Yay for cross-posting! I'm mostly at AO3 now (see username Fourteenpavanes), but I thought I'd put this up here as well. Please see notes at the end of the work for sources, etc.

Note: foul languages, mentions of neglect, and spoilers for the end of the series.

All characters © Amano Akira

Squall Line

Lambo brought a hand up to wipe away the sweat that was rolling down his face, only to succeed in smearing it all over his cheek. If there was anything worse than Naples in July, he surmised, it was being alone in Naples in July. The ANM tram's meager AC was practically nonexistent, making the air thick and stuffy. Lambo ran fingers through his hair in an attempt to unstick it from the nape of his neck, wishing that he had one of Ipin's thin paper fans with him. Wishing he had Ipin with him, but she was spending the summer in Hong Kong working as a Blue Lantern for the Chinese Triad, along with Fon and Kawahira.

Hn. Kawahira.

Lambo blinked away a bead of perspiration before it could fall into his eye. He still had issues with that guy. If that was even his real name, which Lambo highly doubted. "Flat river," or "peaceful river," as the name Kawahira vaguely suggested, seemed a little too fitting. For years he had been the Ramen Man, the guy who lived off Ipin's soggy noodles, and now he was, well. An…extraterrestrial. And while that certainly creeped Gokudera-nii the fuck out, it just meant that there was still so much about the world that Lambo didn't know.

The tram rounded a corner. He could see Vesuvius in the distance, misty green, like the hump of some saurian giant half buried in the ground. Lambo wouldn't put it past his money Kawahira had been around to see it erupt.

He thought about wandering down to the Port, where the air would be moist and salty and just a tiny bit cooler than the tram. A Chinese guy there named Sabino—a burly, mustachioed merchant—always managed to sneak Lambo some reasonably good oyster shells for the collection he had back in his room. Today, anything Chinese would only make him miss Ipin more, so Lambo decided to head to the center of town. Besides, the thought of something sweet on his tongue tromped sand in his shoes. He would get off at Pasticcino di Abelie, the only bakery in Naples that, to Lambo's delight, made red grape gelato.

When the tram stopped, Lambo unstuck himself from the chair, grabbed his book, and breathed in the honeyed smell of fruit and pastry. Even at sixteen his sweet tooth was still going strong. Babà, zeppole, sfogliatelle; he loved them all.

Lambo ordered his gelato. It came with a colorful plastic spoon, which he sucked on thoughtfully as he read. Kawahira was but one reason Lambo wanted to know more about the world and how it worked. Ever since Nono had donated his library to the Vongola, Lambo had taken a particular interest in the maths and sciences. The book he had today was on tardigrades. Water bears. Lambo wasn't too surprised to discover there were people out there with nothing better to do than to write an entire book on tardigrades, giving there were plenty of people with nothing better to do than to read it.

With an unfortunate surname of Bovino and a childhood obsession with cows, Lambo often got tired of being compared to one. These days, he liked to think of himself as one of those little tardigrades. Almost microscopic, and a fellow extremophile. Somehow, it seemed more fitting.

With a final satisfied lick, Lambo finished his gelato and closed his eyes. Frozen confectionaries were only a temporary fix to the heat. The air was cracker-dry; he could not help but wish for rain. By his hand it could rain—storm, if he really wanted it to, but then Tsuna-nii might get annoyed with him for changing the weather.

In a belch of exhaust and a crunch of gravel, a black car wended down the street. Lambo quickly ducked his head into his book so the tip of his nose mushed up against the page. Thank Giotto his horns were tucked away in his pocket and not on his head. When he thought enough time had passed he raised his head, sniffed, and exhaled. A run-in with the clans today would be unbearable. It was simply too hot, and he wasn't keen on destroying his favorite bakery.

Lambo turned a page without really reading it and twirled his flame ring around one finger. Tsuna-nii was having a spot of trouble with the Camorra. The System. It was enough that the Nuovo Vongola had their hands full with several pissed off and rather unintelligent Camorristi. The clans were fighting, yet again (drugs and money, it was always drugs and money here), but this time the danger of another Secondigliano War loomed too close for comfort.

At least two bodies turned up a day, the shops pretended not to notice, and Lambo thought it was all incredibly stupid.

For the record, so did the rest of the Family, but Tsuna-nii was determined to prevent pedestrian casualties...considering the sole reason he had agreed to start a new family was so he could destroy the corrupt mafia. It was almost frightening how good of a job he did. After an amazingly short eleven years and a fortune in antacids, the Nuovo Vongola had disseminated every Italian family in the Mezzogiorno with the exception of the Camorra, who were already disseminated. Essentially, the key had not been successive power upgrades or sacred rings or alien races, but science.

Some people—unfortunate as they were—forgot that Irie Shouichi and Byakuran had initially invented time travel.

With the time to create any technology possible and a science team to put CERN out of business indefinitely, the Vongola was able to utterly dominate the mafia world. On a better day, Lambo would have smiled at the thought. Given the right amount of neuroticism and a high enough IQ, anything was possible.

After making sure his hands were clean, he dug his phone out of his pocket to check the time. It was important that he keep track of the hour, you see, because of the curfew.

Roughly fifty percent of the shops in Naples were run by the Camorra in some way or another, so it was a miracle Lambo could even leave headquarters without getting shot at. One reason he was partial to the Pasticcino di Abelie was because it mercifully remained part of the other fifty percent.

Dealing with the System involved a great deal of conclaves, power play, and stress all around. Box weapons (or weapons of any kind, for that matter) were not the Camorra's real source of power. The System were more like scary businessmen than anything else. Really scary businessmen. And women.

Point being, Lambo thought with a scowl, the clans remained unabashed at hurting innocents. To them, everything was business. They did not need rings; just foul play and a really good AK-47. Like Di Lauro back in the old days, they went for your family. Burn your girlfriend in a car. Shoot your mother in the face. Unload on a boy on his bicycle simply because he was from a certain area. For this reason, not only was Lambo excluded from the fighting, but he was prohibited from going outside after six. Part of him realized he was lucky to just be getting a curfew, but the whole thing was totally uncool. Seriously. Way to kill a guy's reputation stone dead.

