Keeping Up with the Vongolas

Tsuna goes to Italy to get settled in his new job, and brings Yamamoto and Hibari with him. Settling in goes fine, but he finds his job is bigger than he’d thought it would be. Drama, I-3

Tsuna stepped out of the car and tugged his jacket straight. He still wasn’t used to the suit.

“Big place,” Yamamoto remarked, emerging behind him. It was certainly that; the huge building looked to Tsuna as though someone had taken at least four separate mansions and pushed them together.

“It’s the main House,” Basil said, closing the car door. He smiled cheerfully at Tsuna. “Don’t worry; you’ll be used to it in no time!”

“Hmph.” Hibari climbed out of the back and looked around with a gimlet eye. “So where’s Xanxus?” His hand flexed, already prepared for the grip of his weapons.

“Looks like he’s coming,” Kusakabe said, closing the door behind Hibari and nodding at the stairs the led down from the house, or House rather, to the drive. Hibari smiled.

“Ah, you don’t think you could maybe wait just a little while…” Tsuna trailed off at the look Hibari gave him, which conveyed quite efficiently that Hibari would be willing enough to warm his teeth up by biting Tsuna first. Tsuna held up his hands. “Just asking.”

Xanxus was followed by Squalo, Gokudera, someone Tsuna didn’t know, and someone else he couldn’t see clearly. “Sawada.” He nodded briskly at Tsuna. “Good, you’re all here. This is Tazio,” he jerked his thumb at the young man with the bright grin beside him. “He and Gokudera will show you around.” He glanced at Hibari as he stepped forward, clearly not interested in a tour of the House, and snorted. “Got someone else to settle you in.”

The fourth person in the party stepped forward and Tsuna started. “Mukuro!” Beside him, Hibari turned very still.

“Sawada,” Mukuro greeted him with a smile, eyes sliding toward Hibari. “And I see you brought me a present; how thoughtful.” He laughed, flickering aside as Hibari lunged for him, and they were gone.

“That should keep him occupied for a while.” Squalo showed his teeth. “Give him a chance to shake the kinks out after the long trip.”

Tsuna shook his head, a rueful smile twitching at his lips. “It was very thoughtful of you.” Kusakabe just sighed and pulled the rest of Hibari’s luggage out of the trunk.

“He’s the one you’re thinking of for the Varia?” Tazio asked, looking after Hibari and Mukuro. At Xanxus’ nod he laughed. “I want to watch that.”

Tsuna couldn’t help laughing a little too. At least one of them was fitting in right away.

After an extended tour of the house which mostly left Tsuna confused, they fetched up in a pleasant sitting room with the current boss of the Vongola and his heir. Tsuna was glad he’d seen a picture last year or he might have blurted out the thought about not looking like a mafia boss, and then all the other old men in the room would probably have laughed. Except for the old woman, whose expression was alarmingly similar to Hibari’s, and who might have done something more extreme.

“You know Squalo and Gokudera,” Xanxus said, from where he was slouched in an arm chair. “You met Tazio. Levi and Ceirano are away, you can meet them later.” He waved at the older people. “They belong to the old man.”

The slim, neatly suited man standing beside the Ninth made a faint grimace, as if he’d refrained from rolling his eyes, and the lean, dark, elegant man sitting to one side with an ankle crossed over his knee quirked a tiny smile, either at his companion or at Xanxus. “We’re the Ninth’s Guardians,” he supplied. “I’m Rafaele Martelli. That,” opening a hand at the man standing by the Ninth, “is Gianni Staffieri, the Ninth’s right hand.” He went around the room with graceful introductions. The alarming woman was Maria Purezza. The large, quiet man with dark, thoughtful eyes was Paolo Gemello. Apparently he had a twin, Piero, who wasn’t here today and there was a Michele Rizzo who was off taking care of family things. Though why this information should cause everyone in the room to grin or snort or roll their eyes, Tsuna wasn’t sure.

He supposed he’d find out over the next few months.

“And of course, you know Iemitsu and Reborn,” Rafaele finished with a wry smile.

“Well, I thought I did,” Tsuna couldn’t quite help muttering under his breath with a somewhat exasperated look at his father, who looked his part in a dark suit far more serious than anything he’d ever worn or even seemed to own at home. His dad stopped looking serious and looked perfectly, infuriatingly innocent instead, and Tsuna positively glared. At least until he noticed the startled looks around the room. Then he flushed and straightened. A faint sound made him glance over at his own immediate boss, and Tsuna surprised a dark look on Xanxus’ face for a breath. Some of the things Reborn had hinted at without saying suddenly came together in Tsuna’s head and he stole a fast look at the Ninth.

Sure enough, the Ninth was looking rueful. Like the byplay between Tsuna and his dad was familiar in some not completely pleasant way. Xanxus was now looking out the window, brooding. Tsuna reminded himself that these signs were why he had really agreed to take this job in the first place, and pulled himself together. “I’m very glad to meet you,” he said, nodding politely around the room. “This is Yamamoto Takeshi, who’s agreed to work with CEDEF,” Yamamoto bobbed a cheerful nod to everyone impartially, “and this is Kusakabe Tetsuya, who is here with Hibari Kyouya.” Kusakabe nodded silently and Tsuna cleared his throat. “Hibari-san seems to still be out with Mukuro.”

“This is the one you want for the Varia?” Gianni asked Xanxus, one brow raised dubiously. “Will he really be willing to dedicate himself to the Family?”

“He’s dedicated to exactly what he needs to be: completely destroying his enemies.” Xanxus didn’t stir, but Tsuna thought he looked like he was hunching down further in his chair.

Tsuna tried not to let his growing disturbance show and interjected, “If Hibari-san was willing to come at all, it means he’s considering the Family, and whether it’s a thing he wants to preserve. If he agrees, he’ll be completely dedicated.” He shrugged with a rueful smile at the older people. “Hibari-san doesn’t do anything half way.”

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Xanxus relaxing a little from that still tension, and decided that had been the right move. Squalo was looking at him with approval, which was a good sign anyway.

Hibari took that moment to stalk in, looking a bit battered and scorched but just about gleaming with satisfaction. “And this is Hibari-san,” Tsuna introduced him with as much aplomb as he could muster.

