Swimming through Sick Lullabies
Author: Jusrecht

Characters/Pairing: Dino/Hibari, with lots of Tsuna

Warning(s): Not a happy fic, an army of original characters

Notes: Written for D18 Fic/Art Exchange. The prompt was: a story of a murder; how Dino is hiring Hibari to be his hitman.
Actually, this is more like a parallelism between Dino and Tsuna in their role as a boss than a D18 fic orz

"I cannot," Tsuna said miserably, "even begin to say how sorry I am."

Dino answered nothing for a long time as he sat in mourning, silent and grim. The massive oak table separating them felt like an ocean of differences to Tsuna. There had been times when it was no more than a symbol of power and Dino had laughed at its ridiculous breadth. But not today.

Dino had been smiling for as long as Tsuna could remember; even the Millefiore and their long-reaching arms had not robbed him of grins and vibrant optimism. But Millefiore had been an outside interference, a demon from somewhere distant. A murder of a man bearing Cavallone's banner by another who had sworn allegiance to Vongola was a veritable thorn. Two murders were all but poison to their blood. But even as Tsuna stumbled in apology and hung his head in shame and guilt, the Cavallone men lay in satin-lined coffins, wept for by their wives and children and families.

An apology would never be enough. A debt of blood could not be so easily settled.

"I assume the matter is being investigated?" Dino said at last. For once, he had surrendered himself to solemn black—suit and tie and leather gloves—and the colour swallowed him, stripped him of the person and leaving only the Don. It was such a painful sight that Tsuna must make the effort not to look away.

"Hayato is on it as we speak. I promise you, Dino-san, we will find Guido Crivelli and make sure that he provides an explanation for his deeds. Maybe this is all just a huge misunderstanding." He swallowed, pinned by Dino's blank gaze. "I only hope that these incidents have not ruined the relationship between our Families beyond repair."

From across the table, Dino's eyes remained steady on him, the dead bodies of his men yet to be buried.

"Of course not, Tsuna," he smiled then, polite, correct, and somehow completely a stranger.

The funeral was a quiet affair. The widow had wept her tears dry and now stood pale-faced before the gaping hole at her feet. Black lace shaded her eyes but left unveiled a pair of unpainted lips. It made Dino wonder, for the briefest moment, why she did not wish to look her best on the occasion; it was her last meeting with a husband who had loved her and whom she had loved.

Taken aback, he inhaled sharply and the morbid thought slipped away like a vile, unwelcome snake. At his side, Tsuna stood with his shoulders bowed by a great weight. Still so young, still so precariously seated, he braved the hostility running rampant in the Cavallone ranks with little more than a heart overflowing with kindness. Timoteo's death had arrived as a surprise to them all and he had left in his wake an heir still unwilling, still unprepared despite Reborn's endless hard works.

They were much too alike in that regard. Tsuna's strength sprang from the solidity of his bonds—with family, friends, even strangers that burrowed their way too easily into his heart. Yamamoto stood to his left, a proof of this attachment, ever a sword that both killed and shielded; in return, Tsuna swore to let no harm come to them and his kindness became an armour.

Dino would have protected him for this, for their paralleled fates, for the hardships he knew Tsuna still faced in the young months of his leadership. Genuine sympathy would have had him patting Tsuna's back and whispering encouragements, but sympathy alone would not settle a debt.

The love for his Family always came first and foremost. Dino, too, was a boss that lived and breathed for the people he loved.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, knowing they both listened, his little brother and the dead man.

"He will do something."

Tsuna looked up sharply from his tightly laced fingers to Yamamoto's face, his brow folded in thoughts and wariness. Beyond their car's tinted windows, the green, sprawling Italian countryside sped by unnoticed.

"Dino-san?" he responded uncertainly. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."

Yamamoto smiled, humourless. "You saw his eyes. He won't let the matter rest, Tsuna, not like this."

The words hammered home like a mace of ice. "But he can't possibly…" Tsuna trailed off, remembering Dino's face, the stranger's smile carefully painted on it. A shiver crawled up his spine, a sly guest uninvited.

"I hope not," Yamamoto conceded with a sigh. "If all goes well and Gokudera finds Crivelli on time, then it's going to be fine. But we should be ready, just in case."

Tsuna stared at him, shaken. Away from the eyes of the world, the back of the limousine felt too big with only the two of them in it. So cocooned, the empty silence was quick to overshadow his hopes. There was still the second funeral to attend tomorrow, at the second man's hometown; the mere thought of it made him cringe. But he would go, prepared once more to face many furious, accusing looks and angry railing. It was the least he could do for a man whose death was laid at his doorstep.

"Dino-san is a kind man," he said softly, although his racing heart would not quiet. "He won't do anything like that."

Yamamoto nodded, but did not look at him.

Few things remained true despite time's passing and one of them was the nature of grandeur. Since the beginning of recorded time, nothing heralded fame and power as clearly as the splendour of riches. The Cavallone mansion was no exception. Built by the improvident Cavallone Sesto, it boasted all manners of opulence which spoiled both the eyes of the guests and the pride of the owner. From marble floors and painted ceilings to priceless antiquities which filled every wall and corner, they all spoke of wealth and colours of life.

Only the private conference chamber on the second floor was excused from such extravagant treatment. A long wooden table and ten comfortable chairs were the only furnishings in the room. Nothing hung from the four squares of white walls and with no window, the air was still within, only to be stirred occasionally by the sighs from the air-conditioner.

