Choice: All In One

Ebook cover for the arc

101 ways to fix Xanxus. This is a collection of Alternate History arcs, telling different ways Xanxus might have been a little more sane.

Five Things That Never Happened to Xanxus

These are things that never happened to Xanxus, but could have done, if only things had started out just a bit differently. This fic is what happens when you say to yourself, “Gosh, I’ve been writing a lot of Xanxus angst lately. I wonder if it is possible to write Xanxus in such a way that he is, well, functionally broken instead of just psychopathically insane.” And then you get tackled by a plot bunny that is the size of a goddamn linebacker. Teen and up; warnings for Xanxus doing the things that make him Xanxus.

1. First Encounters

Xanxus stared up at the old geezer—this smiling old fool was supposed to be the Vongola Ninth? please—and lifted a hand to show him the Flame when he asked for it. Surprise widened the geezer’s eyes. “Oh, I see now,” he said, voice quiet, and actually knelt right there in the street, ignoring all the garbage and crap and what it was doing to the knees of that fancy suit. He laid his hands on Xanxus’ shoulders.

Xanxus stiffened. “What the hell?” he demanded.

His mother trembled at his back. “Xanxus, don’t be rude—”

The geezer raised a hand, and Xanxus glared at him harder as he touched Xanxus’ jaw and forehead, fingertips cool against Xanxus’ skin. “I see,” he said, again, slowly.

“Wish to fuck you’d explain what the hell that means,” Xanxus told him.

“Xanxus,” Ma moaned. “Don’t—don’t—”

“It’s all right, Madam.” The geezer stood, dusting his hands. “I believe the two of you should accompany me. We have much to discuss.”

Xanxus could feel her shake again. “I knew it,” she said, in that voice she got when she was about to go off on one of her fits. “Oh, I knew this day would come.”

“Yes, I expect you did,” the geezer said, looking back down at Xanxus. “Come along, then.” He held out a hand to Xanxus.

Xanxus sneered at him; what did he look like, a kid?

The geezer huffed, and let it settle on Xanxus’ shoulder instead. Xanxus tolerated it for the time being, letting him guide them over to the cars—big black ones, gleaming against the rottenness of their neighborhood, making it even clearer how crappy the place actually was, and how much the geezer and his goons didn’t belong here.

“They’ll ride with me,” the geezer told his men. They all got constipated looks at that, which was funny to see.

They put Xanxus up front, and Ma rode with the geezer in the back. Xanxus listened in, but it wasn’t shoptalk, not yet, just the geezer asking a lot of nosy questions about how he and Ma lived. She sounded pretty much like she was back in control of herself, so Xanxus ignored her. Not like she couldn’t handle herself when it came to actually negotiating her prices. Was the one thing she actually managed to do right, most of the time.

Since he didn’t have to monitor her and the geezer—and fuck, he hoped he’d still be able to get it up at that age—Xanxus watched the city roll by, wavery behind thick glass, until it gave way to the countryside. That was weird, too empty by half, so he turned his attention to the interior of the car, which was all gleaming metal and wood and leather, one more way of demonstrating that he and Ma were either way out of their league, or moving up in the world.

“Don’t do that,” the driver said, first thing he’d said since he’d put the car in gear, when Xanxus reached out for a set of buttons.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Xanxus retorted, and kept on reaching.

“I said don’t,” the driver said, and caught Xanxus’ hand, all without looking away from the road. He twisted it tight, till Xanxus gasped at the strain. “Those go to the windows,” he added, all conversational. “We don’t lower the windows, not with the Ninth in the car. That way, no one can shoot him. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Xanxus grunted, eyes beginning to water.

“Good,” the driver said, and released him.

Xanxus rubbed his wrist and glared at him, but it rolled right off the bastard. That was new. People usually reacted more when he did that. “What do those do?” he asked, finally, pointing at another set of buttons.

“They go to the radio.” Xanxus saw him glance at the mirror, and then he reached over and pressed another button. Behind them, a screen rose, separating the front seat and the back seat. “Here, see?” he said, and demonstrated. “Find a station you like.”

Xanxus spent most of the rest of the ride scanning the stations—the car radio picked up more than Ma’s crappy old set did. A lot more clearly, too.

Even so, it wasn’t really until they rolled up to the house that Xanxus began to believe that the geezer might be for real. The house—hell, it might have even qualified as a House—looked about as big as a city block to Xanxus’ eyes. It was just like the car inside, too—big and luxurious, more money than Xanxus had ever seen in his life all in one place, and that was just in the goddamn hallways. The geezer spoke to his men, and then led them to a room that was full of sunlight and heavy old furniture, and had the same kind of wavery view as the car windows had. The geezer had them sit, but stayed on his own feet.

Xanxus was starting to hate the way the geezer kept staring at him.

Before he could say something, Ma spoke. “Why did you bring us here?” she asked, all breathy, the way she got when she was trying to charm some new man of hers.

“I couldn’t not,” the geezer said, blunt, like he hadn’t even noticed. “The Vongola can’t afford to have you fall into another Family’s hands. And it would be a shame if another Family tried to kill you, or we had to do it ourselves. You’ll live here now.”

Killing? That was interesting. Xanxus looked up, actually interested in the geezer for the first time, while Ma made a sound, like that wasn’t what she’d expect to hear at all. “But he’s your son.”

The geezer didn’t look away from Xanxus. “No, Madam, I am afraid that you are mistaken. He is not my son.”

