A/N: It's been a hell of a year. Wishing you and yours all the best in these, frankly, weirdo times.

Keeping Your Character – Chapter 32

"That seems less life-ruining, and more… petty," Mukuro said as he looked over Lambo's shoulder.

She paused in scribbling out a few more notes in her revenge book, finally looking up at him as they walked through the streets of Namimori.

"What makes you think the two can't overlap? Pettiness is just ruining someone's life on a minute scale." she asked. "And it fits perfectly for my purpose here; Levi is super anal-retentive about the whole Guardian thing. He's obsessed with his boss, and thus with performing his role to a high standard. So having his rival in the Ring Battles show basically no seriousness or devotion would piss him off majorly. And I'm refraining from going as the Black Sheep, because having some nobody as his opponent would do much the same. Said lacking-in-quality rival then utterly wrecking him is just icing on the cake."

She paused for a moment.

"Of course, I also have to take into account that the root of all this is his obsession with Xanxus. Honestly, if my Mist was stronger, I'd probably paralyze him and then do an illusion of something nasty happening to his boss while he was helpless to intervene."

She raised an eyebrow at him.

"At any rate, since when have you ever had an issue with petty?"

"Kufufu," he raised his hands in faux-surrender. "I take no issue with it. On the contrary, I imagine the look on his face by the time you're through will be quite amusing."

"If he still has a face," she muttered.

He shot her a look.

"What? I mean, I never said I wouldn't kill him. I just want him to suffer the maximum amount beforehand," Lambo said matter-of-factly.

Mukuro shrugged. She doubted he would ever take offense at the idea of another mafia goon meeting a gruesome end.

"Anyway, they didn't say which match would be held tonight. Do you have any specific ideas about when our little throwdown is gonna happen, Mr. Know-it-All?"

His lip curled, and she couldn't tell whether the nickname amused him or not.

"The officiators have been lurking around the rooftops of the school. And a little bird saw them installing tall metal poles."

Lambo stopped walking and peered up at the sky.

"…Would you say it looks like a storm is coming?"

He raised an eyebrow.

"If you're speaking in the metaphorical sense, I would say it's long arrived. As for the forecast, I believe thunderstorms were on the docket for tonight."

Lambo twisted her mouth.

"Guess I'll be fighting tonight then," she said.

"I can't imagine lightning rods being set up for anyone else," he agreed. "The Vongola do tend to be appallingly on-the-nose with their weather motifs."

Lambo hummed in agreement, mind racing. What reason could there be for the Lightning Ring Battle to be the first one instead of Sun? (And on a side note, the Amano Force could apparently control the weather, which was mildly terrifying considering the sheer scale; that, or it had made things so that everything was simply going down a day later, and the order of battles had thus been switched in order to oblige the weather.) Did it have to do with the AF's apparent limits when it came to directly manipulating people?

She imagined it would take quite a bit of work for her to lose to Levi. Did the AF want her to go first so the narrative had an easier time staying on track, regardless of the outcome? Did that mean it was limited by her own character, in that it couldn't force her actions, and it thus needed a buffer zone to keep things on track? When she won (because she was going to), would it make one of Tsuna's little friends lose, so as to retain the neck-in-neck tension of a relatively even score? Would Tsuna interfere in someone else's match, since she wasn't a grossly incompetent five-year-old? Was the whole mecha-powered-by-a-forsaken-grandpa thing going to come out earlier – or later?

Lambo bit back a sigh. It sure would be nice to have straight answers so she could stop wasting her time with useless speculation.

"Alright," she snapped her notebook shut. "If I'm gonna do this, we'll need to go clubbing."

Mukuro made a strange face – probably the closest he'd ever get to saying 'do we have to, mom?' – and she could tell he was about to peace out in that annoyingly efficient way only a Mist could accomplish.

"C'mon, Muku," she sidled up to him and nudged at his shoulder with hers (some small part of her giggling manically as she realized she was still taller than him). "It's not my idea of a great time either, but surely you can appreciate the need for authenticity when putting on a show?"

