A/N- Spoilers to TYL arc. Takes place in the future with an alternate scheme to fool the Millefiore into thinking Tsuna's dead. (Really, Irie-san? Another "special bullet?") Major thanks to transcendently for beta-ing.
Disclaimer: I don't own Katekyou Hitman Reborn. If I did, the cast would be slaving away on my homework...except Xanxus...and Hibari...and Mukuro...and Reborn-sama, of course. (They'd kill me.)
Hope you enjoy!
"Stronger, Chiara! It has to be stronger!" Dino yelled at the figure kneeling in the inferno. He had scrutinized her progress for the past twelve hours. The dying will flames blazed like a bonfire and obscured their maker from sight. "Just a little more! You're almost there, Chiara!" With a final blast that knocked Dino off his feet, the flames dispersed.
Chiara stood and shook out her stiff limbs, staring down at the blond mafia boss in the dirt. "Lose something?" she asked.
"Your whip landed fifty yards due north." Chiara pulled her brown, frizzed hair into a ponytail and surveyed the smoking clearing. It had been a long time since she last used sky flames, but their power was as breathtaking as ever. "I think we're done here."
Dino scrambled to his feet. "Are you sure? You've only just reached Tsuna's flame level, and you'll have to sustain it for a while."
"I know what I'm aiming for now," she said. "It won't be a problem. Creating and maintaining a perfect illusion will take longer."
He shook his head, but smiled nonetheless. "Well then, I guess I'm not needed anymore."
"Not unless you've suddenly become a master of illusions and mist flames." Her brow furrowed in concentration and she pushed a stray hair behind her ear.
"You're going to Tsuna's now?"
Chiara paused and thought for a moment. "Yes, there's no point in wasting any more time here." She stepped in front of him and bowed. "Thank you for training me, Dino-sensei."
The air simmered with heat from the last blast, but Chiara's icy acceptance of her fate left Dino feeling chilled. Before he could launch into a heartfelt goodbye or engulf her in a prolonged hug, she left and melted into the shadows around the clearing.
Dino watched her walk away, but made no move to follow. It was out of his hands now.
"Die well," he whispered.
Chiara returned to the small house that she and Dino had shared for the last month. It sat in a secluded stretch of forest far from prying eyes and ears. The nature of her mission demanded secrecy, and they needed the space to practice building up her sky flames. But it was time to go.
There was a sort of poetic justice to it. Chiara Calandra had spent her entire life training to be a hitman, and now she was going to end it as a willing lamb to the slaughter. This was her final mission: her life in exchange for the life of Vongola X, Sawada Tsunayoshi.
The Vongola Estate was larger than Chiara imagined. Its pristine gardens and sparkling white mansion gave off a light, happy feeling and hardly looked like the lair of a lethal mafia family, but then, she had heard odd rumors regarding its newest boss.
Her car pulled to a stop by the front steps and she exited without ceremony, tossing a small duffel over her shoulder. A dark haired man in a suit stood by the door. He looked her up and down, scoffed, and walked inside. Chiara followed.
The man never turned around, so she continued shadowing his steps through passages and around corners until they reached a lone wooden door. He glanced back and seized her wrist, pulling her forward.
Chiara stumbled after him and found herself in a sunny study lined with books. Sitting behind a desk in the center of the room, silhouetted against the window, was Vongola X- the man she had to become.
"Hibari-san, do you have to be so rough with our guest?" he asked.
The man gripping her wrist replied, "Your sources were wrong. She's another worthless herbivore. There's no way the Millefiore will be fooled by this pathetic woman."
"But, Hibari-san, Dino-nii-san said she was a good illusionist, and she is the closest match in the Calandra family."
Hibari stared down at her. "She's weak."
Chiara laughed quietly. "The Vongola cloud guardian certainly lives up to his blunt reputation." Her body faded and dissolved into a misty vapor, and Hibari's hand closed on air.
Sawada got to his feet and scanned the room. "I apologize for the rude reception, Calandra-san. We really are glad to have you."
