Full summary: Because Daemon Spade isn't the only threat in the mafia world, and because Irie Shouichi only promised a future without the Millefiore. Ten generations is a long time to acquire friends and enemies alike; and more so of the latter, as proven by the Shimon family. Nothing is ever over in the world of the mafia.

(I really do think that ff-net should waive the character limit on summaries by adding at least 50 more characters. /grumpy writer is grumpy)

A/N: Written for LiveJournal's Write-and-Run KHR fanfic contest. Round 2 was all about five years after the Inheritance Arc, no restrictions character- or pairing-wise, – but with bonus guidelines of including a crack pairing or a minor character as the central focus – all put in 100 to 5000 words.

My only slight issue was with the "No AUs" rule. I mean, really? How? 5YL can't be anything BUT an AU since we don't know how the Inheritance Arc is going to end (well, actually, we already do because Tsuna wins by default, being the main character and all, but y'know. Amano-sensei could choose to troll us and make him lose for shits and giggles), and thus we don't know what else might happen. So, I'm sorry, Mods of Write-And-Run, but anything 5YL will be an AU by default, no matter how you look at it and no matter how true to canon the writers are trying to be. Because 5YL? Isn't touched upon in the manga yet and could still go either way. /interpretation nazi

Unless, of course, what was meant as an AU was "high school AU", "Star Wars AU", etc. In which case, what I wrote here is an AIU - Alternate Interpretation Universe. /likes made-up names like whoa

Warnings: (Mentions of) gore, violence, sex.

Disclaimer: Reborn! is the intellectual property of Amano Akira and all associated companies. I claim no association with any of them, no profit is being made from this and no copyright infringement intended with this fan-made piece of fiction.

Maelstrom Catchers

It wasn't like all the troubles ceased with Tsuna's Inheritance ceremony and the following victory over Daemon Spade. For as long as Tsuna remained his good-natured self, a lot of the opposition mistook him for being weak-hearted and weak-willed, and an easy target because the Vongola family was a sore for many in the mafia world and beyond it; one they would gladly be rid of. The older generation of Shimon was one of them, and while their successors chose to ally with Vongola, shedding ten generations worth of hatred and vengeance in the face of the truth, their elders couldn't overstep the loathing they had been bred in and which they had stewed in for the entirety of their lives. It came with their blood; it had been passed down through their mothers' milk and taught to them by their fathers as the prayer before dinner; and instead of a bedtime story – the brutal recounting of how Vongola had wronged them. Their "goodnight" had been "hate Vongola", and their "good morning" – "Vongola must fall and perish". The Shimon were not the only ones who lived by a similar mantra, who ate, drank, and breathed hatred for Vongola and who prayed for the righteous come-uppance, and for the blind Lady Justice to finally tip her scales in their favour. After the new hope of Shimon turned their backs on the centuries-old goal, their fathers and grandfathers turned to the side and to age-old acquaintances and connections, which would bring them together with people of a similar mindset; with people who weren't giving up yet. Soon enough, there was a new wave of hate stewing in the far corners of the mafia underworld, waiting patiently until an opportunity came to actively seek an outlet for it.

Hatred was a fire coiling underneath hardened surface, boiling white-hot like lava seeking a crack to get through and pour out. Vengeance was cold and patient, lying low and breeding in the darkness and out in the open alike; invisible to those who didn't know to look for it, visible to all who knew what they needed to see – a magic woven through the most inconspicuous of things. Deceit was hiding in plain sight, orchestrated from the shadows and stemming so deeply and resiliently that each piece of severed roots could squeeze through the narrowest of cracks to worm new offshoots through the most tightly-fit stones and the hardest of surfaces, and bloom with flowers of poison and sharp pinprick thorns all around. Violence would be the soothing, nurturing rain in the desert wasteland of centuries-old hatred, and while the first soft drizzle had dried up all too soon, the half-dead bushes had retained their thorns under which to breed new buds of venom and menace.

