After Tsunayoushi's first day of school the young boy was greeted by his Uncle Fong and Aunt Lal as soon as morning came every day. To the brown haired boy it was something scarce that the same guardians stood by his side almost daily, he was accustomed to long periods of time when he would not be able to see a certain Uncle or Auntie. He is not used to anything being certain in his life, yet, when he wakes to Uncle Fong's kind face and his sad, serene eyes and Lal's orange juice and the way she smiled rarely, Tsunayoushi wants these days to be eternal.
When he washes his face alone he does not feel a thing and it is merely a monotonous chore for the little boy, but when he feels his Uncle Fong's presence as they both wash their face and brush their teeth together it becomes different. It becomes poignant. Or like when Tsunayoushi reaches for his toast in the morning, he pouts because he's a bit too short to reach it from the counter, it's a hassle to retrieve his morning meal. However when his Aunt Lal is there, she reaches for the bread effortlessly and gives it to Tsunayoushi with affection in her eyes.
All of these miniscule things made Tsunayoushi understand wholeheartedly that he truly was not meant to live alone.
Tsunayoushi is not aware, but on his first day of school many things had occurred that would set his and his family's destiny in motion. Some of the things he could see, like the meeting with Giotto or meeting Chrome alongside her brother. But the changes that he cannot see are what his Aunties and Uncles have kept him ignorant on, like the politics that involves the war and how they were changing, or the reasons that they remained gone from home for so long and how those were also changing.
He thought to himself often that he did not understand the world of the complicated and arrogant adults.
The day in which they had crossed paths with the Capulet Soldier Alaude had been a sunny day with an even brighter sunset. Tsunayoushi would remember it to be a long, tiresome day, although ignorant of how crucial that day was to the world of the adults that surrounded him.
That day as he held hands leisurely with his Uncle Fong, his Aunt Lal stood near the front door, as if expecting a package. A premonition of something dark remained in her eyes leaving Tsunayoushi questioning himself if he should remain quiet. He sees Uncle Fong's reassuring smile, all previous sense of foreboding leaving the docile child.
"Aunt Lal!" Tsunayoushi greeted happily. "I made a friend today at school! Her name is Chrome!"
The dark haired Italian woman lightly smiled, her eyes reserved. She nodded and gestured for Tsunayoushi to make his way to his room, unbeknownst to the adults that the child was also experiencing a dilemma of his own. In the little boy's mind, his main priority was on Hibarin's lack of energy throughout the day. He privately thanked Lal and went up the stairs quickly, leaving behind his Uncle Fong and Aunt Lal by the entrance to talk amongst themselves.
As soon as Lal made sure the child remained out of sight, her shoulders grew tense, her lips in a strained line. Lal looked deathly still, too still, scrutinizing the Chinese man in front of her, the way that Fong's eyes became half lidded slowly but steadily, the way his knees were giving in as if they were broken.
He was about to faint.
Lal quickly managed to sustain his body by grabbing on the man's shoulders, helping him walk carefully towards the nearest sofa available to them.
"Fong, you pushed yourself too hard." Her eyes are angry.
The Chinese man laughs lightly, for that was all he could do. "Now, now, this is nothing Lal, it will heal in time." He patted his broken arm gently, the woman in front of him not backing down.
"Fong," Her voice was strong. "–you can barely even stand. You faked for Tsunayoushi's sake didn't you? You were in pain every second you were walking with Tsunayoushi, weren't you?" Her voice did not waver, but her eyes began to gloss lightly.
Fong continued to smile gently as he usually did. "Don't say it so loud Lal ,hahaha." He shifted slowly and painfully on the couch. "I just really wanted to be there for him on the first day of school was all…" Lal helped Fong lay down, the man wincing occasionally but his good nature never leaving him. She handed him a glass of water which he accepted as if he hadn't drank in years.
"So please Lal, don't be mad with me, I just wanted to see Tsunayoushi as soon as possible." The man had a sweet smile, such kind protective eyes. Lal could not be angry with him. She felt her façade dropping, she gripped the edge of the sofa cushions.
"I couldn't protect her Lal, I couldn't protect…" He closed his eyes tightly, as if he were in pain.
"Fong don't blame yourself. You did what you could for her." She refused to look at the other adult in the room, her eyes choosing to focus on the neutral color of the sofa.
Fong stopped smiling, his eyes opening once more, glimmering like the night sky's stars.
"If that is the extent for what I could do for Viper, then I am not as strong as I like to think I am. How could I think that I could protect others… if this is what I amount to in the end?"
Lal had a few tears in her eyes, a rare but meaningful sight.
"She appreciated everything you did for her…"
"Even if I could not save her from her own death?"
The living room remained still, the only sound coming from the refrigerator in the kitchen. That refrigerator cut the silence between the two people's conversation, the one that was decorated with Tsunayoushi's magnet picture frames that Reborn had won for him at the county fair a long time ago. Its picture inside the frame was a silly one, yet it contained happiness whenever one would take a glimpse at it.
In that picture all the Arcobalenos surrounded Tsunayoushi's 8th birthday cake, the cherry blossoms at the park in full bloom behind them. Tsunayoushi's head was in the cake thanks to his Uncle Reborn's mischievous hand, Lal held back a drunken Colonnello who was attempting to beat the crap out of Skull who was cowering behind Fong. Fong smiled brightly at Tsunayoushi unaware of the misconduct occurring in the photo, while Luce was linked on to Fong's arm aware of the drunken beating Skull had brought forward onto him. To the side of Luce remained Viper holding the plates and utensils ready for the cake as Verde looked at everyone in an amused manner, a wine glass raised to his lips.
They could never go back to those days.
Lal does not say a word, yet Fong continues to speak, the way he spoke was too quiet.
"Reborn's probably dead by now."
Lal turned to the side "Fong, "she warned.
Fong did not stop. "They caught me, but as soon as they had caught on towards Viper's hiding spot, something inside of me snapped. Just like I had snapped when Skull had said those things to us at the dinner table before he…" The man does not finish that sentence. "One of the soldiers that had gotten a hold of Viper began to twist her arm and I could not see a thing anymore after that, for I had become taken in by my own rage."
"I killed the soldier that dared hurt someone from my family in such a way, and as I began trying to defend her as well as myself, I was brought back to reality as I noticed how badly Viper was hurt. She could barely keep her eyesight focused….I carried her Lal…"
The Italian women could no longer keep her eyes dry.
"I carried her all across the battlefield with me, walking on top of corpses of soldiers, villagers and little children. I could barely keep up with my own feet, I was careless and I had caused both myself and Viper to fall. We fell right in front of an enemy settlement, the commotion of our fall immediately attracted Capulet soldiers. I started to fight off all the men that surrounded us, I lost count how many they were perhaps 8? 10? I started to kill them with my bare hands as many as I could…."
An intake of breath. The eyes of a brilliant adult that yearned for a future that was certain and true, "I wanted….I wanted to protect her Lal, you know this right?"
Fong did not cry, yet he saw the way small tears formed around the edge of Lal's eyes. She seemed angry and her tears seemed a lot like her Fong thought fondly as he looked at the woman in front of him, so stubborn and proud.
"The remaining two soldiers took advantage of my fatigue and managed to knock me down, they began to beat me, spit on me, I endured it all for Viper's sake. After a while, the men grew tired of me and threw me around, causing one of my arms to collide on the tip of a rock. As I felt the pain of my broken arm they cocked a gun and shot Viper in the head right in front of me, but you already know that from Luce right? After all she stayed doing all our paperwork at the hospital…"
"I was about to die Lal, I knew it was my time to die. And I thought to myself that I was not happy, I would have liked to see Tsunayoushi smile one last time before I'd have gone. Right when I was certain in my mind I was to die, Reborn came in just at the right time. I fear I owe that man more than I would like to admit..." Fong laughed through his nose. "He shot everyone silently, as usual. After I came to, I awoke to Luce in the hospital."