Most of the times, Dino was grateful for its austerity. The room was certainly no place of celebration.

"We will wait for a month."

Among his five Caporegimes, Claudio Ferra was known to have the shortest fuse. A man of forty-seven with an ample belly and a gleaming bald head, he put as much vitality into his voice as he did into his flamboyant appearance.

"A month!"

"Out of respect," Dino said before anyone else could contribute to the protest. "Vongola is our ally and they have the right to deal with their errant. If they let the matter slide, then we will take action, but no sooner."

"What about the respect for our dead brothers?" Claudio growled, voice bristling with overlapping emotions. On his feet, his impressive height exposed and flaunted, he looked an angry creature ready to strike. Despite sitting at the head of the table, Dino still felt like a small child in front of him.

"I don't forget that, which is why I'm giving them a time limit of one month."

"It's our revenge, Boss," the cold voice of Lorenza D'Arco, his only female Caporegime, reminded him. "It should be our hands which draw the blood."

"Yes, if we existed alone. Yes, if it wasn't Vongola's men who wronged us. But under these circumstances we need to look around and watch our steps and more importantly, we must honour the alliance. This isn't a nod at Vongola's might, but us giving them a chance to rectify their mistake and keep their people in line."

His explanation was greeted only with silence. A sense of loss hung in the air like mist, like a funeral shroud that concealed the wounds of their dead, and it affected each of them differently. Only two forbore to wear their emotions on their sleeves; Giovanni Scavello had donned a mask-like expression down to the emotionless curve of his lips, and Sergio Martoni, the most senior of Cavallone's Caporegimes, was able to hide his sentiments behind the carved lines of age and experience on his face.

"It was because of a woman?" Sergio asked instead, rough voice tinged with disbelief.

"Surely you know of the power of the fairer sex, Sergio." Vicenzo Angotti was the youngest, roughly the same of Dino's age, and he grinned now with the brashness of youth in the gleam of his eyes and teeth. "They have brought down kingdoms, killed millions, and of course destroyed innumerable friendships. Every single story always has the same beginning: a rift between two men."

Dino would have managed a weak smile if his Consigliere had not responded first. "This is no laughing matter," Bernardo said dryly. At his fifty-fourth year, he remained an elegant, handsome man with a cultured voice and polished manner. His solemn grey eyes, a weapon like almost every other part of him, now turned to regard his boss. "I understand your reasoning, Boss, but we cannot control Vongola's actions. If in the end they decide only to strip these men off power and no further, what do you suppose we must do?"

"Their Decimo is a softy," Lorenza scoffed. "He has never killed, not once, and I doubt he'll taint his 'purity' now for our sake."

"He has killed," Dino allowed a hint of steel into his voice at her slight, "and saved the world through the deed. Besides, this matter does not concern our two Families only, but also the entire alliance. He has no choice but to take action."

Bernardo cleared his throat, a small, delicate sound at the tail of his Don's vehemence. "The question is, does he know that?"

"Yes." And if it turned out that Tsuna did not know, then surely Gokudera would make him aware of the situation. Dino was not about to lose hope. It could still end peacefully, once the damage had been sufficiently contained.

"But if he decides to favour his benevolence like so many other times?" Bernardo persisted. The gleam in his eyes was knowing and like so many other times, his calm, refined manner could push Dino into a corner where aggression failed.

"Then we will hunt Guido Crivelli down by ourselves," he finally answered, and the heavy cloak of a red promise settled around his shoulders.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, dawning clear and bright. Tsuna had just woken up, his mind filled with anxiety at the thought of a visit from Kyoko and her parents later that day, when Gokudera came to him with news of a shooting in a pizzaria downtown.

"It happened last night." He paused and tried to catch his boss' eyes, but Tsuna was doing his best to avoid looking at him. "Tenth, among the dead shooters is Guido Crivelli's second brother. The other two are Bucking Horse's men."

Tsuna was very nearly unsurprised. Despite his stubbornness to cling to optimistic hopes, he had known better, had known for a long time that it wasn't a generous, hopeful world where he lived in. But as always, he had had to try, because he could not do otherwise.

"It couldn't have ended that easily, could it?" he whispered to himself, mournful, and now it was Gokudera who could not look at him.

Dino was beyond livid. The conference chamber was deathly silent as he strode in, a perfect match for his foul mood. A glance swept across the room confirmed that everyone was present except Bernardo, who was paying the Vongola Decimo a visit to try and untangle the situation.

"They were not there by accident, were they?" he said coldly. Vicenzo, who was effectively responsible for the men in question, scarcely managed to cover his panic.

"Paolo lost the nephew he raised like his own son, it was only natural that he tried to investigate–"

"I said a month!"

His angry burst echoed in the closed chamber like the trail of a gunshot. No one dared to move, let alone hold his furious gaze, not even Sergio. Dino swallowed the sourness in his mouth, almost like a taste of a hollow victory, and sat down slowly in his chair. "A month was what we promised Vongola Decimo. Paolo and Luigi went against my order and now look what happened."

Claudio, always rash, always ready for a confrontation, jumped on his words without a moment's waste. "Are you saying that they deserved their death, Boss? Even Luigi who only tried to help a friend?"

"I am saying that they went against my order," Dino retorted. "If they had not appeared at the pizzaria, whoever shot them would have had no reason to shoot."

