Three Things that Might Have Happened to Xanxus

A spin-off from Lys ap Adin’s AU "Five Things that Never Happened to Xanxus" (read that first). What if Federico had lived and Squalo’s duel with Tyr had happened on schedule? What would happen then? And how would Tsuna come into it? Drama with Occasional Romance, I-4

Pairing(s): Xanxus/Squalo

Many Roads

Promotion, in the Varia, happened for all kinds of reasons: when a squad leader decided it was about time, when the person wanting promotion decided it was about time, when the Boss needed another squad leader, in the field when someone had to take charge, for political or family influence though those didn’t usually survive very long. It all usually worked out, on way or another. The question of who would lead the Varia, though, wasn’t left up to anyone but the one who led already and the one who wanted to.

"Watch him," Tyr had murmured as he passed Xanxus on his way to the open, tree-fenced practice ground the Varia kept. So he was watching, standing off to the side with folded arms while his commander and some scrappy silver haired punk with a sword went at it.

He had to admit, the kid was good; he’d trained with Tyr often enough himself to know he wasn’t holding back, and it had been hours and the kid was still standing. They pressed each other back and forth and, as the hours ran on and the sunlight slanted down into dark, they did things Xanxus had never seen, moves that looked like they belonged to a wrestling match, moves made for a spear or a lead pipe, moves that he almost couldn’t follow, that took such subtle advantage of the shape of their swords there were probably books written about how and why it worked.

They didn’t stop when the sun went down.

They didn’t stop when it came up.

They stopped at midday, but only because they’d both passed out from exhaustion, and only to start again when they could stand.

They stopped when Squalo lost a hand, but only long enough for him to back off and tie the stump off with vicious force, before he charged in again.

They stopped for good when Tyr finally fell.

Xanxus ran a disgusted hand through his hair. "Fantastic," he muttered to himself. "Watch him, yeah, right. Fuck you, boss." He could feel eyes on him, feel the watchers waiting to see what the second in command would do. He pushed away from the brick wall he’d leaned against and walked forward until he faced Squalo over Tyr’s body. Silence spread out, the murmurs of the watchers dying away again. He stared at the kid and the kid stared back, eyes dark and dilated. Squalo didn’t speak, and Xanxus wondered if that was just exhaustion or there was more going on here that Tyr had wanted him to see.

"Fucked if I’m gonna be led by a brat like you," Xanxus said, finally, and another murmur swept around them.

The kid didn’t even blink. "Fight me, then."

Xanxus glanced down at Tyr and back up, eyes raking over Squalo, who was swaying on his feet, blood still dripping from the end of his arm. He snorted and turned away toward the watching crowd. "Don’t just stand there! Take him to the hospital, dump some blood back into him, and some fucking food while you’re at it. Tomorrow," he added, looking back at Squalo, who had his mouth open, glaring even as bled-out and flattened as he was.

Squalo snapped his mouth shut and grinned. "Tomorrow."

The kid left on his own feet and Xanxus glared down at Tyr’s body. "Hope you’re fucking amused," he muttered, leaning down to straighten Tyr’s limbs. The other squad leaders came forward and he flipped the commander’s badge at one of them. "Hold onto this."

He and Squalo met the next afternoon, on the same field.

Squalo focused on him the same way he’d focused on Tyr and Xanxus wondered briefly if he was like that in all his fights, and whether this actually had anything at all to do with who led the Varia. There was a way to tell, now he thought of it. He locked eyes with the kid, lifted one of his guns and fired just to the side of Squalo. A swath of trees blew away into splinters.

The kid glanced at the destruction and turned back to Xanxus, eyes hot, teeth bared. "Fight me," he said again, low and eager.

Yeah, maybe this wasn’t about who led, not for Squalo. Xanxus shrugged. "Fine." He beckoned sharply with the barrel of the gun and Squalo came in on him, poised and taut. Xanxus caught the sword on the metal of the gun and kicked out, watching as Squalo twisted aside. It took three exchanges for him to decide he’d better go all out. Even half dead from the fight with Tyr, Squalo was damn good. Besides, it would be no kind of win if the kid passed out again.

And it had been a while since he’d been able to take all the brakes off.