Xanxus ignored Ma’s tiny, broken sound and looked back, straight at him. “Yeah, so what else is new?” Not like he wasn’t used to the names people called him. He wasn’t anybody’s son. He’d gotten to the point where he liked it that way.

“You have a Vongola Flame,” the geezer said, candidly. “And a certain look, around the forehead and the jaw. I expect you’re descended from one of the Second’s by-blows. They crop up with depressing regularity.” He moved, leaning against the desk, relaxed. “Sometimes my predecessors chose to simply eliminate individuals such as yourself,” he added, casual. “You can’t be allowed to inherit the position of the boss, since you’re not of a legitimate line. That hasn’t stopped certain people from trying anyway, so a sense of prudence suggests that we ought to avert those incidents by nipping them in the bud.”

Ma was crying now, soft and gulping, but she wasn’t really all that good at paying attention to what people were saying when it didn’t fit in with how she thought the world was supposed to work. Xanxus leaned forward, interested in spite of himself. “Yeah? So why aren’t you doing it that way?”

“I haven’t decided not to,” the geezer said, and actually smiled when he said it. “But I’d prefer not to kill anyone unless it becomes strictly necessary. I hate to be wasteful.”

“Makes more sense to stop trouble before it ever starts,” Xanxus retorted.

“There are more ways of doing that than just killing the source of the potential trouble,” the geezer replied. “You have a Vongola Flame. You are of the Vongola. We have a responsibility to our Family, and our Family has a responsibility to us.”

“So… what?” Xanxus replied, narrowing his eyes at the geezer. “You want me to… what? In exchange for… what?”

The geezer was still smiling, like he was in on some joke that Xanxus wasn’t getting. “We take you and your mother in. We educate you, and find a place for you, and name you one of our Family. In return, you serve us in whatever capacity best fits you.”

The hell he said. “What if I don’t want to serve?”

“Then you must not be allowed to bring harm to us,” the geezer said, voice soft. “The Family is paramount to all other considerations.”

Xanxus snorted. “I’d like to see you try,” he retorted, calling on the Flame.

The geezer just smiled at him some more. “Don’t do something you’ll regret,” he said, voice soft.

“Don’t think that I’m going to just knuckle over to you, old man.” Xanxus gathered himself, prepared to spring forward, and—

The geezer stood and gestured, and was holding a goddamned scepter all of a sudden. Xanxus would have cared more about that, but the geezer had a Flame of his own, and the sudden weight of it, so heavy that he had to gasp for breath, pressed Xanxus back down into his chair. “I doubted that you would do any such thing,” the geezer—except he wasn’t a geezer, was he? the whole thing had been some kind of act—the Ninth told him, voice cool and heavy with Flame. “But make no mistake. You can serve and stand with us, or you must stand against us.” He reached out and laid his hand against Xanxus’ forehead. Xanxus thought he might have made a sound against the weight of that touch, but couldn’t manage to care as the Ninth’s Flame wrapped around him and held him. Xanxus struggled against that grip, but it was stronger than he was. He’d never met anyone stronger than him before; the surprise of it made him still. “I would greatly prefer it if you were to become one of ours.”

Behind the strength of that Will there was an offer, a conditional one, and a choice, all backed by an unshakeable resolve to do what was best for the Family, regardless of the cost.

Xanxus could just about respect that. “All right,” he gasped. “All right! I’ll do it!”

The Ninth curbed his Flame and Xanxus sagged, panting, as the weight came away from him. “I am pleased to hear it.”

“Yeah, don’t get used to it.” Xanxus flexed his hands; he didn’t remember banishing his Flame, but it was gone like it’d never been there. “You might be worth it. Don’t know about anyone else.”

The Ninth inclined his head at that, still smiling faintly. “If you like,” he said. “But I’d advise you not to put your faith in men like me.”

“Whatever,” Xanxus said, eyeing him warily.

The Ninth chuckled. “Put it into the Family, which is bigger than us all.”

“Yeah, we’ll see,” Xanxus muttered.

The Ninth’s smile turned broader. “Yes,” he said, “you will.”

2. Stray

The old man had told him to stick close to the Vongola’s Rome headquarters, and Xanxus had given that about as much consideration as he’d thought it had deserved. Now, standing in the middle of a slum in Rome, surrounded by men in suits who weren’t Vongola, he was starting to think maybe the old man’d had a point after all. “The fuck do you want?” he demanded, assessing the numbers and deciding that this was going to be a cast iron bitch to get himself out of.

“You’re the Vongola’s bastard, aren’t you?” That was the biggest one of the goons, the guy who was probably in charge.

Xanxus sneered. “Who wants to know?” He called on the Flame, since this wasn’t going to end with them all holding hands and singing together, and it never hurt to look impressive.

“That’s him all right,” one of the other goons said. “Can’t mistake the Vongola Flame.”

Yeah, showed how much they knew.

The head goon tried for a smile and failed. “Why don’t you just come along with us, and we’ll talk about it?” the head goon told him.

Xanxus curled and uncurled his hands. “Why don’t you blow me?” He launched himself at the head goon and had smashed his face in before the stupid piece of shit had finished gaping at him.

It had been a while since he’d been in an all-out brawl. Xanxus bared his teeth at the rest of them for the fierce joy of it. “Come one, I’ll take you all on,” he promised them, while they stood frozen in that moment before reaction. “C’mon, you fucking trash.”

That woke them up, all right. Xanxus waded into them, lashing out with Flame and fist and laughing at the satisfaction of it. Been way too long since he’d been able to beat the shit out of someone. He’d missed it.