“Mm.” Hibari glanced around with only mild interest, though he paused and looked twice at Maria before turning to Xanxus. “These Varia. Where are they?”

Xanxus grinned at that, clearly entertained. “Show you tomorrow.”

Hibari drew himself up, and Tsuna was resigning himself to a fast trip to wherever the Varia were when Maria stepped in.

“Tomorrow,” she snapped. “You’ll have to fight all the unit captains to convince them. Get some sleep first. It would be absolutely pathetic if you lost just because you were too stupid to gather your resources properly.”

Hibari actually stopped and cocked his head at her. “You then, instead.”

She crossed her legs, lip curled. “After dinner, boy.”

Hibari considered that for a moment, while Tsuna held his breath, and finally nodded agreement and settled into the chair Kusakabe pulled up for him. Clearly, Tsuna reflected, there was a good reason Maria had reminded him immediately of Hibari; at least they might keep each other occupied.

“All right, Chrome?” Squalo asked quietly, and Tsuna realized there were two new people in the room, not one.

A slight young women had slipped in behind Hibari, and Tsuna started a little when he saw her eye patch and noticed her hair style as she nodded to Squalo. “Um…?”

Xanxus flicked his fingers at her. “This is Chrome. She’s Mukuro’s host out here.” He raked a look up and down her and grunted, turning back to the gathering while she found a chair and let herself down into it with a rather tired sigh. Tsuna caught a frown on Paolo’s face, and had to stifle an exasperated sigh of his own. Even he knew that, when Xanxus sounded like that, it meant he’d looked and was satisfied Chrome was all right and just didn’t want anyone to notice he cared. Really, whatever had happened between these people before he came must have been huge if it had left this many misunderstandings lying around.

“Well, you’re quite welcome, here, Tsunayoshi,” the Ninth said, gathering all eyes back to himself, and Tsuna relaxed to see the faint smile under the Ninth’s mustache.

“Thank you, sir.” It was Xanxus Tsuna looked at as he finished, though. “I’m glad to be here.”

The next morning, Tsuna barely had time for a piece of toast before Hibari set down the tea he had somehow extracted from the kitchen here with a click and demanded to know where the Varia were. Tsuna paused to fill his coffee cup before trailing along after the resulting crowd, figuring he would want to be awake enough to duck when Hibari started throwing things, and people, around. The way Xanxus and Squalo were both smiling as they led the little parade only confirmed his wariness.

They left the main House and crossed down a hill to an annex set back on its own. A bit to Tsuna’s surprise, though only a bit, Xanxus stopped outside the door and waved at it. “There you go. Have fun.”

Hibari didn’t dignify that with a reply; he just stalked inside. There was definitely, Tsuna decided, a glint of anticipation in Xanxus’ eyes as he strolled after. Kusakabe sighed and muttered, “Cavallone and Romario were a lot easier to deal with.” Tsuna gave him a sympathetic smile, swallowed the rest of his coffee in a long gulp, and followed along.

There was a lot of black clothing, inside, which Tsuna had started to get used to, and a lot of leather, which he hadn’t.

One of the men in the leather tried to stop Hibari, who was by now stalking a ways ahead of everyone else. “Hey! What are you doing here?”

Hibari gave the man a dubious look and a fast, hard swing of one tonfa, and snorted when he went down. “I thought you said there were strong people here,” he said over his shoulder to Xanxus.

“Keep going. You’ll find them at this rate.” Xanxus would never look bland, but he was as close to it as Tsuna had ever seen.

Hibari sniffed and stalked on with Kusakabe a respectful distance behind his shoulder, and Xanxus prodded the downed man with his toe in passing. “Pay more attention next time,” he ordered briskly, and strode on after Hibari before the man quite finished groaning an agreement.

“I know you said the Varia was more demanding than the other branches,” Tsuna said quietly to Squalo, “but…”

“He got off lightly.” Squalo didn’t look at Tsuna, eyes following Hibari and Xanxus ahead of them. “He should have known with one look that Hibari was dangerous.”

Well, all right, Tsuna couldn’t really argue with that.

“Most people are paying better attention,” Yamamoto murmured behind Tsuna, and when Tsuna looked around his eyes were bright and focused, tracking over the growing number of people in the hall. Squalo grinned.

“There are strong people here. You should think about it.”

“Hey,” Tsuna protested this attempt to poach his friend, the latest in an ongoing series. Yamamoto laughed.

“I’m staying with Tsuna. But I’ll come visit a lot, how’s that?”

Squalo gave him an exasperated look. “What the hell do you think this is, a neighborhood slumber party?”

“Hadn’t thought of that. Do you think it would be fun?” Yamamoto smiled at Squalo with innocent cheer and Squalo growled and stalked further ahead.

Tsuna shook his head. “He should be glad you are staying with me.”

Yamamoto laughed, and Tsuna reflected, not for the first time, that his friend had a fairly evil sense of humor once you got to recognize it.

The next room they came into was obviously their destination, because Kusakabe and Xanxus were leaning against the wall beside a fascinated Tazio, and Hibari was in the middle of it, tonfa hammering into another unfortunate in black leather. More people were quietly slipping in, and most of them seemed content to watch.

“So what’s this?” A slight blond man had appeared beside them, and his smile instantly put Tsuna on edge.

“Your new boss, maybe.”

The smile flickered. “Him?” The man gave Hibari a hard look as he kicked his latest opponent into the wall and something cracked. “I’ve never seen him here before. Is he from another Family? A hitman?”

“No.” Xanxus didn’t look away from Hibari. “He’s not from the mafia at all.”

The blond man was still for a moment, and when he spoke again his voice was cold. “What kind of a joke is this?”

“No joke,” Squalo put in, leaning beside Xanxus. “Go see for yourself, Bel. Looks like Hibari’s done with the small fry.”

Indeed, Hibari was looking around disdainfully as his half-conscious challenger was helped off to the side.

“We’ll just see, then,” Bel murmured, and strolled toward Hibari, a sudden fan of small, wicked looking knives appearing in his fingers.

“Um.” Tsuna edged closer to Squalo and murmured. “So, you said Varia aren’t actually supposed to kill each other, right?”

Squalo bared his teeth. “Usually.” Just when Tsuna was relaxing a little, he added, “Course, Hibari isn’t Varia yet.” He shrugged at Tsuna’s glare. “You think Hibari wants anyone going easy on him?”