The twin red spots on Claudio's face suggested that he was prepared for a brutal round of arguments, but Lorenza had spoken first, her voice as cutting as a knife. "The fact remains; we have four of our people dead now. Vongola has lost but one."

"If you want to make this a tally," Dino said coldly, "I suggest we prepare our own coffins first because it's going to be a war."

"With Vongola under Sawada Tsunayoshi?"

The depreciating hint in Giovanni's tone was unmistakable. Dino looked at him, amazed; Giovanni had always been an ally he could rely on to vote for the less vicious choice, and his cool logic had proven invaluable numerous times. Despite his rank and rumoured affair with the ruthless Lorenza, he disliked bloodshed and always conducted himself within the restraints of good manners. To hear him so openly reproach the leader of an allied Family was certainly unheard-of.

"We don't want a war with Vongola," Dino reminded him. Giovanni returned it with a polite, almost pitying smile, his steepled nine fingers only covering a corner of his lips.

"They leave us no choice, Boss."

"There is always a choice," Dino persisted. It took a tremendous amount of self-restraint to keep his voice level. "We cannot be victims to circumstances—we must not. Those aren't grounds for war."

"So your verdict is to let them get away with it?"

Sergio's question brought the mounting tension a standstill. The expectant silence was pressing, close ranks of soldiers on his heels, at his fore. The question itself was absurd—morality aside, there was no way he as Don Cavallone could ignore this second incident.

"No." Dino closed his eyes in defeat, knowing full well that there was no turning back. "There is still a debt to pay."

The gleam in his Caporegimes' eyes sickened him to the stomach, but he could not pretend that he did not understand. Even in the absence of honour, four deaths and the stream of funereal tears must have its due payment in thick drops of blood. "Paolo and Luigi are your men," he addressed Vicenzo, "so this is going to be your job. Do it quickly and quietly."

Vicenzo's gaze held such unwavering determination that Dino could almost see the redness that soon would flood the streets. "Thank you, Boss," he replied quietly, and the weight of his words was that of a vow.

Consigliere Bernardo Perini was a formidable man, Tsuna could not help but admire. His face did not change as he listened to Yamamoto's report about the murder—no, not murder, a hit, a swift and efficient kill neatly executed. "It's Mario Crivelli, Guido's youngest brother," Yamamoto was speaking, his voice slightly deepened by the nature of his report. "His wife had just returned from the grocery store when she found him in front of their house. One shot to the back of his head and another to his knee."

It was inevitable that everyone in the room recognised the signature of Vicenzo Angotti, after working so closely side-by-side for years. Consigliere Perini remained silent and did not offer any explanation. Tsuna wondered if he truly needed one; for all his pacifist ideologies, he could not sit in this chair and not understand the mechanism of revenge.

"Where is Guido?" he asked to break the silence.

A pained expression settled crossed Gokudera's face. "I haven't found him, Tenth, I'm terribly sorry. He hides deep in areas heavily infested with oppositions against your rule. You told us not to touch them, but they will not help us unless we use some measure of coercion."

"No," Tsuna's reply was prompt, decisive. "We will find him, but we are not going to hurt anyone in order to get to him."

He could see the staunch admiration in Gokudera's eyes at war with the darker ripples of frustration. Yamamoto remained neutral, both hands gathered behind his back, his gaze averted to a random spot on Tsuna's desk. It was Consigliere Perini who responded after a while, his gaze never leaving Tsuna. "But we must find him quickly," he said, voice as mild and smooth as varnished wood, "before he has the chance to retaliate."

If you had only waited, Tsuna near accused, resentment rising sharply inside his chest. Only guilt held him back, the knowledge that it all had begun with Crivelli and Crivelli did not regard him as a boss. He was not the well-admired Ninth, not the fearsome Xanxus; he was the kindly, soft, weak Vongola Decimo, and Guido Crivelli had no respect toward him.

"Yes, we must find him quickly," he admitted at last, his strangled voice echoing dully inside the otherwise silent chamber. Every time he gave in, a part of Tsunayoshi died, fragmenting into sands that trickled from the person he was to the role he must be. When he turned to Gokudera, his voice was steadier, emptier. "Do what you have to do, but try not to harm them. At least physically."

By the end of the journey, one half of the hourglass would be empty.

The expected retaliation did not happen until three weeks of mourning had passed.

Alfonso was not, in any way, related to Paolo's family, Giovanni told him; he did not even belong to the same capo. The only reason why he had been targeted—and it had not been an execution, nothing as simple as that, because mutilation required time, preparation, and most of all, cruelty—was because he had been known as a member of the Cavallone Famiglia. No more, no less.

Dino noticed at once the firm set of Romario's jaw. Alfonso was a cousin he had grown up with, shared youth's pain and sweetness with, and now that boy in his memories was no more than pieces of limbs bathed in blood, his eyes forever frozen in terror. One of the men fleeing from the scene had been captured, now awaiting his fate in their interrogation house. With this knowledge in mind, Romario looked at Dino, his eyes as hard as ice.

"Allow me to do this, Boss."

If there was one man in the Cavallone Family who could handle a knife better than the rest of the world combined, it was the Don's right-hand-man himself. The first time Dino had discovered this part of the man he had come to regard as a father, he had felt the sharp sting of betrayal. But he was no longer that naïve boy with hopes like glittering little stars clutched between his fingers, and Romario treated him accordingly.

"It needs to be done," he added, sensing his boss' hesitation. "We need to know where Crivelli is to end this problem."