Squalo made a husky sound the next time they closed, and his movement turned sharper, faster, like he was reflecting Xanxus or pulled along somehow. It was weird, a distant corner of Xanxus’ mind observed; Squalo was focused on him like a fucking laser but he also seemed, as Xanxus smashed aside a thrust, almost distracted by something. And Xanxus was positive now, shooting out Squalo’s footing to stop a lunge, that he was fighting to fight, not to lead. That would, he decided as he ducked a tearing cut, make for a good Varia member. It made for a good fight, and in the end Xanxus was bleeding from a dozen slashes, limping from two of them, head ringing from one damn vicious hilt strike. But he was still the one standing and one of his guns was pressed to Squalo’s forehead. Squalo looked up at him, eyes as wide and dark as they’d been yesterday, before he closed them, waiting.

There was no fear in them, though.

Xanxus thought about that and nodded and caught Squalo a good crack across the side of the head with the butt. Squalo went down in a heap and Xanxus turned to look at the medic who’d brought Squalo from the hospital. "Take him back."

"Damn straight," the man muttered, marching onto the field to collect Squalo, mouth set in a disapproving line. Xanxus snorted, amused for a moment when he thought about how someone like Squalo probably reacted to being told to take it easy. "Well?" he added, hands on his hips, looking around at the witnesses.

The senior squad leader tossed him the commander’s badge. "We’re good."

Xanxus eyed the bit of metal with little favor. "All right. I’ll tell the Ninth, then." He limped over and grabbed a roll of gauze from the medic before he left, winding it tight around his thigh. He swore under his breath all the way to the Ninth’s office, and not because of the pain. "Watch him," he growled to himself, as he reached the door. "You could have just said ‘tame him, but don’t kill him’. You could have just said ‘ready or not, sucker’." He respected his commander… his ex-commander. But sometimes he really wondered about Tyr’s sense of humor.

The old man looked up and smiled to see him, but sighed. Xanxus ran that through his "sentimental old bastard" filter and snorted. "Kid’s still alive. I’m not going to kill a member that valuable just because he hasn’t got the sense god gave a fucking duckling."

Federico, leaning over the Ninth’s shoulder to read whatever it was they were looking at laughed. "Sounds like he’s a good match for you."

Xanxus gave him a dire look, which had no effect at all. He was used to that, but it still pissed him off.

"Tyr told me it would be you who led after him, whichever way this went," the Ninth sighed and beckoned Xanxus over. "Come. There’s a job we may need the Varia for within the next month."

The little metal badge suddenly felt like it weighed a lot more. Xanxus wondered if this was how Federico felt all the time, these days, and glanced over at him, curious. The wry smile he got made him think it probably was.

"Yes, Boss," Xanxus answered and came to stand at Federico’s shoulder.

The World on its Side

Federico liked to use one of the sitting rooms for most of his talks with Family members, but when a killing needed to be planned, he preferred his office. It reminded him to stay focused on business and not sidetrack or delay the inevitable.

"All right." Squalo pushed back his chair and stood. "I’ll get my squad ready." He waited for Xanxus’ nod before actually leaving and Federico stifled yet another chuckle. Xanxus paused in rising and eyed him.

"What? You’ve been smirking a lot lately."

"Oh, it’s just Squalo." Federico shook his head at the door.

Xanxus frowned. "I know he’s young to be a squad leader, but hell so was I…"

Federico waved a hand. "No, no. Not that. It’s just his crush on you."

Xanxus stared. "You’re shitting me," he said finally.

"Not at all." Federico cocked his head. "Xanxus. Did you really miss it?"

"He just likes people who can fight!" Xanxus protested.

"Well, yes. That was kind of my point." Xanxus bridled at the heavy patience of Federico’s tone and he laughed, pushing himself up out of his chair. "You’d think you would recognize it."

Xanxus glared death at him and Federico snorted, reaching out to close a hand around his nape. "It looks awfully familiar from here," he murmured, grip tightening as Xanxus stilled under his hand.

"Boss…" When Federico tugged, Xanxus came to him, mouth opening under Federico’s. Federico leaned back against the desk and pulled Xanxus against him so he could kiss him properly—properly being until he was breathless and flushed, hands fisted on the back of Federico’s jacket.

"You’re mine," Federico said quietly, catching Xanxus’ gasp at the words in another kiss. "You always will be. But it would be good for you to have people of your own, too."

It took Xanxus a minute to gather words, and they came out husky, but he finally managed. "Boss, are you really trying to get me to screw my second in command who’s seven goddamn years younger than me?"

"What?" Federico grinned. "Look at who I’m screwing."

