Archimedes’ Lever – Five

Just when things might be settling down, Mukuro appears, targeting the Vongola’s heir. Drama, Action, I-4

Seven months and sixteen days—he’d counted—after Reborn started shadowing them with his measuring looks and annoying observations, Xanxus walked into the old man’s office to find both Reborn and Sawada already there.

“What’s this?” he asked, instantly suspicious. His father’s Guardians might be his closest protectors and advisers, but the outside adviser was the outside adviser, after all, and Reborn seemed to be the old man’s personal weapon or something.

The old man just chuckled and waved him to a chair and looked at the other two men. “Well?”

“He’ll do.” Reborn tipped his hat down. “I’ll serve him after you.”

Sawada leaned back with a wry grin. “Yeah. When it comes time, the Rings can go to him and his.”

Xanxus, barely seated, stared at them; he thought distantly that his mouth was hanging open but couldn’t seem to do anything about it. “You…” he started, and couldn’t actually think of any way to finish that. He looked at Reborn, dazed. “You?

Reborn looked back at him, serene as ever, and repeated, “You’ll do.”

“It’s good to have that decided,” the old man said briskly, “because we may need you elsewhere very shortly, Reborn.” He slid a file across his desk. “It appears that Rokudou Mukuro has escaped.”

“Escaped?!” Sawada snatched up the folder, paging through it. “I didn’t think that was possible!”

“This is Rokudou we’re talking about.” The old man leaned back tiredly. “And, perhaps more disturbing, no one has heard about or seen him since. We don’t think he’s left the country, but we don’t know where he is or what he’s doing. All the Families are nervous. So,” he smiled at Xanxus, “I’m glad to see all of us are in agreement today. I don’t want any doubts or instability that could be attacked.”

Xanxus pulled himself together and took the folder as Sawada handed it on, scanning it. “How much of this is hearsay?” he asked, settling his nerves with the familiar sense of working on a target. “We know the Rossi were destroyed, but is any of this about his methods solid?”

“Since there were no survivors, all we have is hearsay.” The old man looked grim. “And all we can do for now is watch for him and be ready to move quickly.”

Xanxus tossed the file to Reborn. “Squalo will speak to the Varia squad leaders about keeping their eyes open.”

“You want me to go for him when he’s found,” Reborn stated instead of asked, running an eye down the pages of the folder in turn.

“I think you have the best chance,” the old man said quietly.

“As you wish.” Reborn closed the folder and set it aside calmly.

Afterwards Xanxus thought, a bit wistfully, that it would have been nice if things had worked out that way.


Two months with Rokudou on the loose and everyone in the House was whispering and looking over their shoulders and Xanxus could barely stand to be inside.

“What the fuck is wrong with them all?” he growled, throwing himself down in a chair out on one of the east balconies.

“Damned if I know.” Squalo pulled out another chair, frowning. “It’s even getting to the Varia. We really need to find someone else who can take that branch; we’re both too busy to thump on the idiots like someone should and Tyr can’t take the stronger ones anymore. Stubborn bastard,” he added. Xanxus growled some more. Almost two years since he’d been named heir and still there were no candidates who really seemed to suit.

Gokudera, perched on the railing, piped up, “People think there’s something weird going on. Some of the men are talking about drugs getting slipped in somehow, or something.”

Squalo cocked his head at their shadow. “Why drugs?”

“Some people are acting weird, they say.” Gokudera shrugged a shoulder, frowning a little himself. “No one I’ve talked to can get any more specific than that.”

“‘Acting weird’.” Xanxus slouched lower, disgusted. “Are they mafia or little kids? For fuck’s sake.”

Fast steps rang down the hall and they all looked around as the door jerked open. “Xanxus,” Rafaele called, leaning out, “the Ninth wants to see you. Quickly.”

“Some action, thank God,” Xanxus muttered as he stalked inside, and ignored the amused sound Squalo made, behind his shoulder.

The old man didn’t agree, of course.

“Reborn will go to watch your back,” he stated, flat and hard. “Whoever did this said they would negotiate only with you, but you are not going alone.”

Xanxus ran his eyes down the letter found beside the bodies of ten Vongola foot soldiers. “Negotiate.” He snorted. “If they asked for me, it’s a fight they’ll get.”