"Thanks, Gokudera-nii," Lambo muttered. A girl at a nearby table glanced up at him and Lambo offered her a cheerful smile. She turned a light pink and looked away.

Lambo found it hard to overlook the disgrace, heavy and cloying, in knowing that he was being treated the same way Tsuna-nii and the others treated the girls back when they were first becoming Vongola. Forgive him for not taking umbrage at what he called the You're-too-precious-to-lose-so-I'm-going-to-shut-you-out-and-keep-secrets-and-basically-ignore-you syndrome. If that was even a thing. The thought behind it was genuine, but Lambo's overabundance of adolescent testosterone was not happy with being pedestalled to the point of condescendence.

Plus, he was bored. Four summers in Naples, thanks to Hibari-nii's reluctant agreement to fund the Nuovo Vongola, was ample time to exhaust the city's attractions. The other half of the money came from Vongola Nono and Mukuro, which gave Lambo a headache and an unpleasant tingly feeling if he thought about it too much.

Lambo usually hung out with Irie and Spanner-nii over at the Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale" (Spanner-nii's idea, of course), but this year everyone was on edge. The amount of lollipops and Pepto Bismol alone was enough to put Hibari-nii in a mood to bite anything that breathed the wrong way.

There was always Skull if he was truly desperate, but even Lambo had his limits of what he could tolerate.

Maybe someone else at the mansion would want to hang out with him. A quick glance at his phone told him it was 16:30, so Lambo stood up, stretched, and headed back towards the tram stop. By the time he arrived at the Nuovo Vongola headquarters, the summer sky had deepened to a hazy periwinkle. The sun was a shriveled, hot ball, low on the horizon. Dimly, Lambo could hear the chirping of goldfinches and blackbirds in the surrounding trees of the estate, and he thought to himself that the quiet here was somehow itchy. Unsettling.

The main foyer of the place was empty, so Lambo grabbed himself a sandwich from the pantry and munched on it with his legs dangling over the countertop. Generally it was considered bad manners to sit on the counter and all, but it was not as if there were anybody to stop him.

There was a soft "mrow" from beneath the table, and Lambo peered over to see Uri eyeing him, tail coiling fluidly around his paws.

"Don't look at me like that," Lambo said. "This is my sandwich. You can't have any."

Uri licked the fur on his paw and meowed again. A fine wisp of smoke unfurled from his mouth and over his small, pink tongue. Lambo had accepted long ago that box animals had physiologies that were not quite like normal animals', but Uri only...smoked, for lack of a better word, when Gokudera-nii was particularly frustrated about something.

Lambo rolled his eyes. "Fine," he sighed, and tossed a partially eaten slice of prosciutto at the cat. "If I give you this, will you tell me where everyone went?"

After eating the meat Uri stood and padded out the door. As he walked Lambo popped on his horns, now that he was safely home. By the time he followed the cat into the north corridor, sandwich still in hand, Uri had begun to emit gray puffs of steam and his tail was slinking low between his hind quarters. Lambo didn't even need to look at Uri, as he could hear muffled shouting through the door to one of the larger rooms.

"Ah, that's right. They had a meeting tonight," he muttered under his breath. A rather tense one, by the sounds of it. Lambo closed his eyes. Yare, yare. Was there ever a Vongola meeting that wasn't?

He had just swallowed the last bit of crust when the doors banged open. Uri scampered off down the nearest staircase, leaving a trail of thick smoke. After a moment the smoke thinned, faded, and was gone.

"I'm telling you, this is going to end badly!" Haru was saying to Yamamoto-nii, who was scratching his head and doing a rather poor job of covering up an uncomfortable expression.

"Hey, if Tsuna trusts Mukuro, I'm sure—"

"That's not the issue," Ryohei-nii interrupted. "Mukuro can do illusions well to the extreme, but…"

"But mind games won't work on the Vanni nor the Gino," Gokudera-nii snapped, breezing past Ryohei-nii. "I told you that before! They're both too dense for any sort of extra-sensory tactic to have an effect—"

"They work on me, don't they?"

"Oh, for Giotto's sake—"

"Uh, hi, guys," Lambo said, stretching out his hand in a half-wave. "Meeting go well?"

Gokudera-nii sighed and gave a dismissive shrug. His other hand skated over his pockets for a cigarette. "Same old shit," he replied.

"Just a bunch of boys arguing," Haru said, smoothing out the creases in her skirt suit. She offered a wobbly smile, and Lambo's mouth tightened. If Haru was worried, something was definitely up.

"What were you talking about?" he asked.

Yamamoto-nii laughed and jabbed a thumb toward the room, where the others were still gathering their things. "You know. Crazy Tsuna and his crazy ideas," he said, trying to appear nonchalant.

"You can tell me, Yamamoto-nii," Lambo said. Yamamoto-nii cleared his throat and stole a glance at Gokudera.

"I, ah, don't think that's a good idea, Lambo—"

"Come on, you even let Skull in there," Lambo protested. He turned to Gokudera-nii. "What about—"

"Yo, did someone say my name?" Skull popped his head through the archway, spotted Lambo, and grinned. "Hey, butt-monkey."

"Ahaha, that's my cue," Yamamoto-nii said with a yawn. "Later, Lambo."

"Wait, do you want to…" Lambo shook his head, stopping himself. Yamamoto-nii looked tired.

"He's off to make sushi, or jack off, or whatever else he does when he's not killing people," Skull offered. "Why, did you wanna hang out or somethin'? 'Cause I'm busy, cowboy."

Lambo shot Skull a look. With an attitude like that, it was no wonder he got kicked out of COMSUBIN. Don't get Lambo wrong; he had little difficulty believing Skull was once in charge of the largest private combat army in Europe, but in his book any guy who wore purple lipstick definitely had issues. And he had seen some pretty weird things in the mafia.