Xanxus was starting to glare again so Federico pulled him back for another kiss. "Just think about it," he murmured into Xanxus’ mouth.

He got a wordless sound of agreement this time, and yes it was probably cheating but Xanxus had always required unusual measures.


Xanxus went about his duties feeling distracted for a few months.

Federico had to be seeing things. Squalo was… well, he was Squalo. He was Xanxus’ second, the one who did the personnel stuff.

"Did that look like an attack to you?!" Squalo’s voice echoed off the walls of the training hall. "What the fuck do you think you’re doing, walking in the park?!"

He bitched out subordinates and opponents at the top of his lungs, louder than a man his size should be able to; even if four years had given him height he was still pretty damn scrawny. He was more determined than any two other Varia members. He trained and fought like he didn’t care if he died. If Squalo was in love with anything it was his damn sword.

Xanxus couldn’t deny, though, that, now he was watching for it, he kept finding Squalo watching him. Across the practice grounds. Sidelong, when Xanxus couldn’t avoid the paperwork in his official office any longer. After jobs.

Okay, all the Varia watched him, then, but Squalo didn’t watch him like he was wondering whether this would be the time Xanxus forgot which ones his allies were. Squalo watched him like… like…

Federico had to be seeing things.

Squalo strode over and leaned against the wall beside him with a thump. "Swear to God, half of them don’t know which end the bullet comes out of."

Xanxus grunted. Squalo didn’t have any patience with less than perfection, or at least "really fucking good". It was one of the things Xanxus liked about him.

Not liked liked, just liked, damn it. There was no reason for him to even have had to think that. He shoved away from the wall with a growl. "Spar with me."

Squalo’s teeth showed as he grinned. "Sure thing, boss."

The other members scattered out of their way, and scattered further when Xanxus shot out one of the windows and part of the wall around it. That was fine; it would do them good to get used to keeping out of the way when one of the top members cut loose.

Squalo was laughing.

They went for over an hour and it didn’t end until Xanxus got Squalo down, kneeling on his sword arm, one gun pressed firmly under his jaw. Squalo lifted his chin, looking up at him, just waiting. Varia didn’t yield.

After a long breath Xanxus let him go and they both hauled themselves upright. "Not bad."

"You too." The quirk of Squalo’s mouth wasn’t nearly as insolent as his words, and he gave Xanxus a measuring look. "Feel better?"

Xanxus blinked at him, startled.

Squalo nodded, for no reason Xanxus could see. "Yeah, looks like it. Good." He stretched, lean and casual as an alley cat, and lifted a hand. "See you tomorrow, boss."

Maybe, it occurred to Xanxus as he watched Squalo go, Squalo had been watching him closer than he’d realized.


The Varia slid through the Scioneri perimeter like a knife, heading for the main House through the heavy dark of three in the morning. Xanxus watched ahead, poised. If they had to get loud about this job, they would, but it would serve the Varia’s reputation better if some of the foot soldiers were left around the edges.

When they reached the walls they scattered.

Squalo was watching the last of his squad go, frowning a little at the audible click of the latch as they went through one of the windows, and Xanxus stifled a snort. Some day he’d decide whether Squalo was just a perfectionist of if he really was a control freak too. He set a hand on Squalo’s shoulder to pull his attention back. They were supposed to take the door themselves.

Squalo’s head snapped around and a shiver ran through him.

Xanxus paused. Squalo’s eyes were wide and dark in the faint house lights, and Xanxus swore he recognized Squalo’s expression though he couldn’t put a word to it. That would wait, though; they had a job to do now. He jerked his head for Squalo to follow him and his second nodded silently.

The focus of the job didn’t ease until they were out and nearly back to their headquarters, and when it did he frowned, scrubbing absently at his sleeve with a scrap of towel. Good thing someone way back had decided the Varia would wear leather, or the dry cleaner’s bills would break even the Vongola bank. What had that expression been? Where did he know it from?

"…looks awfully familiar from here…"

Xanxus stared blankly out the car’s window. Federico had said that. He’d said that while he held Xanxus, the way he’d always damn well been able to.

The thought threw him completely out of the game, and he barely got through his report on the job without either hauling off and punching Federico for putting the idea in his head or turning to ask Squalo what the hell he was thinking. Once they were safely back into their own halls, Xanxus leaned against the wall and shook his head vigorously; it didn’t knock anything loose, unfortunately.

"Boss?"

