-Internationally Wanted Criminals-
Chapter One: Meet the Vongola
Monday 15th of April
A Police Classroom, Italy
"Sit down and shut up!"
The chatter of the new recruits died as they snapped their mouths shut and dropped into their seats, the old wood and metal desks rattling. Only some of the recruits were willing to risk sending surreptitious glances at the man framed in the doorway. Others weren't so careful, openly staring, and got a sharp glare in response. A couple were even brave enough to continue looking. This man, after all, wasn't just another lecturer they had to suffer. This man was a legend.
Tall and imposing, the Sergeant certainly looked the part. He was a mountain of muscle complete with battle scars and absolutely terrifying. Even the immaculate uniform couldn't detract from the hard look in his eyes, the strong jaw and the numerous frown lines. It wasn't just his appearance though that had the recruits unnerved. His reputation was bad enough. Eager as the recruits were to get out on the streets and catch some criminals, they knew that to become officers of the Guardia di Finanza they would have to pass the Sergeant's rigorous tests and that was looking more and more difficult by the minute.
There were very few who knew the Sergeant's real name. Everyone below him called him 'Sergeant' to his face and sometimes just 'Serge' when they were absolutely sure he couldn't hear them. What was known was that he was one of the toughest teachers in the Academy and an even tougher officer. He had fought and survived more battles with big-name mafia famiglias than any other and was especially known for being one of the few who had ever commanded a battle against the Vongola and won. Even seven years after the fact, people still spoke of that raid and the advantages it had given the Guardia. None of the arrested mafioso had been executives, unfortunately, but they had been important enough to have information the Guardia had been very pleased to get.
It was the Sergeant's reputation that had gotten him the job as a lecturer for the new recruits. Every officer who had ever had the pleasure of being trained by the Sergeant said his classes were hell and working under him was even worse, but he was the best and he was willing - sort of - to teach, so teach he did. His only stipulation was that the recruits came to him, not the other way around – he refused to leave his station even for a day, let alone the time it would take to officially teach at the Academy. Eventually the higher-ups had agreed. The Sergeant's station, after all, was right in the middle of the Vongola's territory and nobody could justify moving their best Vongola expert.
The number of dropouts and complaints from the Sergeant's courses was, admittedly, extremely high. His superiors had long since decided to ignore that though. The higher than average percentage of his students who lasted more than five years in the force more than made up for it.
The recruits knew all that, but as the Sergeant stalked into the room with a thick manila folder and a book under one arm, the recruits' confidence in their ability to pass quickly diminished even further.
"Attention!" the Sergeant barked. He had stopped beside the battered old desk at the front of the room, dropping the folder with a carelessness that said a lot about his lack of regard for paperwork.
The Sergeant took a minute to sweep his gaze over the forty-odd recruits, mentally noting who had immediately snapped upright in their seats, who wore their uniform correctly and, from an early guess, who might survive his training.
"Welcome to 'Vongola 101'," the Sergeant said. "I'm the Sergeant and I'm in charge of you for the next few weeks. While you're under my command, if I give you an order you will be expected to follow it, understood?" A good two-thirds of the recruits nodded. Only a few muttered a weak reply. "Another thing: if I ask you a question I want verbal confirmation. Am I understood?"
"Yes, sir," the recruits called. Some of them were a little out of time, but it was the first day; the Sergeant could afford to cut them a bit of slack. For now.
"You're here to learn," the Sergeant continued, starting to pace across the front of the room, "but that's not my problem. I just have to give you the information; you're the ones who have to learn it and remember it. As such, I expect you all to listen. Any stupidity will result in you being sent out and a fail for attendance for that day. And if you have questions at any point preferably save them until the end but always put your hand up, understood?"
"Yes, sir!" This time the recruits were a bit more synchronised, a bit louder. The Sergeant hummed in satisfaction – they were learning already.
Then a recruit – from the fourth row, so he probably felt a bit safer than some of the front row recruits – put his hand up. The Sergeant almost groaned in frustration. A question already!?
"Yes?" he asked.
"The, uh, booklet we got this morning," the recruit said. He tapped one finger on a stack of stapled paper on his desk – the same booklet that every recruit had in front of them. "It's quite thick. Will we be covering everything in it or…?"