"Gokudera-nii, do you want to help me with my AP Calc homework?" Lambo asked. He'd finished that worksheet ages ago, but by this point he was desperate for socialization.

Gokudera, who was smoking one of his Marlboros, scowled. "Not tonight, Lambo," he said.

"It might take your mind off the Camorra," Lambo tried.

"Do you think that is a good idea?" Gokudera snapped suddenly, in Italian. "Grow up Lambo, this isn't kids' stuff! We need to be beating these guys, not parading around the city eating dango!"

Lambo's eyes widened, but before he could say anything Gokudera-nii stormed off—no pun intended, leaving a heavy, awkward silence and a lingering smell of smoke in the north corridor.

"But I am a kid, you know. And you shouldn't do that in the hallways," Lambo muttered, more to himself than to anyone else. "You'll set off the smoke alarms."

"We have smoke alarms?" Skull snorted. He cocked his head back toward the meeting room, where the Varia were giving a last attempt to intimidate the Boss. "Better get out of here before Xanxus sets somethin' on fire."

21:00 was Lambo's least favorite time of the day. It was too late to actually start anything new, and too early to go to bed. He thought about getting out his book on tardigrades, but there was only so much science he could read in a day. Lambo had an array of DVDs and tablets in his room, but the reception was frankly, as Skull put it, balls.

You'd think a quarter of a century in they would have figured out how to get decent Wi-Fi in the mountains.

Lambo, now sitting at one of the outdoor patios, pouted. The crickets and the cicadas did not seem to share his sour disposition, chirping and twittering away merrily in the dusky air. Sulking about earlier this afternoon, Lambo realized, would accomplish nothing. He was aware that only the most stressful situations still made Gokudera-nii lash out like that, even after a decade of practicing sangfroid, but still. It stung.

He did not know if it was a blessing or a curse when someone announced, "Look who we have here," from the evening's shadows.

Belphegor, grinning like a cat sated on milk, sat crouched on the stone steps leading to the building's back entrance. Lambo internally groaned. This day just kept getting more fantastic. Xanxus and Squalo had been called in to help Tsuna-nii with the Camorra, but Belphegor, as Lambo understood, was here for more…personal reasons.

Lambo had an eye for couples. He'd always known that Tsuna-nii would choose Kyoko. The story behind that was mafia legend for a campfire night. He'd seen Ryohei-nii and Hana coming from a mile away, and he was even able to spot that small spark between the assumed asexual Hibari Kyouya and Chrome Dokuro. What he hadn't seen was Belphegor. No one had.

The words "Varia" and "romance" generally did not go together in a sentence. There were tales of the demonic assassination squad stretching all the way back to Vongola Septa. The Varia were the people you called when you needed a job done that no one else had the stomach to do, which earned them a reputation for being less than human. The Varia never slept, some said. They lapped up the blood of their enemies with tongues as black as rotted plums and ate their hearts with linguini and white pinot. Others claimed that the members of the Varia had remained the same since Giotto's time; that they traded in their souls in for mystic slaying skills and immortality. Lambo's personal favorite was the one about them all having satanic crosses branded onto their chests.

Anyway. Couples. Lambo had been so sure that Haru and Gokudera-nii were going to get together, but Gokudera-nii had an on-off thing with Shitt P. and Haru went with Belphegor the psychotic. Belphegor, whose mirth stemmed from exorbitant amounts of gore and screaming. And yet, they seemed to complement each other perfectly. Lambo wondered how Haru dealt with the bloodlust.

"Yare, yare," he sighed. "Can I help you, Varia?"

Belphegor cocked his head. "Hmm. Nope, not really," he said. "Just dropping by to say hello. Come to think of it, I didn't see you at the meeting earlier."

Lambo glowered. That little sneer on Belphegor's face, curtained by straw flaxen bangs, was known to drive people up the wall. Especially Squalo, who had prematurely white hair for a reason. Belphegor knew how to push peoples' buttons, just because he could. Not that Lambo had many buttons in the first place.

"You're the Vongola's Lightning Guardian, right?"

But there was still that teensy issue of being ten years behind everyone else. It smarted like a canker sore when you bit it.

"I wasn't invited," he said coolly. It came out sounding sullen.

"Awww." Belphegor giggled. A hand, thin and fishbelly white, dangled low by his belt, fingering one of his throwing knives. "And such a smart kid, too." His wrist flicked once, and suddenly the knife was whizzing straight at Lambo. Lambo sighed again, held up a hand, and caught the blade between his index and middle fingers. Once you knew the math behind his attacks, Belphegor's knives became little more than toys.

"Of course, not as smart as I was at your age," Belphegor went on, as if nothing had happened, "but I know a genius when I see one. Even if he is a coward."

"I'm not a coward, but I am a little pissed," Lambo replied. That knife had been sharp, and he could feel a few trickles of blood pooling in the webbing of his fingers. True, he had been improving on the more, shall we say, pusillanimous aspects of his nature—like not crying and running away at every opportunity—but Lambo liked to think he knew better than most when it was necessary to run away.

Right now, it was not necessary. Lambo stood up and rubbed his horns. Clouds obnubilated the night sky, thick and rolling. A breeze ruffled Belphegor's hair and he looked up, laughing that little laugh that he did through his teeth.

"Let's play, Thunder Guardian," he sang, springing to his feet.

Lambo smiled for the first real time that day. "I thought you'd never ask."

By the time Lambo trudged back to his quarters, he gathered the bags under his eyes had bags of their own. He knew the hour was somewhere between midnight and two am, but all he could think about was not getting blood on the Persian carpets. Gokudera-nii, who had been directly responsible for importing all the decor, would tear his hair out.

Lambo closed the door to his room and chuckled under his breath, despite how his muscles screamed with every step. Who knew that Belphegor would be the one to cheer him up, of all people? The fight had been close, Lambo recalled, hissing as he gingerly removed his shirt, but of course Bel had won.

