Disclaimer: Let's see… nope, the rights to KHR haven't miraculously transferred to me since the last time I wrote fanfic in this sandbox. Don't own.
Rating: T/PG-13, though some issues discussed in-fic verge on PG-15.
Timeline: Complete AU in that not only do we have twin Sawadas, this has scenes spread out over their life from childhood to adulthood.
Thanks to: cywscross for her input on Yoshi's name; and Sisp, who inspired me to write a Cloud!Tsuna fic in the first place.
Also dedicated to Sisp, since gifting doesn't work on this site, unlike over on AO3, where this fic is crossposted.
AN1: Note that, even if Tsuna's twin initially comes across as an OC, I don't precisely consider him one. I've written both the twins as AU versions of Tsuna. One softer and one harsher, one Sky and the other Cloud. I'm not explaining it away as a single soul split in two bodies or anything else, since that isn't what the story's about. Admittedly, Cloud!Tsuna was supposed to be the only Tsuna when I started writing this, which is why he's the one to retain the original nickname. I started out thinking about writing an original twin in and decided that, nope, that wasn't what I wanted. Two Tsunas were far more interesting, even if they don't consciously think of themselves in that way. And here we are.
Also, this is largely unedited, because I just haven't had the time. Apologies for typos or any other errors.
Head on to the bottom for Trigger Warnings and Character Song List
Does Your Amber Heart Bleed Purple Gold
"Forgive me, senpai. If you want to bug the kid, you'll have to go at it yourself."
The third year blinked slowly down at the newly ascended second year brat quivering in front of him. The brat was still relatively new to the way things worked in Nami-chuu, but he'd had the sense to keep his head low and get things done, which had made him more than a little useful to him. Yes, aside from his rather unfortunate name - "Momo" he'd said, in a long suffering voice. When asked if that was short for something, the kid had given them a jaundiced look that said, no, no it wasn't. His parents had wanted a cute little girl, and when they hadn't gotten one they'd decided to go ahead and name him 'Momo' anyway. They'd all kept mum after that. - Tada Momo was everything he could have wanted in a subordinate in middle school. He hadn't questioned anything not worth questioning, and when he did bring something up, it was always in a politely deferring manner. He hadn't been a problem for the whole of the first year that he'd been in Nami-chuu.
This was the first time he'd ever stood his ground and said 'no' to anything, though. And about this, of all things?
"Maybe you don't understand, Tada, this is a democracy. Kuro-aniki said that this kid was going to be lots of fun, he's dumb and he doesn't have any friends either even though it's been a month since the first years came in. He'd make the perfect gopher, so you're going to catch a few of his classmates to take care of things for us." Said Miyazaki with a wide grin. Kuro stayed silent, watching. He didn't want to get involved until he really had to – Miyazaki was enough, to handle something like this.
Tada glared up at the other third year, still quivering, but still just as stubborn.
"You don't understand, Miyazaki-senpai, no one messes with that kid. I," here, Tada looked a little uneasy, not sure if he wanted to continue speaking on not. Kuro frowned down at him, and the kid bent like a sheet of wet paper.
"I went to the same elementary school as the kid. Hell, I was unlucky enough to go to the same play school as them."
The 'them' was unexpected enough that it made Kuro speak up without waiting for Miyazaki to say anything. His question had Tada somehow wilting to the floor while still standing straight before them.
"I'm sorry, Kuro-aniki, I just… I'm just…" he broke off, beginning to look queasy. Miyazaki grunted, and grabbed the bottle of water sitting on the desk closest to them. Tada fumbled when the bottle was thrown at him, but he did look better once he'd actually managed to take a drink from it.
"Them?" Kuro repeated. Tada looked pained, but he did speak up without going green, this time.
"Yeah. Everyone from my old play school and Namimori Elementary knows about them, so it shouldn't be too dangerous to say anything… I think. Anyway-" he continued hurriedly, when he caught sight of the scowl on Miyazaki's face "it's. That is. They're twins, aniki."
"…twins?" Miyazaki repeated incredulously. Kuro didn't say anything, but something in him agreed with the sentiment. Twins? Sawada was enough of a disaster without there being two of them with the same genes.
Tada nodded, looking miserable.
"The younger one's fine, even if he's No Good. He doesn't even say anything about the favours that anyone asked of him – or, at least, he never did, when we were younger. The older one, though…" at this point, Tada ominously trailed away. Kuro stared down at him, and Miyazaki gave a sneering laugh.
"Is the older one that scary, Tada? You look like you're about to wet your pants."
To both their surprise, Tada curled in on himself.
"You don't understand, senpai. He is that scary. The last time anyone bullied Dame-Yoshi, or even called him that, the older one put them in the hospital."
That made Miyazaki pause, actually surprised. When his friend glanced back at him, Kuro thought over it for a moment before carefully nodding. Miyazaki scowled, but he turned back dutifully.
"If the older one, if there even is an older one, is that fucking terrifying, why hasn't anyone heard about him?" he asked snidely. Tada bit his lip, and shook his head slowly.
"I don't know, Miyazaki-senpai. If he isn't enrolled in the school, I have no idea where he could be. But-" and here, Tada's voice abruptly went hard, "but, there's no way you're getting anyone who knew about the twins to do anything to Dame-Yoshi, senpai. No one's going to do it. I know there are enough people enrolled in Nami-chuu who were around while the twins were still in Elementary, and they've seen just how bad the older twin could get. You'd have better luck turning them into gophers that convincing them to hurt even a hair on the younger one's head."
Kuro stared down at him some more, and finally sat down on top of a desk with a long sigh.
"…this older twin you keep blubbering about. He got a name?" he asked. Miyazaki stepped back, looking irate, while Tada sagged in obvious relief.
"Sawada Tsunayoshi, Kuro-aniki. Dame-Yoshi used to call him Tsuna."
Kuro grunted. Tsunayoshi, was it? Well, the Sawada brat was new enough that it wasn't really worth the effort to wear him down – not if he really did have someone keeping an eye on him. It made more sense to track down someone else to use as a gopher. Nodding to himself, he said the same to Tada and Miyazaki, ordering them to take another look at the first years streaming into their school. Hibari wouldn't bother getting involved as long as they spent the first week or so softening up the newcomers, he knew that for a fact. Anyone left hanging in the wind once the first week was done, new comer or not, had to fend for themselves, since that was when the Disciplinary Committee got involved.
It was good. Dignified. Hibari had run things that way since he'd graduated to second year himself, and there was no reason to think he wouldn't do the same this time around.
Even when they'd turned their attention to other matters, and when other members of their little circle came streaming in as they got away from their classes, Kuro couldn't quite forget the look on Tada's face. He'd known the kid for a whole year, and he'd never seen him look that scared before.
Or that stubborn, for that matter. Miyazaki had tried to pry more information about the mysterious twin he'd mentioned, but Tada had shut tighter than a raw clam.
Sawada Tsunayoshi, was it, Kuro thought to himself for a moment. It was soon lost, and he turned his mind to other, more immediate matters.
"Look, Papa! Mama!" said Yoshi, smiling sweetly, fingers glowing with the wisps of orange flames, like the sky when the sun had set, setting the world ablaze. Nana gasped, falling to her knees and reaching out in shock. Iemitsu set a hand on his wife's shoulder, stopping her before her fingers could actually touch the flames still dancing in their four year old's hands.
Their other four year old was standing behind his brother, hands on his shoulders, wide eyed and delighted. The expression bordered on the sublime, and something about it terrified Iemitsu. It felt like a warning bell, tolling in his chest. His intuition was screaming, warning him that that level of attachment between twins could never be safe. Not when Flame Harmony could come into play, and certainly not when his boys were still so young. He couldn't allow them to get tied down when they hadn't seen the world, hadn't even gotten the chance to interact with other people yet.
He had to contact Timoteo. He didn't have a choice – having such pure Sky flames manifesting at such a young age, and Harmonising with an unknown Flame alignment could stagnate both the mental and physical growth of the parties involved.
As though in response to his thoughts, Tsuna's gaze abruptly whipped upwards, eyes gone hard in his head. Iemitsu felt his breath catch in his throat. He had seen less cold expressions on the faces of mercenaries and assassins when he was hunting them down in the name of the Famiglia.
The expression disappeared in a split second, traded in for an adoring smile when Yoshi turned to offer the flame wreathed fingers to his brother. Nana cooed, ruffling their sons' hair, and murmuring about how cute they both were. Iemitsu had to take a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down and shove what his intuition was broadcasting to the back of his mind, and crouched down to gather his family into a hug. Nana and Yoshi both came with giggles that sounded nearly identical. Tsuna, Iemitsu was uncomfortable to note, had looked up to pin Iemitsu with a sharp look, but he melted into Iemitsu's arms with as much ease as his brother and mother.
Feeling sick to his gut, and terrified for his children, he pressed kisses to the crowns of both the tiny lives curled in the arms of his beloved wife.
Yoshi laughed, bright and happy. After a pause, Tsuna did as well.
Iemitsu hugged them tight, and prayed that he never had to hear that laughter die out.
Tsunayoshi and Yoshiyasu. Tsuna and Yoshi both had dim memories of their father laughing and claiming one was named for a great leader and other for his closest advisor, and that they both made the perfect pair. They also had dim memories of their mother laughingly rebuking him, saying that all they needed to be was themselves, anything else they would be would get sorted out in time.
Yoshi always kept that specific memory close to his heart, especially on days such as this, when he was sitting on the floor, backed up against the lockers, hyperventilating and covered in blood that wasn't his own. It wasn't nearly as rare a situation as he would have liked.
Tsuna, for his part, slowly uncurled his fingers, letting go of the shirt collar clenched in them, and carefully got back to his feet. He idly dusted himself off, frowning down at the senior he'd attacked with no warning, nodding to himself, before finally turning to grace Yoshi with a soft smile.
"Are you okay, Yoshi?" he asked, rather predictably. Yoshi took a deep breath, and reached up to catch the hand stretched out towards him.
"Oh dear, look at you. We need to get you cleaned up. Do you have a change of clothes? At least your gym clothes, I think. Those should do. Come along, we can pick them up before going to the infirmary."
Tsuna kept talking even when Yoshi threw his arms around him, hugging him tight. There was no change in his voice, though he did wrap his arms around Yoshi in turn, comfortingly stroking a hand up and down the line of his spine.
"It's okay, you'll be fine now. No one's going to hurt you, Yoshi." He hummed softly, drawing away, but only after he'd patted Yoshi comfortingly on the head.
It felt like being covered up in the fluffiest of duvets. Like it always did.
"Welcome home, Tsuna." He found himself saying, nearly a whole hour later, once he'd managed to get himself cleaned up and changed. Tsuna, standing by the window of the infirmary and staring out at the grounds, glanced over his shoulder and treated Yoshi to yet another one of his soft, comforting smiles.
"I'm back, Yoshi. It's good to be welcomed home."
Yoshi bit his lip, and slowly sank into the bed closest to his older brother.
"Are you going to be here for long? You said that you were busy. I didn't think your Boss would let you come home any time soon."
He watched Tsuna's smile turn distant and fond in the same breath, and had to convince himself that that odd tangle of emotion on his brother's face didn't make him feel jealous.
"Well, he certainly isn't happy, not this close to the trials, but I insisted. He might be my Boss, but you're my younger brother. And dad's been skulking around the Compound too often in the last few weeks, I didn't trust him to not nominate you. It's bad enough that he convinced Don Nono to send Reborn, of all people, to tutor you. I've met Reborn-san, and I have absolutely no idea what could convince him to agree. Unless Don Nono told him you were a candidate for the position of Decimo."
Yoshi could feel himself go white. Thankfully, Tsuna dropped into the bed beside him to catch him by the cheeks and pull before his thoughts could go too far astray.
"Don't worry. Boss knows you aren't the least bit interested in challenging him."
Yoshi whined, and tried to bat his brother's hands away. Once Tsuna finally pulled away, a sweet grin firmly in place in spite of Yoshi's frown, he leaned back with a groan.
"Thank God for that. I don't want anything to do with becoming the Boss of the Main Family, Tsu-nii."
Tsuna rubbed his back comfortingly.
"I know you don't, Yoshi. Like I said, Boss knows."
Yoshi nodded slowly, and turned to face his brother with a soft smile. They were interrupted before he could actually get around to saying anything, of course.
Yoshi collapsed in on himself with another groan, not even trying to fend off the overzealous pair of teens that flew at him from the doorway. Though he was slightly relieved that his brother didn't see fit to punch their daylights out before they got anywhere near him. Judging from the way Tsuna had twitched, there was no guarantee that the lack of violence would last if they continued to remain as noisy as they were being. Predictably, halfway through Gokudera's wail of a promise that they would never be separated ever again (a terrifying prospect to consider), Tsuna excused himself, and headed out of the infirmary without another word.
"Who was that?" Yamamoto asked suddenly.
Yoshi blinked up at him, honestly confused.
"…he looked exactly like me, Yamamoto-kun. He's my older brother, of course."
Gokudera pulled himself up from the dogeza he'd prostrated himself in at the foot of the bed, wide eyed.
"You have an identical twin, Juudaime?" he asked, looking awed. Before Yoshi could sigh and say, no, they weren't really identical even if they did look an awful lot like each other they were still fraternal and no, that still didn't mean they could read each other's thoughts or 'feel each other's pain', Gokudera managed to silence him by rattling away the statistics and probability of twin births in Asia, barely pausing for breath before launching into other miscellaneous biological facts about twin births.
Which were, frankly, more than a little disturbing to hear, but something in him was more than a little relieved to hear his friend geeking out over the biology of twin births rather than asking asinine questions about Yoshi being one in a pair of twins. At least the facts were easier to tune out, while he glanced up at the odd frown on Yamamoto's face. Since, apparently, Yamamoto hadn't realised that his brother looked almost exactly the same as him.
"You feel different," Yamamoto explained later, when they were walking home. His brother hadn't turned up again, after disappearing from the infirmary, but Yoshi hadn't been too worried. Knowing him, he'd vanished to hunt down either Kyouya-san or Ryohei-nii. Or both of them.
"Feel different?" Gokudera looked surprisingly curious. He still had his spectacles on – he had spent most of the last few classes staring at his phone screen, hunting down more information about twin births and any possible congenital health issues that might be more likely to affect one in a pair of twins. It had had most of the girls in class effectively gutted for most of the school day, much to both Yoshi and Yamamoto's amusement.
Yamamoto nodded slowly.
"Yoshi feels…. Welcoming. Warm. I couldn't see how similar they looked because Tsuna-san feels absolutely cold. And harsh. And… I don't know. It reminds me of someone."
"Kyoya-san, probably," Yoshi cut in, smiling softly up at Yamamoto. Yamamoto stopped, thinking it over seriously, before nodding.
"That's it. You're right, Yoshi. It reminds me of that time the kid had all of us playing around with those holographic rings he brought us. When Hibari crashed the picnic? Yeah, it felt exactly like that."
The comment had Gokudera hunching over slightly, first looking incensed at the 'holographic rings' comment, and then looking thoughtful.
"That was training to work with Flame technology, right, Juudaime? I remember Reborn-san saying that Hibari was qualified for being a Cloud. Is that your brother's Flame alignment?"
Yoshi nodded back, grinning at the wide eyed looks the admission got him.
"Tsuna's always been a Cloud, even when we were tiny. He's never even shown a hint of any other kind of Flame alignment – not like you, Gokudera-kun."
That just seemed to make Gokudera even more curious. Yamamoto was frowning suddenly, and all of a sudden, when he noticed the sharp look in Yamamoto's eyes, he knew his brother had managed to thrust change into his life without actively attempting to do so. Like always.
"I thought the kid had said that the kind of active training and identification of Flame alignments they're putting us through was something recent? How'd anyone know that Tsuna-san had a Cloud flame, if you found out when you were kids?"
Gokudera made a strange, wheezing sound – like a balloon with the air escaping it from some invisible tear in the rubber. If Yoshi's intuition hadn't warned him that something big was coming, he would have looked just as gutted as Gokudera did. He didn't think anything would make Yamamoto talk seriously about all the weird stuff Reborn made them do – heck, even the shape shifting baseball bats and Gokudera throwing sticks of dynamite around hadn't made him stop to ask what the hell was going on. It just figured that Tsuna would be the straw that broke the camel's back.
"Apparently they could always identify a flame if it every manifested. Especially if it's a flame as pure as Tsuna's – or mine. We found out I was a Sky at around the same time. Actively using technology and experimentation to draw out a flame and train it is something new, though. Tsuna knows some people studying the phenomenon in Italy, so he'd probably have more information. We could ask him later, if you want to know more." He offered. Gokudera immediately bounced from dazed to eagerly interested – even if he tended to go off on SF rants every once in a while, he always had been very interested in the theoretical side of the technology they were learning to use. Not enough to actually become a researcher, he'd been quick to tell Reborn, but he wanted to know what made things tick.
Geek, Yoshi thought fondly, and turned around to keep walking home when Yamamoto didn't bring up any more questions. They didn't keep quiet for too long, bursting with commentary and curiosity the moment they'd actually digested what Yoshi had to say, and Yoshi couldn't contain his laughter as he tried to reply to everything being asked.
"What happened to looking out for my kid brother, Kyoya. Don't you remember promising me that you wouldn't let anyone touch him?"
More than one person in the committee meeting room jerked in surprise, not noticing that the door had slid open and shut in just enough time to let someone in. Tetsuya blinked bemusedly, taking in the sight of… Sawada Yoshiyasu? Sawada Yoshiyasu standing, calm as you please, directing his words at the Disciplinary Committee head without any hesitation at all.
It took a few more seconds to realise that whoever the person that had stepped into the room way, it wasn't Sawada Yoshiyasu. His calm, self-possessed bearing aside, he wasn't even dressed in the uniform of Nami-chuu, and every student enrolled in the school knew that being seen on school grounds out of uniform was enough reason to be bitten to death by the Head of the Disciplinary Committee. His observation that this couldn't be Sawada was supported by the fact that Hibari didn't look at all irate at being interrupted, even if he usually tended to be on the edge, waiting for the weekly meetings to end so he could get away from all the noise and bustle that the Disciplinary Committee could make when stuffed into a small room together.
If anything, Hibari looked surprised. It wouldn't have been obvious to anyone else, but Tetsuya had been stumbling and marching after Hibari since they'd both been toddlers – even if his face was blank, those slightly widened eyes all but yelled that Hibari was surprised.
"…Carnivore," he said after a moment's pause, his voice echoing in the otherwise silent room.
Tetsuya distinctly felt something crack in his head.
The teen in front of them gave a placid smile. It had Hibari rising to his feet without another word, and following the teen back out the door, leaving the Committee behind to burst into confused chatter behind them. Tetsuya sighed, and tried to bring some order back.
If Hibari chose to come back any time soon, he would have knocked out every person in the room if he didn't get them to shut up and come to some kind of decorum sometime soon.
He guessed he shouldn't have been surprised that Hibari wasn't back even by the time the meeting ended.
"How much further, tou-san?"
Iemitsu glanced back at his little boy, sitting with his seat belt on and staring out the window at the passing countryside, looking enraptured. He smiled despite himself - Tsuna looked too cute for words, face screwed up in concentration as he seriously concentrated on what he was seeing.
"Not too long now, Tuna-fish." He said cheerfully, looking back at the road. He didn't need to watch his son to know that that comment had gotten him a dirty look.
After the disastrous first meeting in which Timoteo had met Yoshi and Tsuna, he had been ordered to bring his eldest back to Palermo with him. Iemitsu still wasn't happy with the decision Timoteo had taken, and had nearly exercised his right as consigliere to strongly question the old man's choice to separate Iemitsu's twin sons, but he had finally decided to acquiesce to the Don's demand. If only to ensure that Tsuna wouldn't permanently harmonise with his brother at such a young age.
The signs had been obvious since the first time Yoshi had actively manifested his Sky flame. Even if Tsuna hadn't manifested his flames at that point, neither Iemitsu nor Nana had failed to notice the way Tsuna just… stopped talking to other children. And became excessively violent whenever any of the older children played rough with the younger kids – particularly if Yoshi was involved. He still smiled, he was still the sweet boy and loving older brother that he'd always been, but somehow, it was as though everyone outside Yoshi had stopped existing. They were present, but Tsuna never really acknowledged them. Iemitsu strongly suspected that the only reason he and Nana weren't subjected to the same treatment was because they were still linked by familial bonds.
It was only after Tsuna's violent reaction to Timoteo attempting to seal Yoshi's flames, and his subsequent manifestation of his flames, that Iemitsu understood why his reaction to anyone threatening Yoshi had been as… unnervingly violent as it had been.
'Cloud flames. Of course they had to be a pair of twins with Sky and Cloud flames,' he thought ruefully, glancing back again. Tsuna was kicking his legs idly, humming with a small smile, gaze still directed outside.
If only they'd manifested in their teenage years, like most children usually did. Iemitsu strongly doubted Yoshi would ever find as complimentary a Cloud as his brother. If there was any way to avoid shifting Tsuna's bond to another holder of Sky flames in the Family, Iemitsu would have jumped on it with absolutely no hesitation, but the strength of their manifestation and bond was too strong. Timoteo himself had said that, if his bond with Visconti had been so strong at such a young age, nothing would have kept Visconti away from him. The Ninth Generation Cloud Guardian had agreed to the observation without hesitation, eyes cold. He would have worn down mountains, if that was what was required of him. Finding some way to return to Japan would have been nothing in comparison.
The dangers of such a strong bond aside, Iemitsu did not want to leave his sons open to the kind of exploitation that that level of desperation could attract.
They reached the entrance to the Estate grounds much faster than Iemitsu expected. While he stopped down for security without needing to be directed, the guards only made him wait for long enough to confirm that he or Tsuna weren't Mist users in disguise before sending him on his way. It didn't take much longer than that to draw up before the doors of the Main House.
When he glanced back with a smile to say something to his son though, it was to see that Tsuna's focus on the countryside had waned. He felt his heart thud heavily in his chest when he noticed the blank, dull glow in his son's eyes. It was too familiar to not recognise.
"Tsuna!" he snapped, and consciousness abruptly returned to Tsuna's face. When he realised that they had stopped in front of the large estate house, his face lit up with a bright smile.
Iemitsu willed a smile on his face. It felt more like a grimace.
"Yes we are, son. Let's get you out. We're a little early to meet Jii-chan, but I don't think he'll mind."
"'Kaaaay," Tsuna hummed brightly. So lively. So unlike the shy child he had been before his flames had manifested, even if the core of the caring, loyal child he was still shone through.
Of course, in the time he got the doors open and turned to hand his keys over to the attendant that had been waiting for him by the stairs, Tsuna suddenly decided to veer off in the direction of the gardens towards the back of the house. Iemitsu hurriedly tossed his keys at the attendant and ran after his son. Try as he did, though, he wasn't quite able to catch up to him. Tsuna was rushing with the same kind of single minded intensity that Iemitsu had seen whenever Yoshi had gotten into any kind of trouble in the last year, both at home and outside.
Tsuna just keeps moving, impervious to every call Iemitsu makes, and finally, after turning one last corner, he stops short, reduced to staring in silent horror as Tsuna barrels directly into the tall form striding with some unnamed purpose towards the Main House from the gardens.
Timoteo had ordered him to bring Tsuna to the Main House with the hope that he would harmonise with any one of Timoteo's sons. Because, while allowing Tsuna to bond with a Sky as young as Yoshi could be dangerous in the long run, an older Sky whose impact was already tempered by other Guardians wouldn't warp him nearly as much. Iemitsu had been praying to any higher power out there still willing to listen to him, hoping that Tsuna would harmonise with Frederico. While Enrico still hadn't selected or naturally harmonised with anyone possessing Cloud flames either, and while Frederico was Timoteo's preferred candidate for the title of Decimo, Iemitsu believed that Enrico would be the one to finally become Decimo. And so, ultimately, Tsuna would be relatively safe. Massimo was another option, too, but the less said about Massimo the better. But, even Massimo might have been a better option than- than-
This. This? Was the very opposite of anything remotely safe.
