Archimedes’ Lever – Six

Xanxus and his people take up their place in the Family. Drama, I-3

Rafaele turned another page, torn between amusement and horror. “You know, I think I’m starting to understand just why young Cavallone is so skittish when he comes here to visit,” he said in a reflective tone. “Not to mention why Xanxus seemed so happy that Reborn was going to be elsewhere for a while.”

“Reborn never used that kind of tactics with Xanxus,” Gianni pointed out, setting a glass of wine down in front of him and taking a seat across the kitchen table.

“Certainly not, and a good thing to.” Rafaele shook his head. “I mean, ‘traditional Vongola birthday party’? Reborn has a really evil sense of humor.”

Gianni’s mouth twitched. “Yes, well. I get the impression that Tsunayoshi is a good deal younger than Xanxus ever was.” He took a sip of his own wine and shrugged. “As long as it works, I suppose. And if you look at Dino Cavallone today it certainly seems to work.”

“I just hope it works in time,” Rafaele sighed, closing the folder and taking up his glass. “Before Rokudou makes his move. And before Xanxus completely loses his patience and tries to turn Japan upside down and shake it until Rokudou falls out,” he added wryly.

“Mmm.” Gianni frowned. “He does seem a bit fixated, doesn’t he?”

“It was Squalo Rokudou possessed and used against him,” Rafaele pointed out, sober. “Xanxus has turned possessive of the whole Family, but Squalo especially so.”

Raw envy flashed over Gianni’s face and Rafaele reached out and laid a gentle hand over his.

“At least we know he’ll be ready to go help take care of Rokudou whenever he does surface,” he went on, conversational tone at odds with the sympathy in his eyes.

Gianni took a breath, and another drink. “Yes. I just hope that works out.” He frowned again suddenly, but it was his business expression and Rafaele relaxed. “What do you think of the way Reborn is drawing Tsunayoshi’s friends into our business?”

“I think our business may be the reason Tsunayoshi has friends,” Rafaele answered a bit dryly. “At least if I’m reading between the lines correctly.”

“Not very like his father at all,” Gianni murmured, sounding rather puzzled.

“Perhaps.” Rafaele leaned back, considering the reports Reborn had sent, and the things Sawada himself had said in passing. “Does it seem to you that each time Tsunayoshi makes progress, it’s for the sake of something besides himself?”

Gianni’s brows rose. “Hm.” He smiled slowly. “More like his father than I’d thought, then.”

Rafaele smiled. “Yes. I think the boy might just fit in with the Family very well, in the end.”

Rafaele watched Timoteo set the phone down, slow and controlled. “Rokudou is moving?” he asked.

“Yes.” Timoteo had a bit of fire in his eyes. “Not directly for Tsunayoshi, but he’s struck at the people around him. Reborn says Tsunayoshi insists on going to find the man himself.”

“Xanxus is still out on that raid against the Tomaso,” Gianni murmured. “Should we call him back?”

Timoteo was quiet for a long moment, eyes on his folded hands. “Reborn feels that Tsunayoshi may be able to deal with this himself,” he said at last, quietly. “And the Vendicare are already moving in any case. This may be the time for Xanxus to learn that there are more important things than personal revenge.”

Gianni hesitated and glanced at Rafaele.

“Showing him that—catching Mukuro without him—is a heavy burden to place on Tsunayoshi.” Rafaele made his voice as neutral as he could, but Timoteo still winced a little.

“I know,” he said, softly, and was silent.

Rafaele watched the hand Gianni laid on Timoteo’s shoulder and sighed. He wouldn’t want to be the Family boss for all the money in the world; not when it meant making decisions like these.

All they could do was support Timoteo and hope for the best.

Iemitsu sat back with a sigh of what sounded to Rafaele like profound relief. “Well, that’s that, then.”

Xanxus made a grumpy sound and slouched down a little further into his chair. Rafaele was quite willing to admit that Xanxus had come a long way since the day Squalo had walked into his life and turned it on its side, but he could still beat any five year old for marathon sulking. And wasn’t it just typical that he was sulking because he hadn’t personally gotten to tear Rokudou to bits? Timoteo was right; it was high time Xanxus learned that it didn’t matter who did it as long as it got done.