Still, there was something to be said for having taken on the Varia and lived to tell the tale.

To be almost on par with a top Varia officer at sixteen was definitely worth brownie points in Lambo's book. He wanted to call Ipin just to hear the smile in her voice once he told her, but at the moment he could barely keep his eyes open. In the morning, he decided. Clean up, then sleep.

Lambo surveyed his cuts with a yawn. Belphegor's little knives had left several shallow slashes along his arms and shoulders. The deeper ones clustered around his sides in crooked red hashtags (apparently the Varia's Little Prince had a thing for entrails). Lambo grimaced at the remains of his shirt and haphazardly stuffed what had once been a Ralph Lauren polo into his garbage bin.

Too beat to actually shower, Lambo rinsed the blood—fresh and dry-caked—from his torso with a paper towel and cold water. He stuck a couple of Band-Aids across his belly, reserving one for a scrape on his left cheek that wasn't quite able to pass as a product of Uri's claws. He was thankful that Belphegor had left his face virtually untouched. After a quick towel-down, Lambo trudged to his bed. His pillow had never looked more inviting.

His last thought before descending into the sweet oblivion of slumber was of clouds against a pepper sky, swelling bushy and soft over Vesuvius, in a peaceful wave.

It was 10:30 am, and Gokudera-nii was going to have a cow.

Actually, Lambo thought as he pushed his covers away with his feet, he wouldn't. If anyone was going to give birth to any sort of farm animal on the account of him sleeping in, they would have done so already.

He sighed. Things must really be busy.

Why had he slept so late, anyway? Lambo glanced again at his clock and swallowed, tongue dry. Now that he thought about it, he felt kind of…off. A little sick and queasy. It could have been soreness from the fight with Belphegor. It could have been something he had eaten last night. Hn. Maybe that prosciutto had been past its expiration date.

Water would help, he decided. Plus, if Lambo wanted to squeeze in a little training before lunch, he would have to have plenty of water in his system. It was a conducting thing.

After filling his bottle Lambo headed down to the lower levels of the estate, where he had his own training room. Half of the room had steel floors, while the other half was entirely rubber. Just walking seemed to make him woozy, so halfway there Lambo decided to stop by one of the living rooms and rest for a minute.

He discovered only after plopping down onto the nearest couch in an undignified sprawl that he was not alone.

Reborn, reborn again, sat sipping espresso from a delicate white mug just across from him. No one knew Reborn's real age, exactly, but it was estimated to be around fifty. The fact that he physically looked about twelve or thirteen only made this more terrifying. Lambo groaned; Reborn raised an eyebrow.

"I did not think there was such ample time to relax, Lambo," he said.

Lambo raised his head a fraction of an inch. It hurt. "What are you doing then?" he asked Reborn.

Reborn smiled from behind a curl of rising steam. "Tripotage."

Lambo could buy that. Although "manipulating" seemed to fit better. It was all Reborn ever did. And the worst part was that you could never hate the guy for it, since everything always turned out alright in the end.

"Give me a little break, Reborn-nii," Lambo said. "I'm tired, and I think I have a cold."

Reborn was silent. "Did you know that the clan managers we are dealing with are women?" he asked finally.

Lambo took a gulp of his water, shaking his head.

"The muscle of the Vanni and the Gino is mostly guys, thugs," Reborn went on, "but they are smart enough to know that if you want to have good business you get a woman to do it."

Lambo wondered why Reborn was telling him all of this. Part of him knew by now that he should not question it. Maybe that's why people got so annoyed with him when he did anyway.

"So?" he asked, trying not to yawn. He felt dizzy.

"You should have realized, working with Ipin and Bianchi, that women can be infinitely more dangerous than men," Reborn replied. Careful not to spill a drop, he set his mug down on the coffee table. "They are sharks swimming amongst flounder in a sea tainted tear-salty and red. They are smarter, quicker, and they even make better bodyguards. And you know what the best part of it is, Lambo?" Reborn asked, leaning in, hands splayed on his knees.

"No, not really."

Reborn smirked. With those black eyes (there was actually no distinguishing between iris and pupil at all, which thoroughly unsettled Lambo), he looked more like a shark than anything else. "You can get a guy to beg for forgiveness, if you, ah, push the right buttons," he said, "but a woman of the System will never apologize." Reborn gave a chuckle and settled back in his chair.

"So what's Tsuna-nii going to do?" Lambo asked.

Reborn met his eye, unblinking. "What do you think he's going to do?"

Lambo swallowed. "What should I do?" His voice sounded small, far away.

"Your mantra, 'tolerate,' is good for something, yes?" Reborn replied. "Prepare yourself. Don't get lazy."

"I'm not—"Lambo's hand flopped down over the side of the couch. "Fine, fine. I'll head downstairs." Way to lay on the guilt-trip, Reborn-nii.

After forty-five minutes of training, three bottles of water, and two nearly-faints, the last of Lambo's lightning sputtered out with a weak fizz. He shivered, pushing back sweaty hair. A fever, most likely. He was so done with this. Tolerate his ass.

Despite the fact that he had not eaten since the night before, Lambo's stomach recoiled at the thought of food. Heh. Even if he skipped lunch, he doubted anyone would notice. Maybe he should rest a bit. In his own quarters though, so Reborn-nii couldn't accuse him of fainaiguing. Lambo did a flopping pinwheel halfway up the stairs in an attempt to keep his balance, grabbing the banister like he used to grab Mama Sawada's sleeve as a kid. His fingers left clammy, greasy prints on the burnished darkwood.

Yes; a nap seemed like a good idea.

He finally hobbled back to his room, shuffled into a sweater—which he hoped would quell the waves of shivering that jostled his shoulders—and curled up on the bed. By all means, he should have had to use the bathroom ages ago, giving all the water he drank, but Lambo found he didn't even have to go. Or maybe he already did a while ago.

It was getting difficult to remember.

