Um...nearly a year since the last update, here you go! Sorry...just, really sorry about the break. College, life, etc., etc. Thanks to everyone who reviewed it in that time, who're following the story/me. Thanks to the people who didn't give up on me! XDD;;; Without further ado, Chapter Ten...

Chapter Ten

Irie Shoichi liked his job.

He might not have seen himself as a writer ten years ago. If he remembered right, his 15 year old self was rather obsessed with the idea of becoming a musician. Lord knew why, seeing how terrible he was at every instrument he tried to learn.

The twenty-five year old he was now liked his job. Writing for one of the top science magazines in publication was certainly nothing to be scoffed at. He made good pay, investigated interesting subjects, and got to play with cutting-edge technology in his pursuit for articles.

So, standing outside the seemingly innocuous sliding-glass doors of the Vongola Corporation headquarters, he wondered why exactly he was apparently so eager to get fired.

It wasn't like any reporter in his position, or any reporter period, wouldn't give a left arm for an interview with any upper-ranker of the Vongola Corp. And it wasn't as if they wouldn't be compensated that arm and probably a leg by whatever media group they worked for, if they actually managed to get some decent info. The thing was, the Vongola Corp. practiced a strict "no interviews" policy with one exception for the scheduled press conference they gave yearly. Reporters who tried to get said interviews and proved to be persistent about it had a funny way of disappearing. They would resurface years later, teaching journalism to middle-schoolers and keeping a constant look-out over their shoulder for some unnamed and shadowy being.

Unnamed not because it was unknown, but because to utter the name was to hasten career (and possibly physical though no guilty rulings had ever been handed down) death.

It was this man that Irie came to see.

He stared at the glass doors some more and thought about maybe going home, locking the door, turning off the lights, and huddling in his bathtub to mentally scrounge the thought of this suicide mission from his brain.

Come on, Irie! A courageous and undeniably foolhardy part of his brain encouraged him. This is for Spanner, your friend. You need to save him!

And if you're really lucky, another more reasonable part of him added, you could end up breaking one of the biggest stories of the year.

At the thought of Spanner, Irie fished out his cellphone. There wasn't even one message from the mechanic even though Irie had left him dozens the day before. It seemed as if Spanner had forgotten all about Irie's warning a few days ago concerning The Boy. Irie had intended to go back to the auto shop the day before and explain things to him, but things at work had gotten hectic.

For the last couple days, there'd been rumors floating around the office that there was something big going down concerning the Vongola Corp. No one could get a solid lead on anything, but apparently some of the big names in the company had been flying into headquarters for the past few weeks and security around the building had been heightened to an even more ridiculous level than what it normally was.

Shoichi, along with his better informed colleagues, had had several theories about what was going on, but there was only one that sent their instincts quivering.

The ninth president of the Vongola Corporation was finally going to announce his successor. Now that Irie knew that one of the approved candidates was apparently in town, he at least had his suspicions solidified.

If he could just get the teensiest bit of confirmation from the only person, apart from the president himself, who would know what was going on, he was set. He continued to stare at the glass doors, his feet firmly glued to the sidewalk.

You know what they say the H in "H. Reborn" stands for? asked the largely terrified portion of his brain that was currently drowning out the other two.

"Hitman." The word fell almost imperceptibly from his lips. He dry-swallowed.

The morning sun was reflecting brightly off the glass surface of the Vongola skyscraper, making Shoichi think of a very large, very sharp blade. Reborn was up there, probably as close to the top floor as someone who wasn't the president could get. Rumor had it that no one outside the uppermost levels of management in the Vongola Corp. had even seen the inside of the top floor. There was also a rumor that the last time a news helicopter had tried sneaking a peek into the building, it had been shot down. That rumor, at least, was ridiculous and no one believed it because it would have been on the news. And yet, helicopters gave the entire area a wide berth.

And yet, even knowing all this, Shoichi found himself walking up the side sidewalk to the doors of the building.

He'd really loved his job.

The inside of the building was cool and reasonably lit, the hot summer morning outside seeming like a different world. Glossy marble under his feet changed to plush, red carpet that extended to a large counter manned by several secretaries who were talking into phones and typing busily into their computers. The counter blocked half of the entranceway. The other half was blocked by a wall of security scanners and imposing men in dark suits. Behind both was Shoichi's goal: the elevators. But first, he had to get through security.

He'd planned this, kind of. He'd also watched a couple spy flicks that had turned out to be mostly useless, but he came up with something that seemed feasible.

He waited for a particularly large group of businessmen walking his way, the traffic of them increasing as it grew closer to nine o' clock. Then he slipped into the middle of the crowd and tried to look as if he belonged there as the men in front of him were waved through to the elevators. When it came to be his turn to go through, he flashed his press pass the same way the other businessmen flashed their IDs and hoped the security guards wouldn't notice the difference.