What he hadn’t missed was being fucking out-numbered, and out-gunned. The goons all had guns, which was really fucking inconsiderate of them, considering how all he had was his Flame.

He’d just started sorting through his options—all two of them, surrender or go down fighting—as he eyed the closing circle of guns and grinning goons when the balance of things shifted again, this time in his direction.

The first sign of it was a ripple of disturbance in the ranks at the back of the crowd, and then the sound of someone shouting a warning that got cut short by a gurgle. That was enough to distract some of them, which was all Xanxus really needed. As they turned, he lashed out with his Flame again, whipping it across faces and hands, and was viciously satisfied by the shrieks and curses of the men who clutched at their burns.

He never actually saw the man who shot him.

One minute he was laughing; the next, something had punched him, so hard that the shock registered on some gut level, and his arm was hanging at his side, useless.

Xanxus swore, good hand coming up, Flame wrapped around it as he tried to find the bastard who’d dared. Someone crashed into him before he could, knocking him sideways and flattening him against the pavement. He struggled against the weight and the hands that were holding him down, until the guy swore at him. “Just stay down, you stupid brat, and stop making yourself a target!”

He recognized that voice, and blinked up at the old man’s youngest son, confused as all fuck. “The hell are you doing here?”

Federico looked down at him, impatient for the first time that Xanxus had ever seen. “Saving your sorry ass,” he retorted, and rolled back to his feet.

Xanxus had never seen Federico so much as raise his voice at someone in the two years since the old man had dragged him and Ma out of the slums. Now the man was burning like a torch, Flame as bright as the old man’s was, as he whirled into the goons like grim death itself, sword flickering against them, fast and deadly.

Be damned. Xanxus hadn’t actually thought Federico had had it in him.

It was over fast, after that. The goons—what was left of them at that point—broke and ran for it, and a few of Federico’s men gave chase. Xanxus was pushing himself to his feet, which was surprisingly difficult to do with only one working arm, when Federico turned on him. “You,” he said, as his hand collided with the side of Xanxus’ head. “What the hell do you think you’re doing out here all by yourself? Didn’t you hear Dad tell you not to go out alone?” Federico stripped the tie from around his throat as Xanxus stared, frankly astonished by the blow, and hauled Xanxus closer. “Were you trying to get yourself killed?” he demanded, wrapping the tie around Xanxus’ arm, yanking it tight.

Xanxus hissed at the rough handling. “The fuck do you care? You don’t even like me.”

“That’s true,” Federico said, turning him again and pushing him down the alley, propelling him—ah, there were cars waiting for them. “You’re a violent little psychopath, and I would have definitely preferred it if Dad had just brought home a stray puppy instead of you.” He shoved Xanxus into the car ahead of him, and had barely climbed in after Xanxus before it lurched into gear. “But you’re Family now. Fucked if I’m going to let the Pozzo Nero fuck with my Family.”

As Xanxus stared at him, blinking and stupid—it was the blood loss, had to be—Federico tore strips out of his own shirt and folded them into a pad. The stab of pain when Federico pressed it against the wound shocked him out of it again. “Oh,” he said, and then rallied himself. “I don’t like you, either.”

Federico grinned at him. “Yeah, tell me something I didn’t already know, brat,” he said, holding steady pressure on Xanxus’ arm. “Seriously. We could have just gotten a puppy. Lot less trouble, puppies, since they don’t go out and do stupid shit like getting themselves shot by disobeying direct orders.”

“Fuck you.” Xanxus glared at him.

Federico ignored it, still grinning. “That the best you can do?”

Xanxus growled at him, wordless, and looked away, staring out the window determinedly.

After a moment, Federico huffed, and added, “Good fighting, by the way. Never seen someone take out that many men with just their hands and a Flame.”

“I want a gun,” Xanxus told him, still staring out the window. “My own gun. Maybe two.”

“Mm. You’re a little young.”

“I’m twelve!”

“Like I said. A little young.”

Xanxus turned and glared at him. “How am I supposed to deal with situations like these, then?”

“By not being reckless enough to put yourself into them in the first place?” Federico suggested, mildly. “Considering who you are—”

“Fuck that. I’m not actually his bas—”

“Not actually Dad’s kid, I know,” Federico said, in that really fucking obnoxious way he had of putting everything into nice words when the actual truth was ugly as sin. “But people think you are, so they’re going to try to use that against us. Like it or not, you have to deal with that. Not going out alone when we’re at war with the Pozzo Nero would be a nice first step.”

“I don’t want a fucking bodyguard,” Xanxus said, and looked away from him. “I can handle things myself.”

“You can, sure,” Federico told him. “But you don’t have to. That’s what Family is, you stubborn brat.”

“Whatever,” Xanxus muttered. “I still don’t want a bodyguard. I’m strong enough on my own.”

Federico sighed. “Stubborn,” he muttered, and then his voice changed, and the atmosphere inside the car turned taut. The warning came too late, and Xanxus cursed as Federico’s fingers dug into his arm and Federico’s Flame lit his eyes again. “You’re not strong enough on your own,” Federico announced, Will holding Xanxus in place, implacable as the Ninth’s. “I saved your life today. If your Family hadn’t been there, you would be dead right now, shot in the back in a stinking alley.” Xanxus jerked against Federico, pushing against Federico’s Will, but Federico held firm. His fingers tightened on Xanxus’ arm again, and his Will reached into Xanxus, implacable, forcing him to listen and to hear. “You are strong, but your Family is stronger, and will make you stronger. You are not alone any more. Understand?”