Chiara materialized in the corner by the window, staring outside. Her hosts appeared surprised. She supposed it was a good thing that neither man noticed when she switched places with the mist flame double. Such skill would be necessary in the coming days, and it provided a display of her power for the Vongola's Doubting Thomas.
But Sawada looked anxious, like he expected her to walk out, and allowing the client to perceive distrust and suspicion in her actions would be counterproductive. "Don't trouble yourself, Sawada-sama," she said in low, reassuring tones. "You are paying my family for my services, so I will complete my mission. It isn't complicated."
Hibari strode over to the corner and leaned down, inspecting her at close range. He grinned. "You may be worth biting to death after all." Shoving his hands in his pockets, he glared once at the "boss," and left.
Sawada froze when Hibari's eyes landed on him and released a giant sigh when the other man was out of sight.
Chiara watched Sawada close the door after him. The Vongola head was shorter than expected, and his aura lacked the cutthroat, menacing quality of most bosses she had met. Then again, Dino's presence felt a little off, too.
Pasting on a mask of professionalism, she began, "As you are aware, Sawada-sama-"
"Please, call me Tsuna." He slumped into one of the cushioned chairs.
She tilted her head, not understanding the importance of how she addressed him. "Very well, Tsuna-sama. I will be observing you for three months. At the end of that time, my illusion will be perfect and undetectable. We will proceed with Irie-sama's plan and I will convince the Millefiore that you are dead."
Tsuna propped his elbows on his knees and sagged forward, resting his chin on his hands. "Calandra-san, you know, if there were any other way, I wouldn't ask you to do this." Despite having already bought her life with a generous payment of 30,000 silver pieces, he seemed hesitant to let Chiara complete her task as planned.
The illusionist could not understand why he looked so distraught at the thought of her death. She was not. She grew up knowing that her life might one day be forfeit for the good of the family. That law applied to every mafia family in existence. How was this any different?
"Tsuna-sama, your guardians would die for you, wouldn't they?"
Tsuna jumped in his seat. "Well, I wouldn't put it that way, and Hibari-san wouldn't die for anyone." He screwed up his face and shuddered. "If he did, he'd probably bite the Grim Reaper to death."
Shrugging, she continued, "But they have fought for you in life-threatening situations?"
"Well, yes." His fingers fidgeted and toyed with the cufflinks on his sleeve. "But I wouldn't want them to die for me."
Chiara gave him a tiny smile. "Exactly. It's a choice they make, regardless of how you feel. I'm doing the same for my family."
His brow furrowed. "But you're dy-doing this for me, and I'm a complete stranger."
Not many people in Chiara's line of work questioned why things were done. They simply were. But because he asked, she said, "I may die in your place, but I do it under my family's orders. They ask it of me, so I do it."
Silence engulfed the room. Tsuna stared at her for so long. She started to wonder if she had been too blunt, or if she sounded crazy.
Then he leaned back in his chair and offered a smile drawn with resigned understanding. "Are you sure there's nothing else we can do?" he asked.
Chiara looked down at the young boss. Despite being two years older and bearing the weight of an entire family on his shoulders, he seemed so young. "Tsuna-sama, have you ever felt a sky flame die?"
He closed his eyes. "Once."
"Yes," she said, a sad smile tugging at her lips, "it is not a feeling you forget, nor one that can be duplicated. My illusion will ensure that the Millefiore see you die, but unless a sky flame dies underneath the shell, it's pointless."
"You can't send a piece of my flame with a fake?" he asked.
She slipped across the room and kneeled before him. "You already know the answer. I must die, just as you must live."
Tsuna latched onto her hands and looked her in the eyes. "Promise me, if you find another way, you will take it. Promise me, Calandra-san."
"You can call me Chiara, Tsuna-sama," she said, standing and moving to the door, "but please, don't make foolish requests."
Chiara remained an unobtrusive presence in the Vongola mansion over the next few weeks, silently following Tsuna in his daily activities. In order to convince the Millefiore assassins that she was Vongola X, her illusion needed to mirror his appearance and spirit. She had his personal mannerisms and quirks down to a tee within the first week, but his essence- what made him "Tsuna"- was proving harder to mimic.