Tsuna slumped against the wall with a faint groan. Yamamoto laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’s Hibari. He’ll be okay.” Kusakabe didn’t look away from Hibari, but he nodded a silent endorsement of this.

Tsuna tried to hold on to that thought, but it wasn’t easy when he saw the things Bel’s knives could do, and watched Hibari’s blood start running. “Why?” he asked, soft and harsh, as they watched and did nothing.

“The Varia are the best,” Xanxus answered, voice a little distant. “And this is the mafia. Negotiations are a big part of it, yeah, but they only happen because they’re backed up with guns and knives every second. You want to see less bloodshed, Sawada? Then we need the threat of the Varia in hand. And that means no mercy here and now.”

Tsuna looked up at him, lips tight. “You know I’ll try to change it.”

Now Xanxus glanced down at him, a wry tilt at the corner of his mouth. “Okay,” he said eventually.

Tsuna took a breath and nodded and stayed where he was, watching silently as Hibari and Bel fought. And if he sighed with quiet relief when Hibari found the wires and smashed Bel into the floor three breaths later, well no one but Yamamoto heard him.

Hibari made considerably shorter work of the rather flamboyant man with the colored hair who stepped up next. Tsuna wondered if there would be trouble when he faced what was obviously one of the arcobaleno, but when Mammon turned out to be an illusionist Tsuna just winced and hoped Hibari would let him get away in the end. He was pretty sure he would. Mostly sure, anyway. Probably.

"Um. Does Hibari not like illusionists?" Tazio asked, cautiously, a few seconds later, over Mammon’s chopped-off grunt as the first tonfa found him.

"He’s still pretty mad at Mukuro," Tsuna sighed, clinging to the wall with his eyes closed as the floor disappeared. He opened them again when he heard the crack and thump. "I think he’s kind of taking it out on this one."

"You were totally right, Boss," Tazio told Xanxus with assurance as Hibari chased Mammon across the room. "This guy will like the Varia."

Xanxus just snorted.

In the quiet after Mammon disappeared, though, the person who stepped up next was an old man. Tsuna glanced over at Xanxus and Squalo, who had straightened a little and were watching closely.

“So,” the old man said, looking Hibari up and down. “You’re strong. That’s good. Seems like you can think while you fight, and that’s better. But you’re not mafia. Why do you want to serve the Vongola to begin with?”

Hibari gave him a blank look. “Serve?” He pointed at Xanxus. “He said I could find the best here.”

“Is that all that matters to you?” the old man asked quietly, and a chilly crinkle ran up Tsuna’s spine.

Hibari actually paused and seemed to be considering it. Finally he smiled. He gestured with his chin at Xanxus. “He’ll make something that works properly. I approve of that.”

The old man’s brows were raised as he glanced at Xanxus. “Are you sure about this, boy?”

Xanxus was trading an extremely sharp smile with Hibari. “Yeah. He’s the one I want.” He shrugged impatiently when the eyebrows stayed up. “He’ll keep everyone on their toes. Me too.”

“All right,” the old man sighed. “It won’t be official until I’m satisfied he’s not actually crazy, but all right.” He gathered up the other people in the room with one look and announced. “The Varia has a prospective new boss. See about it.”

The room broke up into excited conversation, some of them crowding around Hibari, though not too close, and a few, who Tsuna privately considered the smartest, heading for Kusakabe.

Squalo pushed away from the wall and stretched, grinning. “So. Is it lunch time yet?” Tsuna laughed a little, helplessly, knowing that Hibari would agree completely with that casual attitude, and that Yamamoto probably would too.

Maybe he’d have lunch with Gokudera, for his daily dose of sane-person.

With Hibari settled in, for Hibari-values of the concept, Tsuna had a few days of relative quiet to actually learn to navigate the huge House. He supposed it wasn’t any harder than learning his neighborhood, at home, he just had to learn it faster.

Knowing full well that Reborn was waiting in every office or sitting room he had to find, perfectly willing to shoot him if he was late, lent something extra to the effort, of course.

“Don’t you have other things to do these days?” he asked Reborn, panting a little as he dropped down into his chair.

“I don’t leave jobs in the middle, and you’re obviously not finished yet,” Reborn told him over a sip of the poisonously strong coffee all the mafia appeared to favor.

A man Tsuna hadn’t met before laughed. “You’re a hard task-master, Reborn! No vacations, even?”

“Certainly none of the kind you would recognize.”

Since that resulted in a certain amount of laughing and elbowing, Tsuna wasn’t entirely surprised when the man was introduced as Michele Rizzo, the Ninth’s Sun Guardian. He’d definitely gotten the impression that Michele and Kyouko’s brother had a certain approach to life in common.

Xanxus shifted impatiently in his own chair. “Screw Reborn, I have better things to be doing.”

The dark look that flickered over Michele’s cheerful face caught Tsuna’s attention.

“You have nothing better than the business of this Family to be doing.”

The spark that lit in Xanxus’ eyes made Tsuna wince. Clearly this was another person Xanxus didn’t deal well with. And apparently vice versa.

“Your business,” the sneer that accompanied that said volumes about Xanxus’ opinion of Michele’s ‘vacation’ activities, “is none of mine.”

Michele slapped a hand down on the table. “Damn it, when are you going to take some responsibility and do this job right? If Federico had…”

“Michele,” the Ninth said firmly, and Michele bit off the rest of it, but Xanxus was already leaning over the table, teeth bared.

“Where the fuck do you get off talking to me about responsibility, or about Federico? You’re so cock-proud of all your damn bastards, but your precious son couldn’t keep the boss you really wanted alive, could he? Who should be taking the responsibility for that?!” Michele started up from his chair at that, and Squalo was moving forward from where he’d been leaning against the wall, and Tsuna wondered a little despairingly just how often Xanxus and his father’s men had to be pulled off each other.

From the weary slump of the Ninth’s shoulders and the resignation in the tight set of Squalo’s mouth, he didn’t think he’d like the answer to that.

“They’re both dead now, and after all Federico did for you you’re just going to throw away everything they worked for!” Michele was almost shouting, and Tsuna could hear the pain behind what he said, it was clear in every gesture.