Federico’s Flame underlined the question, and so did Xanxus’ blood on the remains of Federico’s shirt and on the hands that were gripping his bicep. “Yeah,” Xanxus said, slow and grudgingly, not about to admit that Federico had won. “All right.”

Federico held him in his Will a little bit longer, and then released him, looking satisfied when he did. “Good,” he said.

Xanxus looked aside, now that he could. “You and the old man are crazy.” The hell did they think they were doing, just taking him in like that, anyway? It was like they didn’t even know how dangerous he could be.

And never mind the faint suspicion he had that he had given in this time, instead of being overwhelmed. That was just crazy.

“Hey, don’t go blaming me. I already told you that I wanted a puppy.” Federico’s voice was cheerful. “But we got you instead, so I’ll make do.”

Xanxus just growled at him, especially when Federico set a hand in his hair and ruffled it lightly. Before he could do anything about it, the car had pulled in at the Vongola house, and it fell away again in the rush for a doctor and the storm of the old man’s anger.

Xanxus didn’t think about it again until a box showed up in his room several days later, without a card or a source or anything to say where it had come from. But he didn’t need a card, not when the box had a pair of matched handguns in it—the message was loud and clear.

3. Canis lupus

“Hey there, pup.”

Federico had the most fucking irritating way of being able to find Xanxus when Xanxus least wanted to deal with any members of the Family. “Fuck off,” he growled, dodging the hand that descended to ruffle his hair. “And I’m not a damn puppy. Stop treating me like I’m your fucking lapdog.”

Federico whistled. “You are in a temper,” he observed, and settled himself on the roof next to Xanxus. The sniper whose post this was made a pained noise, probably because Federico didn’t look like he intended to go anywhere any time soon.

Xanxus growled at him again, but the effect was ruined when his voice broke halfway through. Fucking puberty. “Go away.”

“Not till I know what’s bothering you so much that you’re terrorizing poor Lucien.”

“Poor Lucien my ass,” Xanxus muttered. “He’s a fucking menace, is what he is.”

“He’s a tutor,” Federico said. Bastard wasn’t even trying to pretend he wasn’t laughing. “The most dangerous thing he knows is trigonometry.”

Xanxus begged to fucking differ. “Dancing lessons. Motherfucking dancing lessons!”

Federico hooted with laughter. “So you tried to shoot him. I see now. You know Dad’s going to have to pay him an awful lot to stay on after that little stunt, right?”

“He should save his money.” Xanxus glared out across the landscape, all Vongola land as far as he could see, since glaring at Federico did a whole lot of nothing. “The fuck do I need to know how to dance for?”

“Comes in handy at parties, or so I hear.”

“Parties.” Xanxus sneered. “Fuck. What do I look like, some kind of diplomat?”

“I sincerely doubt that any of us are going to mistake you for the Family ambassador, I promise.” Federico was still laughing, damn his eyes. “But they’ll start inviting you to parties sooner or later. You’re going to have be ready for when that happens.”

“Fuck.” Xanxus shuddered at the very idea of having to deal with more people, ones who weren’t even Family, and who would all think… “Fucking fuck.”

“…hey.” Federico’s hand landed on his nape. “What’s really bothering you, pup?”

Xanxus stared away from him. “You’re as bad the old man,” he said, finally. Language lessons and etiquette lessons, horseback riding and history and mathematics, like he was the old man’s actual bastard and not just the stray that politics had forced the old man to adopt. “Trying to make me into something else.” He tried to lean away from Federico’s fingers.

They just curled tighter and kept him in place. “How so?”

“Dance lessons.” Xanxus looked out over the orchards to the north of the House. “Etiquette lessons. Parties. Fuck. It’s like you fucking think that’s the kind of person I am. Hell, it’s like you think I really am his bastard.”

“People are going to think that no matter what,” Federico said. “You need the tools to negotiate—”

He sounded all sympathetic, and something in Xanxus snapped. “I don’t want to fucking negotiate! I want to fucking shoot people!” he shouted, twisting away from Federico’s hand on his nape, this time successfully. “I don’t want to smile and make nice with our enemies, I want to fight them! I’m not your fucking lap dog—I’m a fucking wolf, only you and that shitty old man won’t let me be!”

Federico let him get the whole damn thing out, wearing his patient I’m listening and I care deeply face the whole time. “Don’t hold back,” he said, when Xanxus had finished and was panting and feeling raw with having finally said it out loud. “Tell me how you really feel.”

“Fuck you. Fuck you a whole lot.” Xanxus turned away from him and hunched himself over his knees.

“One of these days, I’m going to have to teach you some more creative ways to swear at people.” Federico shifted, climbing to his feet, and then held a hand down to him. “C’mon.”

Xanxus glared at it, and thought about smacking it away, except that the sniper was really giving him a nasty look for all the shouting, and would probably shoot him for striking the Ninth’s precious Heir. “What?”

“We’re going to go talk to Dad.”

Xanxus glanced up at him, wary; Federico was still smiling, but there was steel in it now. “What about?”

“Finding you something that’ll be a better fit.” Federico jerked his head at the door. “C’mon, no time like the present.”

Now what the hell was that supposed to mean?

Federico sighed while Xanxus puzzled over this new turn in Federico’s mood, and leaned over to haul him to his feet. “I’d swear, sometimes it’s like you don’t understand a word I’m saying.”