"He's so infuriating," she said one afternoon, sipping tea alongside Hibari in the garden. "Tsuna-sama is a mafia boss. He's responsible for a family. He can't afford to be so tenderhearted."
Hibari studied the swirling specks in his drink. "Sawada is an herbivore."
Frustration getting the better of her, she slammed her empty cup on the table. "He needs to stop worrying about making people sad and start worrying about staying alive, Kyou-san."
Tea with Hibari had become a constant in Chiara's schedule. Where Tsuna's kind efforts to prevent pain and suffering drove her insane, Hibari Kyouya's cold detachment reminded her of home and kept her grounded. Only in his presence did she speak her mind.
She fisted her hands in her lap. "How does one understand, let alone become, everything one isn't?"
Hibari grunted and Chiara looked up, following his gaze to the mansion's back door. Tsuna and three of his guardians strolled into the garden.
She moved to stand and fade into the background, but Hibari laid a hand on her arm and pulled her down. "Ignore Sawada for today. Talk to the lackeys."
Chiara nodded and settled back onto her cushion. Then he got up, grumbling about crowds, and left her to face them alone.
The chattering group drew near and she trained her attention on them as Hibari suggested. Tsuna kept odd company. Sasagawa Ryouhei, the sun guardian, was by far the loudest, most energetic man Chiara had ever met. Gokudera Hayato's violent temperament suited his storm attribute rings, but he lacked her family's rigid self-control. Then there was Yamamoto Takeshi: a brilliant, high-ranking hitman with an easy smile and laidback attitude. His presence exuded tranquility and calm; yet, he was counted among the fiercest warriors in the mafia world.
The four men plopped down on the empty cushions and scrambled for cups and spoons. The clinks of porcelain dishes and silver utensils trilled under a low rumble of voices. When they finished filling their cups, Chiara's presence was noticed.
"Chiara-san," Tsuna asked, "are you joining us for tea?"
She started at the invitation. "Thank you, Tsuna-sama, but I've had enough."
"Eh, don't be like that!" Sasagawa said, thrusting another cup in her face. "Drink with us!"
Gokudera slapped a palm on the table and nearly knocked over the teapot. "Don't be so pushy, Turf-top! She said she doesn't want any!"
"What's that, Squid-head!"
"Guys," Tsuna said, waving his hands in the air, "can't we just have a quiet, relaxing cup of tea?"
The two silver haired men stopped shouting and straightened out their suits, though they continued throwing evil looks across the table. Tsuna heaved a giant sigh, and Yamamoto laid his sword next to him. They drank in silence and Chiara noted how quickly the guardians simmered down to please their boss. It was like watching a strange marionette show with a clueless, but powerful, puppeteer pulling the strings.
"You must be the girl who's been lurking in the shadows lately," Yamamoto said, pouring another cup. "Tsuna, is she a friend of yours?"
Gokudera exploded, "Of course she's a friend of the Tenth! Do you think I'd let an enemy near him, you baseball nut!"
A ringing cell phone broke in before the situation escalated, and Chiara raised an eyebrow as everyone stilled and stopped to listen.
Sasagawa opened his phone with a loud hello and delivered a few affirmative grunts before snapping it closed. He crossed his arms and closed his eyes. "Sawada, there's trouble in the kitchen."
Tsuna sat up straight. "Trouble?"
Sasagawa gave a terse nod and stood. "That's right! What are we waiting for?"
"To the kitchen?" Tsuna edged to his feet.
"To the extreme!" Sasagawa yelled, grabbing Tsuna's sleeve and sprinting toward the house, dragging him behind.
Gokudera hopped up and followed. "Hey, Turf-top! Bring the Tenth back! He's not a kite!"
Chiara stared at their retreating figures in wonder. How did things change so fast? What kind of trouble made the sun guardian run off like that? How did Tsuna go from boss to luggage in a split second? And how in the world did Hibari expect hanging around these crazy people to help her understand Tsuna's spirit?
A quiet laugh disrupted her train of thought and she looked over to see Yamamoto sitting across the table, smiling and pouring two more cups of tea.
