Either Xanxus had heard the rumours and curbed himself, or Takeshi had passed on the information to Squalo and Squalo had seen fit to rein his Boss in. Somehow. Tsuna still didn't understand how their friendship functioned, let alone their working relationship.

 

The silence between them lasted until the first time Jii-chan ordered him to take down a rival famiglia that had dared to try and peddle hard drugs through their territory. He didn't want them wiped out, he said, his calm smile firmly in place. He just wanted to make a statement. And who better to make that statement than the next generation, standing tall against anyone setting foot where it wasn't due?

 

Tsuna wasn't given a choice. He was given an ultimatum. To leave and take down their major warehouses and to take out the most prolific peddlers and anyone else in a position of power that he came across during the raid.

 

Which was just a diplomatic way of saying that his Jii-chan had just sent him out to commit murder with a smile on his face. That his friends were being ordered to do the same.

 

Tsuna did nothing but nod, smiling back just as calmly. He'd been prepared over time, after all, and all the months spent over the years at the compound and with Reborn travelling the world and training were only obstacle courses before the actual deed. He was lucky that he was given a choice for his first real job out in the field, that he could pick which guardians to drag down with him.

 

There was never any real doubt. The only ones who were already blooded in this lifestyle were his only possible option. Hayato gave him a wide smile, ready to rain terror down on anyone Tsuna told him to. And Takeshi simply tilted his head, looking vaguely amused. Not smiling, thankfully. But his eyes were so cold.

 

Tsuna spent the aftermath of the mission breaking into Xanxus' liquor cabinet whether the man liked it or not.

 

He could still remember the expressions on the faces of the underbosses at the meetings that came after the mission. Thirty dead, nearly fifty injured. Five warehouses burnt to the ground, and any sign of the drugs the rival famiglia had been peddling burnt down with them. And the top peddlers found dead, also burnt. Not enough to be unrecognisable, but enough for the entirety of the Underworld to tell that it was a sign. And all completed in one night. The only people involved being the Decimo and his right and left hands.

 

Monster, those faces had whispered to him. Awed. Impressed. Scared.

 

And Jii-chan couldn't have been more proud. Face smiling. Eyes cold.

 

Tsuna growled, and emptied the first bottle his fingers closed around down his throat. Gagged at the taste. Reached for the next one anyway.

 

He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised to find himself waking up in a distantly familiar bed, naked, with a broad scarred arm pinning him to the mattress. Again. He let out a slow breath, fingers pressing down against the hard muscle and olive toned skin. Alternating between being too smooth and rough over the patches of scar tissue, as he now knew. As he'd learnt, over the past year.

 

The low grumble and sigh behind his ear made him wince. This wouldn't help, couldn't. Not after the last night. Then again, if the horror on the faces of the underbosses was anything to go by, they wouldn't be accusing him of being weak or controllable again. Not any time soon.

 

When the arm tightened around him, he closed his eyes tight. And ignored the bite of the smile against the back of his neck.

 

Well done, he'd said, the previous night. Tsuna had stared up at him, too drunk to think straight. Xanxus had stared down at him, and said well done. Tsuna had reached up blindly, and the older man hadn't hesitated to drag him up and into bed.

 

If the laugh that bubbled up from deep in his chest was a little hysterical, no one would know. And Xanxus wouldn't care, either way.

 

They avoided each other again after that. Tsuna was ushered deeper into the workings of the Vongola, now that the last breach had been crossed. Jii-chan had destroyed both inner and outside opposition to Tsuna's election as Decimo in one fell swoop. Tsuna just wished he'd known that something like this would be required when he was fifteen and he'd been defending his Jii-chan during the Inheritance Ceremony. Who knew that loud shows of force were all well and good, but what actually got you respect was quietly killing people in the dead of night, wrecking mayhem on Families that really should have known better?

 

More meetings to sit in. One specific diplomatic meeting where Tsuna had to sit by his Jii-chan's side and smilesmilesmile while the Secundo of the Family that tried to encroach on their territory paid for his insolence in blood, money, territory and operations. Really, the only reason they weren't just forced to secede into the Vongola was because his Jii-chan just didn't trust the man or his people.

 

It hadn't been nice, seeing the same horror on the underbosses faces in that the Secundo's eyes. Horror, and hatred. As though he were staring at the Devil itself.

 

Well done, Xanxus' voice whispered in his head.

 

It was as though that one mission was the last defence holding back the flood. Jii-chan started sending him out more and more often, to taken down anyone that stood against the Vongola. And he went. Sometimes with Hayato and Takeshi by his side, but more and more often with squad members he remembered distantly as trainees from back when he'd still been training regularly at the compound. Familiar faces that he could send forward in battle, if only because he knew exactly what they were capable of, and who listened to him without hesitation because they knew what he was capable of.

 

He heard from others that Jii-chan was sending out his guardians as well, often only Onii-chan or Takeshi but sometimes Hayato as well, as a ballistics expert. Tsuna was glad at times that he had Chrome and Mukuro out in the world collecting information for him, and that Hibari was safe in Namimori, protecting the Vongola's Japanese interests even if he never thought of them in those terms. If nothing else, then the Vongola's enemies were protected from his most blood-thirsty guardians.

 

The eighth time was little more than an elevation of stress, and ruthlessly fast. Him sitting on the broad, ironwood desk in the Varia Boss' office, and Xanxus' head between his legs. The nails of one hand digging into Xanxus' shoulders, gripping his shirt hard enough that Tsuna was amazed the material didn't tear, and biting down on the knuckles of the other, hoping to God that someone deleted the film from the cameras this one day. Then not really thinking about anything, instead dragging himself away from Xanxus' ministrations, shoving the man back in his chair and crawling onto the chair after him.

 

He felt the bite of the older man's teeth along his inner thigh the entire way down to the gates of the compound, Squalo walking beside him, silent for once.

 

“Is he still an asshole, then?” the swordsman asked him blandly. Tsuna peered up at him, vaguely recognising the words from a conversation that seemed worlds away. He didn't even need to think hard about the answer.

 

“Yes. He is.” he replied. That earned him a barking laugh, Squalo throwing his head back into the gesture and exposing the long line of his throat. Tsuna eyed it with interest, and wondered if he would have envisioned it being sliced open by Takeshi's blades even a month or so ago.

 

“You're okay, brat. Now go home.”

 

It wasn't until he was already seated in his car, listening absently to Onii-san and Lambo argue in the front seats, that he realised what the Rain Guardian had said.

 

Onii-san nearly crashed the car when he burst into laughter, right then and there. Lambo, horrified, climbed into the back seat and tried to calm him down, but Tsuna only shook his head, still laughing like a maniac. He managed to pull it back in by the time they reached the estate, but one look at Hayato and Takeshi, sitting in the common room of their suite of rooms, had him bursting into laughter again.

 

Hayato flailed around him, yelling at Onii-san and Lambo for somehow managing to break him during the trip to the compound and back. He continued to giggle, listening to Onii-san defend himself loudly, while Lambo yelled back petulantly. Their voices were a pleasant buzz in the background, while Takeshi quietly led him to a chair and crouched down in front of him.

 

“Tsuna?” he asked, eyes actually worried for once. Tsuna sputtered, and scrubbed a wrist against his watering eyes.

 

“Go home.”

 

Takeshi watched him patiently, waiting for him to elaborate. He heard the distinct sound of a chair breaking over someone's head in the background, another smashing into a wall, and wasn't it hilarious that he could recognise the difference between the two so clearly now?

 

“He told me to go home.”

 

“Who did?”

 

“Squalo.”

 

Tsuna could actually see Takeshi's eyes shoot from hot to cold to hot again. His hands tightened around Tsuna's knuckles creaking with the effort. Tsuna continued to laugh till he couldn't tell if he was laughing or crying.

 

Go home, he said. “You're okay, brat. Now go home.” You don't belong here.

 

Well done, he said.

 

“Hayato.” Takeshi's voice sliced through the fight taking place in the background like a heated knife through butter. Or like a well sharpened blade through flesh.

Hayato was by their side in an instant, hands reaching out to wrap around Tsuna's, face creasing in worry.

 

“What, baseball idiot.”

 

“Book tickets for Namimori. The sooner the better.”

 

Hayato nodded without question. Tsuna continued to giggle, and wondered when that had happened. He seemed to remember them fighting each other over everything as recently as an year ago. When had they started to get along so well? When he wasn't looking, or when he wasn't there?

 

Takeshi carefully drew his fingers away from the stranglehold Hayato had over both his and Tsuna's fingers, and stood up in one easy, graceful move. When Hayato turned his head towards him, eyes never leaving Tsuna's face, Tsuna heard Takeshi sigh.

 

“I need to speak to Squalo. Maybe to the Ninth too.”

 

Nidaime, Tsuna registered, through the laughter. Japanese. And was vaguely surprised to realise that it had been a long time since he'd heard Takeshi speak in Japanese. Hayato had gone still in front of him, and he could see Onii-san and Lambo frowning from the corner of his eyes.

 

Hayato tugged him up from the couch he'd collapsed into, and carefully led him towards his bedroom. And stayed by his side after coaxing him into bed. Tsuna couldn't really understand why they were being so careful. Takeshi's face had looked so cold when he'd stepped out the door, as though he were steeling himself for something unpleasant.

 

He didn't remember much of the next few days, only that Takeshi and Hayato took care of nearly everything. He could remember some of the maids that came into is room talking about it, though. That Takeshi had barged into the Ninth's study and demanded that the Boss give Tsuna and the rest of the Tenth Generation Guardians a break. That Tsuna was going mad, and that that at the rate at which they were going, he wouldn't even have anyone to take over the mantle after he chose to retire.

 

“Are you going mad, Tsuna-sama?” one of the younger maids asked, a pretty smile on her face. Tsuna stared up at her, a half smile stretched across his lips, feeling more like a Glasgow grin.

 

“I don't think so, Chrome-chan. Mukuro-san.” he replied. The maid giggled, her eyes glinting in that distinct dual tone of red and blue before settled back to the non-descript green they had been before.

 

“That's good to hear. I would be very displeased to hear that someone had broken you.” said Chrome. Tsuna could hear Mukuro's underlying other than me quite clearly in her words. He laughed, and reached up for her, delighted when she humoured him and reached back, clasping their hands together tightly. She stayed by his side, invisible to everyone coming and going, and didn't let go under he felt himself drifting away into sleep.

 

He felt the press of her lips against his forehead, delicate and sweet.

 

Well done, whispered Xanxus' voice in his head.

 

I don't think so, he'd shot back. All I did was murder people. They couldn't even defend themselves.

 

All the same. Well done. You had to bare your teeth at some point, didn't you, shitty brat.

 

You fuck me into nearly any convenient surface, flat or otherwise, at every opportunity you get. Please excuse me if I'm disturbed by the thought of you calling me a brat.

 

Laughter. You always did get more verbose when you're drunk.

 

Lies. You never remember any of it.

 

Don't I? I have a much better tolerance for alcohol than you. I've been drinking for longer than you've been alive.

 

Lies. Again. That would mean you've been drinking since you were younger than ten, you're not that much older than me.

 

Ten years older isn't old enough? Eighteen years older isn’t old enough?

 

I don't know. You tell me. And, anyway, you remembering all of it means you've been throwing me into walls just for the hell of it, to get out of needing to talk about us ending up in bed together. What the fuck.

 

Laughter. A hand reaching down for him.

 

Xanxus. I murdered them. I murdered them in cold blood.

 

Well done.

 

I murdered them-

 

Well done.

 

“And if you don't like it,” he'd murmured in the early hours of the morning, voice soft against shell of his ear, “Then do something about it.”

 

Being back in Namimori, in the confines of his old room, was like a balm against his soul. His mother was delighted to have him home, even if having him home meant having a host of people staying under their roof. Again. Tsuna insisted that Hayato just move into one of the spare rooms, because he'd cancelled the lease on his old apartment when they'd left for Palermo. None of them had had any plans to return any time soon. Looking back on that decision, Tsuna shivered in bed, feeling chilled to the bone.

 

Life seemed to slow to a snail's pace, with nothing to do. Tsuna continued to lay in bed, rising only to eat meals and sometimes to leave to go to the market with his mother or with Hayato. Takeshi was a regular presence, turning up at his home and remaining almost till night. Tsuna often teased him, saying that he was stealing his valuable presence from Takesushi, but Takeshi always laughed it off, claiming that his old man had managed for this long alone, he could manage for a little longer without him.

 

Fuuta came flying in from wherever he'd chosen to lose himself in Italy, wet-eyed and pale. He demanded space for himself in Hayato's room, and was given a spot to sleep in Lambo's instead. Tsuna wanted to ask him why he'd been so worried when he'd come home, hands a clutching vice around the large ranking text that followed him wherever he went. But he didn't. Listening to the boy he fondly thought of as younger brother crying for days outside his room told him he really didn't want to know. The dark circles beneath Hayato's eyes in the days following Fuuta's arrival only strengthened that thought.

 

Onii-san and Kyoko often came by, Kyoko as much a healing presence as her brother. After a point, she began coming on her own or with Haru, the both of them tugging him out along with them to various places. For movies. To patisseries. On walks around the neighbourhood. At times back to their old school, just to see what it looked like, well after the age at which they were locked within its confines.

 

It was Haru who suggested that they all go back to their education. That they weren't doing anything else with their time, why not just try out courses they were interested in? They wouldn't even need to complete all the classes, and to just consider it a good way to keep themselves busy. Ryohei declined the idea, saying instead that he was quite happy

with the post of physical instructor that their old school had been willing to give him, at minimum pay as he wasn't appropriately trained for it. Takeshi also opted out, claiming that he may as well use the time to help his father in the store. Lambo was entered in the local high school in spite of his every attempt to avoid it, while both Tsuna and Hayato chose to apply for undergraduate classes in the closest available universities. After convincing Hayato to take the Advanced Chemistry and Mathematics courses that he had been eyeing with blatant interest, Tsuna tried out a variety of classes that were fun, but also classes that would be helpful to him in the long run. Economics. Psychology. World History. As many languages that he could bear to take at once, which Hayato also chose to do. Except that he took nearly double the number that Tsuna was taking.

 

He was tempted to write to his Jii-chan at times, asking what were the best classes that a Mafia Don in the making was required to take. Just for a laugh.

 

He did talk to Reborn about it. Reborn was simply amused that he thought to ask, and told him to “Do what you think is best, Dame-Tsuna. You'll know when you see it.” His words, arrogant and wry all at once, had Tsuna laughing long and loud over the phone. And managed to not sound hysterical for the first time in a long time.

 

It was a comfortable state of affairs, not involved with anything to do with the mafia or the Vongola for nearly two whole years, and the only time his alternate life came up was when he needed to be in touch with Hibari and Mukuro about the interests they were protecting. Mukuro seemed to be delighted that Tsuna had left Italy behind and returned to Namimori, even if he was still connected to the Mafia. Hibari wasn't very impressed to have them all back in Namimori, but accepted their presence with a huff, eyes strangely cautious when he surveyed all of them in his sitting room.

 

“Italy has not been kind to you, herbivore.” he said quietly, much later, when they were both sitting out on the engawa of Hibari's house, drinking tea while watching the moon. Tsuna simply smiled, staring up at the vast expanse of the clear night sky, the blanket of stars and the large, scarred face of the moon watching over them.

 

“I don't know. I think she's been kind enough,” he murmured back, sipping at his tea.

 

“You seem older than you did, ten years ago.” Hibari said. Tsuna's fingers tightened over the ceramic of his teacup, keeping his eyes trained on the sky and completely unwilling to meet the older man's gaze. For all that his cloud guardian rarely chose to speak or be approachable, when he did, his words were about as capable of breaking through walls and bodies as his fists and tonfa.

 

“I might be.” he agreed, thinking of that remote world of ten years later he'd seen, barely five years ago. Hibari wasn't wrong, it honestly did feel as though he'd aged more than ten years in the last five. For all that he'd returned from that future ready to do anything to prevent it, he couldn't help but think he'd done nothing but walk inexorably down the same path as his doomed future self. About the only reason he was better off was because of the alliances the events in the future and after the Shimon incident had allowed him to forge with other Famiglia, particularly with the Giglio Nero and Gesso. And the Shimon, of course. All three Families were very powerful in their own right, and none had been allied openly with the Vongola before he became involved. His Jii-chan had always seemed strangely amused by that.

 

“Hibari-san. Kyoya-san. Do you think I did the right thing, following the Ninth to Italy just because he told me he needed my help, after we graduated from high school?” he asked, then set the teacup aside, stepping up and away from the engawa, feet silent on tatami mats as he stepped inside. Not really willing to hear the answer, because he could guess what Hibari would have to say.

 

He was nearly out of hearing distance when he heard Hibari speak.

 

He was relieved that he was too far away to hear what he said clearly.

 

The years of radio silence were broken when he woke up one day to find his hand and heart aching and throbbing in tandem, tears flowing down his cheeks. Hayato rushed into his room, sitting by him, silent when he hunched over in bed, crying and crying without really knowing why.

 

A few hours later, they received a call from his father. The Ninth was dead.

 

“He passed away peacefully, in his sleep. It's more than most are gifted with, in this life,” his father said, and for once his voice was choked with emotion and sobriety in equal measure. No room left to play the fool. Tsuna breathed out his acquiescence to the statement, not really thinking of much more than the expression on his Jii-chan's face when he'd been in bed back at the Mansion. His Jii-chan had looked unbearably sad, guilty, proud and furious all at once. He'd tugged Tsuna into a hug, and said that Tsuna was a better man than him, and would be a better Boss, if this life could still sicken him even when he'd been blooded in the company of the best and worst in the business.

 

“We need you back here, son.” Iemitsu said softly. And Tsuna could hear the true words beneath the sentiment. We need you. Decimo.

 

“I'll return as soon as I am able,” he said, silently signalling for Hayato to book the tickets. For all of them, including Hibari. Mukuro would find his way to the funeral in time, Tsuna knew. Chrome would convince him and they would both be there.

 

Returning to Palermo was hell in its own way. He'd been forced to convince the university to allow him to switch over to courses in distance education, the same for Hayato as well. Onii-san had gotten into a screaming match with both Kyoko and Hana. Neither of them had been willing to let him leave again without them by his side. It dragged on for nearly a whole day, until Kyoko turned to Tsuna, forcing him to step in. When Tsuna silently signalled for Hayato make sure there were tickets ready for them as well, Onii-san all but exploded, fist flying out in a straight that threw Tsuna back into a wall. He might have been able to dodge it, he might not. He'd never know.

 

Kyoko's eyes had looked like they would have been more at home on the face of a lion, her hair a brillaint halo around her head. Tsuna didn't think he could have denied her anything when she looked like that, as though she would wage war over the right to stand by her brother's side.

 

He wasn't surprised when he returned to his room to find Haru sitting cross-legged on top of it, face set and eyes hard.

 

In retrospect, he wondered how they had all left the first time around without the girls taking up arms to fight their way down the rabbit hole, just as dangerous as any of them.

 

“Kyoya-san was very kind,” Kyoko told him later, when she had been tending to his swollen cheek. Tsuna remained quiet, simply listening to what she had to say while Hayato took Onii-san apart piece by piece out in their backyard, no doubt terrorising any of the neighbours they had left.

 

“He let us stay.”

 

And, oh, the amount that had remained unsaid in those words. Hibari, Kyoya, had looked utterly unrepentant when Tsuna had looked to him. It was only the years of familiarity he had with his cloud guardian's non-expressions that he was able to read that lazy, satiated glint in his eyes. The kind that he got after a job well done, or a good meal. Or a particularly messy fight, the drag down, filthy, gut wrenching kinds that he got into with Takeshi sometimes, when they were both angry with the world around them. Spars, Takeshi would call them, teeth bloody in his mouth. Shoulders loose and relaxed in a way that Tsuna didn't want to think too deeply about. Tsuna had seen enough of those fights over the years to know it was a lost battle, trying to reprimand him for doing something he clearly thought was necessary.

 

The airport when they touched down had seemed suspiciously filled with members of the National Guard. Not to arrest anyone, of course, they had no evidence in place to do so. But they were definitely in place to connect any new faces to the recently deceased Boss of the Vongola if they could. Tsuna ignored a large part of it, leaving crowd control to Takeshi, Kyoya and Onii-san, while he drifted through most of it with Hayato a calming presence by his side bristling with bad humour whenever anyone came closer that necessary. Kyoko, Haru and Hana were a jewel-bright, distracting presence, surrounding them both like easily overlooked bodyguards.

 

He still wasn't sure what to feel. His Jii-chan had been integral to his life since he was fourteen, and possibly even before that, if his early memories could be trusted. And yet, if it weren't for his Jii-chan, he would never have been forced to live this life. He'd cried his eyes out on the morning that Jii-chan had died, instinctively feeling that disconnect, but he had no proof that those tears were his own or because of residual feelings within the Vongola Sky Ring.

 

Being welcomed at the doors to the main house by a grim, red eyed Coyote Nougat had him biting his lips and reminding himself that, for all that this was his Jii-chan that had died, there were a multitude of people here who were feeling that loss. And that he couldn't let himself show any of the pain he felt when he was near any of them. He was the Decimo now, after all. Had been ever since the Inheritance Ceremony, when the Vongola Rings had been re-cast in the inner image of his guardians.

 

“Boss,” Coyote murmured, head dipping low. Tsuna did not correct him. There was a time and place for everything, and standing in the foyer of the main house, with other members of the Family milling about, watchful, was not the place to tell Coyote that Tsuna could never take the place of his Boss.

 

“The funeral?” he asked, voice steady.

 

Coyote rose, expression inscrutable but relieved, in some strange way. He led all of them up towards the board room on the first floor, saying that the rest of the guardians would meet them there. Tsuna easily fell into place beside him, and tried to smile at the men and women stopping to bow as he walked past. The motion was unnerving, here in a country where bowing was not a part of regular etiquette.

 

He allowed his Jii-chan's guardians and his father to take care of nearly the entirety of the funeral arrangements, understanding that it was something that they needed to do. All his friends remained a mostly mute presence throughout the room, Kyoko and Haru remaining at his side along with Lambo and Fuuta to quietly whisper. Fuuta presumably explaining what was going on, and pointing out all the various people in the room to him. Takeshi and Hayato were flittering through the room, helping where they could.