Five years down the road, the anti-Vongola coalition moved in for a second-chance strike; first in its magnitude. Everything started slowly, inconspicuously, and in a seemingly unrelated manner – small incidents here and there, a few berserk mafiosi, a few axe-crazy criminals, relatively small time gaps in-between it all, spread out across considerably large distances; and ugly welts were springing up like tiny scabs that have been scratched for too long and viciously, besides, before a deathly pandemic presented itself in all of its maleficent glory on the more-or-less united body of Vongola. Its forces had to be split, its guardians – divided and relocated to spots all around the world on missions of a relatively insignificant scale; all drawing to one mastermind behind it all, which the Varia was already in hot pursuit of. But oh! had they learned their lesson this time around, the Vongola's opposition. Divide and conquer, as the age-old saying went. And so they divided; again and again. Halves into halves into quarters of quarters, until Vongola was scattered all over the place; its forces spread out too thin like the last remains of butter scratched off the wrapper and smeared on a loaf of bread too big in size. And then, all over the world, a wave of revenge reared its foamy head from the dark depths of the sea of hatred, rising tall and sweeping clean (rubble and dirt in its wake, and the sickly-sweet smell of rot, and the metallic tang of blood), crashing around – never over – a select few pillars and cliffs that managed to stand through the onslaught, though just barely. With vicious sea lapping at their heels and toes, the Vongola had nowhere left to run. This was beyond wrongs or rights, or setting records straight. This was something the future Irie Shouichi could have never even begun guessing at: that – while, yes, Tsuna and his guardians would return to a world where in the future the Millefiore family didn't exist – there would always be something else to even out the intervention in the flow of time, which had upset the balance of the future. Nature didn't suffer empty spaces. New grass clove its way through singed ground where a wildfire had laid everything to waste, to cover it with life again. Deserts spread where rivers ran dry, and marshes formed where the plants overruled the steady flow of water. With one element disappearing, several others ceased to exist by chain reaction and co-dependence of the tentative balance of one habitat. Where one enemy was cut off in flower, another one – nipped in the bud, the third would run its roots deep and spread them far and wide to spring up all at once, thus giving itself a chance at survival.

Most of the Vongola died in the initial large-scale attack after having its forces already diminished in the countless incidents before, which had led to too many casualties in the most unexpected and ridiculous ways. Either somebody had gotten too careless and had underestimated their target, or the criminals they had gone to apprehend had had some extra help from suddenly-appearing friends. Some had died in bar fights on the way, a few had been laid down by drug addicts in a robbing-gone-wrong, some had fallen from the hands of prostitutes in what appeared to be personal vendettas, and yet others – caught in-between badly-timed shoot-outs among some lesser families who happened to be waging wars at the time and in that area. None of that had seemed out of the ordinary at the time, and even if Tsuna's Hyper Intuition had acted up at one time or another, there had always been some sort of a factor present that tuned it down and overruled it, because all of that was mafia's everyday life. Not only that, but the culprits were always found and punished accordingly, and some of the guilty families took the initiative to apologize for their grave mistakes and short-sightedness upon themselves and brought the unfortunate fools from their ranks in front of Vongola to right the unjust wrongs inflicted upon the mighty family. (All lies through clenched teeth, and deceit from friendly smiles, and shameful looks, which hid behind them "what shame that we can't kill you here and now!") Even the Police was making moves on them, as the previously untouchable had suddenly become available, and one crack led to another, which no lawyers – no matter how skilful and loyal to Vongola – could seal, and no assassins – silence.

In this upside-down world, which had tipped so fast and so viciously, only the strongest, the most resilient and stubborn were still standing. The ones refusing to die still wielded weapons and the ones with unbreakable hope still proclaimed to the world (and anyone who'd listen) that they would soon meet up with their friends. (In Hell, the enemy sneered and charged, again and again. Only a handful of the powerful Vongola was still capable of defending; only a handful to go before it ended up in history books as the mafia family which "used to be Nr. 1 most powerful".) And so Vongola stood in what was probably the last line of defence and defiance, gambling everything they were worth so that the Tenth generation would live to see the Eleventh. Surrounded by death and destruction and trying hard to not look at the faces of their fallen friends and comrades for too long, lest their vision become too blurry and their aim – too shaky, they drew (quite possibly) their last breaths before the cloying scent of death replaced air in their lungs and drawing in oxygen felt like breathing in liquid fire while the world coloured red.