"I wouldn't worry about them." He handed a cup to her. "Kyoko-chan probably asked for help unloading groceries or something."
"I see." Her fingers fidgeted with the teacup and refused to stay still. Chiara had not spoken directly with any of the guardians besides Hibari, and Yamamoto's constant smiling made her uneasy.
He swallowed his tea with a loud gulp and leaned back to stare at the sky. She noted the small scar on his chin. It made him look much older.
"Do I have something on my face?" he asked.
She jerked her gaze up and found Yamamoto looking at her out of the corner of one eye. Falling into her usual pattern of silent surveillance, Chiara had forgotten that she was out in the open with an audience. She could imagine how silly she looked, staring at him for so long.
While she searched for an explanation, he took a napkin and wiped his mouth. "There, is it gone?"
Anxious to put an end to the awkward situation, she fumbled for an answer in her frozen brain. "Um…yes."
"Well, that's good." He smiled again. "So, are you Tsuna's new bodyguard or something?"
Chiara swallowed. More like a body double, she thought. According to Irie, none of the Vongola except Tsuna and Hibari could know about the plan, but what kind of lie would a world-class hitman believe? "I'm an exchange student from the Calandra family," she said. "Tsuna-sama has graciously allowed me to follow him around so I can learn about the business."
"Oh, I see. That explains it." Yamamoto did not appear the least bit suspicious. "So, do you have any questions?"
"About the business," he said. "I can't say I know much about everything, but I can try."
She could not have asked for a better opportunity. Here she was, pulling her hair out over how to be more like Tsuna, and one of his closest friends offered to spill his guts. "Now that you mention it, Yamamoto-san, I have been wondering: how did you come to work for the Vongola?"
He lips stretched into a sheepish grin. "Well, Tsuna and I were friends back in school, and the kid invited me to join their mafia games. After that, I just kept getting sucked in."
Chiara knew that much already. What she needed to know was what exactly "sucked" him in. "But you must have continued working for Tsuna-sama for a reason," she prompted.
Yamamoto looked up and tapped a finger on his chin. "Not really," he said. "Why? Do you work for your family for a particular reason?"
The answer carved its mark on her mind and soul years ago. "I follow my family because they are my family."
His face lit up. "And we follow Tsuna because he's Tsuna."
Chiara set one elbow on the table and propped her head up with a fist. "Being 'Tsuna' seems to be the problem," she muttered under her breath.
A light breeze rustled through the surrounding trees, leaves and branches swaying in its wake. The sun beat down, and some distance away, birds chirped among the greenery.
Yamamoto shifted his position on the cushion and stretched. "I think it's because he's a softie," he said.
Hibari's words popped into her mind. "An herbivore?"
Smile widening, he said, "Nah, it's more like, you know, he genuinely cares about everyone, and he puts his all into protecting them, so it makes you want to protect him."
The way Yamamoto spoke, it seemed so clear, so simple. Tsuna's kind, caring nature was the key. That disposition drew people to Tsuna. In order to copy Tsuna's essence in her illusion, she needed to become compassionate and self-sacrificing toward everyone she met.
Chiara bowed her head before rising from the table. "Thank you, Yamamoto-san. You have been very helpful."
He started to stand, too, but she gestured for him to stay. "It was my pleasure," he said. "Feel free to ask anything anytime."
She could feel his eyes on her all the way to the door. Yamamoto played the part of the fool well, but Chiara watched him carefully during their talk. A tilt of the head coupled with that glint in his eye told her that he knew she was withholding information. She should be wary around that one in the future.
No less daunting was Chiara's immediate concern: how could she make herself care about everyone the way Tsuna did? It was not natural, at least not in her family. You watched out for yours and kept a bullet on stand-by for everyone else. To worry about a stranger's feelings, or an enemy's, was unthinkable. It got you killed more often than not.
Why did her family send her on this mission knowing that she would have to abandon common sense for a fool's idealistic principles? She recalled the answer immediately: because she was closest to Tsuna in age and one of the few sky flame holders in the family. The closer the copy was to the original, the more effective the illusion would be. They sent her because statistics determined she had the best chance of successfully completing the mission.