“I suspect they know that,” Reborn observed, ankles crossed on the chair seat in front of him.

“It’s a trap, then.” Squalo leaned over Xanxus’ shoulder to read. “They want to kill the heir. We’ll take Levi along too; whatever the hell has been going on around here, we know he’s solid for you.”

Xanxus grunted. He knew he wouldn’t get away without an escort, but he didn’t want too many people between his guns and whoever did this. “All right. Squalo, Levi and Reborn. That’s enough close-in backup.” As his father opened his mouth, frowning, he added, “Any more might spook the bastards off. They asked for me.” He stood. “They’ll get me.” And afterward they’d never touch what was his again.

The old man sighed. “All right. Just be careful, my boy.”

Since Xanxus wasn’t really going to agree to that he substituted, “Don’t worry.”

From his father’s wry smile he didn’t think it worked, but at least it got them out of the office.

“We have a day to plan this,” Squalo said, all business. “I’ll get the maps of Primosole and meet you.”

When Squalo joined Xanxus and Levi in Xanxus’ office, though, he had more than the maps. Xanxus frowned at Gokudera and Ceirano as they tagged in after. “What are you doing here?”

“We’re coming with you.” Ceirano’s tone added you idiot. Xanxus stopped glaring on general principles and started glaring for real.

“Boss,” Gokudera said, quietly, “if they’re gunning for you, you should have your own people around you.”

“I’ll have Squalo and Levi,” Xanxus said brusquely, and jabbed a thumb at Reborn. “And him.”

Ceirano leaned against a chair and folded his arms. “Think the Ninth would agree?” he asked, and the grin that answered Xanxus’ growl showed teeth. “We’re coming; deal with it. Boss.”

Short of shooting them himself, Xanxus couldn’t really think of a way to stop them. He considered the shooting option for a moment, during which Ceirano looked cool and immovable and Gokudera ducked his head apologetically but looked stubborn as hell. Finally he snorted. “Fine.”

“Um.” Everyone looked around as someone spoke from the door. “I’d like to come too.”

Xanxus stared for a blank moment as Tazio stepped into his office. “What the hell makes you think I would agree to that? Or that Enrico would agree, either?”

“It doesn’t really matter what Father agrees to,” Tazio took a deep breath, “if I’m one of your people.”

Xanxus was reduced to blinking. “One of… Tazio… What the hell?”

“I think he’s saying that he wants to serve under the Tenth,” Squalo said, a little dryly.

Xanxus spared a glower for Squalo’s sense of humor before he looked back at Tazio, frowning. “Why?”

Tazio spread his hands. “Because you’re amazing, Uncle Xanxus! I mean,” he was practically bouncing on his toes for god’s sake, “you take all the crazy-hard jobs, and you always come back, and you’ve run the Varia, and,” he waved his hands exuberantly, “I want to help!”

“You want to help,” Xanxus repeated slowly. “And that’s why you’re running up to risk your life?”

Tazio just looked at him, perfectly open. “Of course.”

Xanxus felt at a bit of a loss, in face of that, and glanced up at Squalo.

Squalo was smirking the way he did when he found something privately amusing. “Well,” he glanced down at Xanxus, totally unsympathetic, “looks like the only thing we’re missing is your Mist.”

Everyone in the room stared at him, not just Xanxus. It was Xanxus he looked at as he shrugged and smiled, though. “What? I told you it would become obvious who your people were. If the Ninth asked you today who you would choose, aren’t these them?” He waved a hand at the four other people in the office.

Xanxus looked around at them, feeling a little like he was seeing all of them for the first time.

“You know I’ll follow you anywhere, Boss,” Levi murmured. “The name doesn’t matter.”

Ceirano made a face but opened a hand palm up. “You won my service.”

Tazio was just about fucking glowing. “I would,” he breathed. “I swear. Uncle…” he grinned brilliantly, “Boss.”

Gokudera, at least, looked as stunned as Xanxus actually felt. “Boss,” he whispered.

Xanxus looked back at Squalo’s crooked smile. “I’m your right hand,” Squalo said quietly. “It’s my job to know what you need and see it’s done.”