Squalo was looking at him curiously, no sign of that earlier flash of awareness or want or insanity or whatever the hell it was. Now Xanxus was wondering if he was seeing things.

Well there was one way to be damn well sure.

Xanxus reached out and curled a hand around the back of Squalo’s neck, sliding it up into the thick softness of his hair.

Squalo went very still, even his breath stopping, except for the tiny shiver Xanxus could feel under his hand. That look was back and, yeah, it was definitely want. Xanxus did recognize it, and damn Federico for being right. Because, recognizing it, he had to do something about it.

"Boss," Squalo said, low and husky.

"Come here," he said, quietly, tugging Squalo closer, feeling how readily Squalo came to him. When he caught Squalo’s mouth it opened under his and after a moment of hesitation Squalo leaned into him, kissing back just as sharp and intent as he did everything else. That made heat curl low in Xanxus’ stomach. When he finally let go they were both breathing harder, and this time he recognized the look in Squalo’s eyes right away. The first time he’d seen it was over Tyr’s body. "Do you really fall in love with your opponents?" he asked after a considering moment.

"The good ones." Squalo didn’t pretend not to know what he was talking about. "Doesn’t last very often."

"Maybe because you kill most of those."

"I couldn’t kill you, though." Squalo’s thin, hard body eased against him a little more, and he grinned. "Still couldn’t."

"And you like that," Xanxus guessed.

The heat in Squalo’s eyes was open this time. "I like the reason why."

Xanxus’ mouth quirked. He supposed he could relate to that.

He pulled Squalo tighter against him and kissed him again.

Atavus

The bulletproof glass of the mansion’s windows turned the sunlight hazy and white and scattered it through the office where three men sat.

Reborn settled back in his chair and crossed his ankles on the cushion. "So. You wanted to see me?" A glance around the Tenth’s office showed that it was serious, whatever it was. Iemitsu was here, too. Was there internal trouble in the Family?

"Yes." Federico folded his hands and leaned his chin on them. "Iemitsu, tell me. Would you be willing to have your son serve the Vongola?"

"Tsuna?" Iemitsu actually blinked. "I… hadn’t thought of it yet, to be honest."

"Think of it now," Federico directed quietly. "The Cetrulli killed both Enrico and Massimo. Even I barely got out of that ambush alive. Even if I let the Varia come out of the shadows, we’re under strength now. Your son’s heritage could be a great asset during a time of need."

"It isn’t that I would object if he chose to serve or if the Family needed him." Iemitsu rubbed the back of his head looking helpless, not a usual expression for him. "It’s just… well, Nana’s letters… you see, I think he has the potential, he just hasn’t, um, expressed it yet."

In other words, Reborn translated to himself, the kid was a limp noodle. A normal kid, in fact.

"Just as well I asked Reborn to sit in, then." Federico grinned a bit and tilted his head at Reborn. "What do you think? I wanted you to evaluate the boy anyway; if he has any promise, do you think you could bring it out?"

Reborn sniffed. "I straightened out Dino, didn’t I?"

"You did that." Federico leaned back in his chair. "Iemitsu? Are you willing to have this go forward?"

Iemitsu bowed his head formally. "If the Family has need, we will answer it."

Federico was still smiling as he looked back at Reborn, but his eyes were serious. "Do it."


Federico had been waiting for the call and picked up quickly when he saw who it was. "Reborn? How is it going?"

"The boy is pathetic. Absolutely hopeless." Reborn’s voice was flat, and not just with the distance. There was no one else in the office right then so Federico let himself slump in his chair. Damn it, this had been his best hope… "So I’m going to need your permission to take some extra measures," Reborn went on and Federico nearly swore at him for that scare. It wouldn’t do any good, though, Reborn was Reborn and he did things his own way.

"Go on."

"Tsuna won’t find his strength on his own behalf." Federico swore he could hear Reborn’s tiny smile. "He reminds me a bit of the Ninth that way. So I’m going to need to recruit some more members, people who will bond with him and who he can fight for."

"A Family of his own?" Federico’s brows rose as he turned his chair to looked out the tall window.

"A starter set. There are a few possibilities I can see here, but someone from the mafia itself would be wise to add. How do you feel about Gokudera Hayato?"

"The Smoking Bomb?" Federico murmured after a moment’s thought. "I think he reminds me a bit of Xanxus as a boy, actually."

"And if he could be tamed similarly?"

