And here's the penultimate chapter.
Disclaimer: Amano Akira's, not mine.
Chapter Three: Questions and Bad Feelings
The boy, no, the young man that sat before her couldn't have been more than six months older than he had been when she had last seen him, yet there was something in his eyes that made him seem older than he really was.
Apart from that, he was more or less the same, with his mass of thick brown hair and his kind, friendly brown eyes.
...Eyes that were staring at her questioningly, causing her to look a little embarrassed when she realised she had not being paying him any attention.
"Sorry, Sawada-san," she murmured, squirming a little in her seat before stopping abruptly upon remembering who exactly she was, and, more importantly, who exactly she was with. "I..." she trailed off, somewhat uncertainly.
What was she supposed to say? She had other things on her mind, such as letters that needed to be replied to? Or perhaps she should say that she was too busy scrutinising him, wondering what exactly had happened to him to make him look far older and somewhat wiser than someone his age should be?
She smiled. "I don't seem to be able to focus on anything today. I apologise again," she said, bowing her head ever so slightly. The Vongola Decimo shook his head, a friendly smile on his lips as an understanding expression worked its way across his face.
"No, don't apologise. I understand what you mean, though." He laughed, and she found herself thinking that it was a nice laugh, one that still held on to an air of openness which most Mafioso, much less Bosses, had nowadays. "Things just get too much after a while, don't they? And suddenly you don't know what you should focus on first."
Yes, and no, Sawada-san, she thought privately, although she nodded in agreement.
"From all accounts, it seems as though you are focusing on things quite well, Sawada-san," she said honestly, for it was true. Yes, there were the odd Family or two who grumbled and found fault with most of what the young Boss did, but for the most part, people seemed impressed –whether truly impressed, or just grudgingly so- with him and the way he handled matters.
She did not know all the details, but the new policy that all the Families were attempting to follow, where they tried to talk things through as much as possible, as opposed to resorting to violence and bloodshed straight away, was something that had been pushed forward earnestly by the young Decimo. Of course, it was too early to tell if such an approach would work, and work well, in their world, but time would provide the answers to that.
The brunet flushed, ducking his head as he averted his gaze in as clear indication of embarrassment as was possible.
Strange, she could not help but think, I thought we were not meant to show our true feelings, no matter what they are? She mentally berated herself for wondering about it; had she not learned from that first time she had met him, a little over a year ago, that what she had been told about the roles and mannerisms of a Boss seemed to be thrown out of the proverbial window whenever this man was involved?
This man who, it was rumoured, shed tears even at the deaths of his enemies, as well as people he did not know.
She idly wondered if he would shed tears for her, if she was to pass on, but quickly dismissed the thought. There would be none who would shed tears for her; her mama might have, but...well, she couldn't possibly do that anymore, could she?
"May I...may I ask you a question?" asked the Vongola Decimo, suddenly, and she nodded, wondering why he looked suddenly uncomfortable. "I –I don't mean to sound rude, because...I...I know that you must be a good Boss, and that your Family appreciates everything you're doing for them..." he trailed off, a somewhat faraway light entering his eyes. "But... how are you? I mean, you seem fine, and –ah, not that I'm saying you shouldn't be fine, it's just...I..." Again, he trailed off, although he looked decidedly more embarrassed than he had been before.
And she could not help the fondness that seeped into her eyes, and even her voice, as she gazed upon him.
"My Family has been more of a help than I could ever have hoped, and the Vongola Nono has been far too kind to us," she said, cheerily. "I am well, Sawada-san, thank you."
He did not look too reassured.
"What about the other Families? Have they...been causing any trouble?" She knew, without having to ponder on an answer, that he knew the answer to his own question; for there were other Families who still refused to accept her, particularly because of her age.
She could have lied, for surely, that would have made him feel better...but there was something about him that disallowed her from doing so.
He was kind, warm, and gentle; surely, out of all the other Bosses who she knew, he, at least, deserved an honest answer?
"It is to be expected, Sawada-san," she said instead, "I am eight years old, while there are Bosses more than three times my age out there, being forced to be civil to me due to my position in this alliance." His lips tightened, and a flicker of warmth sparked to life somewhere in her gut. "I do not pay much attention to their words, Sawada-san, for, though I am nothing but a child, I am not so...incompetent as they would like to think."
The way he nodded fervently would have had her believing his apparent conviction on the issue, if she had had doubts about her capabilities.
"There is no one who could lead this Family better than yourself, Uni," he said, so firmly that it was as though he was stating a fact only fools would claim to be otherwise. "There is no one who could be more capable."