Xanxus wasn't used to being on his own. Xanxus wasn't used to being on his own in a place where his useless squad was sure to waste his time and patience. (He wasn't complaining about the sudden remote peace and quiet, though.) For a decade or so, he had been able to count on some of his trash underlings to be nearby. Not having a familiar face to shoot – or throw glasses (except that now there were none of those left within the vicinity) – at was oddly unnerving. He came to realise – which was just a few steps away from admitting – that he missed the oddest things now. The sound a glass, breaking against Squalo's skull, made was one such thing. Lussuria's facial expression when he made the steak à la Swiss by putting several bullet holes into it, Belphegor's stupid laugh when his knives made contact with something that was decidedly not Xanxus were some of the others. (He hoped they were all dead.) His hands itched to just pick up his guns and fire off a few rounds out of habit, just to see some of that scum come running because silence in the Varia Headquarters was a very bad thing – usually meaning that somebody was getting set up on the receiving end of some particularly violent and potentially lethal practice, which, in turn, usually led to new bills for cleaning and redecoration.

For the first time since Xanxus could remember (anything other than violence and sweet, sweet victories), he had this unsettling feeling of not knowing where the rest of the Varia were, whether they still lived or were already dead. Which – if they really were dead – they had been undeserving of a place in the Varia in the first place. So that scum better be alive. (So that he could kill them later, on his own terms.) Currently sitting (in his personal little hell) on his marble throne, he let his gaze roam over the damage all around him. Everything in sight was charred and burnt, soot marks and pitiful singed scraps of rags covered the walls where just a day ago had been exquisite and expensive masterpieces of wall rugs and paintings. Burnt pieces of what had been important documents and books with singed covers and charred corners littered the floor right up to his toes, along with smoke-tarnished chunks of molten glass and bent and disfigured metalware. Nobody had gotten inside the building (yet), but that was all the merit. The biggest part of the west wing lay in blackened rubble, entryways into the basements gaping wide open and black like mouths in silent screams directed at the clear blue sky above, where the outer wall had been blown back inside the building. The roof had caught on fire and the attic no longer existed, but somebody had extinguished the flames before they could spread, saving the rest of the house. The yard looked like some mighty deity had descended from high above for some whip practice – the lawn was crisscrossed with black trails of burnt grass and some of those were cloven so deep into the ground that the overturned narrow slips of turf created a series of miniature eskers, making the yard look like some gutted beast whose innards were hanging out and coiling all around. The gate at the far end of the driveway had lost one ornate half while the other was bent, pushed back further than it had originally been able to go and hanging loosely on a single twisted out of shape hinge. The line of trees along the fence looked like it had suffered through a powerful storm, chunks and splinters of varying sizes littering the ground all around the now-shattered remains. Some of those trees resembled broken matches, carelessly snapped in two; some had been cloven neatly in half; and yet some stood burnt black, only the thickest of branches sticking out short and stubbly. That entire side looked like an open mouth full of broken and rotting teeth. The few men that were still capable of moving around were working on cleaning the site from and disposing of corpses.

Amid the flurry of hateful emotions that were currently plaguing Xanxus, hunger seemed to be taking the upper hand, but since shouting and shooting didn't bring anyone rushing in to adhere to his needs (there were barely any men in his squad left to rush anywhere, whether he shot them for disobedience or not), he was forced to get up and walk all the way to the kitchen. On the way there, he tried to ignore the damage everywhere and tried not to think too deeply about how some of those dents in the walls had been created. The rattle of pots and pans and the clatter of plates and cutlery reached Xanxus when he was only halfway down the corridor, though belatedly he remembered that food from the person ruling in the kitchen right now would be the last one he ate in this life – literally. On his way, he had already seen the reason for why no one had answered his summons and why the hasty cleanup and repair work indoors had stopped altogether in some parts of the building: the survivors of the first battle were lying curled up on the floor, slumped in damaged chairs who were missing all four legs, and lying sprawled at odd angles over broken and ruined couches – living through what was probably a near-death experience. Xanxus felt his fingers twitch toward his guns: that's how much he wanted to put a few holes into the slackers, but a dying common sense whispered that, in which case, there would be no one left to clean up the place – just in case some men from that pile of recluse ended up surviving.

Turning back was akin to fleeing, which was something Xanxus didn't do, ever, but he almost considered doing so at the precise moment he stopped in the doorway leading to the kitchen, which currently looked like either an active warzone or the eruption of a volcano, which had just belched out mud and dung from the depths of the earth. Both, he decided after a moment of observation. He took notice how the kitchen door seemed to have molten off its hinges and tried to ignore the feeling of something crawling up his patent leather shoe.