"You know, Reborn," Federico drawled thoughtfully, "this is sounding less and less like you really think Tsunayoshi is pathetic."

"He is most definitely pathetic at the moment. That’s why I’m here, after all."

Federico laughed. "All right. New members that you’ve chosen can only be an asset. Go ahead."


Federico tapped his finger waiting for the call to go through. This was not good news he had today. "Reborn?" he snapped as soon as the click came at the other end. "Keep an eye out around you. Rokudou Mukuro escaped from the Vendicare and we think he’s gone to Japan."

"Hm. That could explain what’s been happening." Reborn merely sounded thoughtful but Federico’s tightening grip made the phone creak.

"What has been happening?" he asked flatly.

"A handful of the kids Tsuna’s age have been attacked. It’s gone in ascending order of strength according to Fuuta’s rankings." Reborn sniffed. "They’re probably trying to smoke out Tsuna himself, but they obviously know nothing about him."

Federico took a breath and pulled the cold of business down over his flare of worry. "Searching for him to use against Iemitsu? Or a general strike against Vongola, trying to whittle down our strength from the edges?"

"I don’t know yet. I’ll find out, though."

"All right. Keep Tsunayoshi away from them." Reborn made a slightly worrying sound and Federico frowned. "Reborn?" he asked, a bit warily.

"This could be a good opportunity," Reborn mused. "Some of those struck already have been Tsuna’s new Family. He’ll fight to protect them, and this might finally bring out his true potential."

After a long moment, Federico sighed. "You do what will serve the Family. Very well. I’ll write the order."

Which he did, at once, and sent it. All the more time to contemplate how poorly he was likely to sleep that night.


"I didn’t expect a trip back in person just to report on the Rokudou affair." Federico eyed Reborn narrowly. "So suppose you tell me what this is about."

Reborn had his hat tipped down, today, which he only did when he was troubled or angry. Not good signs. "I was right," he said quietly. "Mukuro was exactly what Tsuna needed to touch his true strength. He’s only shown the start of it, and I have to tell you: he might be dangerous."

Xanxus straightened from where he’d been leaning in the window, behind Federico’s chair. Federico kept his eyes on Reborn. "Dangerous how?"

Finally Reborn looked up, eyes deep and shuttered. "If he keeps developing he may well become stronger than you."

Federico sat back, startled. "You’re serious?" With no false modesty, he knew his fighting skills were sharp and his Flame one of the more powerful among the Vongola bosses.

"Sawada Tsunayoshi is a throwback," Reborn said flatly. "The weapon Leon produced for him was gloves. He even looks like the First. Even this young and untried, his Flame is powerful; he didn’t just defeat Mukuro, he subdued him and cleansed his aura."

"And you think he might challenge me?" Federico frowned.

Reborn’s mouth tightened and he tugged down his hat brim again. "It depends."

Federico waited.

"I said, at the start, that he reminds me of the Ninth. He’s reminding me more and more of the First, too. And, like both of them, Tsuna is an idealist. He’ll do anything to protect his people—anything at all. If he binds himself to the Vongola and ever believes that the path you choose is going to harm the Family, then yes. He will challenge you." Quietly, Reborn ended, "And if he keeps growing at this rate, he might win."

Xanxus snorted. "So that’s why you wanted me to hear this. Fine. He can’t be too hard to take care of yet."

Federico sighed, leaning his head back against his chair. "It would be the safest way, I suppose. By one calculation at least. But the Vongola need strong members; that hasn’t changed." His mouth quirked a bit, ruefully. "And I was the one who called on Tsunayoshi. I’m responsible for this."

"You’re the Tenth," Xanxus shot back, inflexible. "We can’t tolerate a threat to you."

"He isn’t a threat yet, though." He smiled up at his wolf as Xanxus growled in annoyance. "And even if he does grow stronger than me… Reborn says he will only challenge me to protect the Family. That’s not a threat. That’s a test of faith." He straightened, feeling his father’s support behind him. "I won’t turn aside from it."

Reborn was smiling.

After a long moment, glaring, Xanxus crossed his arms. "I want to see him for myself, then."

Federico cocked an eyebrow at Reborn, whose smile had gotten wider and picked up a cheery edge; yes, he’d thought so. "I suppose that could be another useful test for him, hm?" Federico observed dryly.

"It could." Reborn hopped down from his chair. "I’ll ask Iemitsu to finalize his choices of Tsuna’s Family. Be sure you bring along enough of the Varia to test them, too."