 

The sudden weight of a small, perfectly balanced body on his shoulder had him looking up, not really as startled as he should have been.

 

“Dame-Tsuna.”

 

He gave a quick smile to Reborn, and looked back at the proceedings. His mentor made no move get down or say anything else, but Tsuna was willing to wait on him. Reborn had known Jii-chan for a lot longer than him, after all.

 

“Have you visited the Varia yet?”

 

Tsuna stiffened at the words, glancing at the Arcobaleno sitting cross-legged on his shoulder from the corner of his eyes. Older now than he had been the last Tsuna had seen him, sitting by his bed with a blank look on his face. The curse had ended years ago, but it still surprised him to see any of the Arcobaleno actually growing.

 

Reborn had directed the words right in his ear, so there was no chance of anyone else hearing them. There wasn't anything wrong with the question, it was perfectly reasonable, but something about the tone... Tsuna shivered and looked in front when Schnitten stepped forward to attach something to the large corkboard that had been brought in.

 

“Not yet.” he replied, smiling at Kyoko when she looked towards him curiously.

 

“You should go.” Reborn said softly. Tsuna flinched, and looked down at the table, just to keep the baby hitman's gaze at bay.

 

“Not yet. He wouldn't want me there, Reborn. And Squalo was very clear that I didn't belong there.”

 

“From what Yamamoto said, that wasn't the implication at all.”

 

Tsuna pursed his lips, not too comfortable with this particular line of conversation.

 

“I wish the two of you wouldn't gossip about me behind my back. Ow!” He squeaked out the last bit when Reborn whacked him in the back of the head. It was thankfully more a tap than anything else, nowhere near as painful as Reborn could make the action even from that angle, as Tsuna well knew.

 

“You should go, Dame-Tsuna. A Boss always maintains the bonds of the Family. And now that Don Nono is no more, you're the one who must maintain relations with the Varia.”

 

“It's not like I don't know that. And, I will. But, can you imagine Xanxus' reaction if I go in there now, right after Jii-chan died? They'd probably kick me out if I was lucky. And he'd chase me out with blasts if I wasn't. Or, worse yet, he'd send Bel and Levi after me, and I don't need that right after I flew in from Japan.”

 

Reborn scoffed lowly, but gave him a conciliatory pat on the shoulder for how well thought his explanation was.

 

“Don't wait too long.” he warned, then hopped off to sit with the girls. Tsuna said nothing, couldn't. He knew why he shouldn't wait too long, but he also knew why he needed to wait in the first place. And, for all that Xanxus always claimed that he hated his father and everything he stood for, Jii-chan was... still his father. And the Boss he'd chosen to follow. He couldn't be in the best of states after hearing that he'd passed away. In his sleep.

 

Iemitsu had sounded thankful. Somehow, Tsuna didn't think Xanxus would be. Passing away in your sleep only meant that you didn't have any chance to fight against your death, after all. And that you hadn't had any chance to warn any of the people you loved.

 

The only thing worse than thinking your father was disappointed in you was never really knowing for sure.

 

Tsuna could understand the feeling. For all that he'd been working in the same Family as his father for the past five years, he still didn't understand Iemitsu too well. Oh, he was willing to love and cherish the man, he was Family after all, but it didn't mean he understood his motivations in any way. And he still had no idea if his father cared for him as a son or as the future Boss that he'd brought to the Family.

 

His thoughts were interrupted when the heavy doors leading into the board room were thrown open with a bang. Everyone in the room reached for a weapon without hesitation, and Tsuna thought for one wild instant that someone had chosen to attack his Family when they were down. The rage that shot through him at the thought was frightening enough that he unclenched his hands immediately. And tried not to notice how they were shaking inside the leathery material of his gloves.

 

When Squalo stepped in, face twisted in a scowl, he all but sagged in his seat. Then sat straight again when the Varia's Rain Guardian reached behind him to drag the door shut.

 

“Just me,” he said brusquely, lifting a shoulder in reply to the hand that Takeshi raised in greeting. The room was still for a whole five seconds before the low buzz of people talking returned, softer than before. Tsuna kept his eyes trained on the door, almost hoping that Xanxus' tall and scarred form would step in. He knew he wouldn't though.

 

“VOI, brat.”

 

He jerked upright in his seat, and looked to his right to see that Squalo had wasted no time in coming to stand beside him. Tsuna stared at him, dismayed when the sound in the room dropped yet again.

 

“Squalo.” he said, not knowing what else to say. And what could he say, after all, when this man had been the sole reason he'd gone back home. And he'd been right. The two years he'd spent in Namimori had brought him back to where he used to be years ago, when he'd first left for Italy, not wanting to do much more than help his Jii-chan, just because he'd asked. He had no idea where that simple need to help people, to protect his family and friends, had gone in the last five years, but Tsuna knew for a fact that he wouldn't have been given a chance to rethink things if he'd remained in Italy.

 

Squalo's eyes were as sharp as blades grazing his skin when he glanced over him, taking in a form that Tsuna was happy to say had filled out a bit in the last two years. He hadn't grown much taller, but he didn't look nearly as strung out as he used to either.

 

The smirk that curled over the swordsman's face was very familiar. Tsuna couldn't help but grin back at him, inappropriate though it may be.

 

“Better now, are you?” he asked, voice clearly entertained. Tsuna shrugged at him, trying not to notice the way Hayato cringed on the other side of the room, nearly shaking in righteous anger.

 

“I guess. No thanks to you.” Tsuna said mildly. Squalo sneered at him, reaching for the nearest chair so he could actually sit down.

 

“I'm not here to hold your hand and wipe your ass off for you, brat. Figure these things out yourself.” he snapped back, dragging one leg up to perch on the edge of the chair like a pale, long haired gargoyle, and glaring at all the people watching them.

 

Tsuna laughed. Actually laughed. There was a single moment of startled silence, after which everyone slowly starting getting back to figuring out the funeral proceedings. Squalo glanced about them, eyes narrow. Then, once he was certain they were no longer being stared at, he crossed one leg over the other and leaned back into the chair, once more at ease.

 

“Been here long?” he asked snidely, when he realised that Tsuna was still watching him. Tsuna snorted, suddenly taken back to all the days he used to go running to Squalo's rooms when he was at the compound, the last sane place left in a madhouse. The swordsman was as eccentric as the rest of the Varia Squad leaders, but he was much better at hiding the fact. And, well, he'd been the only one to have any inkling about whatever was going on between him and Xanxus. He'd seemed a good confidante at the time.

 

“No. We got here a few hours ago, and drove in from the airport.”

 

The slant-eyed look that earned him had him raising a shoulder defensively.

 

“Yes, we came here directly. Straight from the airport.”

 

Squalo's eyes gleamed, but he didn't say anything, instead turning his attention to the front when Ganauche stepped forward, having something to say to the room at large.

 

After the meeting, when everyone was preparing to move towards the dining hall for lunch, Tsuna pulled back when he felt long fingers close over his elbow. Hayato stopped short at nearly the same moment, as did Takeshi and then the rest of his friends, one after another, but he waved them on with a smile. Hayato didn't look too convinced, but Takeshi slowly coaxed him away, shooting a sharp look over his shoulder. At Squalo.

 

“Yes?” Tsuna asked him, once everyone else had cleared out of the room. Squalo eyed him through shuttered eyes, then looked away, a strange expression on his face.

 

Tsuna almost thought he wouldn't get an answer, when the older man suddenly sighed, the breath leaving his lips explosively.

 

“...you should come. To the compound.”

 

Tsuna stiffened in his grasp, making no effort to move away, but not too comfortable held so close to Xanxus' second in command. Squalo was as good as the main commander of the Varia's ground forces, anyway. He'd been the commander the entire time Xanxus had been frozen, and damn, that was a horrible thing to think about right now, with Jii-chan gone.

 

“You should come.” Squalo repeated, his voice harsh. Tsuna simply stared up at him, wide-eyed. He didn't need to voice his doubts for them to be heard. This was Squalo, after all. And if anyone knew how Xanxus would react, it was him.

 

“You should come anyway.” and with that, he spun on his heel and walked out the door. Tsuna knew that he was on his way out of the main house – there was no way he would stick around for longer than he needed to.

 

Tsuna looked about himself, feeling helpless for all of a moment and missing his Jii-chan desperately. Then muttered a curse, and stalked out the door. He didn't have the time or emotional space for this.

 

The ninth time was the worst, worse than the fifth when the Varia had thought they'd lost Mammon for good. He'd prepared himself for violence, donning his gloves and wearing the flame resistant clothing that Spanner and Shouichi had managed to manufacture in the course of their experiments. It wasn't foolproof, but it was better than nothing. He'd prepared himself for bloodshed and madness, insisting that his friends remain behind. The only one who didn't give in was Takeshi, who said he couldn't let Tsuna drive up to the compound all on his own. Thankfully, he'd said this after Tsuna had already convinced Hayato that he would be fine on his own. He'd even prepared himself for the oppressive atmosphere that he would face when he reached the compound, calling ahead and warning Squalo ahead of time when he decided to listen to the man's suggestion to go to the compound. The call ensured that the rest of the Squad Leaders stayed out of his way when he arrived, but none of the men and women he'd gotten to know over the years had been happy to see him. Distrust and low, venomous whispers followed him all the way to the stairs and up them as well.

 

Tsuna was oddly relieved. This reaction seemed to make so much more sense that the one he'd been faced with in the Main House, with everyone bowing to his every word, apparently worshipping the ground he walked on. In an ironic turn of events, the organisation that had been touted as the least trustworthy in his youth had become the one that was the most loyal to the memory of the Ninth, more so than even the CEDEF, which had been quick to capitulate in the aftermath of Jii-chan's death. His father had moved quickly to consolidate any affairs that were common to both the Vongola and the CEDEF, and Basil had tagged along closely at his side. Tsuna had made sure to spend what little time he could with the other boy, too, since he had the sinking feeling that his father would decide to take a step back once things started to settle down. Basil was like a brother to him, and it felt so demeaning to try and spend time with him before the funeral just because there was every chance he would become Tsuna's Outside Advisor in time. His consigliere.

 

Squalo met him at the top of the stairs, and eyed his clothing with a faintly approving look. The Varia suffered no fools, after all, and if Tsuna had appeared unprepared to face off against however Xanxus chose to react, Squalo would only have called him the greater fool.

 

“He's in his study. You know where that is.”

 

Tsuna started to nod, then frowned.

 

“The public or private one?”

 

He wished he hadn't said anything the moment the words left his mouth, because the smirk they drew across Squalo's lips was obscene.

 

“The private one,” he answered, laughing at him even if Tsuna couldn't hear the sound. All the better, the drive to the compound with a worried Takeshi and the climb up the stairs while subjected to the mute disapproval of the entirety of the Varia's soldiers had battered what little ego he had left.

 

“Takeshi's waiting out in the lot,” he offered in reply, and walked past the man feeling simultaneously gleeful and proud of himself when he heard the low growl of fool brat that followed him down the corridor.

 

He made sure to knock when he reached the door, accessible only from within Xanxus' suite of rooms. The only response was the sound of a heavy glass bottle crashing into the door on the other side, a wordless snarl that demanded that he leave immediately. Tsuna took a deep breath, prayed to any higher power listening that he wasn't making a big mistake, then turned knob and stepped in.

 

He had to dodge almost immediately. Of course. The bottle of scotch that flew at his head had him scrambling for cover. Which he nearly didn't find - the room had been comprehensively destroyed. The couch set that Tsuna remembered being in the room had been ripped to pieces, each piece scattered around, one of which was actually embedded in the wall to his left. All the decorative pieces and sculptures that Lussuria had insisted on displaying throughout the room had been smashed to bits. Even the bookshelves that Xanxus had set out through the room had been thrown at the walls. The man had actually managed to rip out the shelves that had been set up as a part of the wall panels and had used them crush the large desk he had in front of the windows. Even the windows hadn't been spared, some of them broken with pieces of supposedly bulletproof glass littering the ground at the base, others a melted, smoking mess. The acrid smell filled the room and nearly made it hard to breathe, combined with the fumes of evaporating alcohol from all the liquor bottles that Xanxus had smashed into the walls.

 

Tsuna hastily threw himself behind what was left of the coffee table that had once been set out in front of the couches. The action seemed useless, though, as he wasn't attacked with any more flying bottles.

 

He cautiously peered over the edge of the table, which had been turned on its side, legs collapsed and facing outwards. He ducked down again with an instinctive yelp when he saw the apoplectic expression on Xanxus' face.

 

“You... what the fuck do you think you're doing here?!” he snarled.

 

Tsuna cringed, not really sure how to answer that. Your Rain Guardian insisted that I should come seemed like the worst possible answer he could give.

 

“Fucking trash!” the older man snarled again, and Tsuna forced himself to stand. It wasn't like he'd come here to hide behind tables, after all.

 

“Xanxus-” he couldn't get anything out past that, because the man had darted forward to shove him up against the wall, open palm digging into his throat and as much a threat as the X Guns sitting on top of the remains of his desk on the far side of the room.

 

Fingers around his neck and he couldn't breathe.

 

He choked, clawing at the older man's hand for purchase, but it didn't really make much of a difference. Xanxus was taller, stronger and had more leverage on him, the only way Tsuna was breaking out of his hold was if he called on his inner flames for strength. But he didn't. Even when he started to see spots in front of his eyes because of the lack of air, he didn't. Because that wouldn't help at all, would it? How was he supposed to talk to Xanxus at all if the man just dragged them into a fight that had the very real danger of bringing the compound down on them both?

 

“Xan-” he gagged on the name, nails digging into Xanxus's wrist and forearm, and the man finally let go, letting him collapse backwards. Tsuna hunched over, gasping for breath and knees weak, but he didn't let himself drop to the floor. He was here as an equal, after all. And he couldn't duck and run. Not this time.

 

“Get the fuck out.”

 

The words were barely audible, a low growl that had Tsuna flinching through his gasps for breath.

 

“Xanxus-”

 

“Stop saying my fucking name over and over again and just leave.

 

Tsuna stiffened, and tightened his hands against his knees.

 

“No.”

He could hear the hitch in Xanxus' breath as clearly as though the man's lips were up against his ear. He closed his eyes tightly, then opened them, and made himself stand straight.

 

Xanxus was a wreck. No two ways about it – the feathers and fur the man usually had attached to his hair looked like he'd tried to rip them to bits before he decided to attack the room at large. The skin below his eyes was visibly dark and swollen due to a lack of sleep, and his usually healthy tan looked pale and sickly even in the light of the sun creeping in past the torn curtains. He looked like he'd dressed for a regular day's work, the Varia's signature leather and fabric uniform in place, but the duster that was a part of the uniform was nowhere to be seen. Even the shirt looked ragged – and Tsuna was certain he could see bits of glass embedded in his knuckles and forearms. There was enough of it that Tsuna was amazed he hadn't cut his fingers while trying to make Xanxus let go. He glanced down, and was relieved to see that the older man was wearing his boots. With the amount of broken glass on the floor and in the carpet, not to mention the state of the room itself, he had the sinking feeling that Squalo would have to remake the entire room once the funeral was done.

 

“What did you say?” the older man ground out, and Tsuna felt sick, watching the scars on his face suddenly becoming more pronounced.

 

“I said no.” Tsuna repeated, not looking away even when Xanxus reached out to fist his hands in his shirt.

 

The older man was starting to look both incensed and desperate in equal measure.

 

“What the fuck do you mean, saying 'no'? Leave!”

 

“No.” Tsuna grunted when he found the man's hands curling around his throat again, and honestly alarmed when he noticed how unnaturally warm Xanxus' hands were starting to become.

 

“Leave!”

 

“No!” he yelled back, closing his right hand around Xanxus' wrist.

 

Xanxus let go all at once, stepping away from him with an incredulous laugh.

 

“Well, damn. Look who grew a spine.” he spat spinning away and walking back towards his table. Tsuna froze in place, hoping that the man wasn't actually going for his guns. He mentally heaved a sigh of relief when Xanxus stepped past the table, instead scrabbling inside what was left of his liquor cabinet to pull out a bottle. When Xanxus made no move to hurl it at his head, Tsuna walked forward, still guarded.

 

He didn't stop until he was right behind the older man. It was only standing in that spot that he actually realised how much he'd grown in the last two years. He thought it hadn't been much, when he'd been speaking with Squalo earlier, but standing behind Xanxus the change was a lot more jarring than it had been before. He hadn't come till more than Xanxus' ribcage before he'd left, but how he stood at what he was sure would be chest height if the man were facing him.

 

“Xanxus,” he began, but the impatient shake of the man's head made him stop.

 

“Stop calling my name if you have nothing to say.” he bit out, and unscrewed the lid of the bottle to guzzle down its contents before Tsuna had the chance to defend himself. When he pulled the bottle away from his mouth, Tsuna was surprised to find it being offered freely to him.

 

Then again, he shouldn't have been too surprised. They always did get along best when they were drunk.

 

He swallowed down a large gulp, closing his eyes to enjoy the burn that chased down his throat. And kept them closed when he felt a pair of lips slant roughly against his own, lazily licking him open to taste the last of whatever it was he'd drunk down, not having stopped to check. Whiskey, if he wasn't wrong. Smooth. Xanxus always did keep the good stuff for himself.

 

When he did get around to opening his eyes, it was to see Xanxus' staring down at him, looking a lot older than he had with rage colouring his expression. Tsuna could read the pain and confusion simmering in his eyes, and he made a face, shoving any hopes he had of saying the speech he'd prepared to the back of his head. Then reached up, framing the older man's face, and pulling himself up to kiss him again when Xanxus made no move to pull back.

 

It was a lot worse than the fifth time. The fifth time had been rage, and bruises, and a violent hatefuck where they'd rutted in the sheets of Xanxus' room at the Main House like a pair of predators in heat. And it had stayed with him like shards of glass in his heart for long after, until the next time had worn the remains of Xanxus' pain away. But, this was worse.

 

Nothing could be worse than that low growl rumbling in the cavity of Xanxus' chest, or feeling his fingers tighten around Tsuna's wrists, holding on because he couldn't seem to let go.

 

Tsuna carefully tugged him out the door of the study just like that, letting Xanxus hold onto his wrists as he shifted them towards the bedroom and away from the mess of shattered glass and wood behind them.

 

The ninth time was agony, being given free reign to do whatever he pleased. First stripping Xanxus down, and doing his best to first remove the glass shards and splinters still embedded in Xanxus’ knuckles and arms. Bandaging the residual wounds and scrapes and trying not to focus on the tired sag of Xanxus’ shoulders, while the older man stayed still and ignored what he would have and had, in the past, called Tsuna’s ‘shitty nursemaid tendencies’. Then stripping off his own clothes and dragging Xanxus into bed, keeping him there and kissing him again and again until their lips were swollen and slick with saliva. Until Xanxus started reacting to the kisses, turning him over and closeting him in, still holding onto Tsuna's wrists while he pressed long, incautious kisses to his lips, the kind that they'd never taken the time to try before. All but drinking from one another until Tsuna was keening, jaw aching with the stretch, fingers and toes curling and arching his back to meet the older man for every kiss. It was agony, looking up into eyes he'd only ever seen filled with the kind of self-assured strength that he'd never have, and seeing that strength in shambles, the broken foundation of a man who didn't really know where he stood in a world that no longer contained the lodestone his entire life had been structured around.

 

He shoved back with all he had, hoping that the show of strength would be enough to make Xanxus fight back in some way, but it didn't earn him any more than a hoarse laugh, teeth biting down into the hinge of his jaw, and lips sucking hard enough to leave a mark. Which would have worried him – Xanxus had never been one to leave marks where others could see them, always more satisfied to know that Tsuna would walk around with hidden marks and bruises lining his form that no one would ever know about – but it didn't really make a difference at this point. It wasn't like they were being particularly discreet anymore, not when almost everyone in the dining hall of the Main House had been surprised to see him at lunch the day before. Hell, Ganauche had actually asked him why he hadn't decided to go to the Varia Compound yet. He'd quickly shut up when Coyote had sent a particularly blistering look his way, but it had been enough to tell him that the rumours hadn't really died down in the years he'd been away. If anything, they'd mutated into rumours of him and Xanxus having a strange, steady relationship that apparently gave them better control over the workings of the Vongola and Varia at the same time.

 

He shifted, then managed to twist upwards with his hips at just the right angle to make the older man roll, and made sure to roll with him, not allowing the motion to break the hold Xanxus had on his wrists. He leaned down in the new position, dragging their joined arms up towards the headboard. The hands that tightened on his wrists felt like manacles, and the grip was rough enough that Tsuna just knew he would wake up with a very interesting set of bruises around each wrist. Xanxus made no move to let go or to change their position again, instead lifting upwards to close his lips and teeth around the base of Tsuna's throat. Biting and sucking until Tsuna was trembling, fingers digging into the sheets behind Xanxus' head.

 

The ninth time was helping Xanxus prepare him, one hand free and the other pressed flat against the broad, scarred expanse of the older man's chest, with one of Xanxus' hands still curled tightly around his wrist. Then allowing the older man to guide him down, until he had bottomed out, nails digging into flesh as he tried to get used to the feeling again after going so long without. Then finding the right rhythm to rise and fall, hips pistoning and groaning at the liquid burn that dragged up and down his spine, the heat curling low in his gut. And eyes constantly darting down to stare at the sight of his wrists both held tight in a single, large hand. It wasn't even like his wrists were particularly skinny, just that...

 

“Fuck, why are you so large all over,” he mumbled, shifting his hands so Xanxus could tell what he was talking about. The older man laughed, breathless, skimming his free hand up and down Tsuna's back, the calluses dragging against his spine, and then dragging lower. Tsuna's breath hitched, nearly losing the rhythm he'd built when he felt those fingers ghost against his perineum, and staying there when Xanxus thrust up again.

 

“...pervert.” he bit out a moment later, still shivering under the overstimulation. Xanxus gave another low, rumbling laugh that Tsuna could feel beneath his palms, vibrating in the cage of the older man's chest.