"No." The Sergeant picked up his own copy – which had almost twice as many pages – and held it so the recruits could see the emblems emblazoned on the front. One was the Guardia di Finanza's own shield, the other the symbol of the Vongola – a winged clam and two shotguns crossed over a shield containing a bullet. "What you have there is the condensed, non-sensitive version of the Guardia's official Vongola guide book. It's still far too much information to cover in just these lectures so I'll be skipping most of the psych profile, history and physical description parts. Those you get to study in your own time."
Some of the recruits looked between the Sergeant's book and their own copy in relief, others seemed annoyed that they had to do so much work themselves. The Sergeant ignored them. Instead he glanced around, checking no one else had any questions, before resuming his speech.
"Mondays and Thursdays you've got lectures with me. Wednesdays and Fridays you have practicals, most of which will be in the gun range or gym, but at some point during this course you will have the opportunity to tag along on a raid." The seriousness in the Sergeant's voice and expression was all that kept some of the recruits from being overly excited. "Do not regard this as a field trip or a drill. You will be working with officers of every rank and screwing up could put everyone around you into serious danger. You will be positioned in an out-of-the-way post, probably on the perimeter, and your job is to watch and learn. The assessment for that raid will be pass/fail; if at any point you get in the way, you fail."
Heads bobbed in acknowledgement across the room. A few of the recruits were looking quite worried by that point, as though their hopes of passing had just plummeted even further.
"Now," the Sergeant said, standing at parade rest, "a general run down of a famiglia. You should all know that one of the main roles of the Guardia di Finanza, as a branch of Italian law enforcement, is to deal with the mafia and all the shit they get up to. Most famiglias get their money mainly from protection rackets but they can also dabble in smuggling, bid rigging and loan sharking, among other things. They swear by an omertà or a code of silence to protect each other and anyone caught breaking the omertà is usually punished very severely." The Sergeant figured he didn't need to mention how often that punishment resulted in death. From the way some of the recruits paled or frowned, they could obviously guess.
"Each group of mafioso is called a famiglia and is run by a boss and a consigliere - an advisor. From there, a hierarchy of underbosses and soldiers makes up the rest of the famiglia." The Sergeant turned to pull a folded paper from the folder, then strode around the desk to pin the unfolded poster to the board on the front wall. "And at the very top of the mafia hierarchy is the unofficial leader, the Vongola."
"This is the Vongola's symbol." The Sergeant jerked his head at the poster he had pinned up. It was a larger, coloured version of the emblem on their booklets. "If you see this anywhere you are to report it immediately. If you see anyone wearing this you are to run and call for backup. No matter what, if the Vongola are involved do not attempt anything by yourself. Especially without orders. Unnecessary conflict with the Vongola usually ends in thousands of euro worth of damage and mountains of paperwork and nobody will be happy with you if you cause that." The Sergeant's icy gaze swept over the recruits. "Nobody."
One recruit - who had started out weakly and only fallen into despair since– slid down in his seat until he was barely visible. The Sergeant mentally marked him off as a likely early dropout.
"Right," the Sergeant said, voice clipped. "If you ever run into the Vongola there are certain members you'll need to be able to recognise. Most of them are a part of a group called the 'Guardians', the boss's closest subordinates. The rest are known to be close associates of the Vongola boss. And all of them," the Sergeant added, "rank among the most dangerous men and women in the world."
Solemn silence held the room while the Sergeant rifled through his folder again, pulling out and unfolding another poster. Some of the recruits were excited and some were nervous, but all of them seemed anxious to see and hear about the infamous Vongola mafioso.
"First," the Sergeant said, holding the poster up with one hand while the other stabbed pins into place, "we have this man: the tenth boss of the Vongola famiglia, Tsunayoshi Sawada." The Sergeant stepped away and the recruits got their first look at the Vongola Tenth.
Big, round, chocolate-brown eyes set into a soft face stared out from the poster, framed by messily spiked hair. Sawada's shirt and jeans were smart but casual, and Sawada himself was smiling, openly and genuinely. It made his whole face light up. His happiness might have had something to do with the setting – a small café, Japanese by the signage, with an older women and two kids only just visible in the edges of the photo from the way it had been cropped. Sawada was relaxed, lounging back in his seat, and he honestly looked the picture of innocence.