Xanxus gave him an incredulous look. "The Varia? For a pack of brats?"

"Rokudou Mukuro," Reborn reminded him, and Xanxus rolled his eyes.

"Okay, okay, fine, whatever." He slouched back in the window, looking like he was trying to think of swearwords sulfurous enough.

Federico shook his head. "You know, I think I’m glad Dad never needed to ask you to tutor me."

"It’s for his own good," Reborn said piously.

Federico snorted. "Like I said."


Reborn watched the last battle quietly, marking Tsuna’s progress. His student had done well, as was only to be expected under the circumstances. Xanxus made a very credible threat, and when he’d told Tsuna that if Tsuna didn’t prove good enough for the Vongola Xanxus would kill him and everyone near him, Tsuna had clearly believed it.

Xanxus was practically the walking embodiment of extreme prejudice, after all.

"You don’t think he’ll really kill Tsuna, will he?" Dino murmured, worried, and Reborn stifled a flash of amusement. Case in point.

"I doubt it." He’d be sure of it if Tsuna hadn’t started to intuit the First’s techniques. If Xanxus knew that Tsuna had mastered a technique made to contain another wielder of the Dying Will Flame, he might just have an "accident" and shoot Tsuna five times in the back to be sure of him. Xanxus had no tolerance for threats to Federico. Fortunately, Tsuna hadn’t fully grasped it and Reborn had kept his silence on the nature of the Zero Point. It was for Tsuna’s own good, really.

Xanxus’ rapid fire flashed and died around Tsuna, leaving him standing, if smoking.

The variation that Tsuna had found for himself, half finished as it was, had given Tsuna time to make another leap forward. All was going well, by Reborn’s lights.

Tsuna was blasted through a wall and Reborn tsked.

"Never thought you’d use the actual Cervello for this," Colonello muttered beside him, as they watched the last of Tsuna’s little Family reclaim the last puzzle seal to unlock the antidote in Chrome’s wrist band.

"The Tenth thought it would be wise to have outside arbiters. You know what Xanxus is like when he’s in the middle of a fight."

They watched Xanxus and Tsuna pile into each other, burning, Xanxus’ teeth bared as though he’d as soon bite Tsuna’s throat out.

"Yeah, but the Cervello nearly poisoned them," Colonello pointed out.

"They have a point. The Family is everything, to the Vongola. If these boys can’t come together and support each other in life and death, they aren’t worthy of the Vongola. And if they’re not, we can’t just leave them knowing so much about us."

"Reborn!" Dino sounded disapproving, but Squalo laughed until he coughed and hunched over in his wheelchair.

"It’s no wonder the boss likes you," he wheezed.

Reborn raised a brow; this was the first he’d heard of Xanxus liking him. But the battle above them fixed his attention, because Tsuna and Xanxus were both gathering their Flame, preparing what looked like one last strike against each other. He pulled his hat down to shade his eyes from the glare and waited, watching the screen, to see who was still standing after that.

In the clearing smoke and dust, they both stood, both swaying on their feet. But it was Xanxus who stumbled to his knees first.

"So. Are you satisfied now?"

Everyone started at the voice through the speakers, and the figure that stood at the edge of the crater Tsuna and Xanxus had made.

"Tenth," Reborn murmured. He had wondered whether Federico would be content with a second hand report, actually, but he hadn’t quite expected this.

"Federico-sama!" For the first time, he saw a Cervello flustered, one hand pressed to her ear as she whispered with her compatriots and finally fumbled with the deactivator on the spectator’s cage. "The Tenth has taken over the judgment of the battle," she announced unnecessarily.

"Boss?" Xanxus muttered, sounding a little dazed. Everyone piled around the buildings, Squalo snarling as he wrested his wheelchair out of Dino’s control and made for his boss, in time to see Xanxus raise his head, eyes widening. "Boss?!" He surged to his feet, staggering. "What the fuck do you think you’re doing here?"

"I came to see if you were satisfied," Federico said in a perfectly reasonable tone.

Xanxus slashed a hand down and staggered a few more steps when it overbalanced him. "Don’t give me that! You’re in fucking Japan with no fucking bodyguards for fuck’s sake!"

Federico’s mouth twitched. "You’re backsliding, there, you know. I thought I taught you to swear more creatively than that."

"Goddamn it, Boss!"