 

“Surprised?” he asked lazily, dragging Tsuna forward by his wrists. Tsuna let himself get pulled, concentrating more on maintaining his balance. He barely had any leverage to move in this angle, but the hand low on his back was just holding him in place, Xanxus building up the friction all on his own with every small circle his hips made. Tsuna was very nearly dissatisfied, he missed being able to move faster, but the slow build of heat at the base of his spine with each pass had his lips parting around a slow, shuddering breath, one that he quickly lost to the lips that slid across his.

 

“Not really,” he gasped, when he came up for air, finally replying to the question Xanxus had asked minutes back. And getting treated to the sight of the older man actually rolling his eyes before he dragged Tsuna down again, lips swallowing down any protests at the rough motion.

 

The ninth time was lying in bed in the aftermath, facing each other for the first time in any of the liaisons they'd had had together. It was reaching up to thumb the tired sag of skin beneath Xanxus' eyes, and having Xanxus' hand come up to close around his wrist again, but not forcing him to stop.

 

“Xanxus,” he said quietly. The man hummed under his breath, and dragged him close to swallow down the words he didn't want to hear. Tsuna sighed, mentally, and accepted that Xanxus wouldn't let him voice them any time soon. He let himself be kissed breathless again, once, twice, thrice, each kiss melting into the last until he found himself trading open mouthed kisses all over again, trembling all over and feeling the embers of heat rekindling at the base of his spine. He pulled away with a gasp, frowning and saying that he didn't need to start something he wasn't planning finishing.

 

A raised eyebrow, somehow mocking and arrogant all at once, and Xanxus dragged him back again.

 

“Who said anything about not finishing?” he growled out, and Tsuna managed to let out a single, startled laugh before he was lost in the mind-numbing heat of the mouth that worked him open.

 

The next day, when he made his way out of Xanxus' rooms and had to face an intimidatingly smug Squalo and a Takeshi that was horrified and amused in equal measure, he wondered why he hadn't prepared himself for affection instead. Not the soft and, as Kyoya would say, herbivorous affection that he'd seen among classmates when he'd been at the university, but the harder, real kind that spoke of trust and loyalty.

 

They'd had no real words to discuss whether Xanxus would continue to side with the Vongola during Tsuna's tenure, but Tsuna found that he didn't really need to ask. Xanxus considered himself a part of the Vongola the way human beings considered breathing necessary to life. Whoever was in charge, he would continue to consider the Varia affiliated with the Vongola as a whole. It was another matter if he would accept the person in power, but Tsuna didn't think he had any trouble there.

 

Well done, he'd said, two years ago. And Tsuna'd whispered them back this morning, when Xanxus awoke to face the day and a world without his father's shadow hanging over him. The man had looked disturbed for all of a second before he'd dissolved into laughter, nearly choking on it as Tsuna had once, years ago. Tsuna stayed by his side, and let the older man hold onto his wrists until he lost all feeling in them.

 

Only you, you sentimental fucking trash. Only you would fucking remember what I said when you'd been fucking drunk, two whole fucking years ago.

 

That makes the two of us, then, he'd replied, or else how would you know what I was talking about?

 

Xanxus continued to laugh, shaking with the effort of holding the hysteria at bay. Tsuna remained where he was, a silent spectator to the sight, as his guardians had once been for him. He would have called Xanxus' guardians in to help, but he didn't think the older man would appreciate having anyone else nearby in his moment of weakness. Tsuna was bad enough by himself.

 

That, and he just didn't want to know how Leviathan would react to seeing his beloved boss naked in bed with someone else. Xanxus would be safe, but Tsuna had no interest in dying after being electrocuted by an over-possessive Lightning Guardian. In the buff, at that.

 

“Tsuna, you should... probably wear a scarf, when you're moving around the main house,” Takeshi said from the front seat. Voice carefully nonchalant.

 

Tsuna rolled his eyes.

 

“So I don't look like I've been mauled or so Hayato doesn't declare war on the Varia for the sake of my non-existent virtue?” he asked mildly, grinning when Takeshi choked and nearly lost control over the car. He was a little more perturbed when Takeshi pointedly pulled over at the first opportunity he got to actually turn around and stare at him.

 

“Tsuna. We're here for a funeral.

 

By the Primo's blessed, expressionless face. He actually sounded disappointed. Tsuna stared back at him, expression not changing.

 

Tsuna. I'm not the one who's supposed to be your voice of reason!”

“Then don't be. Weren't you the one who said the lower ranks were filled with gossip about the two of us? Reborn asked me about it yesterday at the meeting. Ganauche asked me about it at lunch. Everyone. Knows.”

 

“That isn't the point, Tsuna – okay, look, just come here.”

 

Tsuna leaned forward obediently, and was shocked when he felt the tell-tale itch of a low level illusion settling over his skin. He gaped at Takeshi in disbelief.

“Takeshi.”

 

Takeshi gave a nervous laugh, and turned the key in the ignition.

 

“That should hide them from anyone looking on the surface. And we can get Ryohei to heal them to some extent afterwards.”

 

Takeshi,” he repeated. He didn't actually need to finish the sentence. His horror at seeing Takeshi using mist flames spoke for itself.

 

When Takeshi pulled back into traffic, he pointedly didn't meet Tsuna's gaze in the rear view mirror. Tsuna continued to try and guilt him into speaking, but it didn't work. There were very few people who were more stubborn than him, but Takeshi could definitely count as one. When he still hadn't met with success in the time it took to return to the Main House, he resigned himself to speaking with Chrome at the next available opportunity.

 

Chrome was going to be either amused or appalled. He didn't know which reaction would be worse. It wasn’t even the fact that Takeshi’s basic nature had shifted enough to allow him to manifest mist flames - which by itself was something which would have Hayato foaming at the mouth, no doubt. No, what was worse was how he’d learnt how to use them in such a subtle way in the first place.

 

He didn’t know why he was so surprised. Takeshi was the very embodiment of subtlety, after all.

 

(Except for those times when he was most emphatically not.)

 

By the time they’d returned to the estate, Tsuna had resigned himself to feeling uncomfortable about the illusion coating his skin. Since it was either that or wear a scarf of some sort – he didn’t plan to let Onii-san heal any of the bruises lining his throat. And a scarf would only make things more obvious. It was only after yet another of the men manning the path to the front door from the drive way gave him a second glance, brows visibly rising up, that Tsuna started to understand why Takeshi had reacted the way he did.

 

He wasn’t ashamed of a single one of the marks left behind on his skin, hell, he’d left just as many on Xanxus. But the sheer horror on the face of one of the maids further into the estate, first looking vaguely amused and then simply terrified, that made him wonder if they shouldn’t have just insisted that Onii-san or Chrome meet up with them outside the main house to get rid of the evidence first. It wasn’t disgust at the thought of a homosexual relationship amongst the more traditional members of the Famiglia stationed at the Vongola Estate, and it wasn’t even disgust about Tsuna’s chosen partner being Xanxus, of all people. No, the expression on the faces of those who were glancing at him in fear and then quickly looking away all reminded him of the way most of the Family had feared him before he’d broken down and returned to Namimori.

 

“Why are they more terrified than disapproving of Xanxus and me getting along?” he asked blankly. Hayato, still in the throes of a fit of fury over the marks on Tsuna’s throat once Takeshi had removed the illusion, paused in the midst of his pacing to give Tsuna a sharp look.

 

“Did anyone imply anything untoward, Juudaime?” he asked, fingers twitching restlessly. Eying them for a single moment, Tsuna wondered if Hayato was unconsciously reaching for a cigarette or a stick of dynamite. Knowing him, both had equal odds.

 

“No one said anything,” Takeshi commented mildly, leaning against a wall. Hayato whirled on him with a scowl.

 

“They had better have not. Stupid fucking baseball idiot, you were supposed to be keeping an eye on him! Oh, Juudaime…”

 

Tsuna suffered the fretting like a champ, trying and failing to hide the fond smile that kept rising up on his face while Hayato fluttered around him, looking pained whenever his eyes caught on the bruises again. Tsuna could see Takeshi quietly choking on his laughter where he stood, face turned away so he didn’t catch Hayato’s attention again.

 

“How dare he, how dare he… Look at your skin, Juudaime!” Hayato wailed suddenly, making Tsuna jump in surprise.

 

Hayato. Stop that. They’re just-” he began, exasperated despite himself, but Hayato cut him off.

 

“They’re what, Juudaime?! You look like you were-were- chewed on by an animal!” he snapped, for once too overcome with worry to actually watch what he was saying. The very sight of Hayato not acting like an overenthusiastic yes-man should have been enough to make Tsuna accept everything he was saying with a smile, even if that would have simply irritated Hayato further, but…

 

“If you think this is bad, you should see his back.” Tsuna shot back blandly.

 

That took roughly two seconds to compute. Tsuna could actually see the moment in which Hayato figured out what he was implying, because he went red all over and began spluttering in shock. Which didn’t help much – Takeshi actually managed to keel over, wheezing helplessly.

 

Juudaime!” Hayato yelped, once he managed to get himself under control again.

 

“What, Hayato. They’re love bites. You should know what they are, you were single-handedly responsible for half the love bites left on the student population back when we were in high school.”

 

“He’s got a point, Hayato,” Takeshi said breathlessly, still snickering to himself where he was curled up on the ground.

 

Hayato shot him a dirty look, still as red as he’d been before, but there was an air of resignation about him now. And, was that wry amusement in his eyes? Tsuna hurriedly adopted a solemn expression when Hayato eyed him suspiciously, but it took effort to actually keep it there. Especially when he noticed the way Takeshi was leering at him from the carpeted floor from behind Hayato.

 

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Chrome hummed philosophically, much later, the touch of her fingers delicate and light against his throat as she weaved shadows and mist together to create a false knitting of skin on top of his own. The difference in quality was immediately apparent, since Chrome’s illusion didn’t itch nearly as much as Takeshi’s had. The slow tilt of her head as she watched him said that she’d noticed the way Tsuna had relaxed soon after she’d withdrawn her fingers.

 

“The problem here, is that I’m not a goose and Juudaime is most definitely not a gander.” Hayato was grumbling to himself, still hovering fretfully behind Tsuna. Takeshi, who had somehow managed to keep snickering softly to himself through the day, patted him comfortingly on the back. Then bent backwards like a willow, easily avoiding the openhanded whack Hayato had aimed for his head.

 

“No, Gokudera-san, the problem here is not the question of geese, or if either you or Boss qualify as geese. It’s the question of where exactly Yamamoto-san learnt to use mist flames.” Chrome murmured, her voice sweet.

 

Takeshi’s snickers cut out rather abruptly. His sudden silence was made more apparent by the way Hayato had gone still beside him. Tsuna laughed nervously, and slowly backed away from all three of them.

 

“Thanks, Chrome! Please let me know when Mukuro arrives, ok? I’ll see you later, Hayato, Takeshi,” and with that, he ducked out the door of their suite of rooms, feeling oddly as though he’d somehow missed being hit by an anti-tank missile.

 

The burst of noise behind him has him rushing to leave the rooms far behind. While he wanted answers about Takeshi’s unexpected proficiency with mist flames, he really didn’t want to get involved with that particular explosion waiting to happen. It wasn’t even that Takeshi had learnt how to use Mist flames from someone outside the family – though Mukuro was bound to have some issues of jealousy even if Chrome didn’t, he could be an overpossessive bastard that way – it was that Takeshi had changed enough to develop some level of proficiency with them.

 

He’s just wondering if he should make a detour to the kitchens to see if anyone would be willing to offer him some breakfast, seeing as he’d left the Varia compound with absolutely nothing to eat and had no wish to brave the dining hall all on his own, not when nearly everyone he’d come across had stared at him with a mixture of amusement and horror, when a maid stepped out of a side corridor, wringing her hands and looking as though she wants to say something. But, at the same time, seemed far too unnerved by him to ever consider doing so on her own.

 

Tsuna frowned at her, trying to remember if she’d been at the estate before he left, and decided that she looked too young to have been around two years ago. He gave a strained smile, giving her a silent go ahead to speak, and wished privately to himself that she’d caught him when he’d been further away from the suite of rooms that had been left to him and his guardians.

 

“…taught by some meagrely gifted, uncreative filth who knows absolutely nothing of the art-!”

 

Eyes going wide, he hurriedly took the maid by the shoulders and steered her away. It had been a while since he’d heard Mukuro let loose like that, raised voice, snide and arrogant in the same breath. It’s only when he’s far enough away from the suites that he can no longer hear his friends squabbling that he realises the maid is quivering beneath his hands. He lets go as though burnt to the quick.

 

Clearing his throat uncomfortably, Tsuna looked aside while the maid shuffled away from him, too obvious in her attempt to hide her unease. What in the world had the rest of the help at the estate been spreading if this was how the new maids were reacting to him?

 

“Yes, Miss…?”

 

“C-Carina, sir,” she squeaked. Then looked down quickly, wringing her hands again. Tsuna winced, but he really didn’t know what he could say to calm her down.

 

“How can I help you, Miss Carina?” he asked. His politeness seemed to shock her out of whatever strange stupor she’d found herself in, and she looked up with an alarmed expression on her face.

 

“Y-You don’t have to call me that, sir!” she squeaked again. Something about her demeanour made Tsuna feel strangely nostalgic – maybe it was the age? The awkwardness?

 

Definitely the squeaking, Dame-Tsuna, said the voice in his head that sounded too close to Reborn for comfort.

 

“Miss Carina,” he repeated firmly, frowning at her when she made to interrupt him. She flinched, and looked down. Eying her, he wondered where all the effort he’d made to get friendly with the help at the estate had gone. The innumerable butlers, maids, guards, gardeners and even the kitchen staff – there had been a time when Tsuna had been on first name terms with nearly everyone in the estate and its grounds. And somehow, over time, he’d just stopped paying attention.

 

Then again, as Reborn’s voice whispered rather insidiously in his head, he could just be getting overly melodramatic. And Carina was just particularly shy. Or awkward because of the rumours that had been flying back and forth since Takeshi and he had returned from the compound.

 

“-ir!”

 

It took a second before her voice actually got through the haze of his thoughts. Smiling sheepishly, he gestured for her to continue. Thankfully, somewhere in between her feeling embarrassed and him getting lost in his head, she seemed to have managed to steel herself to actually speak.

 

“Sir, Sir Coyote wished to speak to you,” she said, once Tsuna actually focused on her. Still awkward and uneasy, only wanting to get done with the task set to her. Quelling the urge to either throw his arms up and rail at whatever higher power had putting him through shit since he was fifteen and simply sagging to the floor with a groan, neither of which would increase Carina’s faith in his sanity, instead he offered her another smile.

 

“And where might I find Coyote, Miss Carina?”

 

The maid actually blushed a soft pink, and murmured that she was asked to lead him to the library.

 

By the time the two had reached the doors to the main library, Tsuna had managed to calm Carina down to the point where she wasn’t hunching her shoulders in discomfort every time she caught sight of him in the corner of her gaze. She was actually looking embarrassed and… surprised? Pleasantly surprised. Fond.

 

Good work, Dame-Tsuna, murmured Reborn’s voice in his head. Closely followed with a mental cheer in what sounded disturbingly close to Hayato’s voice. Good work, right. He’d managed to convince at least one maid that he wasn’t going to have a meltdown and slaughter everyone in the estate in cold blood with Xanxus at his side. How was this an improvement? The fact that the new members actually felt they had reason to be scared meant there was some other underlying problem that needed to be fixed.

 

There was time enough to build his connections again, no doubt. He wasn’t the same person anymore; the bright eyed and mostly innocent fifteen year old that had travelled from Namimori to Sicily the first time around had been laid to rest at some point in the last seven years. But he wasn’t drowning in the blood and madness that were his inheritance from Jii-chan either. Timoteo wasn’t a good father, he wasn’t necessarily a kind or good man. He’d made enough mistakes in his life and each and every one had their own pound of flesh and blood tied to them. But he’d given Tsuna his space, had let him leave when he realised that he really needed it. And Tsuna felt lighter now. The history of blood and madness that had corrupted the Vongola were still there, every reason that Carina and the rest of the new staff might have to fear him were still simmering in his head, in all their heads. It was their inheritance, even if Tsuna already knew for a fact that they were an inheritance that Primo would never had wanted to share with him.

 

But he wasn’t ruled by that inheritance. Not anymore. Not more than Xanxus was ruled by the spectre of his father.

 

Well done, whispered a voice in his head, when he stepped through the doors to the library.

 

He wasn’t quite sure whose voice it was anymore.

 

*

By the time he was escorted to one of the pretty little tables set aside in the sun room connected to the library, Tsuna already knew that the conversation was going to something he would really rather not be having. The sight of Coyote, already seated and sipping from a delicate porcelain cup, biscuits, little sandwiches and tiny pastries of all sorts spread out on top of the lace covered surface of the table in front of him, in lieu of an actual breakfast, had Tsuna stuttering to a halt.

 

He nearly backtracked silently, but the mild expression in Coyote’s eyes when he glanced at Tsuna over the top of his cup made Tsuna sag in place. That, and the disappointed look on Antonio’s face. The caretaker of the library always managed to bear the noise that Tsuna and his guardians had brought into his quiet space, if with a stern, disapproving countenance, but Tsuna had always been wary of the old man. The fact that Reborn was discomfortingly fond of Antonio in no way influenced Tsuna’s wariness. Of course.

 

“Sawada, take a seat,” Coyote called out, voice warm, once Antonio had quietly seen himself out. Tsuna sighed, and tugged out a seat to sit down. He then reached out to prepare a cup of tea for himself, ignoring the amused look Coyote was shooting him at that little faux pas. He continued to ignore the increasingly entertained expression on Coyote’s face as he quickly arranged a little plate covered in treats for himself.

 

“Tsuna, you don’t have to be so defensive,” he said in a lull, while Tsuna frowned, torn between something that looked like a miniature cheesecake, and something that looked like it was stuffed with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Erring on the side of what-the-fuck-who-cares, he grabbed one of each and dropped it into his plate.

 

“Tsuna,” Ah. Coyote actually sounded reproachful now.

 

“Coyote-san. What is this?” he asked pleasantly, but only after he’d sipped down a third of his cup of tea. And had eaten at least one little éclair. Or, at least, it looked like an éclair. He still wasn’t completely clear on the intricacies of Italy’s pastries and food, to the horror of both Hayato and (more terrifyingly) Bianchi.

 

By this point, Coyote had started to look resigned, turning his attention back to his own tea and snacks. Tsuna’s words had him looking up, eyebrows raised.

 

Ready to speak, are we? His gaze seemed to say.

 

Only if you cut the bullshit, Tsuna tried to send back. Then hurriedly tried to edit his attempted telepathic message – he’d gotten relatively comfortable with Coyote and the rest of Jii-san’s guardians over the last few years, but nowhere enough to freely shoot profanity at them. At least not during a casual conversation.

 

Even if this wasn’t feeling much like a casual conversation.

 

“The preparations are nearly complete. Schnitten and Visconti both spoke to the priest, we have the date set for next Sunday.”

 

Tsuna paused mid sip, then slowly set his cup down. Coyote was carefully focused on his own cup, and even from the angle at which he was seated, Tsuna could see the way his fingers were curled far too tightly over the handle of the cup.

 

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Tsuna asked, regretful all at once. He’d been acting like a brat. With good reason, he always felt uneasy if he was boxed into a corner like this. And the stares from all around the estate had had him on edge. But that didn’t really excuse how rude he’d been.

 

“Well, for one, you can tell me if Xanxus is going to be present for the funeral.”

 

…then again. God damn it, Coyote.

 

Tsuna grunted, and grabbed his teacup again, hiding himself away behind the curve of porcelain and tea.

 

The serious look Coyote was directing at him said that the old man wasn’t actually trying to bullshit him anymore. But, how could he even ask Tsuna something like that?

 

Well, he has been throwing a tantrum for the last few days – the voice in his head sounded unnervingly like Takeshi’s, this time. Tsuna really needed to get rid of all these voices in his head. Even if he hadn’t been quite sane for a while, now, he hadn’t been troubled by random voices when he’d been in Japan. That, and Xanxus’ and Reborn’s voices sharing space in his head were already a sign that there was something wrong - how, exactly, had he managed to ignore that so well?

 

(The whisper of Xanxus’ voice murmuring Well done in an undertone, scorching across his nerves, said that no, he hadn’t ignored the signs very well at all.)

 

“He’ll come. There’s no way he won’t, Coyote-san.” Tsuna’s voice was harsh, unnaturally so, behind his cup. Coyote watched him closely, then seemed to age before Tsuna’s eyes, sagging in his seat.

 

“I’ve disappointed you.” He said softly.

 

Tsuna was very tempted to snap back a ‘no shit’, courtesy Hayato and the fact that sometimes it really was just easier to swear and get the pain out of his head and off his chest. But that wasn’t what was necessary right now. Hell, that’s what Xanxus would’ve done. Xanxus would’ve exploded if anyone had asked that question of him, especially now, right after Jii-chan had passed away. Then again, Xanxus’ rather predictable reaction was why he was the one being asked these ridiculous questions.

 

No, Coyote-san. You haven’t. It’s just… why wouldn’t Xanxus come for the funeral?” Tsuna asked helplessly.

 

After a few moments of contemplative silence, Coyote gave a low, sad laugh.

 

“The better question is, Sawada, why would he come?”

 

The question hit him hard, like a stiletto to the gut. Tsuna flinched, and looked away. It was a valid question, after all. At least on the surface. Nearly anyone who’d seen the screaming matches that had taken place between Xanxus and Timoteo, ending only when Xanxus slammed open doors and walked away in a huff or if Jii-chan chose to slice their argument down the middle and changed the topic to something more innocuous, would have assumed that Xanxus could only be glad to have the Ninth out of his life.

 

It couldn’t have been further from the truth. Xanxus hated his father, no two ways around it. Even if anything else hadn’t been clear to Tsuna, that one point had been absolute. Timoteo had made a horrific number of mistakes in his life and personal relationships, but the mistakes he’d made with Xanxus had always numbered far above the rest. And yet, despite all the hate and vitriol, Tsuna couldn’t help but notice that Xanxus had loved his father with all the desperation of a child who didn’t truly believe that his father cared for him in return. In spite of the ridiculous song and dance and the nine different times at which the two of them had actually given into the chemistry simmering between them, Tsuna had known that Xanxus would never support him as the Don of the Vongola as long as Timoteo was alive. That Jii-chan had died, died, in his sleep

 

Tsuna had been away for two whole years, but judging from the level of destruction left in the wake of Xanxus’ breakdown after he’d heard the news, he doubted their relationship had changed for the better in the time he’d been away.

