Tsuna always felt... strange when he went to speak to Mukuro. He felt like his skin was crawling, or, no, not quite. He felt like something was reaching underneath his skin and rubbing him with ice cubes. He felt cold, all over. It wasn't just the fact he was meeting with a known mass murderer. Mukuro had killed people all over the world, and he had manipulated other people to help him. Mukuro had ruined people's lives.
When Mukuro had entered Japan and begun his killing spree three years ago Tsuna had been one of the police officers put on his case. Through investigating Mukuro Tsuna had met Lancia, one of Mukuro's accomplices. For years Mukuro had used Lancia to be his face to the public, had hidden behind Lancia's strength and scars. Compared to Lancia, Mukuro looked harmless. Lancia was in a mental health facility now, and Tsuna visited when he could. He felt guilty, because it was his orders that had taken the other man down, his orders that had lost Lancia the use of his left arm. But it was Mukuro's actions, years of drugs, manipulation, and brain-washing that had caused Lancia to be unable to care for himself.
The loss of an arm was nothing compared to the loss of a normal life.
"Kufufufu." Mukuro smiled at Tsuna from behind a sheet of one way bullet resistant glass. Tsuna didn't trust it. He'd be happier to see Mukuro under 5 inches of plan bullet resistant glass, but the higher ups wanted the ability to shoot Mukuro... if need be. Tsuna had forgiven Mukuro for his actions against Tsuna, he could even forgive Mukuro for the man murdering mafia members, but he couldn't forgive Mukuro for the countless innocents the man had killed.
"It's nice to see you again, Sawada Tsunayoshi." Mukuro stepped up to the glass, tapped the iron grill which he was speaking through. "Did you bring me anything?"
"..." Tsuna handed off a package to one of the attending police officers, who walked over to a small section of the wall where they could transfer objects. Tsuna always felt a little leery of that as well. While the transfer of objects could only be initiated from the outside it still worked both ways. Mukuro was dangerous, and soundproofing wasn't going to keep him from attempting to control the officers assigned to watch him. Tsuna knew that no less than 5 people had to be removed from monitoring Mukuro's activities because they had been swayed by the persuasive mass murderer.
"It's from Chrome and the others." Tsuna said. "They hope you're well." Chrome was a young woman Mukuro had picked up after his last break out. She had been starving, abused, unwilling to live. Mukuro had changed that. When they had captured finally captured Mukuro had had informed everyone that she had not been a part of any of his plans, she was clean, innocent… and no one had been able to disprove this. She lived with Ken and Chikusa, two of Mukuro's longest accomplices. Accomplices who were now protected by Mukuro's continued compliance.
Mukuro opened up the package while Tsuna waited. It had originally been sealed for transport, but Tsuna, and several other officers had checked the package already. "Ooh! Gingerbread men." Mukuro picked one up and showed it to Tsuna. Tsuna had already seen the cookies, and noted that each had one dot of blue icing for one eye, and one dot of red icing for the other. Some of the cookies had black and white icing stripes, presumably 'prison outfits'. In reality Mukuro wore a standard orange jump suit, and often asked for more casual outfits.
"So what is it you wish to speak with me about this time, Officer Sawada Tsunayoshi-kun?" Mukuro broke off one of the cookie man's arms and popped it into his mouth.
Tsuna opened up the manila folder he had been holding tucked under his arm. "Recently there has been a rash of murders in the Tokyo area. None of the victims have anything in common. Age, gender, ethnicity, location. It all varies."
Mukuro broke off the other arm and nibbled on it. "So what have you come to me for? It sounds completely random, Sawada."
Tsuna continued like he hadn't been interrupted. Mukuro being confrontational was something Tsuna was used to, he'd found ignoring him was the best way to go. It was why Tsuna faced Mukuro alone. Gokudera and Hibari got irritated if they came along, and irritated if they were excluded in favor of Yamamoto. "None of the victims sport defensive wounds, cause of death is believed to be heart failure."
"Kufufu." Mukuro finished off the gingerbread man and smiled. "We all die of heart failure in the end, Sawada Tsunay-"
"All of the victims were found holding a white orchid." Tsuna felt a small thrill at Mukuro's obvious surprise, and the way Mukuro's smile dropped. The smile was immediately replaced though, but it was a mask. Tsuna had spent the past 3 years learning Mukuro's reactions, and Mukuro had never, ever appeared as false as he did now. Tsuna was on to something. "Flower arrangements were wrapped around the victim's necks, each containing anemones."
"Oya, oya." Mukuro set the box down on his bed. "You're really not giving me much to go on are you? Tell me Sawada, what other kind of flowers were used?"
