All characters © Amano Akira

Physical Toll

Despite having one of the strongest minds in the Millefiore, Irie Shouichi had a list of physical hindrances long enough to fill a Chinese phonebook.

Myopia, chronic stress, dyspepsia (induced by chronic stress), hay fever, insomnia, high blood pressure, and other allergies bad enough to send him into a paroxysm of sneezes whenever Byakuran-san's flower shipments arrived.

Just from a first glance at him, you wouldn't immediately see the power burbling inside. You wouldn't see its potential to spew forward like some cranial Pompeii, you wouldn't see the other Irie Shouichi, the Rose Squad's White Spell Captain. Not many did.

Yet, those physical setbacks that detracted from the unseen genius…not all of them were natural.

His dyspepsia began after becoming part of the Millefiore. A schoolboy Irie would have laughed at the word "mafia," envisioning men in crisp, charcoal suits, tinted shades, and weapons that gleamed resplendently when freed from their owner's jacket. Now, he realized that the real thing was a little different than the archetype, and certainly no laughing matter.

(Yet Byakuran-san finds everything funny)

Irie's upper abdomen bubbled in protest as he befriended the Millefiore squad, disgusted at their ruthless and carnage-hungry dispositions. It truly made him sick to his stomach to work with these people (could you even call them people? he wondered) day in and day out.

He didn't mind the hypertension much. It came with the job. Ardent was a word that most people, friends or foes alike, associated with Irie Shouichi. An explosive personality was not uncommon, especially when you were born into a family of carrot-tops. Irie had never been one for histrionics, but its necessity became apparent when proving your loyalty


to the family. When Spanner had decided to help the Vongola leader Irie had shouted (sometimes in Italian, sometimes in Japanese), stamped his foot, clenched his teeth, and pounded a fist on his desk hard enough to bruise three of his knuckles.

But his heart was singing.

Byakuran-san, during his quotidian visits, would comment on how thin his Shou-chan was getting, a humored yet knowing glint in his upturned eye. Sometimes he would even offer candy, as if Byakuran himself could not take the amount of sweets in his possession.

(I wonder why he likes those candies…to cover up something nasty-tasting, perhaps?)

Irie's White Spell uniform had begun to float on him and he had recently taken to tying his pants up with a piece of garrote wire (heaven forbid they should fall down whilst addressing his squad). Finding such equipment in a place like this was not difficult, after all. It wasn't his lack of hunger, but the actual consumption that Irie had a problem with.

It was difficult to eat when everything tasted bitter in your mouth.

Everyone who knew Irie when he wasn't working was used to his nervous quirks. Sweating when addressing superiors, running a hand through thick, auburn hair so that it stuck out in comical clumps. Knobbly knees and abdominal cramps. Listening to music constantly to block out the noise. They simply dismissed these as symptoms of overwork, battle stress, or chronic shyness. In the Millefiore, almost everyone had issues.

In truth, Irie's cause for stress was something entirely different.

On a bed of melodies, floating on notes that filtered tinnily in through his headphones, a twenty-three year old Irie Shouichi recalled his first encounter with the Vongola. Wait…maybe "encounter" was too mild a description, Irie thought (and not without some humor). Rather, an unsuspecting melee of the sorts that had resulted in his inability to sleep for a week. He had been fourteen at the time, and unaware that he had just witnessed what was to become his not-so-distant future.

Maybe he should have forgotten it then and continued on with his normal life. That would have been the appropriate thing to do, he realized. Let sleeping dogs lie, right?

But Irie had found that summer day when he was fourteen coming back to haunt him. He'd never forgotten, really… that day was like a ghost with unfinished business that he wasn't sure he wanted to know about.

(What world exists behind my own?)

And although terrifying, there was something strangely alluring about "No-good Tsuna" and his band of outlandish friends. Those sleeping dogs just looked so warm and soft—how could one resist reaching out a hand to pet them?

Sometimes it took Irie hours to fall asleep at nights. The blankets would be too


too hot, and the pounding of his heart would seem louder than a falling Mosca.

His fear of being discovered before he was ready to reveal himself made him perspire, cheeks flushed as though with fever. Yet at the same time he was cold. How much longer could he keep living like this? A person of lesser mentality would have long since ended his life.

(like Russian roulette, it's like Russian roulette)

But Irie had a strong mind and will, in stark contrast to his physical persona. He would endure until the time came. According to what he, the Tenth, and the Cloud Guardian had discussed, it wouldn't be long now. Then, relief would wash the bitter taste from his tongue and his stomach would finally calm.

In the dark with only a sliver of moonlight spilling across his covers, Irie Shouichi fervently prayed that the younger Vongola would appreciate his efforts.