"This is our most recent photo of Sawada," the Sergeant said, "taken while he was visiting Japan a couple of weeks ago."
The silence this time was stunned, the recruits momentarily speechless. Then the whispers and mutters started, individually almost inaudible but collectively like a swarm of bees. The recruits' faces held an assortment of reactions from surprise to disbelief and even a little anger or compassion.
"That's the Vongola Tenth?" one recruit murmured.
"Seriously?" another hissed, her seat in the back corner making her a little braver, a little louder. "He's just a kid!"
"I almost wouldn't be surprised if he was a fake," a third whispered. "Y'know, so the real Tenth can live peacefully." His neighbours shot him various confused, annoyed or thoughtful glances.
The Sergeant couldn't decide whether he wanted to sigh or growl. As… odd as Sawada looked for a mafia boss, every time the Sergeant ran these lectures he always wished the recruits would take Vongola more seriously. When they ignored his warnings, people tended to get badly hurt.
For now, the Sergeant opted to overlook all the recruits' comments. Hopefully they would learn – and quickly - that appearances could be very deceiving when it came to the Vongola.
"Sawada's only nineteen," the Sergeant said, his loud voice cutting through the noise, "but, despite that, has been the head of the Vongola famiglia for at least three years. He was reportedly trained by Reborn, who is considered the greatest hitman in the world, and if that's true then it's possible that his skills are even better than we know." Reborn had been covered in a previous course, the Sergeant knew, and the mere mention of the hitman was enough to quiet the recruits again. "Despite being trained by Reborn, however, Sawada has a very different fighting style.
"Current intel lists Sawada as a close-range physical combat type with a few long-range moves that are considered to be 'highly destructive'." That was an understatement. "His main weapons appear to be gloves, probably leather with metal backing, but which allow him to fly, at least for brief periods. We don't know how the Vongola managed that—" the Sergeant scowled, remembering the Italian government's scrapped attempts to design similar technology, "—but there have been a few reports of other famiglia using similar technology."
The incredulity on the recruits' faces when he said Sawada could fly was always irritating. Just because nobody had any idea of how it worked didn't mean it wasn't possible. Hopefully, eventually someone would get a decent video of Sawada fighting and then the recruits would believe him. And then, just maybe, less of them would get so badly injured fighting him.
"As a rule, anyone who has been in the force for less than five years is considered no match for Sawada. That includes you lot." The Sergeant scowled at each recruit individually, particularly the stubborn ones, trying to prevent any acts of heroism. "If you encounter Sawada, your primary orders are to retreat and report his location when possible. If you absolutely can't retreat, the recommended strategy is to get him somewhere enclosed, preferably with plenty of obstacles. You want to restrict his ability to fly, even ground him if possible. Don't get too close though. He's ridiculously fast, so it's best to shoot the instant you've got a possible shot."
A hand went up in the back corner.
"Yes?" the Sergeant asked, tone sharp.
The recruit smiled politely, hand still half-raised as she said, "To clarify, you said 'possible shot' not 'clear shot'. Was that on purpose or…?"
"Yes." The Sergeant nodded, just a small movement of his head, and reached out, without looking, to tap his own Vongola information book. "This has an entire section dedicated to that particular situation; having Sawada in a small space and trying to decide when and what to shoot. It talks about herding him into a trap and optimal target areas to try to hit in order to incapacitate him. At your level though, you're told to just shoot and try to get out of there. Several escape strategies are included in your booklet. And if all else fails, Sawada is known for being… compassionate, especially to the younger officers, so appealing to him does sometimes work." There were stories the recruits would probably hear quite a bit of in the next year of people being released by the Vongola Tenth just by asking. Half of them were even true.
"Hopefully though, none of you will have to deal with Sawada for quite a while yet. But if you do…" the Sergeant paused, considering his next words carefully. "If you do, I wish you luck."
Officially the Sergeant wasn't meant to say things like that. Officially, 'giving the recruits the confidence to act appropriately in any given situation no matter the risk level' was what he was meant to be doing. But when he had first started working with the recruits he had found that making them think they had all the answers – that they knew exactly what to do in any situation despite having so little practical experience – resulted in them being overconfident. Making them think it was hopeless was just as bad though because fear made people do stupid things.