Tsuna’s group gathered together, Tsuna leaning on Gokudera and Yamamoto, and watched wide-eyed. "Um. That’s the Tenth?" Tsuna asked Reborn as he stopped beside them.

"Yes."

"And, um. Xanxus is… he’s…"

"He’s a bit of a mother hen about the Tenth, these days," Dino filled in easily, coming to join them with a smile. Reborn noted that he didn’t say it loud enough for Xanxus to hear and nodded, satisfied that he didn’t have any stupid students.

Tsuna’s eyes crossed a little as he contemplated Xanxus as a mother hen. Xanxus was still yelling.

"…wouldn’t let me destroy the fucking Cetrulli, so you can’t just fucking waltz around the goddamn world like you’re taking a cruise vacation, and—!"

"Xanxus." Federico met Xanxus’ furious gaze, cool and unyielding, and Xanxus bit back the rest of his outrage, mouth pressed into a tight line. "I asked you a question. Answer me."

It obviously took Xanxus a moment to remember what it had been, and when he did he snorted. "Am I satisfied?" He turned his glare on Tsuna, who met it steadily even through his increasing puzzlement. After a long moment, Xanxus muttered, "He won’t betray anything, I’ll say that."

"Then the rest is my business to look after." Federico clasped Xanxus’ shoulder and shook him gently. "Right?"

After a taut hesitation, Xanxus breathed out and bent his head. "Yes, Boss."

Federico smiled, hand tightening for a moment, before he left Xanxus to his gathered squad leaders and turned to Tsuna, walking across the gouged, uneven ground as if it were his own reception hall. Tsuna’s people straightened a little, watching him come, and Reborn nodded to himself.

"Tsunayoshi." Federico addressed them evenly, not rejecting and not welcoming. "You’ve seen some of what our world is like. It’s a harsh, dangerous place with many bad choices in it. I wouldn’t ask anyone to join us lightly, but the Family has need of you so I’ll ask you to make a choice now. Will you serve us? Lend your strength to the Vongola? Protect the Family?"

Reborn hid a moment of surprise under his hat and heard Xanxus’ growl behind him. Federico would let them go, even now?

Tsuna stepped forward, hesitantly, looking up at this man he’d never met before. "I… I don’t know," he admitted. "I don’t think I understand the Vongola, really." A faint, flashing smile tugged at his mouth. "Reborn doesn’t really explain things like that very well."

Well of course not, no explanation would bring understanding. That was what experience and God-given brains were for, provided a student could be induced to use the latter. Reborn returned Federico’s raised brow with a blank look.

"I see." Federico tipped his head, considering Tsuna and his people and the battlefield around them, and finally smiled. He gestured at the Varia, carelessly fierce and arrogant in their strength, gathered around their leader as Xanxus rested a quieting hand on Squalo’s shoulder and listened. "That is the Vongola." He waved at Dino, hovering by Tsuna’s people and giving orders into his phone in a low voice. "And that is the Vongola." He opened a hand at Tsuna’s group and finished quietly. "And this is the Vongola."

Tsuna’s eyes opened wide, and Reborn saw the change in them he’d seen a few times before, the look both distant and immediate that meant Tsuna’s intuition had perceived and understood something. "Oh." Tsuna looked around at his little Family, at Gokudera’s unstinting loyalty, at Yamamoto’s matter-of-fact support at his back, even at Hibari standing aloof to one side, and back at Federico. "Yes," he said, quietly. "I will."

"Thank you," Federico said, soft and sincere. And then he relaxed and the atmosphere of the entire field lightened. "We’ll speak more later. For now, we need to have everyone’s injuries seen to."

"We’ve got it," Dino put in, clicking shut his phone as a small horde of Cavallone descended and started gathering up the wounded.

Reborn stood back, satisfied. "So?" he murmured to Federico, as the man came up beside him.

"Keep going," the Tenth ordered. "We’ll need him." He laughed, soft and true. "Maybe I’ll even need him, myself, for all that he is. I’ll have a matched set. My wolf and my conscience."

Reborn pulled his hat down and smiled. Just because someone wasn’t officially his student didn’t mean he couldn’t see that they learned a few things.

End

A/N: Canon would have it that Squalo is still two years younger than Xanxus after the latter’s eight year suspended animation. This would make him fourteen when he defeats Tyr, and I’m sorry but no; I just don’t buy it. Given how massively Amano screws with her worldbuilding and timelines, usually out of pure carelessness, I’m just going to say he’s sixteen at the time.