Xanxus somehow looked as though he'd been gutted, staring down in mute shock at the small form clinging to his legs and smiling up at him. And Iemitsu could only watch as the most arrogant, bull-headed and violent of Timoteo's sons fell to his knees, hands clenching tight over Tsuna's shoulders.
"You're so small," he whispered, nearly reverent.
Tsuna simply laughed, and reached up with both arms. Iemitsu felt sick, and helpless, watching as the one man he trusted the least in the succession to the seat of Vongola Decimo enfolded his six year old son in a tight embrace, utterly unhesitant even though he was notorious for his aversion to shows of affection to anyone he wasn't planning on bedding. The thought horrifies him for all of a second before reason and sanity bring his paranoia to heel. Xanxus might have been a monster of several names and proclivities, the veritable nightmare of any enemy of the Vongola, but he'd never been that specific brand of monster. If anything, his hatred of paedophiles and distaste for child prostitution was near legendary in the Underground.
Seemingly returning from the thrall that Harmony - and it was harmony, Iemitsu had no doubt – had brought him under, Xanxus reflexively clutched Tsuna even closer to him, wild-eyed, making the Iemitsu's son squeak. And it was only then that Xanxus finally caught sight of him, brows lowering in distaste as he rose to his feet, Tsuna easily balanced in the crook of his arm. Iemitsu grimaced, but one glance at his smiling son makes him steel himself and step forward to meet the wary looking Varia Boss head on.
They're interrupted by Squalo suddenly appearing at Xanxus' side, short, bone-white hair a windswept mess on the top of his head. Xanxus' Rain Guardian looks overcome with disbelief, and he ignores both Iemitsu and his Boss in favour of leaning forward to peer at Tsuna in sheer incredulity. Tsuna gives him a small, shy smile, no less bright for its size, and declares "Tsuna desu!" in a clear, if soft, voice.
Both men twitched. Iemitsu did too, if for completely different reasons. His little Tuna-fish looked so adorable! It was only through strength of will and, admittedly, the sight of Tsuna reaching out to play with the long, colourful feathers flowing down Xanxus' left shoulder, that he brought his attention back to the situation at hand.
"…Japanese? The fuck?" Squalo muttered, after a long moment of confusion.
Xanxus didn't look any better off. Iemitsu wants to protest, and protest strongly, at this turn of events, but his intuition all but chimes in his head, warning him to tread lightly. For once, he's willing to anything it tells him, since he'd already lost time in contacting Timoteo a whole year late, the last time around. He's already dragged his son away from his first choice of Sky, and his intuition whispers that Tsuna wouldn't survive being pulled away a second time. Not when his flames had harmonised so strongly with Xanxus. And even if he did survive, he would never forgive Iemitsu.
He hated himself for giving in to the urge to protect that relationship. He loved his son, he loved both his sons. What he'd done already ensured that neither would truly trust him any longer, but he didn't want that lack of trust to translate to hatred. A good father would have ignored that, would have pulled Tsuna away from Xanxus and splintered the bond that had formed if it meant that Tsuna would be safer for it. But Iemitsu couldn't do it. He was too selfish to even try.
"...this is Sawada Tsunayoshi. My eldest." He said, once he coaxed the words free from the leaden ball in his gut. Xanxus and Squalo's gazes immediately jerked up to stare at him.
"Someone actually let you procreate?!" asked Xanxus incredulously. Iemitsu attempted to paste a smile on his face, but judging by the way Squalo cringed beside his Boss, he wasn't particularly successful.
"That's my precious son you've got in your arms, brat. Try not to hurt him," he said, and was alarmed by just how much he meant the words.
From the way Xanxus' arms went rigid, he was nearly as alarmed as Iemitsu. Squalo gave a sudden bark of laughter, and reached out to pat Tsuna on the head, making Tsuna giggle, mushing his face into Xanxus' throat. The careless action didn't make Xanxus any less rigid.
"We'll take good care of him, Sawada." Said Squalo snidely. The wide, sharp toothed smile on his face made Iemitsu sick to the gut.
"That's what I'm afraid of. Here, Tsuna. Come to papa, we need to meet Jii-chan, okay?" He said, switching back to Japanese midway through. Xanxus made a curious noise, while Tsuna proceeded to tangle the fingers of both his little hands in the riot of feathers and fur that he'd already tugged awry, ignoring his father the entire way through.
Squalo abruptly jerked around to stare at Iemitsu.
"He's supposed to be the candidate Massimo mentioned?" He asked, shocked. Iemitsu winced, but nodded in spite of himself.
"What?" Xanxus asked sharply, the harsh tone of his voice incongruous when taken alongside the broad hand he rested comfortingly on Tsuna's back. The gentleness of that motion, even if it did seem at odds with everything he knew or had heard about the Varia Boss, made Iemitsu feel a little more secure about the situation.
"Massimo said that the Don was bringing in a possible guardian candidate for his kids. A Cloud candidate." Squalo growled back, scowling. Iemitsu was ruefully amused, watching Xanxus' eyes actually round with shock before he controlled his immediate reaction.
"That would be my son, yes. He manifested his flames recently, and they registered strong and pure enough that we had to either seal his flames or see if he harmonized with any of the Skies in the family. He was vulnerable otherwise. Timoteo visited last month to actually meet my sons and see what would be the best option."
"...sons?" Xanxus asked suspiciously. Iemitsu smiled painfully, but the question was answered by Tsuna instead.
"My otouto! Yoshi!"
They all blinked down at the young boy. Tsuna blinked back at them, positively innocent.
"...he isn't supposed to understand Italian, is he." Said Squalo after a long moment of silence.
"...no." Said Iemitsu, suddenly feeling exhausted, even though it was still far too early in the day to feel that drained.
"He understood because I was the one asking." Said Xanxus, firm. Iemitsu and Squalo blinked, glanced first at each other in a heretofore unprecedented moment of empathy, before glancing back at the youngest of the Vongola line.
"Because you've harmonized, you mean?" Iemitsu hazarded. He wasn't quite sure if Harmony could work that way, since his Flame manifestation had never required harmonizing with other flames to the extent most Skies did. It was one of the main reasons why Timoteo hadn't ever considered him a viable heir even after he'd proven that he wasn't interested in sabotaging the current line of succession.
"Yes. Come on, I may as well meet the old man with you, he isn't going to believe I managed to reel in the brat this quickly otherwise. Squalo, get back to the Compound and let the others know that I have another guardian. And that he's too young and untrained to be directly inducted into the Varia."
"Got it, Boss."
Iemitsu felt the breath in his lung escape in a deep gust of breath, the relief as sweet the first sip of water when rescued from being lost in the desert for days. He fell into step with the younger man as he strode past without another word.
Tsuna was smiling at him, he noticed after a moment. His son's eyes were thoughtful in a way no five year old's eyes should be, tinged a deep purple, but the colour slowly leeched away the longer he watched.
He didn't need his intuition to tell him he'd dodged a bullet when he'd chosen not to question the fledgling bond that had developed between his son and Xanxus. He shivered. He loved his sons, his little family with Nana, with a desperation that he could barely begin to explain or qualify if asked to describe it. He doubted his sons would ever be able to understand just how much they meant to him, though he knew Nana already knew all too well.
That didn't mean that he couldn't be terrified of them. Terrified for them.
And if Tsuna's manifestation had given him the nearly preternatural connection to the Vongola intuition that Iemitsu had inherited and had been damn near haunted by for most of his life… Well. At the very least, he could say he knew what to expect.
(Except he didn't, not really. For all that the intuition had dogged his footsteps since he'd been a teen, which was when it had first manifested in him, he'd spent years doing his level best to ignore it. With how early it had manifested in his son, and the fact that Tsuna had absolutely no reason to ignore a sense that had always been there, there was every possibility that it would have a far more drastic effect on his personality. Iemitsu had no idea what to expect. He'd been the first of the Sawada line to show any overt signs of the intuition, and Tsuna was set to outstrip him by a rather large margin.
He was equally caught between fatherly pride and human terror at that achievement. Though every moment he saw his son's eyes glinting with the sign of a nearly alien intelligence shifted the needle closer to terror than pride.)
It had been roughly ten minutes. Yoshi glanced over his shoulder, taking in the glazed look in Gokudera's eyes, shrugged to himself, and looked out the window again.
"Aa, thanks, Yamamoto-kun."
Yoshi reached down for the bag Yamamoto was holding in his direction without actually looking down. After munching his way through the few he'd grabbed, he idly licked the salt off of his fingers and looked over his shoulder again.
Nope. Still glazed over.
Yoshi sighed, and leaned out, letting his arms hang loosely outside, chin propped up on the window ledge.
"Oh? I see we're all having a lazy day."
Yoshi started, and yelped when the he managed to scratch himself along the soft underside of his jaw. From the sound the thud from beneath, Yamamoto's head had slammed into the wall, so at least he wasn't the only one who got hurt.
He shot a dirty look at the pint sized hitman who'd appeared right next to him on the ledge.
"Did you have to do that, Reborn-san?" he asked, exasperated. Reborn gave him a mild, who-me-what'd-I-do look that did nothing to hide the glimmer of sadistic humour in his eyes.
Reborn's sneaking up on them seemed to be the nudge that Gokudera had needed, though, because he wheezed and folded up where they had left him roughly fifteen minutes ago, in perfect seiza in front of the little table Yoshi had set up once he had friends who actually followed him home or appeared at all hours of the day, completely unexpected and uncalled for.
"Cloud Fist," he said faintly.
Yoshi stiffened, not needing to look to his side to know that Reborn had gone very, very still beside him. Yamamoto glanced up with a lazy motion, eyes sharp and interested.
"That- Juudaime, that can't be possible." Gokudera repeated, beginning to look more disturbed by the second. Making a face, Yoshi allowed himself to slide down the wall he'd been leaning against, coming to rest right beside Yamamoto. Who had, rather uncomfortably, chosen to shift his gaze to Yoshi instead.
"It's very possible. We're both our father's sons, after all. That means he has as much right to be a part of the Vongola as I do." Yoshi countered, exasperated. What went unsaid was that they both had the equal right to not be involved with the Vongola, too.
From the pained glance Gokudera shot him, he'd definitely caught the unspoken words. Good. He'd hammer them in as many times as he could – no one could force him to be a part of the Famiglia, even if the fact that his twin was one of Xanxus' guardians made him a walking target, whether or not he chose to join.
…Reborn being sent to be his tutor didn't make his joining the Vongola done thing either. No matter what his father and the Don thought. At least Reborn hadn't announced himself with the promise of fashioning him as the next heir. Even if that had been Yoshi's first expectation when the Sun Arcobaleno had appeared at his doorstep with the offer to be his home tutor. Reborn did have a reputation, after all.
"But Juudaime," Gokudera all but whimpered.
"Why is it so strange?" Yamamoto asked curiously, turning to look at Reborn when he hopped down to balance comfortably on Yoshi's shoulder.
"Because the Cloud Fist is one of the Varia's most ruthless enforcers," Gokudera snapped back, voice still caught somewhere between horror and disbelief.
Yoshi sighed, again, and tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. The tiny fingers catching at the hinge of his jaw made him mumble something uncomplimentary under his breath and straighten in spite of himself.
He'd heard enough of Reborn's lessons and advice over the past few months that he could already tell exactly why his tutor wanted him to speak up. Your Family is alarmed. It's your duty to reassure them.
Now if only that lesson had been couched words of friendship, instead of the family business. Pun very much intended.
"Tsuna-nii is Xanxus' Cloud Guardian, Gokudera-kun. If that makes him the same person as this Cloud Fist that you're talking about, so be it."
Gokudera shot a plaintive look at Yoshi, clearly still reeling in the after-effect of Yoshi's declaration. Yamamoto hummed curiously.
"But why is that a bad thing? I still don't understand."
Gokudera shot him a dirty look.
"I can't expect you to understand, baseball-idiot. I just… I didn't know that the Cloud Fist and Juudaime's brother were the same person."
Yoshi and Yamamoto both frowned at him. Gokudera winced and looked away.
Meaning, rather than not knowing that Tsuna and the 'Cloud Fist' were the same person - which was impossible anyway, since Gokudera hadn't even known that Yoshi had a brother, let alone one already in the Vongola – what was bothering Gokudera was the fact that Yoshi had a brother who was a member of the Varia. Which… was strangely hypocritical, judging by what little of Gokudera's history Reborn had chosen to share with him. The half-Italian had already been a hitman, after all. If not a career hitman, which wasn't likely at their age. Not unless they'd started while much younger.
Which his brother had, Yoshi knew. Tsuna wasn't precisely a hitman, he'd been attached to Xanxus and the Varia much before he could fall into that lifestyle, but he'd been trained to be a Varia member from the moment he'd become Xanxus' Cloud Guardian. Even when Tsuna spent only holidays at the Varia Compound, being ferried back to Namimori for the school year every year until they graduated from Elementary school, Yoshi had easily been able to see the changes in his brother. They weren't big, the Varia had clearly just built on the essence of something that had always been there in his brother, but it was still enough of a change for Yoshi to notice.
Watching Gokudera's hunched shoulders for another moment, Yoshi's expression slowly cleared when he realized what the problem was.
"Gokudera-kun. My brother being a member of Vongola's Execution Wing doesn't mean that I specifically condone his actions."
Gokudera jerked around to stare at him, wide-eyed. Yoshi nodded slowly to himself, his intuition ringing with the truth of what he'd figured out.
"That's doesn't mean that I don't condone them, either. What my brother does is his business, Gokudera-kun, and what I do is mine. I should have thought this would already by obvious, seeing as I continue to have very little interest in joining the Vongola even when my father is apparently the Vongola's Red Lion." He continued, voice turning just a little snide.
Reborn seemed to twitch when he was standing on Yoshi's shoulder, and he gave a soft snort.
"I should have known you'd know about that," he said blandly.
Yoshi rolled his eyes.
"Tsuna-nii's been going back and forth between Palermo and Namimori since we were five, Reborn-san. And we don't hide anything from each other. It would've been very difficult to not know about that, or about what Tsuna-nii gets up to in the Varia. It's the Varia." He said, exasperated.
"Ow," he grumbled, right after, when Reborn saw fit to whack him across the top of his head.
"That's for being a cheeky brat." Reborn said sweetly, making Yamamoto snicker beside him.
Gokudera still looked a little disbelieving, but he ducked his head when Reborn pointedly asked if there was going to be a problem.
"No," he murmured. "It's Juudaime. I knew that he was related to the CEDEF head, I just hadn't… consciously recognized what that would mean. Finding out about Tsuna-sama just shoved that fact in a little harder, is all."
Yoshi eyed him, and felt his lips twitch into a wry smile.
"He isn't going to like being called that, y'know."
Gokudera shot him a stubborn look.
"Tsuna-sama is Tsuna-sama."
Yamamoto burst into low laughter, muffling his snickers in his sleeves at the expression on Yoshi's face. Yoshi groaned, and elbowed him pointedly, trying to get him to stop. One day, he would get Yamamoto to stop laughing at him. He would.
Reborn hopped onto the table and pointedly cleared his throat.
"It's been nearly two hours since all of you came home. I trust you've gotten started on your homework?"
That brought Yamamoto's laughter to a quick halt. He and Yoshi leapt for their bags, laughing nervously at the dark look this earned them from the tutor. When Yoshi looked up from his books, Gokudera already had a workbook out to discuss with Reborn. Of course.
Seeing the look on Tsuna's face when he was welcomed home with Gokudera's prostrated form and a babble of nearly archaic Japanese was well worth the awkwardness of the whole debacle, anyway.
Reborn frowned, still not quite sure of what to think about seeing someone roughly the same size as him wandering freely around the Estate. The child, brown eyed and fluffy haired, smiled back at him, painfully cute for all of a second before his face lost that moment of nearly arresting charm.
'A young Sky?' he wondered, in spite of himself. He hadn't heard about any new Sky Flame aligned children being born into the Vongola. Not that hearing about it was in any way good news, since it would mean that the Estate would be hit with a slew of kidnapping attempts in short order.
The child reached out for him, and Reborn sighed, not quite able to find it in himself to slam the child down. The time he'd spent at the Cavallone Estate had… softened him, to the whims of a child. At least he was able to work at smashing those whims right out of the Cavallone heir, even if the effort was still mostly uphill. This child was too small and helpless to crush beneath his fists or feet.
And the child wasn't being particularly impolite, so Reborn was willing to be a little more patient. Just a little.
…Fuck, Lal, Colonello and Fon weren't going to let him hear the end of this, were they. Colonello and Fon had been needling at him ever since word got out that the newest of the requests Don Nono had made of him had been to train the Cavallone heir. Lal had been… withholding commentary, but if she found out that the debacle had actually made him willing to suffer other children… No. He really wouldn't hear the end of it.
"Hello. I'm Tsuna," the child said in careful Italian. There was a clear undercurrent of an Asian accent, and it was the matter of a split second for Reborn to identify the underlying accent as Japanese.
Interesting. The child did have some distinctly Asian features, but somehow, they hadn't quite registered as Asian until Reborn had actually heard him speak.
"Well met," Reborn replied. The child looked confused, and Reborn sighed again, and repeated himself in Japanese.
The boy treated him to a nearly unbearably adorable scowl. Reborn's brows slowly rose, bemused.
"I. Am. Tsuna. It's nice to meet you." He repeated, doggedly continuing in Italian. Reborn blinked at that, and found himself stifling chuckles, pleasantly surprised.
"And I am Reborn. It's nice to meet you as well, child." He said, making it a point to reply in the same language, and speaking slowly so the boy could actually catch the words. The boy, Tsuna, had his face screwed up in serious concentration, but a smile pasted itself across his lips in the end, clearly understanding exactly what Reborn had said.
"And what are you doing here, so far from home?" he asked, silently damning his insatiable curiosity. It was what had started the interaction and the trading of favours between him and Timoteo, after all. It was terribly amusing to watch the man now well settled into his role as the Vongola head, and actually having brats of his own. He could still remember Timoteo toddling along as a young man in Daniela's shadow. He had long made a place for himself, but that didn't stop Reborn from laughing at him or his struggles with his children. The next generation of the family was filled with whole legions of troublemakers.
Speaking of which, there was one headed his way now.
The young contender for the title of Sword Emperor looked unnaturally harried, Reborn was quick to note. At least, he'd never seen Superbi quite so vexed while outside the company of his Boss.
"VOIIIII! BRAT!" he yelled, stalking straight past the alcove Reborn and Tsuna were tucked into.
Reborn stared after him, and turned a thoughtful glance on the child that had tucked himself away behind Reborn the moment Superbi had rounded the bend.
Tsuna had a surprisingly crafty smile on his face. It made him look at once both younger and older than the age that Reborn had mentally tacked on to him.
Reborn's lips slowly lifted into a sharp smirk.
"Brat?" he asked, amused.
"Un!" Tsuna declared, giggling.
"Well, now. I'm sure we can find somewhere else to be. This way, brat."
Reborn found himself chuckling, even as he led the kid away in the opposite direction. He had no idea who the fuck the little potential-Sky was, or even if he was a Sky at all, but getting one over the Shark-brat could only be a good thing.
If he played his cards right, he might even be able to stand back and watch the pretty fireworks when Superbi finally managed to track them down. He wasn't completely incompetent, from what Reborn had heard.
He was still bemused when he realized, nearly a whole five minutes after they'd left in search of a suitable hiding place, that Tsuna had managed to hold hands with him the entire time since they'd met.
"You owe me a spar," Kyoya said, stretching himself out on the roof.
Tsuna grunted, and dropped down on his other side, leaning against the parapet, closing his eyes.
"Maybe later. Kyoya, you were supposed to look after him."
"He's never been hurt, Carnivore. Your whining is unbecoming."
"I'm not whining. A promise is a promise. And you haven't kept yours, not if the first thing I see when I step into your territory is someone threatening what. Is. Mine." The Sawada ground out, sounding utterly exasperated. Not irate, which was a good thing. Kyoya wasn't interested in disciplining him – he wanted to savour that spar. Wasting their first meeting on reminding Tsuna of their agreement was a waste of that spar.
From the amused sound that Tsuna made, he could clearly tell what Kyoya was thinking. Kyoya pointedly turned away.
"You've somehow managed to sprout like a beanstalk while I've been away. It hasn't even been three months, Kyoya. This can't be fair."
Kyoya grunted, and aimed a pointed kick in the Carnivore's direction. Tsuna laughed, and leaned out of the way.
"You're as much fun as always. I swear, Boss would get such a kick out of meeting you."
"I'm not coming with you to Italy." Kyoya said blandly.
"No way, I don't want you in Palermo. Who's going to keep an eye on my brother and mom if you aren't here to take care of Namimori?" Tsuna shot back.
Kyoya's smile in response to that was all teeth. It was good to know that the months away hadn't changed the status quo. Sawada had always had a good understanding of the lines of contact woven between them, though.
To think that his father had assumed he would never be willing to accept another apex predator in his territory. His mother had known better, thankfully.
Then again, he mused, Tsuna was so… unassuming. He always had been unassuming, even when they were a lot younger. The feet nudging at him didn't seem as though the belonged to a carnivore with teeth that could bite as sharp and true as his own.
"The fake-herbivore needs to grow fangs already." He said idly, once Tsuna had subsided.
The other carnivore sighed, and Kyoya could hear him slide down where he'd been seated.
"You're calling him an herbivore, Kyoya. He doesn't need fangs."
"Doesn't he? I thought he was a baby carnivore in disguise." Kyoya threw back snidely. Tsuna groaned, and banged his head against the wall.
"Your animal kingdom metaphors are so confusing. I didn't miss them at all. Okay, okay, I'm sorry! Gah, don't use your damned tonfa, this was supposed to be restful, we're not sparring on the bloody roof Kyoya-"
The next few minutes passed in a blur, but they both subsided quickly. Neither of them wanted to waste that spar, after all. Kyoya eyed the black leather gloves on Tsuna's hands with a hungry gaze. They'd been covered with purple flames just a moment ago, glimmering bright, and looked completely innocuous now.
"I'm still not teaching you how to do that. You're destructive enough on your own. Ask Reborn, you must've noticed him around by now – at least he's around enough to know when you're actually going to need it."
"The baby? I've already seen him training the fake-herbivore and his herd."
"…meaning, you say you don't need to be trained and that you'll figure it out for yourself."
The bland look Kyoya shot him said yes, exactly.
Tsuna's lips split in a wide grin, looking positively delighted.
"If anyone can do it, you can, Kyoya. I'm around for a bit, I'm checking something out here. Figure it out before I leave and then we'll have that spar. It'll be glorious."
Kyoya eyed him, let the shape of that thought fit into his mind. And smiled.
Yes. It would be glorious.
"So, did anything interesting happen since I left?"
Kyoya huffed, and rolled his eyes, but he did roll over to indulge the other carnivore. Judging by what had happened in the corridors earlier, the herbivores in the school were becoming uppity.
Perhaps he would have an actual hunting mate to cull the herd again. He had missed the company. Tetsuya was a good second, but having another carnivore to hunt beside, whose senses he could trust, was… enjoyable. Satisfying.
The feral edge Tsuna's grin took, only a momentary glimpse before he tucked those edges away, made Kyoya's smile broaden.
"A few things. There seem to be a group of third years that have been crowding." he offered.
Sawada's head tilted to the side, thoughtful. He nodded, eyes gleaming with a hint of purple before they settled back to brown.
Kyoya sighed contently, stretching and relaxing in the warmth of the sun, ignoring the feet that nudged at him again.
Xanxus was still deep in sleep when the door to his room slammed open. The soft body spooning his back whines, and the sound is shrill and irritating enough that Xanxus is tempted to drag a pillow over his head. Gratifyingly enough, the person who's stepped into his room didn't hesitate to brusquely throw the sheets off the girl at his back and drag her out of bed.
"Get moving already, it's daybreak and Boss has better things to do than coddle you on a Monday."
"You can't talk to me like that - Xanxus, tell him he can't talk to me like that! Who the hell do you think you are, little boy-"
"I'm the one who actually lives in the Compound and has free access to the Boss' rooms at all times of the day, Miss. Trust me when I say he doesn't want you around anymore."
Sighing gustily, he decided to give in to the urge and dragged his sheets and the pillows slightly higher, shielding his ears from the sound of yelling and the inevitable tears as the girl redressed and flounced out of the room. And then, there was sweet, sweet silence until Tsuna dragged the sheets back down.