When he only raised an unimpressed eyebrow, she spun to stand in front of him and shot him her best psycho-grin – the likes of which only an Estraneo experiment could have.

"It's for a good ca-use~" she sing-songed.

He gave a slight sigh, rolling his eyes. But Mukuro was always down for vengeance, particularly when it involved mind-screwing the mafia. They left for a bigger city.

Clubs – being noisy, flashy, and full of people that were even stupider than your average bear due to inebriation and hormones – were generally to be avoided.

Lambo felt that it had been worth it, however, when she saw the look on everyone's faces when she "stumbled" onto Namimori Middle's rooftop that night. It could have been the smell of a thousand alcohols lingering around her – which not even the rain could drown out, it could have been the fact that she was dressed in a form-fitting halter top and shorts combo (as opposed to her usual loose, comfy look). Or it might have been because she was half-draped over Mukuro's shoulder, and the both of them were entirely draped in a variety of glowsticks.

"Wow, is that thing ugly!" Lambo said with an affected slur.

She took a moment to stand up straight, then wobbled up one of her arms in a liquidy sort of way to point at Levi's face.

"Honestly, I should win this on just aesthetics alone," she said, turning to one of the pink-haired judges. "Can we just do that? I have better things to be spending my time on than a stupid fight with a stupid assass….assin?"

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Levi's eye starting to twitch. She "stumbled" away from Mukuro, who was barely stopping himself from laughing, and held out her hand to catch the rain like she'd just noticed the downpour.

"The glitter just ain't going," she noted, spinning around to face Mukuro again – her back to Levi as she completely disregarded him. "It's a sign, Muku. We must go back to the club while the mark is still upon us."

The sound of Levi's gloves squeaking as he clenched his hands was audible even over the heavy rain and thunder.

"Now now, Lambo," Mukuro shook his head. "You did promise. Just beat the fool up quickly, and then we can do something worthwhile."

"Hmmm. I guess," she whined, turning to face Levi once more.

Tsuna couldn't believe his bodyguard had shown up to a deathmatch drunk and weaponless. With Mukuro, nonetheless. He side-eyed him as subtly as he could, but the illusionist seemed to be ignoring him entirely in favor of watching Lambo with amusement.

Tsuna eventually tore his attention away from the guy who had tried to kill and possess him the last time they met. (He deliberately ignored the memory of Mukuro coming to him with a contract just like Lambo's not even a week ago – that was clearly a strangely vivid nightmare that he was going to put in the heavily repressed section of his brain.)

"What is she doing?" he muttered to himself, eyes flicking back and forth frantically between Lambo and the man she would be fighting.

Gokudera, standing beside him with a deeper scowl than normal, strangely enough, had an answer.

"I don't think she's actually drunk," he said quietly. "She has a resistance to poison, because of… you know."

"Ehh?!" Tsuna whipped around to face him. "Then why is she… like that?"

Reborn, who was standing on Yamamoto's shoulder, interjected.

"Mind games are a valid tactic, Dame-Tsuna," he said. "But she doesn't seem like the type to go out her way to set up a scenario like this. She must really not like Levi A Than."

"You mean, she's trying to piss him off!" Tsuna shrieked as quietly as he could.

"I'd say she's not just trying," Yamamoto said with a laugh. "Look at him."

Levi A Than, who had looked scary enough before with his stern face and piercings, looked nigh apoplectic now. There was a vein pulsating on his forehead, and his hands and jaw were clenched.

"Can we get this over with, already?" Lambo yawned at him. "Pinkies, how do we start the match?"

The Cervello, seemingly unaffected by the strange name, stepped forward.

"Would both combatants please verify their possession of the Half Lightning Rings?" one of them asked.

"And both shall wear them around their necks," finished the other.

"The win conditions of the Ring Battle are thus:"

"The victor may incapacitate the other combatant."

"Or the victor may simply unite the two halves of the Ring."

"There is no time limit to this battle."

"But it will take place within our specially crafted arena."

"The Electric Circuit, designed specifically to test the qualities of a Lightning Guardian."