For a second, Shoichi thought he was free and clear, but then a heavy hand descended on his shoulder. He nearly fell over, but managed to be steered to the side instead by a very intimidating strength. He looked up slowly, and it took a long time since there was a lot of up to pass over, and finally met the impassive look of the guard.

"Sir," the voice was also intimidating, deep and with a slight growl, "I think you're in the wrong place."

"No, I'm not," squeaked Shoichi. He cleared his throat and tried again, trying to hit a more natural pitch.

"No, I have an appointment, here, actually." The guard's expression didn't change.

"With Mr. Reborn." The guard didn't even bother to hide his derisive snort. Shoichi felt himself moving against his will towards the exit, the guard moving him effortless even when Shoichi dug his heels into the carpet.

He was not being tossed out of this place like a common vagrant, even if he basically was one.

"No, wait!" he protested, grabbing at the counter as they passed it, trying anything to slow his progress towards the doors. "I really do have an appointment. Right, right?"

The secretary he was accosting looked up from his computer, murmuring something into his headset before giving Shoichi a confused smile.

"Is there something I can help you with, sir?"

By some miracle, Shoichi managed to wrench himself out of the security guard's grip. He grasped the counter with both hands, in case he tried dragging him out again, but the guard seemed content to allow Shoichi dig himself deeper into a hole.

"Yes," he said, even as he looked about for some way to get past security, or just get out of the building with some sense of dignity. "I have an appointment with H. Reborn."

"Your name, sir?" The secretary's voice was doubtful, but his hands were poised over the keyboard of his computer dutifully.

"Irie Shoichi." He answered flippantly, thinking of this whole thing as just a way to buy him some time. The secretary typed the name in and Shoichi felt, rather than saw the guard approach. He gave himself about another five seconds before the secretary sealed his fate and that heavy hand descended once more.

The secretary looked up with a polite, frozen sort of smile. Shoichi winced in anticipation.

"Yes, Mr. Irie, I see your appointment right here. Mr. Reborn has been waiting for you." The secretary shot a dangerous look over Shoichi's shoulder at the guard, who had hastily backed up.

Shoichi gaped and said, eloquently, "Huh?"

"Take the elevator on the far left to the 109th floor. You should see his door as soon as you exit." He then turned back to his computer, pressing a button so whoever had been on hold on the other line now how his attention.

Shoichi turned. The guard was giving him a considering look, but then shrugged slightly and motioned him through the security point.

"Sorry about that," he said unapologetically. "We're given very specific instructions when it comes to people from the media."

Shochi just nodded, a bit numbly, and proceeded to the elevator. Some of the businessmen were giving him odd looks as he waited for the elevator, but he didn't notice. Neither did he notice the movement of a small lizard on the wall near him. It scuttled to an air vent and slipped inside.

The elevator pinged softly and the gleaming brass doors retracted to reveal a posh interior. Shoichi stepped forward and realized that his knees had gone a bit weak.

Truthfully, he expected to wake up at any second. He wasn't actually riding in the Vongola Corporation's elevator to Reborn's office. He was on the sidewalk outside, knocked out and dreaming when security had thrown him out on his ass. That made much more sense than anything else just then.

Still, he did not wake and the elevator doors slid open to reveal a long hallway with a single, oaken door at its end.

His legs were positively shaking now.

Shoichi almost didn't take that step out into the hall. He considered quietly letting the doors close once more, take him down to the first floor and explain to the helpful secretary that there must be some glitch in his computer.

The lettering on the door said H. Reborn in big, gold font and looked very normal and innocent.

Shoichi glared at it suspiciously. The door's attempt at suppressing the sinister aura that lurked behind it was weak, at best.

"I've gotten this far," Shoichi muttered to himself. "What's it matter if I get kicked out here rather than back in the lobby?"

Over a hundred stories, his sensible side supplied helpfully.

He stepped out into the hallway and walked rapidly, giving determination to his stride if he had none for himself. The door approached quickly and he paused only momentarily before knocking. There was a muffled "Come in," and Shoichi entered.

There weren't any torture devices visible, but Shoichi knew better than to relax just because of that. The room was spacious, with a high ceiling, muted colors, and furniture that spoke of efficiency and money. At the front of the room, in front of a wall that seemed to consist only of one large window, a huge, boat-like desk took up a good half of the floor space. Sitting behind it, looking quite comfortable, was the assassin of the business world, Reborn.