 

When he looked up, it was to find Coyote waiting patiently for him to offer up an answer. He’d already prepared another cup of tea for himself, and was staring at something past the large windows all around them, sipping slowly. When he finally turned his attention back to the table, Tsuna found the emotion in his eyes to be perfectly calm. It reminded him of Hayato, in those rare moments when any kind of worry or care were beyond him, and all that was left was the biting intelligence that was so well disguised by violence, profanity, and delinquent clothing.

 

“Xanxus has every reason to be present for the funeral, Coyote-san. Jii-chan was his father, after all.”

 

Somehow, when the words escaped his lips, they were warm. Nearly affectionate, in a way that he knew he’d never expressed out loud before. Predictably, Coyote looked taken aback. The words were a simple enough matter to digest, but Tsuna’s tone certainly wasn’t.

 

Ah. Maybe that was why everyone found it so easy to assume that Xanxus was controlling him. It wasn’t love, it was barely like. There were times where they honestly couldn’t stand each other. And yet… And yet.

 

Well done.

 

Shut up, he ground back.

 

He was taken aback when Coyote suddenly burst into raucous laughter, hunching over in his seat. The sound was loud and sudden enough that Antonio came charging back, looking alarmed. It took Tsuna a few tries to convince him to leave, which he did, but not without shooting several disconcerted looks in the direction of Coyote, who was still bent forward, chuckling to himself.

 

Once he’d managed to get himself under control to some extent, though, it was only to offer up the words ‘of course’ before dissolving into laughter again.

 

“Of course what?” Tsuna demanded after a few moments, not having moved an inch from his seat no matter how tempted he’d been to do so. The boyish grin he was treated to was a shock. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Coyote looking so light hearted. The difference between how pained he’d been on first receiving Tsuna and his friends and now was like the difference between day and night.

 

“Of course Timoteo would be the one to understand whatever the hell is going on between you and his son. He would’ve been vindicated if he’d still been here,” were the words offered up before Coyote continued to chuckle to himself, much to Tsuna’s dismay.

 

He really didn’t need to think about Jii-chan and his guardians discussing whatever was going on between him and Xanxus. Heck, he didn’t want his own guardians talking about it, though that hope had crashed and burnt a while back.

 

“It’s fine, it’s fine. I’m fine, Sawada-kun, you needn’t look so alarmed. Leave an old man to his whimsies, hmm?” The wily little smile that Coyote shot at him was all Jii-chan, honestly. Tsuna drew himself up, wanting this entire conversation far, far behind him. The look on his face was apparently worthy of even more laughter.

 

“Thank you for joining me, Sawada. Be sure to keep in touch with the rest of us,” the old man called after him. Tsuna waved over his shoulder, hurrying out. It went without saying that the ‘keeping in touch’ he was supposed to do was to function as an unofficial middle man between Xanxus and the rest of the team at the estate, coordinating the funeral service.

 

He really didn’t need to think about Coyote unofficially giving him avid permission to continue whatever the hell was going on between him and Xanxus. Being Jii-chan’s Storm Guardian, Coyote was as good as Xanxus’ uncle, for fuck’s sake! And, and-

 

“Gah,” he mumbled, shivering in discomfort. Permission from the parents. What was the world coming to? Wasn’t Xanxus the older one in this situation? Shouldn’t he be going through these awkward conversations with parental figures cross examining him for his intentions? Not that he really wanted his mother or father anywhere near the Head of the Varia, honestly. Xanxus had enough of a low opinion about Iemitsu as it was, his mom really didn’t need to feel the full brunt of the older man’s disdain.

 

And there would be disdain, he just knew it.

 

*

 

“Well, why isn’t he here then?!”

 

The buzz of voices in the conference room came to a sharp halt. Tsuna, having been immersed in something Reborn had brought up, looked up slowly, not too sure about where that outburst had come from. Finding Squalo standing with a hand pointedly curled around the hilt of the sword strapped to his belt did not give him a happy picture.

 

“VOI! It’s Boss’s own choice to come and go as he pleases, trash! Who the fuck do you think you are to question the freedom given to us?” Squalo snarled back. And, oh. Oh.

 

A glance at Takeshi, who was already moving to stand, made Tsuna feel at least a little better about the situation. If anyone could slow Squalo down before he could behead the idiot of a capo, it was Takeshi. Another glance at the capo to try and verify who the heck he was because, honestly, there weren’t too many people who were willing to speak out against Xanxus when Squalo was around. Not when they weren’t relatively protected by the positions of an underboss. And definitely not when both Squalo and Lussuria were around.

 

Lussuria was still seated, thankfully. Onii-san probably had something to do with that – Ryohei’s hand was subtly curled around Lussuria’s forearm. The flamboyant man was very likely to be rather put out by that, but thankfully, he was keeping himself out of this particular argument.

 

The capo, who Tsuna tentatively recognised as Mario Agnelli, was young. And had been elevated to his position sometime in the last two years, when Tsuna had been away. About the only reason he even recognised the man was because he’d seen him around more than once in the main house, when he’d still been a soldier. And because Jii-chan had actually had some good things to say about Mario’s ability to work with and coordinate a team. The man had never served a stint at the Varia Compound, but he’d been good at his job. And was rarely reckless, current preoccupations aside.

 

“We’re nearly done with the preparations for Don Nono’s funeral! And your fucking Boss hasn’t even had the good grace to show his face at any one of these meetings!” Agnelli snapped, his hand slicing through the air like a whip in an impatient gesture. Tsuna couldn’t look away. This wasn’t misplaced, mindless quibbling, after all. For all purposes, Agnelli was well known, well liked, and had been in the good graces of Jii-chan for years. He had no reason to create a scene here.

 

Reborn was motionless in his perch on Tsuna’s shoulder, his still mostly toddler form preternaturally still.

 

“He has his reasons, damn it! Drop the issue and let it go, brat!” Squalo looked elemental in his anger, hair lashing about him in barely contained rage.

 

Takeshi, disturbingly enough, didn’t look too far behind him. When Tsuna looked around, it was to find that everyone was watching the argument with avid interest, there were clear supporters for both sides. And, alarmingly, a majority of the group within the conference room seemed to be rallying behind Agnelli.

 

“And what might these reasons be, Commander?” Agnelli sneered, his face twisted up in an ugly snarl. Tsuna tried not to groan, because honestly, the tension in the room was already thick enough to cut with a knife. In the process of lifting himself out of his chair, lips already parting to cut into the argument before Squalo lost the his flagging self-control, Agnelli’s next words brought him up short, something cold numbing his mind.

 

“Might it be that he doesn’t think it’s worth his time because Don Nono wasn’t even his father in the first place?”

 

Silence. The silence in the room was suffocating. Or maybe that was just Tsuna, still caught halfway out of his seat, mind blank.

 

He’d never quite seen Squalo with that expression on his face before, Tsuna mused distantly. When it came to anger, Squalo was usually the first to snap, but Tsuna had noticed over time that the swordsman’s anger was a front. Oh, he had a temper to rival the worst cyclones, words sharp enough to make it feel like they were stripping flesh from bone, but most of the time the noise was a front he’d used to distract people from his actual agenda.

 

When you’re known for being obnoxious and loud, it’s rare that they watch for the silent blade ghosting through the night, after all.

 

Takeshi’s tactics had gotten unnervingly similar to his mentor and friend’s, over the years. There were few people who’d seen him without a smile even within the Famiglia, and those that had seen him truly angry or disturbed numbered only within Tsuna’s inner circle.

 

It was starting to look more and more likely that the people within the conference room were about to be treated to the sight of not one but both Rain Guardians hitting that upper limit of their patience before they crossed right over into the kind of cold rage that neither was well known for. Squalo’s face had gone pale, rage tightening and chilling his features until they were nearly unrecognisable. Takeshi’s hand had curled around Squalo’s right elbow, but there was nothing restraining about the hold. Judging by the fixed cant of the smile on Takeshi’s face, that hand was as much to control him as it was to keep Squalo in place.

 

No one would ever know what the two men were actually capable of in a true, bone deep rage though, because that was the point at which Tsuna actually found it in himself to straighten the rest of the way through.

 

“Kindly sit down and mind your tongue before you succeed in hurting yourself, Mario.” Tsuna’s voice was a pleasant counterpoint to the harsh notes that had been in both Agnelli and Squalo’s voices just moments earlier. As he strode forward, both Takeshi and Squalo taking quick steps to the side to make way for him at the table, he noted from the corner of his eye that both Hayato and Coyote and jerked around to watch him. Hayato looked as though he was caught between looking terrified and utterly gleeful.

 

Unsurprisingly, Agnelli didn’t look too impressed. Baby capo, said Tsuna’s intuition. Or maybe that was Reborn actually murmuring in his ear – there were times, like now, when he couldn’t quite tell the difference. He had no idea when his intuition had started to take on the voices of his friends, and it was likely his imagining their voices meant that there was something wrong with him. But, as Reborn had said rather blandly when Tsuna had bared this particular worry before him, years ago, at least his dratted intuition offered explanations this way. And, right now? That voice in his head was murmuring that Agnelli was young, for all that he was older than Tsuna was. And, that youth meant he’d never interacted all that much with Tsuna, back when he’d regularly been around the estate. Before Jii-chan had started sending him off to the Varia Compound regularly. Before he’d gone from wide eyed 15 year old to whatever the fuck had happened to him in the interim.

 

So young… murmured Reborn’s voice. Equal parts arrogance and grim mirth.

 

He’ll never see what’s coming, trash. Xanxus. Now that was a surprise. Tsuna’s eyes shuttered, surveying the way anyone in the room rallying behind Agnelli had hurriedly backed off. Good.

 

Not everyone, though. There was another face that continued to look displeased, this one older. Lorenzo Abate, he realised, this name coming to mind much faster than Agnelli’s. Jii-chan hadn’t been nearly as fond of the man, but he had considered him loyal. To some extent. More tellingly, the man was old enough to remember the Cradle Incident. Well, well. Looks like Tsuna was finally seeing the dissent he’d been looking for, when he returned. Even if the men were expressing their anger in the worst possible way.

 

“The whelp may not use his words well, Sawada, but he makes a good point. Xanxus might have been left in charge of the Varia, but he was never a son of the Vongola. His lack of presence at these meetings does him no favour.” Abate’s voice was calm, a chill to his voice that Tsuna could easily recognise as studied disinterest. The words had Squalo gritting his teeth, and the growl that built in his chest sounded like it would be more at home in the throats of the guard dogs spread out across the grounds. Tsuna’s arms rose instinctively, just in time to hold both him and Hayato back on either side. A glance to his right told him that Hayato had wrenched past Takeshi at some point, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips and any glee that had been on his face earlier completely wiped out.

 

“VOOOOOOOIIIIIIIII! Who the fuck do you think you are to say that, you piece of shit?! Boss is the Vongola in all the ways that matter!” Squalo roared, but he thankfully didn’t try to break past Tsuna’s arm. There were murmurs of discontent around the room, but tellingly, none of the Ninth’s guardians chose to intervene.

 

Hah. As if Coyote’s murmured welcome at the entrance hadn’t been warning enough.

 

When Squalo looked like he was going to yell again, Tsuna shot him a hard glance, warning him to back off. Surprisingly, Squalo got the message with absolutely no prompts from either Hayato or Takeshi, who usually knew to step back just based on the look on his face. And the ‘quality of his silence’ or some such - he’d heard Hayato say that once and had proceeded to burst into laughter. Mostly because he would have burst into tears otherwise.

 

Maybe it wasn’t so surprising that Squalo could tell what he meant. They had managed to build something of a rapport over time, after all. The older man did not look happy, though. The dark stare he directed at Tsuna said as much.

 

When he turned his attention back to the conference table, lowering his arms, it was to face the stares of nearly everyone else in the room. Abate looked taken aback, oddly enough.

 

“Xanxus,” said Tsuna, voice low, “Is and always will be a son of the Vongola, Abate. It isn’t the place of anyone in this room to judge his right or worth to that inheritance. Timoteo considered Xanxus his son in all the ways that mattered, and no one in the Famiglia can say otherwise.”

 

In the stifling silence that followed his words, the only sound was the creaking of leather as Lussuria slowly straightened in his seat. Even the hold that Ryohei had on his shoulder did nothing to quell the hungry look he was directing at both Agnelli and Abate.

 

Agnelli made a rude noise, still caught in the grip of his anger. Or whatever it was that was making him speak, at this point. The capo was well loved, but Tsuna couldn’t understand why anyone Jii-chan had liked as much as he did Agnelli would choose to spread discord at the meeting. Then again, that could very well be the reason. Was he imagining some slight to the Ninth on the part of Xanxus, just because he hadn’t come for the meetings? It made absolutely no sense, Xanxus had declared that the Varia would follow Don Nono’s rule of the Vongola, after all. And that still held. They hadn’t had a chance to speak, but Tsuna knew even without discussion that Xanxus wouldn’t follow his rule. The coordination between the Varia and the main Famiglia would have to be reworked solely because Xanxus and Tsuna saw each other as equals – a fact that Xanxus would never admit to easily, but one that had been accepted at some point in the limbo that the last seven years had been. Tsuna wasn’t a ruler, he was the Decimo. Neo Primo, as Reborn had put it, years and years ago.

 

“Just because he’s got you bent over and bowing to his every whim doesn’t mean any of us consider him worthy of being followed, Sawada. The man is a wild dog, and if he can’t even bring himself to come to his own father’s-” Agnelli stopped short midway through, interrupted by a sharp, cracking sound.

 

It took Tsuna a few seconds before he realised that the sound had been his hands shattering the edge of the conference table. His fingers were still digging into the heavy oaken surface, and the only reason the splinters hadn’t bitten through his skin was because he’d had his gloves on. Even if they looked like simple leather and metal, whatever it was that Leon had created them out of, they could take much harsher punishment than shards of wood, metal and crystal.

 

Agnelli’s face had gone white, Tsuna noted distantly.

 

Hayato was a restless presence at his back, clearly wanting to intervene, but hesitating to do so when it was Tsuna who had been questioned directly. The members of the Famiglia within the conference room were waiting with bated breath, because no one, no one, had ever brought the matter of his and Xanxus’ relationship up at any point. Part of the reason was that homosexual relationships weren’t viewed very positively in the mafia – Tsuna would have to have been blind, deaf and dumb to have missed that. But, ironically, the majority of the reason was that most people were just too scared to bring it up or talk about it.

 

It might have been different if the rumours had sprung up back when Tsuna hadn’t had a reputation for ruthlessly burning the enemies of the Famiglia to death - not a reputation he wanted or was fond of, honestly. But Xanxus had been the bogeyman of the Underworld for years before Jii-chan had even considered Tsuna a possible heir. Once Tsuna’s equally terrifying reputation had been set in stone, even rumours of homosexuality hadn’t been enough to create discord among lower tier members of the Vongola.

 

Until now, apparently.

 

Tsuna somehow managed to force his lips into a smile. The grimace the expression drew from Abate said that Tsuna didn’t look anywhere near as kindly as his smiles usually made him.

 

“Is this really something you want to discuss at the same table as the one at which Timoteo’s last rites are being discussed, Mario?” he asked pleasantly. Agnelli was starting to look caged, especially when Abate actually stepped away from him. Tsuna was involuntarily impressed when Agnelli stood his ground. He was starting to see why Jii-chan had been so fond of the man. That wasn’t stubbornness in his stance. He’d made a stand, and now that he’d realised that he’d misjudged his opposition, he was still sticking to it.

 

“Commendable,” murmured Reborn, sounding amused. Tsuna raised the shoulder the hitman was seated on in a slight shrug, imperceptible to anyone in the room, but he knew Reborn would be able to tell that Tsuna agreed with him.

 

The man was dangerous if he continued to spew vitriol against Xanxus and in turn Tsuna, but if Tsuna managed to win his loyalty-

 

What am I even thinking? He thought despairingly, for all of a moment, before the cool warmth of his intuition and Hyper Dying Will brushed his concerns away.

 

“To answer your original question, consider this. We are talking about the last living son of Don Timoteo Vongola, Mario Agnelli. Ask yourself this – what reason could a son possibly have for not being present at the funeral arrangements of his father?” Mild. Mild. He didn’t let any of the cold rage or the discomfort at his core to boil over. That he’d chosen to not respond to Agnelli’s accusation all but confirmed that there was something going on between him and Xanxus, after all. Hayato and Takeshi had gone rigid behind him, and Squalo had whipped his head around to glare down at him, apoplectic. But, thankfully, not actually saying anything.

 

His words drew choked sounds from nearly everyone in the room. Coyote abruptly reached out for a chair and slowly collapsed into it, looking pained.

 

Agnelli, for his part still looked disbelieving.

 

“Only that he has no respect for the dead, Decimo,” Abate said snidely. Tsuna shot him a cool look, then turned his gaze back to Agnelli.

 

“Believe what you will. Xanxus will come for these meetings when he is ready, the preparations aren’t nearly complete. As for questions of whether or not either of us are bowing to each other’s will-” More choked off breaths.

 

Hayato actually made a distressed sound, staying in place only because Takeshi held him back. “Neither of us has reason to bow before each other’s will. We are the last two heirs to the Will of the Vongola, Mario Agnelli. It would do absolutely no good to-”

 

“Last two heirs?!” this was a new voice jumping in, from the back of the room. Tsuna didn’t get the chance to locate it before everyone else jumped in, just as shocked.

 

Exasperated, he looked to his either side, hoping for some help, but it was a lost cause. Squalo, Hayato and Takeshi looked just as shocked at his declaration as everyone else.

 

“But- he failed the Trial!” Abate said incredulously.

 

“Because I was the heir chosen by Don Primo.” Tsuna shot back, rolling his eyes. That silenced every voice in the room all over again. The silence seemed less stifling and more… uncertain. Even if the memories sent back along with them from the future had made top tier members of the mafia willing to consider, if not wholeheartedly accept, the distastefully… supernatural turn some of their affairs could take, that didn’t mean the mid or lower tier members who weren’t involved in the battles in the future knew anything about the manner in which the next Dons of the Vongola were selected. Giotto, Ieyasu, his however many times great-grandfather had specifically preferred him over Xanxus, but that didn’t mean it had been a unanimous vote.

 

He had once embodied everything Giotto had believed would fix the Vongola Famiglia. Xanxus, on the other hand, seemed a lot more in tune with the direction the Secondo had chosen to taken Famiglia. Which all the heads of the Famiglia that had followed him had been ready to shoulder with absolutely no qualms, from what he could tell. Tsuna had come terrifyingly close to walking the same path before he’d broken down.

 

But now…

 

“That would imply that Xanxus had been chosen by another of the Vongola Dons.” Coyote’s shrewd voice cut across the incredulity colouring the room. Glancing at him with an appreciative smile, Tsuna shrugged, and gave a short laugh.

 

“It could be. They didn’t exactly make all their thoughts known to me during the Trial. But from what I can tell, and judging by what Reborn’s taught me about the history of the Vongola Famiglia, my ideological stance is very close to the one that Giotto once possessed. Xanxus, though…”

 

“Don Secondo…” Astonishingly, that observation came from Abate. The man looked like he’d seen a ghost, glassy eyed and staring straight down at the table.

 

Abate’s words created a stir in the room, nearly everyone was whispering to each other, tones running the gamut between appalled and approving. Squalo cleared his throat pointedly, and when Tsuna glanced up again, it was to meet the swordsman’s raised eyebrows.

 

“The fuck, brat?” he asked in an undertone. Tsuna gave a low laugh, reaching out to catch Hayato by his sleeve before he could start yelling at the men still muttering angrily on the other side of the table.

 

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?” he asked pleasantly. Squalo snorted, unamused.

 

“I have no fucking clue if it’s the truth or not, but the way you’ve put it up certainly makes it sound like the truth.”

 

“Whether this is the truth or not is not for us to decide, Superbi. But it can certainly be considered a truth,” Reborn said cheerfully, sottovoce. The little hand that curled into his hair and tugged made Tsuna cough, feeling awkward. It had been a while since Reborn had been so pleased by something he’d done.

 

“But if this is the case, wouldn’t him having easy access to you be more dangerous, Boss? It would mean you’re the only reason Xanxus wasn’t picked as the next Don.” Agnelli said suddenly, cutting through the buzz of whispers in the room yet again. Tsuna looked back at him, surprised. Agnelli didn’t look as resentful as before, Tsuna could actually see a glimmer of respect in his eyes now.

 

Tsuna sighed, and shrugged again. But before he could say anything, Squalo abruptly stepped forward again.

 

“Boss,” he growled, clearly referring to Xanxus instead of Tsuna, “Has zero interest in killing any member of the Vongola Famiglia. VOI! Stop bringing up more shit to this table, trash. I’m starting to think it’s great that Boss hasn’t come to any of these meetings, or that zero interest in killing all of you would have hit at least ten percent by now!”

 

“Only ten? I’m setting it at least ninety.” Tsuna laughed, trying not to wince at the thought of what would happen when Xanxus got Squalo’s report on what had taken place in the day’s meeting. Because, after meeting him, Tsuna was certain that Xanxus would at least expect some kind of update in the proceedings even if he wasn’t interested in appearing in person.

 

Agnelli and Abate both looked revolted and nervous in equal measure, after that little discussion, though it had all of Tsuna’s guardians and Jii-chan’s guardians laughing, some as openly as Tsuna and others, like Hayato, muffling their laughter into their hands or sleeves. Except for Kyoya, of course. Kyoya had remained stationed by the door for the whole of the argument while it had been taking place, looking utterly bored. He still looked bored, though when Tsuna glanced at him, something about the set of his shoulders said that he was starting to get irritated, both by the unnecessary melodrama and the crowding that became more irritating in the face of melodrama.