The both of them gestured at the collection of lightning rods in the center of the roof. As if scheduled, a bolt of lightning split the air and dove right into them – not only lighting up the rods, but the net of metal cables arranged on the floor between them. The entire thing flared white as the electricity circulated.

"Lambo has to fight in that?" Tsuna asked with horror.

"Neat," Lambo drawled, her teeth clicking on the 't.'

Tsuna wondered if she'd even registered that she'd be up against not only an angry assassin, but also a deadly force of nature. Her face looked as bored as it usually did. Some part of him, the part that had only existed since the Kokuyo incident, wondered if she had simply gone through worse.

The two fighters stepped into the ring.

"Let the Lightning Battle – Levi A Than of the Varia, versus Lambo – begin!" one of the Cervello announced, before the two jumped back from the arena like it would explode.

It wasn't too far off, considering the lightning, Tsuna supposed.

"Fighting a little girl like you is an insult to my abilities," Levi A Than said, staring down at his opponent. "But I will win this in an instant."

"Okay," Lambo said, uninterested, bending over to take off her shoes.

She tossed them out of the ring to Mukuro.

"Don't want 'em melting," she said. "They're comfy sandals."

Incensed that she was still basically ignoring him, Levi tore one of the strange objects from the holster on his back. Tsuna was bemused to see that it was an umbrella.

Before the man could attack, another bolt of lightning dropped from the sky. It took barely a second to hit the rods, but Levi managed to jump into the air to avoid the current as it ran across the net covering the floor.

Lambo, however, did not.

"Lambo!" Tsuna shrieked.

His immediate impulse was to cover his eyes, not wanting to look as his bodyguard was fried by the electricity. A low, impressed whistle from Yamamoto had him opening them again.

Lambo stood there, little sparks dancing across her form, but otherwise unaffected. Not even her clothes were singed. She rubbed her fingertips together.

"Tingly," she said.

"How…?" Tsuna stuttered.

Reborn, ever the agent of exposition, spoke up.

"In rare instances, a body can change after being struck by lightning more than once. The electricity conducts along their skin and disperses into the ground, leaving their them practically untouched."

Weird, but not unbelievable, considering his life in general.

"It's the perfect ability for a Lightning Guardian. Their role is to take damage onto themselves, redirecting it away from the Family."

This part of the explanation left a sour taste in Tsuna's mouth. How could that even be a defined position? Making someone into a substitute for damage? He felt gladder than ever for signing the contract that Lambo had brought him. (Not to mention, he couldn't really imagine Lambo in such a position at all.)

"What a stupid job."

For a moment, Tsuna thought he'd been the one to say it, and he cringed at the inevitably bonk he'd get from Reborn.

But no, it was Lambo who'd spoken.

"I mean, it's the Lightning Guardian, not Lightningrod, right? Shouldn't the role be to destroy the enemy as fast as lightning, before they even reach the Family?" she said, scratching her head.

She shot Levi a thoughtful look, taking in the sudden, strange twist to his face.

"But you seem the type to buy into the stupid explanation. You're getting all jealous because I can redirect electricity? I mean, my abilities are obviously awesome – but I can't believe you want one of them because it matches with a deficient role description for a Lightning Guardian."

She gave him a blatant onceover, seemingly having an epiphany.

"Unless you're an M," she said.

The silence was notable, even with the rain and thunder. Tsuna almost couldn't believe that she'd said that, but then he remembered basically everything else she had done, and then he could.

"I mean, I guess it makes sense? Getting here early to stand in the pouring rain for two hours without a hood? Dedicating yourself to a role that, by your understanding, directly involves getting hurt?"

She paused, then shot him a look of pure condescension and pity.

"Simping for Xanxus?"

Tsuna wasn't even surprised when Levi launched himself at her with a yell of pure rage.

Lambo hid a grin as Levi launched himself at her, drawing one of his electric doohickeys from the holster on his back.

"You know these aren't stronger than lightning, right? I mean, you passed elementary school science, didn't you?" she asked, grabbing the still-sparking end of the umbrella he'd swung at her.