"I'd thought you'd be here sooner," Reborn said without preamble, motioning for Shoichi to take a seat. He did, but slowly and with a furtive inspection for possible booby traps. Reborn observed him with definite amusement, steepling his hands together on the desk in front of him.

"You did take spend quite awhile standing on the sidewalk though. I was about to send someone out to collect you."

"Right," muttered Shoichi, finally meeting those dark eyes. "Sorry, I didn't know I had an appointment." Reborn just smiled enigmatically.

"So, what can I do for you?"

"I think that's what I should be asking," Shoichi retorted. "Everyone knows about the Vongola Corporation's policy towards the media. I didn't exactly expect to be welcomed with open arms."

"Our corporation has been undergoing certain…changes as of late. We're reevaluating some of our past policies."

"Do these changes have anything to do with the ninth president declaring an inheritor?"

Reborn's eyes narrowed even as his smile stayed firmly in place. A thrill ran down Shoichi's spine. Reborn hadn't expected him to know about that. He leaned forward, about to ask another question, but Reborn interrupted.

"Your mechanic friend, Spanner; how long have you known him?" Shoichi blinked at the abrupt change in topic and took a moment to compose his response, thrown off as he was.

"Since freshman year in college. Why?"

"And how would you describe him, as a person? Ambitious? Overreaching?"

"Yeah, about certain things, but why are you-"

"His main interest is in robotics, correct?"

Shoichi shut his mouth and slowly crossed his arms. Two could play at this game.

"There have been numerous recent sightings of one Tsunayoshi Sawada. Why would the great-nephew of the current president, who's been kept well away from the company for so long, be in town? Playing around in Spanner's auto repair shop at that, which is why you're asking all these questions about him, right?"

Reborn sat back in his chair, and considered his hands for a moment. Then, he reached under his desk and drew out a large handgun that he placed carefully between them. The room went very cold.

"Spanner's a good guy," Shoichi was suddenly babbling, a fine sweat breaking out over his brow. The word hitman was running around in his head. "All he cares about is that robot and being left alone to work on it. He has zero interest in people, really, but he's a good guy."

"I'm sure he is," Reborn smirked, "but you understand my reluctance to have people I haven't cleared associating with Tsuna."

Because he's going to be the next boss hung unspoken in the air between them.

"That sounds interesting," came a sing-song voice from the doorway.

Reborn's eyes went cold and hard, like pieces of coal, and he stood. Shoichi didn't bother, probably couldn't from the way his stomach was suddenly roiling and desperately attempting to spew back up his breakfast.

A pale, elegant hand closed on his shoulder like a steel trap and Shoichi slowly looked up into a face he'd hoped he would never have to see again.

"Byakuran," Reborn snapped, his hand straying dangerously close to the gun still on his desk. "Who let you in here?"

Byakuran's smile curled upward, familiar and detested.

"I've been hearing that lots of fun things were going on over here, so I decided to stop by and say hi. Imagine my surprise when I see Irie here." Reborn's eyes cut to Shoichi, who flinched and looked away.

"You know him," Reborn asked icily, though it seemed more like an accusation.

"We were great friends in college, weren't we, Irie? I'd just been thinking about finding you again."

Shoichi pressed his lips together and started wondering how long it would take him to get his stuff ready to move somewhere far away.

"So, what were you talking about, Reborn? I heard you mention Tsuna. How is that little guy?"

Byakuran's voice sounded playful and cajoling, but years of experience had given Shoichi the ability to detect the vicious undercurrent to his speech.

Reborn didn't bother to disguise his intent. The gun was now held steadily in his hand, the finger resting casually on the trigger.

"Don't you have a business to run somewhere? I didn't know that Millefiore Company was doing so well that its president can wander off for the afternoon."

Byakuran pouted. "It's too busy over there," he complained, "I never have any time to relax. Coming over here is always a good diversion."

Reborn finally smiled, but it was tight and had a sharp edge to it.

"I'm sure I can find something else for you to do that you'd enjoy," he said, the threat clear in his tone.

Byakuran's grin widened and, for a second, Shoichi expected the two of them to lunge at each other from the way the air buzzed.

Then, Byakuran removed his hand from Shoichi's shoulder and stepped back. Reborn lowered his gun, even if he didn't take his hand fully off of it.

"See," Byakuran laughed, a hand perched jauntily on his hip, "I knew this visit would be fun. But, I've got lots of business to get to, so I'll have to say bye-bye for now." He turned his attention to Shoichi.

"We'll have to catch up later, Irie." Shoichi didn't look up even when he heard the door close as Byakuran left. When he finally did raise his eyes, Reborn was still staring out at the door, his finger tapping lightly on the gun.

"It seems," he said slowly, his gaze turning to fix on Shoichi, "we're going to have more of a problem than I previously thought."