All characters © Amano Akira

Summary: I-Pin is upset about her future, Lambo tries to comfort, and they reflect on the past. TYL timeline.




With a sigh, Ipin turns the jar over in her hands again. There is plenty of paper yen inside, but it's the coins that chink tinnily as they hit the glass walls of the jar. Although the day is sunny and warm, Ipin takes comfort in the shade behind her uncle's shop where the shadows of the trees casting flickering, transient patterns on her arms, apron, and bare feet. She takes in the smells of ramen and grass and exhales again.

"That was two, now."

She looks up, smiling at Lambo and squinting ever so slightly even though his back is towards the sun. He is perspiring faintly in the balminess of the day, clad only in a white blouse and khaki cutoffs. His feet are also bare.

"No one should be sighing on a day like this," he says, troubled, and sits down on the stoop beside her. "Is it, um, anything I can help with?"

Ipin doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve, but she's not one to keep things painfully secret. She will evince her feelings of unrest, because she's seen the tasteless bravado that clouds the eyes of her friends and makes them turbid and unapproachable. So many of the people she knows are the types who will vainly try to put on the macho act; one of the things she admires about Lambo is that he's never had that quality.

"It's not enough," she answers after a moment, rotating the jar in her hands wearily. Lambo's brow furrows in confusion.

"What's not...?"

"This," she holds up the jar, "is not enough to get me into college."

He is silent for a moment before he holds out his hand and proclaims, "Walk with me."

"I can't pay the tuition," Ipin continues as she gets up to follow him, "and I don't want to spend the rest of my life in the ramen business. Do you know how frustrating that is?"

"Well, you could always join Tsuna's family," Lambo suggests halfheartedly. Ipin smiles, but her head shakes.

"Sure, they're rich, but no one in the Vongola even went to college," she protests in a tone that would have been mistaken for a bitter one if it had come out of anybody else's mouth. To Lambo's ears, her faint Chinese pronunciations and widened vowels make it impossible for anything she says to sound less than mellifluous.

"I know they're educated, but only in things pertaining to the mafia! I bet not a single one of them besides Hayato-san knows the first thing about calculus. Or physics."

Lambo runs a hand through his dark, nitid hair. His fingers become momentarily lost in the black before reemerging and falling back down to his side. He is never any good at giving advice, but seeing others in distress unsettles him more than he would like it to.

"Ipin," he begins, not sure of what will come out next, "Fon proclaimed you a double-black belt by the age of four. You memorized your 3,000th Japanese kanji at ten. You know how to live on your own, which is a lot more than I can say for any of us. I... think your education is advanced enough."

"But what of academics and grades? I want to learn, Lambo," Ipin says, twisting a braid absently over her shoulder. They pass some kids on the street who are playing hoop-tag with goofy, insouciant smiles on their faces and their cares seem lost in the summer day. It makes her feel strangely nostalgic. "The Vongola are missing that!"

"Not quite," Lambo says, smiling. "They are learning, in their own way."

"They don't even go to school."

"No," Lambo agrees, "but they have a lot to learn about themselves and about each other. Reborn—and even Tsuna—see that, but to those guys, improving upon their attitudes and their work is an education."

Ipin giggles, humored by the concept of character development as an education. "I suppose that's something that we'll never understand," she says. And it is true. Sometimes she thinks that the only ones who see how dysfunctional the famiglia really is are her and Lambo. Maybe it is because they are not related to the Vongola directly, or because they are not as involved with it as the other guardians and members are, but it has always been a mystery as to how those people never seem to notice their own idiosyncrasies and flaws.

She likes to think it's because they are ten years younger than the rest of them, part of a newer and more insightful generation.

Lambo gives a nod. Of course he is a Guardian himself, but he doesn't remember much of becoming one or how it had all started in the beginning. "We were all pretty crazy back then," he says, taking one of Ipin's long braids in his hand and brushing it up against her face so it tickles her cheeks. Since he swaps places with his child-self at least twice a month these days, much to the dismay of those around him, Lambo has a better notion than most of just how crazy things were.