What do you know, Sawada-san? What have you seen to make you believe in such a thing?
"You're too kind, Sawada-san," she said, feeling the pleased warmth in her cheeks and knowing, from the look on his face, that he had seen it too. Looking slightly embarrassed again –if she was to judge by the red tinge that had bloomed on his cheeks- the nice man with the honest smile shook his head.
"It's the truth; we all think so," he said, before looking at her once more. "If you ever need anything, Uni, you...you can always ask me. I...I promise, I will do my best to help in any way I can. No matter what it is, I'll help you."
He must have misunderstood the surprised expression on her face, for he quickly added, "U-Us! You –you can always ask us! I –I meant to say that w-we would help you! Not me!" He stopped, eyes widening. "Ah, I mean, I would help too, but I...I meant-"
She was aware that it was probably rude, and that her Guardians who she knew were standing right outside the door would probably be torn between concern for her and horror for her actions, but she could not hold back the giggles that left her mouth.
And, as she realised later, she didn't want to hold them back.
She kicked her legs back and forth as she laughed, not caring that her feet dangled a good couple of inches off the floor.
She had thought that her life would never be the same, after her mama died, and she had been right.
She had thought that being a Boss would be a difficult job, yet one that could also provide great happiness and satisfaction, and she had been right.
She had thought that there would never be a person in this world, and perhaps in her whole life –however long she had, given the heritage that had been passed down from her grandmother- who would be completely honest and truthful with her, thus dictating that she herself would have to become someone else, in order to succeed in the mafia world...
...and how wrong she had been. "U-Uni-?" his voice showed his confusion, and even a slight tinge of alarm. "Are you –okay?" She forced herself to straighten in her chair, raising a hand to wipe the tears she had not known had gathered in her eyes.
Goodness, had she really been laughing so hard? When was the last time she had done that? And the poor man had not even said anything funny.
"Sorry, Sawada-san," she said, her voice sounding more cheerful and less burdened than it had sounded for a few months, "Sorry. That was rude, wasn't it? I wasn't laughing at you. I..." she fidgeted in her seat. "I'm happy, that's all."
His brows were furrowed.
"Yes. I am happy that you are you." She positively beamed at him, startling him into embarrassment again, "I am happy that you are still able to be yourself, despite everything we are involved in." She clasped both her hands together on the desk. "And, I realised... I want to tell you, that I'm not going to run away anymore."
She wondered why the embarrassment had drained from his face, only to be replaced by something that she could only describe as haunted. "I may be eight years old, but I am the Giglio Nero Boss. I won't depend on other Families like I have been doing; I have to lead my Family properly, and the first step to that is to learn to be independent; so, I'm not going to run –Sawada-san?"
He looked as though he was forcing himself to stay calm, and, actually, looked a little like he was going to be sick. "Sawada-san?" she enquired again, worried, "Are you not feeling well?"
It took him a moment or two to shake his head, albeit somewhat sluggishly.
"I'm fine," he said, his voice suddenly hoarse, "I..." he swallowed very visibly, before mustering up a smile, even though she knew that he was trouble, "I'm glad. About...about your decision."
"Are you sure you're alright?" she inquired, a little worried, and it must have shown, for he managed a slightly better smile when he spoke again.
"Yes, Uni, don't worry about me. Really." She nodded, although she didn't believe him; how could she, when there was a haunted look in brown eyes? It was a look, she decided, that did not at all suit the young man –and she was surprised when she found herself thinking that she would like to erase it, if it was at all possible.
For the first time since he had walked into the office, she felt an air of awkwardness surrounding them, and didn't like it one bit. Perhaps she should not have pressed him about his health? Perhaps she had made him uncomfortable?
"Will you be attending-" They both stopped, before she shook her head, gesturing for him to go on. "Uhm, Dino-san said –ah, er, I mean, the Cavallone Decimo said that he invited you and your Guardians for a retreat to the Cavallone villa, in Firenze. Will you be going?"
"I think it would be a nice change –of scenery and...well, other things," she agreed, "Yes, we will be going. I informed Dino-san of this. It was very kind of him to offer us this invita... Oh." Her smile dimmed slightly as she remembered something. Aware of the questioning look on her companion's face, she reached out for the slip of white paper she had been reading earlier, and a quick scan at the bottom of the letter confirmed her fears. "Oh dear."
"It seems that I have two invitations, both for the same day," she replied to his unvoiced question, and smiled when she saw him raise his eyebrows. "This was delivered to me a few days ago," she explained, holding up the white slip of paper, "It is an invitation to visit, as well as an invitation to form a...relationship, of sorts, with another Family."