The old, dark pain in the hunch of Xanxus’ shoulders was louder to him, though, and that was what had brought him here in the first place. He hesitated, but this was exactly the kind of thing he was starting to realize he would keep needing to do for a long time and it wouldn’t get any shorter for delaying. He let the still calm that Reborn had taught him was the first unfolding of his Will rise.

Rizzo-san.” Tsuna’s voice cut across them, and he took a slow breath as everyone turned to look at him, reminding himself to use Italian. “That wasn’t what Xanxus said. And it wasn’t what he meant either,” he said, quietly.

Xanxus stiffened. “Sawada,” he said, low and harsh, and Tsuna saw the alarm behind his frown, the fear of what Tsuna’s intuition would pull into the open.

“It serves nothing for them not to know,” he said quietly, and waited, watching Xanxus, watching him understand that Tsuna was waiting for his consent.

Xanxus growled out a curse and flung himself up out of his chair, stalking out of the room with tight shoulders. Squalo gave Tsuna a distinctly “better you than me” look and followed him. Tsuna watched him go with a tiny, wry smile, at least until Michele made an indignant sound behind him.

“Why that little…!”

“No,” Tsuna said low, turning back. “You don’t understand. That was Xanxus telling me that I can say whatever I feel I need to.”

Michele frowned at him, obviously not making the connection and Tsuna sighed.

“Xanxus doesn’t set his heart out where people can find it easily. You’re not like that, I can see,” and he could see a faint flicker of startlement as Michele met his eyes, “but this is Xanxus. When he said that he blamed you in some part for Federico’s death, what he meant was that he loved Federico too. The thing he most cares about is the one he’ll try to ignore. When he turns his back, that’s when you know he’s listening.”

Michele scrubbed a hand through his hair. “That’s insane,” he said, rather plaintively.

“Actually,” Rafaele put in, looking enlightened, “that’s one of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard of Xanxus in a nutshell.”

“How am I supposed to deal with someone who’s all backward like that?” Michele demanded, aggrieved.

“He isn’t asking you to deal with him,” Tsuna pointed out. “What he wants is for you to understand him. He won’t believe in it, but that’s what he wants.” He stood and nodded politely to the older men and turned to go look for Xanxus, because he was only half done with today’s work. And today’s work was only the beginning. The nonplussed expressions on almost every face told him it would be a long project, reconciling Xanxus to the Family he was inheriting and vice versa, though he did take some encouragement from Rafaele’s soft, rueful snort as he left.

Tsuna checked both Xanxus’ rooms and the east terrace before finally running him down in his office. Squalo opened the door at his tap and waved him inside after a long look, slipping out himself. Tsuna smiled, warmed by that silent vote of confidence. “Xanxus,” he said quietly.

Standing looking out the window, Xanxus stirred but didn’t answer. Tsuna took a deep breath and let it out.

“I’m not going to stop, you know.”

A harsh laugh shook Xanxus’ shoulders. “I got that part, yeah.”

“If I’m going to be your outside adviser, my job is to see the things you don’t isn’t it?” Tsuna stepped softly closer.

“Is it your job to share them with the whole world?” Xanxus asked tightly.

“It’s my job to use what I see however will serve you and the Family best.” That much, Tsuna was sure of, from the things Reborn had said about how Tsuna’s father served the Ninth.

Xanxus just growled, one hand curling into a fist against the window.

Tsuna watched him, thinking again about the things Reborn had told him about the First and the Vongola traditions; about the things his father had told him of the Ninth and his ideals on the few occasions Tsuna had been able to pin him down about the Vongola Family; about what he knew of Federico, the brilliant son who’d been the first to accept Xanxus, and of Xanxus’ past. Intuition stirred again, and he thought that no one who’d been beaten down that hard would believe in kindness or care he couldn’t see and touch. Tsuna understood that. He also understood, a little, when Reborn and his father insisted that the Family was everything, but he thought neither he nor Xanxus was here just to protect an ideal. Finally he said, quiet, “I’ll serve the Family, yes. But I came here for you. Not for an abstraction.” He crossed the office and folded his hands around Xanxus’ fist, tugging it away from the window as Xanxus looked around at him, startled.

“Sawada, what…?” Xanxus broke off as Tsuna knelt down at his feet, lifted his hand, and brushed his lips over Xanxus’ knuckles.

Tsuna knew the history of the gesture; it was one of the things he’d pried out of his father after quite a few beers one night had turned the conversation sentimental. It wasn’t the Ring Xanxus wore that he kissed, it was his hand—the man and not the office. From the sharp intake of breath, he knew Xanxus had understood.

He stood up and looked at Xanxus steadily. “Not for an abstraction,” he repeated.

Xanxus stared at him, for once shocked out of any defensive temper, and Tsuna smiled up at him quietly. Xanxus finally recovered himself enough to scowl, and added a growl for good measure when Tsuna laughed softly.

“Yes, Boss,” Tsuna agreed to that unspoken acceptance.

This was his job and his place, and he had a good grip on it now.

After the upsets that most of the Family provided, Tsuna found CEDEF unexpectedly restful. Most of them even seemed sane.

“So,” Yamamoto said, tipping his chair back on two legs, teacup cradled between his hands, “we’re not part of the Vongola but we work for them?”

“Essentially,” Oregano agreed. “You might think of us almost as an allied Family.” She smiled. “Though a very small one.”

“And, like the Varia, we answer directly to the Vongola boss,” Turmeric added.

Tsuna sketched a few more lines on his growing table of organization and shook his head at the spaghetti-mess it was. “This all seems awfully complicated. We’re separate, but the head of CEDEF has to know everything that’s going on because he might have to take over as second-in-command, or even act for the Vongola boss at any second!” Why had he thought this was a good idea, again?

“When loyalty and betrayal are two sides of one coin,” his dad said quietly, arms folded against the table, “the outside adviser is also the person the boss knows is absolutely loyal to him.”

Tsuna thought about Xanxus, and his hands, which had been nervously turning the pencil over and over, stilled. “Yes,” he agreed softly.

“So what kind of work do we do?” Yamamoto asked, breaking the silence, and Tsuna smiled gratefully at his friend. Yamamoto would always bring life back to the practical.

“Lots of things,” Oregano said. “Scouting, negotiations, courier work… Anything that needs a touch of authority but that the boss or the heir shouldn’t be seen doing.”