"There's no correlation between the other flowers used." Tsuna shook his head. "Each victim was given a different flower, the only similarities are the orchid and anemones."
"Do you know anything about the language of flowers, Sawada Tsunayoshi-kun?" Mukuro asked, stalking towards were Tsuna stood, and pressing his hands against the glass. Mukuro leaned so that his forehead was pressed against the glass and he was looking down on Tsuna, up close Mukuro's red eye seemed to glow and spin. "You should look into it."
Tsuna kept the manila folder propped open on his hands, in part so he could easily access the data, in part to hide his sweaty palms. Mukuro made him nervous. "Shall I inform you of what flowers were used?"
"It wouldn't do any good." Mukuro smiled, and it was his usual laissez-faire smile. "Not to me anyway. Have your investigation team look into it though, it may give you a clue as to why they were killed." Mukuro pushed himself off the glass and waltzed back over to his bed.
Tsuna closed the folder. "Can you give me any information on the murderer?" Tsuna was tempted to say 'I know you know something'. But he wouldn't allow himself to be baited by Mukuro.
Mukuro picked up another cookie from the box, his finger sliding across the stripes of black and white icing. "His name is Byakuran."
Tsuna dropped his notebook when he fished it out, flinching slightly when Mukuro chuckled. "Still so clumsy, Officer Sawada Tsunayoshi?" Mukuro lay back on the bed, propped up on his elbows with his legs spread lewdly. "I can't believe a member of Japan's finest is such a klutz." Mukuro's smile gained a sharp edge. "I can't believe such a klutz managed to capture me."
Tsuna picked up his notebook and began writing the name 'Byakuran'. "Is Byakuran written in katakana, hiragana, or kanji, Mukuro?"
"Oya, oya…" Mukuro flopped back onto the bed, his voice becoming muffled and distant. "Well, I forgot that you're so modest. You claim that without your team you would never have captured me, correct?"
Tsuna clenched his notebook hard. The last thing he wanted was Mukuro thinking about his team mates. "Mukuro, the na-"
"The characters for 'white orchid' Sawada Tsunayoshi-kun." Mukuro lifted his head, appearing surprised. "Isn't it obvious?"
Tsuna slipped into the black sedan feeling not quite beaten down, but definitely tired. All of the security to go in and out of Mukuro's cell and the pressure of being underground for even a short amount of time made Tsuna's shoulders ache. "That bastard didn't do anything to you, did he tenth?" Gokudera asked while pulling the car out of the prison parking lot.
Tsuna buckled up and glanced sideways at Gokudera. He didn't understand how Gokudera thought Mukuro could do something to him from behind bullet resistant glass, and at the same time he understood. Mukuro could cut to the quick of things without even touching you. "...Gokudera-kun, I've asked you not to call me that." Gokudera had this ridiculous belief that Tsuna would rise to be the tenth head of the VONGOLA, the crime unity within the police that they worked for.
"It's habit now, tenth." Gokudera turned the corner and swung into traffic, Tsuna preemptively grabbed onto the hanging handle, his right hand grabbing the edge of the seat and holding on. The only thing scarier than letting Gokudera drive was letting anyone else in the department drive. Tsuna had only gotten into a car with Yamamoto once, and Hibari-san twice to learn that lesson. The only reason Tsuna had gotten in to the car the second time was because it was an emergency and he had no other choice.
Tsuna didn't even want to consider Ryohei's driving, as the man regularly showed up with dings on his vehicle, and had infiltrated an underground racing ring two years ago.
"Ah, Go-" Tsuna winced as they switched lanes rapidly. "Um."
"What was that tenth?" Gokudera asked, the wheel spinning agilely under his long fingered hands. Gokudera glanced to his left, looking at Tsuna. Tsuna glanced between Gokudera's eyes and the road. He'd once seen Gokudera drive BACKWARDS with limited sightlines though, so, really, he shouldn't be worried.
Tsuna sighed slightly. He lived a strange, strange life. This should upset him. "Nothing. Mukuro-kun didn't do anything... But he didn't give me much to go on either."
Gokudera cursed, and the car wheel spun again as he took a curve at a speed that made Tsuna's grit his teeth "That bastard. They should just execute him and get it over with." Gokudera settled in to wait at a red light, his fingers impatiently tapping his fingers along the wheel. Tsuna sighed through his gritted teeth; he bet that Gokudera was jonesing for a cigarette. Gokudera had managed to cut down since Tsuna had met him, but bad habits were hard to break. Especially smoking. Gokudera used to be a chain smoker, but he had started cutting back shortly after he began working extensively with Tsuna. At first he'd just made sure never to smoke around Tsuna, but gradually Tsuna noticed that Gokudera worked through a pack of cigarettes at a slower pace. Gokudera claimed it was because he didn't want Tsuna getting cancer because of second hand smoke. Tsuna bet a little more of it was thanks to Yamamoto, who constantly picked at Gokudera, teasing him about yellow teeth or fingers, and how that would make him look so unprofessional.