Numbed by the sweeping pressure, Dino reached out, his fingers firm around Romario's wrist. "Only until he divulges the location," he impressed, dimly grateful that only Giovanni was present to watch this moment of weakness. Romario's nod was swift, and then he was gone.

For the next few hours, Dino lay awake in his large, cold bed, staring at the brightly lit ceiling and trying not to think of the man who was now completely under Romario's mercy. At two in the morning, the dreaded knocks came to his door and Romario stepped in after permitted entry.

"I saw that your light was still on, Boss," he stalled by way of greeting. Dino only looked at him from the bed, waiting; was that a hint of blood he smelled in the air or was his mind playing malicious tricks on him? Exposed to the brightness of the room, Romario's hands were clean and not a hint of tremor passed between his fingers—as if they had not wielded a knife only moments ago and made a man scream the truth.

"We know where Guido Crivelli is."

Dino let go of the breath he had been holding, dismay and relief at once clashing to fill the void left behind. He had not expected less, not from Romario, but it took him a while to rise from the bed and find his voice.

"Let's get this over with." Dino reached for the coat abandoned at the feet of his bed and begun his short walk back to the conference room. Behind him, Romario had begun calling every one of of his Caporegimes, the hour be damned. The first battle was at their doorstep.

Even without eyes and ears constantly prowling the streets, Tsuna could guess correctly what manner of words was whispered about him beyond his gate. That he was weak. That he could not keep his men under control. That members of the Vongola rebelled right and left against his investiture as their Tenth and he could do nothing about them.

Crivelli was smart. He knew enough to keep moving as the silent, deadly war waged all around him. Victims dropped dead like flies and still he escaped every net cast by both the Vongola and the Cavallone, until one day.

It was pure luck that finally allowed Gokudera to find Guido Crivelli after almost three months of running. Wrists bound like a common criminal, he was an angry man herded in by the equally angry Storm Guardian into the interrogation room. Even with no possible escape in sight, only wildness shone in his face at the sight of his supposed boss.

"They killed my brothers," he had snarled before Tsuna could say a word. "All three. I will not rest until I get my hands on every single one of them."

"You struck first."

The reprimand only served to aggravate him further. "My brother only did what was right!" Crivelli was shouting now. "That woman was his! They would have married next spring if not for that son of a bitch Frega suddenly coming and strutting around as he pleased. And then she said that she wasn't marrying him! It was a matter of a man's honour!"

And the honour had cost Luis Frega and another Cavallone man their life, and thus begun the entire chain of revenge. Tsuna had stopped counting the number of casualties from both sides once it had passed fifteen, taking comfort in the emptiness of ignorance. Now he looked at this man who had lost three brothers in the eye and said, "Too many people have died."

"I'm not a coward."

"Think of your family," he persisted, mind spinning fast to match the blur of thoughts racing past him. "Your mother. Your wife. Your children. Your brothers' children. Who will take care of them if you're gone too?"

The dark look which gathered in Crivelli's face was suddenly more prominent. "During the Ninth's reign," he practically spat the words, "we never had to worry about our families if something happened to us."

Tsuna could feel his frustration sharpening into something uglier as that particular wound, not yet healed, was once more scratched and probed. He bit his own tongue to discourage any initial response and give himself a moment to rearrange his composure. Obviously Crivelli had very little to lose at this point. He had thought himself finished when they had found him, and hate only spurred him on.

"I can guarantee your family's safety," Tsuna offered at last, "if you give me your word to cease any further attempt of revenge."

"'Guarantee'?" Crivelli sneered. "It means very little coming from a man with so little power."

Gokudera moved from his station by the door at this insult, but Tsuna shook his head, telling him to stand down. "I will talk to Don Cavallone," he said instead. "Our Families have been allies for a long time, I am convinced that we can reach an agreement."

"And you trust that son of a bitch? He must be the one who ordered the hit on Mario!"

Of course he was. Oh, Dino-san.

At the end of his tether, Tsuna steeled himself and pushed his misery aside. "Yes, I trust him. Both sides have lost too many since then and neither of us can afford to lose more. This must end now."

"It will never end," Crivelli vowed.

"It must." Tsuna heard his own voice echoing loudly in the interrogation chamber, his own vow. "You will stop and I will guarantee your safety. This is my word as Vongola Decimo."

A flicker of defiance shone brightly across Crivelli's pale face, but it died down just as quickly, as if a pair unseen fingers had snuffed it out. It was now a man bowed standing in front of him, and Tsuna knew he had won.

"It's over."

A dumbfounded silence was their first reaction. Dino kept his face blank through the last strands of that horrified pause, which were soon followed by an eruption of outraged voices, all clearly a breath away from calling him names. It almost touched a wry smile to his lips, but he allowed the scandalised protests to swell for a moment, and then banged his fist on the conference table.

"I said it's over," he repeated, his voice low enough to be a whispered threat. "I have the Vongola Decimo's words that the people responsible have been taken care of. They will not make a move against us anymore. We have killed enough of their side and they have killed enough of ours. It's time to end it."

None of them responded for a long time, their bloodshot eyes staring at him as if he was mad. Behind his unyielding mask, Dino wondered if desperation could be equalled to madness in some ways, for they felt much too similar.

"We have been wronged, Boss," Vicenzo finally spoke, his voice hoarse with brimful emotions. "We can still fight."

"To what end?"

"Guido Crivelli still breathes."