“All right,” Xanxus said a last. “Yeah, okay.” From the corner of his eye he caught Reborn’s faintly amused look, and shook himself. “All right, then, if all of you are coming, come here and look at where we’re going.”

He spread out the map as his people gathered around, and buried himself in planning, and barely noticed the tension easing bit by bit out of his shoulders.


“What a dump,” Gokudera muttered.

Looking over the patchy, crumbling walls of the little resort, its overgrown grounds with pathetic, scruffy little groves of trees, and the “for sale” sign which had obviously been up for years, Xanxus had to agree. “At least there won’t be anyone else in the way,” he growled. Which reminded him, and he looked down at Reborn. “The old man said he wanted you to cover our backs. Fine. Do that and stay out of my way, or I’ll damn well shoot you myself.”

Reborn cocked his head and looked up at him for a long, unreadable moment. Finally he nodded. “All right. I’ll watch from here.”

“Good enough.” Xanxus jerked his head at the rest of them and vaulted up over the low gate.

They made it as far as the golf course before they were interrupted.

“Fucking amateurs,” Squalo muttered as they ducked behind the rocks by the water hazard and the chick with the clarinet laughed.

Gokudera popped up for a look and ducked back, wall cracking a little over his head. “She’s a bit out of range. Someone cover me while I close it up.”

“No need,” Xanxus grunted, leaning back against the rocks and counting down in his head. He snorted when Gokudera looked around at him, puzzled. “Haven’t you noticed who isn’t here?”

Two flat cracks sounded, and the annoying laugh cut off, and a breath later Ceirano called, “Clear!”

Xanxus stood up and dusted himself off. “Come on.” Ceirano had a definite sneer on his face as he rejoined them. Xanxus couldn’t really blame him; the chick had either been a total amateur or else off her rocker. Either way she was no challenge for a real sniper.

The next annoyance was waiting at the parking lot. Xanxus just stared at the old pervert as he gibbered about hostages and battles of the mind and why couldn’t they bring him any soft little girls. “The fuck?” Hostage? Who did this guy think he was dealing with?

“Boss?” Levi asked, looking disgusted. Xanxus waved a hand.

“Yeah, go ahead.” His mouth quirked as he watched. Levi didn’t even bother with his specialized weapons; he just took the two creepy looking twin bastards bracketing him apart with his fists. When he was done Xanxus eyed the gaping old pervert up and down and sneered. Hell if he was going to waste a shot on this. One kick threw the old guy back against the broken asphalt with a satisfying crunch.

“These jokers took out ten of our people?” Tazio asked, as they went on.

“Doubt it,” Squalo said, clipped. “They’re here to slow us down, let the real enemy know we’re coming and get a little of our measure.”

Xanxus growled at that and almost missed the approaching hiss.

“Above!” Gokudera shouted, and they all dodged back as a massive ball of metal came down where they’d been standing.

“Not bad.”

Squalo stilled as they saw their next opponent. “Boss.”

Xanxus snarled. He’d seen that face not long ago in a file folder. “Rokudou.”

The tall man hauled his weapon back and half smiled, dark and bitter. Before Xanxus could line him up for a shot, though, Squalo grasped his shoulder hard.

“This is wrong,” he said, low. “There’s still someone in that building, you can feel it. And Rokudou is out here with those other trash?”

Xanxus frowned. “You really think…?”

“I don’t know. But it he’s not really the one, you shouldn’t be the one who deals with him.”

Xanxus’ mouth tightened, but Squalo was his strategist. “Levi,” he snapped, throwing out an arm to hold the rest of them back. He watched as that ball sped out again, and Levi’s parabolas snapped out to answer, and both of them dodged aside from the attacks. “Hm.” They met hand to hand, and his scowl got deeper; the man was strong all right, stronger even than Levi maybe. But there was someone watching from the building. Xanxus gritted his teeth and finally barked, “Ceirano!”

“It’ll take a while to get a clear shot if they stay that close,” Ceirano observed, distant, eyes tracking each blow.

“Don’t worry about killing him first shot, then, just take him down,” Xanxus growled.

Ceirano nodded silently and faded aside, passing through the grove behind them with barely a rustle. Xanxus gathered up the other three with a sharp gesture and stalked on toward the building.

