Beta'd by the celebratory Insane Scriptist.

A random chapter for my birthday! Festive greetings to all!

Of the awkward necessity of compromise

It was eight o'clock on Saturday morning and his new phone was ringing. Scrambling out of the bathroom and grabbing it off the coffee table to glare at it however revealed a non-Varia number; the number of people who were not Varia and that the Varia switchboard would redirect to him on his day off could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare; Xanxus answered it, because this was clearly some kind of emergency.


"Xanxus, it's Carla." Carla Alliata. "I need to you extract Haru Miura from Namimori."

Shark's report had implied this was a possibility, so Xanxus couldn't really say he was surprised. A civvie that could decide to behead someone -and actually followed through with it- wasn't just anyone; she was the one out of Squeaky Toy's offsiders most likely to make the jump and also to need the extra help doing so. "Just her?"

"Just her; Yamamoto-san is making arrangements for me to take his son when we leave, Signora Soave is in the process of taking the Bianchi boy out of the country, the Kurokawa girl is very firmly pretending she knows nothing and focusing her efforts on the Sasagawa girl, who is also repressing, the Sasagawa boy has entirely forgotten Tsunayoshi as anything but a classmate of his sister and the Hibari boy is keeping a close eye on all of them."

So the Cloud had assumed responsibility for Namimori's remaining Actives and would doubtless make arrangements should any outsiders attempt to target them; good. This was where his 'arrangement' with Hibari Kyoya really showed its worth: he could hand them off to the Cloud, Underworld Active to Underworld Active, because they were in his Territory and therefore under his protection. So long as they stayed there, which honestly only the girls were likely to. The boxer brat would try to leave to pursue his 'dream' of professional sports and run right into the intransigent authority that was the Vindice, but that was his problem not Xanxus's; he'd be an adult then.

"Miura's parents?" he asked.

"Negligent intellectuals," Carla said immediately, her tone making her very low opinion of them abundantly clear.

"Will send somebody appropriately intellectual, then." It was always easier to appeal to people's prejudices during extractions, it stopped them from looking too deeply into things. It also meant they came up with their own narrative, rather than a Mist having to try and create something for them. Sure, a Mist-led narrative did work in the moment, but if every note wasn't pitch-perfect then unease and suspicion would set in afterwards and there'd be eventual follow-up. Suspicious follow-up, which was harder to lead astray.

Magical people had memory modification magic; he could send Lektor with a temporary squad, try out a new arrangement before he did the full switch-up in the New Year. Lektor dressed and talked like the highly educated language researcher he was, which would hopefully jive well enough with the Miura mathematics professor that was Lightning Girl's father.

"Thank you, Xanxus; I told her to expect someone, so she will cooperate."

Even better. "Will likely be before you leave," Xanxus warned her, "so there's continuity and she can say her goodbyes." For a truly successful extraction, closure was essential; very few of the Varia recruited as apprentices from abroad ever went back. Most of those recruited as adults didn't either, not even to visit.

"Even better; Tsunayoshi will be reassured."

Xanxus wasn't sure he would be, but Squeaky Toy would bring that to him personally rather than fussing about it to the girl or his grandmother, which was what mattered there. "Anything else?"

"No dear, that was everything; Matters of guardianship are at least proceeding smoothly and I suspect I have the senior Hibari to thank there."

"Good." He doesn't need to tell her to call him if she needs anything, she clearly knows to do that already. "Bye."

"Goodbye, Xanxus."


Her Cloud paused in his note-taking and glanced up at her with a smile, tambur propped up in his lap. "Dorea. Come to assess my progress?"

"I'm sure you have everything well in hand," Dorea said warmly, walking into the room and settling on this music room's fainting couch, taking a moment to array her skirts comfortably. Psote was sat on one of the floor cushions, casually dressed in indigo sirwal and a matching woollen jalabiya in concession to the cooler temperatures -nowhere near as cold as England could get, but still chilly compared to some of the places he regularly performed- surrounded by notes and sketches and two other musical instruments; her Cloud took his art very seriously indeed.

"As well as I ever do," he conceded, smiling faintly as he idly plucked a cascade of notes. It meant a lot to her that he hadn't bothered to get up off the floor when she entered the room; it said he did really consider himself to be at home here. "Something I can help you with, my Lady?"

