Title: Betrothal by Fiat
Tsunako, Iemitsu, Nana, Reborn, Bianchi
Sit down, princess, Daddy has something to discuss with you.
Part of Choice: The Betrothal Arc. General audiences. 1854 words.

Betrothal by Fiat

It had not been a good day. Neya-sensei had returned their math tests; Tsunako had looked at the red 16 scrawled at the top of hers and sighed, resigning herself to the future that she could see would involve her mother's disappointment plus make-up exams.

Lunch wouldn't have been terrible, if only she'd picked a different spot to eat. But she'd chosen to sit at the bench under the trees outside, thinking it would be nice to enjoy the shade, and hadn't remembered that the sports field was in clear view of that bench. Yuuko-chan and Sakura-chan had decided she'd chosen to sit there in order to enjoy the sight of the boys goofing off during their lunch hour. If Kyouko-chan hadn't happened along to distract them, Tsunako wasn't sure what would have happened. Probably they would have helped her "confess" to Yamamoto-kun the way they'd been threatening to do. Which, just, no. That didn't even make sense outside the minds of people like Yuuko-chan and Sakura-chan, who tended to project their obsessions on everyone else. Kind of a lot, really.

And then there had been phys ed to round it all out with a game of volleyball. Now Tsunako's arms ached where she'd bruised them and her scraped knees stung as she plodded home.

It had not been a good day at all.

Tsunako supposed that it was only fitting that she should let herself into the door and see a pair of men's dress shoes sitting inside the door, evidence that her father had decided to come wandering in for a visit. That was all her day had lacked, really—that special sort of disaster that always seemed to accompany her father's visits.

"Tsunako, honey, is that you?" Her mother appeared, a bright smile lighting her face. "Tsunako, guess what? Your father's here!"

Tsunako dredged up a smile for her mother's sake. "Is he really, Kaasan? Wow!" She glanced over the row of shoes as she stepped into her slippers: there were two additional pairs of shoes lined up next to his, a pair of boots with thick soles and buckles up the sides and another pair of dress shoes, child-sized. "Did he bring friends?"

Her mother's smile didn't waver, which was when the first warning bells began going off in Tsunako's head. "You might say that. Put your things away, dear, and come say hello to your father. He's been itching to see you."

Tsunako trudged upstairs to put her bag in her room and change out of her school uniform. She inspected her knees, but they'd stopped oozing blood. After wiping them clean there was no real reason to delay the inevitable any longer.

Her parents were in the back room, with the screens open to the garden; her father's guests weren't in evidence. Tousan was saying something to Kaasan, his voice pitched low. He left off when he noticed Tsunako standing in the door and beamed at her. "Hey there, princess!" He opened his arms to her. "Come and give daddy a hug!"

"Hi, Tousan." Tsunako managed to cross the room without tripping over her own two feet out of nerves, which was probably her best record yet, and let him fold her against his chest. It was always a strange feeling, being hugged by her father and having her cheek pressed against pinstriped wool and crisp white cotton. It was like letting herself be hugged by a stranger. He wasn't, not exactly—she had regular emails from him and he called at least once a week and once, so long ago that she barely remembered it, he'd always been around—but. Still. It always felt weird.

When he finally released her, it was to set his hands on her shoulders and hold her at arm's length and look her over. "Look at you," he said, smiling in a strange way—it only seemed to be with his mouth, Tsunako noticed. "You're growing up so fast. You're going to be gorgeous, princess."

"Tousan," Tsunako protested, because that was just mean. Or delusional. Probably he meant it to be nice, but anyone with eyes ought to have been able to see that she was untidy and clumsy and worlds away from being cute, let alone pretty.

He just ruffled her hair, smiling. "And modest, too." He looked at her for a little longer and finally said, "I bet you're wondering why I'm here, huh?"

She wasn't, exactly, but he wanted her to ask, so she did. "Why are you here? I thought you said that business was, um. Difficult." Business. Yeah. The business with dangerous people that he'd never wanted to talk much about, not since it'd required her and Kaasan to move to Japan when she'd still been little.

He smiled again. It still didn't make it to his eyes. "Yeah, well. Remember how I told you I'd explain daddy's job when you got older? Well. I'd wanted to wait a little longer, but. You'd better sit down, princess. This is going to be a long story."

Tsunako did, curling her feet under her and folding her hands in her lap, and let her father spin her a story about Italy and the mafia and a Family called the Vongola and his job with them. A couple of times she glanced at her mother, checking what Tousan was saying against her reaction, but Kaasan didn't seem to find anything objectionable or ridiculous in Tousan's story. And, too, maybe there were things he said that dislodged nebulous images from Tsunako's memory: forests of legs encased in black and a sky that was a different shade of blue, a house like a fairy-tale castle and a nightmare of fear and pain and gunfire to bring it all to an end.