The inside was as much of a wreck as the outside, and Gokudera and Squalo frowned almost identically at the broken staircases. “Bastards are herding us,” Gokudera declared, getting the flat glint in his eyes Xanxus hadn’t seen in a while. When feet scuffed off one of the side halls, Xanxus wasn’t surprised that Gokudera snapped alight a fistful of explosives and flung them before anyone else had turned all the way around. “I’ll take care of this one,” he snapped and stalked forward into the settling clouds of debris.

Squalo’s mouth quirked. “Kid’s got the Storm’s temper, that’s for sure.”

They’d barely gone five steps when Tazio tensed. “Boss!” He lunged forward, intercepting the maniacally laughing blur heading for them, and when the dust settled he was glaring across the hall at a crazily grinning kid crouched on all fours. “Squalo,” Tazio called, spinning his knuckle knife out of its sheath, “get the Boss where he needs to go.”

While Xanxus was staring in disbelief, he darted in on the blond kid and they were gone, circling and lunging at each other through dusty, broken exercise equipment, leaving him with Squalo’s snickering. “I can damn well get myself where I’m going,” he grumbled.

“Sure you can. You’re the Sky. But let your people do their jobs,” Squalo told him.

Xanxus grunted and stalked on down the hall.

They finally found what they were looking for on the second floor, a big, open hall that might have been meant for a ballroom or receptions. The light from the dusty windows at one end was dim, and it took a few moments to spot the person sitting, lounging, in one of the equally dusty leather armchairs from the lobby.

“Welcome, gentlemen. You must be Xanxus, of the Vongola,” a light voice greeted them, and the figure stood and stepped out of the shadows.

“The hell…?” Squalo murmured.

It was a kid. He looked around sixteen or seventeen. A kid with a creepy smile, but still a kid. “Who are you?” Xanxus demanded.

The kid laughed, merrily, and the sound actually made Xanxus’ skin crawl. “What, you still haven’t figured it out?” He spread his hands and smiled at them with a sardonic twist and the creepiest part was that it didn’t look affected. “I’m Rokudou Mukuro.”

Squalo’s sword slid free and he ghosted a few steps away from Xanxus, opening space between them. Squalo believed it; Xanxus nodded a little, silently.

“You made a mistake, attacking the Vongola,” he said, flatly, and fired.

The shot shattered the wall behind Rokudou, but Rokudou wasn’t there anymore. Xanxus turned to put his back to Squalo, scanning the room, and that laugh echoed around them.

“No, actually I think I made a very good choice indeed. Let us see, though, shall we?”

The floor under Xanxus bucked, broke, they were falling. But he’d trained against Mammon more than once, and his logic wrestled his senses for control. This was illusion; it had to be. His feet were on the floor and his eyes would see what was really there. They would!

The room faded back in around him, though Rokudou was still nowhere to be seen. He glanced over his shoulder at Squalo, who was down on one knee, but looked steady again. And pissed off too.

“Very nice.”

Xanxus’ head snapped back around. Rokudou was in front of him, a few meters off, smiling, and one of his eyes was red.

“Let’s try this, then.” There was a trident between Rokudou’s hands and he spun it, slamming the butt down on the floor. Pillars of fire burst up, and no matter how Xanxus disbelieved in them, they were still searing hot. He’d figure out later how the hell Rokudou was doing it, though. First things first. He bared his teeth and lifted a gun.

“You think I don’t know about fire?” The blast of his Flame cut through those pillars and they died as Mukuro dodged aside, faster than anyone had a right to, laughing.

“Of course you do.”

The voice came from behind him and Xanxus spun, catching the crosspiece of the trident on the barrel of his other gun while Squalo lunged for Rokudou’s back. Somehow the little bastard twisted out from between them and Squalo hissed as the trident scored his shoulder.

As far as Xanxus could tell, sanity took a walk after that, and instead it rained snakes and self-proclaimed hellfire. That was okay, though, he’d grown up without sanity and as long as he could find Rokudou in his sights everything was going just fine. The building was creaking ominously around them by the time he and Squalo finally managed to corner Rokudou. The crazy bastard was still laughing.