Overconfident recruits killed. Underconfident recruits killed. Stupid recruits – either generally or in terms of a lack of knowledge about the Vongola – killed. Because when one recruit or officer screwed up it wasn't just the one person who was affected; everyone else around them was too. It really was much better for the recruits to know when to run and when to attack than to quiver in fear or run headlong into a fight they had little chance of winning.
The Sergeant scanned the room to check no one else had any questions. When no one moved, he resumed talking. "Information on how Sawada and his friends got involved in the mafia is scarce. Initially after becoming the Tenth, Sawada was rarely linked to any criminal activities. Most of the time, anything he did do seemed to be in self-defence or retaliation against something done to one of his people. In the last year though, ever since Sawada and his Guardians moved to Italy, things have escalated. Now, law enforcement agencies all over the world are starting to pay more attention to the Vongola's antics and with good reason."
"This," the Sergeant said as he pulled another poster from his folder and pinned it up, "happened a week ago. In the aftermath of a Vongola raid on what we assume was a rival famiglia, a security camera managed to catch a few shots of the Vongola's Cloud Guardian, Kyouya Hibari, leaving the building."
The photo was low quality, grainy and muted, but the first thing that stood out was the blood. There was a lot of it – splattered across the walls and floor, occasionally splashed against a piece of furniture – so the figure standing alone in the room, black suit apparently spotless, stood out. In comparison, the blood-drenched weapons in his hands were almost lost in the image, their metallic shine completely hidden by the half-dried red liquid.
Around Hibari, the room looked like a particularly violent tornado had torn through. Hibari was facing a doorway that had no door and that was set into a wall that was bullet-riddled and missing quite a large section. Every piece of furniture was upturned, the paintings on the walls lopsided or fallen to the floor. There was even the remains of what had probably been a beautiful chandelier strewn all across the floor in sharp-edged diamond shards.
The most frightening part of the image, however, wasn't the amount of blood or the sheer destruction. It was the terrifyingly wicked and pleased smirk on Hibari's face as he looked right into the camera, his eyes glittering with malice.
Most of the recruits seemed disconcerted, the comparison between Sawada and Hibari startling. Others were nodding, Hibari perfectly matching their expectations of a Vongola mafioso.
"Hibari, as one of Sawada's Guardians," the Sergeant said, breaking the silence carefully, "is considered to be one of - maybe the – strongest fighters in the famiglia. And if you ever doubt Sawada's abilities as a boss," he added, "just remember that this man takes orders from him."
Murmurs broke out again, the truth of the Vongola Tenth's power finally starting to sink in, but they ended as abruptly as they had started when the Sergeant finished pinning up the next poster.
The last image had been horrifying. This one was just devastating. Lush gardens, now a bit trampled and smoke-blackened, surrounded what had once probably been a beautiful manor. What was left though could barely be called rubble.
Very little of the building had been left standing. Part of one side and the back wall -if you could still call it that – were barely there, pockmarked and covered in soot and what was probably blood. The front door hung from its hinges, the frame surrounded by nothing but the ruins of what had once been the front wall, and very little of the interior structure could even be identified. The remains of the roof lay scattered around the house in pieces as if it had been thrown outwards by some great force. Not an explosion, because there weren't scorch marks anywhere, but more like something had grown and expanded within the house until it had simply squashed all the rooms and lifted the roof. It didn't seemed possible.
As an introduction to what Hibari was capable of it was alarming. The idea that just one person could be responsible for such large-scale destruction was a new one for most of the recruits, and it would take time to sink in. One thing they would all easily agree on though was that the man responsible truly deserved to be called a demon.
The Sergeant gave the recruits a minute to digest the images. Their expressions ranged from shocked to horrified and the Sergeant could relate. He could still remember the first time he had seen a 'Hibari demolition' as some of the older officers could them. Back then it had been a dress shop built wall-to-wall with a hairdressers and a grocer on each side. The dress shop had been absolutely flattened, but the other shops had been untouched, not a scratch on them. The weirdest thing though was that no one had noticed until the next morning. A whole shop, completely demolished, and no one had heard or seen anything. The Sergeant still didn't understand it.