"How interested are you in getting to know your Superbi relatives?" Dorea asked bluntly; her Cloud's eyes dropped to his instrument. "I truly don't mind either way," she clarified gently, "but I would like to know if I should be enabling or obstructing their attempts. My husband and I have been invited to dinner by Delfino Superbi, and you were included in the invitation."

Psote's shoulders loosened slightly. "I don't mind Delfino," he murmured, nimble fingers coaxing a faintly yearning tune out of the instrument in his lap.

"But you are finding those more closely related to you uncomfortably insistent," Dorea deduced.

"Not all of them," Psote conceded quietly, not looking up as he continued to play and scrutinise his fingering on the neck of the tambur, "but many of the younger ones are rather intrusive."

Pushy, Dorea translated mentally. Pushy, and Psote's response to that was to plant his feet and refuse to move, rather than pushing back. "I can pass on your regrets to Delfino and that you are finding his younger relatives' insistence on socialising a trifle off-putting," she offered after a pause filled with her Cloud's music.

"No; I will attend and tell him so myself," Psote glanced up to smile firmly at her, continuing to pluck lightly at the strings. "It is my family, after all." He rolled his eyes. "My new cousins are clearly very bad at living with disappointment."

Going by the examples of Superbi she had met so far, Dorea suspected most Superbi considered living with disappointment to be anathema; why bother when persistence might well bring you success? Of course, this was a very poor approach where relationships were concerned, but that didn't stop people from trying. Going by Squalo's general attitude to his family -his grandfather included- this kind of behaviour was plausibly very popular along Superbi, much to the irritation of those more introverted members.

Which likely explained why so many of them travelled or lived so far away; it cut down on annoying interactions. It also explained Squalo's persistently avoidant behaviour where his relatives were concerned. "I am very happy to defend your right to not spend time with your newfound relatives," Dorea said lightly, "so long as I know that is what you want."

"I know where they live; if I want to see them, I will visit," Psote said, tone final, "or else I will invite them to spend time with me elsewhere. I have a cell phone as well as a mirror now." And, was implied, all these relatives had already pressed phone numbers on him.

"And now I know that is what you would prefer, I will make sure to reinforce that should they try to get me to invite them over," Dorea agreed, smoothing down her grey-and-black striped skirts. "Do you have any particular Christmas plans?"

"Beyond celebrating with you? Not really," Psote admitted with a smile, which tightened as he looked across the room and out of the window at the overcast sky, the tune shifing to something more ominous under his fingers. "It has been a… trying… few months."

Dorea could tell that was a reference to the false memories. She knew Psote had experienced those, but hadn't inquired into their substance; he'd strangely featured very little in her own false memories, and she couldn't actually remember any specifics relating to him, which was retrospectively highly suspect when he was an Active Cloud. "Have you talked to anyone about the content of your false memories?"

Psote's fingers twitched, producing a sour note. He abruptly set the instrument aside and got to his feet, crossing the room and settling on the couch next to her. "I am nobody's pet or plaything," he said bitterly, resting his head on her shoulder; "not even yours."

"Of course you aren't."

"And yet," her wonderful dancer said darkly, smoothing down her sleeve trim, "there is at least one of my newfound family who thinks I am and believes I need rescuing." He snorts. "Ha; rescuing. Taking possession of, more like."

Oh dear. "In the simulation, when two people's wills were set against each-other, the one with the stronger Flame would prevail," Dorea told him carefully, reaching over to take his hand in hers, "which is not how such a thing would work in reality." Reality was not so one-dimensional; however this was far from the only persistent social error plaguing the simulation.

Psote huffed, but she could sense a slight decrease in tension. "There was also no particular magic to speak of."

"Magical warding could not be penetrated by the simulation, so it could not model what took place beyond it." Dorea paused. "Also, it was based on an outdated model, dating back most of two months. Desires change." Or at least she hoped they did; it was true that some goals and wants were transient, but others were not.

"I would still prefer not to see that person at all," Psote muttered in Greek, lacing his fingers with hers, his silver wrist cuff clicking gently against her four-stranded coral bracelet. "For a full year at least."

"I am sure that could be easily arranged," Dorea replied in the same language, "if you gave Delfino or Pantera their name." She would not ask him to tell her who it was or what had happened; it wasn't her business unless he decided to share.