“You’re everything I hoped for,” he murmured. And then he pulled out a gun, lifted it to his temple, and shot himself.

After a frozen moment, Xanxus stepped forward and turned the body over with his toe. “That was weird as all fuck,” he muttered.

“You can say that again.” Squalo came up beside him, a bit wide-eyed. “Was he just plain crazy?”

“Sure looked that way.” Xanxus was still frowning down at the body and the sudden slash of Squalo’s sword came as a total surprise. He threw himself back, one hand locked over the gash in his arm, more stunned than he could remember being before in his life. “Squalo?!”

Squalo’s gaze was fixed on his own arm, and shocked. “That… wasn’t me.” He sucked in a hard breath and looked up at Xanxus, urgent. “Boss.”

Xanxus’ mouth tightened and he nodded shortly. Two steps forward, ducking under another slash and he brought the butt of his gun down and clubbed Squalo unconscious.

Rokudou’s laugh rang out again.

Xanxus spun around, teeth bared. The body was gone. No, the body… was standing and smiling at him.

“Just what one would expect of the man who led the Varia,” Rokudou purred. “You’ll do perfectly.”

Xanxus stood very still, looking down at Squalo’s body, hearing again Gokudera saying that people were acting strangely, remembering that one bullet Rokudou had shot himself with. “They were destroyed,” he said, very softly, and looked up. “The Estraneo.”

“Very good!” The son of a bitch actually applauded. “It’s my inheritance, you see,” he added with a hard twist to his lips.

Xanxus fired both guns at him.

“Now, now,” Squalo’s voice came from behind him. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

Xanxus turned to see Mukuro’s eye in Squalo’s face and snarled wordlessly. A smile that wasn’t Squalo’s curled Squalo’s mouth.

“Anyone I’ve drawn blood from with my trident is mine. And to further my plans, I’ll be adding you to my collection.”

Xanxus glared, breathing hard, hands tight around his guns. “You will, huh? You think you can take me by using my people?” He laughed, harsh and wild. “Come on, then, you son of a bitch!” He slammed his guns back into their holsters and shoved one sleeve up and held his arm out, teeth bared. “Try it.”

Squalo dropped bonelessly back to the ground and the trident licked out from behind him, drawing a line down his arm.

“If you insist,” Rokudou murmured at his shoulder.

Xanxus wanted to answer, but he was too busy. The possession technique was based on a special bullet, and all of those were based one way or another on the Dying Will. And he would, by damn, stake his Will against this bastard’s. He sank down to the floor, but he barely noticed that; fire was running down his veins and nerves. Fire, or maybe Flame. He drew on his own Flame, his own Will, as though he were going to feed it to his guns. This time, though, he turned it inward, burning back against that invading fire.

And the invasion flinched.

It surged back the next second, hard and vicious, heavy and cold for something that burned so fiercely. But that second was all the proof Xanxus needed and he raged back against it with nothing held back. He could barely feel the hard floor under him, had no idea what his body was doing, only knew he had to burn Rokudou out. He didn’t care if he burned the whole world, as long as he burned Rokudou out of himself. He turned all the wildness of the Flame of Wrath against the thing inside him, the flashes of fury and hate and madness, the half-thoughts that lashed at him, trash and traitor and failure. He couldn’t tell whether the moments of crushing pain were attacks or just side-effects. He wasn’t stopping for them. For anything.

And in the end, scorched and smoking from the inside out, he looked out of his own eyes through the whirl of Flame and met Rokudou’s, wide and shocked. Rokudou’s lips moved. “You…”

Then the world was Flame. Or maybe fire.


When Xanxus woke up he was in a hospital bed. “What the hell happened?” he asked, or tried to; it came out as a croak.

“Xanxus? Are you awake?” His father leaned over him, and there was a nurse with a glass of water.

“What happened?” he tried again.

“Rokudou escaped,” Reborn’s voice said, and Xanxus turned his head to see Reborn perched on the bedside table, “while I was getting you out of the burning building.”

Xanxus blinked. Burning? Maybe all the Flame hadn’t gone inward after all. And then another memory jabbed him and he started upright. “Squalo!”