“That’s because sometimes I don’t,” Xanxus muttered. “Seeing as I don’t speak Lunatic.”

“Really? And here I thought you were a native speaker.” Federico pulled him inside and dragged him back downstairs.

They really were going to go see the Ninth—Federico took him right to the old man’s study and waltzed right on in like he owned it. Xanxus guessed he did, sort of, or would eventually. Federico didn’t even seem to mind that he was interrupting the old man at work.

“Federico,” the old man said, giving his son a tolerant look and Xanxus a rather sharper glance. Yeah, he’d heard about the thing with goddamn Lucien by now, all right. “What is it?”

“It’s time we found Xanxus a place in the Family that can make use of his skills, don’t you think?” Federico said, maneuvering Xanxus to a spot in front of the desk and planting himself next to him.

“I beg your pardon?” the old man asked, those bushy eyebrows of his climbing up his forehead.

Federico set a hand on Xanxus’ shoulder. “A more suitable position, I think,” he said, casual. “Some place where he can do the things he does best. I’m thinking he might try a stint with the Varia.”

Xanxus looked up at him, sharply—the fucking Varia? That would be—

“Out of the question,” the Ninth said, flat. “Have you lost your mind? He’s still a child. The Vongola are not so desperate for soldiers that I would send a child to fight for us.”

“I’m fourteen,” Xanxus said, offended to his core, but they both ignored him.

“He may be a child, but he’s a fighter, Dad.” Federico’s own voice had gone flat. “He’s always been a fighter, and he always will be. You think that it is a kindness to shelter him from the harsher realities of our life, but it’s not. He doesn’t want the Vongola to shelter him. I say that it’s time to stop caging him and hoping that doing so will tame him, because it’s not working. Keeping him penned up is only going to make him wilder.”

“No,” the Ninth said, eyes gone steely. “No, I will not countenance it. When he’s older, when he knows what it is that he’s deciding—”

“Xanxus,” Federico said, face and voice going still, like he was on the edge of calling his Flame. Xanxus found himself responding to that tone without quite meaning to, spine snapping straight as Federico addressed him. “How old were you when you killed your first man?”

“Dunno,” Xanxus said, which was the honest truth. “Eight, maybe? Something like that. He was hassling Ma, I think. Wanted more of her take than they’d agreed to—no, wait, that was someone else. I think.” He shrugged. “Never kept track. Sorry.”

The old man was starting to look pained. Federico just squeezed Xanxus’ shoulder. “Thank you,” he said. “I don’t think the details are really that important.”

“If you’re sure,” Xanxus said, watching the old man’s mouth go tighter.


“No, Dad.” Federico’s voice was quiet, and the first echoes of his Will were stirring below its surface. “He’s not an innocent to be protected, and he hasn’t been for a long damn time. It would be nice if we could make up for that now, but we can’t. What we can do is respect what Xanxus is by letting him serve the way he’s fitted himself to serve us. The way he wants to serve us.”

Xanxus held his breath through the whole of Federico’s speech, shocked by the clarity with which Federico saw him, and the stubbornness in his voice and his Will, all set against the Ninth for his sake. Who would ever have thought that Federico would do such a thing for him?

The old man seemed just as surprised about Federico taking Xanxus’ part as Xanxus himself was. “This is what you’d set yourself against me for?”

“I would set myself against the world for any of my people,” Federico said, perfectly serene, and that casual claim drew Xanxus taut. Federico squeezed his shoulder again. “Ask him. Let him tell you what he wants for himself.”

The Ninth’s eyes flicked to Xanxus’ face. “Well, boy?” he asked, slow and reluctant.

“Could I join the Varia?” Xanxus asked, and fuck if he cared how eager that made him sound. “They get the really interesting missions, right?”

“They slaughter the Vongola’s enemies.” The Ninth’s voice was harsh. “They are assassins and remorseless, ruthless killers.”

Xanxus matched him, stare for stare. “Like I said. Interesting.”

“You see, Dad?” Federico’s voice was soft. “Just be grateful that he’s ours. Forget the rest. It’s not going to happen.”

“It seems not.” The Ninth looked away from them booth. “I’ll speak to Tyr.”

“Thank you, Father,” Federico said, and bowed, old-fashioned and formal. He pulled Xanxus down with him. “My apologies for interrupting you.” He clapped Xanxus on the shoulder when they’d straightened up again. “C’mon, you.”

Xanxus was pleased enough with matters—the motherfucking Varia, hot damn!—that he let Federico shuffle them out of the old man’s study without protest. Federico stopped them in the hallway. “All right,” he said, looking down at Xanxus, still in serious business mode. “You owe me, and I’m going to tell you how I plan on collecting.”

“How?” Xanxus asked, wary, since it always paid to be careful of Federico in this mood.

“You’re going to be one of the Vongola’s best fighters,” Federico said. “Possibly even one of the fighters who’ll live on in our legends after you manage to get yourself killed, depending. But I’m going to ask you to do something harder than spilling blood for us.”

“Like what?” Xanxus said, pretending that he wasn’t pleased by the praise.

“Learn the social rules. And the dancing. You don’t have to like them, but you have to learn them,” Federico said, and he sounded absolutely implacable about it. “I will not have you disgrace me, and I will not have you be vulnerable to our enemies by not knowing how to handle them when shooting them isn’t an option. Do you understand?”