"I need to go back home."
Grunting, he peered up at the head of fluffy brown hair staring down at him. Tsuna was bright eyed and already dressed for the day, looking more like one of the well-dressed young capos waltzing around the Main House than one of Xanxus' most hard hearted assassins.
"Your brother call you or something?" Xanxus growled, after the silent impasse proved that Tsuna wasn't going to be backing down.
"No, but I need to go back anyway, I can tell. Dad's been acting weird."
Xanxus cursed under his breath, but he wearily heaved himself out of the comfortable cocoon of silken sheets and bedding that he'd been immersed in. If nothing else, the sight of Tsuna's face screwing up in disgust made the effort worth it.
"You reek, Boss."
"Seeing as this is the closest you're getting to sex at any point of time unless you suddenly decide to switch your proclivities, you may get use the opportunity to get desensitized. What else did you expect, barging in this early in the morning?" He shot back snidely, smirking at the disgusted look it got him.
"If I didn't care for you as much as I do, I would send Levi in in the mornings instead." Tsuna said, voice dry as dust.
"Does this mean you're not going to give us a hug then?" Xanxus jeered, and there was a split second of silence before Tsuna caved in to the laughter he'd been holding at bay.
"You're horrible, Boss."
"I'd say the fucking same, brat. The only reason you don't send Levi in in the mornings if I have company is because you don't want to clear up the bodies that'll be left behind. Don't fool yourself into thinking it's any other reason."
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe I just want to spare you the headache." Tsuna said sweetly. Xanxus rolled his eyes, and easily pulled himself out of bed.
"When do you plan on leaving, then?" He asked, running a hand through his hair roughly and biting back a yawn.
Tsuna pointedly steered him in the direction of the bathroom, and ducked the elbow aimed at his head without pause.
"The first flight out of Palermo, Boss. If you give me the permission to leave." Which you already do, you wouldn't have bothered asking otherwise was what went unsaid.
Xanxus growled, because fuck all if the brat wasn't actually right.
"Go and book your fucking ticket. I want you back if the old man and Sawada create any trouble, you hear me?" He snapped, waiting till he got a silent nod before slamming the door in his face.
Whatever Hana had been expecting when she and Kyoko had left school a little later than usual, Kyoko'd had classroom duty and she'd waited because they were supposed to meet up with Haru to go to the patisserie later, it hadn't been the sight of one of the third year delinquents going down with a savage punch to the face. That hadn't even been the worst of the sight - right after punching him, the other fighter got his hands wound in the third year's long, dreadlocked hair and dragged his torso forward in a rough motion, slamming his knee into the boy's gut.
The third year choked up bile and sick, and the other boy kicked him away contemptuously. The sight was violent enough that Hana had just started to wonder where that delinquent prefect boss was, since this was supposed to be his job to clean up before normal students like her and Kyoko wandered into it, before she realised the boy in front of her was actually familiar.
Well, mostly familiar. Even when he wore casual clothes, Hana had never seen Sawada dressed like this, in dark, form fitting trousers, subtly tailored for ease of movement, and a loose, hooded sweatshirt in black and purple. And were those… boots? High heeled boots?
…metal capped, too, she realised, recognising the matte sheen capping the toes and watching with a sick feeling in her gut as Sawada aimed a hard kick at the third year's knee. The sickening crunch that preceded the scream of agony that tore out of the third year's throat made Hana go white, while Kyoko clutched at her elbow, wide eyed.
Sawada was bending to stare at the delinquent laid out on the ground, sobbing messily. The blank look on his face was what made Hana finally yell out, horrified.
"Oi, Sawada! What the hell do you think you're doing?!" she demanded.
Kyoko didn't try to pull her back, thankfully. Though she didn't step back either; instead, she straightened out of her shocked slump to meet the curious look their classmate was shooting them with set shoulders and a straight, unbending back.
"Do I know you?" Sawada asked politely. The tone was jarring enough after the violence of the one-sided beat down they'd witnessed that Hana nearly didn't register the actual words.
Kyoko did, though. Immediately.
"Of course you do, Yoshi-kun. I'm Kyoko, this is Hana-"
"That's Sasagawa and Kurokawa to you, you wild monkey!" Hana cut in furiously, but Sawada looked just as confused as before. The expression seemed horribly out of place on Sawada's face, especially when Hana finally noticed the light spatter of blood on his face.
It was only then that she realised that the weeping third year on the ground wasn't the only person laid out around Sawada. There were at least four others, all in similarly pathetic states. One was holding onto his arm and sobbing, and even from a distance Hana could see the unnatural set of one of his shoulders. Dislocated, she realised, after a split second of disbelief. There was another, yet another delinquent third year, who was crying into the ground with – shit. That was a broken leg. Definitely a broken leg, now that Hana was actually starting to pay attention, she could see something white and red sticking out of his trousers-
It was only Kyoko's steadying hand on her back that kept her straight. She wasn't ashamed to admit that she didn't have the stomach to look at any of the others. She stared into Sawada's mild, confused and patiently questioning face and felt sick to her gut because what. The. Ever-loving. Fuck. How could she have missed one of her classmates being a total psycho-nutjob?!
The distinctly familiar sound, at least to students of Nami-chuu, of the main body of a tonfa connecting with the back of someone's head had her jerking her gaze around to stare as the delinquent prefect boss himself whirled in place and dispatched another third year coming at him from the back. In the time it took her to blink, the last of the straggling mob that had been trying to attack Hibari had been introduced to the cold, hard bite of reality that was Hibari deciding that he didn't want you anywhere near conscious or in one piece.
The sight of him lazily shaking off any blood still clinging to the steel in his grasp was as terrifying as it was terrifyingly beautiful, in the way watching an eagle swoop down out of the sky to kill was beautiful – the prefect was very good looking as long as you didn't pay attention to the fact that he was flat out crazy.
And it was very, very hard to not pay attention to that fact.
Especially when he was just standing there, staring hopefully at all the unconscious and the not-so-unconscious (just-playing-dead-don't-let-him-notice-me-kaa-chan) third years collapsed all around him.
"Kyoya, you owe me ice-cream!" Sawada called out cheerfully, much to Hana and Kyoko's combined disbelief.
Hibari didn't even look irritated, damn him. He shot Sawada a dark look, which meant zilch to Hana no matter how much she stared, but Sawada rolled his eyes, aiming one last kick at one of the third years he'd taken down – thankfully not the one with the messily broken leg – before casually strolling Hibari's way.
"No, come on. We had a deal, remember? If you took out more of them than me I'd get Yoshi or my mom to make you hamburger steak and if I win you'd get me ice-cream. You don't get to weasel out, you big grump."
Hana reflexively clutched at Kyoko and she comfortingly clutched back, because the look on Hibari's face seemed like it would be more at home on the face of an asura.
Sawada just beamed up at him, and nothing could have convinced Hana that he was a psychotic nutjob more than this. What the hell? She'd actually thought they were friends, acquaintances at the least, what the hell was going-
It was then that she noticed the, otherwise innocuous, reference to himself in the third person. Which, if he was actually suffering from schizophrenia, mental break or any other kind of problem that made him a- a- mental health client, that was the politically correct way to say it right? –
Kyoko cut off her bouncing thoughts with a firm tap between the shoulders before deliberately pushing her to the side and stepping in front.
"You're not Yoshi-kun." She said decisively. Sawada looked back at her with raised eyebrows.
"That was quick. No, I'm not."
Kyoko frowned at him, disapproving of the brevity of his response. Hana could flow with that brevity, she was still reeling under the realisation that this wasn't Sawada. Well, at least, not the one she was reasonably familiar with.
But wait, wasn't that the case even with split personalities?
"Hana-chan, stop. I can feel your brain steaming from over here," Kyoko sighed, sounding exasperated, but Hana could hear the smile in her voice.
"Carnivore," Hibari ground out, voice hard.
Sawada glanced back at him, raised an eyebrow, and offered him a smile.
"Tell you what. I think we were close to an even split, anyway. We share the bill and buy enough ice-cream to take home, and I'll text Mom to make hamburger steaks?"
"Crowding," said Hibari, with an impatient shake of his head. Hana stared between the two of them.
Now that the initial freak-out in the face of the violence had settled, watching the two interact was very interesting. Hibari seemed to unconsciously sense her regard, because he sent a blistering look in her direction.
She grinned back at him, even when it made him growl and step forward, stopping only when Sawada checked him with a shoulder. Hey, no one said she had to be sensible in her appreciation of something that looked good.
And, ow. Kyoko's elbows were bony.
Sawada was beginning to look more and more amused by the second, though he quickly stifled it at the sight of the rising ire on Hibari's face.
"It was nice to meet the two of you! I'm Sawada Tsunayoshi, Yoshi's older brother. Thank you for taking care of him."
Sawada followed that statement up with a polite bow that she and Kyoko automatically returned, Kyoko's polite response to the words sounding a lot less awkward than hers. He straightened, offered them both a sweet smile and turned away to walk out the gates, tugging the delinquent prefect boss behind him.
Hana stared after the two of them, dazed.
"That just happened, right."
"Mmhmm," Kyoko answered, pressing a finger to her lips and staring around at all the moaning and crying boys that had been left behind.
"No, Kyoko, that couldn't have happened, right. A Sawada lookalike didn't just beat up a whole bunch of delinquents, third year delinquents, as a part of a fighting competition with Hibari, win it, offer up a truce and drag him off to eat ice cream and hamburger steak, right?"
"Oh, but it did, Hana-chan," she said, beginning to look amused.
Hana stared back at her, horrified.
"No, Kyoko. This was a fever dream. Some kind of shared fever dream, it couldn't have been anything else. Right?"
"You're adorable, Hana-chan. Don't change." She replied, smiling at her fondly, before turning around and walking back into the building.
Hana squawked in protest and darted after her.
"Kyoko, where're you going, don't leave me behind with all these crying monkeys!"
"I thought it was a fever dream, Hana-chan?"
"That isn't funny, Kyoko! Where're we going?!"
"To find Kusakabe-san. We can't leave all those hurt boys out front, I think the school gets into enough trouble with the authorities when Hibari beats people up outside school grounds. We don't need the police and ambulances turning up at Nami-chuu to find all those bodies here."
"…Kyoko, they aren't dead yet. You can't just call them bodies – that's flat out scary."
Kyoko shot her a bright smile. It made Hana shudder and look away.
"Yoshi-kun's brother seemed interesting, though. I wonder if they call him Tsuna, wouldn't that be funny? Tsuna and Yoshi."
"Kyoko, no." Hana said desperately, because this was exactly how they'd become friends/acquaintances with Sawada Yoshi in the first place.
Kyoko had seen him, the ash-haired genius hāfu delinquent from their class and freakin' Yamamoto Takeshi chasing down and beating up some shady looking guys in black suits and shades one Sunday afternoon, when they'd met up to go shopping together. Needless to say, their plans had been edited and Hana had spent the day chasing after her friend who was chasing after Sawada and his gang in a fit of unapologetic curiosity. It had ending with her and Kyoko somehow becoming hostages of the yakuza family that Sawada had run afoul of and him and Kyoko becoming friends when they were rescued.
See? Friends/Acquaintances. He might have been Kyoko's friend, but he sure as hell wasn't hers. Damned trouble-attracting monkey. Kyoko got into enough trouble herself without someone else making it worse.
The first time he sees him, the tiny wisp on a boy is sitting on top of someone else, bigger than him but not by much, using his knees to keep the older boy's arms pinned, and using his hands to hold the boy by his hair and mercilessly slam his head into the ground. Again, and again, and again. It's like the metronome Kyoya's mother has at home, moving to a set beat, and each tick is measured by the crack of the boy's head against the ground.
There's another tiny boy, looking much like the first, face bruised and crying in an irritating, high pitched tone that would have convinced Kyoya to walk away if it weren't for the way he was trying to pull the first boy off the one being pummelled into the ground.
"Onii-chan, onii-chan, stop, stop, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorryyyyyy!"
The repeated apologies seemed to do what pure physical strength didn't, because the boy's older brother finally let go of the hair in his grasp, leaving the other's boy's head to fall back to the ground with a dull thump. The boy still on the ground wasn't making any noise.
The lack of tears or screaming made Kyoya draw closer, curious. Because the sight of the tiny boy, holding his brother's chin up with bloodied fingers and staring at his bruises with a scowl on his tiny face somehow caught Kyoya by the heart and reeled him in before he could protest the movement.
"Is he dead?" he asked curiously.
Both boys jerked, and the boy drew his younger brother behind him, glowering at Kyoya threateningly. It looked like a cute little kitten trying to snarl at him, and the sight made Kyoya smile, because even small predators were still predators.
And mother had said he wouldn't find more people like himself. He'd go back home and tell her she was wrong.
The first boy was staring at him, face strangely blank. When Kyoya glanced over his shoulder, the other boy looked just as blank. It was when their faces were both expressionless that Kyoya finally realised that they both looked exactly the same. Well, not… exactly. Their hair colours were slightly different, one had darker brown hair than the other. Maybe the set of the eyes. But it was very little, they looked similar enough that Kyoya would have thought we was looking at reflections if they weren't both moving in completely different ways.
"…I don't think he is," the first boy said after a moment. The second boy made a fearful sound, clutching at his brother's shirt, and Kyoya fought the urge to cringe.
An herbivore clinging to a carnivore, hoping to be defended. Father hadn't said that could happen in life.
It took Kyoya a long moment to realise that the herbivore wasn't just clinging to the boy in front. He was actually scowling at Kyoya – teary-eyed, face purple and blue, and an oozing cut at the edge of his lips, but he was still trying to scowl at Kyoya, hiding behind the carnivore, but still defiant.
It made Kyoya's face light up with a bright smile. This was interesting! Like his father's stories, and his men!
"Sawada Tsuna," the carnivore said suddenly, ducking his head. Kyoya blinked at him, while the herbivore at the back quivered in place before also ducking and giving a short bow, a little deeper than the carnivore in front of him.
"S-Sawada Yoshi," he said in a soft voice.
Kyoya shrugged, and ducked his head.
"Hibari Kyoya. We should check if he's dead, my father said leaving dead people behind when you can get charged for it is a bad idea."
Tsuna frowned at him, and then slowly nodded.
"Yeah. I think that makes sense. Do you know how to check?"
"…I've seen my companion's father hold people's wrists to check. I don't know why, though."
"…there should be something beating."
Both Kyoya and Tsuna turned to stare at Yoshi, who flushed, and looked down, fingers curling in the edge of his shirt.
"I don't know why. Something tells me that something has to be beating in his wrist. That means he's not dead." He said defensively. Kyoya continued to stare at him, bemused, but Tsuna nodded.
"Ok. That something always tells us things and its always right, right Yoshi?"
"H-hai…" Yoshi trailed away in a soft voice.
Kyoya turned to follow Tsuna back to the boy on the ground. Each of them lifted a hand, Tsuna watching to see where Kyoya was holding and trying the same. It took a while, but they finally did manage to feel something beating in his wrist. They both booked back at Yoshi, Tsuna with a smile and Kyoya with raised eyebrows, feeling very impressed. He hadn't even known what to look for, and Yoshi had given them the answer immediately.
"So, what do we do now?" Tsuna asked him, face screwed up in a serious expression. Kyoya frowned, trying to figure out what to do. He nodded, after a long moment of thought.
"Let's go to a payphone. My companion's father should be able to do something about this, my father always calls him when there's something like this going on."
Tsuna looked suitably impressed. Yoshi just looked worried, still clinging to his brother. He wasn't crying anymore, though. And didn't look scared either. No, his eyes were watching Kyoya warily, still not completely willing to trust him.
Kyoya nodded to himself, smiling softly. A carnivore. Just like his brother. But a small one. A baby carnivore, acting like an herbivore so he didn't get eaten by something bigger. Tsuna was big, so was Kyoya, but neither of them were as big as Kyoya's father. That's why the baby carnivore, no, fake-herbivore, was hiding behind his brother. He wasn't ready to face Kyoya directly, not yet.
Tsuna seemed to understand what Kyoya was thinking, because he shot Kyoya a warning look, one arm pointedly keeping Yoshi behind him. The reaction made Kyoya laugh, because he knew, he knew, he would have reacted the same way if he'd been in Tsuna's place.
"Come on. We'll need to call quickly, it's getting dark and the old man will get busy soon."
Tsuna watched him, eyes looking oddly purple in the half-light, before nodding just once. He followed Kyoya without any hesitation, though.
Tetsu's father was thankfully willing to come to check on the boy, and to anonymously enter him into a hospital so no one found out that Tsuna, Yoshi or Kyoya had been involved. He did stare all three of them down with a hard expression, eyes lingering on Yoshi's bruised, bleeding face and the unapologetic set of Tsuna's shoulders before treating all of them to a soft smile.
"Never do this again, Sawada-kun. And Young Master, it's far too early for you to be calling me to deal with any bodies you leave behind." He said severely, making both the Sawada brothers wince, while Kyoya looked away, not quite willing to duck his head before someone subordinate to his father. Even if Kusakabe-san was nice. He kept bringing Tetsu to the main house, and always brought them nice things to eat too.
"Will they find out who hurt Minoru-san?" Yoshi asked, voice shaking.
Tsuna groaned, and Kyoya peered at him curiously, but Kusakabe's expression seemed to get strangely closed off.
"I doubt it, Sawada-kun. The doctors doubted whether that boy would be waking up any time soon."
Kyoya nodded suitably impressed, while Tsuna raised a shoulder in his direction, face blank. Yoshi, though, seemed to dissolve into tears all over again, clinging to his brother's shirt. It took Kyoya a few seconds to understand what exactly it was that Yoshi was whispering again and again.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's my fault. If Minoru didn't hit me, nii-chan wouldn't have to-"
"Yoshi." Tsuna cut in to the mumbling, tugging his brother forward and giving him a tight hug.
"Yoshi, it's not your fault. He's the one who followed you back and tried to beat you up."
Kusakabe's brows rose at that, while Kyoya sneered. Weakling, preying on someone who couldn't fight back yet. His father always said that herbivores were the worst sort, fighting amongst themselves and bleeding each other dry because they couldn't get any stronger. Now Kyoya actually understood what he meant.
"No, Yoshi. He's older than us. Bigger than us. If all he wanted to do was take the money that Mama gave us, he could have taken it and left you alone. Instead, he followed you back when I wasn't around and beat you up just because he could."
Kyoya listened with slowly widening eyes, a strange feeling of excitement coursing through his veins when he noticed the hard look on Tsuna's face. His lips pulled back in a snarl that had Kusakabe-san making an alarmed noise, stepping back, but it only made Kyoya want to step closer.
"No one has any right to complain if all I did was beat him back."
"…I'm still moving, nii-chan." Yoshi said in a small voice.
The passive defence of the boy who had beaten Yoshi up had Kyoya snarling just as much as Tsuna, much to Yoshi's surprise.
"If what your brother is saying is right, and I know it is, the only reason you're moving is because your brother found you before that boy made sure that you weren't. Stop saying sorry. It isn't your fault." Kyoya snapped, voice unyielding. It made Yoshi duck his head fearfully, but he slowly nodded. The silent acceptance made Tsuna stare at him with a strange look on his face before he smiled tightly.
"Thank you. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come." He said uncomfortably.
"Probably killed him," Kyoya returned blandly.
Tsuna blinked, surprised, and then gave a soft laugh, his face lighting up with a smile that was as bright as the sky shining through a heavy bank of clouds, setting the entire horizon aglow.
"You're probably right about that," he said.
Yoshi made a pained noise, and reached out the catch both of them by their sleeves. When they both turned to look at him, they were faced with a thunderous pout, lower lip quivering and eyes big and wet. Both Tsuna and Kyoya choked, shaking in the face of Yoshi's anger - Tsuna because it was his brother and he'd never seen Yoshi this angry, and Kyoya because... because…
He was so cute, oh, oh, like a kitten fluffing up and trying to bite at his toes, or a little porcupine, its spines still too soft to hurt anyone but trying anyway. He couldn't look away from the sight, face going red.
"Never. Try. To. Kill. Anyone. Again. You can beat them up if you have to, hurt people if they hurt you, but don't try to kill anyone. EVER."
They both nodded back, wide-eyed.
An odd sound coming from behind them had all of them looking back to see Kusakabe-san staring at all of them, a pained look on his face. Kyoya tilted his head and stared up at him, because he'd never seen Kusakabe-san look quite like that before.
"Young Master, I think it's past time that we get you home. The Master and Mistress must be worried. Let's drop off Sawada-kun and Sawada-kun after that, ok?" he asked, smiling, but Kyoya could see his face spasming, for some reason.
Yoshi nodded, looking contrite, and they slowly started walking back to where Kusakabe had parked his car.
When they finally reached his house, Kusakabe driving them in so Kyoya could get out in front of the engawa bordering the house, both Tsuna and Yoshi scrambled out after him, ignoring the way Kusakabe was trying to get them back in the car.
"Your home is beautiful," Yoshi whispered, staring up. Kyoya shrugged uncomfortably. This was the only place he'd known, after all. He couldn't decide if it was beautiful or not when he didn't have anything to compare it to.
Tsuna nudged him with a shoulder, smiling softly at the dirty look Kyoya shot him.
"Mama says that our house is a modern Western house, it doesn't look like this. This is really pretty, Kyoya," he said, and Kyoya nodded back slowly, willing to accept that.
"I've…I've never seen a Western house." He said haltingly. Yoshi spun to face him, wide eyed and smiling sweetly, while Tsuna beamed at him.
"Come drop us off with Kusakabe-san! He can bring you back here, right?" Tsuna offered, his brother nodding eagerly beside him.
Kyoya nodded again, somehow feeling warm inside his chest. He looked back when Kusakabe made another strange sound. The old man had his face pressed into his hands.
"…Are you ok, Kusakabe-san?" Yoshi asked worriedly.
"I'm fine, Sawada-kun, thank you for asking." He replied, voice muffled by his hand.
"Take us to Tsuna and Yoshi's house, Kusakabe-san." Kyoya demanded impatiently, when the older man made no move to get back into the car. After a long moment, he nodded, still looking pained, but he didn't hesitate to turn the car around and drive off once they were all inside.
When the three of them hopped off into the large house that Tsuna had directed them towards, Kyoya stared up at it through the grill of the gate. It looked so tall, and bright with colours in a way that his house wasn't. He thought this house was pretty too, thought he didn't say it. He didn't think hr needed to, because Yoshi was smiling at him again, lips curled ever so slightly.
When he waved goodbye to Kusakabe and followed the brothers in, he could have sworn that he heard the man grumbling about how he 'didn't want them spending any more time than necessary together' and how 'the young master was warped enough on his own, without adding more influences', and how 'the Mistress would hear about this', neither of which made much sense, so he let it go, tugging off his shoes in the genkan and trading them for a big pair of slippers that weren't anywhere near his size. Both the brothers steadied him immediately, giggling about how they'd ask their mother to buy a pair of slippers that would fit him too.
He followed them, feeling confused and out of place, especially since Tsuna didn't feel much like a carnivore anymore. But there were fingers tightly wound in his sleeves on either side, so he allowed himself to be tugged along, bowing and introducing himself politely when the brothers pulled to a stop in front of their mother.
When she offered to make him his favourite dish just because he brought her sons home, well. Who was he to say no?
Yoshi somehow managed to find the presence of mind to pull himself out of the armchair. The boy – pale haired, pale faced, blue eyed and panting for breath, covered in slash marks and clothes nearly in shreds – stumbled forward in his direction, and he reached out on instinct, steadying him with both hands.
"Are you okay?" he asked, rather redundantly in retrospect. He looked at Gokudera and Yamamoto, feeling a little helpless. What the hell? Who was this? And why the heck was he calling Yoshi Sawada-dono?
Gokudera cringed, looking like he wanted nothing more than to drag the bleeding wreck away from Yoshi's person, but he nodded gruffly and went inside to find some medical supplies. They'd all been relaxing by the inflatable pool that Bianchi had left behind at the Sawada Residence at some point. His mother and the kids were all out, and Reborn… was who knew where, the Arcobaleno liked to take time off for himself every once in a while.