The kitchen had turned into Poison Scorpion's reign the moment she had learned of Reborn's disappearance. Bianchi, who had been accompanying Reborn in all of his visits all over Italy, as Vongola scrambled to tie all loose ends and secure some last moment alliances, had ended up getting caught in a badly-timed (for Vongola and the Varia) attack and had joined the fight for Varia's Headquarters. In the heat of the battle, Reborn had gone missing and no one could tell how or why; taken hostage by the enemy or beating a hasty escape on his own – all options were equally possible and equally bad. Upon finding out that nobody could find even a trace of Reborn's whereabouts, she had gone berserk and an entire squad of Varia's elite surviving gunmen was currently down, suffering through the most varied stages of food poisoning simply because they had been unfortunate enough to happen within a throwing distance at the worst possible time. Even now every available surface in the kitchen was covered in cups, plates, bowls, pots, pans, and things Xanxus didn't even know the name for, all filled to the brim with the most disgusting not-at-all edible-looking substances. There were clouds of poisonous fume idly drifting near the high ceiling and he speculated that it could be bottled up and sold for use in gas cameras or torture chambers. And that was before he noticed that the fumes were eating away at the ceiling, eroding it bit by bit until something like white snow drifted down and settled on the cupboards.

"You." The word flew past Xanxus' lips before he could realise having made a sound, but a sound was enough to make Bianchi veer around, and the water glass currently in her hand flew at him by reflex. Without as much as blinking, Xanxus yanked his gun up and shot at it, a rainbow of grime spraying all around. He didn't like knowing that it was the most he could do against Poison Cooking – whatever was shot at it, evaporated.

"How much longer are you going to clog up this place?" His voice was gruff and irate, but Poison Scorpion was too valuable an ally to even think of giving her a reason for a personal vengeance – though he trusted her to not turn heel on the Vongola at a moment like this no matter what.

"They will be back," Bianchi pointed out the obvious. She had calmed down slightly after being abandoned by Reborn, again, but her eyes were still burning wildly. She returned to cooking. "And there will be more coming this time, and if you haven't noticed – you're almost out of ammunition."

Which, Xanxus conceded, was true. The diminishing amounts of ammunition and the fall-through of several recent operations had cut their supplies off. The police had tapped into some of the secret agendas and arrested the biggest dealers which they had had. On top of that, all the small incidents had taken a considerable chunk out of their reserves. This was one time when he had to rethink their strategy of going light and not carrying anything in excess; not possessing anything in excess, even, as less evidence for the judiciary system meant a bigger chance of getting off easily from the hook of law. Of course, they stacked up because walking unprepared in the mafia world equalled death, but the problem was – they hadn't been able to stack up on anything for months now and bigger and smaller clashes had happened almost daily. The rapidly drying-up sources had been one of the concerns Reborn had come to him with. (That and the Vongola's scattered positions. The Arcobaleno had admitted that whoever had planned this had been very thorough and devoted. He had also pointed out the one thing Xanxus had already suspected – the person named as the big boss behind the entire ordeal wasn't real; they had been chasing a shadow. They had missed all of the pieces set out right before them, trying too hard to see the bigger picture, to think one step ahead. So much so, that they had fallen behind instead.) The Varia wasn't the only one affected by this – all of Vongola was running out of resources.

Xanxus risked leaning against the doorframe on the side where it looked the least affected by whatever dish had hit it. He was hungry, but it didn't look like this kitchen held anything even remotely edible anymore. He sneered at Bianchi.

"Food is an appropriate weapon for a woman."

Bianchi's hand itched to pick up the closest plate and throw it, but the slight upwards curl of the corners of his lips told her to forget it. She was still only a guest in his home, even if she had turned into one of its defendants, and even if there wasn't all that much of a home left to defend anymore. She supposed then, leniently, that putting down some of his men had been more allowance than he should have suffered from her.

"Is there something you wanted?" she asked and her tone was the same as previously, not even the tiniest edge having been smoothed out. He wouldn't have appreciated the shift anyway, she reasoned with herself.


She peered at him out of the corner of her eye as the only sign of attention, but didn't turn his way and didn't stop mixing batter for cinnamon buns.

Where the words, "You. In my bed," had come from, Xanxus didn't know and didn't care to do any sort of soul-searching for it. He took what he wanted, and he wanted what he took – it was as simple as that. And before the morning sun rose to illuminate the downfall of Vongola through which he was going to cleave a wide path filled with sweat and blood, there was one thing he wanted to claim for the night before. If the only reason he had asked that was due to being under the influence of the toxic fumes from her cooking, so what? This night might be the last one, anyway.