 

“Ninety’s a good estimate too, brat. VOI! Hear that, fuckwits? Boss isn’t interested in killing any more members of this famiglia but the longer you two flap your lips, the more likely it is that he’ll consider a friendly bit of homicide to cull the herd.” Squalo cackled, drawing Tsuna’s attention away from Kyoya, but not before he saw his Cloud Guardian straighten with clear interest in the possibility of ‘culling the herd’.

 

Tsuna shot Squalo a narrow eyed look, trying to make him back away again. He really didn’t need to see Kyoya going wild now, on top of everything else. He could trust Takeshi to distract Kyoya long enough for them to relocate, but he didn’t really want things to deteriorate to that point.

 

Squalo threw his hands up, irate.

 

“VOI! Stop that!” he snapped. Tsuna blinked up at him, taken aback, but Hayato, of all people, snorted with laughter on his other side.

 

“Does Xanxus do that?” he asked, clearly entertained.

 

Squalo scowled and, surprisingly, nodded.

 

“The looks, yeah. When he’s in the mood to actually share things and not throw bottles at me, anyway-”

 

“Are we done?” Tsuna asked, quickly trying to head the conversation off. He didn’t need to hear his friends, his and Xanxus’ closest associates on top of everything else, discussing similarities in the ways in which they interacted with their guardians. The segue from Jii-chan’s last rites had gone on long enough. And, anyway, anything else that might be left to discuss honestly wasn’t anyone else’s business.

 

Agnelli and Abate finally drew back, though the looks on their faces said that this wouldn’t be the end of the problem. Not yet, anyway. Tsuna cleared his throat pointedly when Squalo looked like he was going to yell again. Because, the longer this went on, the more it personal the discussion was getting.

 

Xanxus needed absolutely no one to stand up for him, after all. Even if he did have far more allies now than he’d had in the past.

 

“We’re done. Thank you, Boss,” Coyote said seriously, drawing up from his seat. Ganauche easily drew everyone else’s attention back to the board again, and thankfully, the room was filled with the buzz of voices discussing a topic that actually needed to be discussed.

 

After the meeting ended and everyone was slowly clearing out to either head back to their rooms, homes or to complete any work they might have, though, Tsuna found himself slowing down by Agnelli in the corridor in spite of himself.

 

“Boss?” he asked, looked uneasy.

 

“Mario. Consider this. How would you feel if you were required to be present at meetings that discuss the politics of inviting high tier members of various Families and possibly other outsiders to a funeral when the funeral taking place is your father’s funeral?” Tsuna said, voice quiet. He could actually see the moment at which the idea started to set in Agnelli’s mind. His brows slowly lowered, and by the time Tsuna had sent him on his way, the seed of doubt had already been planted in Agnelli’s head.

 

Good. The more people who could think of Xanxus as human, the better. It might not be something anyone in the Varia particularly wanted spread, that they had real, beating hearts at the core of all the violence and murder that made up their personalities, but it was past due that the rest of the Vongola drew them in as allies, rather than thinking of them as the monsters to fear in the dark.

 

He wouldn’t make the same mistakes Timoteo did.

 

He wouldn’t.

 

*

 

“What the fuck, trash?”

 

Tsuna looked up from where he was comfortably ensconced in the duvet and sheets of his bed. Well, not precisely his, but what the hell.

 

“I was trying to sleep. Problem?” he asked mildly.

 

Xanxus shot him a look. A particularly virulent one.

 

Tsuna rolled over and tugged the duvet over his head, but he was warm and comfy for all of a minute before Xanxus tugged him back out of the sheets, scowling.

 

“Get your ass back to the estate, for fuck’s sake. What are you even doing here?” he demanded. Tsuna, dangling from the hold Xanxus had on the back of his shirt, tried to shrug helplessly.

 

“Can’t I just stay here tonight?” Tsuna said plaintively. The dark look that drew from the older man said fuck no, not unless he had a better explanation at hand. He sighed, and sagged further into the pull gravity already had on him.

 

“I don’t like the atmosphere in the estate right now. It’s irritating. I want to sleep without anyone whispering in the corridors.” He grumbled. The complaint earned an arch look from Xanxus, who simply dropped him on his ass and proceeded to stride out of the bedroom. Tsuna pulled himself up and quickly followed the older man out – just because he hadn’t been eviscerated for his presumption, it didn’t mean that Xanxus had actually given him permission to fall asleep in his bed.

 

“Here,” Xanxus’ voice was bored, disdainful and made it more than clear that he didn’t give a fuck what Tsuna wanted so long as he actually listened to orders given. When he actually stepped into the study – and, damn, Squalo worked quick; the room had been completely overhauled since Tsuna had last seen it – it was to see Xanxus hefting a stack of paperwork at least a foot high. Tsuna gaped at it, and him, in dismay.

 

“Paperwork. Paperwork.”

 

His voice had a particularly whiny note to it. He’d come here to get away from annoyances, not to add more of them to his plate. And paperwork wasn’t just an annoyance, it was the work of the devil. Every dull form he signed meant he’d signed more of his soul away. And too many papers made him drowsy, which put Reborn and in turn Kyoya on his tail. Because of course Reborn wouldn’t settle for waking him up with a simple gun shot, no, he had to set Kyoya on him, if his violent Cloud Guardian was anywhere nearby at the time.. Kyoya had always seemed so amused after those times, too. He knew exactly what Reborn was up to, after all. Far be it from his Cloud Guardian to give up on ready entertainment. Or a freely offered spar.

 

Yes, paperwork. What the fuck else did you think I’d offer up, trash.”

 

Tsuna shot him a look. And had the dubious pleasure of watching Xanxus’ eyes actually light up in lazy amusement. Colouring, Tsuna rushed forward to grab at least half the stack with a huff.

 

Pervert. I thought we could spar or something. I don’t know. I just hitched a ride with Squalo without telling anyone, and snuck upstairs before any of your soldiers caught me and tried to challenge me.”

 

Xanxus grunted, already disinterested as he stepped around his new desk and sat down.

 

“Set your ass down somewhere and get to work. “

 

Hai, hai. As his lordship wishes. Oh cool, Squalo got them to bring up another couch and coffee table for you. I’m just sitting here-”

 

“Sit the fuck down and stop yammering, already.”

 

Tsuna cheekily mimed zipping his lips and dropped down to the couch before Xanxus decided to brain him with one of his trusty bottles. It was weird to be doing this again, after so long. He’d nearly forgotten what it felt like, to hide out in Xanxus’ private study, when he’d been trying to get away from the world or whatever new assignment Jii-chan had come up with. He’d lived long enough in the compound that at some point, when he wanted to be on his own, it felt more comfortable than the estate ever did, without people hovering around him all the time. No one really gave a damn about him in the Varia Compound, after all. Except the challenges he needed to fend off or go through with, and the times when Xanxus decided that he could use a spar against another strong sky flame, everyone pretty much let him do whatever he wanted.

 

When he actually started going through the papers, he quickly realised that they were initial security measures the funeral, clearly based off of what had been discussed at the meetings so far. Glancing up, wondering if he was actually supposed to be the one looking at these papers, his gaze met Xanxus’ almost immediately. The older man stared at him, glanced down rather pointedly at the papers, looked up at him again, and then looked back at his own stack.

 

Making a face, Tsuna got started on the papers. Maybe Squalo and Hayato had a point. If his looks were anywhere near irritating as these...

 

Work, brat.”

 

“Working, working. Fuck, I swear you’re a worse slave driver than Reborn ever was. Why the hell anyone thinks you’re lazy I’ll never understand.”

 

“Less swearing and more reading, trash. Get to it.”

 

Hai, hai.”

 

He quickly immersed himself in the minutiae of the security details, glancing over what had been drawn up and calling out questions or suggestions when they struck him. Xanxus was surprisingly quiet company, busy with his own section of the paperwork. Neither of them had any reason to move, though Tsuna did smile gratefully at Squalo when the swordsman barged in with dinner for them both instead of one of the lower tier soldiers who usually got stuck with the job.

 

“Don’t need anyone telling Levi you’re here. I’ve got enough of a headache as it is,” Squalo sneered back, making Tsuna cringe in sympathy.

 

“And coffee, if either of you is up for it. I assume you are, if you’re still stuck working on this shit, Boss,” Squalo called out, whipping his head to the side to avoid the rocks glass filled with scotch that sailed at his head. Tsuna sighed, eying the glass shards and good liquor that fell to the ground after the glass crashed into the wall.

 

“Leave it,” Xanxus said after a moment, barely looking away from the paper he was reading. Tsuna and Squalo shared an amused glance before Squalo cleared out with a lazy wave of his fingers over his shoulder.

 

They continued to work even after dinner, until Tsuna found himself starting to nod in his seat. Between one slow blink to the next, he found himself curled up in soft bedding and silk sheets. Blearily looking up into the dark, he could only feel the hand that curled around the right side of his jaw, and the thumb that roughly smoothed over first the soft skin beneath his eye, then lower, fingers ghosting across his face to tap slowly against his lips. Feeling something hot clench in his stomach, he opened his mouth, lips coyly closing around the two fingers that gently slid in and nipping at their tips.

 

Hoarse laughter, at his ear.

 

“You’re crazy, trash. You hear me? Fucking crazy.”

 

“Probably, yeah,” Tsuna agreed, letting the fingers go and turning his face to meet the hard press of Xanxus’ lips against his own.

 

“Touched in the head,” the older man muttered after a moment, pulling away. Humming, Tsuna smiled up at him. Now that his eyes were starting to adjust to the sudden darkness, he could see the intent look on Xanxus’ face. Ah.

 

“Got Squalo’s report about the meeting, did you.”

 

“Shut up and go to sleep.”

 

“How am I supposed to sleep if you keep waking me up?” Tsuna grumbled, struggling with the sheets to reach out and catch the older man by the wrist, tugging him closer. Xanxus’ teeth closed on a hiss when Tsuna drew his index and middle finger back into his mouth, tongue surging up to slide against them. Smiling at the way Xanxus couldn’t seem to look away from his mouth, Tsuna slowly pressed both his thumbs into soft centre of the palm grasped between both his hands and followed the shudder the dual stimulation brought up with his eyes. Xanxus’ arm jerked slightly in place, and for an instant, the fingers in his mouth pressed down harshly, holding his tongue against the base of his mouth and not letting it move. The rough motion sent more molten heat spirally through his belly, only exacerbated by the way Xanxus wrenched his hand away, curled his fingers around the back of Tsuna’s neck and dragged him up for an open mouthed kiss.

 

Breath hitching, he reached out to hold on to Xanxus by the arms, fingers curling tightly into the loose cloth of his shirtsleeves. Groaning low in his throat, Xanxus dragged him a little further out of the bed, sinking deeper into the wet glide of tongues between them, till Tsuna could feel his entire torso pulled off the bed, held in place only by the firm grip at his nape. Making an incoherent noise, and feeling the blood rushing down from his head, he tried to pull Xanxus down after him, but the older man didn’t let him go.

 

Until he did.

 

Collapsing back in the bed with a startled sound, he blinked up at Xanxus bemusedly, lips and tongue still numb.

 

Xanxus took a ragged breath and ran a hand down his face.

 

“I still have work to complete. I just thought I’d drop you in here. Seeing you dozing on the couch was making me too fucking sleepy.” He ground out. Tsuna stared at him.

 

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

“Since when did I start make jokes, shitstain.”

 

“You make them all the time.”

 

“Like hell.”

 

“Screw you.” Tsuna grunted, irritable, turning over and burrowing back into his sheets.

 

That drew a dark laugh from the older man, and Tsuna felt a large hand close tightly over the back of his neck again, making his breath catch in his throat.

 

“Maybe later,” Xanxus breathed against his ear, teeth biting down hard over the lobe. Tsuna squeaked, feeling the heat from both the bite and the words lance down his spine.

 

“How exactly am I supposed to get any sleep now?” he demanded, arching his neck under that tight grip. Xanxus simply laughed again, squeezing once and letting go.

 

Tsuna could still feel the hold of that hand like a brand against his skin, long after Xanxus had returned to his study. Sighing, exasperated, he tried to fall asleep yet again. He must have succeeded at some point, because the next he woke, it was to a room that was still heavy with the pale greys and purples of dawn.

 

There was a heavy arm curled low around his waist, and there were teeth carelessly counting off the vertebrae in his neck. Bowing his head to the roughly affectionate gesture and curling the fingers of one hand around Xanxus’ wrist, he let his eyes slide close and just let himself breathe.

 

*

 

Another day, another meeting. Tsuna was quickly starting to get tired of the countless meetings he had been forced to attend since he’d returned to Italy. Thankfully, nearly everyone else attending the meetings were started to look equally exhausted, both mentally and physically. All of Jii-chan’s guardians looked like they just wanted to let their Boss rest in peace, without needing to deal with the intricacies and politics that went hand in hand with such an endeavour.

 

About the only thing that was interesting about this one was the fact that Xanxus had slammed open the conference doors and walked in midway through the meeting, closely followed by Squalo and Mammon and taking up one of the seats still lying free near Tsuna as though it were his due. Seeing as Abate had brought up his continued absence only moments before, everyone in the room was on edge. Not that either Xanxus or Squalo seemed to care about the tension that had sparked upon their entry. Squalo had parked himself next to Takeshi towards the back, Mammon primly taking a seat on his shoulder, and Xanxus had simply leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes and had seemingly gone to sleep.

 

Not that you could really trust the bored and sleepy façade he was offering up to the room at large. Tsuna had made the mistake of thinking he was sleeping when he was actually wide awake one too many times to trust what he looked like at any given point. About the only time he was willing to believe Xanxus asleep was if the man was slumbering in bed beside him. And seeing as the number of times that had happened could be counted on the fingers of one hand… Tsuna had good reason to not take what he was seeing at face value.

 

Tsuna ignored the looks the two of them were garnering from the rest of the room, and continued the conversation he’d been having with Ganauche in an undertone. A large part of the invitations had already been finalised, all that was left was actually going through the list to make sure no one had been missed, and that the smaller decisions, such as flowers, food, if anyone would be invited back to the estate and other such decisions were being narrowed down on. When Ganauche finally stepped back, it was with a smile, and he walked over to Coyote to share what he and Tsuna had finally suggested for the flowers.

 

“Couldn’t you just have decided on white roses and been done with it,” Xanxus growled, out of the blue. Tsuna managed to control the urge to jerk, even if his heart thudded violently in his chest.

 

“You really need to stop doing that,” he muttered back. Xanxus gave a rude snort, and raised the lid of one eye to stare imperiously at him. Tsuna sighed, and crossed his arms.

 

“We did stick with white roses, finally.”

 

“Only after having a deep, philosophical conversation on the merits and meanings of each shade of rose,” Xanxus somehow managed to drawl out the words in a way that made them sound utterly disdainful, and yet, they were low enough that his words didn’t carry further than Hayato and Hana, both of whom were seated close by.

 

Tsuna didn’t have to look back to know that Hana was stifling snickers in the sleeve of her black blazer.

 

“Hanakotoba is a great and noble art.” Tsuna replied primly.

 

“Sure. It’s great fun to send out warnings in flowers to fools who don’t understand why the fuck they’re receiving anonymously delivered flowers. Not that I have anything to do with that shit, I think Lussuria has fun sending people terrifying messages when they least expect it.”

 

“Fuck, don’t remind me. Do you remember that one time he sent out a bouquet of red spider lilies and red roses before an assassination?”

 

Xanxus didn’t say any, and closed his eye again, but his shoulders shook with silent laughter. Of course he remembered. Everyone in the Varia remembered that one. Everyone knew Lussuria tended to set his sights on young men. Or young dead men. He kept his interest and indulgences in the dead on the down low, to the point where all anyone heard of that particular interest were rumours that terrified anyone who heard about them. Rumours aside, and Xanxus had actually confirmed this one after that one incident, he kept his hands off anyone he was assassinating as part of a Varia mission. Tsuna hadn’t known that as a fact before the bouquet had been sent out, and watching everyone rolling in laughter while Lussuria primped at the bouquet had done no favours for his sanity.

 

The bouquet had backfired. Badly. Lussuria had spent over a month after that chasing down his quarry since the capo had spooked enough to hightail it out of the country in spite of being ordered by his Boss to stay back. The flowers were notorious enough that anyone knew what they meant together or apart, these days. Well, the symbology behind the red spider lily was more obscure if you weren’t Japanese, but pop culture had done enough to bridge that particular gap. As Lussuria realised in retrospect.

 

Hayato and Hana both choked behind them. Tsuna glanced over his shoulder to meet Hayato’s wide eyes when a sheepish smile, but going by the way his friend’s eyes narrowed, Hayato could easily read the smirk hidden in the smile.

 

“Tell Ganauche to prepare white lilies. Think the old man liked those,” Xanxus said suddenly. Tsuna blinked, dragging his mind back to what they’d been discussing before being distracted by ominous bouquets, and gave a soft smile.

 

“Yeah, Coyote’s already commissioned white lilies for the arrangements around the chapel and the casket. We were just deciding what kind of roses would be best.”

 

“Obviously white ones.”

 

“I know, wise guy, that’s what we decided on.

 

“Only after you wasted a crapload of time on talking about why yellow roses weren’t completely appropriate for the occasion and deciding that you didn’t want purple or dark blue tulips at the ceremony.”

 

“Well, Jii-chan is a Sky…”

 

“Have him wear an orange tie in the casket, then.”

 

“I’m not sure if that’ll be in good taste… And, anyway, white is safe, Xanxus. We don’t want to favour any aspect over another, and using flowers that are purple and blue, even if the meaning has nothing to do with the colour… Coyote doesn’t want to send out the wrong message.”

 

It went unsaid that no one in the upper tier of the Family wanted to waste time thinking about messages sent. But they didn’t exactly have a choice, not with the amount of interest Timoteo’s passing had drawn from other Families. They had been receiving condolences almost non-stop since Tsuna had returned from Japan, and he was already absolutely sick of it. It was both sad and a relief that Xanxus hadn’t been forced to wade through all those letters, calls and bouquets.

 

Xanxus pursed his lips, able to hear what Tsuna meant even if he hadn’t come out and said it.

 

“Are we having an open casket ceremony, then?”

 

“Coyote thinks that would be best. Nie’s been making sure that…” Tsuna slowly trailed away, not wanting to go into details about how Nie Brow had been making sure that Jii-chan’s body didn’t deteriorate in the days it took until the actual funeral took place. Tsuna would have rested easier if Onii-san hadn’t shared that particular piece of information with him.

 

Xanxus sighed, and waved a hand, not wanting to hear it.

 

“Posters? Are we calling in any prefiche?”

 

Tsuna blinked at that, and frowned.

 

“I’m… actually not sure. Wait, let me go ask Ganauche-”

 

“I’ll get him, Tsuna-sama,” Hayato cut in abruptly, and hurried off to bring the other man back.

 

Xanxus sighed lowly, and sagged in his seat. Tsuna smiled sadly, and didn’t say anything. That Xanxus had actually convinced himself to come in, when he still wasn’t completely ok, was a great enough feat that Tsuna found the actual interest he was taking in the proceedings praiseworthy. However nice it had been to wake up in a bed and not be tossed out of it, that Xanxus had been holding on to him at all said a lot about his mental state.

 

“Stop that,” he murmured suddenly, soft enough that his lips barely moved. Tsuna wouldn’t have heard him if he hadn’t been giving nearly all of his attention to the man sitting beside him.

 

“Stop what?” Tsuna shot back, not looking at him.

 

“Thinking so much. I’m fine.

 

“That’s debateable. At least you’re here, I guess. Well done,” he added the last words in a wry tone, glancing at Xanxus with shuttered eyes. The vice-like grip the older man suddenly had on the arm rests of his seat made Tsuna smile.

 

“Make your brain shut up before you hurt something, trash.” Xanxus hissed at him. Tsuna laughed ruefully, settling back where Xanxus straightened up, unwilling to lean back or feign sleep any longer.

 

Hai, hai,” he said comfortingly, inching away from the blistering look his words drew.

 

Just when Hayato had begun to make his way back, already in the process of explaining why Xanxus and Tsuna had asked for Ganauche, from the look of things, a particularly loud voice of managed to break through the otherwise regular buzz of conversation in the room.

 

“But what if we’re attacked while at the chapel, or in a procession? Surely some measures need to be discussed, in case the worst happens. What of the Carabinieri? The ROS?”

 

The voice belonged to a relatively young girl, only a few years older than Tsuna from the look of it, but still younger than Agnelli. Tsuna recognised her as one of the Mist potentials that Bouche had mentioned bringing into the Famiglia – Maria Gatti. Still relatively low tier, but Tsuna already knew that the conference room had a number of Mist aspect soldiers that had been brought in for the discussion of the day, to finalise any illusions they might have to contribute to during the funeral or the procession.

 

On the heels of that recognition is a harsh burst of anger, clouding his thoughts. It burns through his veins like corporeal fire, and before Tsuna quite knows what’s happened, he knows that he’s shifted into his Hyper Dying Will due to sheer rage, much like he had in the previous meeting. The lines of the room are sharper, the people before him at once less real and super-real. The very thought of anyone hitting his people when they’re down and in mourning for Timoteo, when he’s mourning his Jii-chan and when Xanxus is mourning his father, is anathema to him. The extent to which he felt overpowered by the emotion, fury incandescent within him, made him feel terrifiedexpectant. There was something predatory about the emotion, and deep within the grasp of his Will, he couldn’t have been more relieved when Xanxus chose to speak.

 

Xanxus’ voice sliced through the noise Gatti’s question raised well before Schnitten could even begin to frame a response.

 

“Don’t trouble yourself, trash. There will be no interruptions to the funeral, either during the procession or at the chapel. And, despite everything, should anyone be foolish enough to cross the Vongola in our time of mourning, the Varia will make them rue the day they’d been born.”

 

Somehow, Xanxus had managed to bypass the ever present Wrath that was characteristic of his temper tantrums. There was no all-encompassing rage here – and yet, even when his ability to feel any fear or remorse in the face of Xanxus’ towering rages took a back seat, Tsuna could tell there was something very different about the quality of Xanxus’ anger.

 

Self-possessed, he realised, his intuition chiming with agreement. Xanxus was furious, but it was a cold, poised sort of temper, utterly at ease with itself, with himself, in a way that Xanxus hardly ever found the need to express. The words rocked the room, and everyone looked caught between looking delighted and aghast at how calmly Xanxus had declared that he would go to war if anyone disturbed the sanctity of Don Nono’s, his father’s, funeral march.