Xanxus scowled at him. “Can’t I just—”

“No. You can’t,” Federico told him, flat. “You have to do this. This is not negotiable.” Then his mouth quirked. “Think of it as a method of fighting, just in a different medium. If it helps.”

Xanxus huffed at him. “It doesn’t.” He looked away. The Varia. And Federico had faced down the old man to do it. Goddamnit, he did owe him, didn’t he? “Fine.”

“Thank you,” Federico said, and ruffled his hair. “It won’t be so bad,” he promised. “Not if you’re going to be Varia. People will be too terrified to talk to you.”

“Hmph.” But the idea had a certain appeal to it.

“Yeah, I thought you’d like that, cub.” Federico ruffled his hair again and turned away.

“Cub?” Xanxus echoed, raking his hands through his hair and reordering it. “The hell?”

Federico grinned over his shoulder. “You’re not a wolf yet,” he said. “Yet. But you’re getting there.”

And he laughed as he strolled away, as Xanxus stared after him, too surprised to say anything to that at all.

4. Dies Irae

Tyr listened, impassive as a stone god, as the Ninth explained the mission he’d like the Varia to take, and when the old man had finished, simply said, “No.”

Xanxus felt his commander’s refusal like a blow, but the old man—and damn it, he really did look like an old man now, and moved and spoke like one, showing every last year of his age now—the old man just sighed. “Less than a ninety percent chance of completing the mission successfully, then?”

“The Cetrulli are an old and powerful Family,” Tyr said. “Their strength is comparable to our own, and they did manage to breach our own security to kill Federico.” The old man flinched at the name of his son, but it just made Xanxus’ rage sharper to hear it spoken so casually. Tyr took no notice of either of them, and carried on with his analysis. “We cannot move against them in a covert fashion, retaliate as you have asked us to do, and remain undetected.”

“And that would mean open warfare, which is outside the Varia’s purview,” the old man said, and rubbed his forehead. “All right, thank you. We’ll find some other way.”

That was the absolute limit. “Fuck that,” Xanxus ground out, even though it wasn’t his place to speak up in this council, or do anything more than observe. “Fuck keeping it a secret. Kill ’em all and let the whole world know what you get for fucking with our Family.”

“It’s not that easy,” the old man said, weary. “I’d like nothing more than that, but—”

“But nothing! They killed Federico!” Had punched right through Federico’s security while he’d been on holiday with his family and had killed them all—and just the thought of it made Xanxus curl his hands into fists, both the Vongola Flame and the other one, the one he hadn’t used in years, rousing in response.

But I am not willing to declare open war on the Cetrulli,” the Ninth said, flat, while his advisors stirred and muttered, and Tyr hissed, “Control yourself!”

Xanxus flexed his hands, Wrath and Will burning hotter. “Fuck the politics,” he gritted out. “You know I’m right.”

“And I know that I have no right to tell the commander of the Varia which missions he will accept!” the Ninth retorted. “Your commander has said no, and will not take part in an open war against the Cetrulli. The Vongola will find another way.”

“Is that how it is?” Xanxus breathed, possibility crystallizing itself for him, clear and perfect as ice.

“That’s how it is.”

Xanxus furled his Flames away, against the moment when he would need them. “Fine.”

The old man nodded, because he’d never understood Xanxus half as well as Federico had, and had never seen far enough. “Moving on, then.”

Tyr stayed to listen to the old man and his advisors argue over alternative schemes, and to give his advice. Xanxus waited them out, darkly amused by the fact that the old man and his men couldn’t come to any satisfactory conclusions, and by the covert frustration that showed every time they looked at Tyr, until the old man called an end to things for the morning.

Tyr ignored all of them and swept out of the meeting with his usual magisterial calm. Xanxus followed after him like a good little squad leader.

His commander was no fool. Tyr went straight to the Varia’s practice yard, and only spoke to Xanxus once they were there. “You spoke very much out of turn this morning,” he noted, as he faced Xanxus and loosened his sword in its sheath.

“But I’m right, damn it,” Xanxus said, and let his Flames unwind themselves again as he faced the man down. “You know I am.”

“I know that you think that you are right.” Tyr was as dispassionate here as he was in everything, and that made Xanxus want to grind his teeth. “I know that you do not have to concern yourself with the same things I do, and that you have the luxury of being able to allow yourself to be angry.”

“It’s not a fucking luxury.” Xanxus flexed his hands, opening and closing them, watching him. Fucking luxuries weren’t supposed to hurt so damn much. “What are the chances of doing the mission successfully, open warfare aside?”

Tyr lifted a shoulder, his eyes never leaving Xanxus’. “If we don’t worry about remaining concealed? Nearly a hundred percent. But we can’t do the mission without revealing ourselves, and I will not let that happen.”

“Why the hell not?” Xanxus demanded, rage burning hotter, till the air shimmered around him. “It’s not like anyone doesn’t know we exist, even if they pretend not to.”

Tyr smiled, faint, just the corners of his mouth lifting. “Nevertheless. While I am the leader of the Varia, we will remain a secret. An open secret, if necessary, but a secret.”

Even while that made him growl, Xanxus had to admire how well his commander knew him, and appreciate the opening. “Maybe it’s time the Varia had a new commander.”

“Think carefully,” Tyr told him, still wearing that little smile. “Are you ready to do this? You’re nineteen—do you really think you’re ready to take over if—if—you can cut me down?”

“I guess we’ll have to find out,” Xanxus told him, and attacked.