Yoshi really wished he hadn't chosen to disappear today of all days, though. He tried to tug the stranger towards the armchairs, hoping to get him off his feet, but the boy waved off Yamamoto and Yoshi's hands, instead tugging a rectangular black box from somewhere within his shredded jacket.
"This- Thy father wishest and maintaineth that I bring these to thine hand, Sawada-dono-" he said faintly.
Yoshi… twitched, and eyed the box like it had managed to mutate into a handful of vipers.
"Haha, you sure do have an interesting way of speaking," Yamamoto said cheerily, though his eyes were dark. And the hand he'd set between the boy's shoulders was steady.
"And what, exactly, did my father decide to send me that drew enough attention to wound its messenger to this extent?" Yoshi asked, voice hard. The boy looked up at him, still wheezing for breath, but his eyes had gone wide.
"VOIIIIIII! Fun answer, that. Hand the box over, brat, it doesn't belong to… you…" the words had started out loud and harsh, but they'd petered away to something that sounded a lot like shock by the end of it.
Yoshi and Yamamoto both jerked around, shoving the wounded stranger behind them instinctively. And stared up at the long haired, leather-clad foreigner who'd appeared on the edge of the roof of the Sawada Household. Yoshi actually felt the way Yamamoto went still, eyes focused on the sword strapped to the white haired man's left hand.
There was a sinking feeling in his gut. Yoshi wanted to throw the box on the ground and jump on it till whatever was inside got crushed. Damn it, he knew this was going to happen!
"Juudaime!" Gokudera called, coming out, "I brought some- Holy fuck!"
He jerked back inside the moment he noticed the stranger up on the roof. Or, at least, he jerked back in the first few steps before Tsuna-nii stopped him with a hand to his back.
"Sqaulo? Is that you?" he called out, sounding surprised.
The stranger on the roof, Squalo, kept staring at Yoshi, looking a little disturbed. The stare had Yamamoto scowling and stepping in front of Yoshi, just to break the line of sight.
It seemed to make the man come back to himself, and he crouched down right there, on the edge of the roof.
"What the fuck, Sawada. I knew you had a brother, but you didn't fucking say he was your fucking twin," he said incredulously.
Yoshi coughed, trying to hide a grin at how disturbed the man was starting to look.
"And to top it off, he looks fucking cute. What the fuck."
"Quit swearing so much, Rapunzel, you'll scar the kids," Tsuna said, absolutely bland, as he shoved a gaping Gokudera out.
"Aniki!" he protested, when Tsuna stepped out past him. That had Squalo choking again, though he was quickly starting to go from disturbed to disturbingly amused.
"Aniki? Really?" he asked, grinning.
Gokudera went red, and even Yamamoto went a bit pink, since he hadn't hesitate to take up that address either. Though he did alternate it with Yoshi's usual turn of phrase, enough that 'aniki' didn't come up as much.
"Yes, aniki. Got a problem with that?" Tsuna asked cheerfully, smiling brightly up at Sqaulo and simultaneously throwing an arm around Gokudera's shoulders. Poor Gokudera – he actually squeaked and dropped the first aid kit, flushing even redder than before.
"…okay, now that is just precious," Squalo said, smirking and gesturing towards Gokudera with a wave of the sword bound to his hand. Tsuna beamed back at him, jostling the increasingly flustered teen tucked to his side.
"Isn't he just? Yoshi somehow managed to find the cutest set of younger brothers for me to play with."
"Aniki!" Gokudera yelped, finally unable to bear the two-pronged onslaught.
Yoshi covered his mouth with both hands, trying his level best not to let the giggles out. About the only thing that helped him control himself was the fact that the first stranger had gone stiff behind him. He looked over his shoulder, worried when he saw how much paler the boy had gotten.
"Tsuna-dono," he said faintly. Tsuna's gaze shot towards them immediately, the fond smile staying on his face, but eyes abruptly went cold.
"Basil-kun," he replied pleasantly. The boy, Basil, whimpered and stumbled backwards.
"Tsuna-nii!" Yoshi snapped, turning around to catch the boy by his shoulder before he could bolt and end up hurting himself any worse.
"Family business, Yoshi. You know how it is," Tsuna returned, letting go of Gokudera, who'd gone still, the flush subsiding from his face.
Squalo was still up on the roof, a wide smirk still firmly in place.
"Family business or not, I'm not letting you hurt anyone who's come as a messenger to me," Yoshi said, voice going hard. Tsuna drew to a stop beside him, waving Yamamoto away with a pointed glance.
"Do you even know what the message he's brought to you is?" he asked, lips quirked just enough at the edges to seem like a smile. Yoshi shot him a chiding look, and the facsimile of a smile immediately disappeared.
It left Tsuna looking absolutely cold. The expression was terribly familiar – Yoshi had certainly seen enough of it before Tsuna had learnt how to hide away the harder edges of himself. Memories of being nine and watching his twin laughing wildly, looking half-mad while evading the downward arc of Kyoya-san's tonfa, loomed up from the deep before Yoshi shoved them back down where they belonged.
"Basil. Basil-san. You have to answer me. What is in the box?" he asked urgently, knowing that Tsuna would be patient for only so long before he decided to take matters into his own hands. And he didn't need to see Gokudera and Yamamoto's regard for his brother plummet. Gokudera had managed to tuck away his unease about Tsuna being the 'Cloud Fist' of the Varia, and Yamamoto hadn't studied in the same schools as them while growing up – they didn't know how bad Tsuna could get if he was angry.
And he was. He was. Yoshi had nearly seen the rage crystallise in his eyes before Tsuna had tucked it away beneath a smile.
Damn it, baka-oyaji, what'd you do now? He thought to himself, exasperated, staring down at Basil entreatingly.
Basil was glancing between the two of them, wide eyed, but he subsided when Yoshi cleared his throat.
"These… Iemitsu-dono wishest that-"
"Quit that, Basil. I already taught you how to speak in Modern Japanese, don't go back to the stuff dad taught you. The old man just had a laugh at your expense and you know it."
Yoshi groaned, and reached out to shove at Tsuna' shoulder. Tsuna, for his part, budged about as much as a mountain would, on being shoved by puny mortal arms. Basil looked down at the ground, looking so sad that Yoshi really couldn't help himself when he wrapped the boy up in a hug. Basil stiffened in the circle of his arms with a squeak, but he didn't make any move to pull away.
It was Tsuna's turn to groan, and he scrubbed at the back of his head with a pained look on his face.
"No, Tsuna-nii. You hurt him. Dad hurt him. That means mom and I get to take care of him until he feels better."
Squalo burst into sudden laughter behind them, and Yoshi looked over his shoulder to stare as the swordsman actually fell off the edge of the roof, still cackling.
"Oh, fuck, ow. Tsuna, the two of you're just as bad as each other – and you can't ignore him!"
Tsuna shot the older man a wary look, the coldness slowly melting off his features. Yoshi slumped into Basil with relief, making the boy squeak again.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Tsuna was asking, and Squalo pushed himself up with another snicker.
"VOI, you know exactly what that means. Boss is going to laugh his ass off when I tell him about this…"
"Squalo," the swordsman's name left his brother's lips in a whine that had Yoshi bursting into irrepressible giggles, muffling them in Basil's hair. The sound made Tsuna turn around with the most sullen expression that Yoshi had seen on his face in a while – he didn't think he'd seen anything near as petulant on his brother's face since the last time their father had carted Tsuna back to Palermo earlier than planned.
For his part, Basil had finally loosened up, though he'd bunched his hands in the front of Yoshi's tee, seemingly too shy to actually hug back. Yoshi patted him comfortingly on the back and pulled away, turning a pleading look on his brother.
The bitch-face doubled in intensity. Squalo choked, doubling up in breathless hilarity, while Gokudera went red all over again. Yamamoto's face lit up with a dazzling grin, looking back and forth between the Sawada brothers with apparent glee.
"Yoshi, if you say one word-"
"Can we please keep him, Tsuna-nii?"
Tsuna's shoulders slumped and he tilted his head back, looking pained.
"Okay, yes. Stop looking at me like that."
It was only later, once the excitement died down and Yoshi and Tsuna had both procured snacks for everyone at home that he managed to sit down with the box. They were all seated around the kitchen, even Basil, who was still looking subdued, sitting quietly between Yamamoto and Gokudera. Squalo was leaning against a counter, nursing a mug of the expresso blend that Reborn tended to ensure that Yoshi kept on hand. He'd detached the sword from his arm and sheathed it safely, and was pointedly ignoring all the speculative looks Yamamoto was shooting in his direction.
Tsuna was seated quietly beside him, arms folded and frowning down at the box that Yoshi had placed in front of himself.
"…well? Aren't you going to open it?" Yamamoto asked, once more than sixty seconds had passed by. Predictably, this comment was met with a snarl from Gokudera's side, but he quickly subsided when Tsuna shot him a warning look.
"…Okay. Well, here goes nothing." Yoshi mumbled, and tugged the lid of the box off. He didn't need more than a glimpse of the seven half rings arranged in a circle within the box before he slammed the box shut again, breath catching in his throat.
Seconds of silence slipped past, and he stared down at the box, knuckles going white where his fingers were still gripping its lid.
"Yoshi," Tsuna murmured, sounding exasperated.
"No. No, Tsuna-nii. I told him. I fucking told the old man too. To. His. Face."
Squalo made an interested sound, eyes focusing on him sharply.
"So you already knew this was coming, did you."
"No! Because it wasn't supposed to be coming! I told my father that I don't even have an iota of interest in succeeding the family. Even if the first two heirs to the Vongola passed away, Don Nono's two younger sons are both alive and well – let them squabble over the heirship, damn it."
Squalo's brows slowly rose, and he eyed Yoshi curiously over the rim of his mug. Tsuna sighed, and collapsed back in his seat, letting his head hang loose over the back of the chair.
"I had a feeling this was going to happen. That… kuso-oyaji of ours has been snooping around the compound too often, that's why I asked Boss for permission to come home for a while. God damn it."
"…if dad's selected me, then who's the Don's selected candidate?" Yoshi asked suddenly, his intuition suddenly pinging off.
Squalo gave a rude snort, and knocked back the last of his coffee. The action made Tsuna lurch out of his chair, looking horrified.
"The Don wouldn't- Not Massimo for fuck's sake!" he snapped.
"Well, apparently he and your brother at the only legitimate heirs available. VOOOOOIIIIII, don't give me that look, brat. I was about as pissed as you are now when the news came in."
"Then why were you chasing Basil?" Yoshi cut in, curious.
Squalo shot him a surprised look that had him sighing painfully.
"You're clearly Xanxus' Guardian, right? If you're his Guardian, why were you the one to chase the ring bearer?" he asked again, Squalo sneered at him, and turned to reach for the coffee pot, already going about fixing a second mug for himself.
"Because Massimo still doesn't have a whole damned complement of Guardians. The fuckwit. The only Guardians he has are a Sun and Mist pair of 'identical' twins – which is fucking insane, they're about as identical as me and Yoshi if they have different Flame alignments – and, anyway, they aren't even proper fucking Guardians-" Tsuna broke off with a hiss at the loaded look Squalo shot him, clearly ordering him to shut up.
Yoshi turned the problem over thoughtfully, and finally nodded to himself. He pushed himself out of the chair, hand still locked around the box in his hand, and ignoring the questioning look his brother shot at him. He pulled short in front of Squalo, who surveyed him with raised eyebrows, beginning to look just a little bit amused all over again.
"You're kinda adorable, Princess. I guess now I know why the brat's so hung up on you."
"Squalo!" Tsuna snarled, but Yoshi rolled his eyes and nudged his brother back with his shoulder.
"Shush, you. He's my big brother, of course he'd worry about me. Mom fed him all these stories about how there were complications during our birth and how I nearly didn't make it out, when we were younger. It made him hover over me way too much once he started understanding that those complications meant I might never have existed. I don't begrudge him his overprotectiveness."
"Juudaime," Gokudera whispered, sounded horrified. Tsuna made a pained sound and wrapped Yoshi up in a bear hug from the back. Well used to the treatment, and honestly finding the reactions to his confession more than a little amusing, he lifted both arms, offering the box laying in his palms to the swordsman standing before him.
Squalo didn't looked even a little moved by the tale, not that Yoshi expected him to feel anything. About the only reason his friends reacted was because they were his friends, and Tsuna was his big brother – older by nearly five hours and born the day before him.
But he did lift the box gently, and after he'd secured it, softly patted Yoshi on the head.
"Quit telling that story to people from now on, kid. You'll make your big cry baby of a brother sob a river of tears and snot."
"I'm not a cry baby," Tsuna protested, but he made no move to let Yoshi go either. Squalo snorted, and ruffled Tsuna's hair none-too-gently.
"Baby. Do you want me to carry a message back to Boss for you?"
"No, He already knows anything I have to say. Watch out for my father and any members of the CEDEF, Squalo. I want those rings to reach Boss safely."
"Obviously. VOI, who the fuck do you think you're talking to, brat."
When Tsuna finally pulled his face away from Yoshi's shoulders, scrubbing at his eyes, it was to offer the older man a vicious grin.
"Nothing wrong in wishing an old man luck, is there."
"You wish you were as old as me, shrimp. I'll see you when you get back."
And that was that. Basil didn't seem too pleased to see the rings he had nearly given his life to protect being freely offered to the 'enemy', so to speak, but he didn't complain too much. He kept staring at Yoshi as though he'd hung the sun, moon and stars in the sky, though. It made both Gokudera and Tsuna increasingly uncomfortable, while Yamamoto continued to be horribly amused at his friend's ridiculous life.
The shit didn't hit the fan till Reborn returned to the house, two days later, with Dino in tow and a box filled with what were apparently the real half-rings. The earlier ones being fakes.
Yoshi was caught between feeling horribly embarrassed that he hadn't been able to make out and close to committing hara-kiri just to make sure he never had to meet his brother's Boss in person, because he'd sent the man fakes.
(Tsuna assured him his Boss hadn't been angry at Yoshi, though. It wasn't like he had been the one to switch the rings out for fakes.)
"He's so cute!" Lussuria cooed, hands covering his face and playing peek-a-boo with the tiny child curled up on the Boss' couch. The child, Tsuna, was giggling happily, reaching out and tugging at Lussuria's fingers, making the man wriggle with glee at the adorableness of their newest member.
Xanxus made a disgusted sound and ducked his head into the nest his arms made on his desk, sounding absolutely exhausted.
"The meeting didn't go well, then?" Squalo asked, expression carefully blank.
The Boss made a rude sound, face still hidden away, and Squalo found himself trading glances with Levi, who was still hovering by the door, shoulders tense.
"Oh, that old man. He doesn't understand matters of the heart," Lussuria scoffed, and then smiled sweetly down at Tsuna, playfully tugging his arms up and down. "Isn't that right, little Tsuna?"
"It is," Tsuna said, much to everyone's collective surprise. Lussuria stilled, his larger hands still carefully curled around the boy's tiny fists.
"The kid understands Italian?" Levi asked, after a beat.
"No," Squalo answered, still a little bemused by that little fact. He didn't think Guardian bonds were supposed to work quite this way; memories and language centres of the brain certainly weren't documented as being affected in any way by Soul Flames. Then again, it wasn't often that such young children became guardians to adult Skies.
Xanxus still looked tired, when he straightened in his seat.
"The Don was furious," he said, and Squalo carefully controlled the urge to wince.
Xanxus oscillated back and forth between the formal and informal when talking about Timoteo Vongola, and Squalo had realized years ago that Xanxus switched over to more impersonal terms of address whenever the old man disappointed him in some way. He'd still been calling Don Nono father that morning, before Sawada and his brat had come into the picture.
"And why, pray tell, was Don Nono so enraged?" Lussuria asked mildly, and that actually made both Squalo and Levi wince.
"Because the brat wasn't meant to be my Guardian, obviously. And I'm guessing they couldn't break the bond, or else he'd already be attached to either Frederico or Enrico."
Squalo distantly noted that Xanxus didn't even seem particularly angry at that thought. Levi had lurched sideways, shoulder slamming into the door jamb rather uncomfortably, and Lussuria's lips had quirked into a faint and utterly terrifying smile.
That the Boss could talk of his fucking Father breaking a Guardian bond without batting an eyelid…
"They couldn't. My dad won't let them, anyway," Tsuna said, his boyishly high voice sounding unnaturally loud in the aftermath of Xanxus' words. Xanxus made a questioning sound, and Tsuna shrugged, tugging his hands away from Lussuria's grasp, jumping down to the ground and walking up to the Boss' desk.
"They took me away from my brother. I wasn't going to let them take me away from you too." He said, peering up at Xanxus with a serious expression on his face.
"Brother?" Levi asked, after a false start, still clearly reeling after the thought that the Don might have found a way to break their Guardian bonds if he'd disapproved of any of the Boss' choices of Guardians, back when they'd first been made.
Tsuna shrugged at him, face losing the façade of age that his unexpected seriousness had created.
"My younger brother. When he showed our parents his flames, Dad got jii-san to come visit us. They almost hurt Yoshi, but I stopped them. Then dad said that I had to come with him here so that I wouldn't hurt him."
Squalo choked, and Levi made a wounded sound, hands clutching at the door jamb like a lifeline. Lussuria half-rose from the couch, looking alarmed, but all of them went still when a crunching sounded echoed through the room.
Boss' hands had managed to crush the edge of his desk.
"What colour were your brother's flames?" he asked, voice hard.
Tsuna smiled up at him sweetly.
"They were like yours. They didn't burn as much, but they were so warm. Yoshi's really sweet and nice, and his flames always feel really happy. Like sunshine!" he chirped.
Lussuria collapsed back into the couch, and Levi backed out of the room, looking sick. He rushed off with a whirl of his coat. Squalo might have gone after him, to make sure he didn't fucking puke in the fucking corridor, but it was all he could do to stay right where he was, leaning against a wall making sure he didn't slip down.
"…Younger brother." Lussuria said faintly, once he'd brought himself under control. Tsuna nodded at him, still smiling sweetly, and Xanxus' hands slammed down on his desk. All of them turned to look at him, when he slowly pushed himself out of his armchair, face pale with anger, nausea or some horrific mix of the two.
Younger brother, Squalo reminded himself. Lussuria would know more, since he'd actually studied the side effects and mental impact of a Guardian bond – any trained medical personnel with a Sun Flame alignment were expected to know those effects – but even without the training Squalo knew that bonding at such a young age was considered dangerous, especially between children. Phrases like 'unhealthy co-dependency', 'emotional abuse' and 'social regression' danced through his head, but even those weren't enough to justify the fact that his fellow Guardian had been ripped away from the Sky that he had originally been bonded to. By his father and the Don they were all apparently answering to.
Tsuna seemed confused, and he looked up at Xanxus when the older man rounded his desk, coming to a stop in front of him.
"…do I have to leave you too?" he asked, voice painfully young. Squalo watched with a sick feeling in his gut as Xanxus crouched down in front of the child.
"No. Never. The only way you're leaving me is if I die first, brat. Yoshi might be your brother, but you're mine now, and I don't let go of things that belong to me easily."
Tsuna cheered, and threw his tiny arms around the Boss' neck, hugging him tightly.
"Yoshi would like you," he said brightly, even as the Boss put a careful hand on his back, not quite hugging him but not pushing him away either. "He likes people who take care of others. And I know you'll take care of me. He'd like that."
"He won't be angry?" Squalo found himself asking, nodding to Levi when he returned, still looking a little green.
Tsuna shot a surprisingly contemptuous look at him, the expression looking nearly alien on his tiny face.
"Of course not. It's Yoshi."
The Boss gave a laugh that sounded uncomfortably watery.
"And that's enough, is it?"
"Un!" Tsuna declared cheerfully. "He told me to take care of myself over here, because dad is silly and Yoshi didn't like jii-san at all. He'll be happy that I'm with you now."
The words made Xanxus snort with laughter, clearly entertained by the thought that, somewhere in Japan, there was a little boy who apparently disapproved of Don Nono enough to tell his older brother to be wary of him.
"He really doesn't seem too much like a Cloud," Levi said later, once they'd all left the Boss' office. Tsuna had remained behind, and the Boss seemed content enough with the arrangement, so none of them had protested.
"Doesn't he? He's certainly hovering around the Boss like a fluffy little Cloud," Squalo countered snidely.
It made Levi growl back at him, still not completely over the fact that he couldn't quite squabble with a little boy over how much time he was spending with the Boss. Not only would Tsuna not understand why Levi was angry, it would make their subordinates howl with laughter.
"Not only that. Didn't you hear what he said, back there?"
"VOI, I was too busy keeping an eye on Levi to make sure he didn't fucking upchuck over Boss' carpets."
"That little boy," Lussuria broke off to shove Squalo and Levi apart, one hand on each of their faces. "That little boy said that he stopped his father and Don Nono from hurting his brother. Who would have been his Sky at that point. And he said that he would stop them from separating him from Boss."
"So?" Levi snapped, shoving Lussuria's hand away. "Any of us would have said and done the same."
"Not at that age. And not with nearly as much self-assurance. From the sound of it, the only reason he suffered the separation from his brother is because he'd been warned that his continued presence at his brother's side would only be detrimental to the brother. Which implied that, if Tsuna were the one being hurt, he wouldn't care enough to leave his brother behind, and certainly not because an outsider told him to. And that the only reason he did leave is because his brother ordered him to. That kind of unquestionable dedication and mental strength in the face of two adult Sky Flame users can't be anything but a Cloud Alignment."
"Clouds are supposed to be distant, aren't they?" Levi countered. Squalo watched the back and forth silently, interested in spite of himself.
"Not necessarily. We tend to get the distant ones in the Varia because they're better suited to wetwork. I've known plenty of Clouds that are family oriented and veritable social butterflies."
"…I sense a 'but' somewhere in there," Squalo said blandly, beginning to smirk.
Lussuria grinned back at him, looking unholily amused.
"But they were all monsters if anyone took them for granted. Most of them had the kind of fanatical following that even Sky Flame users don't get, and they never gave them the time of day. None of them liked being told what to do, and they only paid attention to the people they decided were worthy of their loyalty. If I'm reading that little boy right, he's already a little broken by his separation from his brother – and he probably has very little interest in anything his father or the Don say or do right now."
"Because they both betrayed his trust?" Levi asked, looking a little amused. Squalo snorted, and turned to keep walking.
"No. Because they made him do something he didn't want to do." He said, making both his fellow guardians chortle with laughter.
"What do you mean, 'don't want them'?!"
Dino coughed into his fist, letting his gaze slip sideways to land on Reborn. Surprisingly enough, his old tutor looked completely expressionless – and therefore, utterly uninterested in sharing his opinion with anyone present in the room. He was seated atop the older Sawada twin, who was leaning against a wall and looking just as blank as the Arcobaleno balanced on his head, and if Dino was reading the set of his tiny shoulders correctly, Reborn seemed to be uncomfortably okay with the direction in which the discussion was going.
If it could even be called a discussion at this point.
Tsuna's younger brother was standing with his arms folded in the centre of the room, a scowl on his face, and looking about as defiant as Dino knew his older brother could be when the situation called for it. Which was nearly all the time - for all that Tsuna seemed to be complexly loyal to his Boss, he had a well-deserved reputation of being a loose cannon. It made Dino horribly amused, especially when he made use of that personality trait to drag the Varia's Cloud off on coffee dates and escapades across the country. Or the world, if he could get away with it. He was allowed to pamper younger brothers, after all.
And both the Sawada brothers were his brothers in shared misery, if not blood. Yoshi was a full time student of Reborn's now, after all. And Dino'd met Tsuna more than once when he'd still been getting tutored by Reborn. The younger boy had been dragged into his lessons far too often because Reborn had decided he could use an education with some hard hits too. Dino had been initially disturbed, since Reborn didn't seem the kind to take people under his wing out of the niceness of his heart.
He'd calmed down when he realized that it was some strange kind of revenge against Don Timoteo's consigliere. He wouldn't be surprised if the Arcobaleno had taken Yoshi as a student for the same reasons – for all that he'd been taking assignments and requests from the Vongola, Dino knew that Reborn and Don Timoteo had a more precarious relationship than they were willing to broadcast outside a select set of people.