 

In the process of smiling appreciatively, Tsuna could quite help glancing over at the corner in which Agnelli stood, surrounded by other soldiers and one other capo from the same generation as him. Agnelli didn’t hesitate to meet his face, but the man’s face lost colour yet again, pale in fear rather than rage.

 

“Juudaime, please stop smiling,” Hayato whispered urgently from behind him, finally having drawn to a stop with Ganauche. Pointedly speaking in Japanese, presumably because he didn’t agree with Xanxus’ cold hearted declaration.

 

“Any particular reason why? I agree with him. If anyone is foolish enough to interfere with the funeral proceedings, they deserve to burn.” Tsuna answered blandly, looking over his shoulder. From the shocked intakes of breath his words drew from the rest of the room, he realised belatedly that he hadn’t bothered to continue their dialogue in Japanese. No matter, then.

 

Xanxus snorted lowly beside him.

 

“He means, stop looking so pleased by my promises of man slaughter, brat,” he said snidely, choosing to speak in Japanese, in a rare moment of empathy for the pained grimace that had overtaken Hayato’s face.

 

Tsuna stilled, and felt the grip of his Will shatter in a blink. The room looked warmer, softer at the edges, and he could abruptly see the way in which every gaze in the room was focused straight on him rather than Xanxus, looking like they were seeing him for the very first time.

 

Hunching over in his seat, and raising a hand to tug at the messy fall of hair on the back of his head, he sighed. Even when a glance at Xanxus showed that the man had jumped from cold self-assurance to unholy amusement, he couldn’t quite make himself regret his words.

 

“It’s still the truth, Xanxus. Anyone who hurts those I protect can burn.” Tsuna whispered, more to himself, and those in his immediate vicinity, but his words carried to the rest of the room nonetheless. They created a sombre atmosphere that didn’t quite dissipate even after the last of the funeral arrangements were decided upon.

 

Reborn, who’d appeared like quicksilver on his shoulder the moment the attention of everyone else in the room had turned back to the actual topic of discussion, was a solid comforting weight balanced easily on his shoulder, one small hand tangled in his hair again. He could feel the weight and that hand like a staccato beat in his veins. Approval Approval Approval I approve You said the Right Thing We’ll make a Boss of you yet.

 

It didn’t help when he received bows from all the members of the famiglia that had been stuffed into whatever space was available, murmurs of Decimo and Neo Primo saluting him as they took their leave. Unnervingly, both Agnelli and Abate seemed satisfied, and Agnelli had had a familiar look of militant approval on his face that Tsuna had never wanted to see on the face of anyone else that chose to follow him. Hayato was enough for a lifetime.

 

“Juudaime,” Hayato whispered, and Tsuna sighed, weary. He collapsed back into his seat.

 

“I want to sleep. For a 100 years. This will be my bed, let me lie in it and pass.” He said dramatically, arms sweeping up and out.

 

Hayato stared at him, bewildered, but his words drew laughter from everyone else in the room. Kyoko and Haru were both sitting and giggling, not even trying to control themselves, and eagerly drawing Chrome and Hana into their little circle of laughter. Bianchi, still seated on the other side of the room, was chuckling throatily to herself. Kyoya made no move to express any open laughter, but when Tsuna looked at him, Kyoya’s lips were stretched in a hard slash of a smile, leaning into the wall by Takeshi’s side and patiently enduring the hysterical mess Tsuna’s Rain Guardian had become. Ryohei’s laughter was loud, booming and delightful to hear, outpacing nearly everyone else. Perplexingly, Squalo was laughing just as hard as everyone else, one elbow hooked over Takeshi’s shoulder and head tilted back to cackle uninhibited. Mammon didn’t seem like they were laughing, but Tsuna could never quite tell with them. For all he knew, Viper was roaring with laughter behind their hood.

 

It was only when Xanxus, of all people, set his hands on his hips, ducked his head and let low, amused laughter spill out past his lips that Tsuna decided that whatever was wrong, it wasn’t worth losing sleep over. Reaching out to tug at Hayato’s sleeve and inviting him to share in the mirth, he fell to pieces and laughed the laughter of the crazed only after Hayato had finally given in to laugh brightly with everyone else.

 

*

 

Rabbit and the Wolf. Wolf and the Lion. Which are you? Which are you?

 

It there pleasure in dealing death, pleasure in preserving life? Why were they so appreciative now, why had they been so scared then?

 

You took an oath to protect them, Juudaime, promised them that anyone who crossed the family would be met with hellfire and wrath.

 

What part of that is not worthy of respect? Of reverence?

 

Well, I wasn’t the only one who promised to do so.

 

More the respect gained, then. You weren’t here fifteen years ago, Juudaime, before Xanxus… disappeared. Everyone knew his name. Everyone feared his name. Half the reason no one crossed the Vongola was because Xanxus was the Boss of the Varia. No one wanted to be faced with him, it was the stuff of nightmares.

 

You took that. That. And brought it home. And the monster declared that it would protect the rest of its pack. The newcomers wouldn’t know just how big a change it makes, Juudaime, what happened today… You couldn’t have given Don Nono a better farewell.

 

I’m starting to forget who’s supposed to be the wolf in this metaphor. Remind me again?

 

Juudaime…

 

*

 

(There’s merciless and there’s a enjoying a complete lack of mercy. Tsuna knows which side of the fence he stands on when he’s still clearheaded, but sometimes, he suspects the man he becomes in the grip of his Will doesn’t quite remember which way to fall, when that fence goes up.)

 

*

 

There isn’t a single dry eye in the procession that follows the hearse from the chapel to the private graveyard back on the estate grounds. Tsuna’s vision had gone blurry midway through the service, and only Hayato’ and Takeshi’s presence at his either side ensured that he didn’t trip and fall flat on his face at any point.

 

The last few days had been emotionally trying enough to lead a man to drink. About the only reason Xanxus and Tsuna hadn’t given in to the urge, Xanxus moreso than Tsuna, all told, was because they had their guardians watching them like hawks. Two days before the funeral, when Xanxus drank himself to a stupor, he’d woken up to find himself tucked into bed with a pounding headache and every one of the bottles in his personal stock missing. Not because he’d finished them, though he had, apparently, come close, but because Squalo had seen fit to spirit them away while his Boss had been asleep.

 

Tsuna had been kind enough to spare Xanxus the indignity of his laughter, though it had been a near thing. For all that Squalo was supposed to be Xanxus’ rain guardian, there were certain moments at which he reminded Tsuna rather terrifyingly of Hayato.

 

By some crazy stroke of luck or, more likely, the efforts of various squads of the Varia out in full force, absolutely nothing disturbs the procession of dark cars moving silently down the road. Not a word is spoken within the car that he’s seated in, though Hayato’s eyes focused unerringly on the screen of his phone, typing out quick messages every few minutes. When they cross into Vongola territory, he finally looked away from his phone, heaving a sigh of relief.

 

“No trouble, then?” Takeshi asked, gaze as steady as the fingers he’d had wrapped around the hilt of the sword balanced at his side since they’d started back. Tsuna didn’t bother to open his eyes, certain that he would find out sooner than later with Takeshi asking questions.

 

He heard Hayato sigh again, and felt him lean backwards into the seat.

 

“Nothing. That was Bel reporting in, the last of the squads are following us back. The estate’s undisturbed.”

 

“Do we know if everyone’s going to be following us to the graveyard?” Lambo piped up, voice dimmer than it usually was. Tsuna had seen him sitting with tears following uninhibited during the service too. Lambo hadn’t been particularly close to Timoteo, but Lambo could get rapidly emotional if someone close to him was hurt. And, seeing as Tsuna had been very close to sobbing his eyes out if not for sheer willpower, and dying will… Not to mention the fact that Ganauche had been hit hard by the loss, even if he’d managed to hide the breath of that hurt every time they’d met during meetings. Jii-chan had been like a second father to the man, Tsuna knew. And Lambo was very fond of the older Lightning Guardian.

 

“No. Everyone invited would already have split away from the procession while we started moving back – the only famiglia still with us should be Dino’s.” Tsuna replied in an undertone, still not opening his eyes.

 

He felt Lambo nod against his shoulder, and raised a hand to ruffle his hair, ignoring the way Lambo was sniffling into his shirt.

 

“I’m surprised Don Nono was willing to allow the Cavallone to see where the rest of the Dons are buried, honestly… The grounds have been accessibly only to the Vongola for years,” Hayato murmured.

 

“I don’t think it’s going to be all the representatives. Only Dino and Romario are going to be there to witness the actual burial.” Tsuna explained, tugging his hand away from Lambo’s curls. Hayato hummed understandingly, and they continued in silence until they reached the graveyard.

 

He didn’t ask why the Shimon hadn’t been invited, if it was only the closest allies that were going to be welcomed to the burial. Enma had never allied the Shimon to Timoteo’s Vongola, after all.

 

Once all had been said and done (shifting Jii-chan’s casket to the open grave already ready for him, after the graveside service was complete and all prayers had been said, had Tsuna breaking into tears again, even if he wasn’t actively crying), Tsuna found himself at a loss for words, much like everyone present. Coyote looked tired, almost like a statue of an exhausted old man, and he stood much like the rest of Jii-chan’s guardians – solemn, head bowed in respect, and eyes focused only on Timoteo’s resting face.

 

Tsuna still couldn’t quite get over how peaceful Jii-chan looked. He’d knelt before the open casket at the end of the service, bidding the old man farewell while Coyote said a few words before the rest of the congregation, and all he’d been able to focus on was the fact that he’d never seen Timoteo look quite as peaceful as he had in death. When he’d finally found it in himself to stand once more, it was to find that Xanxus had somehow managed to sneak up on him in

absolute silence. Tsuna didn’t quite start, though. There was something that had gone raw in his heart, and he hadn’t really been reacting violently to much. Not that day.

 

Xanxus hadn’t had anything to say, then. Tsuna had glanced up at his face, only to see Xanxus looking just as exhausted as Jii-chan’s guardians.

 

“He looks like he’s sleeping.” He said now, after the casket had been lowered into the ground. Tsuna didn’t say anything, silent beside him. Everyone had murmured their leave takings, in some cases wishing Timoteo some measure of peace in Heaven. One by one, everyone invited to the relatively private burial had slowly drifted back to the cars, though somehow, Tsuna wasn’t really surprised when Hayato, Takeshi and Squalo all remained behind, if at a distance.

 

Coyote had looked sad, when he’d left. He’d offered Tsuna a smile, and had gruffly patted Xanxus on the shoulder before he allowed Visconti to pull him away. Xanxus hadn’t even looked at the older man, eyes still focused on his father’s face.

 

“He’s dead. Why the fuck does he look like he’s asleep.” Xanxus muttered, somehow sounding lost.

 

Tsuna gave a hoarse laugh, scrubbing at his eyes with the back of his hand, hoping futilely that it would make the tears go away.

 

“At least he’s at peace. He died in his sleep, Xanxus, how else would he look if not asleep.”

 

“If this is what death’s supposed to be, I want nothing of it,” Xanxus bit out.

 

It wasn’t like Xanxus hadn’t attended other funerary services, Tsuna knew. Hell, Don Ottavo was buried here, and even if Tsuna hadn’t ever met her except as a Shade of the ring, he did know that she’d been Timoteo’s mother. If the stories were to be trusted, Xanxus had been rather close to her, much like the rest of Timoteo’s children. They would all have been present at her funeral and burial.

 

Xanxus still seemed shell-shocked, though. Less by the funeral and more by the reality of his father being buried in front of him.

 

Tsuna gave a mirthless smile, and wondered where the heck all the people who’d been questioning Xanxus’ loyalty to his father were right now, when Xanxus did the equivalent of going to pieces before Jii-chan’s grave. The older man had managed to stay dry eyed from the morning on, not having shed a single tear, and he continued to retain his dry eyes now. But that blank, exhausted expression stayed.

 

He sighed, and lifted a hand to rest it between Xanxus’ shoulder blades. Dressed sharply in what was undoubtedly some ridiculously expensive tailored brand of suit that Hayato would have gone to pieces over in a happier occasion, and not a scrap of leather in sight, Xanxus seemed to curve inward on himself under the weight of his hand.

 

“Death shouldn’t mean falling asleep,” Xanxus said, somehow sounding wretched and bitter all at once, beneath the blankness.

 

Tsuna understood that, oddly enough. He really did understand why that peaceful expression had shaken Xanxus so badly. There was something terrifying, about seeing someone willing to leave the world behind with absolutely no hesitation written on his face. That it was Timoteo who’d died in such a way…

 

“It might not be how you or I would have chosen to go, Xanxus. But Jii-chan really would be happy with this. He would have picked this route if he could.”

 

When Xanxus stirred beneath his hand, blinking and looking down at him, Tsuna couldn’t help but smile up at him, wet eyed, sad, and yet, strangely serene.

 

“A death due to old age instead of war, Xanxus. And with the faith that he’s leaving the Family behind in the hand of people he trusts to take care of it. Why wouldn’t he be at peace?”

 

Xanxus stared at him, a little wild eyed, a little incredulous, and his shoulders bent again, this time with the weight of a dry laugh that seemed to rumble up from somewhere deep inside him.

 

“Maybe that’s the case with you, brat. But when the fuck did he ever trust me to take care of anything?” he said blandly, looking back down, eyes catching on his father’s face.

 

Tsuna could feel the ache of those words in his chest, but they didn’t quell his smile.

 

“If you’re asking me that question, that means you already know that he trusted you to take care of the family, Xanxus,” he said, expression softening when Xanxus shot him a disbelieving look.

 

“I never said whom he trusted to take care of the Famiglia, did I. You automatically assumed that I meant me and you.”

 

Tsuna could feel Xanxus go still beneath his hand, shoulders tightening.

 

“Well, you’re supposed to be his fucking heir, and I’m the head of the Varia. Even if you weren’t explicit, there aren’t too many other people you could’ve meant, trash.” He bit out.

 

“And yet, if he didn’t trust you, he never would have ensured that you remained in control of the Varia after the coup you pulled sixteen years ago.” The smile that cut across Tsuna’s lips as he said those words wasn’t nearly as soft as his earlier smiles, and even if Xanxus didn’t turn to face him, the way his shoulders shook with silent laughter was enough of a hint that he could tell.

 

They’d always gotten along best when they were at their worst, after all. That Tsuna had learnt to adjust to Xanxus even when things weren’t falling apart around his head… he still didn’t know what to make of that. Not now. Not when…when…

 

He pulled his hand away, and fell to his knees, perfectly graceless and artless.

 

“I’ll miss you, Jii-chan,” he said, kneeling there beside Xanxus. And he would. He knew he would. Timoteo had ensured years of pain and stress by declaring Tsuna his heir, not only for Tsuna but also for nearly anyone in a position of power in the Vongola. Tsuna had grown up far sooner than most, it had been hell, but ultimately, it was like life had sprung up amidst the rocks and sand of his peaceful, empty existence.

 

It had been hell, but in the here and now, Tsuna didn’t regret a thing. And for that, he truly was grateful to Timoteo. Jii-chan. He’d lost the only grandfather he’d ever really known – his father’s parents had died before Tsuna had been born, and his mother was estranged from her family. Timoteo was the only grandfather he’d known, even with the hell he’d visited upon Tsuna’s normal, day to day life. And he was gone.

 

“I’ll miss you,” he said, feeling the tears flow down his face. Abruptly, he felt the weight of a broad, scarred palm on the top of his head. He laughed, the sound ripping painfully from his throat, and ducked his head down under the weight of that support.

 

Timoteo was gone. And this was the start of a new life. For better or for worse, it was the start of a new life.

 

And, apparently, he wouldn’t be forced to shoulder that responsibility alone.

 

*

 

As far as swearing in ceremonies were concerned, Tsuna had to say that he much preferred this one to the farce that had been hosted when he’d been fifteen. No one else was present except for the three branches of the Vongola, for one. It wasn’t even the entire Family, though the party taking place in the lower levels of the estate had drawn in every member of the Vongola present on the grounds.

 

“…and do you swear to uphold the same as those who came before you?”

 

“So I swear,” Basil murmured, down on one knee before Iemitsu, Coyote and Xanxus. Tsuna hadn’t really been paying attention to most of what was being said, much to Reborn’s irritation. His mentor was seated on the top of his heat, tugging at his hair to make him focus on whatever his father was saying. It was an uphill struggle, because he honestly wasn’t interested. It wasn’t like he needed to pay attention to the actual ritual of the ceremony, after all. Either way, Basil would be the Outside Advisor during Tsuna’s ‘reign’ of power. He wasn’t even surprised that his father had chosen to step down.

 

Iemitsu had never been directly loyal to him, anyway. Not in his role as Don Neo Primo, or whatever the heck they were calling him these days. The soldiers seemed to oscillate between Decimo and Neo Primo, for whatever reason. He couldn’t quite say if things were good between him and his father, but at least he could say that Iemitsu actually stayed at home more often. Tsuna was just relieved his mother wasn’t being left completely alone anymore.

 

(“I’ll bring her back to Italy with me, if I have to. Don’t worry, Tsuna.”

 

It’s not like you cared to check in on us when I came back home, he wanted to say. Nearly did, when he saw that desolate look in his father’s eyes, but somehow found it in himself to hold back. He loved and hated his father in equal measure, and sometimes, the line between the two was thin enough to nearly disappear. Hearing Iemitsu’s promise to come home and take care of his wife only after his Boss had passed away did nothing to increase Tsuna’s faith in his dad’s willingness to care for his family.

 

Though his loyalty to his Family had the kind of unshakeable purity that Tsuna had seen in himself, and in his guardians. If this was what that kind of loyalty eventually resulted in, he might just have to ban his friends from building families, at least until they actually know what they were doing with their lives.

 

“I’ll come back,” he said. “But please book the tickets and come here as soon as you possibly can.”

 

“Hayato’s already booked the tickets.” He said.

 

“That’s good,” he said.

 

Tsuna cut the video call without much else said. What else could he say, after all.)

 

Tsuna glanced back when Iemitsu curled his hands around both of Basil’s shoulders and drew him up from the ground with a wide smile. Basil looked overcome, dazed, and bent into the bear hug that Iemitsu wrapped him in with absolutely no protest, seemingly grateful for the support.

 

“Next-” Coyote started, glancing towards Xanxus, but he seemed unsurprised when Xanxus simply stared back, disinterested. The byplay between the two had the underbosses and capos in the ballroom bursting into feverish whispers, with stares being directly at Tsuna and Xanxus throughout.

 

Tsuna had no idea why they were so surprised. It wasn’t like they’d kept their willingness to work with each other particularly secret after all. He pulled away from the pillar he’d been leaning against, since Coyote was already turning towards him, a smile on his face, when the buzz of whispers already dying away in the room were split apart by a single voice. A decidedly familiar voice, Tsuna thought, exasperated when he stopped to turn and look at Agnelli’s face. The capo had been turning up all over the place, again far too similar to the way Hayato had been in the early years of their friendship. He didn’t remember Hayato being quite this irritating, though that might just be the years and bias talking.

 

“What proof do we have that you will serve Don Decimo loyally? You took control of the Varia during Don Nono’s reign, after all.”

 

The words had more than one person in the room choking in incredulity, and Tsuna couldn’t quite stop his cringe. He glared at Agnelli, hoping that at least some of part of his thoughts, specifically the ones going what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-you-are-you-trying-to-die-young in his head, made it across to the other man. From the embarrassed, stubborn look Agnelli shot in his direction, they definitely did, even if the fool wasn’t quite willing to take heed and back down in the face of those thoughts.

 

“Like a moth to a flame,” Reborn cooed, hopping from his head to his shoulder. When Tsuna shot him a vexed look, Reborn met him with a bright, roguish grin that had Tsuna squeaking and looking away hurriedly.

 

“What is?” he asked after a moment.

 

“Oh, he is. You’re like a candle burning in a dark room, Dame-Tsuna.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean.” Tsuna grumbled, looking back to the front. Even if most of the members of the Varia looked close to lynching Agnelli where he stood, Xanxus just looked irritated. And actually managed to speak up well before Tsuna could even consider intervening.

 

“I don’t owe you or anyone else proof of anything, trash,” Xanxus sneered. Alarmingly enough, Agnelli actually looked like he was going to say something in response to that – at least, he did before Xanxus’ words flattened his argument before it even started. Tsuna nearly sobbed in relief in his head – he didn’t want to be stuck filling out paperwork to have the ballroom remade right after Coyote officially transferred all power over to him and his guardians.

 

Judging by the way Takeshi and Kyoya were eying the proceedings with increasing interest, it wouldn’t even be just the Varia jumping in.

 

Why me? He thought despairingly, trying to ignore the way Reborn was chuckling on his shoulder. At least he could be reasonably sure it was actually Reborn this time and not his intuition stealing his mentor’s voice to speak in his head.

 

“I took control of the Varia during the old man’s reign, but that doesn’t mean I was the Head for his generation.” the words were harsh, but they silenced the buzz of whispers that had been slowly starting up in the wake of his previous statement. Tsuna frowned, wondering if he actually needed to speak up, but a sharp tug on his hair made him subside, wordless. Reborn didn’t take his hand away from Tsuna’s hair even after that, his dark eyes observing the room as a whole, patient and predatory.

 

Squalo straightened up with a sudden jolt, wide eyed, and drew more than one gaze in his direction before they shifted back to Xanxus. Xanxus, for his part, folded his arms, and directed a hard look at Agnelli. Tsuna’s appraisal of the man was rising quickly – if he was actually willing to face off against Xanxus, of all people, he was either a fool or truly loyal to the cause. Or just plain stubborn, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

He could hear Reborn laughing again. And this time, it was definitely in his head.

 

“...and what exactly does that mean?” Agnelli asked, after a beat. Uncomfortable, angry and stubborn all at once.

 

Xanxus scowled, and jerked his gaze to the side. That he was now staring straight at where Squalo was standing was a coincidence. Of course.

 

“That you’re as much a baby as Sawada is, kid. And he was actually in a position to learn more about the Vongola and its history, thanks to the old man and Reborn. Tell me. Are you actually old enough to remember Tyr?”