Her eyes were on the paper once more, so she failed to notice her companion stiffen at her words.
"Really." His voice was dull, and not at all what she expected, but she nodded. "Which...which Family is it? If you don't mind me asking." She smiled at the great pains the young man took to avoid offending those he met.
"The Gesso Family," she replied, "It seems that their Boss, Byakuran, wished to form some sort of...allegiance. Or that is the impression that I get, from reading this." When she looked at the Decimo, she saw that his eyes were fixed intently on the sheet of paper in her hands. "Would you like to read it, Sawada-san?" she asked, holding the paper out to her, and he quickly averted his gaze, shaking his head hurriedly.
"N-No, thanks," he said, and silence fell upon them once more, although it was evident that he was not as relaxed as he had been before. "Have you...will you...go?"
Tilting her head to a side, the young child gazed off into the distance for a long moment, her unusually wide, deep blue eyes glazed in thought.
"I don't know," she answered at last. "I have not written back yet, though, I had originally thought that there would be no harm in doing so..." Her voice lowered, "Yet, there is something about it all that makes me...wary. It makes me wonder if I should not be on my guard." She glanced at the brunette, her brows furrowed, "But that is ridiculous, isn't it? The Gesso have been nothing but...sensible, or at least, that is what I have gathered from meeting with them... Yet something..."
"...Doesn't feel right?"
"Exactly." Placing the letter back on the table, she closed her eyes for a brief moment. "If I think about it properly, though, my Family do not have that many allies outside our alliance with the Vongola –and those who have their own alliances with the Vongola do not approve or think very highly of us, except for the Cavallone, of course. So it would make sense to establish connections with other Families, if they seem willing to do so..."
The atmosphere in the room suddenly felt heavy.
"But –but didn't you...already accept Dino-san's invitation?" blurted out the brunet, a desperate note in his voice. "I –I mean, you said you accepted his invitation, so, so...you have to go with him, don't you? It would be...it would be rude not to, wouldn't it?"
"Well, yes, I suppose it would," she agreed, "although...if I explained it to-"
"-No! You can't!" She was startled by this outburst, and it showed. Yet her companion did not seem to notice, as he firmly gripped the arms of the chair he was seated on, unaware of the fact that his knuckles were turning white. "You can't meet Bya –the Gesso, it's too—" he stopped just as abruptly as he had reacted, and another awkward silence fell upon them.
He finally lowered his gaze, gazing at his lap, although she could see that his brows were still furrowed just as much as she could sense how troubled he was.
What had happened?
What had made him react in such a manner? Was it something she had said? Had she said-
It struck her suddenly, that this all had something to do with the Gesso Family. Either that, or the brunet wasn't pleased that she might turn down the Cavallone Decimo's invitation...and that did not make any sense.
If it was related to the Gesso, what could the reasons behind it be?
Blue eyes narrowed slightly in thought, because, now that she thought about it, this was not the first time something like this had happened, was it? Certainly, the Decimo had not reacted verbally in such a manner before, but...he had always been there whenever she met with Byakuran Gesso.
At meetings, he would be there, sitting where he could see her, and whenever the white haired Boss of the Gesso approached her, or attempted to direct her somewhere, so as to have a private conversation, he would be there, either with someone who wished to meet her, or telling her that she was meant to meet someone, and she must have forgotten about it.
I have never been by myself, in Byakuran Gesso's company, she realised suddenly, with the force of something akin to an epiphany, If it wasn't Sawada-san who found something or the other for me to be doing, it would be one of his Guardians. And sometimes, Uncle Reborn.
Surely that could not be normal?
And Gamma too, she thought suddenly, Gamma didn't like him from the time he first met him. Did he not tell me that he could not be trusted? She frowned, Yet he did not have any reason to say it, did he? He himself admitted that it was just a feeling...
Yet, was that not the same feeling she had first had, at the function last year when the white haired man had first introduced himself to her? After Sawada-san had interrupted their conversation –the first time of the many to come-, and when she had been walking away, had she not...felt something?
Had she not been unsettled by the white haired man, without having any reason to feel such a thing?
Mama always did say that I should rely on my intuition to guide me...
So Sawada-san was trying to keep her away from Byakuran Gesso. But why? What had happened, or what did he know about the man that made him behave in such a manner? What made him feel he had to...to protect her from—
('The Phantom Knight has been defeated! His injuries-! They're horrible!'