"Where is Reborn now?" Lal asked in hesitance.
"He has been missing since that incident, he hasn't even sent Collonello a message to annoy him. We know how well Reborn and Collonello use our military equipment," He laughed lightly as Lal's lips quiver into a smile, tears still in her eyes. "They usually send threatening messages to each other, much like a game of tag. Reborn has not sent a single message since his mission has started. Luce told me Reborn left me in the head doctor's care and immediately left as soon as Luce arrived at the hospital. He didn't even speak to her, Luce told me he refused to look her in the eye, as if he were being hunted."
Silence fell once again between the two adults, Lal and Fong thought subjectively where Reborn could have been going. Was he actually being hunted and this was the way he chose to warn them discreetly to pack up and go? Or was he just running short on time?
"In brighter news," The Chinese man said as he dabbed Lal's tears with his handkerchief, the one Tsunayoushi had knitted for him on Christmas, "Colonnello is returning in a week, he visited me in a hurry as I was getting my bandages done. Such a nice man, that Colonnello is always so thoughtful of everyone. Even though he'd like to come off as standoffish, aren't you glad your lover is returning soon Lal?"
Lal blushed in embarrassment, reprimanding Fong for his shameless remarks. Of course she was happy he would come back safely, after all he was one of the few surviving members of what used to be the Great Arcobalenos.
They used to be great.
A week had passed since Tsunayoushi's first day of school, things remained the same and different all at the same time. His Uncle Fong took him to school every day, and as they held hands the little boy liked to pretend that Uncle Fong was truly his father. That there was no war and that he had a tranquil school life, in these halcyon days Tsunayoushi liked to hold his Uncle's and Auntie's hands more than anything.
In the afternoon his Aunt Lal would pick him up from school, oftentimes they stopped by the outdoor market to pick up something simple to snack on. As Tsunayoushi came more frequently to the market he grew more aware of how little the Market had to offer and how expensive it was. Granted his Aunts and Uncles never complained about lacking money, but Tsunayoushi could tell that it took a toll out of his classmate's lives. When he opened his lunchbox he made sure to share with the class, after all he was one of the few that had meat for every one of his school lunches. In doing so, Tsunayoushi grew to have a good reputation among his classmates, everyone shared their lunch together making it seem like a great party every lunch break. Even his friend Chrome, which was shy in the beginning became very well-liked by her classmates, as she would bring enough canned peaches for the entire room.
"My brother works as a supplier," she confessed to Tsunayoushi one day. "We have a warehouse filled with food that we sell to everyone."
Regardless if Tsunayoushi had been able to make many friends, the friend that he wished he could eat together with in recess, or the hands he wished he could hold as they walked to the restroom together was none other than Hibarin. Since the meeting with the Capulet Soldier Alaude, Hibarin spent many of his days pretending to be asleep, his tantrum growing tenfold. He refused to talk to Tsunayoushi for whatever reason, hiding in the attic and only coming out to steal snacks and sweets. Truth be told, Hibarin was embarrassed of showing Tsunayoushi such a weak side of him, to think that an evil vampire such as he could sulk in such a manner.
Tsunayoushi looked at the nutcracker on his bed as he was getting ready for school one Wednesday morning. The little boy continued to sneak glances at the nutcracker as he was changing and after some internal struggle, gulped as he chose to enfold the toy in a tight hug.
"Today Hibarin, let's do our best!" Tsunayoushi's body began to tremble, hesitant. "It's ok if there are things you don't want to talk about! So...let's.." The little boy remembers how he plays pretend with his Uncle Fong, how he pretends sometimes as they hold hands that they were father and son. "Let's continue to walk together, ok?"
The smoke that appeared out of the nutcracker's mouth had a different color than the previous times, it was a pink salmon color mixed in with yellow, the powder glittering magically like a peach blossom. Hibarin looked a little bit embarrassed as he stood on the bed, he had his arms crossed glaring at the timid boy beneath him.
"Hibarin?" Did I make him angry again? Was it no good what I just said…
The little boy could not muse over his thoughts carefully, because in that moment Hibarin jumped at the smaller child. Is he going to bite or suck me to death!? But what the child was greeted with was none of those things but a warm sensation.
"Herbivore." The little ghost boy told the living child as they embraced. "I will tell you about my elder brother Alaude someday."
Tsunayoushi could only hug the little ghost boy back, for in that moment he had an epiphany. It truly didn't matter for Tsunayoushi what kind of secrets his important people had in their heart, it didn't matter what they could not let him know. Because just like his Aunties and Uncles, he too had secrets. Tsunayoushi thought to himself that they could keep their secrets if they wanted to, the only thing he would ask of them if they could please continue to remain by his side.
The Chinese man placed the Omelet in front of the young boy alongside a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. He sat near the child, placing a napkin on his lap.
"Yes, xiao-shi?" The Chinese man smiled, shifting his broken arm with his good arm. "Ah, you should be quick to eat, after all your school begins in 30 minutes. You need to eat well so you can grow up to be a strong young man."
"Lil-Tuna also needs some meat, where's the iron!?" Colonnello entered the room with one of his hands over Lal's shoulder (which she shrugged off harshly).
"Uncle Colonnello, Aunt Lal good morning!" Tsunayoushi chirped as he ate a spoonful of his rice omelet. Since the return of his American Uncle last night the house was much brighter, wherever his Uncle Colonnello entered, nothing could match his charisma that made everyone around him laugh at his silly jokes.
"Did you and Auntie Lal sleep well? You two had a sleep over?"
Uncle Collonnello winked at Tsunayoushi flirtatiously "Well we didn't get much sleep last night if you catch my drift. Maybe I'll show you when you're older…"
Lal slapped the blond's head causing the man to fall head first onto his omelet. Fong began to laugh in a playful manner at the confused expression on the child's face, how cute!
"You pervert! Not in front of the kid!" The Italian woman scolded. "Honestly Colonnello you're nothing but a huge idiot!"
"Hey, don't get mad Lal!" Colonnello sheepishly rubbed the spot where she had brought justice upon him just a few seconds ago. "Hey…we're still gonna have se- 'sleepovers', right? You're not that mad, are ya?"
The Italian woman reprimanded Colonnello with one icy stare that said 'Shut up if you know what's good for you.' Colonnello smiled nervously at the silent threat, choosing to lock eyes with the brown haired child next to him.
"Tuna, seems I'm stuck in the dog house! Can I sleep over your room instead?"
"Ok!...But we don't have a dog…much less a dog house.."
"Stop filling Tsunayoushi with idiocy," Lal spoke as she applied ketchup to her omelet, sending occasionally icy stares to the now whistling blond man. "Say, Tsunayoushi, today I won't be able to pick you up. Colonnello will, is that ok?"
At this, Tsunayoushi looked up quickly from his breakfast with a panicked and hurt look on his face. "Do you have to go back to work?"
Lal looked a bit wistful, she understood the implications of his questions. The implication that they might never return home, 'that they might leave him all alone,' she thought. "No I don't have to, at least not for a while. I just have to go take care of some Bank business."
"Bank?" The child tilted his head. "That's Aunt Viper's job isn't it?" At the mention of Viper every adult on the table stopped their previous activity to look at each other contemplatively. Wondering what they should tell the child in front of them. They could keep him ignorant on many things, but this, this couldn't be contained for much longer.