"His brothers don't." Aware of the shifting moods, he stalled any forthcoming argument with a raised hand. "I ask all of you to listen, just for a moment. I am your boss and you are all a part of me. I bleed as you bleed, but should this continue, it will not end with my death. It will end with obliteration of the entire Famiglia. We are both formidable Families; the only way to bring Vongola down is to bring us down with them and each and every one of you knows this."

Lorenza still had her temple riddled with frowns and her lips pursed, unimpressed. "How can we trust them, after everything that has happened?" she demanded.

"By beginning to trust them. How else can you prove the value of a trust?"

"And wait for the trust to turn against us?"

"If it ever turns against us," he replied dryly. "If I may remind you, the Vongola Decimo is not known for his duplicity. But I will promise you this: should they spill more of our blood, I will retaliate. But I will not make war out of bloodlust masquerading as honour. We are not as low as that."

"And yet we are as low as cowards?" Claudio sharply barked. Dino found himself fighting for control, his hands itching for the sure language of his whip.

"Not as much as the cowards who cannot even bring themselves to admit they have gone too far."

The Caporegime turned into an angry shade of red. "Are you calling me–"

"Claudio," he cut in, his voice smoothed down to a tone of contrite regret—wit and anger was never a good match, he should have remembered. "This is rage taking over all of us. Do you think I don't understand your frustration? Mine has killed twenty-three people and half of them had no relation whatsoever to the original cause. Now here is a chance to end it peacefully, to spare the rest of our Famiglia the same loss and grief. Tell me that it isn't worth it."

The words seemed to settle him, just barely. Claudio sank back into his seat to simmer in silence, hostility not yet gone from his stance. Dino almost didn't dare to breathe as he waited. His impromptu speech might have eased the worst of the jagged-edged tension, but he knew exactly what sort of people his Caporegimes were. Inaction left them restless and uncertain, even one bound by a blood promise.

"This is a dangerous bet, Boss," Bernardo said at last, maintaining a noncommittal tone all abreast his voice.

"Yes," Dino nodded, "but no more dangerous than ignoring a peace offer made specifically by the Vongola Decimo. Should we waste this one, there may not be another."

"But if there are further attempts from their part, then can we be sure that you will take suitable actions without delay?"

"If there are further attempts," he said quietly, solemnly, "if there is any attempt at all, I will make sure that Guido Crivelli is dead before I come to ask for your forgiveness."

"Then we are with you, Boss," Sergio declared. A nod came from Bernardo and Giovanni, mere tight-lipped acquiescence from the others, but they all spoke the same accord. Dino closed his eyes and nearly wept, suppressed relief a hot scorch in his chest.

November dawned cold and sullen, every day a frown laid across the sky. Italy was decidedly warmer, but Tsuna missed the sharp bite of Japan's approaching winter after being away for so long. To make up for the grimness of longing, he took comfort in the fact that almost ten weeks now had passed without a single incident. Every single day, he dreaded another confrontation which might threaten their ceasefire, but none came. Crivelli maintained his dormancy, and so did the rest of his followers.

Tsuna celebrated the first anniversary of his reign with a consoling thought: his ideals and shortcomings notwithstanding, maybe he could succeed at this whole Mafia business. Kyoko's smile still saddened him, but it also made him even more determined not to cast away his old self. Perchance they could exist together in the long run, the person and the role; after all, a precarious peace was still a manner of peace.

Yes, he could live with that.

"It has happened, Boss."

Dino could feel his face twisting into an ugly grimace at Bernardo's words. The moment sharpened into a hard fist on his desk's smooth surface, and as his knuckles revelled in the pain, all he could think of was: he promised me.

There was no shame in asking, in pleading, and even if there was, Tsuna doubted he could still feel it. It was past midnight, and Dino had agreed to accept his phone call, but remained silent through his stuttering apology. Tsuna had stopped asking himself where this audacity had come from, to apologise for the loss of nearly thirty-two people in one night with no more than a smattering of explanations.

"You gave me your words, Tsuna," Dino finally spoke, not so much a greeting as an accusation. There was such pain in his voice that made Tsuna bite his lips so hard they must have bled.

"I know. And I did. I really believed that Guido would restrain himself from taking rash actions. I cannot say how sorry I am, Dino-san, I have disappointed you, but…"

Silence stumbled in as words deserted him. They were mere excuses, no more than those petty things one hid behind. A boss should not have spoken like that, he knew, should not have bowed his head so low in front of another, but there was little else he could do but beg for forgiveness.

Thirty-two people. And I was the one who set that murderer free.

"This must stop." Dino's voice was thin, stretched across the same conflict which had likewise strained their relationship. "You can make it stop."

Tsuna knew at once what he meant. "No," he replied, breathless, "I cannot do what you ask. It's out of the question."

"He went against your orders, Tsuna."

"It doesn't mean he deserves to–"

die, but people were already dead, others dying, and some of them would haunt his dreams, both sleeping and waking. Tsuna abhorred killing. He had never killed, not a man. Byakuran was not a man. Byakuran had dissolved into a burst of silvery light—a power of evil, he had convinced himself, a breed of force which had taken shape and masqueraded as a man. No blood had stained his gloves, no proof that he had killed anyone, and all the way he had held on fast to that conviction.

He had not killed.

"Please give me another chance," he was pleading, grasping at the last straws, anything to keep him afloat. "This time I will make sure that he does as is told. No more blood will be spilled. I know my words may count very little now after everything that has happened, but I give you my promise, Dino-san. I beg you, please accept it."