Yamamoto laughed. “Anything the Vongola are interested in, but don’t want to look interested in?” He cocked his head at the older members. “Or anything they want to show an interest in but only sideways?”

Oregano blinked and Turmeric nodded slowly. “That’s a very good way to put it.” He smiled faintly. “I won’t be surprised if you get sent out often for negotiation.”

“Anything I can do to help out,” Yamamoto agreed, cheerfully, causing everyone to look twice at him and Tsuna to grin wryly. He supposed it took a little while to get used to Yamamoto.

“Yamamoto-san?” Basil’s voice drifted up the stairs.

“Up here,” Yamamoto called back. Basil ran lightly up and through the door.

“Lal Mirch is, ah…” He hesitated.

“Yamamoto!” Lal’s voice didn’t drift so much as march. “You’re late for training, get your sorry ass down here!”

“Impatient,” Basil finished.

A huge grin spread over Yamamoto’s face. “Yes, Lal,” he called back, lilting. “Coming.” He turned the grin on Tsuna. “Want to watch? She said she’d make an obstacle course for me today.”

“Better you than me,” Tsuna said fervently, though he got up to follow after Yamamoto willingly enough.

The rest of CEDEF trailed along, and Tsuna relaxed at the warmth of their obvious amusement. He liked this feeling, of being accepted, being one of them. He liked that they took Yamamoto’s enthusiasm as much in stride as they did Lal’s hard-as-nails dedication and cutting sarcasm.

It was still a little weirder that his dad was involved, but he’d just have to manage that.

This time, Lal had made the course for Yamamoto on one of the open hillsides beyond the House. It appeared to involve explosives, as well as traps and obstacles, and Tsuna shook his head ruefully as they watched Yamamoto fling himself into it, leaping and slinking and ducking.

And laughing, when he had the breath.

Lal was a demanding trainer. She reminded Tsuna a lot of Reborn, that way, only with less bland-faced evil and more shouting. She accepted no excuses and she drove anyone who fell under her influence without a hint of mercy. Tsuna could tell that she was just a little bemused that Yamamoto seemed to enjoy that.

“Swords really do make you crazy,” a new voice said, behind Tsuna, and he turned to smile at Gokudera.

“Did you help Lal make the course today?” The occasional explosions did suggest it.

“Yeah.” Gokudera’s eyes were fixed on Yamamoto’s progress, rather darkly. Tsuna’s smile gentled.

“Yamamoto likes pushing himself, and stretching as far as he can go,” he explained, the way he hadn’t quite had the nerve to yet, to Lal. “He didn’t used to get much opportunity for that, I think.”

“Doesn’t look much like he’s stretching,” Gokudera observed, still sounding rather sour. He added, far quieter, enough so that Tsuna wasn’t sure he’d been supposed to hear, “Does everything come easy to him?”

Tsuna looked at Gokudera a lot more sharply, suddenly wondering.

Yamamoto came out the other end of the course, smoking and bruised but still grinning, to face Lal’s critique. It was loud enough to be heard up the hill and included a lot of terms like “reckless damn idiot” and “charging in like a thundering elephant”, and Yamamoto bobbed his head with earnest attention to each one. Tsuna’s mouth quirked, rueful; Lal was taking a little longer then most of CEDEF to catch on to Yamamoto’s sense of humor. Gokudera, who Tsuna suspected hadn’t gotten it yet either, growled and stalked down the hill to join them. He gestured sharply at the course and then at Yamamoto and planted his hands on his hips, glaring. Yamamoto spread his hands innocently, but Tsuna noticed that his smile had turned more sincere and less teasing.

This time Tsuna was really watching, and so this time he also noticed the way that blunted the fine edge of Gokudera’s irritation.

Before he could consider the implications of that too deeply, though, Turmeric moved up to stand next to him, and Tsuna turned his attention to the older man. When Turmeric said something it was usually worth listening to.

“Takeshi will be very good at negotiations, here. It’s something you should probably keep in mind.”

Tsuna laughed. “Yeah, I don’t know anyone else who can keep smiling like he does.”

“That’s not quite what I mean,” Turmeric said quietly. “It will be an advantage, yes; but his real strength at the table will be, well…” Turmeric’s mouth quirked a bit as he looked down the hill to where Lal and Yamamoto and Gokudera were walking the course, arguing and gesturing over bits of it, “his strength.”

Tsuna looked up, curious. “What do you mean?”

Turmeric looked out over the hills for a moment, and when he spoke he sounded a little distant and maybe even a little sad. “Negotiations, in our world, are not always a matter of reason. Maybe not even often. Unless you have the strength to win it as a battle, you won’t usually win it at the table, either. A successful negotiator is a threat.” He finally looked down at Tsuna, serious. “Takeshi will be the threat in your hand.”

Tsuna flinched from that, lips pressed tight. “I don’t want,” he started, only to break off as Turmeric rested a hand on his shoulder.

“I know you don’t. And we like you for that, Tsuna. But I also know you’ll do it when you have to. And that,” he finished, gently, “is why we also trust you.”

Tsuna took a deep breath and let it out. “If I have to,” he agreed, low.

That was the promise he’d given Xanxus, and now he understood it was the promise he had to give the people who would work under him.

“Whatever I have to do,” he said quietly, looking up at the House above them.

Another day, another meeting. Tsuna was starting to feel like he’d taken on that civil service job the school counselor had kept hopefully suggesting, after all.

“Those Pozzo Nero assholes won’t back off until we make them!”

With some significant differences, of course.

“We might at least try to negotiate first,” Gianni answered Xanxus, rather dryly.

“Why?” Maria asked, with a glint in her eye that looked just like the one in Xanxus’.

“Because we aren’t the Pozzo Nero; we’re the Vongola,” Paulo said firmly.

“That doesn’t mean rolling over and being nice to scum,” Tazio shot back just as firmly.

Xanxus leaned forward, hand closed into a fist on the table. “I’ll negotiate with them the way they understand,” he growled.

Tsuna stifled a sigh. Why did he always get to be the reasonable one? “Xanxus,” he put in, “they are in the middle of a city.” A city full of innocent bystanders that might be caught in the fire. And if they were, that would be very bad for Xanxus, even if Xanxus didn’t seem to understand that yet.