"Where is she?" The brown haired boy said as he eyed the coloring books on the counter, the ones Viper bought for him on the day of their big move to the countryside. "I haven't seen her in such a long time. I haven't even had the chance to talk to her properly since the big move. Has Auntie been really busy with work?"
"Tsunayoushi," Those words came from his Uncle Colonnello's lips. It was rare for his full name to be said by the American, so he knew the words to come after that were to be taken seriously. The American's clear blue eyes reminded him of the gold fish tank at school and how the water on the surface rippled when they walked. "Your Aunt Viper, she can't come back."
Fong remained silent and just stared at the food in front of him, losing his appetite as Lal looked a bit nervous unlike herself at the dinner table. She looked at the young boy seated next to Fong whose eyes began to widen. Tsunayoushi looked as if cold water was splashed on his face, he did not speak.
Colonnello remained composed and bit into his breakfast. "You will never see her again."
Tsunayoushi continued to stare at his Uncle Colonnello, half expecting him to say it was a joke, half expecting him to remain in the same composed manner. "Is…is it the same place Brother Skull left to?"
At this Fong stands up laughing a bit. "My, my Xiao-shi, you're very talkative today! I know, after school how about we go to a picnic in the woods? Your Aunt Lal should be back by that time, what do you say?"
Tsunayoushi looks at his shoes. "Is Uncle Reborn going to the the same place that Auntie Viper and Brother Skull went to?"
The three adults all raised their heads to look at Tsunayoushi, shocked and at a loss for words. For this is the first time Tsunayoushi had ever chosen to remain on the subject, stubborn. Lal reprimanded herself silently for even telling the boy she was going to the bank, for indeed she was going for Viper's sake. She was to collect all the money out of Viper's bank accounts due to the fact she had left everything to the Arcobaleno in her will. After all that happened, the Arcobaleno found it peculiar that in death she was quite generous, for in her life she was anything but that.
Fong looked at the clock above them. "Aiyaa, Tsunayoushi! We better hurry with our breakfast, we're going to run late!" The Chinese man arose from his seat promptly, collecting his eating utensils toward the now running faucet.
Tsunayoushi does not make any motion to move, for his question remained unanswered. It is a normal occurrence for him and Tsunayoushi understood at that moment that there were two kinds of lonely. The 1st one is how he feels when there is no one around, like when his aunts and uncles don't come back in months. That kind of loneliness he thinks is unbearable, but now he knows a 2nd kind. The kind of loneliness that hits you even when you're surrounded by people. That feeling when your voice becomes lost in a crowd.
He continues to eat, preoccupied with his thoughts until he feels a pat on his head.
It was his Uncle Colonnello.
"Tuna," The American flashed a charming smile at the boy, his eyes like the sea, washing away all of Tsunayoushi's feelings of doubt and mistrust. "Hey, just smile for me will ya?"
And Tsunayoushi gives his Uncle Colonnello a big toothy smile, because that is what he was taught to do.
Colonnello and Fong remained on parallel sides of the younger boy as they walked toward his school, both holding on to one of his hands, lifting him up carefully as if he were playing on the monkey bars at a park. Tsunayoushi giggled often, his stomach doing summersaults as his tiptoes detached from the ground.
"Good Morning, Chrome-chan!"
"Good morning Tsunayoushi-kun," The small girl greeted them from behind the school gate, she smiled lightly at the young boy. "Did you do your homework?"
"Yeah I got help from Hibarin yesterday…I didn't really get it."
Recognition flashed her eyes. "Oh, from Hibarin…is he still mad at you?"
"No, he's talking to me now," The brown haired boy's eyes glimmered. "That's why I'm really happy today Chrome-chan! I'll tell you all about it near our lockers!"
The two uncles looked at how Tsunayoushi talked animatedly with the young girl in front of them, neither paid much mind to the content of the conversation. In fact, they were just content with their boy's capabilities of getting along quite well with children his age. Especially since prior to his enrollment of school his interaction with children his age was quite limited.
"Hey, yo, tuna!" Colonnello grinned, "Is that your girlfriend? Why don't you take her out for a lunch date or somethin', I can give you pointers kid." He began to poke the child's side, teasing him. Fong bit the inside of his cheek, not wanting to embarrass the child in front of him any further (or get on his bad side).
"She's not my girlfriend!" The little boy cried out in indignation, running inside the school's front gate in haste. "Uncle Colonnello, Auntie Lal is right! You're dumb!"
Chrome giggled at the sudden declaration of her classmate, she bowed politely to the two men in front of her and promptly followed the blushing boy inside. "Tsuna-kun, wait for me!"
"TUNA!DON'T LEAVE ME, BABY!" The blond man faked a sniffle, embarrassing the young child even further. "I SWEAR I'll CHANGE! Don't listen to your Aunt Lal you hear!? She's craaaazyyyyy!You're the ONLY ONE FOR ME! REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE 7 YEARS OLD!?YOU PROMISED TO MARRY ME!"
Fong chuckled lightly, "Seems like you're in 2 dog houses now, aren't you Colonnello?"
The American man smiled sloppily as he turned back towards the rode that would lead them home. "I'm just a smooth talker like always, y'know? Let's walk slower when we go home. I don't wanna do laundry today…I just came back from work! Shit, I really don't wanna do any stinkin' chores!"
The Chinese man laughed at Colonnello's childishness, looking forward to the picnic that was to come after Tsunayoushi's school day. As the two men walked and reminisced of their days when they were younger and known as the Great Arcobalenos, the clouds were separating themselves slowly from each other, leaving behind a limitlessly blue sky. Fong wished as the morning sun hit him and Colonnello that these insouciant days could last for just a little while longer.
At lunch time the classroom was filled with cacophonous laughter from the children inside as they waited in line patiently with their drinks at hand. Multiple lunch boxes of a variety of bright colors decorated the teacher's desk, open with their contents inviting and enticing. The children formed a line, picked of what they wanted to sample and either sat down and ate, or took their lunch outside.
"Tsuna-kun, I'll be going with my brother now." The girl with the violet sweater tapped her friend on the shoulder causing Tsuna to turn his head as he attempted to open his locker.
"Ok, Chrome-chan. Have fun!"
At this Chrome looks at her hands and begins to fidget. "My brother says it's ok if you want to eat with us sometime, he says he likes you. He thinks you're funny."
Tsunayoushi's eyes lit up, his check's a light shade of pink. "He-he said that!? Wow, such a cool person likes me…I'm so happy." The young boy imagines a shiny looking Mukuro, winking on his motorcycle.
Chrome laughs lightly at this, "Big brother said he's happy I made a friend like you. I don't have many friends. He doesn't let me talk to too many people…" At this she covers her mouth quickly, as if she had said a bad word.
The young boy is a little startled, but ignores it as not to embarrass the girl. He knows there are some thing you must never pry of. "I want to eat with you and your brother again…but today I can't." Tsuna begins to pout with worried eyes. "Teacher Kyoko told me she had to talk to me in recess. I hope I'm not in trouble."
Chrome's eyebrows furrowed, she was just as confused as the boy was. "Do you want me to stay with you until she comes? I don't think you're in trouble…we were good today and learned the new poem quickly."
"No, it's ok. Teacher Kyoko said it's nothing bad."
As if summoned by his words the young teacher walks in carrying a tray of pudding snacks. She began to hand them out one by one to the children standing near her, her eyes are flickering back and forth in the crowd of children as if searching for something. She stops as she sees Tsunayoushi's frame next to the lockers.