Timoteo ignored his son’s snit, focused on the oddest part of Rokudou’s recapture. “So you say Tsunayoshi actually cleansed Rokudou’s aura?”

“That’s what Reborn said.” Iemitsu smirked just a bit. Rafaele supposed his pride was excusable; no one had expected his son to have that kind of ability. Iemitsu sobered quickly, though. “Speaking of cleansing, in a way, how are negotiations with the Vendicare over Lancia Rossi going? That was… well, it was important to Tsuna.”

“That was clearly a miscarriage of even our justice,” Timoteo said firmly. “We will get him free.”

“You need someone else to talk to them?” Xanxus asked, looking out the window.

Timoteo’s mustache twitched, as if he’d suppressed a smile. “That would be very helpful, yes. Thank you, my boy.”

Rafaele gave his boss a long look as Xanxus pushed himself up and strode out of the room. “Now, was that a nice thing to do?”

“It will be helpful,” Timoteo said. “Both to defuse some of his temper and to get Lancia out of the Vendicare’s hands as quickly as possible.”

“His temper does worry me sometimes,” Gianni murmured.

“He’s growing out of it,” Timoteo insisted, which Rafaele couldn’t help thinking represented more optimism than was quite warranted.

Iemitsu was looking after Xanxus with a thoughtful expression. “Maybe I’ll see about bringing Tsuna here after he graduates,” he said.

“You think it would help?” Timoteo sounded so hopeful Rafaele instantly took back his thought about optimism.

Iemitsu smiled wryly. “We’ll see how far Reborn takes him. It might.”

Rafaele stared at the official letter on Timoteo’s desk and sighed. “And it’s been such a nice quiet month,” he said wistfully.

Right on cue, Timoteo’s office door slammed open, and almost off its hinges, and Xanxus came through it just about breathing fire.

“They lost him?! Barely one damn month and that bastard escaped?!”

“The Vendicare recaptured Rokudou almost at once,” Gianni said firmly.

“How the hell do they think they can capture someone who goddamn well possesses people?” Xanxus demanded with unreasonable volume but unfortunately good logic. Rafaele sighed.

“His body, at least, won’t be getting away again. And we are tracking those of his followers who did get away,” he said firmly. Xanxus didn’t look convinced.

“Come on, Boss,” Squalo said, leaning in the doorway. “We’ll find him when we find him. And in the meantime, why should he get to interrupt a good workout?” Indeed, there was blood running down his jaw from a split lip and the redness of a proximity burn on his sword arm.

That got Xanxus turned around and stalking back out the door. Squalo spared a grin for everyone’s expressions before following.

“Squalo is just as crazy as he is,” Gianni declared.

“I imagine that’s why they get along,” Rafaele pointed out mildly.

Iemitsu, who had been staring out the window quietly while Xanxus burst in, finally spoke. “Rokudou’s followers did get away, didn’t they? And it sounded like he let himself be recaptured to let them.”

“It did sound as though the Vendicare themselves thought so,” Gianni agreed.

Iemitsu looked at Timoteo. “Perhaps we can make some use of that.”

Timoteo frowned. “Use his people as hostages?”

“No, not that.” Iemitsu crossed an ankle over his knee and leaned back. “No, I was thinking that his care for their escape indicates some reform, let’s say, in him, and about the things Reborn reported he said during his fight with Tsuna. That Rokudou seems to have some respect for Xanxus. I can’t imagine Rokudou’s dealt with anyone, before, who could throw off possession; he certainly seemed to think it would still work fine on Tsuna. And if Rokudou has started to value Family properly, perhaps, between his respect for Xanxus’ strength and his regard for his own people, we can do something with him.” Iemitsu had a definite gleam in his eye. “So, what if we bring him in?”

There was a long moment of silence before Timoteo said, carefully, “Iemitsu, are you really suggesting that we make Rokudou Mukuro one of the Vongola?”

“Not sure if he’d quite swallow that,” Iemitsu allowed. “But if we trade him, if we offer to take care of his followers in return for his services…” he smiled, sharp, “especially his service to Xanxus, that he might agree to.” The smile turned downright wicked. “After all, isn’t it traditional that the loser serves the winner, after a leadership challenge?”