If she could learn to care.
"This isn't working," Chiara groaned. A fortnight of "training" had passed since her conversation with Yamamoto, and she felt no closer to perfecting her Tsuna illusion. No matter how much she acted helpful or tried to put herself in others' shoes, at the back of her mind, Chiara did not care.
She took a few deep breaths and forced her tense muscles to uncoil, reclining against the oak tree at her back. Hibari disappeared without a word not long after that day Tsuna and the others interrupted their tea and his absence left Chiara alone and isolated. No one else but Tsuna knew the details of her mission, and asking for his help would only serve to irritate her and worry him.
"Chiara-chan!" a familiar voice called, his near silent footsteps edging closer.
Feigning polite surprise, she lifted her face toward Yamamoto and her mouth twitched into the barest of smiles. Since speaking to him, Chiara had noticed his eyes following her whenever she entered a room. He seemed wary, unsure of what to expect, but he never treated her with anything less than absolute friendliness, and his easy grin never ceased.
"What brings you here, Yamamoto-san?" Her relaxed muscles snapped back to attention when he sat down beside her, arms draped over his knees.
His head drooped and he sighed. "Gokudera kicked us out until he's done balancing the budget." Angling his face toward her, he continued, "Besides, it's really nice out, isn't it?"
The weather was the last thing on Chiara's mind. "Yes, very nice." She stared back at the house, avoiding the pair of bright eyes trained on her.
Yamamoto straightened up and scooted away from the tree, coming to a rough halt in the grass. He stretched and leaned back, resting his head on his hands, elbows jutting out to either side. "You seem out of it, Chiara-chan."
She chanced a peek at him. He looked like he might fall asleep at any second, but something in his voice put Chiara on edge. However, he did tell her to ask "anything anytime," and she needed some fresh insight on her dilemma.
A maid stepping out the side door caught her eye. She pointed. "Yamamoto-san, what do you see there?"
He raised himself to a sitting position and followed her finger. "Looks like one of the maids on break. Why?"
Ignoring his query, she pressed, "And what would Tsuna-sama see?"
"Tsuna? I guess he'd say she's taking a break, too."
Chiara huffed. "He'd probably start worrying about how hard a morning she's had and how tired she must be." She fisted a hand in the grass.
Yamamoto laughed. "Yeah, that sounds like Tsuna." He glanced back and the maid returned inside. "What did you see, Chiara-chan?"
She froze. "I saw an employee taking her break outside the authorized recreation room," she said.
"Wow, your family's pretty strict, huh?" Yamamoto's tone rang light and clear, but his smile did not reach his eyes. "I guess she could've been up to something bad, but I hope she just wanted some fresh air."
The way he looked at her was unnerving. He was too perceptive for his own good. Then again, could he really know that when Chiara saw the maid, she saw an expendable, nameless face paid to do a simple job? Or that she also saw a potential threat? That she considered the possibility that the woman could have stepped outside to communicate with enemy forces away from prying eyes? Perhaps she gave Yamamoto too much credit, but the idea that he could suspect all this made her cringe.
At that moment, Sasagawa Ryouhei came running through the backyard, shouting a loud hello toward the two under the tree. He continued without stopping, punching and jabbing as he went.
"What did you see, Chiara-chan?"
She jumped at the sudden question. "What was that?"
"What did you see when Sasagawa-senpai came through here?" Yamamoto's slight grin belied the severity of the question.
Possible answers to satisfy the curious guardian danced around Chiara's head, but she wondered, what had she seen? The truth surprised her and sounded worse than any lie she could concoct. "I saw a loudmouthed idiot trying to give himself heatstroke running around like that in a suit."
The corners of his mouth stretched upward. "See? It's different when you're thinking about friends."
"Friends?" Chiara shrugged. She did not consider any of the Vongola her friends, but neither had she looked at Sasagawa Ryouhei and immediately contemplated his value as an expendable tool. "Is that how Tsuna-sama sees everyone? As friends?"
"I think so." Yamamoto reached up and scratched the back of his head. "At least, I think he wants to be friends with everyone."