"Ah, Tsunayoushi! Just who I wanted to see, if you could come over here please?" She motioned for him to come closer with her hand, her smile welcoming.
As the boy and girl bid each other their 'see you soons', Tsunayoushi's mind was filled with numerous thoughts over what the teacher could want with him. His stomach tightened as he walked closer and closer to the young teacher passing out pudding cups.
"Tsunayoushi," She said gently as she bent down to his eye level. It reminded Tsunayoushi of him, the man whose mannerisms were like a prince. Mr. Giotto.
"Since you're doing so well in your classes, I'm going to give you a special assignment. This is a very important job, are you prepared Tsunayoushi?"
The young boy's eyes shined as if they were jewels, an important job!? Him!? What if the teacher gave him the same jobs Hibarin was able to do at his age? Hibarin would really be impressed with him now!
"Yes!" Tsunayoushi spoke enthusiastically, clenching his tiny fists. "Yes, I'm ready!"
Tsunayoushi does not understand the reason why his Teacher's eyes cloud a little, he does not understand her hesitance and as to why she is not sure if she should give him the assignment. Kyoko bites her lip.
"Starting from today, you will go every Wednesday to the School's garden. You may take your lunch with you and while there I want you to write in this diary the kind of birds that flock to the trees." The petite woman hands him a nice flat notepad that had a picture of a lion on top of a circus tube. "If none come that is fine, instead I want you to write about the insects you see in the garden patch. We're concerned over the type of insects and birds that may threaten out garden. Tsunayoushi, Its a very important job."
"I understand Teacher Kyoko!" The boy's heart began to beat excitedly in his chest, proud and delighted.
"Good boy, Tsunayoushi." Kyoko patted his head lightly. "Do you promise to keep this a secret?"
"I do!" The young boy said without thinking. "Can I tell my Uncle and Aunties?"
"No," Kyoko bit her lip. "I don't think you should tell them. It's a secret for when they come visit the Garden. Then we can surprise them and tell them it's all thanks to you that the garden has become lovely. Promise me you won't tell about this to your guardians?"
The little boy imagined the pleased looks on his family's face, to think that he could impress them in such a way. He wanted to keep this a secret, he wanted to show them that even during this war he was capable of helping someone, even just a little bit.
"I promise Teacher Kyoko! I won't tell anyone!" At this the boy quickly heads toward the door with notebook and pudding cup in hand. Invigorated and inspired, he quickly made his way toward the sunlit gardens that remained located in back of the school.
When the child is far gone, Kyoko continues to stare at the spot the boy stood during their conversation. Her hands move up to her face slowly, covering it, and sighs as if she were crying.
"I'm sorry Tsunayoushi."
Tsunayoushi sat on the white bench located inside of the sunlit garden. The bench was positioned near the flowers, their smell intoxicating his nostrils with a pleasant smell. He thought of picking some flowers for the return of his Aunt Luce, and with that thought he goes toward the flowerbed with the pink Carnations .He looks at the soil and notices a lady bug crawling up the flowers stems and goes to investigate where it's coming from.
The voice startles the young boy, for he believed he would never ever speak to the owner of the voice again.
In front of him is Giotto not in his uniform but in civilian clothing, yet even with civilian clothing he gave off an impression of elegance and nobility. His clothes were too well kept for him to be just a common man, that and the miasma surrounding him left a strong statement. As he carried a satchel bag in one hand, he crouches down slowly as not to scare the young boy.
"Do you remember me, Tsunayoushi? I don't mean to frighten you." The man's eyes are depths of emotion as he looked at the child, as if just looking at the young boy made him reminisce on the tragic. Like a boat lost at sea.
The child thought to run, yet he knew he shouldn't. The important job was bestowed upon him, he couldn't just let his Teacher Kyoko down so quickly. Not after he had promised to her that he would do his best, promises were meant to be kept.
Eat a thousand needles if I lie.
Yet the other part of him knows he's being a bad child. He is lying to his Aunties and Uncles for he is keeping something hidden from them. A stranger, someone that they do not know. The child is torn between the two and can only stare at the hypnotic man in front of him. Giotto was now sitting right next to the child on the grass, his eyes still on Tsunayoushi.
The boy begins to pout, refusing to look up at the other man. Tsunayoushi looks at the flowers, his hands gripping pieces of grass firmly and stubbornly.
"Ah," Giotto says as he looks at the pudding cup near the child. "Do you like pudding Tsunayoushi? That's one of my favorite snacks. I like mine with caramel at the bottom of the cup, what about you?"
Caramel? Tsunayoushi's eyes lit up.
"I also love strawberry cake. The more strawberry filling the better. Oh but, what I really like is almonds, chocolate and coconut mixed together, just thinking about them makes my mouth water."
"I like them too!" Tsunayoushi blurted out, instantly regretting his outburst as he covers his mouth with his hands quickly.
"Really?" The adult happy that he could make Tsunayoushi speak to him easily smiles. "Do you like yours with yogurt?"
"I love yogurt…" The boy spoke softly, ashamed that he continues to speak to the older male without thought.
"What other things do you like Tsunayoushi?" Giotto began to rummage through his belongings, taking out a rouge lunchbox with utensils. His lunchbox was not very colorful, Tsunayoushi noted, it looked a lot like his Uncle's lunchboxes. Lacking in any kind of decoration but made up for it in size.
"I like cookies with nuts in them…" Tsunayoushi replied, yet his eyes were on the lunch of the elder male. It looked very delicious, chicken with what he could tell to be rice mixed with something strange, it looked like corn. A cup of a green soup that he had never seen before also accompanied the meal with a salad with ingredients he couldn't even name.
"Do you want to eat lunch together, Tsunayoushi?" The man asks this with such a gentle smile that it causes Tsunayoushi to rub his eyes, he had to make sure it wasn't his Uncle Fong. "I brought you something sweet to eat today, but first you need to eat real food."
"I have my own food it's at—"The brown haired boy pats the ground next to him. "OH, no! I forgot it in the classroom…I was such in a hurry to get here…"
"Its fine Tsunayoushi," Giotto patted the boy in the back to calm him down a bit. "I brought this to share with you anyways. It's fine, here's a plate."
The little boy began to feel embarrassed as the adult handed him a plate and began serving him food earnestly. The man in front of him, Tsunayoushi thought, was not related to him nor was he a teacher. He felt it strange as to why would the man be so kind to him, why would the man continue to seek him out if all he did was turn away? The little boy does not understand why the man looks at him as if they aren't strangers, as if he knows him from long ago.
"How is it, Tsunayoushi?" Giotto questioned as he saw the little boy take small bites of his meal, the adult seemed a bit nervous. "Do you like it?"
"Yes, it's very, very good! It's almost as good as my Uncle Fong's cooking." Tsunayoushi begins to eat eagerly, trying the soup as well. "It's very yummy but I don't know what they are. I never had this kind of food."
"I'm happy to hear you say that Tsunayoushi. I was really worried that you wouldn't like it. I spent all last week trying to figure out how to make it."
The boy tilts his head.
"You…made this for me?"
When the man averts his eyes as if someone had called him, Tsunayoushi learns that even someone as big as an adult could become embarrassed.
"Yes," The blond man admits with a light blush. "I really wanted to try eating with you."
"Oh…why?" Confusion then guilt falls over the young boy's face. "But I treated you very rudely last time."
Giotto closes his eyes and shakes his head slowly as he places his hand on top of the smaller child's hand, it startled Tsunayoushi but he makes no motion to spring up and run.
"Tsunayoushi…" The sophisticated man looks at him with such gentle eyes. "Its fine, it doesn't matter to me if you treat me unwell, as long as…" Giotto catches himself. "At that time you didn't even treat me rudely, you were very kind. You were being a good boy, after all it isn't very wise to talk to strangers."