Either that or it was because of one too many comments about Gokudera's raspy voice being 'sexy'.
"The appeal process..." Tsuna started to explain, but Gokudera waved him off. Tsuna knew that Gokudera understood, they had all had this conversation more than once. Sometimes re-explaining it to each other, or other people.
Mukuro caused lots of trouble within the VONGOLA offices.
"Still can't believe he found someone to defend him through all of this. I mean, we can't even track down his cash." Gokudera banged at the steering wheel. "We can't even claim that the money he sends to Chrome, and those two is illegal. I don't know how he's routing it to them..." Gokudera gritted his teeth. Tsuna understood how much this frustrated Tsuna. The money that Chrome, Ken, and Chikusa lived off of came from a bank account in Chrome's name, and the money never seemed to decrease. Not even Gokudera, Shouichi, and Spanner had been able to tie the bank to Mukuro, or the money to illegal profits.
"Gokudera-kun." Tsuna let go of his seat to pat Gokudera's shoulder. "Let's just get back to headquarters without an accident alright?" Tsuna didn't flinch at how fast they were approaching the back of a black van. He didn't. He just, wilted, a little, into the back of the seat.
Gokudera doesn't bother looking wounded, he even smiles a bit, though it's a sad smile. "You know I'd never get you hurt, Tenth." The car slows to a marginally more acceptable pace, and Tsuna closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. The image of burning flames and a tipped over car flickers on the inside of his eyelids, and he can almost smell the scent of gasoline. "I know."
The rest of the drive is silent, except for the constant hiss of the air conditioner, the noise of traffic around them, and Gokudera's tapping fingers when they are forced to stop at red lights. Tsuna closes his eyes and relaxes, his body accustomed to hearing Gokudera fidget while he dozes. The image of the car wreck flickers one more time through Tsuna's mind before he replaces it with Sasagawa Kyoko's smiling face. He wonders what the specials are at Kyoko's restaurant today, and if she and Haru are going out to eat cake later. He's always surprised at just how much cake the two of them can eat, even though they hate themselves later. Tsuna needs to stop by and see her, see them. He hasn't, there was work, and paperwork, and more work... and now there's even more work. Before Tsuna knew it he hadn't seen them in months, and Tsuna knows he's going to get an earful from Haru about that. She doesn't like it when he drops off the radar for so long.
"Tenth, we're back." Gokudera shakes Tsuna's shoulder lightly and Tsuna opens his eyes to the familiar sight of the cement walls of the VONGOLA underground garage. After that it's more security, checking ID cards, passing through metal detectors. Tsuna used to glance nervously at the security cameras but he's stopped doing that now, just like Hibari has stopped glaring at them. Well, mostly, Hibari had a tendency to glare without a specific subject in mind, sometimes the video cameras got caught in his path. Hibari had stopped breaking them though, which was a relief. If they had to deal with replacing a camera one more time Tsuna had been willing to let Spanner try to develop harder to destroy cameras.
Automatic doors close behind them with a soft whoosh of air, and Tsuna isn't surprised to find himself the focus of everyone's attention. Beyond staff that usually monitor activities in the main room several members of VONGOLA are loitering on the stairs or standing in the doorways of their offices, clearly hoping to find out what happened after the meeting with Mukuro. Tsuna sometimes wished he worked with less nosy subordinates, but if they were less nosy than they wouldn't be part of VONGOLA who prided themselves on being able to sniff out the truth. Perhaps it was for the best. "Senior members in the boardroom." Tsuna smiled slightly, wearily. "Please."
Sounds of shuffle; chairs being pushed back, folders being closed, the clatter of fingers on keys, locking computers down, were ignored as Tsuna walked with Gokudera to the boardroom. There was a long oval table inside, and Tsuna seated himself at what was considered the 'head'. There was room enough, if they squished, for all of VONGOLA to fit in the room, though many of them would not have been seated, but the only people Tsuna needed to talk to were his subordinates. The people the VONGOLA affectionately referred to as his 'Guardians'.
Gokudera took the seat closest to Tsuna on his right. He leaned back in the chair, arms crossed over his chest. Gokudera's black suit coat fell open to reveal Gokudera's shoulder holster. Gokudera's silk black tie flopped all over his chest, serving no purpose but to highlight Gokudera's unbuttoned collar and the game of hide and seek it was playing with Gokudera's collarbone.