"It means exactly what I'm saying, dad. I don't want the rings. I certainly never signed on to be the heir of the Vongola Family. You can't blindly assume that I want to be a part of the Family just because you are." Yoshi snapped, voice hard. Iemistu looked like he'd been slapped, while more than one person silently watching the fallout between father and son winced. Dino wasn't among them.
He'd expected this reaction, after all. If nothing else, he'd suspected that Yoshi's loyalty to his brother would have ensured that he'd decline the rings – there was no way he'd fight his brother over something he'd never wanted in the first place.
"But you've been-"
"But nothing. Just because Reborn-san was kind enough to tutor me doesn't mean I'm obliged to become a member of a mafia Family. And I'm sure as hell not the best possible heir. The Family's got two other options, and they're both the current Don's sons. Why the heck do I have to get involved when I don't want to?"
"Don't say 'because I said so', oyaji, that's about as dumb a reason as anyone can come up with. Act your age." Tsuna bit out suddenly, his voice cutting through the tension like a knife.
Iemitsu sent his older son a hard look before jerking his gaze back to the younger.
"Yoshi, I'm afraid Tsuna and you have been a part of this Family since your birth. We've discussed it, Timoteo and I, and whatever you might think, you are the best possible heir." He said, voice tight. Yoshi scoffed, unimpressed.
"What, so we're Vongola by blood? I'm pretty sure granddad wouldn't agree to that, if he were still around. Weren't you the first member of the Sawada family to go hunting for the Vongola? Even if we're related to the first Don, he retired to Japan because he didn't want to be a part of the Mafia any more. How much less connected to the mafia can you get? The only person in the family who should have necessitated our being beholden to the Vongola was a deserter himself!" Yoshi snapped.
This time, Dino found himself choking with damn near everyone in the room. Tsuna looked viciously delighted, as proud as can be, while his brother's friends looked very close to either keeling over or passing out. Well, one of them did, while the other looked inappropriately amused at the turn of events. Poor Basil looked faint, crouching as close to Tsuna as he could get without being too obvious.
"You have no right to speak about your grandfather like that-" Iemitsu was blustering, while Yoshi rolled his eyes and waved the comment aside.
"If Reborn's lessons are anything to go by, Ieyasu-san would probably agree with me."
"Don't drag him into this, dad."
"He's a member of the Varia! He's probably the one who convinced you to give up your rightful inheritance!" Iemitsu snarled, sounding unnervingly helpless and enraged. Dino breathed in sharply, stepping forward to get involved because if anything could make things get out of hand, that was it, but he stopped at a sudden spike of intent from Reborn. Clearly, he didn't want Dino getting involved yet.
And it didn't seem like he had to, anyway. Tsuna had darted forward to get an arm around his brother's shoulders and hold it back, because Yoshi looked an inch from throwing a punch at their father's face.
"You-you-how dare you. Dad, he loves me more than anything else, how could you even think that, let alone say it!" he roared, eyes going incandescent and making Dino's breath catch in his chest.
The sheer purity of the Sky Flames being released from his younger brother made his heart beat faster, the Harmony singing in his veins and demanding that he help defend the younger Sky from the interloper in their midst. It actually took a few seconds to wrestle his senses back under his control, and when the lust to fight had cleared, it was to find that nearly every other person in the room – namely Yoshi's Storm and Rain Guardians, Basil, and the children that had rushed back from the kitchen all looked as murderous as he'd felt a moment ago.
The arm that Tsuna had wrapped around Yoshi's shoulders, his eyes and the hand clenched at his side all glimmered a dark purple for a split second before the flames faded out.
Iemitsu actually looked pained. Dino nearly pitied him – the man clearly meant well, but he seemed to be saying all the wrong things.
"But Yoshi-" the older Sawada whispered, breaking off when Dino finally got a hand around his shoulder.
"Are you conspiring against the current headship, Sawada?" he asked blandly, directing the question at Tsuna.
Tsuna shot an exasperated look at him.
"Even if I say I'm not, Dino, the old man and my dumb dad aren't exactly going to accept it." He said, irate. Yoshi quivered impatiently in his grasp.
"That's crazy. Why would you conspire against anyone, Tsuna-nii?" he demanded. Tsuna gave a tired laugh and dropped his head onto the younger brother's shoulder.
"Well, the current headship wants you as the next heir. You're not agreeing to be the heir, and I don't want you anywhere near the Mafia, so clearly that means I'm conspiring, right?"
Iemitsu made a choked sound, and tried to get away from vice around his shoulder, but Dino held tight. Even if he was older and the Vongola's consigliere, Don Timoteo had asked Dino to get involved as an unbiased party if necessary. And this clearly called for involvement on his part.
"Sawada. Do you or do you not accept the Vongola rings?" Dino asked, directing this question at Yoshi.
Yoshi stared him down, eyes still glowing amber-gold, and utterly unflinching in his response.
"I do not."
"Do I get to choose whom the rings go to if I don't accept them?" he asked, in the moment after his father caved in Dino's grasp.
Dino gave a short laugh, and stepped away.
"I doubt it, Yoshi. You've denied any interest in getting involved, so it's completely out of all our hands now, that is," Dino shot a lazy look at Tsuna's ducked head, smiling slightly, "Unless Tsuna decides to snatch away the rings and go haring off to his Boss."
Yoshi's Storm Guardian, Smoking Bomb Hayato if Dino wasn't mistaken, made a strangled sound at Dino's words and collapsed into his fellow guardian, sitting quietly beside him with a bright smile.
Tsuna scoffed loudly, lifting his head to stare Dino down.
"You make the funniest jokes, fratellone."
Dino beamed at him.
"Ah, fratellino, your sweet words always warm my heart," he said, laughing at the revolted grimace on both Tsuna and Yoshi's faces.
"Oh my. Everyone looks so serious. I think you all need a break; let's all settle down for dinner, hmm?"
Sawada Nana's voice had the same effect as cold water being thrown in everyone's faces. Iemitsu visibly shook himself and straightened, offering his wife a strained smile.
"That's a wonderful idea, dear. Let's eat."
…it was only later, sitting in the backyard to share a quiet smoke that Iemitsu said any more on the subject.
"He could have had everything. Everything." He muttered, sounding exhausted. Dino sighed, and glanced back into the house. He could sense Reborn's presence, quietly listening to what was being said, just as he could feel that neither of the twins was sleeping in their shared room. Nana seemed to be waiting for her husband, but Dino suspected the older man wouldn't be retiring to bed any time soon.
"I'd say he already has everything he wants, Iemitsu-san." Dino murmured back in careful Japanese, and Iemitsu pressed his face into his hand, barely avoiding singeing himself on the edge of his cigarette. An anguished sound erupted from deep in his chest, and Dino sighed, burning away the first words that came to mind in the next nicotine-laced intake of breath.
"I only wanted what was best for them." Iemitsu whispered.
"I would argue that leaving one son to the Vongola's Premiere Execution Squad and the naming the other as tentative heir to the Famiglia doesn't necessarily mean the best for either of them, but then, I'd be biased." Dino drawled back.
Iemitsu shot him a pained glance.
"Because of your father?" he asked, uncomfortably close to the truth, but Dino laughed away the twinge of pain the words drew out.
"There is that, but mostly because they're my brothers, Iemitsu. I wouldn't wish our life on anyone not directly involved, and certainly not someone who had absolutely no reason to be a part of it until you dragged them in."
Iemitsu gave a sigh of his own, taking a deep drag and breathing it out slowly.
"You should know better than anyone else that they're both safer if I bring them into the Famiglia, Cavallone."
Dino gave a sad smile at that, remembering the number of assassination attempts he'd suffered in his childhood, and all the hatred he'd felt at the thought of succeeding the man whose very existence had ensured that Dino couldn't lead a normal life.
He did know better, after all. He wouldn't have given in to Reborn's learn-or-die methods if he didn't.
"That doesn't mean I can't wish that they'd have a chance at a happier, easier life, Iemitsu-san."
"I wanted to ensure that they'd both be at the front. The best of what I had to offer, and they both had to go and-" Iemitsu broke off with an exasperated grunt, leaving Dino to snicker to himself.
"You probably should have asked them first. Neither of your sons likes being ordered around, they're both equally as stubborn."
"This isn't funny, Dino. It's only going to create dissent if Yoshi decides to get involved later, now."
"I doubt it. He seemed very firmly in favour of Xanxus, after all."
Iemitsu stiffened beside him, and shot him an alarmed glance. Dino smiled back at him lazily, and leaned back on his elbows in an indolent sprawl.
"He… he actually said-"
"He didn't need to say anything. Your sons' views have been readily apparent for years, Iemitsu. I suspect you and Timoteo are the only ones who expected anything different."
"He hasn't even met Xanxus. Or anyone else from the Famiglia, for that matter!" Iemitsu hissed.
Dino rolled his eyes.
"His brother, Iemitsu. Are you blind?"
The man only looked more confused, and alarmed, and Dino groaned, because this wasn't even remotely amusing anymore. How in the world could a father care so much for his sons and be so ignorant of how their minds and their relationship with each other worked?
"Listen carefully, Sawada, because someone needs to spell it out for you and I don't want to have to do this more than once. Yoshi loves his brother. Has loved him since they were children, and continued to love him even after your and Timoteo's decision to break their Guardian bond had Tsuna transferred over to Palermo whenever you could get him away. And Tsuna cares for his younger brother just as much. They trust each other's judgement. Why wouldn't Yoshi support the candidate that his brother favours when he trusts Tsuna's judgement in everything else?"
Iemitsu still looked confused. Dino made a face, and snuffed out his cigarette on the bottom of his shoe, heaving himself up with a groan.
"Think it over, Iemitsu-san. And for your wife's sake, if not your own, don't try to drive your sons against one and other again. You're only decreasing whatever little faith they have left in you every time you do."
He left the older man to his thoughts without any more said.
Reborn was waiting for him in the shadows once he was back inside the house. He met his old tutor's gaze challengingly, and Reborn gave a low laugh.
"You've grown, Dino."
"Have I? Please don't praise me too much, Reborn, or my heart'll give out. Romario would never forgive you." Dino said airily, making the Arcobaleno laugh, jumping up to land lightly on his shoulder.
"Idiot. Come on, Tsuna and Yoshi are both waiting up for you." He said fondly, making Dino grin.
"Are they? Oh, they're both adorable, Reborn. You should make sure all your future students are just as cute."
The cold press of a gun against his temple made him laugh nervously.
"Sorry, sorry. I'll sto- AH!"
He somehow managed to stumble over thin air and crash forward on the stairs. The resulting sound was loud enough that it drew both the brothers out of their room and down to investigate.
"Uh. You ok down there, Dino-san?" Yoshi asked worriedly. Tsuna was staring down at him curiously from over Yoshi's shoulder. Dino sighed, and waved back at them.
"I'm fine, I'm fine. No idea what happened there. I'll just be on my way u-"
"Stop before you hurt yourself, Dino-san. Here-"
Dino smiled up at Reborn, who'd jumped off and somehow landed on Yoshi's head in the interim, carefully leaning his weight into Tsuna's side, clutching reflexively at his shoulders.
"It's crazy, how I keep falling over things when you're around, fratellino," he said teasingly. Tsuna rolled his eyes, helping him up the stairs, while Yoshi laughed softly, wrapping a supporting arm around Dino's waist once they were on the landing.
"Don't you mean it's funny how you keep falling over things when Romario isn't around?" Tsuna shot back snidely.
"Lies! All lies!" Dino gasped, making both his brothers laugh.
The arms supporting him on either side felt more like home than nearly anything else had in a while. He loved his Family, he couldn't have asked for better men. But Reborn and the twins had brought in the feeling of a family, the kind that he'd dreamt of for years, back when he demanded that his father leave him to live a normal life. Romario had been the closest he'd gotten to that feeling, after his father finally passed away, never really understanding why Dino had been so upset by his demands to become the next Don.
"…Hey, d'you want to have hot chocolate?" Tsuna said suddenly, when they reached his and Yoshi's room. Dino and Yoshi both looked back at him, bemused, while Tsuna slowly reddened under their regard.
Reborn laughed, and hopped from Yoshi's head onto his.
"Is that supposed to be Lussuria-nee's remedy for a trying day?" he asked, amused. Tsuna made a horrified sound.
"How the hell do you know about that?" he damn-near squeaked, and Dino burst into helpless snickers along with Yoshi.
Reborn, for his part, directed a bland look down at the top of Tsuna's head, and tugged at his hair pointedly.
"Because I know everything."
Tsuna all but pouted, at that, and sullenly stared at the ground.
"So I thought it would be nice to share some hot chocolate together. So sue me." He mumbled, actually beginning to sound awkward, so Dino used the arm he still had around Tsuna's shoulders to drag him into a tight hug, ignoring the way he yelped and struggled to get away.
"Okay, I think it would be nice too! Don't you think that's a nice idea, Yoshi?"
"Of course I do, Dino-san! Come on, let's go back down."
"Maybe Maman would like a mug too?" Reborn suggested leadingly, making Tsuna slowly look up again.
"Yeah, that's a good idea. Come on, Dino-san, let's go down, Tsuna-nii can ask kaa-chan if she'd like to come down too."
"Okay, I'll just go and ask mom, then." Tsuna called after them, sounding amused in spite of himself.
It made Dino want to laugh till his cheeks ached. From the giggle Yoshi buried in his shoulder, he clearly felt the same way.
Yoshi asked him to repeat the words, because he couldn't quite believe what was coming out of his brother's mouth. The repetition didn't help. Because they still didn't make any sense. Not to him.
"What do you mean, that I should become friends with Hibari-san when you're not here? Where are you going?!" he demanded, confused. His brother stared back at him, his face serious in a way that reminded Yoshi uncomfortably of their mother, on the rare days that she wasn't acting silly.
"Yoshi…" his brother started hesitantly, but Yoshi cut him off with a yell.
"No! NO! You're not going anywhere, Tsuna-nii, no-!" he stopped only when his brother enfolded him in a tight hug, muffling his words. Yoshi kept yelling until his throat ached and his eyes were wet.
He couldn't feel his brother anymore. There was an empty pit in his chest, hollow and deep where he Tsuna's strength had beat sure and fast like the heart of a bird held in his hands, before. He'd felt safe, protected, whenever his brother was around, that unyielding support had always been there, he'd never needed to see or touch it to know it and now it was GONE.
It was gone. He couldn't feel his brother anymore. His brother was there, but he couldn't feel him anymore, he was gone, gone, gone-
"Yoshi," Tsuna whispered into his hair, and he gave a broken sob.
"You can't leave me, brother. You can't." he bit out, and felt the soft press of lips against his temple.
"I won't. I'm here. But I'll have to go, at least for a little while."
"No." he repeated, but it sounded helpless this time. Because he couldn't actually say no to his brother. He'd never been able to say it before, even when he knew with every beat of his brother's heart inside his chest that Tsuna would listen to everything he'd say. And he couldn't say it now, with that emptiness yawning inside him, fearing that it would chase Tsuna away.
"Yoshi. I'm not going anywhere." Tsuna repeated.
Yoshi hated himself for not being able to trust that.
The next day, Jii-chan reached for his forehead, fingers glinting orange, and his brother threw himself at the old man with a snarl, the sharp knives Mama kept for the meat gleaming in his hands and glowing purple.
He sat sobbing into his brother's chest for the rest of the day, hiding from both their parents and the old man. The hard press of Tsuna's arm against the back of his neck was a comfort, as was the glint of the knives that his brother hand smuggled up into their rooms.
"I'm not going anywhere," Tsuna repeated, whispered it into his hair and ears, and Yoshi finally found himself believing it.
He couldn't feel his brother anymore, that sense of strength that beat in his chest and flowed through his veins was gone. But his brother was still there.
He didn't let go, even when he heard kaa-chan screaming on the other side of the door, yelling at their dad and the old man. Yoshi couldn't understand half the words she was saying, and the little that he did understand made his ears go warm. But he was glad, glad, that at least their mother was as angry as he and his brother were.
He didn't let go until she peeked into their room, smiling tearfully and holding plates of steaming Salisbury steak out as a peace offering.
"Become friends with Kyoya, Yoshi," his brother said again, later in the night. He whispered into the back of Yoshi's neck, arms tightening around Yoshi's waist, and Yoshi shivered, eyes going wet again.
"You're going to leave."
"I'm not going anywhere, Yoshi."
Yoshi went silent, tearing up, but he held onto his brother's arms with both hands.
"Okay. Okay, Tsuna-nii. I will. I'll become friends with him." He whispered back fearfully, and felt his brother sag into his back in relief.
"Okay," Tsuna said, and Yoshi had to press his face into the pillow so Tsuna didn't hear him crying again.
His brother didn't let go until the next morning, when mom came to wake them up for breakfast.
Takeshi watched the meeting between Yoshi and Tsuna-nii's Boss with his eyes wide, lips tucked up in a careful grin so no one paid as much attention to what he was focused on. The expression was a reflex these days, as much as anything was, but Yoshi never really seemed to mind it much.
And, anyway, Gokudera did, which made it worth smiling all the more, some days.
Speaking of which, Gokudera was squirming beside him, clearly wanting to go stand by their friend's side. Takeshi barely held back from rolling his eyes, and nudged at him roughly with his shoulder.
Gokudera barely moved an inch. It made Takeshi's smile widen, just a little bit, before he got it under control again. Yoshi always managed to find so many interesting people. He'd been utterly bored before he broke his arm and Yoshi talked him down from the bridge. Life without baseball had seemed emptier than life with it, and he hadn't wanted to deal with the compounded boredom before the weird kid from his class who didn't have any friends dragged him down and off the edge.
He'd stared into Yoshi's bright, incandescent eyes then and wondered why the boy didn't have a fan club bigger and more rabid than Takeshi's own, because his face and the cut of his teeth when he yelled incoherently were more arresting than anything Takeshi had seen in his life. Except, maybe his dad's blades, especially the rare moments when he caught sight of his dad actually practicing his bladework before he noticed Takeshi spying on him and stopped.
Oh, he'd thought the next day, when Yoshi had been sitting as quiet as a mouse and not really looking at anyone in class. That's why he didn't have a fan following. Takeshi was the only one who really knew how stunning Yoshi could be. Other than the strange, ash-haired hāfu that had invaded their class a week ago, who followed the cringing boy around with hearts in his eyes. He'd been amused enough by the sight that it had distracted him from the monotony of class and the people who surrounded him every day, talking loudly and pawing at him familiarly without pause. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten how interesting the sight had been, after he broke his arm.
But, everything had seemed so empty…
"Oi, baseball-idiot." Gokudera growled under his breath, and Takeshi came back to himself with a start.
"Yeah, Hayato?" he asked cheerfully, making him Gokudera snarl at him, nearly foaming at the mouth.
Takeshi burst into loud laughter, not stopping even when Gokudera caught him by the collar and shook him wildly. He could be so. Much. Fun.
"So, you're Tsuna's brother, are you."
The words, spoken plainly in harsh baritone, made Takeshi pull himself back in check, watching with some amusement as Gokudera's pale face was doused in scarlet. The blush rushing to his cheeks and skin made him nearly glow with the colour in a way that really couldn't be healthy. He shot Takeshi a warning glance before turning his attention back to Yoshi who, when Takeshi glanced back to see for himself, was staring up at Xanxus with a blank expression on his face.
Takeshi had seen that look before, more than once, on both the Sawada brothers' faces. Yoshi had tried to explain it once, back before Tsuna-nii had appeared, saying that it was like a sixth sense acting up, but Reborn had explained it to him quietly, after Gokudera and Yoshi had both headed home after a long day of training. Intuition, he'd said. Something like how Takeshi just knew things somehow. Whether the opposing pitcher was having a good day of it or not. The best angle at which to hit the ball, when it came roaring at him in challenge. When to make a run for it – and when not to.
The best places to hit someone, to make sure it hurt. The right angle at which to direct a blade, if he wanted it to cut, and cut deep. And what to do if he wanted to hold back.
Yeah, it made him leery of those blank looks on the brothers' faces. Especially when Reborn explained it like that. Reborn'd said that the sense was for different things – that Tsuna-nii probably had Takeshi's sense in addition to whatever the brothers shared, that both the Sawada twins had a sense whispering secrets about the world in their ears – but anything that gave you so much information for free made Takeshi wary.
It was real damned hard to hold back sometimes, after all.
"Yeah, that's me. And you're Xanxus." Yoshi was saying, voice serious, making most of Xanxus' friends bristle on the other side.
It made Takeshi want to curl over and laugh until he was out of breath and couldn't stand anymore. It was like something out of a movie, with Tsuna-nii's Boss and Yoshi meeting in the centre, with him, Gokudera, Hana and Kyoko on one side, with Hibari-san hovering silently in the background like a big bird of prey, and all of Xanxus' people, dressed to the nines in leather and bristling threateningly on the other side.
Tsuna-nii was silently standing near his Boss and brother, at right-angles to both of them, body language all but screaming that he wasn't going to take a side.
Reborn hummed softly, easily balanced on the top of Takeshi's head, and sounding indulgently amused.
"I don't see why we have to be here," Hana was hissing irately, her breath leaving her in a near-silent whoosh when Kyoko pointedly stamped on her foot.
"To support Yoshi-kun, of course. Tsuna-san and Reborn-san both said that he needed us here, and we don't need to do anything but stand and wait. There's nothing wrong with that, right?"
We can be nice, can't we, Hana-chan?
Takeshi could nearly hear the words humming unsaid. Hana gave her friend a weak smile, and Takeshi just had to laugh again, just once, before silencing himself.
Tsuna-nii and Reborn hadn't said that it specifically had to be the two girls. They were Yoshi's friends too, even if they weren't very close friends, but Reborn had seemed strangely insistent that Yoshi invite Kyoko's older brother instead. And Lambo, the afro-haired kid that was staying at Yoshi's place for a bit.
Yoshi said he didn't want to take a kid or bother a senior who was likely to be busy on a weekend unless he was forced to, though, so Reborn had caved and asked him to get in touch with Hana and Kyoko instead. Tsuna-nii had seemed strangely amused at his acquiescence, while Reborn had waved his gun threateningly at the older Sawada twin until he stopped smiling.
Hibari-san had, surprisingly, agreed to come after a low conversation with Yoshi's brother. They'd both come away with too-wide smiles after that. It had made Takeshi terribly curious until Yoshi had cleared his throat uncomfortably, forcing Takeshi to look away from them.
"…heh. You're pretty tough, kid." Xanxus said, suddenly, making more than one of his men freeze in shock. The white-haired swordsman, Squalo, actually stopped to wriggle a finger in his ears to see if he was hearing right.
Yoshi was giving the older man, tall, dark and entirely too forbidding, a bright, beaming smile.
"You're not so bad yourself, Xanxus-san. Tsuna-nii really likes you."
"Oi, Yoshi!" Tsuna yelped, horrified, while Xanxus' lips spread in a toothy smirk, gaze easily snapping towards him.
"Oh, does he now."
"No I don't, Boss. You're insufferable!" Tsuna rapped back, making Yoshi tsk at him.
"Oh, should I have said you really look up to him instead, Tsuna-nii?"
"No I don't, stop lying Yoshi!"
"It's only a lie if it isn't true, nii-san!"
Nearly everyone on the shore was laughing at that point, even most of Xanxus' men. Well, Hibari-san wasn't, Takeshi could feel his ire like the serrated edge of a blade against his spine, but it didn't stop him from giving in to the moment and laughing as well, leaning slightly into Gokudera's solid strength beside him. Just to see if he'd jerk and scream again.
Surprisingly enough, he didn't. All Takeshi got for his troubles was an irked, suspicious look before Gokudera turned his attention back to the way Yoshi had cuddled up to his brother and Xanxus was, dare he say, teasingly ruffling Tsuna's hair. The smile on his face wasn't very nice at all, all of the Varia members' smiles had too many edges to look nice, but there was honest mirth in every line of them.
Takeshi could tell, after all. He didn't think he'd smiled honestly even once in his life.