The brigadier general had no idea why just talking seemed more difficult than handling his men and barking orders. He is frustrated why talking to a small boy could make him flustered and make him act like an awkward love-struck fool.
"I just…I just really want to be your friend Tsunayoushi."
"Y-you want to be my friend?" The brown haired child asked in confusion. "Really?"
"Yes," The blond man gulped. "Will you let me Tsunayoushi?"
Tsunayoushi continued to stare up at the elder man, not speaking.
"I don't know…I don't want to get in trouble." The boy averts his eyes. "My aunties and uncles don't let me talk to you..."
Giotto's eyes flash in worry.
"They tell you that? They've told you about me?" The blond man grips his fork tightly, eager on what the boy has to say.
"N-no, they don't say you… but all Capulets. Mister you're a Capulet right?"
At this, Giotto smiles a taciturn smile. "Not completely."
"I'm going to let you in on a secret Tsunayoushi, I'm half Montague and Capulet."
What…really..!? The child's eyes held sparkles in them, his disbelief that an adult could trust him with such a cool secret came shining through. Tsunayoushi was now fully facing the elder male, curious and excited, all previous sense of fear and mistrust leaving him like the clouds revealing a bright sun on that afternoon.
The conversation continued between the adult and the child as they ate, both enjoying their fortunate weather as well as the food they had consumed. The garden's miasma had changed into one of familiarity as Tsunayoushi was getting used to the scenery as well as the man in front of him. They both ate a slice of cake together, strawberry, the boy gathered as he took a bite.
"Mr. Giotto, why do you come here to the garden? You were here the last time I came here." The blond haired man's eyes are blank, unsure of what to say to the child's questions." Ah, I think I know who you are…you're the garden keeper! Last time I saw you in the pet store because you were buying some medicine for the bugs here right?"
Giotto tried his hardest not to laugh at the boy's deduction skills. "Hm, indeed I'm the garden keeper Tsunayoushi. In a way I'm kind of like a teacher. If you like, when people ask about me you can say you were talking to Mr. Tokugawa . Giotto is my first name, so you must always address me as for they might not know otherwise. It's fine if you just call me Giotto though."
So that's why he was being so nice, he was a teacher, a good guy. "Teacher Kyoko told me there are bugs that sometimes eat our garden and cause problems, so she gave me a very important job to do. I have to record in my notebook the bugs and birds that come to feed in the garden. So far I've only seen a few small birds and a lady bug."
The man nodded as he bite into a forkful of strawberry.
"Oh I, see. What else did your Teacher Kyoko tell you?"
"Well she said that it was a secret…I know I can tell you because it's your job to take care of the gardens. That's why I always see you here. But she told me that I'm coming here every Wednesday." He would be able to talk to the nice teacher Mr. Tokugawa more in that way, knowing that, it made the child incredibly happy inside. "I hope I won't disturb your work…"
At that statement Giotto frowns. A bird begins to chirp in the distance joining in muffled voices of children.
"Tsunayoushi you're never a bother, alright? So please don't say things like that anymore." For you Giotto said to himself, I have done so much and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
The little boy looks pensively to the flowers in front of him and says "My aunties and aunts say that too... I don't know if it's really true sometimes."
The man sighs.
"I'm sure you're not a bother to them and they enjoy having you around." Giotto looks at Tsunayoushi's small frame, how he continued to twirl the grass with his fingers. "Even if they're busy, I'm sure they want nothing more than to spend some time with you." Giotto gets a faraway look in his eyes, looking at the little boy yet not looking at him at the same time. "I think that there comes a time in childhood when you have to make a decision, something painful that you don't want to do. Once that decision is made you become an adult quite forcefully, you can no longer go back to the way things were." His eyes begin to take on an angry look, one of a wounded animal. "There is no other option in life except to endure. That is the way life is, to exist is to endure."
Tsunayoushi understands that sometimes adults talk to themselves, so he just listens and sees the way the adult's eyes quickly lose their bite. He thought of his Uncle Reborn, how sometimes he became so angry that he even once hit Auntie Lal . He blocks these thoughts and decides to ask questions.
"Mr Giotto, are your parents nice like you?"
"Ah," At this Giotto's calm face cracks, it was an expression of nothingness. "About that Tsunayoushi, My parents…" He looks to the left at the strawberry patch just near the gate, the adult smiles a little sadly.
"I don't have any."
The brown haired boy's eyes widen just a bit, the light of the sun shining through them giving them a yellow tint.
"You don't have any parents…?"
"I don't have any parents either!" The child speaks as if Giotto and he had been comrades for a long time, he begins to love the person in front of him more and more. He wants to talk to the gardener even more. "It's sad sometimes, when you don't have any but that's ok, because Uncle Fong tells me he loves me enough for two people. Do you have a person like that too?"
Giotto smiles tenderly at the child next to him, touched and saddened. "No, not in particular, I have very good friends though that have helped me in my dark times. But Tsunayoushi , I'm very glad you have someone kind like your Uncle Fong with you. You seem to love him very much Tsunayoushi, Is he picking you up from school today?"
"He takes me to school but my auntie takes turns. One of my uncles came back from work and I like to play with him."
The young boy decided inside his mind that he wanted to be Mr. Tokugawa"s best friend no matter what. He was nothing like the adults he knew and treated him like an equal. He treated him like Hibarin did. The gardener demonstrated on that day to the younger boy that he too was someone that Tsunayoushi could share secrets and food together. Someone that would always be there for him.
"My Auntie Lal says he is a dumb guy, and that he didn't even finish school. He's also a Capulet but my auntie told me he's the good kind of Capulet. We hide him at home so he can't go outside a lot because the people will think badly of him. I don't get it, why people don't understand that my uncle Colonello is a good guy, he's not a bad guy. Do people think you're bad too because you're a Capulet?"
Giotto listened to the boy's chatter as he began to pick up their eating utensils and plates.
"Yes, I'm afraid they do often." The blond man places his lunch box back into his satchel, fastening it neatly. "I try to be kind to everyone and make sure things are run very efficiently, even so many people act upon gossip instead of the truth."
"But why can't you tell them only half of you is bad, so they can leave you alone?" The thought of people being mean to Mr. Tokugawa made little Tsunayoushi angry, how can they be mean to ? The man who tended the gardens and that would listen to him talk couldn't be a bad guy. There was no way.
"Tsunayoushi, do you honestly think being a Capulet is bad?" Giotto breaths through his nose as if annoyed the little boy would say that. "Do you think I'm half good and half bad as you say?"
The boy raises a hand to his head in thought.
"Hmm, I think you're a good person even though you scared me at first." Giotto flinched lightly. "I don't think Capulets are bad because my Uncle Colonnello is one and he is a very good person. Some Montague people tell others that you guys are monsters but I've seen you around town and you guys don't have any monster faces. You guys just look like normal people."
The man begins to smile as he pats the boy's head. "That's because they are normal people. You're very bright Tsunayoushi, brighter than most adults I have to say."
"So your parents also have to be good Capulets!" Tsunayoushi chatted on, not leaving his curiosity behind. " But..do you sometimes think about your parents and what happened to them?" The boy lowers his head toward the ground. "Because I do, a whole lot."
The adult feels a strong sorrow swell up on his chest, wanting to hug the little boy that he knows should be much closer to him than his Aunties and Uncles. A sudden surge of possessiveness comes into Giotto's thoughts, but he pushes them away because he is a noble man. He will do what's best for Tsunayoushi, and Tsunayoushi loves his Aunts and Uncles. He would never take that love away from him.