She laughs and brushes his hand away. "Look," she says, distracted, pointing to the river looming ahead on their right. "It's the Namimori Kissing Bridge. Do you remember when Haru tried to get Tsuna to ride the boats they had that one Valentine's Day? And then when she finally did she'd forgotten that the river had completely frozen over?"

"Of course," Lambo replies, shaking his head amusedly at the memory. "We were nine."

"There's so much history in this town," she remarks, reading his features. As his smile fades, she too sobers. "Lambo...what will you do when you graduate?"

"Hm..." he contemplates. A bird's call rings then somewhere in the sky above, the sound distant behind the clouds. To him it's reminiscent of how Hibird's twitter used to sound like. "I'll probably work for the Vongola. They're counting on me."

Ipin's dark eyes fall. "So your future is set, too," she says quietly. "Do you think, Lambo, that things would have been different for us if we were ten years older, like the rest of them?"

This he can answer immediately. "Not at all. We'd still end up the same way, I think."

"Would we have been for them more?"

Lambo thinks of all the times that Gokudera had sat down with him to help him with his homework, all the times Kyoko had dressed him up for her tea parties, and all of the times Shamal had reluctantly bandaged his cuts. "Well, they have us to set an example for, and we have their shoes to follow," he notes.

Ipin is thinking of the time that Chrome taught her how to French-braid her hair. "Yes," she agrees, "and we can also use the Vongola before us not only as a role model but sometimes as an example of what not to do." She grins at this, recalling so many conflicts in the past that could have been avoided but hadn't due to sheer stubbornness or pride.

"Agreed. I kind of like our generation better," Lambo says lazily, his eyes lidded with the satisfaction that Ipin seems to have cheered up.

"Plus, we turn out to be quite the killers by the time we're their age."

Lambo grins. "Wait until they see your Twenty-Years-Later form."

Ipin looks to the sky, noting the orange and red wash creeping into the blue. "I should get back before Ojisan wonders where I am. Thank you, Lambo," she bows. He knows that he wasn't able to give much help but he does know that he was able to make her smile. He breaks into a winsome smile of his own, and together they walk back with their shadows lengthening behind them.

As they walk the sun sets on the glass windows of the dango shop, where a six-year-old Lambo had once made Sawada Nana spend 3,260 yen in one afternoon on mitarashi dango. The rays also casts an ethereal orange light on the steps behind the Kendo center, where Senior Disciplinary Member Hibari Kyouya had once sat and taught Ipin a memorable trick for memorizing kanji.

They head past the town pool that's closing for the day, where a crazy senior named Sasagawa Ryohei had once tried to challenge everyone in the deep end to a diving competition on the day of his graduation. Beyond the pool and across the parking lot is a small department store which used to be called Akihabara before a man named Xanxus blew off the entrance sign on his visit to Japan for the Vongola Inheritance Ceremony. The store adopted a slightly shorter name soon after.

Next to the department store is the wholesale market and eatery. The place has never thrived like it used to four years ago, after an Italian woman with goggles managed to contaminate all of the market's produce in one day. It made the news.

Finally they pass Namimori Middle School. Lambo and Ipin are sophomores there now, and are part of a well-behaved graduating class. In fact, all of the graduating classes have been noted for their outstanding social conduct, ever since the legendary Hibari Kyouya made the Disciplinary Committee an official part of the Board of Education. He was offered the job of Superintendent at nineteen, but refused due to prior commitments. It was a shock to everyone.

There are strange depressions in the earth behind the school's baseball field that make the ground lumpy and uneven where some earthly disturbance had once left its mark. Dynamite, perhaps. And the baseball field itself now bears the plaque of a batter who had won Namimori the championship long ago, some boy named Yamamoto Takeshi.

Lambo walks back home after Ipin's returned to her uncle's shop, as the cicadas buzz and chirp around him and the dusk fireflies begin to twinkle in the approaching night. He looks down the familiar streets of Namimori and remarks on how much this place has grown on him.

People leave their marks in one form or another. He supposes he's left his too, in some way. Even though Tsuna and his friends have grown up and relocated to Italy to officially join the mafia world, Lambo smiles because they haven't left, not really.

They're still here.