Tyr had twenty years and some on him, and had trained with the sword his whole life. He had been one of the best training partners Xanxus had ever had, even without a Flame of his own, and Xanxus had always enjoyed their sparring matches. This was no training match, however, and Tyr hurled himself at Xanxus, grim and intent. Xanxus caught Tyr’s sword on one of his guns, and they closed with each other. Tyr’s lips peeled back from his teeth as Xanxus lashed out with his Flames. “It seems that Federico’s wolf has gone rabid,” he noted.

Xanxus just snarled at him, wordless, and they broke apart.

The battle dragged on, since neither of them would give way; Xanxus was dimly aware that the clash of it was drawing spectators to the training yard—other members of the Varia coming to linger at its edges, silent observers who didn’t move to interfere. He paid them no mind, being more concerned with Tyr’s sword and the gun that had gone spinning away, thanks to a particularly clever twist of Tyr’s blade.

They closed again, and again; he raised a line of blisters along Tyr’s cheek with the Wrath. Tyr laid his forearm open in return, on the next pass, when Xanxus wasted a precious fraction of a second reaching into his boot for his knife. They were both soaked with sweat when Tyr spoke again, against his ear, hushed. “Think, if you still can,” he said, as they wrestled with each other. “Killing them all won’t bring him back. Killing them won’t lessen the grief that you feel.”

“You’re wrong,” Xanxus retorted. “Killing them all will make me feel much better.”

Tyr’s bark of laughter was short and harsh. “God save us from reckless young fools and madmen,” he said, as they broke apart again.

“You’re a superstitious old fool,” Xanxus growled at him.

Tyr just laughed again.

The sun had sunk behind the walls of the House and cast the training ground into shadow before the balance of the fight finally shifted. Xanxus harried Tyr across the yard, maneuvering him until the man put a foot down in one of the places where Xanxus’ Flames had gouged at the earth. He wobbled for just a fraction of a section, but Xanxus had been waiting and ready for it, and lunged forward, ignoring the glancing blow of the sword against his shoulder and the way it sliced him open, and sank his boot knife into Tyr’s chest, all the way to the hilt.

Tyr breathed out, a sigh that sounded regretful, and folded in on himself.

Xanxus caught him—he owed the man that much—and let Tyr’s weight bear them to the ground. The look Tyr turned on him was resigned. “I always did wonder if it was going to be you,” he managed, with one of his teeth-baring smiles. “Tell me something.”

Xanxus raised his eyebrows. “What?”

Tyr’s breath was starting to turn short and to gurgle. “Why didn’t you just shoot me?”

Was that all? “No one would have followed me if I had.”

“Maybe you know what you’re doing after all,” Tyr gasped, and died with laughter, frothy and red, on his lips.

Xanxus regarded him silently, and then closed his eyes and eased him the rest of the way down. Then he unpinned the Varia’s crest from the dead man’s jacket and rose. The edges cut into his fingers as he faced the other members of the Varia who were watching him. Xanxus lifted his hand, showing it to them. “This is mine now. Anyone want to argue about it?”

The training yard was silent, until one of the squad leaders shrugged and called, “All yours, Boss.” He was echoed by a murmur of agreement.

“Good.” Xanxus lowered his hand and retrieved his gun and knife, and turned away from them all.

“Where are you going, Boss?” someone called.

“To see the old man,” Xanxus said, without breaking stride. “To see about our next mission.”

People scurried out of his way as he stalked back inside; one of the serving girls shrieked outright at the sight of him. Xanxus ignored them all as he made for the old man’s study and booted the door open.

The old man was clearly startled to see him. “What the—you look like a hot mess, boy.”

He was probably right, but Xanxus couldn’t find it in himself to care. He made his way to the old man’s desk and dropped the badge on it. “When do you want us to move?” he asked.

The Ninth looked down and a series of emotions chased themselves over his face as he stared at the pin. “Oh, my boy,” he said, finally, softly. “What damn fool thing have you gone and done now?”

That seemed like it should have been obvious, so Xanxus ignored the question and picked the badge up again. He weighed it in his fingers, and then pinned it to the remains his shirt, and was acutely conscious of the slight weight of it hanging there. “When do you want us to begin?”

The Ninth looked up at him, eyes grave and dark. “Get cleaned up,” he said. “Tend to those wounds. Then come back, and we’ll discuss it.”

“Yes, Boss.” Xanxus bowed, quick and sharp, and turned away from him.

The old man’s voice stopped him at the door. “You didn’t have to do this.”

Xanxus looked back at him. “No,” he said, at length. “You’re wrong. I did.”

The old man sighed, but didn’t try to argue with him. After a moment longer, Xanxus went to clean up.

The Cetrulli died as easily as any men did, though in rather more pain than most. Xanxus led the mission against them himself, repaying the fire that had killed Federico with his own Flames and tearing the very heart of the Cetrulli Family out with his own hands. When the Varia were done with them, not a one of the Cetrulli’s actual family was left breathing, nor any of its advisors or most of its commanders, and its shattered remains had scattered and were seeking shelter with any of the Cetrulli’s allies that would take them in.

And Tyr, damn him, had been right. The fighting had been satisfying, had let him freeze himself over and throw himself into the fierce pleasure of extracting vengeance from the Cetrulli, but left Xanxus at loose ends when it had ended.

Fortunately, Tyr had been right about the other thing, too—the Varia could no longer remain secret, not when half the old Families were appalled that the Vongola had moved so ruthlessly against one of their own, and the other half had applauded. They were all at open war within the year, giving Xanxus all the battles he could desire. He bent his will on those, and ignored everything else.