"I may do so, then." He did not give her the culprit's name; probably for the best, given how his clear discomfort was making her Family Magic swirl ominously under the surface; she would not be avenging this imaginary slight -the person in question had not actually done anything at all yet- so it was better not to linger on it. For all she knew this individual in question had been indulging a private fantasy at the moment in which the simulation was activated, so the desire had been accordingly ephemeral and vanishingly unlikely to be genuinely pursued.

Psote however had been harmed by it, however transient it had been, and would need time to move past it. Once again, the true culprit here was Hebe, who was beyond all vengeance now. All they could realistically do was try to shed the pain and move forwards.

"Anything you need, Psote, I'm here." Even if she couldn't give it to him, she could help him find it.

Her dancer raised her hand to his lips and gently kissed her knuckles. "Likewise, Dorea."

It was after lunch and the older children were all out at the fair -again- with their godparents and some of his wife's Guardians, and Magharibi was looking after Daniela for a few hours as godmother, so it was a good moment to talk to Dorea about the twins' request to attend school. Xanxus however didn't particularly want to ask, because he knew it'd ruin the mood and he was rather enjoying snuggling with his wife on a window seat, looking out over the garden and just enjoying getting to be together. Moments like this were precious.


He looked down at his wife, who has tilted her head back to arch an eyebrow at him, inquiry pressing lightly through the marriage bond.

The marriage bond. Which let his wife feel how he felt. "Sorry, wife."

"You don't have to tell me," She conceded, "but I will always listen, husband."

He didn't deserve her. "I know. Do want to tell you. Just know you're not going to like it."

His wife sighed and levered herself slightly more upright, absently tucking a loose curl back up behind a white hellebore clip he'd made for her a few weeks ago; he'd made three and she was wearing both smaller ones today, along with a four-strand orangey coral necklace and matching bracelet and earrings. "Well, the sooner you tell me, the sooner it's over with and we can move on to better things."

"The twins want to go to school."

Dorea stiffened, clearly understanding the implication of 'attend Mafia Academy with their new friends,' then lowered her eyes to smooth down the pale-grey-and-black-striped day dress with looping black ribbon detailing, her emotions across the marriage bond sharp and aching and angry.

Xanxus waited patiently for her to work through those on her own, taking her hands in his when she moved from smoothing her skirts to fiddling with the ribbon loops. "Didn't promise anything," he assured her quietly. "Just said I'd ask you for them."

"It's something they want," his wife said tightly.

"It is. Might not work out though." There were all kinds of things that could go wrong, honestly, starting with the other kids at the school being rude about the educational standards mismatch -because the twins would be well ahead in certain subjects but utterly behind in others due to their magic-focused education- to developing feuds with teachers -absolutely a hazard with Cassie and something Xanxus had been guilty of himself at that age- through to their simply struggling to sit still for that long in a classroom environment, although given Crocodile was also Governess that was honestly unlikely.

Having a punctilious Cloud in charge of their education so far meant the twins would have excellent classroom manners. They might in fact be shocked and appalled by the other kids' lack of classroom manners, or less professional behaviour from the Academy's teachers, and there was also the issue of accidental magic; just because his kids could control their Zabini Fire, didn't mean that was all that might happen. Magic was far more varied than that.

"But I should let them try." The spasm of pain across the marriage bond made Xanxus reach out and firmly move her back into his lap so he could hug her.

"Don't have to."

"It's something they want, Xanxus. And I bet they presented solid, sensible reasons as well," his wife grumbled, voice choked and teary.


"So I should let them. Because learning to choose and experience the consequences of choices is important, and there will be a safety net for them if things go a little wrong."

"Can arrange extra security," Xanxus offered. "Got an assassin teaching at the high school currently; can have him stay on another term. Buildings are adjacent."

"And I'm sure the Owls would linger in the vicinity if I asked it of them," Dorea agreed quietly, pain and helpless fury still swirling across the marriage bond. "I just…"

"Don't want to," Xanxus said acceptingly. "Very fair; Alliance could have unseated the old fart, but couldn't be bothered to. Wasn't inconveniencing them until recently." That was something he was having to work past as well.

"But I do want my children to have friends, and attending school with the friends they're making here will help them stay friends, especially when they're going to be attending boarding school later," Dorea said fretfully, "and it's important to have a good mix of friends. Grounding. I… I didn't have many friends as a child."

Xanxus kissed her. "You want more for our kids," he murmured warmly, leaning in close. "Better than we had. S'good. And hard."