Refusal was only the third thought in Bianchi's mind. Agreement was second. And all she needed was one step in his direction to be pulled into a maelstrom of sensations. Xanxus wound one arm around her, drawing her close and keeping her there while his mouth descended on hers in a bruising kiss and his other hand slipped under her top and up, up, up until it reached the clasp of her bra. He unsnapped it after a brief struggle, during which he had to pause in the kiss – though not pull away from her – to concentrate on something other than the thoughts of what he would do to her, and in this brief reprieve he found that she was responding to him in earnest and with everything she had. Xanxus backed Bianchi up against the same doorframe which he had been leaning against only moments ago and his hand moved to toy with her breasts, palming and rubbing, and toying with her nipples. Her hands undid the buttons on his shirt without hesitation and she scraped her nails down his chest, the pressure so light that it left no visible marks, but only a maddening tingle across his skin. His mouth was restless on hers, and if her touch was poison, he didn't mind dying tonight. Xanxus hooked his fingers in her hair and tugged on them, forcing her head back, but the space between her neck and the doorframe wasn't big enough for him to move in any direction he wanted.

It took only a moment torn out of time and space for them to end up in Squalo's bed because (Xanxus refused to go down on the floor amid trash and shitty food) that was the closest and least damaged one, and sure to not have any traps installed, for Xanxus wasn't in the mood to put another few holes into the building which might collapse before the sunrise. He carried Bianchi, carelessly slung over his shoulder, all the way there; up a flight of the stairs and down the corridor before kicking down a door. In the next moment they were falling through air, landing with a groan and a series of creaks from the bed. From there everything was quite straightforward. They messily undressed each other, taking little time to notice much of the other's features, every single action geared toward a common goal. Bianchi moved under him, bitter and dangerous like an oleander, but he couldn't rip her apart if she didn't let him. Xanxus' hands roamed over her body, marking territory and setting boundaries for her allowances, which she overstepped anyway.

Xanxus pinned Bianchi's wrists down to the pillow above her head and her body angled under him. Her breathing was quick and shallow and her eyes burned up at him bright and challenging.

"If you think you can last," Bianchi breathed in challenge against his lips and wound her legs around his hips. His mouth danced a hot path down her neck and went straight for her pert nipple.

"You won't," he growled low, nipping at it lightly and sneering up at her through unruly bangs that were falling across his forehead and into his eyes.

Bianchi accepted that challenge and didn't mind one bit when she lost it.

The next morning shortly before the sunrise found them all – Xanxus, Bianchi, the surviving troops of the Varia – standing on the front porch, taking their last stand of defence and defiance, but with the intent to go into the offensive (and out in a blaze of glory or ruin). If this was the last time, they would make sure to go out with a blast and write their name across the pages of history in blazing colours. For the time being though, they were caught in a standstill – Vongola and their opposition, risen in a great wave against them and ready to sweep them away in the torrents of time. For the time being, they waited for somebody to make the first move.

The east side was foggy and the sun didn't seem to want to rise. Dark clouds were crawling along the horizon and rising up higher with a tenacious force, as if determined to not allow the sun to ring in the beginning of a new day. For Xanxus though, the clouds meant something different and it took him only a few more moments to be completely certain of this. If hatred was a sea and what they were facing right now was the force of the ocean, then their opponents were as good as done for. For as long as there was flowing water to swim in, sharks didn't drown. For as long as new troops came in…

The silhouette of a Rain Shark became more pronounced against the backdrop of stormy clouds. Squalo was finally (a little too late) returning from his mission-turned-ambush from half a world over.

Xanxus threw his head back in a roaring laughter, which made their enemies hesitate a little bit. They knew that the Varia vas Vongola's elite and nigh impossible to beat, but the stories of almost-losses from the past had given them hope. Now though, the front rows who, as they thought, experienced first-hand the Varia leader's madness, were forced to reconsider. (In fact, they hadn't seen a thing yet, only dreaming to know everything about the tenth generation that was to be the scapegoat and the sacrificial lamb all in one for the wrongs done unto them in the past.)

The still-distant voooi! was all the battle signal Xanxus needed to burn a path of fire through the rows of the opponents and swear up and down that no trash was going to get in his way and that no trash would ever rise above Vongola.