Still holding it, she aimed a bare-footed kick at the hand he was wielding it with. When his grip loosened at the impact, she twisted the umbrella away from him and caught it with her free hand.

"What even is this? Why do you need like, ten umbrellas?" she asked. "Actually, scratch that – why were you standing in the rain for two hours without using one of them?"

She dodged his next few swings with as much nonchalance as she could muster.

"Wait, I forgot you were an M for a second there," she said straight-faced.

She wrinkled her nose.

"I don't know how I feel about beating you into the ground if you'll like it."

"You won't feel anything when you're a corpse!" Levi sneered.

He pulled two more umbrellas out and came at her again. She blocked his strikes with her pilfered one. Frankly, with how pissed and off-balance he was, it felt a bit like playing swordfight with a kid.

When he jumped back for a moment, she took the opportunity to examine the umbrella. She clicked her tongue, performatively unimpressed, and then broke it like a dry spaghetti noodle over her knee.

"Maybe you should get some better equipment," she suggested. "I mean, you must know you're… lacking, since you have so many. But there is something to be said for quality over quantity, you know?"

She shot him a confused look.

"Actually, I thought 'Quality' was actually a whole thing for the Varia."

She pasted an expression of dawning realization on her face.

"Are you perhaps a substitute? I mean, I know I only found out about this thing, like, a week ago."

She smirked a little when she saw that zing hit him particularly hard. She supposed it would have to, considering he'd been working toward a Guardian position for Xanxus for years.

"Xanxus couldn't find anyone better on such short notice, huh?" she asked with a sympathetic tone.

"I'm the one best suited to be Boss' acknowledged Guardian!" Levi practically howled, swinging at her even harder in his rage.

"Really? How sad for him."

They exchanged several more blows – and really, with his rage wrecking his control, and her literally lightning fast reflexes… it was a little embarrassing. And while that was basically her entire goal for this match, she was almost becoming embarrassed herself in fighting him. Shouldn't this be more difficult? He was a professional assassin, right? Though, she supposed none of the Varia were the most well-adjusted, so perhaps the psychological approach was weirdly effective against them?

She decided to take things up a notch.

"Hmm. Now that I think of it, I know I'll win this – but if Xanxus wins overall… does that mean I'd be his Lightning Guardian?" she asked after a moment.

She ignored the palpable spike of rage from Levi – that was her ultimately aim, in the end, considering she wasn't actually worried. Tsuna would never lose the whole thing in the first place, being the protagonist as he was.

"Hey, Cervello! Do the Guardians get mismatched like that, or is it a full set kind of thing? 'Cause I wouldn't throw a fight, but I didn't agree to be Guardian for Daddy Issues McAngry."

"You dare talk about Boss like that!" Levi yelled.

He made a gesture with his arms, almost like a shrug, and the remaining umbrellas on his back launched themselves into the air to circle above them. A fresh burst of lightning fed into them, and they began to glow, the tips pointed inward flaring particularly bright.


Lambo felt the rain against her teeth, her grin was so wide. This was what she'd been waiting for. She reached into her pocket.

She leapt into the air, but her aim wasn't to get herself above the umbrellas, and thus avoid the electrical blast that they would focus between them. She wanted to be hit.

And no, she wasn't an M.

She heard an unmistakable Tsuna-shriek from the sidelines – accompanied by shouts from the rest of his little peanut gallery – as she moved directly into the path of the concentrated beams of lightning.

She allowed her Lightning Flames to surface around her – subtle enough when she was being hit by actual lightning – and catch the electricity. With her own power subsuming the energy, she directed it as she wanted. It was a trick she was particularly proud of; the next step after becoming aware of her body's natural electrical impulses was learning how to control them. This was simply that, taken to the extreme.

The strain was considerable in comparison to the unaltered lightning she'd practiced with before. She pushed the current down her right arm, and specifically into her pointer and middle finger – which were set parallel to each other, with a one yen coin resting between them.

It was a matter of extreme multitasking: controlling the lightning, directing it into the magnetic forces that she required, Solidifying her body and particularly her fingers so they wouldn't simply break under the force of it all. Even her positioning in midair was because she hadn't yet determined a way to manage the recoil of it, and she didn't want to get blasted out of the arena. But she managed it.