Again, the rain guardian had made a valuable observation. Perhaps Chiara needed to look at everyone she met as potential friends in order to care about them. But she was still confused. She was not sure why her perception of Sasagawa changed in the first place.
Puzzling though it was, she tried to twist her brain around how Tsuna thought. "So Tsuna-sama looks at everyone for who they are, not what they do, even when what they do makes them who they are?"
Yamamoto blinked twice. "You lost me." He chuckled. "I guess it's something like that."
Sasagawa jogged into view around the far corner of the house. He yelled, but his words were lost in the wind. He ran the length of the lawn and skidded to a halt before them. "Yamamoto!" he said. "Squid-head's done with the papers, and Sawada wants to see us."
"Okay." Yamamoto took his time getting up and brushing off his pants. "Tell Tsuna I'll be there in a second, will you?"
"To the extreme!" Sawada did an about face and sprinted to the house.
"Are you coming?" Yamamoto held a hand out to Chiara.
She took it and allowed him to pull her up, then followed him toward the back door. They had gone a few paces before she spoke. "Thank you."
Yamamoto stopped and looked back, bewilderment etched on his face. "For what?"
Chiara avoided his eyes and stuffed her hands in her pockets. "For not asking why."
His features smoothed back into their usual cheerful expression. "That's what friends do. I know you'd tell me if you could."
Chiara tried to keep the shock she felt from spilling onto her face, but judging by the way Yamamoto's smile grew, some of it slipped through.
"Come on," he said, "Tsuna's waiting."
Barely half a month remained before Chiara's date with death. Following yet another intriguing conversation with Yamamoto, she had completely changed her tactics in pursuing the perfect Tsuna illusion. Instead of merely trying to think like him, she expanded her training to include acting like him. No longer hiding in the shadows, a silent observer, Chiara interacted with all the Vongola, talking with them, getting to know them, and finding herself more at ease in their presence with every passing day.
Hibari continued to come and go as he pleased, never staying at the main house for longer than a week straight. Chiara sought his company whenever possible, but the other guardians developed a habit of dragging her off to join in random activities. Their antics robbed her of the peace and quiet Hibari exuded, but on the bright side, she gained additional depth in her understanding of "Tsuna's life."
On one such afternoon, after escaping the clutches of Sasagawa, who wanted an "extreme" sparring partner, Chiara stumbled upon the house library. Row after row of leather-bound tomes stared out at her, offering sanctuary and solitude. She padded down the aisles until she reached a sunny corner with a clear view of the backyard.
Sinking into one of two cushioned chairs, she exhaled and closed her eyes. Chiara had not felt this tired since training with Dino in the forests. "It's hard work having friends," she muttered.
"Only when one of them is as extreme as Sasagawa-senpai."
Two months ago, having someone sneak up on her would have sent Chiara into battle mode. Now, however, Yamamoto's sudden appearances seemed normal.
"So," he said, plopping down in the chair across from her, "what's up?"
Chiara never imagined herself as someone who could spend hours conversing about everything and nothing; yet here she was, giving the Vongola rain guardian a detailed account of how Gokudera secured her help in baking a birthday cake for his sister. The results had been worse than Bianchi's poison cooking, and the kitchen was left in batter-splattered shambles, but Chiara smirked and smiled through every mishap.
Yamamoto joined in her amusement, laughing at Gokudera's expense. His sides shook and he balanced the chair on two legs, rocking back and forth with each chuckle and snort.
While his breathing evened out again, Chiara paused in wonder. Talking and laughing together, she mused. "Maybe having friends isn't so hard."
"What do you mean?'" Yamamoto tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow.
She almost cracked up at the confused puppy-dog look on the young man, but she smothered the impulse. "Relationships require time and commitment. I always thought missions and training would eat up all my time. I didn't want to make plans when orders might send me away at any second."
"So what changed?"
Chiara stared at the window, tracing the sunlight dancing across the panes. "Nothing," she said. Nothing but her impending death. "It just seems easier here."
"Yeah," Yamamoto agreed. "Tsuna's a pretty laid back guy. He doesn't work us too hard."