When Lambo woke, it was mid-afternoon and he felt worse than the time Reborn whaled on him for breaking the coffee machine. His heart yammered a rapid staccato against the walls of his chest and he struggled to see through the snaps at the edges of his vision.

He was not a stupid boy. If this was a cold, then Hibari-nii liked to dance the cha-cha in a purple tutu on Friday nights. Maybe it was one of those twenty-four hour things. The headache and nausea seemed appropriate. If he could just tolerate it for a little while longer Lambo was sure it would pass. He wished he could be like one of those little tardigrades, able to withstand any situation, any temperature. Or at the very least like Skull, whose body by scientific standards was more dead than it was alive.

Somehow, and with as little whimpering as he could manage, Lambo made it to the bathroom cabinet where his basic first aid kit was. Hn. Broad-spectrum antibiotics, paracetamol, aspirin…ah, thermometer.

39.5? That couldn't be right.

Of all Tsuna's Guardians, no one expected Mukuro to be the one to get shot.

In the end, sometimes even the famed Vongola Intuition could be wrong. Haru and Gokudera had been right all along concerning Tsuna's plan to have Rokudo Mukuro infiltrate one of the Gino clan's hideouts. Illusions had little to no effect on those trained to dispel them, true, but they also had little to no effect on those with no experience in sensing them in the first place. These were earthly, pragmatic men, with extremely pragmatic means of conducting business.

An updated model of the AK-47—the Stradivarius of the weapons world—had done the trick.

Tsuna had made it so that the AISE, formerly known as the SISMI, reported to the Nuovo Vongola directly regarding clan armaments and weapon transport around Southern Italy. The Camorra apparently had several hundred crates of the new AK-47s stashed who knows where, ready to use if someone from a rival clan so much as sneezed in the wrong direction.

The inner circles of the Vongola, excluding Xanxus, all preferred box weapons over guns. Not only were box weapons more personal, but they allowed one to be on both the offensive and the defensive. Some exceptions included Lal, who used a Breda M37 (and legless, which had people wondering just how strong she really was), the Cervello, CEDEF, and Colonello, who used just about everything.

And Reborn, naturally.

"It's pierced his small intestine," he informed Tsuna, who looked more in shock than Mukuro, who actually was going into shock. It was not every day you saw Mukuro covered in his own blood.

"They were aiming for his head, but he managed to get out of the way. If Mukuro were conscious he could project an organ replacement illusion, but he needs actual medical repair," Reborn continued. He glanced over at the clock in the room. It was nearing midnight. "I'll call Shamal over from Cardarelli. In the meantime, Ryohei, use your flames to perform a temporary healing."

As they bustled about, Reborn watched Tsuna's and his Guardians' composures, carefully constructed over the years, crumble and chip. Well. That was what a 39mm assault rifle did.

"Be calm," he told them. "Mukuro will live."

"What's going on?" A new voice said then, clogged and rusty with sleep. Someone groaned (Gokudera, probably), but nobody moved to cover up what was an extremely bloody Mukuro lying supine on the dining room table.

Lambo squinted in the doorway, his lips cracked, hair mussed and sticking up in odd, picket-fence directions. "Reborn-nii? Is, is someone hurt?" Lambo always spoke Italian upon waking. His Italian—standard, with a central "Roman" accent, usually became Japanese once Lambo realized what he was doing. Tonight, he had seemingly forgotten to switch or was unaware that he was still speaking in his native tongue.

"It's nothing, Lambo," Yamamoto said, despite his own Italian being clunky and accented. He smiled, but could not quite manage his usual laugh. "Go back to sleep."

"But…" Lambo shuffled uncomfortably, making sure that the hems of his pajama pants were covering his feet. His socks were splashed with drying vomit. Hence the reason he was awake. There was something he needed to tell them, and it was kind of important. "The amperes…I reached the joules per coulomb…but I think it's, it's an infection, um. The lines're kind of red."

Reborn tipped his hat but did not speak. Tsuna walked over, placed a hand on Lambo's shoulder. "Lambo, you're talking in your sleep. Go to bed. Everything will be fine."

Did Tsuna-nii not notice his hand was on fire? Lambo thought. Well, if someone was hurt then there could be a lot of things Tsuna-nii wouldn't notice right now. Everyone looked tense, and there was a lot of red. He supposed he should try again later.

"Okay," Lambo said.

If there was ever such a thing as a thirty-three year old geriatric, Superbi Squalo fit the bill.

Of course, he would never admit it aloud. Whining was the ultimate dishonor a swordsman could face. But still, even as he pretended not to huff as he neared the top of the stairs with his papers, there were some things he could not ignore.

Battle wounds were all fine and dandy, but his cardiovascular system was shot to hell. Getting stabbed through the heart by a guy who looked like a cross between a bodybuilder and a frog had not been Squalo's idea of a good time (technically it had been Jaeger who'd delivered the blow, but he still blamed Bermuda for the whole debacle in Japan).

And so his path to old age began at twenty-two. With Mammon's claims that the best organs were kept in Belgium, paired with a bribed bump up on the waiting list and a month of liquid fruits, Squalo had been able to fight again. The donor heart worked well enough, but it could never beat the original ticker.

Squalo let out a half-hearted "shit" as he stopped to catch his breath. He had flat-out refused to get a pacemaker. Yes, at times he regretted not having one, but with his white hair and partial hearing loss, there were only so many "old man" jokes he could take. His pride was his life.

He planted his spatha into the plush rug for support, glowering blackly, glad that no one was around to see his frankly embarrassing display of fatigue. It was too early in the morning for this crap. The sooner he could fax these intel papers, the sooner he and the Boss could return to the Varia mansion. Being here did little for Xanxus' mood, which on a good day meant only one glass-chucking at his hair. If Squalo was lucky.

He sucked in another breath of air and tucked the manila envelope under his arm. At least Mukuro had the decency to get some valuable information before getting shot. And information, contrary to popular belief, was something the Varia could work with.