She'd become a human railgun.

There was a great flash of brightness, accompanied by a sound that made her think of the Tripods from War of the Worlds – just considerably condensed in length, and higher in pitch. She felt herself get blasted higher into the air, and she did a couple flips to burn off the momentum.

When she landed – a three-point landing, thank you very much, since her superpowers meant that it wouldn't wreck her joints – her audience was still blinking in the aftermath. She looked toward the impact point. There was a gaping hole in the roof, and next to it was Levi.

Not Levi's corpse, however.

She frowned a bit, wondering whether her aim had been off, or if the Amano Force had intervened. She couldn't imagine Levi had a whole lot of plot armor. Then again, people didn't really die in KHR canon; and generally, if they did, it got reversed via Tri-Ni-Sette shenanigans. Or maybe it was simply too early in the story – or maybe too early in the Arc – for a death to happen, and the AF didn't want to have to escalate the stakes? Perhaps witnessing a death at this point would traumatize Tsuna and his friends and alter their development too much? Or killing Levi would obliterate any chances of future cooperation with the Varia – and that, in and of itself, would ruin Tsuna's 'making allies out of former enemies' streak? Maybe she had been too close to hitting the super-important, world-balancing Ring with her blast? It could have even been the fact that she'd been channeling more power than usual, and she'd miscalculated entirely on her own merits.

To be frank, there were too many possibilities. The only option she could actually rule out was her subconscious being opposed to killing an unrepentant murderer.

Whatever the case, Levi had escaped having a hole ripped through his torso. He was only missing an arm. She couldn't see it anywhere, either, so it hadn't just detached – it'd likely been shredded entirely.

"Holy shit," she heard a surprisingly quiet interjection from where the rest of the Varia were standing – so different from his usual tones that she nearly didn't recognize Squalo's voice.

Lambo strolled over to her downed opponent. She nearly reared back when she saw that his eyes were still open. A closer look found the man to be unconscious – just creepy. She wasn't sure whether it was because of the sheer trauma, physical or otherwise, or if perhaps he'd hit his noggin when he was flung against the ground.

She shrugged, and pulled the Ring from his neck to snap it into place with her own Half.

"See? Quick as lightning."

She began to walk back toward Mukuro, already thinking of the comfortable clothes, tea, and interesting things to read back at home.


Lambo turned to face Levi, only to peer straight past him to where the rest of the Varia officers – sans Xanxus, naturally – were standing.

"Oooh, it's the handyman!" she gasped. "Hi, handyman!"

"VOIIIIII! Shut up, scum! Just hurry up and get slaughtered already!" Squalo yelled.

"How did you managed to stuff all that hair into a hood?" she asked, only half-faking her confusion. "Is it, like, down the back of your pants or something? Because I remember it being longer than that coat."

Belphegor snickered – and boy, was that even stranger sounding in person.

"This peasant amuses the prince. It's almost a shame she's going to die here."

She squinted at him, before turning back to Squalo.

"Ignoring Smiles, 'cause he's dumb," she said nonchalantly. "I was going to say something to you, Rapunzel, but I can't even remember what it was now. Hmmm, what was it?"

Now Belphegor was getting twitchy.

"Lambo, think of your belt," Mukuro said patiently.

Lambo brightened at the "realization."

"Oh, right! I still have your sword-hand – your swand – right here," she said seriously, her hand fumbling at the belt loop near her hip. "You're gonna flip yourself off now."

"No, Lambo. You don't have it anymore," Mukuro corrected her. "Remember the nice drunk girl you met outside the bathroom."

Lambo shot him a "confused" look, finally detaching the object from her belt loop. She held it up in front of her.

"Oh," she said rather sadly, looking at the rubber ducky. "I traded it."

The duck let out a rather wheezy sort of squeak as she squeezed it.

Mammon had to get all tentacley to restrain Squalo before the man lost them a couple Rings via a spirited attempt to murder Lambo.