She huffed and tossed her head. "He doesn't work you at all from what I've seen. How else does his sun guardian find all this free time for, and I quote, 'an extreme sparring session to celebrate the spring of youth?'"
"You should have bitten him to death," a new voice said.
Chiara and Yamamoto turned to find Hibari leaning against the nearest bookcase, his face a mask of indifference.
"Hibari, I didn't know you were back already." Yamamoto held up a hand in greeting and smiled.
Hibari seemed to ignore the gesture as his eyes remained focused on Chiara, who could not help but notice a slight intensity in his countenance, more so than usual. She tried to discern the reason, but failed. "Kyou-san?"
As if triggered by her voice, Hibari leapt forward, tonfa in hand. He swung it at full speed toward Chiara's face. She stayed silent and still while Yamamoto yelled at Hibari to stop, one hand poised above his sword.
"You're not ready," Hibari said, his tonfa stopped at the last second. He removed the weapon and tucked it inside his suit. "The herbivore wouldn't take it lying down."
Chiara stared up at him. True, she had not moved when he attacked her, but he was Hibari. That alone made it completely different from the upcoming meeting with the Millefiore, right? A small spark of understanding lit the darkness of her confused mind. Maybe it was not so different. "Thank you, Kyou-san."
Hibari smirked and turned to leave, and Chiara bowed her head toward his retreating figure, vaguely hearing Yamamoto's voice in the background. She turned her attention back to the swordsman and found that, though his hand no longer hovered over a weapon, he looked ready to kill. Well, I suppose that did look a tad suspicious, she thought.
"What was that about?" Yamamoto asked, his voice calm and level.
Chiara scrounged for a decent explanation. She was glad for Hibari's help, but did he have to do it in front of Yamamoto? She settled on the only thing that would satisfy an astute Vongola guardian: a bold-faced lie with a grain of truth. "I have not been serving Tsuna-sama well, ignoring my duties and engaging in friendship with his subordinates," she said with ease, "so I was considering suicide to minimize the dishonor my family would suffer. Hibari has been trying to convince me otherwise."
She saw the tension leak out of his body. "Ah, I see," he said. "There's no need to go and do something crazy like that. Tsuna doesn't seem unhappy with you, and he'd be really upset if you died. We all would."
"I know." Chiara shook her head and smiled. Once again, she knew Yamamoto saw right through her story, but relief flowed through her when he played along. "You don't have to worry. Hibari already explained it."
"Yes. Just now."
Yamamoto scratched his head. "When he attacked you?"
Chiara quirked an eyebrow and said, "We understand one another."
Tsuna loved life too much to simply give up and die. Even though she would technically be doing just that, Chiara needed to fight as though she were not ready to die. It was a novel concept, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized, maybe she was not prepared for her life to end. That feeling would strengthen her illusion.
"Time flies when you're having fun," Chiara grumbled. The old cliché still held true. Her three months on the Vongola estate had come to an end, and tomorrow morning, she would ride out to meet her death-or rather, Tsuna's death.
The cube in her hand shook. It was a special capture box, designed to contain and preserve mist flames outside their source. Once done pouring out her flames, the intricate Tsuna illusion wrapped up inside them, Chiara tossed the box on the desk with the other eleven, thoroughly exhausted. Though less than a quarter the size of normal box weapons, they still held enormous reserves of power, and stitched into her body, they would maintain the illusion after she died.
A knock sounded at the door, and Chiara shoved the miniature boxes into a drawer. "Come in?"
Hibari glided through the entrance and closed the door behind him. "Are you ready?" he asked.
She reopened the drawer and pulled out the boxes along with a knife and a small sewing kit. "Almost. I need to put the boxes under my skin." She reached for the blade, but he caught her hand.
"It can wait." Hibari glanced down at the boxes and picked one up, running his thumb over the intricate designs. "Sawada wants to see you."
"I see." Chiara stood and stretched. Six hours was too long to sit hunched over a desk. "You'll pick up my body and switch it with Tsuna-sama's before the others get there, right?"
He scoffed. "With time to spare."