When the recruits' expressions started to calm, the Sergeant decided to continue. "Hibari is widely considered to be insane. Psych has profiled him as possibly being a psychopath but he definitely had some bloodlust issues. He's also the leader of 'Foundation', a very territorial Japanese organisation with unknown goals and unknown funding, though we assume at least some of his money comes from the Vongola. He fights with custom tonfa – a pair of twenty inch long metal rods with handles that also contain spikes and a chain." The Sergeant tapped the tonfa in the poster. "He's fast but he's yet to be sighted with the flight capabilities, so at least he's limited to the ground. If a confrontation is unavoidable, the recommendation is to try to trap him, keep him in a confined area and shoot from a distance. If possible, try to overwhelm him with numbers."
A hand went up and the Sergeant nodded.
"What about in a group? Those strategies would work best if Hibari was alone," the recruit said.
"Lucky for you," the Sergeant responded, "Hibari rarely works with anyone else in the Vongola, only Foundation. However if you encounter a group of Vongola – and this goes for any combination of the high ranking members," the Sergeant emphasised, "- my best advice is to retreat as soon as possible. You are not capable of taking on multiple Vongola mafioso unless in very large numbers. If you have to, you are to stall until backup arrives and to keep your distance."
Some of the recruits nodded. Others looked scared, like the very thought of facing several Vongola mafioso was too much to handle.
Hopefully none of the recruits would be put into that situation too soon though. There were some officers – experienced men with the rank and standing to pick and choose their assignments – who simply wouldn't accept any mission that included more than one Vongola. The Sergeant couldn't even resent them for it. He knew the odds of surviving such a battle with anything less than minor injuries and they weren't good. He made the conscious decision, each time he went out to face the Vongola, to take that risk. He would never force anyone else to do the same against their wishes.
A hand raised again. The Sergeant nodded.
"About Hibari – what was the motivation behind that attack?" The recruit was staring at the pictures of the destroyed manor. "Was it revenge or….?"
"Most of the time the Vongola's motives are pretty damn hard to understand," the Sergeant said. "Their security is tighter than most government agencies, which makes physical or technological infiltration very difficult. That means what we have been able to get from them hasn't been much use. Sometimes though they're kind enough to leave us a hint – a note, a trail of too-obvious evidence or a trussed-up criminal on our doorstep. Usually their reasons are to do with protection – of themselves or of someone they apparently care about.
"This is one of the common themes we've been able to find in the Vongola's attacks," the Sergeant explained. "Very rarely do they seem to attack anyone over territory or famiglia disputes. They don't run drugs or do human trafficking. They don't buy or sell information except to allies. They don't trade in weaponry despite having some of the best in the world.
"The Guardia's main problem with the Vongola isn't what they do on a day-to-day basis because, honestly, we don't care. We can't afford to." The Sergeant scowled. It was a sore point with many Guardia officers, but true nonetheless. "Unfortunately, most of the Vongola's business isn't big or bad enough to be of interest to us. And trying to stop their small operations is a waste of time, since they'll just restart anything we shut down somewhere else. What we're interested in," the Sergeant explained, "is the times the Vongola do something unusual. The times when, suddenly, a war breaks out in the streets and the fighters are using technology no one else has ever heard of. When a building gets destroyed or a famiglia disappears overnight. The times when the hospitals are suddenly full of people with bizarre injuries."
The recruits were listening with rapt attention. The Sergeant let his gaze sweep over each recruit slowly, trying to impress on them the weight of his words.
"The Vongola sit at the very top of the criminal food chain. When they get involved with or start a war, the entire criminal underground rushes to declare a side; to join in. And while it doesn't happen very often, the Vongola's involvement in any dispute automatically draws the eye of a lot of people.
"The best part," the Sergeant continued, "is that the Vongola seem to be aware of their own power and generally stay out of underground politics. And when they do intervene they always have a good reason for it. According to them. And that's the thing," the Sergeant's voice rose, his expression tightening, "the Vongola think they are a force for good. To us, they certainly aren't the worst underground organisation. But the Vongola seem to truly think they are good, that what they do is some kind of justice."
The recruits mostly looked confused now, though some were frowning in thought. One had her hand raised but the Sergeant ignored it.
"The problem is," he said, "'good' when you're talking about the Vongola involves a lot of death and destruction. Buildings are flattened, famiglias disappear and people are hospitalised. Some even end up in psychiatric wards going on about flames and animals and even bloody illusions.