So her father worked for the mafia, Tsunako thought, and was a little worried by how easily she accepted that proposition.

More importantly, though... "Why are you telling me this?"

The question gave her father a distinctly pained expression. "Well, princess... It's kind of like this. There's a reason I work for the Vongola. It's because we're related to them. The man who founded the Vongola came to Japan after he retired and started a family here, and we're descended from it."

"Oh," Tsunako said, not entirely sure what that meant or how she felt about it. "Okay...?"

"There's a little more to it, of course." She saw him take a deep breath. "The Ninth, my boss... he had five possible heirs, but now he doesn't any more, because his sons are dead. Which means that you're his last legitimate heir."

Tsunako stared at him. "What…?" she began and trailed off. "What does that even mean, his last heir—me? You're joking, right?" But he wasn't even pretending to smile now. Neither was Kaasan, when she checked. "Wait, how can I be the heir? What about you?"

"I took myself out of the running when I took my job with CEDEF—" whatever that meant "—which is what I'd hoped you'd be able to do when you got a little bit older." Tousan sighed heavily. "But the Cetrulli killed Massimo about a week ago now and that's not going to be possible for you, princess."

"So what does that mean?" Tsunako was starting to be absolutely baffled by the twists and turns of this conversation. "Am I supposed to take over or something?" She contemplated that and shuddered; she couldn't even manage her own life properly.

"No." Tousan drew the syllables out slowly, reluctantly. "No, you won't have to do that." He stopped for a moment and then smiled at her. Tsunako braced herself, because whatever disaster he'd brought with him was about to unfold. "So, princess, have you ever thought about getting married?"

Tsunako stared at him, confounded, and he launched into an explanation about the Ninth's other, illegitimate, heir, and how he was only a little older than her and how really this was the only way to make sure the Family stayed stable, and princess, you sure are quiet, why don't you say something?

"I." Her mind was nearly blank. "I. You want me to marry someone, a complete stranger, so this mafia Family, these Vongola people, will be. Stable. So they'll be stable."

"Not right away," Tousan said, peering at her anxiously. "In a few years. You'll have a chance to get to know him first. When, uh. He gets back from, um, Antarctica. He's studying the ice there."

Tsunako stared at him. Checked with her mother, who seemed as serious as her father. "You've both lost your minds, haven't you?" she asked, fairly proud of how calmly she managed it given that she was going to have to institutionalize both of them and probably drop out of school to get a job to support herself and them.

"He's not joking."

Tsunako turned at this sound of a new voice, piping and strangely familiar (like something out of a dream), and stared. There was a baby standing on the engawa. He was wearing a suit and a fedora and there was a lizard sitting on the brim of his hat. "He has, of course, made a complete hash of things, but he's not lying." The baby strolled into the room and came to stand in front of Tsunako; seated as she was, she still had to look down at him. His eyes were dark, bottomless and solemn, as he looked up at her. "As one of the last of the Vongola's heirs, you have a duty to perform." He shrugged. "You might consider it repayment for the things the Vongola have done for your family over the years."

"Reborn!" Tousan said; Tsunako had never heard him sound so sharp.

The baby—Reborn?—glanced at him. "It's the truth," he noted. "Can you say it's not?"

"That's not the point and you know it," her father said, his voice hard.

Someone was missing a point here, that much was certain. Tsunako cleared her throat. "Um, excuse me, but—walking, talking baby?"

Tousan passed a hand over his face. "That's Reborn, princess. He's going to be your bodyguard." He glanced up and motioned at someone else. "And this is Bianchi, the Poison Scorpion. She'll be your tutor."

Tsunako looked up and stared at the woman leaning in the doorway behind her. She had hair, long and dyed pink, a cropped shirt and hip-hugging cargo pants, perfect makeup and a gorgeous face, and was that a tattoo? Tsunako stared and the woman—Bianchi-san?—inclined her head.

Tsunako managed to unfreeze herself after a moment and looked around at the adults—and baby—who all seemed perfectly seriously. She wondered, briefly, whether it was possible for so many people to share a single mass delusion. Then she did the only possible, sensible thing. "No," she said. "No, I'm not going to do it. You can't make me."

Tousan just sighed. "I wish it were that easy, princess," he said.

That did not bode particularly well. And, as with most of her presentiments of doom, Tsunako turned out to be right.


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