Hibari replaced the box and strode back to the door. "You have one night left, Chiara. Don't be the herbivore, or I'll bite you to death."
She frowned as she walked the empty corridors toward Tsuna's study. What was Hibari getting at this time? Why bother throwing off the Tsuna façade she had created for one last night? What good would it do?
"Was there even a 'Chiara' to begin with?" she asked.
No one answered.
She stopped thinking and knocked on the door.
"Come in," Tsuna said. She entered and his face fell. "Chiara-san, how are you doing?"
"Fine, Tsuna-sama. And you?"
He shrugged and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm good. Hibari-san has the drugs and coffin all set for tomorrow."
Chiara smiled and took a seat. "You shouldn't be nervous. As long as Gokudera-san doesn't drown your body in tears, you'll be in no danger."
Tsuna gave a shaky laugh before settling back into silence. He worried his lower lip for a moment. "You know, if you don't want to do this, you just say the word-"
"We've been over this, Tsuna-sama." She crossed her arms. "It will happen."
"I know." He sighed. "I know."
The seconds stretched into minutes and neither of them said a word. Outside, the last of the sun's rays faded behind the surrounding tree line.
"Well," Chiara said, "if that's all, I'll be going."
Tsuna stretched out a hand. "You know you're welcome to stay and talk."
"Thank you." She stood. "But I think- I'd like to spend tonight alone."
Chiara left before Tsuna could change his mind and entreat her to "talk about it." The backyard was empty and welcoming in the twilight, and she headed straight for the old oak. As she came closer, a shadow separated itself from the dark gnarled trunk, and Chiara was only half-surprised to find Yamamoto standing to greet her.
What would he think of meeting "Chiara" in place of "Chiara trying to be Tsuna?" Was there a difference between the two?
"Hey!" He looked relaxed, a slight slouch to his posture. "Hibari said you're leaving tomorrow."
"That's right," she said. "First thing in the morning."
They sat back against the tree, but Yamamoto did not say anything else. A permanent grin fixed itself across his face, but he did not speak.
Every so often, Chiara imagined she saw a question in his eyes. Whatever Yamamoto suspected or wondered, he kept it to himself.
He flinched. "Huh?"
"For what?" Moving off the trunk, he turned to face her.
Chiara thought about it. She had not planned to say that. The thank you slipped out. Why? She was grateful to him for his advice, for always listening, for laughing with her like a normal person. "For everything," she said.
Yamamoto's face softened into a tender smile. "You're welcome. Anytime."
He reclined against the tree again and the companionable silence returned. Perhaps Tsuna would have answered Yamamoto's unspoken questions or offered some reassurance, but tonight, Chiara was being Chiara. So she said nothing.
Chiara was not sure how long they lay there. The moon rose and the stars gleamed in the night sky. After a time, she heard Yamamoto's breathing even out into a slow, rhythmic pattern. He was asleep.
As tempting as it was, falling asleep under the tree with him would make the morning departure more difficult. It was better to leave now, finish preparing the boxes, and slip off the estate without being seen.
It was better that way. Chiara did not want to tell the guardians goodbye. She did not want to tell them to be strong when Tsuna "died" and their worlds fell apart. She did not want them to see the pain in her eyes when she left.
Chiara Calandra was given a mission, and she would complete the mission because her family ordered it. But she would also complete the mission for the sake of the Vongola guardians- her friends.
She sat up and watched the one lying next to her, blissfully unaware of the chaos waiting just beyond the next sunrise. Perhaps she should not have listened to Hibari. Now, as Chiara, looking at Yamamoto hurt. She could empathize with him apart from her Tsuna masquerade, and it hurt.
Yamamoto treated her not as a tool, but as a friend, right from the start. What did she give in return? She lied to him, used him: betrayed him. Despite her years of conditioning to remain emotionally detached- to do what was necessary and not look back- Chiara cared what he would think and how he would feel. She cared about him.
Caring will make my illusion better, she thought to herself.
And she leaned down and, like Judas, left with nothing but a kiss.
A/N- Reviews are always appreciated. n.n
Thanks for reading!