A refusal hung between them, in the air, as palpable as the feel of hard plastic phone in his hand. Dino kept his silence for a long time, to the point that it had become a tool of torment. To ease the spiralling anxiety, Tsuna dug his nails into the underside of his desk, using whatever excess to lengthen his patience. He would have an answer if he must wait until the sun's seventh dawn.

"I'll see what I can do."

It might be the utter lack of inflection in Dino's voice, or it might be the work of his Vongola's inborn intuition. Whatever the cause, Tsuna knew, without a shred of doubt, that he had pleaded in vain.

A heavenly scent filled his nose when Romario walked into the dimly lit office, a cup of steaming espresso in hand. For all his aching gratitude, Dino could summon no more than a faint smile to his lips, any length of speech stemmed by the memory of Tsuna's pleas. There was no way to tell for certain what another chance could do given Tsuna's current resolve, but he had played with chances long enough.

He would do what he could, but not what his 'little brother' wanted.

"Where is Bernardo?" Dino asked after his first sip of the coffee. The taste and warmth of it cleared his mind somewhat as an imagined strength coaxed his drained muscles to move. It needed to get done.

"He went home, Boss. You dismissed him a few hours ago."

"Right." He stared at the clock on his desk, which hands were both pointing at 'one'. Unconsciously his mind counted the time difference between Italy and Japan, between Pienza and Namimori. "Tsuna asked for another chance," he added, as if it was of no importance.

Romario was careful enough to keep his face expressionless. "What will you do?"

Dino smiled, the grimness his only armour for what would come next. "What I have promised you all. And it will be done, as soon as possible."

A shadow of pain flashed across Romario's face but he did not attempt a reply, support or discouragement. Dino took a deep breath, his fingers trembling ever so slightly as they traced a familiar sequence of numbers on his cell phone.

It was time to end it once and for all.

"Have you learned nothing?"

Reborn was angry, angrier than Tsuna had ever seen. His eternally childlike face rarely yielded anything, but it did now and there was no doubt that the Arcobaleno would have killed him if he were not so indispensable, especially during these difficult times.

"Have I taught you nothing? Have I failed so badly in teaching you that you are not only useless but also a coward?"

"I want him protected," Tsuna repeated, trying his best to ignore the tremor which continually harassed his calm. Reborn had Leon in his iron grasp, ready to morph into a deadly gun—but on the periphery of that coal-black anger, there was the smallest hint of pride, and it did not escape Tsuna's instinct-honed perception. He stood his ground firmly in return, feeding off what little regard his former tutor had for him. Standing silent as marble statues about the room were his Guardians, five of them, waiting for his decision.

"He is a traitor."

"I still want him protected," he persisted. There was a human's life at stake, to back down now was never a choice. "Dino-san said that he would do what he could, but the way things stand now, I'm not sure it will affect anything. Guido Crivelli is a member of the Vongola. I am responsible for his life and I will protect him as best as I can."

"Forfeit that right and give him to Dino."

Tsuna shook his head sadly. "It will not end there, Reborn. Crivelli has many followers loyal to him. They will see my action as an insult and avenge him no matter what I try to say."

There was a strained pause as Reborn closed his eyes, breathing deeply, tapping the minute reservoir of his patience. Suns were not known for their patience and the Arcobaleno was no exception.

"You're asking me to turn a blind eye," Tsuna tried again, "but this is about a life, Reborn, I cannot pretend that I don't know. You wouldn't, if it was my life on the line."

The look on Reborn's face spoke otherwise, but he did not respond to the challenge. "When a weed has grown in your garden," he said instead, "you will have to cut it off or risk your entire collection."

"Not if I still have a choice," Tsuna argued, unrelenting. "He still belongs to the garden. I will not abandon him."

"Your stubbornness will bring ruin to–"

"I will do it."

All eyes darted toward Ryouhei, who had been standing quietly against the far wall near the door. Tsuna felt tears gathering in his eyes but held them back for the sake of it. Ryouhei was always the kindest, the most forgiving—and sometimes, Tsuna thought, as clueless as he himself would have been if Reborn had not insisted to put him on the frontline every single damn time.

"Will you really?"

"Yes." He even grinned, oblivious to Reborn's glare. "I don't want anyone to get killed either. You can count on me, Tsuna."

"You're alive."

Hibari Kyouya had never concerned himself with small talks, but for a moment Dino had to wonder if this happened to be one, at long last. The spill of golden-red light from the garden beyond hid his face in shadow's arms as the sun slowly glided low into the west. There had been a hint of amusement in his voice, but sarcasm was not an unfamiliar weapon in the hand of the Cloud Guardian.

Unsure, Dino settled for a small, mirthless laugh. "It's good to see you too, Kyouya," he greeted, cautiously stepping in. It took him precisely fourteen steps to walk the span of the room and reach the open shoji screen Hibari had been leaning on. The length of his outer kimono, a rich purple colour with silver threads, effortlessly reached the tatami floor and gave him a majestic air which was not at all unusual for the man he had proven himself to be.

"I've come to ask for your help."

Arms languidly crossed in front of his chest, Hibari met his gaze, impassive. "I'm not interested."

"You're the only one who can end this," Dino went on, completely ignoring the swift rebuff. "I need him dead, but it can't be my hand which deals the blow."