Xanxus turned to look at him and Tsuna’s thoughts froze. He suddenly felt like he’d stepped off the edge of a cliff without realizing it. Xanxus’ eyes on him were cold and shuttered.

“So what?” he asked, low and vicious, and cut his hand at Gianni and Paulo, somehow including Tsuna in the gesture. “I know what the fuck I’m doing, and I’m not going to let them get away with the same shit the goddamn Cetrulli pulled!”

The magnitude of his misstep cut off Tsuna’s voice. He hadn’t meant to take their side against Xanxus! But of course, now, too late, he could see clear as day that that’s how it would look to Xanxus. And not just Xanxus; even Tazio was frowning at him. So Tsuna did the only thing he could think of that might calm Xanxus down.

“Yes, Boss,” he murmured, bowing his head.

After a moment Xanxus made a wordless, frustrated sound and turned to look at the Ninth, who sighed.

“You make a strong case. Very well.”

Tsuna stood slowly as the meeting broke up, still a little shaken. He wasn’t quite sure what to do now.

It was almost comforting when Reborn landed on his shoulder and cuffed him across the back of the head. “Idiot.”

“Shut up, I know already,” Tsuna muttered, watching Xanxus and Squalo disappearing through the far door.

“So, what are you waiting for?”

Tsuna blinked at Reborn, who smiled faintly.

“You’re his adviser, aren’t you?”

Xanxus’ adviser, yes. The one who’d promised to stand by him. The world snapped back into place and Tsuna took a deep breath and smiled back. “I’m waiting for some privacy.”

Reborn hopped down onto the table. “Well, then.”

Tsuna slipped past Maria as politely as he could, trying not to flush at her sardonic glance, and out into the hall. He wasn’t entirely surprised to find Xanxus, just one corner away, leaning up against the wall with his arms folded tight and Squalo speaking to him, low and intent. Squalo looked up and his mouth tightened. Tsuna ducked his head apologetically, and Squalo rolled his eyes and beckoned with a quick jerk of his head.

Xanxus noticed that and looked up, expression freezing again the instant he saw Tsuna.

“Boss,” Tsuna protested, taking the last few steps quicker. “I said it for you, not for them!”

Xanxus’ shoulders hunched faintly, and Tsuna reached out, resting a hand on Xanxus’ chest.

“I swear,” he said, softly. “It’s you I’m thinking of.”

“Me, huh? Nothing about all those civilians in that city?” Xanxus asked, low and edgy, not looking at him.

“Them too,” Tsuna agreed, easily. “But I can tell you one thing I wasn’t thinking of at all, and that’s that you’d be careless. Or screw up. Or not succeed.”

“That’s three things,” Xanxus said after a moment, but the line of his shoulders had relaxed, and Tsuna smiled.

“They count as one.”

Xanxus looked at him now, with the kind of exasperation Tsuna often saw; it was very welcome, and his smile got more cheerful. Xanxus snorted and shrugged his hand off, straightening. “If you want to help, go pry Hibari and Ceirano away from each other and bring them down to my office. We have planning to do.”

“Yes, Boss,” Tsuna murmured, just a little teasing, and slipped off down the hall, grinning, when Xanxus growled at him. The grin faded a bit as he paced down halls and stairs toward the practice rooms.

He would have to be more careful, from now on.

Tsuna sat in the outer room of the suite he’d been given and chewed the end of his pen as he sorted his words. It was turning out to be more difficult than he’d expected, when he wrote to Kyouko. He didn’t want to alarm her, but if he didn’t say anything about the dangers here her next letter might just inform him that she’d bought a plane ticket.

He’d attempted to suggest that she might like to simply stay in Japan, the way his mother did, instead of eventually joining him in Italy. She’d smiled at him sweetly and told him not to be silly, and there’d been just enough edge under the softness of her voice that he’d never mentioned the idea again.

He was trying to find some un-alarming way to mention that Hibari had had another go at Mukuro today, and a sparring match with Yamamoto after that had certainly alarmed Tsuna, when someone knocked on his door. “Come in!” he called with momentary relief.

It turned to curiosity when his visitor turned out to be Paulo Gemello. He hadn’t spoken very often to Paulo, though he struck Tsuna as quite like Turmeric—quiet but thoughtful. Tsuna fetched his guest a drink, still getting used to the sideboards everywhere, and looked inquiring.

Paulo turned his glass in his hands, looking down at it. “I wanted to ask you something, man to man,” he said finally.

Tsuna made the sort of generally acknowledging noise one made to such a vague statement.

“We haven’t worked with you long, but it’s already clear you’re a kind young man. You take thought for the people who might be hurt. You hold on to your optimism, even in this world. Those are good qualities.”

Tsuna felt a ‘but’ coming, and reflected ruefully that the Ninth’s Guardians seemed to have a lot of attitudes in common with the Tenth’s, really.

“I have to wonder,” Paulo said slowly, “if that gives you as clear a view of Xanxus as you’ll need.”

Tsuna sat very still for a long moment, feeling a chill uncurl in his stomach. He found himself wanting to point out that “nice” did not mean “fool”. To point out that it was this old suspicion that made Xanxus so volatile. But that would not, he thought, make Paulo understand. He looked at Paulo, really looked, seeing the tense lines around his mouth, the unhappy tightness of his eyes, and felt his stillness sliding into the calm of intuition.

So what he said, instead, was, “Why did the Ninth lie to Xanxus?”

Paulo stiffened, abruptly frowning.

“You’re angry,” Tsuna said quietly, watching him. “You don’t like it that I should accuse the Ninth of doing something like that. Even though it’s true.”

“Of course I don’t, he’s my Boss and I protect his honor as well as his life,” Paulo stated firmly.

Tsuna cut off whatever he’d been going to say next with, “Then why do you think it’s acceptable to accuse my Boss to me?”

Paulo blinked at him, startled out of his anger. “I… But…” He took a deep breath and set his hands on his knees, quiet for a moment. “I see,” he said finally.

“Do you still have doubts about my perception?” Tsuna asked.

After a moment, Paulo’s mouth quirked up. “Perhaps not. That was an effective demonstration.”