Yamamoto was the second person to walk into the room. He matched Gokudera's sloppiness, a flopping collar and unbuttoned shirt, but his tie was probably tucked safely into his suit coat, and his cuff was unbuttoned. Gokudera wore gold cufflinks on his, cufflinks Tsuna had given him for Christmas that first year. "Hey, Tsuna." Yamamoto propped his elbow up on the back of Tsuna's chair and leaned over, smiling down at him. Yamamoto, everyone joked, was tranquil as the sea. Like a light summer rain, warm, soothing, and nourishing. "You alright?"
Tsuna felt a tightness in his shoulders relax around Yamamoto. Gokudera might be his friend, but Gokudera tended to put work first. It was hard to relax around Gokudera during work hours. Yamamoto was relaxed all the time though, which made it seem natural for you to just kick back and let the world pass you by… even when you shouldn't. Yamamoto took the seat on Tsuna's left stretching his arms up above his head and, judging from the way Gokudera jumped back, stretching his long legs under the table so that they brushed Gokudera's. "Man! And just when you thought things would get boring."
"We're hunting down a murderer." Gokudera hissed like a scalded cat. "How can things be boring, idiot?"
Yamamoto smiled. Tsuna figured that, if Gokudera was a cat, Yamamoto would be a big playful dog. You could almost see the tongue lolling out of his mouth, under the big goofy grin. That didn't mean Yamamoto wasn't dangerous though.
"Never mind, never mind." Yamamoto waved his hand in the air, and then turned that 'don't mind' gesture into a 'hello!' when Reborn walked into the room. "Hey, Reborn! I thought you were out to lunch."
Reborn tipped one edge of his black fedora at Yamamoto, and walked around the table until he was seated at the foot, facing Tsuna. Reborn was Tsuna's superior, technically, but he rarely took over managing VONGOLA. He had in the beginning, but after Tsuna learned the ropes Reborn had left the day to day stuff to him. During a crisis Reborn would order people around, but never circumvented Tsuna's authority, and never went out into the field. Having seen Reborn at a firing range Tsuna knew it wasn't bad aim that kept him in the office, and after Reborn had saved his life earlier in his career, tossing a man over the side of a building… Tsuna knew it wasn't because he couldn't take a life.
Reborn was also one of the reasons Gokudera figured Tsuna would replace the Ninth, despite a tender heart and a rather obvious lack of experience.
"As you can see, I returned." Reborn removed his hat and set it on the table. "And so have you. Did you find out anything interesting, Tsuna?"
Tsuna blushed. "I'd like to wait until everyone is here. But if you want the report now…?"
Reborn nodded, a miniscule smirk curling the corners of his thin lips. "I can wait."
Ryohei Sasagawa was the next to enter, punching his fist in the air. Walking slightly behind him was I-Pin, between the two of them they were VONGOLA's experts at hand to hand combat. When you needed to take someone down and you couldn't use a gun, you sent in Ryohei or I-Pin. Ryohei sat next to Yamamoto, with I-Pin at his side. "I missed you at the gym, Yamamoto! What happened to our EXTREME promise to train?"
Tsuna winced at Ryohei's volume. Ryohei never changed.
Yamamoto rubbed the back of his neck with a laugh. "Sorry, Sasagawa-senpai, I guess I forgot." A quick glance was traded between Yamamoto and Gokudera, impossible to spot unless you were sitting between them. Tsuna glanced down at his hands. He'd always known that Gokudera and Yamamoto had a strange relationship, Gokudera trying to kill Yamamoto one minute, the two of them guarding each other's back the next.
"You were with a girl weren't you!" Ryohei clapped Yamamoto hard on the shoulder. Almost hard enough to make Yamamoto wince. "GOOD JOB! I hope you are as happy as Hana and I are!"
If one had an active imagination, you could see the fires of love burning bright in Ryohei's eyes. I-Pin giggled slightly, under her breath.
I-Pin had an active imagination.
Ryohei and Yamamoto chatted for a bit then, wrangling over scheduling. Tsuna didn't know why Yamamoto wanted to get in the ring with Ryohei, but he assumed it had something to do with training. Yamamoto was trained in Kendo, courtesy of his father, who was the last surviving student of the Shigure school of swordsmanship. He wasn't terribly good at hand to hand combat, though Tsuna knew he had a hell of a right hook. There was a difference between knowing how to throw a punch, and getting pummeled black and blue.