(Exaggerating it. He was exaggerating it. He'd probably smiled honestly at least a few times at Yoshi. Or when Gokudera hissed at him and fluffed up like a startled cat. Or after he'd met Tsuna-nii for the first time, when the older Sawada had eyed him from head to toe, face blank, before offering him a biting grin, asking if life with Yoshi was less boring than without him. It had made Takeshi's breath catch in his chest, startled, before he nearly choked on his laughter, half hysterical and half relieved, amused down to his very bones. Yes, yes, yes. He'd never had this much fun before, ever.
The confession had made Tsuna beam back at him in pride. Takeshi still wasn't sure whom Tsuna had been proud of, Yoshi or him.)
"It's probably a bad idea, Boss."
The quiet words, spoken by the child beside them made Viper frown, surprised. They agreed with the verdict, it was a very bad idea, but Xanxus paid them enough that they didn't mind committing themselves to the cause.
They hadn't expected that one of the others would voice dissent, though. And certainly not the, ha, littlest guardian.
Predictably, most of the others seemed incensed at the child's gall to voice something against the Boss, but young Tsunayoshi seemed to be perfectly calm and confident in his verdict. The set of the child's face and shoulders made the Boss frown thoughtfully and, wonder of wonders, he actually gestured for Tsunayoshi to elaborate on his statement.
Viper watched the tableau with raised brows, interested despite themselves.
"Well, for one thing, the old man and my dad have been watching us like hawks, Boss. They have been for a while, ever since Enrico got shot down a few years ago."
The words made Levi growl under his breath, and Bel broodingly flipped one of his knives. Lussuria pushed his shades up, expressionless, while Squalo scowled down at the boardroom desk, fingers tugging absently at the longer strands of hair hanging low on his neck. The length was starting to look unkempt, now, nearly three years since Squalo had made the vow that he'd cut his hair only after Don Nono declared their Boss a legitimate heir to the headship of the Vongola. Viper didn't move, simply stayed motionless where they sat, shoulders stiff beneath their coat.
It wasn't pleasant, being viewed with suspicion by fools who were so beneath them, in experience, wealth and sheer ability. That they chose to view their Boss, the man they'd chosen as the worthiest to sell their loyalty to, was only more galling. Very few things had left such a sour taste in their mouth, Viper could count them on the fingers of one hand. And the only other incident that had raised such searing bloodlust and a need for vengeance in them had been Checkerface and what he had wrought.
They did not enjoy the indignity of being kept under watch. They'd suffered it enough, in their first youth. Suffering it again, in addition to being cursed, left them chafing at the bit. They'd nearly offered to do the deed for free, before logic had intervened, such was their distaste for the fools at the Vongola Estate.
Xanxus rolled his eyes, and slowly leaned back in his seat.
"That's the entire reason we've put this off for so long. Why wait any longer, brat. Give me your reasons. If they make sense, I'll take them into consideration."
Young Tsunayoshi nodded slowly, thinking it over, before looking up and piercing the Boss with a gimlet stare.
"Enrico and Frederico might be dead, but Massimo isn't. And he's a far poorer candidate than you, Boss." He said baldly. The words made Xanxus start in surprise, while the rest of his fellow guardians choked on surprised laughter. Squalo's breath escaped him roughly, in a sound that seemed to have been dragged, bloody and unwilling, from his chest, and Viper watched with a small smile on their face as the Commander finally drew his fingers away from his hair, instead patting Tsuna on the head.
Tsuna shoved the fingers away, shooting the white haired man a dirty look before looking back at the Boss, expression comically serious for a ten-year-old.
"I think we should wait, Boss. The old man's a fool, but he's a dangerous fool. And my old man's no better. We don't need a war we can avoid, especially not when a majority of the forces at the Estate are bound to turn around and support you if Don Nono is fool enough to nominate Massimo for succession."
Xanxus stared him down, clearly turning the words over in his head. It was nothing that they'd not thought of before, that Xanxus had not thought of before, but Viper could feel the shift of emotion in the air. Where before the boardroom had been filled with resentment, with indignity upon indignity forced on them, being treated more like wild dogs than the proud organisation they truly were, Tsuna's clear words, delivered in the voice of a child, had shaken them free of their blind rage.
If nothing else, they had woken the rain from his quest for blood. Viper could already feel the clarity of thought offered by Squalo's presence increasing. The rain was the one that washed everything away, after all. Squalo's anger incited the need to literally wash away everything in their path - and his clarity of thought caused all of them to breathe easier than before.
Consider other options that they hadn't considered feasible, before.
"Squalo," Xanxus murmured, voice gruff.
Squalo breathed in slowly, mind working at whatever it was that Xanxus had asked him. Before nodding decisively, once, eyes sharp and piercing.
"Makes sense, Boss. The Estate's filled with enough fools and wretches that I'd suggest cleaning house, later, but the kid's got a point. Things were different, back when Frederico was still around, but if it came down to you and Massimo, I'd say nearly seventy percent of the Main House would support your claim to succession."
"…that isn't hundred percent," Viper said, voice soft. It drew everyone's eyes, including Tsuna's.
"Meaning, it boils down to whether or not we want a war. I say, let's give them that war! They've certainly got it coming. Ushishishishi."
"Yeah, Boss! Mammon's right. If it isn't a sure victory, why the hell should we hold back? We may as well strike hard and take power by force!"
"Silence, both of you! Don't act like impulsive children." Lussuria snapped, making both Bel and Levi sag in their chairs, thoroughly chastened and looking sullen. Viper sighed, lifting a hand and carefully pinching the bridge of their nose. It did nothing to relieve the stress.
"It isn't hundred percent, but it means that, if we wait and see whom Don Timoteo nominates as heir, we'll have seventy percent of the Estate's forces standing behind us when we take down Massimo. Or Timoteo, for that matter. Even the CEDEF wouldn't be able to deny the Boss' claim when such a large percentage of the regular forces are on Boss' side. The child's reasoning is sound, Boss."
Lussuria nodded, lips curling slightly. He clearly agreed with Viper's assessment, as did Squalo. The lines of Squalo's face were set, serious, but Viper could see the feral smirk tugging at the corners of his lips. The man was all but an embodiment of his name, sometimes, and the look in his eyes all but screamed that he could sense blood in the water.
Viper concurred. This seemed to be the best option for success, even if it meant they would have to wait longer before they could savour the fruit of their labours.
Xanxus watched them as a whole, clearly cataloguing all their expressions, their reactions to the new option that had been laid out before them. Then, slowly, his gaze slid over to Tsuna, who was sitting still and attentive, all of his focus directed unerringly at the Boss, to the point that he hadn't noticed Squalo's hand settling on the top of his head again.
And then, almost gently, a soft smile unfurled on the Boss' face. It made all of them stiffen in their seats, Viper included, a near primal reflex in their brains warning them not to move even a millimetre, in fear that they would draw the consideration of the beast seated before them, waiting for any excuse to slake its thirst for blood.
"Then it's decided. We'll wait. Only time will tell if this is going to be a good call on your part, Tsuna. You'd better fucking hope to any higher power you believe in that it is a good call. Or I'm taking it out of your hide."
And then, for the first time since Xanxus had actually inducted the boy among their number, nearly six years ago, the sweet, charming and at times serious expression they'd gotten used to seeing on the child's face melted away to reveal a hunger nearly as transfixing as Xanxus' own. Tsuna's teeth were bared in a breathtakingly vicious grin, eyes shifting to a vivid purple that appeared lambent in the low light of the room, and the expression was jarring enough that they nearly missed what the boy said next.
"Bring it, Boss. I'd bet anything that you'll make a killing by waiting it out here, but if you don't, I'll be waiting for that fight."
The achingly soft tone with which the boy said the word 'fight' viscerally reminded Viper of, unnervingly enough, both Reborn and Fon. And even Skull, on the days when he all but dived into the jaws of death with a jester's laugh and a shit-eating grin.
It made the Boss burst out in raucous laughter, head thrown back in sheer delight at the boy's temerity.
Poor Levi looked rather like he'd lifted up a kitten only to find himself face to face with a lion cub, teeth bared in a snarl, which Bel seemed to be reassessing the boy with an uncharacteristic frown on his young face. Squalo and Lussuria, to Viper's surprise, didn't look at all taken aback. If anything, Lussuria looked fond. And Squalo looked amused, idly petting the boy's hair.
Viper eyed the child suspiciously, and decided to let it go. For now. Nothing stopped them from keeping watch of the boy, after all, fellow guardian or not. At best, he would have information to share on all of Tsuna's weaknesses, when they finally chose to trust the child. And at worst, well… Viper would have no guilt in finishing him off.
Out of the mouth of babes, they thought ironically. The boy would either be a priceless asset or the greatest liability. It would be their duty to wipe him out. No one who reminded them of Reborn, Fon and Skull should be left unwatched.
"…and we just have to slip on the ring."
"And here I thought Sawada and Don Nono would have you and Massimo duelling bravely till Kingdom Come, Boss," Squalo said sarcastically, making more than one of the men sitting in the room snort contemptuously.
It was the greatest blow to Timoteo that he couldn't quite tell if his me were among those how had laughed at the thought of Massimo attempting to match up against Xanxus. Timoteo wasn't truly surprised by the reaction – Massimo had never had even a quarter of the strength possessed by his brothers, in purity of flame or in sheer harmonising ability. And certainly not against Xanxus – the tale of him somehow harmonising with young Tsunayoshi from nearly halfway across the estate had already made the rounds years ago through the Famiglia, Allied Families, Rivals and Enemies.
Tsunayoshi still looked so young, barely a few months past his fifteenth birthday, and he stood back silently, pointedly situated a few steps to the right of Squalo, who was standing a single step back and to the right of Xanxus.
The position had left more than a few of the younger capos that Timoteo had invited in to the meeting murmuring feverishly to each other in an undertone. Understandably so, since Tsuna's position implied that, after his right hand's judgement, Xanxus prized the teen's word the most in the circle of his guardians. Not necessarily his left hand, Timoteo knew for a fact that that position still belonged to Lussuria, but if it came down to requiring a second opinion after Squalo's in a pinch, it would be Tsuna's words that would carry weight over everyone else's.
It was an astonishingly powerful position to retain. And to offer it to one so young, without ever having aired the amount of trust he had in Tsunayoshi in years since the boy had become Xanxus' guardian? It could imply a number of things in the case of both Xanxus and Tsuna.
But, Timoteo decided, sighing heavily as Massimo stood up to walk towards the table, a smug smile pasted on his face, those implications could wait.
Even as Massimo lifted the ring from the case Timoteo had set out before him, slipping it on to his finger with an easy smile, Timoteo found his gaze shifting past his son to land of Tsunayoshi, who had a strange little smile playing on his lips, eyes blank. Timoteo felt a chill rush down his spine, because he recognised that expression. He jerked around to stare at where Iemitsu was standing to his left. The older Sawada's eyes were also focused on his son. The blankness in his gaze wasn't as pronounced as Tsunayoshi's, Iemitsu had already confided that both his sons were far better attuned to the Vongola Intuition than him, but even a weaker connection to the Intuition meant that Iemitsu had some sense of what was to come.
And what a sense it was.
Iemitsu suddenly roared, making every man and woman seated in the room jerk up to their feet, alarmed. Timoteo, though, didn't have the change to react before Iemitsu grabbed his armchair by its broad back and dragged it away from the table by force.
Neither Visconti nor Coyote hesitated to grab the armchair by its arms, helping Iemitsu drag him further back. It was only then that Timoteo had the presence of mind to look back at his son. The sight nearly made his old heart stop in his chest.
Nie made a pained sound, reaching out to press a slim hand to Timoteo's shoulder, while horrified screams broke out in the room.
For his part, Massimo slowly sagged to the ground, face a pasty white, and blood leaking out of nearly every orifice on his face. The quickly spreading stain of red around his waist implied that it wasn't just the orifices on his head that were leaking blood.
"Nie!" Timoteo snapped, and Nie immediately let go of his shoulder, rushing forward to help the slip of a girl who had dropped to her knees beside Massimo, shaking. She was still young, untrained. The only real marks in her favour were her pretty face and the swell of her chest – undoubtedly the only reason his fool of a son had picked the girl and her sister in the first place.
Massimo's dalliances had been initially amusing, and later mortifying, but they didn't really become disastrous until after Enrico had been killed, and Frederico disappeared.
Timoteo turned a pleading look towards Xanxus, who was liable to become the last living member of his sons if nothing was done soon.
Xanxus sighed, looking exasperated.
That brought the pandemonium in the room to an abrupt halt. Xanxus was staring at his sun guardian with raised brows, much like the rest of his circle of guardians, but none of them had the sheer incredulity that Timoteo knew had been dragged on to his face.
"He told me to my face that I didn't deserve to live, Boss, before deciding to take that little girl on as his Sun Guardian. If he didn't think he needed my support, I see no reason to give it to him now."
Lussuria sounded airy, looking out the window and fiddling with his tinted shades, but Timoteo had enough years of experience to read the hatred and vengeful amusement lining every sinew of Lussuria's form. Massimo's sun guardian had turned around to look at her counterpart, helpless tears streaming down her cheeks and unable to do anything but cry and watch as Nie desperately attempting to heal Massimo's body to a point that it could support itself.
Timoteo could only watch with mounting despair. Nie was gifted, a prodigy in every way, but even a prodigy could do little to fight a curse inflicted by a part of the Tri-Ni-Sette on his own.
"Lussuria," Timoteo breathed, unable to beg, even if he wanted to. A Don could not beg. Not even for the life of his son, not when so many of the Famiglia's members were spread out across the room, waiting to see the direction in which the wind would blow.
"Apologies, Don Timoteo. You, I respect. But your elder son isn't even an iota of the man you are. I will not stoop to heal a man that would have me persecuted for my lifestyle." Lussuria snapped, and there was the harsh, unyielding strength that Timoteo had once sought to gift to his boy, years ago, before the fool of a child had spurned one of the most powerful sun flame users Timoteo had had the luck to stumble across in decades.
There was nothing he had been able to do to convince Lussuria to remain at the Main House. He'd transferred to the Compound the moment he'd heard of it. Xanxus had only reaped the benefits of what his brother had thrown away as trash, after all. And Xanxus was never one to spurn what others considered trash.
"I'll do it."
The young voice speaking up in the void that Lussuria's words had left behind had Timoteo jerking in surprise.
"Tsuna," Iemitsu said, sounding painfully surprised. Tsuna shot his father a dry look, and looked away.
"I know how to activate the body's capacity for growth, it's one of the things I specialise in after all. But I can't use that capacity for healing anything at this level of severity, it's beyond me." He said, voice hard.
There was silence, with most of Timoteo's capos, Xanxus' guardians, Tsuna's father and Timoteo's own guardians staring at the boy in sheer disbelief. And then, another voice spoke aloud, straining to make itself heard.
"Then come, brat. Sit at my side and use your skills. Activate damn near every cell in this man's body, and then leave the rest to me." Nie ground out through clenched teeth, drenched with sweat and shaking.
Tsuna glanced at his Boss for a second confirmation, and Xanxus gave him a bored nod, turning around to go back to the seats that had been assigned to the Varia when they'd first stepped into the room.
Tsuna dropped down on the other side of Massimo's form without another word, ignoring the teary words of thanks the girl was offering him. He tore off his gloves with his teeth and set his pale fingered hands to Massimo's chest, which Nie had already bared in the hope that immediate contact with skin would create a direct conduit for the flames to flow.
Timoteo watched with bated breath, hoping in spite of everything for a miracle.
A spark suddenly erupted up from Massimo's body, colliding with Tsuna's chest and throwing him backwards with colossal force, much to the horror of Timoteo, Iemitsu and Xanxus, all of whom reared up to their feet in alarm. Of the three, it was Xanxus who reached him first, mostly because Iemitsu was still on the other side of the table and had to jump onto to it and run straight across, and Timoteo had to struggle against his well-meaning guardians before he had any chance of succeeding. While Xanxus just threw himself off his armchair and slid to a stop beside his youngest guardian, teeth bared in fury.
"VOI! BOSS! Don't touch him!" Squalo yelled, dropping a hand to his shoulder and trying to pull him back, but Xanxus simply threw him off by virtue of sheer mass.
"Squalo, shut up!" he snarled back, tilting Tsuna's face up and carefully peeling back his eyelids. Thankfully, there wasn't any unnatural dilation or constriction in either eye. And he seemed to be reacting regularly to light –
But both his eyes were blank, as though he were staring at something none of them could see.
"Damn it. It's the intuition again," Iemitsu groaned, crouching down at Tsuna's other side. Both Squalo and Xanxus shot him an equally incredulous look, and Timoteo had to laugh, mirthless though it way, when he slowly crouched down beside Iemitsu, Ganauche following closely after him with a wary expression on his face.
"The Intuition works in the strangest ways, Xanxus. I've thankfully never possessed any sign of it, but Iemitsu always did,"
"Always is stretching it, Timoteo – I might have possessed, but it was never as strong as what Tsuna possesses."
Squalo shot the older Sawada a sharp look, clearly noticing the omission of one of the man's children, but he let it go without a word. Iemitsu did, after all, have good reason to try and keep the existence of at least one of his sons secret. Especially when, according to both his consigliere and Dino, that the younger Sawada wanted absolutely nothing to do with inheriting the might of the Vongola.
Tsuna gave a strangled sound, jerking up. Xanxus got an arm around his shoulders, easily supporting him, while Squalo carefully checked his eyes.
"I'm fine, I'm fine, let go- Nie Brow!"
When Timoteo's guardian shot him a pained, impatient glance, Tsuna grinned at him viciously.
"He'll heal now, don't try to stop the blood from flowing, just heal any wounds the curse might have left behind."
Nie stared at him incredulously, along with most of the room, including Timoteo himself.
But when Nie turned his attention back to his patient, hesitantly attempting what Tsuna had suggested, he sagged with a sigh of relief, immediately beginning work on Massimo's wounds.
"How did you know he would heal?" Iemitsu asked, a little awed. Tsuna shot his father a dirty look, and pushed him away.
"I told the old men and women to bugger off and let the idiot live, that's all. There's no reason to kill him just because he's a shitty candidate."
The words were the equivalent of a cannon going off in the slowly recovering balance of the room. The capos who'd come to support Massimo roared, going for their weapons, while the others who supported Xanxus cheered, and drawing guns out of holsters, secret pockets and waist bands and raising them to aim at their enemy.
Tsuna looked around himself with an exasperated look, while Timoteo frowned down at him, understandably piqued.
"What in the world gives you the right to claim that he's a 'shitty candidate'?" he asked incredulously, the sharp sound of his voice easily cutting through the tension Tsuna's words had raised.
Tsuna shot him a tired look, leaning into the strength of his Boss' grip. He nodded in Massimo's direction.
Tsuna sighed, and that's when Nie made a shocked sound.
"Don Nono! The Ring – it's glowing!"
Timoteo suddenly went very, very still. Tsuna stared up at him with raised eyebrows, clearly waiting for a reaction.
"…You aren't a Sky."
Iemitsu made a surprised noise, eyes going back to his son.
"You got pulled into the Inheritance?"
Tsuna nodded at him, scowling slightly.
"At least now I know why you're such a pain, dad. Ieyasu-jii was a pain too."
Timoteo choked on his breath, caught between a feeling of hilarity and shock, because he distinctly remembered telling his mother that the Primo was a pain because he always asked the hardest question, years ago. His inheritance hadn't been as hazardous an affair as most Inheritances could be, He'd been an only child, a rarity in the mafia world, and Daniela had used her years to ensure that he'd been trained keeping all the traits the previous heads would want in an heir. And so, when the time came, it wasn't a question of the accepting him so much as it was the Heads decided that they could test him over time to see if he was really worthy of the heirship. And Don Primo had always, always had the questions that stumped him. Because they never had a predictable answer. The one time he thought there could be only one possible answer, the Founder had thrown his hands in the air and walked off, telling his successor to deal with the situation because clearly he wasn't going to have his way.
Giotto's words still didn't make complete sense to him, but Timoteo suspected that they never quite would. Not until he finally crossed over into the afterlife to take up his position beside the rest of the shades of the ring – fulltime, and in a manner that he would actually remember.
"Shades?" Xanxus was muttering incredulously. Squalo looked about as sceptical as Xanxus sounded.
Tsuna nodded back at them, smiling slightly.
"Ricardo was interesting. Reminded me a lot of you, Boss. He wanted the curse to rebound on me too, since I wasn't supposed to be drawn in when I don't have a Sky flame, but Ieyasu-jii told him to stop acting like a kid and demanded to know why Yoshi wasn't taking the rings."
The room had gone unnervingly quiet, Timoteo noted distantly, unable to pull his eyes away from the young boy sitting before him, still leaning into his son.
Xanxus, on the other hand, was beginning to look disturbingly amused.
"Oh? And what'd you say to that?"
"Exactly what Yoshi told dad. He didn't have any reason to take up the heirship when there were other perfectly viable candidates available."
Xanxus burst out laughing, leaning against Squalo's legs, which were conveniently right behind him. Squalo swayed and took the weight with a low grunt, though he did offer Tsuna a small smirk.
"And what'd Don Primo have to say to that?"
Tsuna grinned back at him toothily.
"Oh, that's the interesting one. Ieyasu-jii didn't say anything, he just went away with a scowl, while Ricardo and the others burst out laughing. Ricardo was the one who agreed to end the curse on Massimo."
"You're not saying how they responded to your words, Tsuna."
Tsuna shot Iemitsu a dirty look, clearly irritated that his father hadn't let him get away with the omission. Iemitsu stared back at him, looking exhausted, but his features were set and hard. He wasn't asking the question as Tsuna's father after all. The distinction seemed to make a difference to Tsuna, because he sighed and nodded in acquiescence.
"Ricardo said Yoshi sounded exactly like Ieyasu-jii did, back when lower tier members of the Vongola had tried to make him come back because they didn't like Ricardo's methods. Ieyasu-jii'd already shifted to Japan, and he'd gotten married. Settled down. Apparently some of his people managed to track him down, leaving Ricardo to come after them. He got to Ieyasu-jii's place just when he was done taking out the trash that had invaded his home, and he apparently said that he had no reason to return to Italy when he was satisfied with the way Ricardo was leading the Vongola."
The words felt like a slap in the face, and from the way Iemitsu rocked back, he clearly felt the same. Most of the younger men and women in the room just looked confused – they had no reason to understand the hauntingly supernatural bend that some matters of Inheritance could take. But Timoteo did. He was required to, after all, as was Iemitsu.
"So he supports your brother's decision, then."
That drew an interested murmur from their silent audience. The sudden spike in killing intent from both the Sawadas made the whispers peter out as soon as they started.
"Yes, he does. All of them did, actually. Ieyasu-jii wasn't too happy, but he was willing to let it go."
"What did he say?" Xanxus asked curiously. Tsuna glanced up at him then, strangely enough, at Timoteo, eyes going blank.
"The 'next cycle, maybe'."
Timoteo breathed in sharply. Oh. Oh. Those words still sounded familiar, even after all these years.
Tsuna abruptly shifted onto his knees, ignoring Xanxus' protests to stay in one place and instead crawling towards where Nie was still gingerly holding onto the glowing Sky Ring. He carefully freed it from the older man's grasp, and brought it back to their little circle on the ground.
His action caused the rest of the Varia guardians, all of whom had been watching the proceedings cautiously, to draw closer. Lussuria looked beside himself with worry, all of the earlier anger having been tucked away at some point.
"Will it be ok? Massimo was hit with a curse," he said, sounding concerned.
"It'll be fine, Lussuria-nee, don't be scared. The Dons said they were okay with Xanxus, that's why Massimo had such a harsh reaction. They were willing to let him leave unscathed after he answered a few questions, but he apparently answered them in nearly every wrong way he possibly could, so they decided to teach him a lesson."
The words had Timoteo sighing, in exasperation rather than dismay. Oh, his foolish, foolish boy.
Xanxus grunted, and reached out for the ring with a brusque motion.
"Let's get over with this, then."
There was a flash of brilliant amber flames that seemed to fill the entire room for a split second before they were gone, leaving Xanxus bent over and panting, wide-eyed and faint.
All his guardians were on him in a flash, talking all at once, even Tsuna leaning up to help support his broad form, looking worried.