Squalo was so lost in thought that he almost missed it.

He actually made it to the end of the hallway before stopping dead in his tracks and doubling back to the room that he had just passed. The Sala Chiara. Despite its name, all of the windows were covered with thick, chenille tapestry.

"Really?" Squalo said, surveying the figure sprawled face-down on the marble floor. Could anything else go wrong this week?

There was no visible blood, so he walked over and prodded the Lightning brat with the tip of his spatha. "Oi. Kid." No response.

Squalo rolled the kid over so he was supine, or at least half-way there, and hissed. "Fuck." Dropping his files, he bent down, tearing the leather Varia glove from his fingers with his teeth, feeling what he knew would be hot, dry skin. "Fuck."

This was bad. He had seen septic shock too many times to not recognize it. The kid was still in his goddamn pajamas. What he was doing in the Sala Chiara was beyond Squalo, but it was certainly the closest Hall to Sawada's office.

Squalo felt the kid's pulse. Weak and stuttering, but he had not gone into cold shock yet. Thank Giotto for small favors. Nonetheless, time was limited. Squalo cursed again, eyes sweeping the dimly-lit room. With a place the size of the Taj Mahal, shouldn't they have earpieces and shit? Ah, right, the intercom. Squalo ran over to it, jammed a thumb on the call button, and took the deepest breath he could manage.


There was a startled crackle on the other end. "Sq-Squalo-san?"

Coughing, Squalo panted, "Brat, call Shamal this fucking instant."

"What is it? Has Mukuro's condition changed?"

Squalo pinched the skin between his eyes. "Call. NOW."

"I am calling, Squalo," Tsunayoshi said, infuriatingly calm. "What do I tell him?"

Squalo gave the kid a quick once-over, finding all the confirmation he needed once he'd lifted he kid's shirt. "Tell him he needs his large-bore IV, Dopamine, and every fucking antibiotic he can think of," Squalo growled. "And tell him to get his sorry ass down here before your Guardian kicks the bucket. Vooii!" He disconnected the line and shook some hair out of his face. That ought to wake the little shit up. Good-fucking-morning to you too, Vongola.

Squalo paced the hall, his boots clicking on the marble tiles in an agitated march. He practiced his breathing techniques and Zen shit like he was someone who didn't deal with hypertension on a daily basis, but they had little effect. There were some situations that were simply too infuriating to overlook.

After all, this was on his head.

And why? Bel the fucking prince, of course. After living with someone for almost twenty years you would have to be a fool not to spot their mark on someone. Squalo was beyond pissed.

A shadow in the door curtailed his spate of snarling profanities, and Squalo jerked his head up to see Reborn. His head was tilted to the side, and for once a frown seemed to break through that washboard expression he typically wore.

"Blood poisoning," Squalo spat, grinding his feet to a halt. He gestured to Lambo, limp and slumped on the floor. "Brat's going into septic shock! How did you dumbasses not notice this?"

Hell, it wasn't his problem if the kid croaked on him, but then he and Xanxus would owe the Vongola. Again. And that was a little more than Squalo could bear at the moment.

He watched as Reborn walked over, crouched down beside Lambo, and placed a hand to his forehead. Reborn said nothing for a minute, but closed his eyes and rubbed the fake pacifier around his neck.

"Stupid kid."

For once, Squalo was not sure to whom Reborn was referring.

He found Bel in the courtyard, sitting on a low tree branch and eating a nectarine. Clear, pearly juice dripped from his chin, but the prince took no notice. Although two hours had passed and he was no longer in the rage he had been in before, Squalo was not a happy camper.

"Get down."

"You seem out of breath, fishy."

Squalo swiped at the tree branch. Bel nimbly jumped out of the way, landing on his feet, and pulled up a chair to the glass outdoor table. He leaned back, propping his feet up on the table in an incredibly Xanxus-like gesture, and grinned. Fruit juice trickled onto his chest. "What can I do you for?"

Squalo felt his temper flare up again, buzzing and humming. Or maybe it was the July cicadas. Blame his irascibility on living with the Boss for too long. Belphegor and his utter stupidity certainly did not help things.

"Are you a complete idiot, Bel?" he asked. At the insult to his prided intelligence, Bel's grin shrunk a few molars.

"Whatever can you mean, fishy? I'm as clever as always."

Instead of exploding, Squalo smiled grimly. Suddenly, Bel felt less like smiling himself. If Squalo was upset enough that he wasn't screaming and flailing everywhere, something was very, very wrong.

Squalo's brow was twisted and furled, and his pale gray eyes glinted like flint. "Aren't you the tight-assed scholar, ah? You know you might have just killed off one of the Vongola's Guardians?"

Squalo walked over and slammed his palms on the glass table. Bel retracted his feet in a hurry. "Tell me, Mister Scholar. Since you have above-average intelligence, then you should know all about bacteria," Squalo growled, voice low. Bel was silent.

"You spar with that little cow brat?"

"Wasn't much of a fight," Bel replied with a snort.

"Bet you cut him up some," Squalo said.

Bel laughed through his teeth, although he kept his eye on Squalo warily. For some reason or another, the second in command was upset with him. Generally, most people were, but few came within ambsace of internally combusting at the fact.

"Of course," he drawled. "Red is such a pretty color. I was thinking about changing my tiara's jewels to rubies."

"And when, pray tell, was the last time you bothered to clean your fucking knives?"

"Hey, the Prince is extremely hygienic," Bel objected. There was a spot of nectarine juice on his chin. "Are you suggesting I've been neglecting proper weapons care?"

"Voiii! That is exactly what I am suggesting," Squalo hissed. "You better tell me you clean all 152 of your knives after each use. Do you use hot water and baking soda and scrape the blood off with a fucking dime store toothbrush? What about rubbing alcohol? Huh?"

"My knives are quality steel, they don't get bacteria."