Tsuna sat back with a sigh, releasing the tautness of seeing that way. “I didn’t choose this work just because it’s what my dad does, or because Reborn insisted. I chose it because I met Xanxus and saw how badly he’d been hurt, and that I could do something to help. That’s what I’m here for. So yes, I look for ways to keep the innocent out of harm’s way. And I believe we can succeed in protecting what’s important without losing ourselves. Because those are the things I need to do to help Xanxus, and the Family.” He hesitated a moment and added, half apologetically, “I’m afraid the way some of you are with him really doesn’t help.”

Paulo ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t understand Xanxus,” he admitted. “My brother says he does, but I honestly don’t see how. And I certainly don’t see how someone as kind and,” he smiled a bit wryly, “as clear-sighted as you can give him your loyalty when he doesn’t give his back.”

Tsuna stared at him startled. “He does, though!” Paulo’s look of puzzlement made him laugh a little, helplessly. “He does. He’d rather be hung by his toes than say it out loud, but surely you’ve watched him with his people? Seen how protective he is of the Family?”

“Possessive, maybe,” Paulo muttered.

“Well, yes, that’s where it starts,” Tsuna admitted. “Xanxus protects what’s his. Maybe that isn’t the way everyone does it, but if it works why does that matter?” Paulo hesitated, and Tsuna added, softly, “If you hold the past against him, we’re going to need to talk about who else made the mistakes that led to it.”

Paulo’s mouth tightened, but there was a glint of respect in the look he gave Tsuna. “Well. As long as you can tell me you’ll watch over him, I’ll do my best to let it go.”

Tsuna smiled, quiet and serene. “You have my word.” And if he meant to watch over Xanxus in a different way than Paulo meant it, he didn’t really think he needed to say so right now.

Reborn, he reflected with a secret grin, would probably approve.

Two months after arriving, Tsuna had asked, a bit anxiously, whether the property damage bill from Hibari’s training with the Varia would be a problem. Squalo had stared at him for a long, blank moment and then burst out laughing. Watching Xanxus and Hibari fight, and eyeing the rubble and splinters they left behind them, Tsuna finally understood why.

“Now, you see, he has the right attitude,” Ceirano said as Hibari ducked under Xanxus’ fire to drive the end of his tonfa into Xanxus’ stomach. “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing all the way.”

“I thought that was ‘worth doing right’,” Tsuna ventured.

“That’s what I said.” Ceirano suddenly sounded distracted, though, and a moment later he strolled off. Looking after him, Tsuna saw Reborn sitting on the terrace rail watching Xanxus and Hibari.

Tsuna shook his head, a bit bemused that anyone, even another hitman, would court a training session with Reborn on purpose. Though he supposed he wasn’t really surprised that Xanxus’ Guardians all shared with him a certain cheerful bloodthirstiness.

“Barbarians, the lot of them,” Mukuro murmured behind his shoulder.

Each in their own way, of course. “Mukuro,” Tsuna greeted him, turning a little.

Mukuro looked him up and down. “And not even an apology for entangling me with them.”

“That wasn’t my idea!” Tsuna defended himself roundly. “That was my dad; I would never have thought of doing anything so crazy.”

“Ah. So you, sensible creature that you are, would only think of doing something like coming after a notorious criminal with a pitiful one or two followers. Oh, yes, and a baby.” Mukuro gave him a silky smile. “You match the likes of Xanxus very well after all.”

“I’m glad to see you’re settling in here, with him,” Tsuna offered.

Mukuro raised a supercilious brow. “And what, precisely gave you the impression that I am?” he asked coolly. “I am merely…” The other brow went up. “Sawada?”

Tsuna finally got a hold of himself and managed to stop laughing. “Ah. Sorry.” He wiped his eyes. “It’s just you sound so much like him.”

Mukuro actually blinked at him. “Like who?”

“Like Xanxus,” Tsuna smiled. “You sound just like him when he’s trying not to admit he likes something.” He paused a moment, considering. “Only with more syllables.”

“Mukuro?” he ventured after a moment when Mukuro just stood and stared at him, perfectly still.

Abruptly he wasn’t talking to Mukuro any more. Chrome wobbled a little as she regained her own feet, catching her balance on the arm Tsuna quickly held out.

“Just like,” Tsuna murmured, mouth quirked.

Chrome looked at him, grave and quiet. “Mukuro-sama takes care that we are well.”

Since that could have been either agreement, that Mukuro wasn’t fooling anyone with his careless pose, or a warning, that Mukuro wouldn’t brook any interference from Tsuna, and Tsuna really couldn’t tell which, he just nodded. The very faint smile that flickered around the corners of Chrome’s mouth as she turned away made him wonder if it was actually both. He supposed no one could have Mukuro in her head so much and not grow subtle herself.

Sometimes he just had to look around and wonder how a normal guy like him had ended up here.

Tsuna had never been a fan of parties, even, or especially, in his own honor, and despite the dangers of the mafia world he couldn’t help a tiny, wistful wish that Kyouko had come this year instead of next. She was much better at these things. He, on the other hand, was eventually reduced to hiding in a corner with his drink.

Rafaele looked faintly amused when he found Tsuna there. “So,” he leaned against the wall beside him, “how is your debut going?”

Tsuna gave him a dour look. Despite their difference in years and nationality, Rafaele reminded him an awful lot of Yamamoto sometimes. “It’s going just fine,” he said, repressively.

Rafaele laughed softly.

“Though it does seem as though everyone expects me to be crazy.” Tsuna cast an eye over the Vongola allies moving through the room, chatting with each other, many trying to keep one eye on him and another on Xanxus, and muttered into his glass, “I really hope that someday everyone realizes just how hard they’re making my job.”

Rafaele sighed and when he spoke again his voice was far more serious. “We’re trying to understand, Tsuna. That much I can promise you.” He rested a hand on Tsuna’s shoulder. “It’s good that you’ve come.”

Tsuna studied his drink again. “I wish,” he said softly, “that it didn’t take waving someone who’s obviously harmless in people’s faces to make them take a second look at Xanxus.”

“First of all, I very much doubt anyone trained and approved by Reborn is harmless.” When Tsuna looked up, Rafaele’s tilted smile matched the briskness of his tone. “And second, you might consider it a compliment to Xanxus. All his hard work in keeping us from thinking he might feel gently for the Family paid off.”

Tsuna frowned stubbornly. “No. That isn’t a compliment. He hides it out of fear, and for his own family not to notice is…” he couldn’t quite think of a right word that wouldn’t be insulting and finished a bit lamely, “a bad thing.”