The old man pushed him firmly back down. “Squalo is just fine. Considerably better than you are, in fact.” As Xanxus opened his mouth again, he went on. “All your people are fine. Some broken bones, some blood loss, but nothing too serious. It’s you who’s been unconscious for two days.”

“Bastard was Estraneo,” Xanxus rasped. “Picture was totally wrong. The Possession Bullet. Be careful going after him.”

“Squalo told us,” the old man soothed, hand on his shoulder. “We put the rest of it together. It’s clear now he must have possessed the man everyone thought was him.”

Xanxus’ lips pulled up off his teeth. “Fixed the son of a bitch, though. He couldn’t take me.” He grinned up at the ceiling with slightly dizzy satisfaction. And it sounded like Squalo hadn’t taken any permanent damage from being possessed, which maybe meant he wouldn’t have to skin Rokudou before he killed him. “Where is he now?”

After a moment of silence he looked down at his father and Reborn, both of whom were looking at him with open startlement. “What?”

“You… resisted possession?” The old man smiled slowly. “I suppose we might have known.”

Xanxus snorted. “Damn right.” He ignored the sneaking warmth in his chest.

“As for where he is,” Reborn put in, sounding his annoyingly calm self again, “we think he’s left the country.”

“He’s what!?” Xanxus tried to sit up again and was pushed back down. “Goddamn it!”

“We have people on his trail,” the old man said firmly. “We’ll find him. I can’t spare you to go off hunting him, though, not when three other Families have already taken far too much interest in what no doubt appeared to be a secret attack on us.”

Xanxus grudgingly lay back into the pillows. Rokudou was going to be found, all right, and when he was Xanxus was going to turn him into dog meat.

No one touched what was his.


A week later, he was walking around on his own again, even if the old man did fuss over him, and he made it down the hall just as fast as ever when he got the call.

“You found him?” he demanded, throwing open the office door.

“He’s gone to ground in Japan,” Staffieri said, “but that’s as far as we’ve gotten. He’s good at hiding.”

Xanxus thumped down in a chair and growled with pure frustration.

“I sympathize,” his father said dryly. “But even Iemitsu hasn’t been able to find them.” He frowned. “And even if he did, I’m afraid he might not be able to hold them until you got there.” He sighed. “It would have complicated things dreadfully at the time, but now I find myself somewhat regretting Iemitsu didn’t inherit the Vongola Flame.”

Xanxus frowned as a faint memory tugged at him. “Hey.” He glanced at Staffieri. “Didn’t I hear something about Sawada’s kid?”

Staffieri lifted a brow. “The Ninth believes Tsunayoshi may have inherited the Flame, but the boy’s shown no open signs of it.”

“If he’s got it, he’s got it,” Xanxus argued. “And if he needs it, he’ll use it. And he’s on the spot.”

The old man made a thoughtful sound. “Perhaps I should ask Iemitsu about this again…”


“Tsuna?” Sawada ran a hand through his hair. “Ah. Well. The thing is…”

“Spit it out already,” Xanxus grumbled.

Sawada sighed. “Tsuna doesn’t seem to have much interest in, well, anything at all, really.” He looked at the old man. “I believe you when you say he has the potential, of course, but I’ve seen no sign at all of it coming out.”

“He’d be interested in survival, wouldn’t he?” Xanxus said bluntly. “What if Rokudou has heard about him? He wanted someone with the Flame, that’s for damn sure.”

Sawada’s face turned still and cold. “That is a good point,” he said slowly.

The old man leaned back in his chair. “Perhaps,” he murmured, “I should send Reborn to the boy.”

Sawada lost his stone face and sputtered.

The old man smiled wryly at his outside adviser. “What do you say, my friend? Would you be willing to have your son serve me?” He glanced at Xanxus. “And my son after?”

Sawada snorted magnificently. “My blood is the Family’s blood, and it will serve the Family in whatever way you require. Don’t ask silly questions.”

The old man’s smile softened, and Xanxus had to glance aside from the way they looked at each other. “Very well, then. I’ll ask Reborn.”

It was a reasonably even deal, Xanxus decided, as he walked back to his own rooms. Someone else might get first crack at Rokudou, but at least Reborn would harass someone else for a little while.

TBC