The heir to the Vongola would never do anything so crass as eavesdrop, not least because the Vongola had people for that. But, as Federico told himself, if he happened to be in the right place at the right time he could hardly help what he overheard, could he?
Although one did have to wonder, sometimes, whether there was any such thing as the "right time" when it came to Xanxus. Considering his adopted brother’s nature, there probably wasn’t. The way Federico looked at it, though, that was all the more reason to keep an eye on Xanxus. Especially when Xanxus was being let to roam unescorted through parties these days, and especially when not everyone in attendance happened to be particularly friendly.
Though there was "not particularly friendly" and "outright stupid," which, Federico thought, annoyed, he would have expected the Orsini to have taught their kids to distinguish. If they had, he couldn’t tell it from the way they’d managed to corner Xanxus, a half-circle of them facing him down and offering their opinions about how much he looked like the Ninth—or, rather, didn’t. It was right about the time that Taddeo Orsini said, thoughtfully, "How d’you suppose that a bit of street trash managed to fool the Vongola Ninth into mistaking her brat for his bastard?" that Xanxus lost what little control of his temper he had.
Federico stepped in as Xanxus snarled and launched himself at Taddeo—before Xanxus had lit his Flame, which was something, anyway—and gave Taddeo one of his mild, friendly looks as he held Xanxus back. "I’m sorry," he said. "I was just passing by and couldn’t help overhearing something about my family. What was it that you were saying?"
The Orsini did tend to be stupid, and petty, and small-minded, but they had all the cunning native to those who were intrinsically bullies. When confronted by someone both older and clearly stronger than they were, Taddeo and his little pack of thugs shuffled their feet and denied saying anything, while Xanxus strained against Federico’s hands and growled like a feral animal.
It was that last that made Federico angry; Xanxus had been making progress lately, and now these little bullies had sent him right back to the place he’d been when they’d first adopted him. "Are you quite sure?" he asked, letting his voice go sharper. "I could have sworn that you were saying something about my brother and our father. It sounded like it was a positively fascinating conversation."
"It was nothing," Taddeo said, sullenly. "We were just talking."
"I’m sure you were." Federico looked them over, trying for the look of cool disdain that his father managed to toss off so effortlessly. It seemed to work, judging by the way they glared at him. "It would be good to remember that loose talk often leads to trouble," he said, putting an edge on it that made a couple of them—the smarter ones, he suspected—look nervous. "But as it so happens, I was looking for my brother. I’d like to speak to him privately, if you don’t mind."
They took the hint, which was good. Xanxus didn’t seem to be in any mood to let himself be dragged away, but Taddeo and his little back were willing enough to disperse. They slunk away, shooting nasty looks at Xanxus as they went.
Xanxus didn’t relax even after they’d gone. Federico couldn’t make himself be surprised. When he loosened his grip on Xanxus’ shoulders, he left his hand on one, hoping that the human touch would ground his brother. "You’ll have to deal with them, one of these days."
Xanxus growled again; the shoulder under Federico’s palm vibrated with it. "Could have done it right now," he said, finally, and looked up at Federico, eyes dark. "If you hadn’t interfered."
"Could you have done it without killing them, though?" Federico returned.
The look Xanxus gave him then was purely puzzled. "Why would I want to do that?"
"Dad doesn’t like it when we start wars without his permission," Federico said, dry, and got a blank stare for his pains. Well, that was Xanxus, so Federico clarified it for him. "If you had killed Taddeo Orsini just now, the Orsini would have been able to declare war on us for it. Even if you’d have been doing them a favor. Get it, pup?"
Xanxus growled, though Federico wasn’t sure whether it was for the nickname or a reaction to something else. "The Vongola could destroy them."
His conviction regarding the Vongola’s strength was touching, if perhaps a touch optimistic, but that was a lesson for another day. "So?" Federico said. "We don’t want to destroy them." His conscience prodded him, and he added, "Mostly, anyway."
The joke sailed over Xanxus’ head, just one more sign that the kid really needed to lighten up, and he gave Federico another puzzled frown.
Federico sighed and came at the problem from a different angle. "Anyway, you’re going to have to get a grip on that temper of yours," he said and tried not to smile as Xanxus’ eyes began to glaze over at the familiar lecture. "It makes you vulnerable."
That was a slightly different approach than their father usually took; it caught Xanxus’ attention again, the way Federico suspected other lectures, no matter how kindly-meant, didn’t. "Explain," Xanxus demanded, frowning at him.
"What is there to explain?" Federico asked him. "As long as your temper leads you, all anyone has to do is make you good and angry, and then point you in the direction they want you to go and stand back." He rubbed his chin, thinking. "I’m pretty sure that’s not what the Orsini brats were doing, but some of the other Families probably wouldn’t mind sacrificing one of their spares just to have an excuse to declare a fully-justified war on the Vongola." It wasn’t a particularly pleasant thought, of course, but it was true enough.
Xanxus wasn’t stupid; his eyes turned sharp, and then thoughtful, as the point sank home. All he said, though, was, "Some people need killing."
Federico snorted and ruffled his hair. "Not going to disagree, pup." And he’d let the point ferment in Xanxus’ head for a while before they came back to it. As Xanxus protested and tried to escape the hair ruffling, he added, "Let’s see what kind of spread the Valetti have put out, eh? And then maybe we can borrow their back lawn and spar for a while."
The possibility of food didn’t seem to interest Xanxus much, but his eyes gleamed at the prospect of a fight. "Yeah, sure," he said. "Okay."
There was that crisis dealt with and the beginnings of a lesson administered. And, if they played their cards right, they’d leave another lesson behind them after they’d sparred. Not bad for an evening’s work, all things considered.
Just let the other Families try and tell themselves that Xanxus wasn’t a Vongola after they’d seen his Flame.
Federico kept his grin under wraps and let Xanxus lead the way towards the buffet table, pleased with a job well-done.