Hibari closed his eyes, a further sign of rejection, but Dino was far from finished. He kept both of his hands fisted at each side and continued, "I cannot trust Tsuna to keep him in line. His kindness is often perceived as a weakness and there will be another Crivelli, and another, and another who will try to defy him. I will not bet my men's life on it."

"It's none of my business."

"And that is why I'm asking for your help," he pressed on. "Any move made by me or any member of the Cavallone will be seen as an invitation to even the score. But if it's you, a Vongola Guardian, then it is an internal affair settled within the Family. It will be seen as justice dispensed by the Tenth Vongola himself."

Hibari's face remained expressionless although his grey eyes did not. "You seek to use me, Bucking Horse?" he murmured, almost too soft to be a question—and there was such quiet wonder in his voice that had Dino scrambling for evasion at once.

"I'm asking for your help."

"Same difference."

"It matters."

"To you perhaps."

"Yes," the answer left his mouth in a thoughtless tumble, his sight fragmenting into motley. They reassembled into the image of Hibari's face after a moment, as sharp-defined as ever, and Dino felt the bitterness of truth on his tongue. "Yes, I seek to use you. I must use you. This is the best way to end it." He paused, the rush of air into his lungs cold and shaky despite the sun-warmed air. And then, "Guido Crivelli must die."

There was a long moment of silence, and then Hibari lowered his eyelids, a slow-spreading smirk on his lips. Dino saw it all, and for the briefest moment, the tiniest splinter of a second, he hated the Cloud almost as much as he hated himself.

The news of the massacre did not come to him until nearly twelve hours after the deed. It was Kyoko who had first alerted him of her brother's absence. Yesterday had been their parents' anniversary, but so far he had failed to call, even less appear; while she understood the demands of his job, if Tsuna could possibly contact him, or at least make sure that he was all right since he had never forgotten to call before…

After his own attempts went unanswered for three times in a row, Tsuna sent Yamamoto to the last known location of Guido Crivelli's hideout. He waited, knowing something was wrong, torturing himself with morbid thoughts that came to him as easily as breathing. Then Yamamoto called and his voice was an echo of its usual, self-possessed pitch but for a tinge of sombreness which told Tsuna that his worst nightmare had just come true.

The stench of blood was overwhelming. It was a house of average size, discreetly tucked in a quiet alley—now a slaughterhouse of eighteen people. Only Ryouhei was left alive, suffering no more than a blow to his head, and yet it offered Tsuna very little comfort against the tableau of lifeless bodies and glassy-eyed stares.

"Tenth." Gokudera's voice offered support, as did the firmness of his hand on Tsuna's shoulder, but Tsuna could scarcely feel either. He looked up, meeting his right-hand man's equally pained gaze for lack of any other thing to do.

"I just received another report," Gokudera was speaking slowly, as if each syllable was an effort. "There were two other hits in the neighbourhood. Virtually everyone affiliated to Guido Crivelli has been murdered."

"This isn't Dino's doing," Yamamoto broke in; he was crouching next to a body not far from them, mindless of the blood staining the tips of his fingers. "At least not directly."

"No," Tsuna said sharply. "If you're saying what I think you're saying, then you're wrong. This kind of thing… it's impossible. No. Hibari-san won't–"

Except he would and he could, and Tsuna knew it as he struggled with the next word, vanishing fast from the tip of his tongue. His two Guardians exchanged glances, their eyes eloquent but their mouths sealed in accord. The helplessness that filled Tsuna at seeing this voiceless contradiction, from his two closest people, made him want to scream.

"You killed them all."

A smirk touched Hibari's lips, one so free of constraints it inflamed even his dark eyes. "I spared Sasagawa Ryouhei."

"You," Dino breathed deeply, striving to keep control of his calm but it was slipping fast, "killed them all."

There was a quiet rustle of silk as Hibari turned around to face him fully. His smirk was gone, in its place the sternness of a mask he had worn since only god knows when. "What did you expect," he challenged. "Do you honestly believe you can defeat Sawada?"

"Do you honestly believe you have seen the best of me?"

"If I haven't, then no one else will."

Dino nearly raised a hand to strike him. "This isn't a fucking game," he snarled, curbing the urge by coiling his fingers into fists, the sharpness of his nails a reminder at least.

"I don't believe you see me treating it as such."

"Then why, why in the name of God did you do it?"

Kyouya looked at him long and silent. The disgust which suffused his expression would have made Dino flinch if his own anger had not rendered him immune. The same revulsion shaded Kyouya's voice when he spoke, "And not three nights ago, you came here and begged me–"

"One!" Dino grabbed a handful of black yukata, cool silk on his calloused fingers. "I asked you to kill one man!"

"You begged for one and I gave you many. If anything, you should be thankful."

Somewhere between that taunt and the beginning of an infernal smirk, Dino found enough reasons—or impetus, or simply the wrong edge of compulsion—to use force and have the Cloud Guardian sprawled on his stomach, under him. He took in short, ragged breaths, one hand pressed against the back of Kyouya's shoulder. The soft tatami floor cushioned his knees and palm, but there was no such thing as comfort to Dino at the moment. His despair was aimless, and a thing so aimless had but one path to travel, that to the arms of rage for only such flames needed neither sight nor aim. Rage was a blind man's weapon and it was rage that had him holding Kyouya down and reaching between his legs, under the fold of his yukata.