Dorea sighed shakily, shoulders hitching. "I don't want them to go, husband," she whispered miserably, "but they want to go. How do I-" She buried her face in his jacket, shaking with near-silent tears.

Xanxus hugged her again, rubbing a soothing hand up her spine as he rocked gently in place, grateful for the width of the window seat, and waited for her to settle. The anger had faded again; now all there was to feel through the marriage bond was pain. "Got you," he promised gently; there wasn't anything else he could promise here.

It hurt, that he couldn't offer any more than that. And that he understood completely why she didn't want to send her kids to Mafia Academy; even with the new Head of Education being determined to reform the curriculum, that hadn't happened yet. Wouldn't properly until next September at the very earliest, more likely the September after, depending on how prepared she was already. There was a lot of material to work through.

Cassie hated being lied to and she would absolutely fume at the some of the things being put forwards in her 'civics' classes, based on what shark had let slip about those and what the rest of the Alliance seemed to think was true regarding Vongola history.

"I just feel like they'll get hurt," Dorea admitted eventually, forehead resting against his shoulder. "That they will get hurt if I agree to this, and as their mother I should prevent that when I can." She took a deep, shaking breath. "But at the same time, they won't understand that, and my refusing to let them go will also hurt them."

"Can't win," Xanxus agreed ruefully, kissing her hair. "Life hurts; can't change that."

"But I can make sure it's not me hurting them," his wife decided heavily, tilting her face back to meet his eyes. "I just…" she pulled out a lace-edged handkerchief and dabbed at the tear-stains on her face. "I cannot see this ending well."

"Will plot contingencies with Kitty-cat," Xanxus promised; whether this was his wife's precognitive gift or just plain precedent making her uneasy, he would do everything he could to ease her mind. "Talk to headmistress personally, even."

"Take Barty, he has teaching experience."

Negotiator would certainly communicate how seriously his wife was taking their children's safety; the Lightning was both highly intelligent and completely unhinged in a way that was very Varia. However nobody sane would agree to let him teach anyone not an older teenager or preferably an adult. "Teaching experience?"

"He impersonated a third party at my school for a year in order to achieve a goal for his former master, while also teaching the self-defence classes said third party had been hired to teach. Everybody learned a lot that year."

There is so much wrong with that statement Xanxus isn't sure where to start. "Former master who wanted you dead?"


"And the school didn't notice?"

"No? I mean. Barty wasn't trying to kill me; his master wanted to do that personally."

"Not helping," Xanxus grumbled, hugging her again to reassure himself she really was fine. This had happened before they married, so it was one more near-miss to be grateful for. Or maybe be grateful for Barty's discernment and commitment to following his orders over attempting to curry favour with his master.

Levi would have jumped the gun and done the murder, even if Xanxus had specified that he wanted to do the deed himself. Then again, Barty was nothing like Levi had been. Both fanatical Lightnings yes, but Barty had a brain he used regularly and he was capable of complex logical reasoning rather than consumed by rationalising his emotional reactions. And had done so while maintaining a cover identity and presumably teaching for most of a school year.

"Would it help to know that Barty considered me his master's heir, even back then, so was genuinely baffled by his master's determination to kill me?"

Okay, that did help a little bit. "Your school was dangerous."

Dorea blinked at him.

"You got hurt," Xanxus persevered.

"Yes, I did."

"Would have hated your father if he'd insisted you come home."

His wife glared at him, lower lip protruding in a sulky pout as she folded her arms defensively. "I don't like where this is going."

Xanxus nuzzled her hair. "Lovely wife," he cajoled, "clever wife, beautiful, generous wife-"

Dorea tipped her head back and leaned up to nip at his lips. "Dreadful husband," she countered, marriage bond revealing more rueful amusement than offense.

"Love me," Xanxus rumbled smugly before dipping down for another, deeper kiss.

"Clearly I have terrible taste-" Xanxus silenced that bit of teasing with yet another kiss, hands roaming over her bodice and tapping inquiringly over the fastenings.

"May I?"

Dorea sighed. "Is it okay if I'd rather not?"

Xanxus hummed positively. "S'fine. More kisses?"


Reassured of what his wife was comfortable with right now, Xanxus shifted her in his lap a little, firmly tilted her chin up and set about making sure she was very thoroughly kissed, enjoying the feel of her fingers clutching at his jacket and stroking the back of his neck under his ponytail. She might not want anything more now, but in an hour or so's time, she might feel differently.

Either way, the kissing was fantastic.