 

Tsuna choked, and pressed his back into the pillar again. Because, if this was what it sounded like…

 

Reborn’s smirk was like the slash of a blade across his face.

 

Agnelli was frowning, still clearly confused, but more than one person in the room was starting to get hit by the same realisation that had rocked Tsuna backwards, unable to believe what he was hearing.

 

“If we’re actually talking in terms of fucking generations, then Tyr would have been the Boss of the Varia in the old man’s generation.” Xanxus said, and his words had the effect of a sledgehammer, careening into one’s face, unexpected. Or like a gong, reverberating through everyone still standing.

 

He’d never seen Coyote look that delighted before, Tsuna thought distantly, not quite able to tear his gaze away from the tall, dark figure Xanxus cut at the front. Xanxus was physically ten years older than him, chronologically eighteen years older if you actually paid attention to when he’d been born. And here he was, saying that he was technically a part of the generation that came after Jii-chan’s, even if he’d never publically acknowledged it before. That he’d always been the first of the next generation, even if he’d claimed to be functioning under the auspices of Timoteo’s control. Judging by the way Squalo had paled where he was standing, this wasn’t nearly as casual a declaration as Xanxus’ treatment of it implied.

 

It was only when nearly every face in the room jerked around to stare at him that Tsuna realised that he was snickering quietly to himself.

 

“Well, damn. And here I thought this was going to be easy.” He managed to gasp out, once he got the laughter under control. The bug-eyed looks that got him just had him snickering again, of course.

 

Xanxus didn’t look particularly surprised, obviously. Irritated, yes. Surprised? No.

 

“Juudaime…” Hayato hissed, actually looking worried, but Tsuna waved him off, stepping forward.

 

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Coyote?”

 

Coyote straightened up again, and gave a short nod.

 

“Of course. Tsunayoshi Sawada-”

 

Tsuna strode the rest of the way forward, coming to a stop before the three older man again, closely followed by the rest of his friends. His guardians. Jii-chan’s guardians were all drawing closer as well, and the tension in the room ricocheted from uneasy to anticipatory in under a second.

 

“Tsunayoshi Sawada. This is a gratuitous ceremony, when it comes to swearing you and yours in, and Timoteo would agree with me, were he still among us. You have been heir apparent for years. And so I ask,”

 

Tsuna no longer had Reborn’s weight situated comfortingly on his shoulders, the hitman had disappeared somewhere between Tsuna pulling away from his position by the pillar and his walking to the front of the room. And yet, he could still feel the weight of those tiny fingers, on his shoulders, back and head. He felt a grin stretch across his lips, fatalistic and calm in the same breath.

 

“Do you hereby swear to protect our Family, to uphold all that those before you gave their lives to preserve? Do you swear to take us forward, through the good and the bad, through times of peace and war? Do you swear to do justice to the hopes of your people?”

 

The weight of the words settled like the mantle of his and Natsu’s Cambio Forma over his shoulders – heavy and warm, like responsibility and protection all at once.

 

Tsuna smiled, helpless in the face of that warmth, and whispered his oaths to the men before him, his Family behind him, and to the Shades of the ring, still watching over the Vongola even after they had accepted Tsuna as the best choice for the Tenth Generation Boss.

 

Later, once they had all shifted towards the dining halls and the gardens out back, where food had been spread out for everyone at the estate, Tsuna found a quiet corner to tuck himself away into, a glass of wine in hand and not much else. Takeshi had been kind enough to let him go without making a fuss, thankfully, which meant that he would be stuck distracting Hayato for the rest of the night.

 

“Any particular reason you’re hiding out back here?” said an unexpected voice, making him start, nearly spilling the wine.

 

“Dino!” Tsuna yelped, looking up. Dino gave a bright laugh, and lithely leapt over the top of the hedge to crouch down beside him

 

“Hi. Why’re you so far away from the rest of the party?” he asked, still smiling. Tsuna gave an awkward laugh, and looked away.

 

“There are too many people, I think. And having everyone go ‘Decimo, Decimo’ so soon after Jii-chan’s funeral doesn’t seem right. I mean, it’s been a whole week, we’ve had time to mourn, but…”

 

“But having everyone looking this cheerful seems insulting to Timoteo’s memory, is it.” Dino hummed, looking thoughtful, and treated Tsuna to another sweet smile that had him going red.

 

“Dino-san!” he wailed, ducking his head down to burrow into his arms and knees. The wine really would have spilt this time, if it weren’t for Dino quickly snatching the glass away from his fingers.

 

“You’re really sweet, little brother.”

 

Tsuna scowled down into his knees, but allowed the older man to drag him into a half hug. Leaning into Dino’s side, arm thrown over his shoulders, he sighed, and slowly loosened from the defensive position he’d curled into.

 

“When did you and Romario get here, anyway? I didn’t think Coyote bothered to invite anyone else today.”

 

“He said it would be fine for us to come by and pay our respects to the next Don of the Vongola,” Dino said, sounding amused. Tsuna snorted to himself.

 

“Of course he said that. Was anyone else invited? I ducked back here right after the swearing in ceremony.”

 

“No one else, from what I can tell, though I think Enma might be coming by later in the day.”

 

Tsuna smiled at that. He’d heard from Hayato that the Shimon had sent flowers in memory of Timoteo, and Enma and Adelheid had come forward to offer their condolences right after the funeral at the chapel, but they had made it a point to stay away from the estate until they were certain they were actually welcome. Enma was one of his best friends, but they’d both accepted that Shimon and Vongola would have a strained relationship until everyone in the Family actually learnt to get along.

 

“So, any particular reason why my lil’ bro is hiding away and drinking himself to a stupor with no food on the side?” Dino asked slyly, mushing his face into the top of Tsuna’s head. Tsuna rolled his eyes, and pushed the older man away.

 

“You’re being painful. I’m hardly drinking myself to a stupor. You’re the one who actually finished my glass of wine.”

 

“That doesn’t mean you hadn’t finished more glasses before hiding yourself away here. A big brother is allowed to worry!”

 

“Very funny. Ha ha.”

 

Dino snickered, and ruffled Tsuna’s hair roughly, making the younger man flail, trying to get away before they both subsided into soft laughter.

 

“You’re a pain. I’m fine, Dino-san. Jii-chan going so suddenly was a shock, I can’t deny that, but I’ll get over it, eventually. Everyone’s clinging to me because he’s gone, they’ll calm down soon.”

 

“Such is the life of a Boss,” Dino said, voice rising up and down with a familiar cadence that had Tsuna bursting into horrible little giggles that he couldn’t seem to stop.

 

“Reborn’s going to shoot you if he hears you saying that.”

 

“Wouldn’t be the first or the last time that’s happened.”

 

“Does that mean you’ll offer yourself up as bait the next time he chases me?”

 

“Now that’s just cruel punishment, Tsuna. Not unless you do that first.”

 

You’re the one who’s been a Boss longer. More experience means you should go first.”

 

“But you’re younger and sprightlier. If anyone has more of a chance of success, it’s you.”

 

“As if.”

 

They grinned at each other, before Tsuna sighed, raising his hand to cover his eyes.

 

“Was I being that obvious?”

 

Dino snorted lowly, stretching a bit before relaxing against the tree that Tsuna had been curled up beneath before Dino had come hunting for him.

 

“Not really, no. I just remembered how I felt when I’d been forced to take control of the Family after my father died. Taking control didn’t hurt nearly as much as the way no one really hesitated to put their faith in me, even after all the time I spent not wanting to become the Boss. Enma would probably understand where you’re coming from too, if what I’ve heard about him is right.”

 

“Yeah, Enma’s just like us. I just…. I haven’t even been around, Dino-san. And Jii-chan just died. There’s so much happening, I just felt overcome.”

 

Even with his eyes closed, Tsuna could tell that Dino was eying him carefully from the side.

 

“Do you want to go back home for a bit?” the older man asked casually, and Tsuna felt his heart clench.

 

“No, I… No. I’m fine. I’ll be-” he broke off, shoulders slumping. He sighed, and accepted the hug Dino offered up as easily as breathing,

 

“Y’know, it hurt that my little brother never really said anything to me when he was going through a hard time. You broke down, went back home because you needed to get away from this life and I had to hear about it from Squalo.” He said quietly. Tsuna gave a wet laugh, and didn’t say anything, face buried in the older man’s side.

 

Squalo, Tsuna. It was all the worse because the idiot shark didn’t even look amused about the fact that I didn’t know. You don’t have to tell me what happened, as long as you did speak to someone. But don’t let yourself get pushed to the wall like that again. Do you hear me?”

 

“I do,” Tsuna said softly, feeling about as overcome with warmth and helplessness as earlier, in the ballroom. Dino was a living, breathing wall of support at his side, and it was so easy to forget that, for all that he’d grown up in the Mafia from the day he’d been born, Dino had never wanted this life for himself. That he’d become one of the most respected Dons of their generation was another matter altogether, he’d hated the thought of becoming a Boss and dealing pain and bloodshed as easy as breathing, the way Tsuna always had, before circumstances had somehow made him forget that. Had somehow made him forget everything.

 

He burrowed a little deeper into the hug, feeling more than hearing Dino’s surprised laugh, and accepted the offered comfort with open arms. He wouldn’t forget again. He didn’t think Dino would allow him to forget.

 

He wasn’t sure how long they stayed there, curled up amidst the greenery and beneath the open sky, but when Dino suggested going back to their Family and friends, he allowed himself to be drawn up and followed the older man back to the main house.

 

“Don’t hide from me next time. Ok?” Dino said in an undertone, just when they caught sight of Hayato, hunting feverishly on the edges of the wilder reaches of the garden that Tsuna had hidden himself away in.

 

“I won’t, Dino.” Tsuna said, voice equally as soft, smiling and waving when Hayato caught sight of them.

 

“JUUDAIME!” Hayato wailed, throwing himself forward to catch Tsuna in a bear hug that was one part relieved affection and three parts overzealous body checking to make sure he wasn’t hurt. Tsuna really couldn’t stop laughing, especially when they crashed into Dino and all went crashing to the ground.

 

It’s going to be okay, said the voice in his head. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it sounded exactly like his Jii-chan, this time.

 

Smiling, and trying to calm Hayato down while his storm guardian snarled at Dino for disappearing with Tsuna for so long without even letting anyone know where they were going, for the first time since returning from Namimori, he could actually agree with the thought.

 

*

 

Waking up with his body pleasantly aching all over, Tsuna sighed comfortably, arching his spine into the fingers coaxing the knots in his shoulders loose.

 

“That was a long time coming,” he said, smiling dazedly into his pillow. Xanxus gave an amused huff at his side, digging deeper till Tsuna gave a heartfelt groan, feeling something give way.

 

“You’d think a spar wouldn’t having you crying in pain by the end of a day. You’re out of practice, trash.” He said snidely, though he continued his rough ministrations. Tsuna snickered, curling around his frame, making the older man roll his eyes and pointedly clamp his fingers around Tsuna’s nape.

 

“Stop moving, before I decide this isn’t really worth the time and snap your neck.”

 

“You wouldn’t do that. Hayato and Takeshi would be insufferable, they’d drive Squalo up the wall.”

 

“And why should anything that happens to Squalo bother me?”

 

“Because then he’d drive you up the wall. If there were any walls existing by that point. Killing me would mean paperwork Xanxus. Do you really need more paperwork?”

 

“Good point, though I honestly don’t understand your fixation on paperwork, brat.”

 

Tsuna shrugged, shuddering when Xanxus’ fingers managed to unearth another tight knot of tension in his back, worrying at it till it gave way.

 

“Try learning how to deal with paperwork with Reborn at your back. It wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time.”

 

“I’m sure.” That sounded like a smirk being directed at the back of his head. Pulling away from the hands, he turned around to offer the older man a big grin.

 

“Should I be grateful I wasn’t thrown at any walls after spending the night?” he asked, laughing when Xanxus rolled his eyes.

 

“You should be grateful I let you stay at all, brat.” He said, lowering his hands again, curling the fingers of one hand around the side of Tsuna’s throat while the other went lower, holding Tsuna in place by the hip while Xanxus leant down.

 

Tsuna’s breath caught in his throat, and he reached up, slipping his arms around the breath of Xanxus’ shoulders while allowing his eyes to fall shut, savouring the slow lick of heat that curled through him as the older man pressed their lips together, slow and intent.

 

There was something filthy in the way Tsuna felt himself open up in the face of that focused hunger, unhesitant and groaning as Xanxus slowly licked his way in. There was a split second in which he hoped fervently that Levi wasn’t in the compound or, at least, that Xanxus had locked the door in the night while coming to bed before the hands tilting his head back swept his thoughts away.

 

“Is this supposed to be later, then?” he asked, breathing in heavily. Xanxus, in the process of licking down the side of Tsuna’s throat, paused, clearly thinking over it.

 

“…Maybe,” he said, and the bare edge of mirth in his voice had Tsuna turning and reaching to carefully rest the fingers of his right hand against the side of Xanxus’ face. Exhaustion, an ever-present rage and melancholy all fought for equal space in his eyes, but somehow, Xanxus seemed lighter than Tsuna had ever seen him to be, even if there wasn’t even a hint of a smile anywhere in the lines of his expression. What was more astonishing was that Xanxus let him look his fill, patient, till Tsuna finally gave in to the urge to chuckle hoarsely, tugging him down.

 

“Really glad you didn’t throw me at that wall right now, it would make things so much more difficult,” he murmured against Xanxus’ lips, and this time, he felt the way they twitched with the slightest whisper of humour before Xanxus let them part and deepened the kiss.

 

The tenth time was arching into the broad palms smoothing down his spine to the small of his back, desperate to move and somehow, for once, finding that Xanxus had absolutely no interest in rushing things. Even after he allowed himself to be tugged off the bed, following the hands and mouth back blindly until he found himself straddling the older man’s hips, Xanxus seemed to be satisfied simply holding Tsuna in place, carefully exploring his mouth with successive kisses that had Tsuna shivering, wild-eyed and feeling more exposed than he’d ever felt before in Xanxus’ presence, even taking all the times they’d had sex into consideration.

 

“What is it?” he asked, breathless, once he’d pulled himself back, holding the older man at bay only by smoothing the pad of a thumb against the line of Xanxus’ lower lip. The flesh was soft, reddened by the exertion of their kisses, and Tsuna felt like something molten had dripped down into his belly when Xanxus’ mouth opened under his touch, lightly catching the digit between his lips. Xanxus’ eyes were dark in his face, pupils dilated, and under the weight of that hungry stare, Tsuna found himself tearing his hand away and replacing it with his mouth, wanting.

 

Xanxus groaned lowly, jerking up to meet him, letting him take control of the kiss and clearly enjoying it. Tsuna hissed when he felt teeth nip into the edge of his lower lip, not hard enough to break the skin, but definitely enough to make them more tender. A tongue carefully stroked over the hurt, making him shudder, mouth opening wider with the need to taste more, to get closer.

 

Xanxus’ hands roughly smoothed down his back, slipping under the edge of the loose nightshirt he’d stolen to sleep in the night before, not quite prepared to make the walk back to his own room after he’d collapsed in Xanxus’ bed after their spar. Tsuna grunted, and pulled back enough to help Xanxus undo the buttons partway through before they both lost patience and dragged the shirt up and over his head.

 

Xanxus’ hands seemed as large and heavy as they always did, as hot as a brand against his skin and easily spanning the curve of his ribs on either side. The older man growled, and turned, dragging Tsuna back down onto the bed. Tsuna went down with a laugh, the easy strength in that careless motion making heat lance down his spine. He twisted his fingers into the cotton of Xanxus’ shirt at the small of his back, tugging it out of his pants.

 

“Off,” he demanded, when Xanxus drew away for a breath. The older man laughed – laughed – and sat back, fingers making short work of the buttons of his shirt and dropping it to the side of the bed with barely a thought. Tsuna got a hand around the back of his neck and tugged him back insistently, but Xanxus waved his hands away, instead pulling him up further on the bed. Tsuna’s mouth fell open with an appreciative moan, hips rising to meet the thigh that had slid between his legs.

 

“Xanxus-” His mouth parted around a gasp, pressing upwards when Xanxus closeted him in, hands pressed flat against the sheets on either side of Tsuna’s head, holding himself there and keeping their bodies separated by a fraction of an inch, just enough to feel the heat with an edge of not-enough-not-nearly-enough that had Tsuna grinding his teeth in frustration, reaching out to tangle his fingers in Xanxus’ belt loops and then dragging him closer. He could feel the bite of Xanxus’ teeth high on his neck, near the hinge of his jaw, biting and worrying at the skin till Tsuna could feel it throb. Not breaking it, but fuck, he was going to have Hayato grumbling about love bites in awkward places again.

 

The lave of Xanxus’ tongue against the bruise distracted him from all thoughts of his friends. He turned his turned his head and followed the tongue back to Xanxus’ mouth. He somehow got one hand free of the man’s belt loops, skimming it up along his spine and traded leather for strands of hair, soft and silken against his fingers despite how spiky Xanxus could make it look sometimes.

 

Hands low on his hips, urging him to tip them up into a slow grind. Shuddering, he went with it, feeling dazed with the heat rushing through him, not quite able to stop trading filthy, wet kisses even when short of breath, each one sending frissons of want through his system.

 

“Fucking get out of those pants,” Xanxus ground out, pulling away to duck his head lower, mouthing at the sharp line of Tsuna’s clavicle. Tsuna laughed breathlessly, and pointedly tugged at the belt loops still grasped in the fingers of his left hand.

 

“You first. Who the fuck wears leather pants first thing in the morning when they’ve got someone waiting in bed for them? Not that I’m not appreciating the view, but honestly, Xanxus.”

 

For one sweet second, Tsuna leant back and simply savoured the startled look that got him, before Xanxus gave a rough laugh, pulling away and meeting him with a wide, toothy grin that look just shy of something wild as he rose up on his knees.

 

“Some people actually wake up and complete their work in time, runt. Not everyone has the fucking leisure to curl up in bed for half the day, moaning in pain.”

 

“Who’s to say I wasn’t moaning for some other reason?” Tsuna threw back snidely, though his wry grin belied him. He really had spent most of the morning moaning in pain. Not even Kyoya could work him over as harshly as Xanxus could, mostly because Kyoya hit hard and fast and was more interested in the beauty of a completed spar, sharp and violent in its perfection, no punches pulled. Violence with all the beauty of perfect curve of a katana, drawn fresh from its sheath. It was probably why he and Takeshi enjoyed their spars as much as they did. Not that Tsuna really had any right to point fingers at them though. Because he loved the reckless, crazy spars that Xanxus could give him.

 

Because, Xanxus? Hit harder and faster than Kyoya ever could, by sheer virtue of the kind of destruction his Wrath flames were capable of. And he was just as happy to fight dirty if it meant the spar would last longer, till they were both battered, burnt and bruised. Kyoya left him with broken bones and a concussion, if he wasn’t careful. Xanxus left him battered black and blue with pulled muscles and scorched skin even if he was careful.

 

Xanxus rolled his eyes, still clearly amused, eyes going darker when Tsuna reached out to undo his belt and fly. He wrapped his fingers tight around Tsuna’s wrist to stop him from tucking his fingers any lower than the line the upper edge of the pants made against his hips.

 

“Yours. Off.” He said, lips curling in a lazy smirk as the pad of his thumb ghosted against the tender skin of Tsuna’s inner wrist. Tsuna stared up at him, wanting to run his tongue along the line of that smirk and knowing that want showed on his face, since it had Xanxus’ fingers clenching harder. That was going to leave an interesting bruise, no doubt.

 

Off,” he repeated hoarsely, and Tsuna snatched his hand away, pulling his legs up to get the sweatpants off his hips.

 

The tenth time was this, was screaming into the pillows and sheets while Xanxus ate him out, patient and hungry while Tsuna writhed in his grasp, unable to stop his hips from moving, caught between Xanxus’ tongue and fingers on one end and his hand stroking up his cock in perfect counterpoint on the other.

 

“Fuck- fuck, Xanxus-” he groaned, lashes flickering feverishly over glazed eyes, close to losing his voice, close to coming from the double sided stimulation if it weren’t for the way Xanxus either slowed down or cut him off completely every time he got anywhere near the edge. Harsh laughter, and teeth biting rather pointedly into his skin right above his ass and his hips jerked at the way Xanxus’ mouth closed over the spot, sucking till Tsuna knew he was going to have another visible mark left behind on his skin. At least this one could be hidden away behind boxers and his trousers or jeans – not that it would make an iota of difference to Hayato if he ever found out, fuck-

 

Husky laughter, fingers letting go of his length and a strong, scarred arm wrapping around his waist instead.

 

“Stop thinking so fucking hard all the time. Your brain’s going to break.”

 

I’m going to break if you don’t just get around to fucking me some time soon,” he shot back, gasping, thighs shaking, and finding absolutely no reason to avoid the teeth that sank softly into the back of his neck.

 

“And stop marking up my neck,” he added, once he’d stopped shivering from the sensation. Xanxus snorted, and nosed against Tsuna’s hairline in what had to be a gruffly affectionate gesture, even if he’d never admit to it.

 

“Christ, stop whining so fucking much.”

 

“And if you even think you’re kissing me with that mouth without washing up first-”

 

Laughter, laughter. Rough, amused, and freely shared where words like that would have had Xanxus dumping him flat on his ass way back when he’d first come to the compound, and that was if they didn’t direct a blast of Flame his way. It made no sense, Xanxus made no fucking sense. Tsuna had no idea why he was suddenly willing to share so much of himself now-

 

Except, no. He did. He did understand, even if he didn’t want to. His chest went tight, pain and relief hitting him at once, but he wrestled the emotions down to be dealt with when he didn’t have Xanxus in his immediate vicinity.

 

Lips and teeth, tugging at his left ear lobe, drawing him back to the present.

 

“If I have to go wash my mouth out, you’d better be fucking ready before I get back,” Xanxus warned, making Tsuna curl up with laughter, breath hitching in his throat when the motion made his cock brush up against Xanxus’ forearm, still wrapped low across his waist.