Timoteo would never really remember what anyone else had been saying towards the end of the meeting that day, though. The only voice he would remember was Xanxus', hoarsely whispering 'anything, anything to make sure they stay.' Again and again, not stopping, and only muffling the words into Tsuna and Squalo's hands when they reached out to cover his mouth.
Well, this was a fun castle to be in. Even if it wasn't exactly a castle, not the kind he was used to. Belphegor hadn't been in Italy for long, only a few weeks, before he'd heard the stories about monsters in the shadows. Which wouldn't do. Because if they were hiding in the shadows, how exactly would he play with them?
Staying at home after he'd taken out his brother and parents had been boring, after. The first few soldiers who bravely tried to take revenge had been interesting, but they soon got irritating when they realised they couldn't come anywhere near hurting him.
He'd left his homeland and had been searching to something fun and challenging to do immediately after, leaving the few advisors he hadn't picked off to deal with creating a new line of succession for the kingdom. Or, well, they could turn it into a democracy. Belphegor hoped they did that. It would be enjoyable to go back and show them the error of their ways.
He didn't care all that much if they installed a new King. He wasn't particularly interested in ruling, after all. But anything that threatened his position as royalty couldn't be allowed to exist.
He did finally manage to find his monster in the dark, following the rumours and the tales of people being executed in cold blood in the shadows of the night. But it turned out to be a man instead. Tall, dark and forbidding in a way that Belphegor still wasn't quite familiar with, since his kingdom tended towards having people who were pale and blond. Or red headed. He'd seen at least a few dark haired people, but not like Italy, which had so many different kinds of people everywhere. And certainly no one like his monster, who was watching him with a tilted head, looking strangely amused.
"How old are you, kid?"
Belphegor wanted to protest the diminutive way in which this monster-man was referring to him, but his sense of self-preservation reared up. Because something in his gut seemed to warn him that unnecessarily making the man angry wouldn't be a good idea. It wasn't how harsh his face looked, or all the blood staining the ground beneath their feet. It wasn't even how huge the man seemed, because Belphegor had always been small for his age.
But something in him warned him to be wary of the older man. Just as it had warned him to kill Rasiel before his brother chose to kill him. To kill his parents before they killed him, because he'd heard them whispering about restarting things anew, since this set of children seemed just as bloodthirsty as the last. He grinned toothily at the other man, remembering all the little skulls and rotting flesh he'd found buried in the lower levels of his castle.
No, Belphegor thought, this man wasn't a monster at all.
"I'm eight!" he said, smiling brightly behind the cover of his hair, and slipping a slim knife into the grip of his fingers, hidden away behind his long, loose sleeves.
The man suddenly looked even more interested.
"Oh. I have a friend who's your age. Maybe an year younger than you. Would you like to come meet him?"
Belphegor blinked and him, and shrugged easily. Why not. If the man turned out to be dangerous, he could easily get away. He'd done it enough times before, when he'd been travelling from country to country, bored and looking for something worth staying a while for.
He silently followed the man through the alleys till they reached where his car was idling, with another man with very strange sideburns sitting behind the wheel. His monster easily slid into the back seat, and Belphegor slid in after him."
"Any particular reason why we're taking in another kid, Boss?" the man asked curiously, even as he shifted gears and stepped on the accelerator, easily shifting into the traffic on the streets.
"Tsuna's been insufferable. Iemitsu dragged him out here earlier than usual, I think they were hoping to switch him into the Mafia Academy."
Belphegor listened to the conversation with passing interest, instead watching with raised brows as the bustle of the city slowly petered away into countryside.
"Tsuna did say that his father wanted to switch him out when he finished elementary school-"
"Is that anything like primary school here?"
"Something like it. I think Elementary goes on for another year, they're in the same school till they're twelve, and then they're switched out into… I think Tsuna called it junior high?"
"Oh. And that's secondary school?"
"I think so."
"…Boss, the kid is a pain, but he'll only get worse if Sawada drags him away from his brother to join a school here."
The word brother immediately brought Belphegor's attention back to the two men, eyes narrow, but they weren't paying any attention to him.
The monster sighed dragging a hand down his face and covering his mouth, brows lowered in thought.
"…I'm going to have to talk to Sawada, aren't I."
He sounded utterly disgusted at the thought. Belphegor's lips curled up in a smile, wondering who this 'Sawada' was.
"…Probably, Boss. Or send Lussuria in. It's difficult to say no to him."
The monster gave a bark of a laugh, finally relaxing into the seat.
"That's probably a good idea, yeah. I'll think about it."
After they'd reached the strange mansion they called the 'Compound'. It was already dark out, so he hadn't been able to see much, but they had crossed walls. And soldiers guarding the land beyond. Belphegor could feel the old blood and the bloodlust singing through the corridors of this place, and them men and women milling about both within and without the residence seemed perfectly at ease with the atmosphere.
The coppery scent his senses were identifying said that there had to be a large quantity of blood shed here, over time, enough to leave the building with the scent. But it was different from his parents' castle. There was something oddly clean about the scent here.
He quietly followed along in the monster's footsteps until they reached a door in the upper levels.
There was no response, so the man sighed, and aimed a kick to slam it open.
"Xanxus, stop breaking down my doors!" yelled a high pitched voice from inside. Belphegor grinned, and followed the man in.
"I'd stop breaking them down if your stopped fucking locking yourself in – wait. You're crying. Those are tears, aren't they. What the fuck, kid?!"
When he finally reached the inner chambers, where the monster, Xanxus, was sitting beside a tiny form swaddled in soft sheets, Belphegor didn't know if he should be amused or annoyed. This was what the monster had wanted to introduce him to?
He held back the scoff that threatened to escape him, thought, because hard eyes abruptly focused on him from beneath the cover of the sheets and pillows. Belphegor's breath caught in his throat, because the eyes were a stunning, lambent purple, all but glowing in the little light that was coming into the room from the common rooms they'd left behind.
"This is… oh. Come to think of it, I didn't ask you your name, kid."
"What the hell, Xanxus. Don't tell me you're randomly kidnapping kids to introduce them to me now. I thought that kind of crazy shit was my dad's bailiwick."
"…the hell, kid? Where'd you learn language like that?"
"Well, you see, when you're surrounded by all these shitty adults who kill for a living and swear all the damned time…"
"That wasn't what I meant and you know it, brat!"
The Prince was suitably impressed. When the child had drawn himself out of the cover of the sheets, it had been to reveal a form that was whipcord thin, with fluffy, messy brown hair and the same bright, purple eyes. He was fully clothed, but what Belphegor could see of the arms was well toned with lean muscle. The kid was well trained.
And then there was that feeling that his senses were shoving at him. Just as he'd known that Xanxus would be dangerous to anger, he could tell this boy was similarly dangerous in some way.
When the man and boy were finally done squabbling with each other, the boy scrambled out of his bed and on the ground. Now that he was closer, Belphegor could see the stains of salt on his cheeks, just as Xanxus had earlier.
"I'm Belphegor," he offered cheerfully. "I'm eight, and a prince. I had to get rid of my twin brother because he wanted to stab me in my sleep, and my parents because they'd apparently been killing off any kids they had over the years, but yeah. It was fun for a while, but now it's boring, so I left my kingdom and came out here. I wanted to travel, because I was bored. What about you?"
Xanxus made an odd, choking sound behind them, but the boy looked suitably impressed.
"Oh, I'm Tsunayoshi. I'm seven. But everyone calls me Tsuna, because I have a younger brother named Yoshi. I don't think I'll ever need to kill him, I love him too much, but I've come close to killing a lot of bullies every year, back in my hometown, because they hurt Yoshi. And other children. I have a companion who helps, we hunt together sometimes." He offered with a sweet smile.
Xanxus made a strange, snuffling noise, and when Belphegor looked at him, the man had turned away to stuff his face into one of the pillows, shoulders shaking alarmingly.
"You say they hurt people, right? Why don't you kill them?" Belphegor asked curiously. Because he hadn't met anyone else his age who was actually willing to talk about these things, most of them ran away crying before Belphegor could get two words out.
Tsuna's face screwed up into something sullen.
"Yoshi made me and Kyoya promise we wouldn't kill anyone," he mumbled. "He said we could hurt them, and put them in the hospital if they deserved it, but we aren't allowed to kill anyone."
"Oooh." Belphegor nodded, immediately interested. "That makes hunting them down harder, doesn't it? They keep getting away before you can pin them down, and if you can't just kill them quickly…"
Tsuna nodded back eagerly, sullen expression immediately replaced with a big grin.
"Yeah! Kyoya said it makes things more interesting. Challenging, too. Y'know," he frowned suddenly, eying Belphegor carefully, "I think the two of you are the same age. Or he might be one year older than you, I'm not sure. We aren't in the same school back home."
Belphegor hummed at that, and offered him a wide grin.
"You can introduce me sometime, maybe? We'll find out then."
Tsuna nodded back at him, smiling sweetly again.
It was only then that Xanxus actually gave in to the violent laughter that he'd been trying to repress for the past five minutes. Belphegor blinked when he was suddenly whipped up in an unexpected hug, with Tsuna pressed up uncomfortably on his other side.
"Oh, you're both so precious. You too, Bel. Lussuria is going to love you," he said with a happy sigh.
"Yuck, Xanxus, let go, you stink of blood and gunpowder!" Tsuna yelped, struggling violently.
"Don't call me Bel. I'm a Prince! Peasants aren't allowed to shorten my royal name!" Belphegor snapped beside him, not struggling, but only because he was trying to work a knife out of the slim sheaths he had wrapped around either his right calf or his right forearm, since Tsuna was pressed in too close to get anything out on the other side.
He stopped, breath hitching in his throat when he felt something warm sweep through him from head to toe.
"Oh." Xanxus murmured, after a beat. Tsuna squirmed around to stare at Belphegor with wide eyes that seemed strangely blank.
"You're a Storm," he breathed.
"Is he?" Xanxus asked, and Tsuna made a face at him.
"You should be able to tell, Boss."
"I doubt it, kid. I don't have the Intuition you do. And, anyway, you're the only one I reflexively harmonised with, it just… happened, over time. With the others. We've worked together for years, and they just so happened to be compatible with my flame." He said seriously, before glancing at Belphegor, looking rueful.
"And, well. Now this."
"…'Storm'?" Belphegor asked suspiciously.
"Oh. You wouldn't know, right, you said you're from another country. We'll explain it, Bel." Tsuna offered with a smile. Belphegor grimaced in disgust at him.
"Don't call me that. It's horrible."
He bickered with Tsuna for a little more time, slowly settling into the hold Xanxus had on the two of them, especially when he shuffled back to lean against the wall and pull them up firmly on his either side. Belphegor pointedly tuned out what was starting to feel like a hug, because hugs was troublesome. And cloying. His mother had hugged him all the time, before, Rasiel too. Rasiel's arms had always felt like they were trying to strangle him, while mother had stank of rotting flesh and blood.
He carefully ignored the fact that this hug didn't feel anything like those. That wash of warmth was still thrumming in his veins, and Xanxus' large arms felt like a sturdy wall or a shield to hide behind.
The knowing look that Tsuna was shooting at him made him roll his eyes, and pester the younger boy for tales of the hunts he'd been on in his home town, offering to trade with tales of his escapades. Xanxus made an interested noise at that, so Tsuna grinned, and began outlining the first of his many meetings with his companion and hunting mate, a boy called Kyoya.
"You should bring him here, sometime," Xanxus murmured sometime later, when they'd all curled up in Tsuna's bed, half asleep. Well, he and Tsuna were half asleep. Xanxus had somehow managed to remove himself from the sheets to sit on the edge of the bed, watching them with an odd half-smile playing across him lips.
"He said he wasn't ever going to leave Namimori because it's his territory." Tsuna said, sounding sad.
"Then I'll just have to come visit you in Namimori sometime, won't I."
Tsuna made a high pitched, excited sound, but by that point, Belphegor was inclined to pay any more attention. He rolled over and buried himself under the closest pillows.
Large, ungentle fingers awkwardly patted him on the head, and he heard Xanxus gruffly wish Tsuna a good night before leaving them to sleep.
"Oi, Bel, you're still awake, aren't you?"
"Ushishishi. A Prince needs no sleep," he mumbled hazily, making Tsuna giggle into his pillow.
"Oyasumi nasai, Bel."
"Don't call me that," he mumbled, and offered the other boy a goodnight in his own country's native tongue in return.
It was only fair, after all.
Gritting his teeth around the choco-cigarette shoved between his lips, Hayato pushed himself back into the wall and tried not to squirm. His fingers twitched, his head ached, he was hungry and didn't want to eat anything and most of all, the candy aniki had shoved in his mouth tasted great, but damn it, it wasn't what he wanted to taste.
"…Hayato, if you don't stop moving, I'm going to staple your ass to a chair and leave you for Yoshi to find when he's done."
Hayato immediately jerked upright, distinctly feeling the tips of his ears and the arch of his cheekbones burn.
"Sorry! Aniki!" he yelled reflexively, then cringed in embarrassment right after, especially when he saw aniki slowly massaging his temples, looking irate.
About the only thing that preserved what little dignity he had left was the fact that the baseball idiot and the others were spread out across the mansion with the rest of Xanxus' guardians.
"…I don't see why we have to be out here." He mumbled uncomfortably, after a long moment, hoping his words would change the topic enough for Juudai- Yoshi-sama's brother to forgive him.
The other man had been on edge for days, ever since they'd relocated to the Estate from the Compound. He was clearly very familiar with the Estate, but he was just as clearly ill at ease with the lower level soldiers and associates that were constantly milling about. Hayato knew enough of the stories of the cold war raging between Xanxus and Massimo to understand why Tsuna seemed so suspicious of everyone coming anywhere the doorway that they'd been set to guard – even if the majority had accepted that the Inheritance Ceremony had ended with Xanxus being the next chosen heir, Massimo had enough supporters to pose a threat if they rallied together.
Aniki grunted, crossing his arms and leaned against the wall opposite from where they were standing. Dressed in the Varia's signature leathers and fur, he cut a striking figure that drew the eyes of nearly every one of the men coming near the door way before Hayato's glowering and the silent warning that Aniki's presence radiated convinced them to back away quickly.
Hayato had had years to get used to the fact that his Boss, and friend, was the brother of one of the most terrifying assassins that the Varia had ever brought out. Cloud flames were used to propagate, to encourage growth. He'd heard of cloud flame users making use of their flames to strengthen their bodies, a technique that Hibari tended to exploit with nearly reckless abandon that would have been fatal in anyone else. He also heard of them making use of the flame to physically multiply flame compatible objects. He'd even heard of some stubborn cloud flame users figuring out how to heal making use of their flame – the Arcobaleno Skull had apparently been a veritable prodigy at that technique.
But Aniki was notorious for making use of his flames in a manner that was the complete antithesis of the cloud healing technique – not only did he use his Cloud flames to strengthen his body, he simultaneously used them to hyper-excite the cells in the bodies of his opponents. At the least, Hayato had heard of extended exposure having carcinogenic effects on the people Aniki targeted. At worst…
He'd seen the pictures. Everyone had. The people Aniki had either wanted to or been ordered to make a spectacle of rarely looked human when he was done with them.
The fallout of fighting with the elder Sawada brother was terrifying enough that very few people wanted to attract his negative attention – and the stories were nasty enough that he hadn't been able to control his reaction when he'd first realised just who Yoshi-sama's brother was.
He still found it difficult to reconcile the fact that Aniki and the Varia's Cloud Fist were one and the same. They didn't seem like the same person. Hell, they didn't even act like the same person. Aniki was loving and kind, if distant around people he wasn't interested in on a personal level. He protected Yoshi-sama and in turn everything Yoshi-sama valued with a cold, single-minded intensity that had left both him and Yamamoto more than a little relieved that the older Sawada twin had been on their side. And that their Boss, their friend, had chosen to give up the rings in the end.
But the Cloud Fist…
"Hayato, stop. Whatever the heck is going through your head, it's buzzing enough that I'm feeling tired just watching you." Aniki said, shooting him a pained look.
Hayato winced, and looked down at the ground.
"Please forgive me, ani-OW!" he broke off with a yelp when a closed fist slammed into the top of his head. He clutched at the hurt, shooting a wounded look at the other man.
Tsuna rolled his eyes, reaching out to ruffle Hayato's hair roughly.
"Yoshi's going to be fine, kid. Stop worrying so much."
The words made Hayato look down again, knowing that Aniki was right. Hayato's brain was like a steel trap, if he was anxious about something, it starting throwing up warning signs about nearly everything under the sun that was nearby to distract him from the core of his worries. If the baseball idiot had been nearby, he'd have spent the entire waiting period obsessing over how little Yamamoto seemed to laugh these days, since they'd started to get training from their counterparts in the Varia.
If Kyoko had been nearby, Hayato would have spent the time worrying over the fact that Yoshi-sama still hadn't decided who was actually supposed to be his Sun Guardian, Kyoko or her older brother. Neither seemed to be willing to let the other get involved with the Vongola all on their own, so Yoshi had been left with two Sun Guardians who took it upon themselves to rotate duty whenever they felt it was necessary.
If Hana was nearby, he would worry about how cold and grim she had gotten, ever since she decided that the only way to protect Kyoko, and the rest of her 'passing acquaintances', was to take up law and throw herself wholeheartedly into the deep end of the pool.
If Chrome was nearby, he would spent the time worrying about her symbiotic existence with Mukuro, and how, even when they rotated their control of Chrome's body, or Mukuro's, since no one was quite certain whose body the base was in the first place, they never quite seemed to be a single distinct person. Their edges melted into each other like the different shades of a water colour painting, and the rest of their friends just had to accept that the name they'd been supplied with at the outset of the day was the one they would have to use for the rest of it.
If Hibari was nearby, Hayato's first concern would be that he hadn't gotten into any fights when Hayato, Yoshi-sama, Yamamoto or Aniki hadn't been looking. Not necessarily in that order. His second concern would be for Namimori, and Tetsuya-san, and whether the town was still in once piece after its supreme overlord had left. Though he pitied any poor fool striking out to attack Namimori just because Hibari wasn't around. And his third concern, working at his brain beneath all the others, was that Hibari had been spending increasing time with either Aniki or Yoshi-sama. They'd all noticed him sleeping over at the Sawada Residence more than once, leaving silently the next day. Yoshi-sama had quietly explained that it was something to do with Hibari's family, and that he had to work it out on his own. They'd all been forced to accept that, though neither Aniki nor Yamamoto had been particularly impressed by Yoshi-sama's thinly veiled order to not get involved.
Hands, gently cradling his aching head.
"Fuck, no wonder you get through multiple packs in a single day. Hayato, stop thinking."
"I can't." he replied, feeling exhausted. His eyes weren't quite focusing clearly any more. He wanted to sleep, he wanted a meal. Fuck, he needed to get laid. But more than anything else, he wanted a goddamned cigarette.
"Would a patch help? I should be able to get a hold of some here."
Hayato blinked, slowly, let that thought filter through his head, and sagged forward with a tired laugh. Tsuna automatically supported him without hesitation, guiding Hayato's head down to rest on his shoulder.
The human contact and the gentle fingers carding through his hair made him shiver, because it felt like Aniki was dragging his anxiety and worry out with every pass of his hand.
"…if Yoshi-sama ever finds out that I collapsed right outside the door where the ceremony's taking place, he'll never let me live it down, will he."
Aniki laughed lowly, the sound as soothing as his touch on Hayato's hair and back.
"No, Hayato. I doubt he will."
The words made Hayato huff, and he forcibly shoved the anxiety and his overwrought thoughts down into a box, shoving it to the back of his mind. It wasn't the best or the healthiest of options, but it did ensure that they wouldn't bother Hayato immediately.
When he opened his eyes, the world seemed like a clearer place again.
"Better?" Tsuna murmured.
Hayato nodded, still weary, and lifted his head, backing out of the comforting circle of Aniki's arms. He smiled down at him, awkward, and uncomfortably relieved when all Tsuna did was laugh, and raise a hand to ruffle his hair again.
"Yoshi did find the cutest younger brothers for me to dote on, didn't he." He said drolly. Hayato choked, and jerked backwards. He would've slammed into the wall if Aniki hadn't reached out to steady him, still laughing.
"You need to loosen up, Hayato-chan," he said teasingly. Still feeling uncomfortably hot under the collar, Hayato ducked his head, trying not to meet the other man's eyes.
"You do know that we're both older than you, Tsuna-nii."
The unexpected voice made Hayato jerk again, but this time, he was steadied by the nudge of a broad shoulder bracing him from the back, just about level with his head.
"Yamamoto-" he snarled, but let his voice peter away when Tsuna pointedly tugged at his hair.
The swordsman looked unfairly amused, a lazy smile stretched across his lips.
"Well, if you're that much older than me, why do you still persist in calling me Tsuna-nii, Takeshi-chan." Aniki drawled back in answer. The words made Hayato choke, yet. Again. But at least this time he was choking back laughter.
Yamamoto looked vaguely embarrassed for all of a moment before he shrugged, indolent in his slouch against the wall.
"Well, you're Yoshi's big brother. And you're like our senpai. It doesn't feel right." He said absently.
Aniki gave a rude snort, while Hayato rolled his eyes, slamming his head back into the shoulder it was braced against.
"Ow. Hayato, do that again and I won't protect you from any more walls."
"As if you ever bothered to respect the senpai-kohai system, you big brute." Hayato said snidely, making Aniki laugh. Yamamoto looked insulted. Or, at least, he did for a few seconds before he let the expression evaporate, looking amused.
"Doesn't mean that I don't respect my elders when they deserve it."
"Doesn't mean that you don't respect anyone when they deserve it." Tsuna corrected, giving a wry smile. Yamamoto beamed at him, while Hayato groaned. The baseball idiot was going to be insufferable for days now.
Not that he could blame him. They'd gotten a lot more used to Aniki over time, but his regard and affection were just as uplifting as the first time he'd complimented them on something without Yoshi-sama doing it first.
"Where's the sword-shark gone?" he snapped, looking up and over his shoulder, because he still wasn't quite ready to turn away from the calming hands curled in his hair and around his shoulders.
Yamamoto shrugged smiling down at him.
"I dunno. I got bored, just waiting around there. Squalo didn't want to play with me, so he ordered me to come find you and Tsuna-nii before I decided to track down Kyoya."
Hayato stiffened slightly at that, and slowly forced himself to relax. The dark laughter the words drew from the man standing in front of him did not help him in his attempt to do so.
"Good thing that you came here, then." Aniki was saying, smiling up at Yamamoto, and the baseball idiot was beaming back at him. They were both way too fucking close, especially with the broad, hard shoulder and the toned line of Yamamoto's arm braced against his back. He could feel long fingers and the edge of hardened knuckles pressing into the small of his back, like four bright points of sensation pressed against his spine. And Aniki's sleek, compact presence was pressed so close to him from the front.
It was very calming in the sense that he had very little to worry about, when his senses were being overloaded by the subconscious strength of their flames. On the other hand, he had way too fucking much to worry about, because his senses were being overloaded by the subconscious strength of their flames.
"Oi, you ok, Hayato? Looking a little overheated there," Yamamoto murmured, rough, in his ear. It made Hayato's voice catch in his throat, eyes wide. Tsuna was watching him with raised brows, looking more amused by the second.
"…Do I even want to know what the three of you are up to out here?"
He dragged himself away from the tangle of Yamamoto and Tsuna's limbs and all but fled to hide behind Kurokawa, who first flinched away from his darting leap for her, then rolled her eyes and let him cling to her shoulders, still shaking from the conflicting signals his brain and his ability to sense flame presence were throwing up at him.
"Hana! Had a good timing keeping an eye on Levi?" Yamamoto asked cheerfully. His voice was completely back to normal, damn him. Why the heck had Hayato even worried about him in the first place? Clearly his need to make mischief hadn't abandoned him yet.
"Yes, but not nearly as much of a good time as whatever you and Sawada were showing poor Hayato here," she shot back snidely.
Hayato made a face, willing the shivers away.
"They weren't showing me a 'good time'. Fucking hell, Kurokawa, try not to make it sound like they were ravishing me outside the ballroom."
Yamamoto fucking chortled, leaning into Aniki's shoulder, while Aniki rolled his eyes, pushing the taller man away.