Only twice before had he ever taken Kyouya without consent; one was a dare, the other a child of his own impatience, and both occasions left him with more scratches and bite marks than Dino could ever count. The third, rage-bound and filled with brutal black fire, proved the most ambiguous if only for its lack of opposition. Kyouya warmed and swelled under his fingers' insistence although the man himself was silent—mostly. The evening's silence sharpened even thin sounds of exhalations, let alone those certain to become pants given enough time.

Dino only found out what it, this, the entire travesty of tolerance was about when he attempted his first thrust. Kyouya was rarely vocal, but he was the most vocal with cruelty wrapped like a warm cloak about him—and such sounds were now falling from his lips. Knees bent, ass raised, the noises still echoed proudly, but then again this was his domain and this was his punishment. Dino gritted his teeth against the shame, desperate enough to turn Kyouya to face him, to bare himself to sharp nails and threats of teeth. He cared little for them, focused instead on beads of perspiration and the slight tinge of colour on Kyouya's cheeks, but no matter how hard he fucked, Kyouya would only laugh and moan at his efforts, hands clawing at the floor instead.

In the haze of that fury-edged lust, he felt the spasm around his length and the muscles of Kyouya's thighs tightening. Dino snarled, hating him for coming when all he wanted was to inflict scars to that triumphant glint, that taunting, diabolical thing. The sheer force of that thought alone was enough to make him follow, his harsh breathing splintering to sobs on the bared length of Kyouya's neck. He could feel tears bleeding behind his closed eyelids, taste the metallic tang of blood on his tongue from a wounded lower lip, and under him, the cadence of Kyouya's heaving chest.

Once he was spent, a sense of hollowness ambushed him as a cold bead of sweat curved along his spine. Kyouya allowed him a moment, too brief a moment, before he pushed him out and to the side. Through lowered eyelids, Dino watched him move, one leg swung over and across and he was now perched on Dino's waist, slick thighs spread, silk loose about his lithe frame.

"You are a stupid, stupid man," he hissed, distaste sharp in his voice. "It isn't about whether you can stand against Sawada or not. It is about what you will lose if you do stand against him. You cannot see this and still call yourself a boss?"

The words stung bitterly in a way only truths could. Dino lowered his eyes to spare himself the sight of his lover's wrath, lest it stirred his own back to life.

"Then I must thank you for your care," he muttered.

Kyouya must have sensed his sarcasm. He made an impatient noise through his nose and one of his hands curled around Dino's neck, in the likeness of either a collar or a noose. "I don't care if you're angry."

"Of course not. I know very well what you care about."

Grey eyes narrowed, but Kyouya did not challenge his presumptuousness. The silence sapped what bitterness left in him and Dino bit his bleeding lips, taking comfort in the quick sting of pain. "I'm not ungrateful, Kyouya," he spoke again, miserable, "but to have my life spared in return of so many others… yes, I'm a stupid man who can't help wishing there's another way."

"There was another way," Kyouya deadpanned. "Many others. You chose this one, now live with it."

Again, the kick of truth. Dino managed a bitter smile against the pain, straining under the circle of Kyouya's fingers. "I will," he found the promise too easily on his tongue, an echo of one he had given his Family. "Like always."

There was almost an answer in the fleeting, downward curve of Kyouya's lips, but that sight was soon hidden from him as Kyouya leaned down, lips hovering close to Dino's neck. "You are an herbivore," he accused, teeth scraping against the sensitive skin there. It made Dino moan softly as an altogether different emotion rise in his chest.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, one hand buried in the softness of his lover's black hair, "for making you kill."

With a growl Kyouya kissed his mouth silent, and there the matter ended.

Tsuna had never thought it was possible for so much hate to intermingle with such old-rooted respect. These two sentiments should have been mutually exclusive, if for nothing else but each of their intensity. Not even Reborn, with his years of snide comments and ruthless methods of training, had evoked so deep resentment which threatened to blind him every time he remembered-each name, each tombstone, each wasted life.

The only other person who was left as furious as he was Gokudera. There was a limit, he said, voice trembling with rage, to pure audacity, and when it had crossed the line to disrespect, clearly something must be done about it. Hibari was the sharpest, most dangerous blade there was, but he lay dormant unless provoked.

You cannot allow this slight goes unpunished, Tenth, you must show Cavallone his place.

And he would, if it did not mean going against everything he believed in; if it did not mean the end of Sawada Tsunayoshi.


Tsuna's voice was quiet, controlled, nearly emotionless. Dino glanced into the room where Kyouya was still asleep and pressed the cell phone closer to his ear. "Tsuna, we must talk."

He waited through a cold, heavy pause. "I agree," the Vongola Decimo said at last, no more than a whisper. "The sooner the better."

"Will it be all right if I come to your place tomorrow?"


Dino managed a small, strained smile, although no one could see it. "Then I'll see you. Tomorrow."

It was not strength, Tsuna reflected as he stood by the window of his office, waiting. More like stubbornness, but it made his resolve and allowed him to look at Gokudera in the eye and say, "Someone has to end this."

The gist was simple. He would not become what he did not want to become, and no amount of deaths could change that.

There was a sort of grim relish in this new resolve. It was to be his revenge, to a world that would not listen to him and kept pouring blood onto his suppliant palms instead. He would not bow if they would not, and thirty minutes later, when he finally met Dino, Tsuna summoned a smile from the deepest seat of his heart and greeted him with no less than open arms. If the world had taken it upon itself to do what Sawada Tsunayoshi could not, then he would return the gesture and do what no other could.

He would forgive.