"I feel the same way Tsunayoushi.I think about them a lot. Quite often actually, it's not just children that call for their mother and father Tsunayoushi, its adults as well."
It had happened when Giotto was only 17 years old.
Giotto was startled by the uproar that he had heard in their parent's bedroom that night.
The blond teen looked lazily to his left, searching for his brother in the darkness. Giotto stood on his feet, walking toward the crib enthusiastically and sleep deprived, he is not looking forward to dealing with the infant's fussiness tonight. He finds Tsunayoushi awake on his back, staring curiously at the little star shaped toys dangling in front of him. The teen smiled tenderly, relieved as he placed a blanket on top of the child, tucking him in in shape of a small egg.
'Mother and Father need to stop drinking so late at night…'
Honestly, Giotto was more than happy with the sleeping arrangements. He always viewed his parents as good-natured people yet were too playful for his liking. Knowing that his parents would be constantly baking due to their job as Café shop owners, the whole family had come to an agreement that it would be for the best to locate Tsunayoushi's crib in his elder brother's room. In that manner, Giotto could keep an eye on him and his parents wouldn't have to reach far to see the child. It was very convenient for Giotto's room was right next to the kitchen.
Tomorrow would be Giotto's military test, it would be the test that would set his future not only as a Capulet resident but also his destiny. He had spent many sleepless nights reading theories of government and law, he had spent days filled with combat training to secure his success in the test that would allow his family to prosper. As the eldest son he volunteered himself to be sacrificed to the military instead of his father who he feared was growing older. The Capulet nation held a requirement for at least one person in the household to hold some type of Government connection, a rule that if were to be broken were punishable with exile or even execution. He did well, and left his formal education with a scholarship at 11 years old to study for the government's militaristic school. In there he was viewed as a prodigy, not only was he intelligent and had good memory, but he also held a characteristic that was unique to him. That trait is the sole reason for his scholarship, and that reason is that he is a half blood. Half Montague, Half Capulet.
Half Bloods were unheard of, cases of them were rare and due to the prejudice that many faced chose to keep such information hidden for the rest of their lives.
The love story between Giotto's parents was not a heart pounding one filled with the usual dramatics and the intricate plot of a romance novel. It was something simple and poignant, something that wasn't as flimsy as falling in love at first sight. Both had met by chance in the Montague ship ports as Giotto's father was employed at the time to a Capulet seafood business. Every morning a woman would come to sell them donuts and coffee, one of the only few that would even approach the Capulets, and even spoke to them amicably. After some time, the man and the woman both declared their feelings for one another, and thus their relationship began. Giotto's mother stood behind for sometimes weeks on end for at least two years looking forward to Giotto's father's visits. They had enough of such a relationship and decided to marry, and without a doubt they were rejected by the Montague nation. Giotto's mother was also sentenced to exile, so the couple decided it would be best to start a new life in the Capulet nation.
Once they reached Capulet soil they were allowed to marry on one condition. Gaining the attention and support of a certain faction of the government, they were allowed to marry if they granted permission for their future children to be monitored onto adulthood. The faction at that time wanted to see if there were any scientific proof that Capulet and Montague mixed children were to come out with deformities or illnesses. The small government faction was made up of wealthy radicals and revolutionists, they wanted mixed families to allow themselves to be studied so they could begin integrating them into mainstream society. For their trouble, they were compensated immensely so without a doubt they agreed, for there was little to lose. The happy couple after a lengthy struggle could be married at last, the date was on June the 3rd. Soon after they were expecting a baby boy, Giotto.
The father and son functioned in society without much trouble, although the same could not be said for the mother. There were many instances when the wife could not accompany her husband to restaurants, public bathrooms or even drink off the same water fountains as the Capulets. Giotto as a child questioned why his mother never introduced herself as his mother, or why his mother would stay home when his father took him out to eat for being good. When he was much older he understood of her sacrifice, he understood what she had to give up to be with the ones she loved. Giotto's mixed blood was kept a secret from anyone that wasn't a government official, the boy's looks a blessing for he didn't resemble a Montague at the least. They kept it hidden for they didn't want Giotto to be treated poorly either, they wanted him to have what his mother couldn't have. Dignity, pride.
So the boy had no choice but to make up his mind at a young age to work hard enough to be accepted into a government/ militaristic school. In doing so he thought, 'I could change the world,' and it wasn't the money or the fame that he would get for such work that inspired him, it was the power he would gain that could change the course of a world.
Filled with childish ideals, Giotto envisioned a world often in his mind, a pretend world, in which Capulets and Montague could live together in peace and acceptance. Knowing he needed power to do so, he kept his grades in the advanced level and learned to say the correct things in front of bigots at his school, he learned how to agree with people when inside he was thinking just the opposite and his insides were twisting. The boy could grin and endure at that age of 13 all of these things, and the reason isn't a presumptuous one like becoming a strong leader or a ruler, it was something much simpler.
He merely wished to one day be able to go outside and eat with his mother in his favorite diner.
Giotto at his military school heard many rumors as he attended daily. Like how some people held underground drug rings or how half-blood families were targeted at night. They were killed in their homes, the police not even bothering to intervene. After all, what was life for something deemed as subhuman? He was aware of how such things could happen, but he had never once thought that it would happen to him and his family. There was also a rumor going around in those times that the government was secretly recruiting people to be drafted, young people, radical people, to be subjected to a war that would last several years. A world war. Yet even with all these gossip and warnings, people refused to believe in such things, they chose to ignore that when there is a fire there is always smoke.
The 17 year old Giotto's thoughts were shattered into dust as he heard his mother let out a bloodcurdling scream, his father soon joining her in shouts of alarm. Giotto wants to go look, he wants to see what is causing his parents to behave in such a strange manner, but not while he has the infant in his arms. He curses his indecisiveness and his pride as he refuses to hide in the cupboard underneath the stairs (the one that they've always told him to use in case of emergencies). He's no coward, he says to himself, but he knows he must get there not for himself, but for the child in his arms.
He runs outside his door ignoring the screams and uproar from his parent's room and looks toward the stairs. Inside the cupboard he holds Tsunayoushi within his arms for dear life, he's no coward he repeats to himself as he breathes in heavily. His thoughts were mingling together all at once, where could he hide the child? If I were to engage in any sort of combat or self-defense where in the world could I hide Tsunayoushi? Giotto took long deep breaths inside the small cupboard, calming himself down with Tsunayoushi's smell of milk and baby powder.
After a minute's thought he quickly made up his mind. He grabbed blankets that he found stored in the cupboard to create a small nest, small enough to fit the small child in like a glove. He made it carefully, making sure it would not cause the infant to fall or to feel cold. He placed the resting Tsunayoushi on top of the small bed he made, making sure to himself that it was steady.
Opening the cupboard quietly, he left the sleeping child lie peacefully ignorant on the chaos that was about to unfold. Giotto goes to the living room, choosing to hide in back of a huge sofa as he was capable of seeing the cupboard's door if anything were to happen and as well as the view of the stairs.
'What once was up must come down', he thinks to himself.
After a while he hears muffled screaming as well as urgent footsteps on the stairs, his heart beats quickly inside of him for the anticipation of what he might see terrifies him greatly.
It was worse, for imagination is never as frightening as reality.
His father and mother looked quite deranged, bleeding from various places battered and bruised. They were tied up, storming up a fight even with handkerchiefs in their mouths. They were being dragged down the stairs, being pulled around roughly by three men all the while attempting to inflict any damage that they could by flailing around helplessly. They were brought to the living room, made to kneel in the middle as if an interrogation were to take place.