"Oh, weren't they? It sure looked like you were being ravished from where I was standing." Hana said blankly, looking back at him with a mean little smile. Hayato bared his teeth at her, and for once, wished the cigarette in his lips was real less for the nicotine and more so he could snuff out the edge in the side of her neck. It wasn't like Kyoko or Ryohei wouldn't be willing to heal it for her.
"Well, if anyone was doing any ravishing, it certainly wasn't me," Aniki said mildly.
"Sure, sure. If you say so, Sawada. I never know whether you're being truthful about this shit or not, you like to mess with our heads about as much as Reborn does."
"That's true," Hayato agreed, finally relaxing, now that the feeling of being caged by both Tsuna and Yamamoto slowly wore away. Surprisingly enough, their presence and whatever the heck they'd been trying to do hadn't made him any more anxious. If anything…
"Oh you sneaky bastard," he breathed, and Yamamoto offered him a cheery little smile that was damn near sharp enough to get cut on its edges.
"Hey, now, let's not throw around that particular insult out here," Tsuna said pleasantly, though he did reach up to ruffle Yamamoto's hair in appreciation for that sneaky bit of flame manipulation.
Now that Hayato was paying more attention to his senses, and less attention to his, ahem, 'senses', he could feel the cool, sharp clarity of the rain flames that Yamamoto had been feeding into his spine through the points of contact in his shoulder, arm and fingers. His headache had almost completely disappeared, and he could barely remember the things he had been thinking feverishly about earlier.
Kyoko appearing a few seconds later ensured that the rest of his headache was wiped out by the touch of her slender, taped fingers to his temples.
When Hibari turned up, scowling, mere moments after Kyoko had, Aniki backed away, arms akimbo and eyes shuttered.
"Okay. What the hell, kids, why're you all turning up over here? The only one who hasn't wandered over yet is-"
"Sorry, Aniki." Chrome's soft, dual toned voice drifted out from the shadows beside Kyoko, who spun around to welcome her with a hug. Chrome flushed prettily, and hugged her back, but she directed an apologetic smile Tsuna's way.
Aniki only looked even more exasperated than before.
"…I'm not a kid," Hibari muttered after a beat. Hayato coughed, trying to hide the smirk that threatened to break out on his face when Aniki shot him an unimpressed look.
"You're a kid if you're acting like one, Kyoya. I thought you of all people would be willing to appreciate the importance of patrolling."
"There was nothing happening. And all the herbivores here took one look at me before they ran away like they were being chased by wild dogs. Care to explain that, carnivore?" Hibari shot back snidely, making Aniki laugh nervously, rubbing at the back of his head.
The look was completely incongruous to how he usually acted, but they'd all gotten used to how different Tsuna tended to act around Hibari. Yoshi-sama had once tried to explain it away as them being best friends, back when they'd asked him about it, implying that the two cloud flame users were all but sanctioned to act differently around each other.
His reasoning had both Hibari and Aniki chasing him around with tonfa and gloves lit in billowing purple flames for hours on end without rest. Reborn had warned Hayato and Yamamoto to not intervene, since he decided that the chase had been good training. Hana had been too busy laughing her ass off with Ryohei, Mukuro and Chrome, while Kyoko watched the chase with all the glee of a five year old being set lose in Disney World for the first time.
Yoshi had never quite forgiven them for that.
Feeling an intent gaze directed at him, he looked up to meet Tsuna's lambent purple eyes. It was about as riveting as staring into Yoshi's incandescent gaze when he actually had a reason to properly let go.
"Well, if all of you are so distracted, you may as well stick around here. Come along, let's all sit down."
…Hayato wasn't exactly surprised when he found himself pinned against the wall, with Yamamoto on one side and Aniki on the other. He whimpered, and nearly gave in to the urge to crawl off to where Hana was sitting with Kyoko and Chrome, smirking nastily at him.
Nearly gave in to the urge, that is. The long, callused fingers that wrapped around his left wrist stopped him from moving, because it was like sinking into a hot tub. Even if that actual feel of the rain flame was cool to his senses, the calming effect was like a balm to his stressed nerves.
Aniki laughed on his other side, tucking an arm around Hayato's waist and letting him slide sideways to curl into him, Hayato torso easily supported by Aniki's legs since he was sitting in a lotus posture, legs neatly crossed beneath him.
"Are you sure you guys aren't doing anything morally or sexually dubious there, Sawada?" Hana was calling out from the other side of the corridor. Hayato couldn't bring up the will to care even when he heard Hibari scoff, sounding amused. He could sense his fellow guardian peering around from Tsuna's other side to stare down at him curiously.
"Not sure if this is morally dubious or not, but Tsuna-nii isn't going to be even remotely interested in helping if it were sexually dubious," Yamamoto cracked playfully, rustling closer so Hayato's arm wasn't stretched out uncomfortably.
He was vaguely grateful for the extra care, since he wasn't exactly in any state to shift his arm himself.
"Are you sure you should be tranquilising his anxiety to that extent, Tsuna-kun? He's starting to look drugged," Kyoko was asking, shuffling closer to press her fingers to his cheek.
"It's fine. Squalo's done it for me and for nearly everyone in the Varia often enough that I know it isn't addictive." Aniki said softly. Hayato blinked up at him hazily, and nuzzled the fingers that were petting at his hair. It took another few seconds to realise that it was two different sets of hands.
"He's like a kitten," Hibari was muttering in an undertone to Tsuna, making him laugh quietly. Hana and Chrome had slowly drawn closer too. Hayato protested sleepily when Chrome pressed a soft kiss to his forehead.
"He's been worrying like a maniac since Yoshi agreed to take up your dad's post as consigliere, hasn't he." Hana muttered, reaching out to curl a hand around his other wrist. It made Hayato want to sit up and yell at her, but somehow, he didn't think it needed to be right now.
He wanted to sleep. He hadn't gotten a decent night's rest in months, and Yamamoto had firmly forbidden him from seeking out any company at night to shut his brain down. He wouldn't have listened to the baseball idiot, but he'd looked tired enough that Hayato hadn't really had any choice but to give in. The slow stroke of the fingers wrapped around his left wrist made him grunt, irate. Ok, Yamamoto, you win. He'd listen to the tall swordsman masquerading as the male equivalent of a Japanese Nadeshiko more often from now on. At least he wouldn't be ambushed like this again.
"Fuck, Hayato, stop thinking," Yamamoto sighed, and Hayato flinched, slowly shifting till he could hide his face in Aniki's stomach. Tsuna's strong fingers barely left his hair, stroking slowly at the nape of his neck in counterpoint to the way Hibari was delicately petting the top of his head.
"Do I even want to know what the hell's going on out here?" Yoshi-sama asked, some interminable amount of time later, sounding both tired and bemused. Hayato stiffened reflexively, trying to get up, but Tsuna's fingers tightening at the back of his neck ensured that he stayed in place.
"Your right hand's an idiot who's going to worry his way into an early heart attack, if he doesn't find some way to calm down. You should do something about that," he said plainly. Hayato could hear Xanxus' low laughter following on the heels of Yoshi's surprised snicker.
"I don't know, brat, you appear to be handling the situation quite well. Have your proclivities changed? Should I consider propositioning you again?"
"…Xanxus, please don't share any details of when, why or how you propositioned my brother anywhere in my hearing range again. You're like an older brother, or an uncle. I don't need any horrifying mental images of the two of you together."
"I'm not old enough to be your unc-"
"Yes you are, Boss, stop fighting against age. And, they're only ever going to be mental images, brother mine. Why the heck are all of you so hellbent on assuming Hayato's being molested – look at him. He's half asleep."
"…You do realise that somnophi-"
"Gah, shut the fuck up Boss, I don't need to hear about your kinks in the middle of the day!"
Hayato blinked slowly, feeling the pleasant sense of family, comfort, laughter and here surrounding him on all sides, only increasing now that Yoshi-sama had finally been released from the confines of the ceremony that had been taking place inside the ballroom.
He distantly heard loud voices drawing closer, but they that the same presence in his senses as Xanxus – not a part of his immediate circle, but worthy of trust, since Aniki considered them his own.
Finally, finally, he let the blissful thought of an untormented few hours of rest pull him under, feeling the last of his anxiousness wither away when Yoshi-sama's fingers joined Aniki's in carefully massaging the nape of his neck.
"I don't understand, nii-chan. You've been hurting people ever since you got home this time."
Tsuna directed a bemused look at his brother, seeing the way his eyes were tearing up and his lips were pursed together. It wasn't an expression as devastating as the pout, but it came close.
"I don't understand, nii-chan. Why do you… why do you have to hurt people?"
Tsuna watched that Yoshi's expression scrunch up even more, obviously gearing up to bleed into tears, and hated himself just a little for finding his baby brother's sobbing face so sweet.
"I don't 'have to' hurt anyone, Yoshi. But they don't have to hurt anyone either, and they do. Kyoya and I take care of anyone preying on people who can't take care of themselves."
The words just made Yoshi even tearier than before, and Tsuna found himself sighing, helpless. He kicked off his shoes and stepped back onto the wooden floor in his socked feet, enfolding his brother in a tight hug.
"You've become terribly needy when I've been away," he mumbled into Yoshi's hair. It made his brother cling to him tightly, fingers latching into his shirt.
"You went away! You said you won't go anywhere, and you went away for months and months!"
"It was only for the holidays, Yoshi," he said defensively, and winced when a small fist slammed into his stomach. It didn't hurt even a fraction as much as sparring with his squad members, or sparring with Hibari did, but the pain wasn't exactly physical.
He'd felt horribly out of sorts until Xanxus had reeled him in, that first time they'd met at the Estate. He hadn't even realised how cold the world had gotten, and how much he'd wanted to smother himself in Yoshi's light until he either lit up himself or snuffed it out, until Xanxus' blazing presence burnt out every last bit of the agony and bitterness the severing of his bond with Yoshi had left in him.
He hadn't really believed his dad or the old man until then. That his staying with Yoshi would only have hurt him.
He'd discussed it with Xanxus a few times, since the older man was actually will to be understanding about the fact that he'd had another Sky before Xanxus. He'd asked, and Xanxus had thought it over carefully, before finally saying that that need to snuff out Yoshi's light had been a side effect of the old man and his dad breaking their bond with no warning. He'd sounded so disgusted while saying it too.
Tsuna had come away from that discussion with the sinking feeling that he would never really know if he could have hurt Yoshi in the long run, if he'd stayed his brother's guardian.
But the fact of the matter was that, where Xanxus' presence had stabilised him after his first bond had been severed, Yoshi was still flapping loose in the wind. It would have been worse, if he'd let the old man seal away Yoshi's flames. He didn't know how, but a voice whispering in his head told him that Yoshi would have been in a horrible condition if he'd let them get away with it.
So he hadn't. He'd grabbed the first weapon he could think of and had just let them have it. It had ensured that his brother was at least a little safe, but not enough. Not nearly enough.
He could feel his brother's flame, his soul, crying somewhere inside him, still hurting, and their dumb dad had done fuckall to help him. Their mom didn't know any better, obviously. She hadn't quite understood what they'd done to him and Yoshi back then either, though she'd put her foot down and taken his side when he defended Yoshi.
That put her in his good graces, at least. Though he doubted he would ever really forgive her. Or any of them. Just because he thought Yoshi's crying face was adorable, it didn't mean he had to like the people who made him cry. If he had his way, he'd beat down every one of the people who'd hurt his brother until there wasn't anything left until a stain on the ground.
He let go of Yoshi with a start, laughing nervously. Yoshi stared up at him, still clearly worried, but Tsuna pointedly rolled his eyes at him.
"Why don't you run with me and Kyoya for a change?" he offered.
He knew Kyoya was another potential cloud flame user. If getting another Sky had stabilised him, maybe another Cloud would calm Yoshi down too?
He barely recognised Yoshi anymore. He's been happy and smiling, and steady on his feet, but somehow in the time that Tsuna had been away, he'd gotten clumsy, falling everywhere and tumbling over his own feet. He'd started crying at the drop of a hat. The first night he'd flown in from Palermo after summer break, he'd heard his mother call his brother 'Dame-Yoshi', and all but exploded. His reaction had scared her and made her remorseful enough that he doubted the horrible name would ever be used again, but Yoshi had looked so grateful… it made him sick.
There were supposed to be one and the same. A single heart, beating in two chests, and a single mind, weaving across the space between them, with Yoshi being their kindness, and him being their animosity.
He couldn't feel Yoshi beating inside his chest anymore. He didn't know what was worse, that Yoshi's presence was gone, or that he couldn't feel Xanxus' presence in anywhere near the same way.
He felt his eyes burn, and reached out to tug his brother into another hug, before he actually managed to answer.
"Come run with us," he pleaded in a small voice, and felt Yoshi nod into his throat.
"Are you happy, Tsuna-nii?" Yoshi asked him, months later, after they'd both settled back into school, getting used to the fact that things wouldn't be the same anymore.
And he'd been right. He'd noticed his brother and Kyoya connect, though he doubted either of them really noticed. Though Yoshi had become terribly fond of Kyoya soon after, spoiling him with his favourite foods nearly every day and convincing Tsuna to indulge the older boy in multiple spars. He generally regretted it soon after, standing and biting at his nails on the side-lines, much to both his and Kyoya's amusement.
"I guess so," he mused, smiling into the breeze with closed eyes.
They were sitting cross-legged on the second level of Kyoya's school roof, since they had decided to go visit him that day, much to the horror of nearly every other student in the school when they realised that yet, Tsuna and Yoshi were being serious when they called Kyoya their friend. Well, at least, Yoshi said that. Tsuna didn't exactly consider them friends. About the closest thing to describing how Kyoya felt was… a pack mate. Or a hunting mate. Something like the relationship between Lussuria and Squalo, he mused. They weren't exactly friends, even though they were fellow guardians, but Tsuna knew they got along like a house on fire when they wanted to.
Kyoya hadn't bothered to follow them up, instead stretched out and dozing on the parapet like a large, lazy cat in the sun.
"The Varia taught you to hurt people even better than before, didn't it," Yoshi murmured, after a beat, making Tsuna stiffen.
He hadn't really been willing to tell Yoshi just what kind of organisation his Boss headed, heck, Tsuna barely understood just what being a member of the Varia meant, on some days. But he didn't want to have Yoshi crying again, damn it, he finally managed to break his brother out of that habit.
"Don't lie to me, Tsuna-nii. I'll be able to tell," Yoshi said seriously, and when he glanced to the side, Tsuna felt his breath catch hard in his throat.
His heart thumped dully in his chest, feeling sluggish, and yet, staring into his brother's incandescent, amber eyes for the first time since that horrible debacle with the old man and his dad, he finally felt like he could breathe again.
He couldn't feel his brother's presence as strongly as he could before, but he could feel his heart, thumping to the same rhythm as Tsuna's. One heart, two chests. Two flames, one soul.
He gave a watery laugh, leaning into the arms threw around his shoulders.
"You're always going to run away, Tsuna-nii. I don't like it."
"Isn't that what clouds are supposed to do? Run?" he shot back, laughing weakly.
Yoshi snorted, and pressed their temples together firmly.
"Just answer the question already, Tsuna-nii. I haven't been able to feel anything in way too long. I finally figured it out just now, so if you cheapen that with lying about what you're doing when you're away, I'll be very sad. Don't make me sad."
Tsuna's brain linked that to Xanxus smirking and quoting from an American superhero comic series once, the words sounding terrifyingly fitting to how Xanxus could be sometimes, and was left a mental image of Yoshi pouting up at him and saying 'You wouldn't like me when I'm sad'. And promptly burst into helpless snickers, trying not to be too loud, because he was having too nice a time for it to be interrupted by Kyoya and his dratted tonfa.
"Tsuna-nii," Yoshi sighed, but he sounded happy, shuffling a little so he could rest his head on Tsuna's shoulder.
"It's okay, Yoshi, I'm okay," he said, once he managed to bring himself under control.
"You're not answering my question, brother," he said mildly, making Tsuna wince.
"Look, it's a difficult question to answer," he said defensively.
"Is it? It's a yes or no, Tsuna-nii."
Tsuna breathed in harshly, more than a little exasperated.
"Okay. Okay. Yes, they teach me to hurt people better. They're the independent assassination wing of the Vongola Family, Yoshi, that's Mafia. Dad's the head of CEDEF, which is another independent wing of the Vongola. They're big." He explained in a rush.
Yoshi nodded his head slowly, his hair ruffling against the sensitive line of Tsuna's throat and making Tsuna shiver.
"So you're training to be an assassin?" he asked.
Tsuna frowned at that, thinking it over.
"I'm… actually not sure. Xanxus isn't exactly making them train me in assassination tactics or anything. It's just basic training, getting me in shape. That's why you've noticed, I guess. I think I'm moving faster in my spars with Kyoya, compared to before."
"A lot faster," Yoshi agreed, sounding amused. "Kyoya-san can't seem to decide if he should be happy or irate."
"Knowing him he'll pick irate and keep coming at me till be speeds up to," Tsuna said snidely, making his brother laugh.
"…Brother. I don't want you to kill people." Yoshi said softly, after a shared moment of silence. The words made something twist hard in his chest.
"And if they order me to, at some point?" he returned, voice just as soft. He was Xanxus' cloud now, after all. And whether Yoshi liked it or not, whether he liked it or not, Tsuna knew he would ultimately listen to whatever Xanxus would say.
It made him relieved that it was Xanxus who was his Boss, and not someone pathetic like Massimo. Or even Frederico, or Enrico. They were both nice men, but Tsuna wasn't quite sure he was willing to serve under them. They had the same tendency to use people as pawns, like the old man, and Tsuna and Yoshi's dad. Whatever else they said about Xanxus, he took to the field as much or more than his subordinates, and didn't hesitate to get involved in anything on their behalf. He was a good leader.
It made Tsuna strangely proud to be his Cloud, sometimes. He had been proud to be Yoshi's, too, because there couldn't be a warmer or kinder person than his brother in the world, but Xanxus was already an adult. He knew what he wanted from life, and wasn't even a little afraid to go out and get it. Or work for it. He was admired and feared by so many people, and it was exhilarating, knowing that an adult like that thought of Tsuna as a friend.
"…well, they just have to die, right? Just find some way to hurt enough that they die without you actually needing to give the killing blow."
"…Yoshi. Not only would something like that be almost ridiculously complicated, you do understand that that's only semantics? I'd be killing them either way, even if I didn't, oh, slip a sword between their ribs or something."
"What's semantics mean?" Yoshi asked, confused. Tsuna blinked, suddenly remembering that he'd probably been interacting with a lot more adults than Yoshi had, in the last few months. And that had made the voice of the intuition even sharper inside his head.
"…oh, never mind, I understand now," Yoshi said after a beat, slowly shaking off the explanation that their intuition had shoved into his head.
"Can you actually do that? Shove a sword between someone's ribs?"
"Well, no… But I know who someone who can. He's Xanxus' right hand man, and the Commander of the Varia," he said grinning.
Yoshi made a face at him.
"I'm not sure if that's cool or disgusting." He grumbled.
"No, no, it's definitely cool. I've seen him do it too. Squalo's so fast that he can take out the target even before they realise they're dead."
Yoshi slowly blinked at that, before laughing slightly.
"Okay, yeah. It's still a little disgusting, but it's definitely cool."
They sat in companionable silence for some more time, Tsuna slowly turning his brother words over in his head, before nodding decisively.
"I'll try, Yoshi. I'll try to find some way to hurt people enough that I don't have to actually strike the last blow. There must be some way my flames can help me do that… but it's the coward's way, y'know. I'll just be telling myself I'm not killing people, but I'll probably end up doing something worse to them."
"I don't care. Let me be selfish. I don't want to see my brother and friends killing people unless they definitely have to," he muttered childishly, making Tsuna smile, and ruffle his hair.
"Okay, Yoshi. Okay."
They continued to sit silently there, enjoying the breeze until Kyoya climbed up the ladder to peer at them intently.
Tsuna gave him a small grin.
He nodded, what passed for eagerness in Kyoya lighting up his face.
"Well, I want ice cream. Let's go buy ice-cream for all of us before going home, Tsuna-nii. You're included, Kyoya, don't try to go back straight home."
Tsuna coughed, trying to hide his laughter at the pained look Kyoya was shooting at his brother.
They shared a conspiratory grin, both enjoying the long suffering expression that had been appearing more and more often on Kyoya's face when they ganged up against him, and quickly shuffled down the ladder after him. Ice-cream waited for no one, and Kyoya would let loose on them with his tonfa if they wasted any more time than strictly necessary.
"Y'know, we should just share your name."
Tsuna blinked, and frowned at Yoshi, confused. They'd just found out why their teacher had looked so strange when she read out their full names. And finding out that Yoshi was the only person in the entire Sawada line to not have a name based on a Shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty had not made Tsuna happy. Because, because…. It wasn't fair! It just wasn't!
"Stop growling, onii-chan. The librarian will kick us out. See, if we share your name, we'll both be Tsunayoshi, right?"
Tsuna blinked at him, surprised, before slowly smiling.
"Yeah! That's true. And you can still be Yoshi this way."
"And you can be Tsuna. See? We'll just tell everyone that our parents were being boring."
The idea made Tsuna want to cackle, especially the last part. He immediately agreed.
They both spent the next few months thoroughly confusing everyone by introducing themselves with the same first name, but requesting that everyone use different nicknames. They had to eventually stop, because the school threatened to tell their parents, but they did demand that no one use their full names again.
One heart in two chests, after all. Two flames in one body. One mind, reach across space so they could both share it. They were the same person, multiplied and bettered.
"Meaning, even if I'm there, and you're here, nothing has to change, ok? Don't cry, Yoshi."
And he didn't. Tsuna gave him a small smile, because they'd shared the name years ago, and now, Yoshi was standing outside the airport with their mother holding on to his shoulders. Both of them had wet eyes, because for once, Iemitsu wasn't the only one going away.
"I'll come back, ok?"
Yoshi nodded at him, head going up and down like a bobble head. Dad allowed him one last hug before steering him into the airport.
"You'd better find some way to let me come back, tou-san. I don't want to be a liar."
His dad stiffened at his words, but he kept helped him get the seatbelt on.
"Okay, Tsu-kun. Okay. I don't know what your jii-chan's plans are, but I'll tell him to make sure you get to go home soon, okay?"
Tsuna stared at him suspiciously. Being away from Yoshi was making him feel even colder than before, after that thread of light between them had been snapped. The feeling only got worse, when they took off.
The voice in his head whispered, softly, and he nodded, closing his eyes. Maybe sleep would be better, when it finally came.
Fingers in his hair. His dad was making soft noises, trying not to let him hear, but the voice in his head told him it sounded like crying.
"Take me back home, dad," he mumbled, half asleep.
"Okay," His father whispered back, just before he fell asleep.
Trigger Warnings: Codependency, though not necessarily unhealthy codependency; Adult Fear, because none of the kids seem particularly mentally stable, even if they're well adjusted; Kids freely speaking about killing things - I'm talking 4 and 5 year olds, people; General Eeriness, which is why it's tagged as AU -Dark, even if it's a relatively fluffy slice of life fic; Possible trauma due to the descriptions of Tsuna and Yoshi's Guardian Bond breaking - it's not directly relatable in RL, but just thought I'd tag it.
AN2: Yet another monster oneshot, eating into my paper writing time! I should probably accept that KHR oneshots are all going to be monstrously long, since the others I have going are looking to get just as big. It hasn't been completely edited, I just wanted to post it because it was eating my brain.
Two of the character backstories here, specifically Massimo and Lussuria, are inspired by fanon rather than canon, and have in turn been confirmed by InsaneScriptist as having been inspired by Umei no Mai's work, Black Sky. So, consider going on by her account and giving that gorgeous story some very well deserved love! If you haven't heard about it till now, you've been living under a metaphoric fandom rock.
Read, haffun, and consider leaving a review on your way out. Even a word or so is good, I'd love to hear what you think!
Halsey – Control (Tsuna)
Christina Aguilera – Hurt (Tsuna and Yoshi)
Shinedown – The Crow and the Butterfly (Tsuna and Yoshi)
Middle Class Rut – Busy Bein' Born (Yoshi)