 

“What happened to letting me fuck you this time?” he asked, only half joking while Xanxus dragged them back up, letting Tsuna rest half seated in his lap. The nudge of Xanxus’ erection against the small of his back had his lips parting on a full-mouthed groan, tipping his head back to rest it against Xanxus’ shoulder. The older man breathed in slowly, thinking it over as he dragged his left hand up, palm smoothing over Tsuna’s skin from belly to his chest, where he let it rest, palm and fingers spanning wide enough to cover more than half the surface area of Tsuna’s pectorals. Tsuna felt another bolt of heat jerk down through him, the sheer breadth of Xanxus, the grace and power he displayed in every motion as easy as breathing made Tsuna’s brain feel close to shorting out all the time. Especially now, when he barely seemed to notice Tsuna’s leaning into him, a whole body of quivering dead weight.

 

“We could do that. I’m up for it. You sure that’s what you want right now, though?” Xanxus asked after a long moment of thought.

 

Tsuna bit his lip, trying to ignore the solid heat of the body behind him as he thought it over. It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought about it, more than once. They’d been dancing around each other for a whole year before Tsuna had cut and run, after all, and lust and physical want ran both ways – about the only reason he hadn’t brought it up was because he’d thought Xanxus wouldn’t be interested. That, and they’d just ended up having sex randomly back then. They’d never really discussed what the fuck they were doing, his interaction with Xanxus hadn’t been nearly as amicable as it had been after he’d gotten back. He tilted his head to the side, offering up his neck while Xanxus started mouthing down its side, humming in appreciation when he ran the pads of his fingers over a nipple, mindlessly stroking over it in time with the way he was sucking yet another mark at the base of Tsuna’s throat.

 

“Maybe next time. I think I want to feel you inside me,” he said, breathing in sharply when his words made Xanxus bite down suddenly.

 

“The things you say… fucking hell, Sawada,” Xanxus groaned, tugging at him till Tsuna was pressed tight against his front. The rush of heat that swept through him, at the way Xanxus’ voice seemed to break over his name, made Tsuna’s head spin.

 

“Go and wash your mouth out already, before I say fuck it and shove you down,” he spat back. His words would have horrified him if he had any real ability left to mind them, but he didn’t. He really didn’t.

 

The next thing he knew, he was lying face first in the pillows, not quite sure what had happened. When he got the sense to prop himself up on his elbows to look behind him, it was to see that Xanxus was long gone, and the bathroom door was open. He could hear the water running.

 

Trying hard not to laugh, trying really hard not to laugh, he reached for small table by the bed, blindly tugging open the drawer to search inside it for lube and condoms, vaguely remembering that there had been some stashed there, the last time he’d come by. It didn’tfeel like more than a week had gone by since then. He’d barely gotten his fingers around the bottle when fingers closed hard around his shoulder and wrenched him around.

 

The mouth that met his wasn’t anywhere near careful, and Tsuna groaned under the onslaught, trying to reach up, but Xanxus had his arms slammed down and held tight against the bed before he made any headway. He opened his mouth to the stroke of Xanxus’ tongue, keening under the solid weight of the older man’s body blanketed over him. By the time Xanxus finally decided to pull back for a breath of air, Tsuna’s mouth had gone tender. And bruised, he realised, breathing heavily, licking at the fingers that tested the fullness of his lips. Xanxus made a sharp sound, and stooped downwards, closing his teeth over the hinge of Tsuna’s jaw on the other side, this time. Tsuna laughed breathlessly, tugging till Xanxus let at least one of his hands go. He smoothed it down the older man’s broad back, careful not to linger over any areas that were particularly smooth or raised, knowing from prior experience that he did not like his scars being touched too much.

 

“Are those supposed to be a matched set?” he asked, once he had his fingers tangled in the longer strands of Xanxus’ hair. Xanxus had actually been nice enough to separate the feathers and fur from his hair, for once. It had Tsuna wanting to run his fingers through all of Xanxus’ hair, at least until he got irritated and shoved Tsuna away.

 

“Shut up.” Xanxus bit out, biting down again, this time a little lower on his throat.

 

“Hayato’s going to cry, Xanxus. He’s going to freak out and it’ll be your fault.”

 

“Like I give a flying fuck. Shut up, brat.”

 

Hands reaching for the drawer, a mirror to his before he’d been dragged away from his goal. He shrugged, grinning, when Xanxus shot him a dirty look after finding the lube and condoms still inside.

 

“You came back too quickly. What was I supposed to say? ‘Wait’?”

 

That got him another rough kiss, lips crushed punishingly hard against his until he gave way, pulling Xanxus closer. He wanted those filthy, open mouthed kisses. Moaning at the way Xanxus curled his fingers into the side of his jaw, forcing him to open wider, and licking deep enough that it felt like he was being eaten alive from the mouth down, he rocked his hips upwards, blindly seeking some form of friction. The hand that caught him and held him down had him snarling into the kiss, half wild with the heat and tension that were curling down his spine.

 

Xanxus still looked amused, eyes glittering darkly. It was not a nice look. Judging by the teeth in his smile, Tsuna didn’t think his first thought of being eaten from the mouth down was too unlikely a possibility.

 

“It’s a good thing that you didn’t say wait, runt. A very good thing.”

 

“Fuck you, move-”

 

Patience, brat-” Laughing at the incredulous look that got him, Xanxus pointedly waved the bottle of lube and strip of condoms back and forth before Tsuna’s eyes.

 

“How exactly do you want to do this, anyway?”

 

Tsuna went still at those words, reeling under the weight of them. He stared up, wide-eyed. Xanxus stared back, shadows dark in his eyes. His face was carefully composed, and he was acting like it wasn’t a big deal that he’d asked something like that. And it wasn’t, it shouldn’t have been. But. But.

 

For one, distant moment, Tsuna couldn’t help but think back to the very first time he’d fallen into bed with Xanxus. And the way he’d been kicked out, ducking and running, again and again and again - all because Xanxus had never wanted to acknowledge that there was anything going on between them.

 

It was only when Xanxus was starting to go stiff above him, clearly regretting having asked the question, that Tsuna let his lips stretch into a soft smile, doing absolutely nothing to disguise the want buried beneath it, and reached out to tug the lube and condoms away to stash them at the side. Xanxus didn’t try to stop him, too busy staring at his expression. Tsuna laughed, pressing a hand to Xanxus’ chest to push him away slightly.

 

“Well? How am I supposed to show you what I want unless you move?”

 

He heard Xanxus swallow roughly behind him when he turned around, coming up on his hands and knees. He glanced back with a smile, his surety only increasing when he saw how stunned Xanxus looked.

 

“What the fuck Sawada, what’s wrong with you-”

 

“Absolutely nothing, you idiot. We haven’t done it this way before, and I want to.” Tsuna said, smiling crookedly at the way that had Xanxus gaping at him.

 

Fuck…” He breathed out after a beat, and Tsuna shuddered hearing the near reverence in that tone. He felt one of Xanxus’ hands settle on the small of his back, slowly smoothing up his spine till palm and fingers both curled over his nape. They tapped almost absently against the side of his neck, and Tsuna found himself ducking his head, the friction of fingers against his pulse making him light headed. Abruptly, the fingers clamped down on his nape like a vice, and Xanxus slammed him facedown into the bed.

 

Tsuna stiffened up in alarm, trying to fight back, but that was before he felt Xanxus weight settling heavy against his back.

 

“Xanxus, wha-” He cut himself off when he finally noticed the way Xanxus was hissing under his breath.

 

“…the death of me, you will be the fucking death of me-”

 

The barely controlled edge of violence and captivated lust threading through the words had Tsuna groaning and arching back before he knew what he was doing. Xanxus snarled, not letting him lift his head.

 

“Do you have any fucking idea what you do to me sometimes?” he bit out, over Tsuna’s head. Tsuna stared down blindly into messy nest of pillows and sheets, and found himself laughing a little helplessly. The laughter had Xanxus shaking him violently, but that only made him laugh harder.

 

Well done, he thought faintly, and tried to curb his laughter before it turned hysterical. He didn’t need that in bed.

 

Not that Xanxus hasn’t already seen it, his intuition whispered back, sounding unholily amused and, for once, exactly like him.

 

“Well?” Xanxus demanded.

 

It forced another laugh out of him before he jerked his neck, forcing Xanxus to loosen his hold and then craning his head around to stare over his shoulder.

 

“Probably the same that you do to me sometimes,” he said mildly, snickering at the look that got him. Xanxus swore violently, and let go. Tsuna didn’t bother getting up, watching with renewed interest as the older man reached out for the bottle of lube.

 

The tenth time was this, was this, was gasping in open pleasure as every curl of the fingers in him sparked new waves of blistering heat to run through him, leaving him trembling in their wake. It was feeling Xanxus’ solid form lying heavily over him, the weight comforting in a way that Tsuna wasn’t quite sure he wanted to acknowledge. It was arching his neck, shoulders and back up to meet Xanxus’ mouth, to feel the hand pressed securely against his abdomen, holding him in place through the fresh waves of want that wracked him every damned time that Xanxus decided to leave another mark across his skin.

 

“-enough, enough, stop already.” Tsuna snapped, shivering and leaning into the sensation when Xanxus’ lips softly brushed against his temple. He jerked one shoulder back when Xanxus didn’t move fast enough, forcing the older man to move away slightly, and reached out with his right arm to grab at the strip of condoms, slowing in his blind pawing when Xanxus’ fingers curled around his, his greater reach making it easier to actually separate one from the rest. Twisting under the older man’s weight, he leaned up to press an open-mouthed, biting kiss hard against the centre of his chest, right over his heart. Xanxus groaned, breathless, but whether that was because of Tsuna’s actions or because he’d finally gotten around to rolling the condom down over his cock was anyone’s guess. From the way he dragged Tsuna up to crush their mouths together, though, Tsuna was willing to bet it was a little bit of both.

 

“Wait, no, I was serious, I really do want to try doing it the other way,” he said hurriedly, pulling away from Xanxus’ mouth when he felt the older man’s fingers curl around his hips. Xanxus still looked incredulous, but the disbelief was slowly making way for something that looked unnervingly close to rueful affection.

 

Crazy,” he murmured, voice hoarse, and Tsuna snorted in laughter.

 

“Obviously. Why the fuck else would I have agreed to take over this Family, I don’t think the Vongola can be handled by anyone unless they’re at least a little crazy. And yes, that’s you included. You have more right to call yourself by that name than I do, senpai,” he said, cooing the latter in a sweet tone as he turned around again. It had Xanxus going still for a beat, immediately recognising the allusion to him being Tsuna’s senior as far as being a generational head was concerned. That recognition didn’t stop Xanxus from whacking him soundly around the head in the next beat, though.

 

“You’re so violent, I cry domestic abuse, god damn it- Ah!” Tsuna shuddered, feeling careful fingers close around his hips, tugging him back. The sensation of his body opening up around the hard press of Xanxus sliding into him sent heat rushing down his spine, and he groaned openly into the bend of his arms, pushing up and back to move faster and groaning when Xanxus’ hold on him didn’t let him move any faster than he already was.

 

“I don’t think we’re domestic enough for anything I do to you to count as domestic abuse,” Xanxus said, sounding dazed, once he’d bottomed out. Even leaning down on his forearms, hips raised up and just plain irritated that Xanxus was being responsible for once, Tsuna found himself laughing, fond in spite of everything.

 

“Oh, I don’t know, I think Squalo would argue against that.”

 

Please don’t talk about Squalo when I’m in bed with you.”

 

Tsuna gave another snicker at that, horribly amused at how longsuffering Xanxus sounded. The amusement lasted only until he felt Xanxus shift slightly, the resulting bolt of heat that cut through him had him rocking backwards with no care given to anything else.

 

Everything, everything, the feeling of Xanxus’ broad, solid form against his back, the sweat beading on his forehead and starting to drip into his eyes, the heat that was drawing taut in him with every thrust that Xanxus made, holding his hips in place and making the burst of sensation clawing through all the more gut wrenching for it. Fucking everything – It had him crying out and jerking back in time with every motion of Xanxus’ hips, and jerking forward when Xanxus’ fingers slid around his cock. The slow, patient strokes of his callused fingers were a devastating counterpoint to his faster thrusts, and it made the heat and hunger blaze through him like wildfire, making him dizzy with want. He reached back with one arm, balancing himself on the other and somehow managing to catch Xanxus by the nape and tug him forward. Xanxus made a hungry sound that Tsuna could feel reverberating in the chest that was pressed close to his back, pressing even closer when his move forced Xanxus to lean his weight more firmly on Tsuna and on the arm he set out for greater balance.

 

“The fucking death of me, Sawada,” he managed to hiss, before Tsuna dragged him the rest of the way forward to crush their mouth together again, swallowing down whatever else he wanted to say.

 

It wasn’t a kiss as much as it was a way to keep their mouths open and breathing against each other, beginning to pant for air the more their exertions sent arousal spiralling through their systems. Even so, the lazy stroke of Xanxus’ tongue in his mouth, against soft flesh that had already gone tender with their earlier efforts sent yet another wave of heat down into Tsuna’s belly, curling hot there. The heat built upon itself till every rock of his hips, every stroke of Xanxus’ fingers against his length, every brush of skin against skin, of mouth against mouth, had him crying out desperately.

 

Pleasure overtook him in a sudden blinding rush, enveloped in its sharp clarity and teetering right on the edge right until Xanxus groaned hoarsely, Tsuna’s name a near oath on his tongue, biting down harshly on the curve of his right shoulder. Tsuna screamed as he came, the sensation breaking over him in a cataclysmic wave that came close to making him black out.

 

When he finally came back to himself, if was to the sensation of Xanxus’ hips still rocking into him, harder and faster than before. He shuddered, fresh waves of pleasure rising up from within him, but he was too wrung out to even consider going another round. So he pressed back, pushing himself up on shaking arms, gasping under the continued stimulation.

 

“Come on, come on,” he said, close to feverish, craning his face blindly to the side and setting his mouth and teeth to the side of Xanxus’ throat. Biting down, he sucked hard enough to leave pretty bruises against the older man’s skin. Xanxus jerked forward and came with a shout, shaking with the strength of it.

 

And this was the tenth time, too, lying dazed in the aftermath, and slowly convincing themselves that cleaning up before collapsing in bed could only be a good thing, especially if Squalo got irritated enough to come up and drag them back out of bed. Xanxus seemed decidedly disinterested in any reactions his rain guardian could possibly have to finding him in bed and dirty after having spent the morning having sex, but Tsuna put his foot down and insisted, because if Squalo was in a particularly bad mood, he would definitely send Levi up.

 

Cringing at that thought, Xanxus rushed to get out of bed and clean up quickly too, barely pausing a second to dispose of the tied-off condom before following Tsuna into the bathroom.

 

And maybe, just maybe, this was the first time, a first time, thought Tsuna to himself, once again curled up in bed, again facing Xanxus rather than facing away. The man looked sated and irate, which was about as peaceful as he every got, but Tsuna was relieved to see that the melancholy had disappeared from his eyes.

 

“…what?” Xanxus asked finally, sounding irritated. Tsuna gave a soft laugh, and leant forward to press his lips against the mark he’d left behind. Xanxus shivered at the sensation, pushing Tsuna away with a frown.

 

“Fucking what, brat.”

 

Tsuna grinned back, feeling unaccountably happy.

 

“Oh, I’m just happy I won’t be flying into any walls tomorrow morning.”

 

That statement treated him to the sight of raised eyebrows.

 

“Yeah?” Xanxus asked, looking strangely amused.

 

“Yes.” Said Tsuna firmly, frowning up at him.

 

“We’ll just have to see, won’t we.” And with that, Xanxus turned around, apparently deciding that after wasting most of the morning, he may as well try and get some sleep before getting back to work.

 

“What? Oh, come on, Xanxus that isn’t even violent, that’s just plain mean. Hey!”

 

*

 

He guessed he really shouldn’t have been surprised when he went flying out of the bedroom the next morning, after he’d spent yet another night in the compound. On the positive side, at least, at least he wasn’t being followed out by shots from Xanxus’ X Guns this time around.

 

On the negative side, Squalo was still sitting outside Xanxus’ room, a feral grin playing across his lips. Tsuna glanced up at him from where he was laid out on the ground, legs curled up beneath him. Offered up a wry grin. And was treated to the sight of Squalo doubling up in laughter that was loud enough to draw Xanxus out.

 

“What the fuck, trash?” he snapped testily, staring down at the two of them. They looked up, still snickering like a pair of juvenile delinquents, forced to stand in the hallway outside of class.

 

“VOIIIIII! Good morning, Boss,” said Squalo, grinning toothily.

 

Xanxus’ left eyebrow twitched, once, and he pointedly levelled an X Gun right in Squalo’s face.

 

Tsuna wondered if it was a sign that his common sense had fled him far too long ago, when all the action did was make him duck down behind the swordsman, still trying, without much success, to stifle his laughter.

 

“Work, we’ve got work. A messenger came in from the estate. Seems a fight broke out in one of our clubs last night.”

 

Tsuna abruptly went still, while Xanxus’ eyes narrowed.

 

“Was anyone hurt?” Tsuna’s voice had gone hard, not quite in the grasp of his Will, but at that intermediate point when he was prepared mentally for bad news. Squalo simply snorted, much to his relief.

 

“No, not badly enough to warrant harsh action. But the Smoking Bomb came in with a request to look into it and see if it’s just the beginning before we get attacked again. He doesn’t think it’s going to happen, but-”

 

“But he isn’t the fucking expert, even if he did some work as a hitman before Reborn headhunted him for Sawada’s guardians.” Xanxus cut in, looking bored.

 

Squalo shrugged, not denying it. That was why Hayato would have brought something to the Varia without contacting Tsuna first, after all. Especially when he’d driven in to the compound the previous day with files and stacks of paperwork for Tsuna to get started on.

 

Cringing at the memory of Hayato breaking into his room at the compound with a thunderous expression on his face, he waved away the hand Squalo offered him and pushed up himself. Xanxus and Squalo traded a glance, and after a moment, Squalo ducked his head, eyes sharp.

 

With that, Xanxus turned to head back into his rooms, but not before shooting Tsuna a pointed look that warned him to get his ass back to the estate if he didn’t want to be forced out, chased with shots fired. Tsuna rolled his eyes and offered him a lazy, two fingered salute, and grinned when the motion had Xanxus sneering before he disappeared from view.

 

Unnervingly enough, Squalo was grinning wildly again when Tsuna glanced back at him. He made a face, and Squalo gave another bark of laughter before steering him back towards the stairs.

 

“Come on, you little shit. Your right hand is going to wear away at our stone floors, at this rate.”

 

“Hayato wouldn’t-”

 

“Sure he would. VOI, if it wasn’t so fucking funny to watch I wouldn’t even have let him in.”

 

“You and Xanxus are such sadists- okay, okay, I’m coming, you don’t need to shuffle me along like this-!”

 

He couldn’t quite keep the grin off his face, even when he was met with Hayato looking utterly exasperated on the ground floor. And yes, he was wearing a circle into flooring by the door, getting stared at by nearly all the younger squad members and trainees of the Varia, who weren’t as used to the sight as the ones who’d been around since Tsuna had trained at the compound.

 

“Juudaime,” he groaned, reaching out to catch Tsuna by the shoulders, pale green eyes scanning him for any new bruises or wounds that could have appeared overnight. Smiling helplessly back, he tried to ignore the way Squalo was hovering at the back with a wide smirk.

 

“I’m fine Hayato, Squalo said that something happened yesterday?”

 

Hayato nodded seriously, and turned to tug him out the doors, launching into a verbal report immediately. When he glanced over his shoulder, it was to see Squalo leaning out, exaggeratedly mouthing the words ‘fucking hilarious’ at him.

 

Tsuna snorted, waved back, and turned his attention back to Hayato as the heavy doors of the Varia Compound slammed shut behind him.

 

*

 

You sure it was a good idea to say that, yesterday?

 

Say what?

 

You know what.

 

…Why the fuck would I say anything at all if I wasn’t okay with it, runt.

 

A choked sound. Laughter and pain tugging at his vocal chords. He smiled blindly at the ground, and leaned into the hand that dropped, heavy, on the back of his neck.

 

This, this. He would never have believed that things would come to this, back when it all started. A drunken mistake, that’s all it had been.

 

Xanxus’ hand felt like a brand, burning him to the quick.

 

If I say ‘Well done’, are you going to break my neck? He asked, lips quirking when the hand on his neck tightened.

 

I just might. Stop saying that.

 

I will. When I don’t need to say it any more.

 

A harsh, strangled sound. Xanxus let go in a flash, and turned away hurriedly when Tsuna looked up at him.

 

You’re the one who said it in the first place, Tsuna said, voice wry.

 

I didn’t mean it the way you say it, trash. I don’t turn everything into a mind game.

 

No. But you meant it exactly the way you said it, back then.

 

That earned him a wild-eyed look. Tsuna smiled, sad, and reached up to carefully frame the older man’s face in his hands. Xanxus looked like he wanted to break away, nearly did, before he subsided with a ragged sigh, curling his fingers around both of Tsuna’s wrists.

 

You’re not allowed to say something and take it back. You’re not.

 

A beat of silence, like the world was holding still. Or maybe that was just Tsuna, standing with his breath caught in his throat. Another beat, standing and feeling like he was being choked. And-and-

 

And I am not, Xanxus murmured, finally, the words sounding like they’d been torn from his chest, still bloody and raw.

 

Tsuna laughed, elated and dazed, and pulled Xanxus down to press their foreheads together, letting his eyes slide shut.

 

Fucking sentimental trash, Xanxus hissed, but Tsuna shook his head. It made Xanxus go silent again.

 

They continued to stand there, quiet in the centre of Xanxus’ private office, until Tsuna could finally find the strength to pull away.

 

They didn’t talk about it, after that, it wasn’t their way. Instead, they separated to get started on the work that they each had. Tsuna had files he’d carried along with him yet again - Hayato was starting to look resigned – and Xanxus had enough to look into, even with Squalo shouldering half the burden.

 

Peace. Or the closest equivalent he could get, in the midst of the madness that was the Vongola Famiglia.

 

Lips stretched in a soft smile, he cracked open the first of the files, and once his mind had filtered out the familiar sounds of explosions, yells and the distinctive roar of Squalo snarling at someone coming from the lower floors, actually got to work.