"I ask you again ma'am is there someone else in this house?" The one who asked the question was a man in a sharp suit with a fedora, his presence commanding respect, his eyes clouded by the shadow of his hat. He crouches down, ripping the bloody piece of cloth from the woman's mouth. From what Giotto could see his mother was bleeding from her stomach, her eyes becoming unfocused. She ignored Reborn's questioning and merely looked at the floor breathing heavily.
"I love you all very much."
Giotto on the other side of the couch knew she was talking about him and his brother. As she spoke these words of love to the air, Giotto gripped his arms so tightly that he bled. How could he even allow his mother to be treated in such a manner!? What was the use of all his strength if he couldn't even use his strong pair of legs to move forward and help?
"What is she talking about?!" A young guy asked in annoyance, Giotto gathered was around his age, piercings on his face. "If anyone sees us we're fucked, y'know how they are about this kind of shit."
A dark haired man with a long braid tapped his ear device twice. "Camouflage, Tar, ask the three waiting in the car to check outside for any passerby, we seem to have several other people not mentioned that are living here. We saw several rooms that indicated there are others among them."
Giotto did not understand what was occurring but what he did know that if they were to touch his brother he would kill them with no remorse. A million scenarios appeared in his head, what could he use to cause a distraction? He needed to call the police, he needed to go get help.
Giotto's father spoke in between heaves, blood was in his mouth and added, "We love all of you, don't forget you're special."
"Will you shut him the fuck up!? They're creeping me out, it's like watching that creepy ass Ring movie 'Camouflage' showed me the other day." Skull groaned in annoyance. "Seriously, let's just get this over with, I am so done with this job."
Reborn sighed "Skull you are an aggravating piece of filth, you annoy the hell out of me," He said as he rubbed his temples. "Why couldn't they send us to kill you instead, they wouldn't even have to pay me. I'd do it for free."
Sent to kill? Giotto's eyes became hazy. Are they from the Montague nation?
"Whatever you freaking jerk! I can't stand being here in the Capulet Nation, it gives me the creeps! C'mon let's just get this over with." Skull turned around and looked sadly at the couple in front of him. He bit his lip. "You're only making them suffer more."
Reborn scoffed as Skull bent towards the man and the woman in front of him.
"Look lady and mister, I know my apology isn't worth much. Especially after everything we did to you…but I just want you to know I'm really sorry about this. We need to kill you, If we don't we'd get ki—"
Not letting Skull finish Reborn shoots Giotto's father in the stomach, the blood splashing on his wife's face.
"Shutup Skull. You talk too damn much."
"Reborn you did that to spite me! You do that EVERYTIME!"
Before Tsunayoushi's mother could react to the gruesome sight in front of her, Fong was already behind her with a hold around her neck.
"I am sorry, dear. I do not usually kill women…but this…." As if it pained him more, Fong made a disgusted face as he snapped the women's neck in two, her death quick and instant.
Giotto could only stare with wide eyes, no outbursts, no movement, in that moment he was still. He was a camera, cold and observant.
"Let's leave." Fong was angry, the other two men noticed how his eyes lacked a path. "This was nothing short of distasteful."
Skull turned to Reborn. "Shouldn't we look around in case there are other's here? This job was retarded even from the start. Why the hell would they tell us to kill these two civilians anyway!?"
Reborn smacked skull in the back of the head with his gun. "You imbecile do you really believe that these two were regular civilians? I'd believe the woman was, but the man? He put up a great fight, I'm even wounded." His showed the other his bleeding shoulder as Skull grew tense…
"Reborn! Fong! Behind you!"
Giotto lunged at Reborn's weak spot, plunging a knife right at the tip. Skull took advantage of Giotto distraction and quickly grabs the blonde from behind to sustain him. As soon as Giotto was in Skull's arms he begins to punch and kick, sinking his nails into the other's skin to make the other release him.
"OW! What the fuck!?" Skull falls to the floor in pain grabbing his right eye. "HE POKED MY EYE!"
Giotto in an adrenaline rush thinks he can also take on Fong. He charges for the man as fast as he can, extending his arm out to punch just like they thought him in training. He does not even reach him, as he loses his balance by Reborn's hand on his foot. The Teen collides head first onto the ground, his nose cracking because of the speed and the force of his fall.
"You must be the son of that man, you have good aim like him." The one who had tripped Giotto stood up, Reborn continued to speak as he placed a foot on the teen's back. Giotto does not say a thing, merely attempts to get up to no avail, the full weight of the man on his back.
"Reborn", Fong says quietly as he helped Skull get up. "He's but a mere child. Don't kill him, we'll take him to the orphanage on our way back."
Reborn does not respond, just tugs Giotto by the collar of his shirt effortlessly. The boy is dangling a few inches off the floor, yet his eyes do not waver. He's looking deep into Reborn's eyes as if taunting him, as if challenging him.
The Italian man smirks and punches Giotto in the face, spilling blood all over the table in the living room. The teen falls, lying on top of the table as if he were merely a bag of meat.
"Fong, if we come back with this boy at the headquarters they'd kill him." Reborn rummages through his pocket to take out a cigarette box. "If we're going to give him to an orphanage we might as well kill him, those places are shitholes."
Skull's fidgets a bit, knowing just how bad the orphanages were. "Fong, Reborn is right we can't take him to an orphanage. We can't. Let's just let him go, please Reborn. He isn't gonna hurt anybody."
The Italian man lights up a cigarette, the smell of tobacco covering up the smell of the putrid bodies decaying next to him.
"Boy, our orders were to kill the adults of this household. They were your parents weren't they? They must have pissed off someone higher up, don't make this harder on us. Now, tell us is there anyone else here at this house that we should know about?"
Giotto refuses to answer, just looks at thin air heaving in between breaths as blood continued to pour from his nose, his body aching all over.
Reborn was not a patient man. "Come out now whoever it is. Or we'll make you come out," No answer. He hands Skull the lighter that he used for his cigarette. "Here, set a fire near the stairs. That way if anyone's still up there we don't have to trouble ourselves."
Giotto sprints up quickly, surprising Skull and even Reborn. The boy was a stubborn one they mused. Fong makes no motion to stop him as the teen continues to run towards the cupboard hoping he'd reach it before the other three did.
"So there was someone else here!" Skull spoke as he cornered the teen who was now covering the entrance to the door.
"No there is no one here," Giotto lied through his teeth. Cursing his mistake. "There is no one here, I'd rather die than let you three pass."
At those words Reborn smirks and trades blows with Giotto, the dark man not even breaking in sweat while the teen grinds his teeth in effort. He knows the man is leagues ahead of him in training, but nonetheless he wants to try. Giotto continues to fight for as long as his body could take him, his body lacking in real combat and due to his injuries gives in to fatigue. Reborn takes notice of this and begins to pummel Giotto mercilessly, grabbing Giotto by the head and ramming it on the wall in front of him. Blood squirted from his head , yet Giotto wants to keep on going, he doesn't want his legs to give up.
You must fight, You must fight. You must not waver, for Tsunayoushi's sake. Think of your parents and what happened to them because you couldn't save them. Coward.
Giotto falls in humiliation, not allowing himself to shed tears for what had occurred. He will be noble through it all and remain pure, he tells himself.
Fong enters the cupboard after they tie Giotto up. Reborn and Skull keep an eye on the defeated Giotto who just glared at Fong from behind his back.
"Oh my…"Fong says quietly after some silence.
"What is it?" Reborn asks from outside the door.
"Fong?" Skull calls as his arms tighten around Giotto.