"Everything gets bacteria, especially if you've got someone's motherfucking brains caked all over it!" Squalo exclaimed, his voice rising. Goddammit, he thought they had taught Bel at least a little common sense over the years. "Thanks to you, we probably owe Sawada a couple thousand euros in medical bills. Might as well have waved the cow in front of the ever-fucking Ginos. And the Boss, don't even get me started. Xanxus is going to flense you."

Bel sighed and gave a shrug. "You know fishy, it's not my fault if the little calf doesn't know how to clean his boo-boos."

"But it is your fault if your knives have more bacteria on them than a fucking SEPTIC TANK!"

Bel pouted. "Usually, my subjects are too dead to complain about it."

Rokudo Mukuro would have liked to sleep for a little while longer, but somebody outside was shouting.

He could have gone back to sleep, since the pillow was soft and comfortably warm, if not for the fact that a) every millimeter of him screamed bloody murder, and b) he was three stories up. Whoever was shouting was doing it from the ground level and he could still hear it.

Groaning, Mukuro pushed himself into a sitting position. His side gave a painful twinge and he coughed, collapsing back down on the bed. So much for that plan.

The Ginos were dead men the next time he found them.

Mukuro tried not to wince at the screaming, which was drilling a fantastic little hole right through his temple and showed no signs of ceasing. And, because Joshima Ken currently had his head lolling out the window and his rear end pointed toward Mukuro, Mukuro had to gather enough of his voice to draw attention. "Ken."

Ken whipped his head inside so fast the tips of his hair were a blur. "Mukuro-sama!" he exclaimed. "Finally, you're awake!"

"There's something going on outside, I presume," Mukuro said, nodding to the window. The pupil of his right eye spiraled like a question mark.

Ken sniggered. "You got that right, Mukuro-sama. Squalo-sempai is throwin' a hissy fit. Half the mansion can hear it."

"Oya?" Mukuro frowned. "I'm assuming that my near brush with death couldn't have been enough to enrage the Varia so."

"Nuh-uh, believe me, the Vongola were all mad and stuff," Ken replied, shaking his head. "It's just, eh…something else came up."

Mukuro raised an eyebrow.

"From what I hear, and I can hear pret-ty well right right now—"Ken pointed to his dentures. He had his lion channel in. "Belphegor was fightin' the Bovino with dirty weapons, and the cow almost died from blood poisoning this morning." Ken jerked his thumb toward the door. "He's down the hall in ICU. Lemme tell you Mukuro-sama, I've never seen Shamal lose his cool like that, byon!"

Mukuro closed his eyes. Just what they needed when fighting the System. Internal complications. Literally. He really should not have found that amusing, especially since he'd essentially been shot for the first time in twelve years, but it was starting to become funny. In a twisted sort of way.

"Whoo! Belphegor's gettin' chewed out down there. Wouuuldn't want to be him right now. Nope."

Mukuro managed a quiet chuckle. "Kufufu. No, I don't suppose you would."

"…osis, cryobiosis, and anoxybiosis. In extreme situations the tardigrade can enter one of these four stages of cryptobiosis, a state of nearly death, able to survive for decades in hibernation. Through anhydrobiosis, the tardigrade loses almost all of its body water and its metabolism decreases to 0.1 percent."

Lambo didn't know if it was Hell in general where Reborn was reading his book on extremophiles out loud, or if it was just his own personal one. Either way, Lambo knew he was dead.


He was almost afraid to open his eyes. "Reborn-nii?" he whispered.

Reborn, he saw when he cracked an eye open, was ensconced in an armchair by his bed. His hat was doffed, his tie loosened. As Lambo's eyes adjusted to the sun-filled room, Reborn cocked his head. "You're not dead, in case you were wondering. But you came pretty close."

A slow, slinky movement caught his eye, and Lambo strained to look over the bedpost. Uri was coiled up by Reborn's chair, smoking steadily. His tail, bushy and motile, waved from side to side.

Lambo let his head loll back against the pillow. "That book's in Japanese," he remarked. His voice was crumbly and reluctant to rise beyond a whisper. "Why were you reading it in Italian?"

Reborn looked at the cover and shrugged without actually moving his shoulders. He did it all with his facial features—which, when talking about Reborn, was actually pretty expressive. "Doesn't it sound better that way?" he asked.

"Is—"Lambo tried clearing his throat—"Is Shamal here?"

"Of course," Reborn replied. "But I believe he's in the shower. Something about poison stroganoff in his hair. That guy really has no chance with her."

Lambo's face screwed up. "I'm tired, Reborn-nii," he whimpered, unable to help it. But dear sweet linguini, he hurt. Tears began to pool at the corners of his eyes. Reborn usually smacked him upside the head if he whined too much, injured or not, so he braced himself for impact.

To Lambo's surprise, Reborn simply nodded. "I should think so," he said. "Most of your internal organs stopped working. Shamal will go over it all when he gets back." He closed Lambo's book and set it on the nightstand, his other hand absently rubbing the faux pacifier looped around his neck.

"The SSN's been trying to nab him for years, you know, but lucky for us he's contracted to the underground."

Lambo frowned, his fuzzy mind still trying to piece things together. Things would stick, with time, but Reborn-nii sure was talking a lot. Lambo knew in the few instances where Reborn-nii actually got angry, he either talked too much or too little. Best to apologize and hope for the best.

"I'm really sorry," Lambo tried. Reborn stopped rubbing his pacifier and squarely met Lambo's eye. The moments ticked by in silence. Great. Now Reborn-nii wasn't talking at all.

"You are such an idiot."

Lambo let out an inquiring groan.

"Then again," Reborn continued, sitting back in the armchair, "our family is full of idiots, so I should expect nothing less. The Varia are idiots too. As am I."

Now Lambo was properly confused. "I'm…" he sighed. "I'm not keeping up. Can I sleep now?"

"You know, it's rather rude to cut me off," Reborn said. "Especially when I am about to tell you something that I have only told a total of three people in my entire life."