'No. No, I'm sorry, Phantom Knight. Your wounds are bad; rest, now. And...I understand. Your feelings, I understand them all. It's okay, Phantom Knight.'
'What? You want to go to their hideout? No, Princess! That's what he wants –he's just trying to test us!'
'It's okay. I have to meet him, to prevent any more victims.'
'Princess! Please reconsider! They're out to plunder us! Surely –surely an ally family who thinks the same as us will appear-!'
'By then it will be too late, Gamma. I sense a powerful force from him. ...No one but me will be able to stop him.')
She gasped at the feeling of overpowering dread ignited in her gut, almost making it difficult to breathe. The voices she had heard were ones that she was sure she recognised, how could she not, when two of them she heard on a daily basis, and when the third was hers?
But where was it from? And why was she hearing it? Surely, surely it couldn't be a premonition of things to come...for although her mama had said that she would soon start seeing things...she had not mentioned hearing things. She could not see anything of what was going on, all she could do was hear what was being said –and even that was disjointed, as though she was missing a great chunk that would help her make more sense out of things.
She heard a chair being pushed back roughly, followed by rushed footsteps before a warm hand was placed on her shoulder. Only then did she realise that she was slumped over the table, her breaths coming in quick gasps. "Uni –oh no, what is it? Uni? Uni!" There was a type of warmth emanating from the figure by her side, and she subconsciously found herself leaning towards him, seeking more of its comfort. "Uni-? Please, don't –you can't –"
The door to the office was slammed open just then.
"What have you done, you bastard?" Despite the heaviness that was slowly taking over her, she tried to open her mouth, to say something in her companion's defence, but no sound came through her lips.
"I –I didn't –we were talking, and then she just...she suddenly—I didn't do anything, I swear! I would never hurt her. Never!"
A pair of larger, warmer hands had gripped her shoulders, gently pulling her away from the desk, and when she opened her eyes she was able to catch a glimpse of concerned eyes and golden hair before she squeezed her eyes shut once more.
"Princess? What is it? What're you feeling?" She opened her mouth to answer, but once more found that she couldn't.
('Hmmm, and who's this again? Like I could know, since we've never seen each other before. Right, Uni-chan~?'
'Wha –it's him! Princess, be careful!'
'I thought there would be a baby coming, but you're far more charming than I'd imagined!'
'And you're more...ordinary than I thought you would be.'
'Haha! Nicely said. Hmm, so these are your escorts. The wielders of the Mare Rings you Giglio Nero are so proud of. I'm so jealous. Although...you seem to be missing someone...?'
'The Mist Guardian was defeated by Varia's swordsman, according to someone's trap.'
'Hmm, is that right? Surely protecting the Mare ring, one of the Tri-ni-sette pieces, was an order from your family, right, Uni-chan?'
'But standing while talking makes it hard to talk, doesn't it? If we could just see each other in private...'
'You bastard! As if we'll let-'
'Gamma. Look into my eyes. Do you see any recklessness?'
'Thank you. For everything. And, I ... ... ...')
Nausea rose within her, and she clamped her little hands over her mouth, her eyes squeezed shut as though to shut out the terrifying sensations brought about by the voices, the familiar voices, speaking in her head.
Tears of frustration and panic built up under her eyelids, and she was not aware of the worry on the faces of her Guardians and the Vongola Decimo as they saw this.
"G...Ga...mma," she gasped, still refusing to open her eyes, "I –I..." even breathing was becoming difficult, as though she was in a room where the walls were quickly closing in on her.
"What is it Princess?" There was an urgent note in his voice, "Princess?"
That was all she managed to say before a wave of darkness swept across her mind, engulfing both her and the voices she had been hearing. She couldn't be sure who was shouting, the Gamma-voice she was hearing in her head, or the Gamma who was kneeling beside her quickly slumping figure, but the Vongola Decimo's panicked call of 'Uni!' caught her attention.
There was a desperate note in that voice, as though its user really was afraid. Afraid for her.
In fact, it was eerily similar to the screams that haunted her; the screams that told her not to be afraid, and that 'he', whoever he was, would find another way, so she shouldn't—
That voice... the screams... it was Sawada-san...?
And just like that, the darkness overtook her, rendering her unconscious.
I'll be uploading the final chapter once I go over it again, though that won't be until late tomorrow, seeing how I've got uni tomorrow, and I sort of should be off to bed now. But I hope this was okay.
The quotes in italics are taken from various chapters in the manga, though some might have been a little altered –and by that, I mean they might be missing a word or two.
Till next time,