Timoteo snorted, but he also looked thoughtful.

“Iemitsu?” Rafaele managed, after a moment.

“Hm?” Iemitsu gave him a cheery look of inquiry.

You get to explain this to Xanxus.”

“This is complete bullshit,” Xanxus muttered, pacing back and forth through the room. “He can’t possibly be willing to fucking well work for me.”

Rafaele raised a brow at Squalo, who shook his head firmly. Rafaele sighed; if Squalo thought it was better to let Xanxus pace, the boy was probably twice as tense as Rafaele thought. “Well, we’ll know soon,” he said, calmingly, more in hopes that Xanxus’ people would relax than that Xanxus himself would.

“No, we won’t. That’s the point. If it’s Rokudou we won’t know that it didn’t work until the day he tries to kill us all.”

Rafaele had to admit that Xanxus had a point. This time he looked at Iemitsu.

“Mukuro has changed,” Iemitsu put in obligingly. He looked perfectly relaxed, leaning against the wall with casually crossed arms. “Have some faith in Tsuna’s work.”

Xanxus started to turn and give Iemitsu a dire glare, but the door at the far end of the hall opened and he whipped back around to face it.

Through the door stepped Piero and Maria, escorting three young people. The two boys Rafaele thought he recognized from the reports of both Xanxus’ and Tsunayoshi’s encounters. They looked around with hard, bitter eyes, the dark one blank and the blond one sneering. If the history Reborn had passed on was accurate, he could understand why. The third person held the trident Xanxus had described, but she most certainly did not look like Rokudou Mukuro.

“You didn’t say he’d changed that much,” Tazio said, staring.

“His body’s still held by the Vendicare,” Squalo said, tight and quiet. “Could have figured he’d come in someone else’s.”

“She’s not,” Xanxus said, very quietly, staring hard at the girl. “Not… quite.”

The girl stepped forward with perfectly unnatural composure, looking up to meet Xanxus’ glare. “You wish to speak with Mukuro-sama?”

Xanxus was silent for a long moment before he finally said, slowly, “Yeah, I think so.”

She nodded and closed her eyes, clasping the trident closer to her chest. White mist twined up around her and Gianni stiffened.

“Illusion,” he murmured, stepping closer to Timoteo’s shoulder.

The mist blew away on a light laugh. “Yes and no,” said the tall young man who stood where the girl had been.

Rafaele stifled a frown as Squalo actually flinched a little. Xanxus took one long step ahead of his right hand, eyes fixed on Rokudou and burning.

Rokudou’s mouth curled. “This should be an interesting game, shouldn’t it?” he murmured. “How can you know that I’ll actually serve you instead of merely stalk you for my own use? How can I know you’ll shelter these three children instead of simply kill me?”

“You don’t,” Xanxus said bluntly. “And I don’t. I damn well should kill you for laying a hand on what’s mine. Even think about it again, and I will.”

Rokudou blinked once and burst out laughing; this time he sounded genuinely amused. “Very well. And what all is yours?” He cocked his head, inquiring, eyes sharp on Xanxus.

“The Vongola,” Xanxus said, flatly. “All of it.”

Rokudou’s smile quirked as his eyes tracked over the five men leaning or perching around the room who focused on Xanxus instead of Timoteo. “Indeed,” he murmured. “And these,” he waved his fingers at the two boys who flanked him, tense and protective now, “are mine. You will guard them as well.”

Xanxus considered Rokudou narrowly for a long moment and Rafaele wondered if Xanxus also heard the similarity in what the two of them were saying. Finally Xanxus smirked. “As long as they’re Vongola. As long as you are.”

Rokudou’s chin jerked up, and his smile turned sardonic. “Very good.” A breath of hesitation and he finished, “Very well.” Mist swept around him again and when it fell the girl stood there again, leaning on the trident. She opened her eyes slowly and looked up at Xanxus again, weirdly serene for someone who seemed to timeshare her life with Rokudou. “My name is Chrome Dokurou,” she said, and dipped her head. “Boss.”

Xanxus actually took a step back. “What?”

“Aren’t you?” she asked.

Squalo finally stirred and laughed, a little roughly. “Well. I was starting to wonder where we might find a Mist for you.”