Lambo turned his head. Reborn-nii was in an odd mood. He didn't quite have the energy to try to figure it out, so he guessed he should listen.

"Lambo. I'm sorry."


What was that sound? Oh, it was nothing, just the sound of the world as they knew it cracking in two.

"Wh—why, again?" Lambo croaked when his vocal cords managed to unstick themselves. His current expression would have been hilarious if not for the circumstances. He could see Reborn's lips curling into a smile.

Reborn rose lithely, smile budding into a quiet chuckle. Leon scuttered across his shoulder. "Hn. You should rest," he said. "Oh, and when you can manage solid meals again I know a great mitarashi dango stand by the Port. It's on me."

If Lambo had little appetite before, Shamal's colorful explanations of septic shock expunged it completely. Shamal described, and not without a genuinely unsettling mix of fascination and savage glee, some of the bacteria and toxins that had been found on Belphegor's throwing knives and what they had done to Lambo's system.

"Honestly, this is why I hate treating men," Shamal had grumbled, running a hand over the faint stubble sprinkling his jawline. "You guys get yourselves into the most unfortunate—and frankly unnecessary—situations. But, as they say out East, 'pusht-e har taareekee, roshanee ast.'"

Lambo blinked, scratching his hair. "What does that mean?"

"It means there is light after every darkness," Reborn said, before Shamal could answer.

In spite of all the glib and insults, it did not take a genius to see that Shamal had been worried. It was probably why, a few days later, Bianchi dropped in with a jar of store-bought ragù for the good doctor. Shamal then went on to lecture most of the Guardians (and the Varia, to Lambo's amusement) about the importance of good weapon maintenance.

"Of course, that's only an issue with the Vongola, since everyone else just uses guns like normal people."

Although Lambo wrestled with fatigue, muscle pains, and a liquid diet that Squalo could sympathize with for the next few weeks, he had never been happier. Sure, there was such a thing as too much attention (Tsuna-nii would know), but it certainly beat negligence. A happy ending for all.

Well, almost.

It was a surprise to all when Belphegor, via express mail, sent Lambo an AC/DC current clamp that looked like it had cost more than Lambo's entire wardrobe. Lambo almost laughed when he got that package. If he hadn't known any better, he would have said Boss Tsuna had something to do with that.

Tsuna-nii wasn't one for flying into uncharted rages, but that didn't mean he never got mad. According to Gokudera-nii, who'd told Lambo this in a state of awed wonder, Tsuna-nii had been furious. He—Tsuna—had called Belphegor into his office while Lambo had still been unconscious. He only spent fifteen minutes in a room alone with Bel, and although no one could hear a sound from behind the door, Bel had been awfully pale when he'd come out. Story had it the Little Prince had even lost his Cheshire grin.

Lambo also heard from Yamamoto-nii (who'd heard from Kyoko), that he'd left Naples with a nice big Haru-shaped handprint on his cheek.

The Camorra clans were still an issue. Mukuro, once his stitches healed, had paid the Ginos another visit. Ryohei-nii claimed that Mukuro had, with his trident, possessed that entire retrieval group and had them kill each other in forty-eight different ways. One for each Cammorista.

Putting that all aside, Tsuna-nii and Gokudera-nii were set to discuss possible peace terms with the female clan managers at the end of the month. With any luck, a détente could be reached between the Vanni and the Gino. Ryohei-nii and Chrome were in charge of protecting civilians, so between all of them Lambo had the feeling things would eventually work out.

He smiled. Speaking of the Right Hand. During normal circumstances, it would have been exceedingly out of character for a consigliere to demonstrate unbridled physical affections towards his fellow mafiosi. Gokudera-nii had hugged him silly that first week.

"Lambo, I'm so sorry, it's all my fault. I feel like a dried up turd, a worthless piece of—"

Lambo giggled, despite himself. "So, um, you're not mad?"

Gokudera pulled away, his eyebrows lost somewhere in his hairline. "Are you kidding? I will buy you as much takoyaki and limoncello as you want for a year just to show you how un-mad I am."

"I can't drink, Gokudera-nii."

"Pah! Everyone drinks limoncello!"

Lambo had thanked Shamal and Squalo in private, grateful to them the most. The latter merely blew hair out of his eyes with his bottom lip and growled, "Lucky I found you, trash," which Lambo took as his own personal way of saying, "you're welcome."

Yamamoto-nii brought him gelato every day. Skull offered to teach him the art of applying mascara in under thirty seconds, and Lambo watched all nine seasons of the X-files. Heck, even Irie and Spanner-nii visited with new updates about their undercover work at the Eastern University.

Ipin called in from Hong Kong a week later, frantic, just barely hanging onto some semblance of Japanese in her efforts to make sure he was okay. Lambo reassured her that everything was alright, he was fine, he was alive. And recovery pain notwithstanding, alive he was. He'd been able to survive it all. Take that, little tardigrades.

But, the next time he wanted an apology from his family, Lambo thought, he would like to do so without almost dying.

The day was ending. Lambo sighed contentedly, watching his shadows stretch with the setting sun, feeling his eyes droop and his head sinking. He actually missed exploring the city now. When Ipin returned in August they would go together, no matter how hot it was, and by then he could master the stairs without wearing himself out.

The last of the daylight dipped out of view, and night was sliding over the horizon like a cool drink spilled on velvet. He had to look on the bright side, though. After every darkness there was light.

Reborn owed him some dango, and even if it took a little while longer, Lambo would hold him to that.


I can't believe this is finally done! I had a great time writing this after such a long period of not really being able to write anything. This was also incredibly difficult to write on a number of levels (i.e. while I've never had sepsis myself, a close relative of mine recently died from it). Truthfully, I loved sprinkling all the little headcanon-y bits of detail over this fic, and would go as far as to call this one of the most self-indulgent pieces I have ever done. Hope you all enjoy.


Gomorrah, by Roberto Saviano (2006).

Top 10 Afghan Dari proverbs.

General Google search and Google translate, along with Denshi Jishou.