Rafaele was quiet for a moment, eyes dark and unfathomable. “You’re right,” he said finally. His stillness broke into a wry snort. “I don’t know how we’ll manage to deal with someone who’s trying very hard to deny all of this, but we’ll just have to find a way.”

Tsuna looked out over the room. “He can’t possibly be the only difficult person any of you have ever had to deal with.” His eyes fell on Yamamoto and Gokudera, apparently arguing. Or at least Gokudera was arguing, waving his hands vigorously enough to endanger unwary passers-by. Yamamoto was just listening, perfectly attentive, and smiling.

Speaking of difficult.

“He certainly isn’t,” Rafaele sighed. “But after Timoteo he’s… disconcerting. I’m grateful we have Squalo around too, you know.”

Tsuna, watching Gokudera glare, was reminded of his comments about sword-idiots all communicating in their own universal language and stifled a snort of amusement. Catching another wary glance from one of the men in the room turned it into a sigh. “If you don’t want this Family alliance of yours falling apart because everyone is afraid the heir is a mad dog, you need to stand behind him,” he said bluntly, suddenly tired of trying to put it more delicately.

Maybe he’d been with Reborn too long.

“You make a good case,” Rafaele murmured. “I’ll speak with the others.”

“Thank you,” Tsuna said softly.

Rafaele patted his shoulder again and strolled off, elegant and casual as always, and Tsuna sighed with relief as eyes drew away from him to follow Rafaele instead. He’d known this wasn’t going to be a simple job from the start, and after a bare week here he’d known it was a bigger one than he’d thought, too. But at least he felt like he’d made a good start on it.

He glanced back over at Yamamoto just in time to see him catch one of Gokudera’s waving hands before it smacked a passing ally. Gokudera didn’t seem to notice, though Yamamoto’s eyes were dancing with silent amusement. He was glad that Yamamoto was settling in, too, and only hoped that Kyouko would find it as easy when she joined him. He didn’t think he could have handled it to know following him into this job had made his friends and loved ones unhappy.

Gokudera finally noticed that Yamamoto hadn’t let go of his hand, animated words and gestures trailing off into startled quiet. Tsuna smiled and turned to move through the room again, nodding and speaking calmly to the Family allies as they slowly came closer.

It was a good start.


Last Modified: May 07, 12
Posted: Feb 25, 10
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  1. slippy

    Kusakabe just sighed and pulled the rest of Hibari’s luggage out of the trunk.
    Oh, poor man. It occurs to me that as head Hibari-wrangler, he technically has one of the most important jobs in Vongola. It’s hilarious how everyone else has taken the task of Hibari-wrangling to heart as well.

    Hibari glanced around with only mild interest, though he paused and looked twice at Maria before turning to Xanxus.
    It’s nice when fic gives you what canon won’t. Hurray for Maria.

    Maybe he’d have lunch with Gokudera, for his daily dose of sane-person.
    Ha! There’s a huge amount of “relatively speaking” in that sentence. XD

    “Sawada, what…?” Xanxus broke off as Tsuna knelt down at his feet, lifted his hand, and brushed his lips over Xanxus’ knuckles.
    I like this so much because while it’s clearly a subordinate act, it makes clear how equal Tsuna and Xanxus really are.

    Lal’s voice didn’t drift so much as march.
    That’s so very much her. Lovely contrast between this line and Basil’s.

    the way he hadn’t quite had the nerve to yet, to Lal.
    Still no-good! ♥ I like the balance you have in Tsuna’s character here. He’s tough enough and he’s got used to being a big player, but he’s still growing into everything. There are a lot of little touches like that which makes this a satisfying fic – neat little character asides that make the whole thing fit together.

    1. branchandroot Post author

      *sparkles* Thank you so much!

      *grins* Hibari-wrangling is going to be a Family pasttime. And the Varia are going to be /so very grateful/ that Kusakabe is around.

      *hearts* Maria rocks so hard. Lys and I have had endless fun with her. I mean, Timoteo’s mother was the Eighth, you have to figure he’s used to strong women.

      *nodnod* Tsuna and Xanxus are growing together in this arc, which is really interesting to write; normally Tsuna has to fix Xanxus, but this time a lot of the fixing was already done so they’re starting a little more even in terms of maturity and emotional growth.

  2. Esmenet

    I love this AU impossibly (and perhaps unholy) much. All of it, but especially Tsuna. I was going to say ‘Squalo knows how to manage Xanxus, and Tsuna knows how to manage everyone else’ — but that’s not right. Your Tsuna understands people, and that’s the source of everything he does.

    Now here is where I would normally quote my favourite bits, but that would be, oh, everything. So I’m just going to say that this fic (and Omiai) hits pretty much every single thing I love in a story — if anyone ever asks me to show them what kind of fic I like, I will direct them here.

    tl;dr: I FUCKING LOVE THIS. ♥

    1. Icon for BranchBranch Post author

      *sparkles at you* Thank you so much, this totally makes my evening!

      And yes! Tsuna is… well, seriously, he’s that almost-shoujo hero who conquers the world by pure force of understanding and an earnest heart. And I love developing that part of him.

  3. bells

    i really really really like that piece of writing! its well written–and oh, the content! Xanxus being the Tenth and Tsuna being the advisor, thats a pretty damn good idea, really.

    And, well, everything just fitted. Like Hibari and the Varia or the Ninth’s Gurdians or Gokudera and Yamamoto–and so on. I really could say everything that I liked but THAT would take some time, so I’ll shorten it:


    thank you for this fanfiction.

    1. Icon for BranchBranch Post author

      *sparkles* Thank you so much! Em and I are just having way too much fun fixing Xanxus, and there had to be a branch of it where he really was the Tenth. *evil grin* He deserves it.

  4. ellie

    I really need to stop reading your fic. I will go mad.
    I love the way Tsuna is. You haven’t taken away the soft edge that he is and made him into a crazy hard mob boss–he’s still Tsuna, but he’s more refined, more polished than he was. And Xanxus is lovely 🙂 I love this kind of futurefic: realistic, humorous, detailed. Lovely.

    1. Icon for BranchBranch Post author

      Thank you! I really love that about Tsuna, you know? He’s always going to have a soft heart, but he can also figure out when to push and how to get things done.