The Chinese man comes out of the cupboard looking quite flustered holding something covered in blankets, much like an egg. He gently unwraps the blanket showing Tsunayoushi's peaceful face who looked at them with curiosity and wonder.
The blood in everyone's body turned cold.
"A child? What is a child doing here?" Fong spoke in hushed whispers, as if not wanting to frighten the child. "They didn't tell me anything of this. The only thing they told us was that we would have to kill only two people tonight."
"Of course they didn't, otherwise you would have refused Mr I don't kill children policy. Honestly makes no difference to me. The only thing I expect them to do is pay me accordingly, those cheapskates will hear from me right after."
Skull throws Reborn a look of worry. "Reborn..don't kill them alright. I'll do anything, I'll clean your shoes and buy you 3 more suits just please…don't..they're only kids."
Giotto is coughing, the skin around his eyes beginning to purple. "There are more people in this house. There are five of them, I will not tell you a thing unless you unhand the infant and give him to me."
"You're a horrible liar kid."
Fong glared at Reborn, the child still in his arms. "Leave them alone Reborn. We've both been had…." The people around the Chinese man are not aware of the storm raging inside of him. Fong had reached a point in his life where he realized his thoughts were unparalleled to his actions, he found his life to be meaningless and lacking of any real direction. At that moment, he realized if he spared these children's lives that in some small way he could atone for his sins. Or so he thought.
"The infant can come with us, we could sell him to a wealthy family that can't have children." Reborn points with his thumb at Giotto. "That one can't come with us. He's too old for any orphanage, no one will want to take him in. If we try to take him with us, he'll try to kill us the moment our back is turned. Why would he want to live with someone that killed his parents?"
Giotto would rather die than allow the men in front of him to care for him, yet he bites back his pride and swallows it. 'Don't take him, don't take him from me,' is what Giotto wanted to say but couldn't say. He sat properly, sitting on his knees, his hands tied behind his back. He was bleeding from his forehead as well as his nostrils, his body filled with bruises and aching all over. Even so the young teen looks elegant and his eyes do not waver. He breathes heavily thinking on the situation while staring at Tsunayoushi in the arms of the Chinese man.
'I can't do a single thing can I? My pride doesn't allow me to go to an orphanage, I shouldn't have to be in such a position. I had parents and I'm not an orphan. My parents didn't abandon me, they were taken away from me. They were taken from me by these three men and now they want to take my brother away. If I bend backwards for these people, who's to say they wouldn't kill us once they gain our trust?'
Giotto continued to look at the huddled child with a blank face and absolute silence.
'If they both take us to an orphanage my brother will surely be able to become adopted. If I go with him, I surely won't. I'd have to wait one more year until I can go get him myself, then there's paper work. Then I have to quit my studies. All the hard work I paid for down the drain. I'd have to get a job and begin to support myself and as well as my brother. Will I be able to provide for Tsunayoushi? How can I be sure that Tsunayoushi won't be taken away by then? The other option is to let him be taken care of by these people, the Chinese man seems to have at least some morals. I wouldn't be with him, but at least with them I wouldn't have to worry about them having the means to financially support Tsunayoushi. There is nowhere else for me to go except to live alone, if I can't even take care of myself how can I expect to take care of my brother. There are only two choices, I take him with me or I need to leave him behind.'
The light in the hallway left shadows on the group that stood near the stairs. Fong looked at the teen in front of him with a surprised expression as well as Skull, who turned to look at Giotto as if he had spoken in tongue.
"Hm," Reborn looked at the teen who held an intensity in his eyes. His words absolute. "Then say it, you need to disown him in front us. There is no taking this back, you can't ever see him again and you can't ever seek us out ever again. This night did not happen, this meeting with all of us never happened. Do you understand?"
As much as it pained Giotto to say it, he announces in front of the three men standing above him, near his baby brother and the corpses of his parents, "I don't want this child in front of me. This child is dead to me, he was never born. You can take him."
Skull hesitantly looses his grip on Giotto's arms. Taken aback from his words. Fong looked at Giotto half filled with pity, half filled with respect. He crouches down to the teenage boy and lets him look at the child one last time.
"I'm sorry, Tsunayoushi." Giotto has no tears in his eyes, just guilt and regret. "I couldn't protect you."
Reborn pulls Giotto up roughly, untying the boy yet making sure he didn't cause any trouble. Fong took this as a signal to leave the house, baby in hand. Skull walked backwards behind Fong, looking at Reborn and Giotto near the staircase.
As the two disappear, Reborn takes his wallet out from his pocket and hands wads of cash to the teenager in front of him. "This should hold you for a few months. You got good instincts, you should consider putting them to use."
Giotto makes no motion to take the other's money.
"Don't be proud you brat. I beat you fair and square didn't I? Listen, I'm letting you live." This caught the teenager's attention, the way the man with the fedora said it, it was as if Giotto owed him a favor. "This isn't what I chose, thank my colleagues. It's for their sake I'm letting you live, no one else's. Don't pry into anything that happened tonight. Your parents weren't merely some bakers, they were caught in things that they should have been more careful about. You have no one to blame but your parents and your weakness."
The man hands the now trembling teenager a case of matches and a lighter.
"Burn this house down, do not leave a trace behind. If you don't do as I say I will not hesitate to kill you or the child when I get a hold of him."
Giotto takes the items in his hands and looks at Reborn long and hard. They stared at each other for some time until Reborn throws the money he offered Giotto on the floor, turns around, walks away and does not turn back.
Giotto stands in front of his home as it is engulfed in flames. It looked like purgatory to the adolescent as he saw the house he grew up in destroyed along with the corpses of his mother and father. All of his prized collection of books, Tsunayoushi's baby crib and his first stuffed animals that they had brought on his birth night, his mother's scrapbooks that she worked on diligently, or his father's prized fishing rods, All of those things were scorched into dust. They were like memories that had been forgotten with time, disintegrating slowly. The sirens filled the city, passerby stood and looked at Giotto in worry as he fell for the first time that night down to his knees with tears on his face. He looked at his now broken home where his family used to eat in, talk together and bake in. He thinks that his education only made him unhappy at the end, it made him unhappy thinking about it—that no matter how much he worked to have changed his life( and of his family's) ,he could not change the world that surrounded him.
Giotto was on his knees crying like a lost child. His tears noble like he, he had no where to be, no where to call home. In between sobs he says to himself "I've lost everything."
He has never forgotten that night for as long as he lived.
Giotto, now an adult blinks with tears in his eyes. He has no idea why he had just thought of those memories. He was no longer in front of an inferno, he was in the middle of a garden patch in a children's school. It was a beautiful day and his brother was not lost to him for he was right in front of him.
Tsunayoushi looked at the man peculiarly," Why are you crying? Does your tummy hurt?"
"Ah," Giotto begins to wipe his tears with his pocket handkerchief. "I…I just remembered something hurtful from the past. There's no need for you to worry."
For some odd reason as the birds begin to chirp, the little boy visions his Aunt Luce crying as she had spoiled the fish at the market that one day, or the way in the morning his Uncles and Aunties told him he could never see Aunt Viper ever again.
Tsunayoushi asks the adult, "Is it something you can't get back?"
"Yes…" The noble man says, "I can never get them back."
At those words, the child decides he cannot take the gardener looking so sad. So he does what he thinks is best, like when he plays house with his kitten Nuts, and gets up to give the man a hug.
"Don't be sad , everything will be ok."
As the tiny hands stroked Giotto's hair in that sunlit garden, the man thought to himself that truly, everything would be alright.
Thank you everyone. You are all very supportive and wonderful. Thank you!