Rafaele expected Xanxus to glare like death at that crack, but instead he looked at Squalo level and serious. “Yeah?”

Squalo shrugged a shoulder. “If it holds. Yeah.”

After a long moment Xanxus nodded. “All right.” He eyed the two boys consideringly and a corner of his mouth tilted up. “Gokudera! Tazio! Get them settled somewhere.”

Tazio and Gokudera exchanged unenthusiastic looks and even less enthusiastic ones with Rokudou’s followers, and Rafaele remembered they had been the ones to fight them when Xanxus came up against Rokudou.

“Yes, Boss,” Gokudera sighed and slouched over to the newcomers. “C’mon, you.”

Rafael had to stifle a laugh as the five moved off, four already bickering.

“Well done, my boy,” Timoteo said, chuckling. “Very well done.”

Xanxus grunted and gathered up the rest of his people with a gesture. “We’ll see.”

Rafaele watched him go. “Well,” he murmured, “maybe this will work.”

Rafaele stood with the rest of Timoteo’s Guardians and watched solemnly as Xanxus and his people came forward to accept the Vongola Rings. There were little stirs among the watching witnesses, especially when Xanxus took the Sky Ring. The Family had horror stories about what happened if the Rings rejected a candidate; in fact Timoteo’s mother had added one, about the brother who’d made the mistake of thinking his sister couldn’t lead the Family. It was the gleam in her eye as she’d told it that had really made the story, he’d always thought.

Xanxus didn’t seem to notice, though Rafaele wouldn’t have laid money that he hadn’t, and marked exactly who was doubting him, too. He slid the ring onto his finger and closed his hand into a fist. The six Guardians he’d chosen, who had chosen him, all showed their teeth at that, one way or another, and held out their hands to him.

Flames lit on each Ring.

Rafaele almost expected them to flutter as the entire room seemed to breathe out. He let himself grin as Timoteo announced in a firm voice that his choice of heir was confirmed and that Xanxus would be the tenth Boss of the Vongola, and everyone broke up to chatter about it.

“We might actually live to retire after all!” Michele said, and Rafaele smiled at this flash of his old irrepresibleness—that kind they hadn’t seen much of since his son died with Federico.

“Let’s go congratulate the children, then,” he suggested.

“As long as Chrome stays Chrome,” Michele specified, promptly. “I can deal with a cute girl, even one who doesn’t know she’s pretty yet. But that Mukuro gives me the creeps. Especially when he thanks me for complimenting her.” He shuddered and Rafaele chuckled as they spread out. Mukuro’s sense of humor was a pretty good match for his boss’, at that.

Eventually he worked his way to where Squalo was leaning against the wall and watching the crowd. “Congratulations,” Rafaele said, nodding to the ring on Squalo’s hand.

“Mm. Nice to have it all official, I guess,” his protege murmured.

Rafaele leaned beside him. “You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned it,” he said at last, “but I’m glad you came back to the Family with me, that day I first met you. When I look back at how Xanxus was before… well, I think this turned out better for everyone.”

Squalo’s mouth quirked. “Yeah, ‘Mom’ said kind of the same thing just now. Only he didn’t sound quite as cheery about it.”

“Gianni belongs to Timoteo a lot like you belong to Xanxus,” Rafaele said gently, and then grinned. “I imagine you’ll think Xanxus’ son is an uppity little brat, too.”

“Oh God.” Squalo slumped back against the wall. “You’re going to start encouraging the girls, now, aren’t you?”

“I imagine their own Families will do that,” Rafaele pointed out dryly. “Don’t worry; I’m sure you’ll be able to find him a woman to suit him.”

Squalo stared. “Me?”

“You’re his right hand,” Rafaele pointed out inexorably. “And he certainly isn’t going to do it left to his own devices, is he?”

Squalo slumped again. “I really hate you sometimes,” he said into his glass.

“Shows I’m doing my job.”

After another silence Squalo said quietly, “I suppose I’m glad, too.”

Rafaele smiled and held out his glass. “To the Vongola Tenth, then.”

Squalo laughed. “Yeah, all right.” He clinked his glass against Rafaele’s and they both drank.

Whether he retired or died in the harness, Rafaele decided, he would leave the Family in good hands.