Spanner and Shouichi, who headed the VONGOLA's technical department came in together. The technical department of the VONGOLA was small, it was headed by two people, and it consisted of two people. Spanner took care of mechanical things, was the guy you called when your computer (filled with sensitive information) went down. Spanner was a master of robotics as well, which had come in handy on more than one mission. Shouichi was a programmer, and before the VONGOLA he'd been a hacker. Thankfully a government job sounded better to him than prison time… so he'd switched over before he got too deep. While Spanner primarily spent time in his office tinkering with machines Shouichi spent his time on the floor, behind a desk covered in monitors.
Lambo, their youngest, scuttled in quickly after them. He was their liaison with the main police department, and no one was really quite sure what to do with him. Reborn was sick of his innocence, and his incompetence, and refused to acknowledge him. Which was incredibly frustrating for poor Lambo, who was constantly trying to get Reborn to look at him. It wasn't that Lambo wasn't any good at what he did, but he was new. It was a pretty big insult to have been sent someone like Lambo, fresh off the press and still wet behind the ears. But still, VONGOLA were doing the best they could with him. Ryohei and Yamamoto seemed to like him, and Tsuna had seen Lambo and I-Pin spending time together off the clock.
Tsuna waited until everyone was seated before he began the meeting. "Here's what we know so far…"
"I can't believe you have all this researched already." Yamamoto was leaning over Irie's shoulder, looking at the information Irie had gathered on flowers and their meanings. Gokudera was leaning his hip against Irie's desk, his arms crossed tight across his chest. Tsuna stood a little bit away, around a foot, trying not to get into anyone's personal space. While Yamamoto seemed able to invade anyone's personal space without them finding it a problem Irie had a tendency to stiffen up when Tsuna was close by. Tsuna wasn't sure if it was because Irie considered him his 'superior' or something else. Irie twitched when Reborn was around as well.
Irie laughed, sending the document to a printer and leaving it up on the screen for Yamamoto's perusal. "Well, I had a- a friend who used to be into this…"
Gokudera snorted and stepped away from the desk, coming to stand at Tsuna's side. Tsuna noticed that despite how he felt about Irie Gokudera never mistreated Irie's equipment or insulted his ability. Tsuna bit back a sigh. It must be nice to be considered a 'genius'. Despite his position Tsuna had barely passed any class he'd ever taken in his life. In fact, he'd nearly had to repeat a grade, multiple times.
"Did your 'friend' send you anemones before dumping you or something?" Gokudera asked rudely, holding a pen between his clenched fingers like he would hold a cigarette. "
"Actually." Irie pushed away Yamamoto's arm and walked to the printed, fetching the documents. "They did."
"Er, Irie-san." Tsuna stumbled, hoping they hadn't just rammed their fingers into an open wound, but Irie shook his head and held up a hand.
"It's no big deal, Sawada-san. They'd sent me anemones before to mean 'expectation'…" Shouichi stapled the list of flowers and their meanings, the possible meanings of the arrangements of the two flowers, and descriptions of why Irie thought which flower meanings were more likely given the victims. "Flowers often have dual meanings, sometimes even more, and a lot of myth behind them. Placement, arrangement, it all impacts the meaning as well. It wasn't the anemones that got me thinking though, but the kennedia. Kennedia are pretty rare here in Japan, I can only assume they were a specially ordered item… they're trellis climbers, and they mean 'intellectual beauty'."
"…" Yamamoto laughed behind his hand, his eyes sparkling. "Your girlfriend really was one for compliments, weren't they?"
Tsuna didn't need a degree in rocket science to tell that the topic embarrassed Irie. Irie had a blush high on his cheeks now, and he was fidgeting. "Something like that."
"Thank you, Irie-san." Tsuna took the report from Irie and began to look it over. "I'm sure this will be very helpful." It also cut down a lot of time, since it was already done and drawn up for them. It meant Tsuna didn't have to order someone to do it.
"It might not be complete." Irie ruffled his hair harshly, the orange curls ending up pushed to the side and making him appear lopsided. It was a nervous habit of Irie's. There were days when you could determine the activity in the VONGOLA offices by how messy Irie's hair was. "I'm still chasing down really obscure meanings… but I doubt the killer would go that far."
"Even if they're using an obscure method like flowers as a calling card, they're still your typical serial killer." Yamamoto said lightly. "They want to be recognized!"
"We still don't know enough about him." Tsuna said seriously. "Irie-san, please continue to look these things up. Thank you." Irie nodded, and disappeared, ducking down behind his computer monitor. It was a sign of dismissal, but more than that it was a sign that Irie hoped he would be dismissed. Tsuna walked away, leaving through the descriptions of flowers. Off the top of his head he could not remember what the names of the flowers they had found on the bodies were.