The Sergeant paused, let his gaze sweep over the recruits again, and carefully gathered his thoughts.
"The Vongola represent everything you've ever dreamed of – the good, the bad and the nightmarish – all twisted into one organisation that's hell-bent on cleaning up the mafia from the inside. They completely ignore the law then deliver internationally wanted criminals to our doorstep like presents. They do nothing for weeks or even months and then, suddenly, a town has been turned into a warzone. And yet nobody can ever quite remember what happened, definitely not enough to identify anyone or testify in court.
"The Vongola," the Sergeant said, "is the most insane, confusing, paradoxical, hypocritical and righteous criminal organisation you will hear of. And, unfortunately, unless something big happens I think they're here to stay."
Some of the recruits still just looked baffled. Others looked scandalised – they were the ones who thought the plan was to take down the Vongola as soon as possible. The Sergeant however was more a fan of waiting for the Vongola to implode or be taken out by another famiglia – that way, hopefully, there would be minimal damage to innocents compared to an all-out war.
"That's why you're here," the Sergeant pushed. "To learn – not how to destroy the Vongola, hut how to survive it until that something happens.
"Every year I get asked what the most important lesson you can learn from this course is," the Sergeant revealed. "And every time I say the same thing: respect. Respect for the Vongola's power. Respect for the Vongola's influence. And most of all, respect for what the Vongola are trying to do and how they go about it. Because, yes, they're a criminal organisation. But the Vongola are also doing what most law enforcement agencies can't and won't attempt – they're waging war against the darkest parts of the criminal underground. And they're winning. They might not be going about it the way we would, but they're still doing a damn good job of it.
The Sergeant let his voice drop and his gaze harden, waiting until he had the attention of every person in the room.
"Fear the Vongola. Hate the Vongola. Swear revenge against the Vongola. I don't care. But whatever you do, remember to respect the Vongola. Because if you don't respect them you'll forget what they can do, and that will get you killed."
The Sergeant stood in silence for a minute, just watching the recruits digest his words. They wouldn't all get it, but some would and that was all he could hope for. Because the more recruits that understood his message, the more that would survive their career as an officer.
Deciding that the recruits had had enough time to at least remember his words, if not fully understand them, the Sergeant turned to leave. His footsteps were quiet in an attempt to let the contemplative atmosphere continue. "You've got five minutes break," he called over his shoulder. "After that we'll start on the next two Vongola – the Storm and Rain Guardians."
Hi all. So, this is a reboot for those who don't know. There's new scenes, new chapters, etc. I'm almost done up to chapter 10 so I'm hoping to post at least one or two a week for a while yet (more when I get ahead). These first few aren't very different and mostly finished so I'll probably rush through them a bit. Thanks to all who answered my question in my AN chapter, that really did help with a few decisions. Many thanks for betaing to Ziaw and an IRL friend I'm not sure wants to be named. This has been a very long, painful journey during which I started out with grand ideas but was very lazy and then had to get my act together eventually and realise it was going to take a lot of work.
I decided to start uploading chapters now because otherwise you're all going to have to wait another month and I'm going to keep fussing with chapters that are really quite finished and this just seemed like a much better idea.
To all my old readers, thanks for sticking with me. I pretty sure at least some of you have been rather annoyed at me at least once. You're all amazing and it's mostly thanks to you that I've managed to stick with IWC for so long. I'm certainly not about to give up though. IWC is my baby and will be finished. Eventually.
To all new readers, hello! Please note I'm a very slow author. I'm also terrible at planning ahead and editing before uploading so, uh, sorry? Every now and then I find it necessary to revise my past chapters/future outline so unfortunately you'll have to put up with that. But I promise not to quit on IWC - it will get finished. That's a promise!
To everyone, thanks for all the reviews, alerts and faves! If people don't review the edited chapters I shall understand perfectly. Hopefully when we get back into the new stuff people will be more excited for it. Also, for the reboot, please take note of the chapter dates! At least for the first few chapters - they time-skip a bit. I almost changed them to chronological order but people said it was okay so I left it. Hopefully it's not too confusing.
So, for now, see you!
EDIT 6/3: Thanks to long live marshmallows for pointing out a mistake!