By the time the last of the Ninth’s sons fell, Xanxus no longer felt much about it at all, save for a certain weariness with the boredom of having to chase the last ragtag members of the Cetrulli to the ground in order to exterminate them.

5. Fire and Ice

Enrico had been dead for a year and a half, and the ceasefire between the surviving Families had held for an uneasy eight months, when the Ninth called Xanxus into his study.

Xanxus was glad of the summons. He’d been getting bored with all the peace and quiet.

“I have a question for you,” the old man said, and laid his hands flat on his desk as he looked Xanxus over. “Many people think you are going to be my heir.”

“People think a lot of things,” Xanxus retorted.

“They do.” The Ninth looked at him, head-on and serious. “I need to know. What do you think?”

“I think people are full of shit.” Xanxus shrugged. “Not actually your bastard, remember? Some other guy’s bastard. Therefore, not eligible.”

“What if I told you that we could make the argument that you were?” The Ninth watched him, eyes sharp and focused. “What would you say then?”

“I’d say you’re full of shit.” Xanxus waved a hand at the old man’s office. “You wanted me to take this, you would’ve been grooming me for it. If not when they got Massimo, then after they got Enrico. You don’t want me as your heir. You’ve got something else up your sleeve.”

“Is that so?” The Ninth leaned back in his seat. “How do you figure that?”

“You think I can’t tell when you’re testing me, old man?” Xanxus leaned back, too, and set an ankle over his knee. “You’re too calm. You want to know what I think before you go order me to do something.”

The Ninth’s eyes glinted, just faintly. “Very well.” He picked up one of the folders that was sitting at his elbow and passed it across the desk.

Xanxus flipped it open; there was a photo of a boy right on top, looking about as feckless as they came. “Who’s this?”

“Sawada Tsunayoshi.” Indeed, there was the label, on the back of the photo.

Xanxus glanced up. “Any relation to…?”

“His son, yes.” The Ninth was still watching him.

Xanxus paged through the little dossier, till he came to the piece of paper that was a family tree. “You’ve got to be fucking with me,” he said, and flipped back to the photo. No, the kid still looked like a fucking baby, and not even genetics could change that. “This is your new heir?”

“He’s still a little raw,” the Ninth said.

“A little raw? Fuck. He hasn’t even been in the oven yet.” Xanxus flipped the dossier closed. “You might as well invite all our enemies to a party and ask ’em to slit our throats.”

“Mm.” The Ninth picked up the other folder and offered it to him.

Xanxus flipped it open, expecting to find another possible heir. Instead, his own face stared up at him. “What’s this…?” he asked, paging through the dossier rapidly. The Ninth didn’t answer, didn’t say a fucking word, until Xanxus reached the piece of paper, very like Sawada’s, that traced his own family tree, right back to the Second.

He stared at it for so long that the Ninth finally cleared his throat. “The major distinction between you and Tsunayoshi,” he said, as Xanxus raised his eyes from the family tree, “is that Tsuna’s line is legitimated by the First’s remarriage, and yours is not.”

Xanxus just stared at him, silently, waiting for him to get to the point.

The Ninth gestured at the two dossiers in his hands. “Most of the Vongola favors you,” he said. “The irregularities of your family tree can be overlooked, in light of that.”

“Most,” Xanxus repeated, hearing the harsh edge in his own voice. “What does that mean?”

“It means that the boy isn’t one of us,” the Ninth said. “He hasn’t been raised in this world. Reborn has been with him since Enrico died. He says that Tsuna’s heart is… very pure. Rather like Federico’s.” He stopped, and ran a hand over his face.

“Why tell me this?” Xanxus demanded, holding up the folder that someone had compiled on him. “If you want him, then why should I even matter?”

The Ninth dropped his hand from his eyes, and looked at him, steady. “Because I am asking you which one of you I should choose to be Tenth after me,” he said, slow and even, and upset Xanxus’ entire worldview by doing so.

The Varia had swung into action without a murmur of question when Xanxus went from the Ninth’s office to their quarters, not even when Xanxus gave them some admittedly peculiar orders. They moved without question, proof that all the bastards knew what was good for them, and didn’t even bat an eye at his choices, or the announcement that they were going to Japan. It wasn’t till they were on the jet that Bel looked up from playing with his knives, grinning as sharp as they were, and asked, “What’s up, Boss? We got a mission to kill someone or what?”

It was an understandable assumption; he’d assembled the strongest squad leaders the Varia had for this. “Something like that.” Xanxus cast his eye over them, assessing them. “It’s time to figure out who’s going to be Tenth, me or Iemitsu’s brat.”

“Well, hot damn.” Bel’s grin stretched wider. “We gonna go kill him?”

“Maybe,” Xanxus allowed; it wasn’t out of the question. “We have to fight him for the rings.”

Lussuria was the one who did the math first, looking around at the other five of them and then squeaking. “All of us?” he asked, breathless, and they stilled.

“Yeah,” Xanxus told him, and watched them all grin at each other.

“We won’t let you down, Boss,” Levi vowed.

“You’d better fucking hope not,” Xanxus told them, and hauled himself up, heading to the front of the jet’s cabin, away from them and their speculations.

Squalo joined him there, all uninvited, and sat across from him. “So,” he said, after a moment. “What’s the plan?”

He should have known. “What plan?”

“Boss.” Squalo gave him a long look, and then snorted. “Please. Like you don’t always have a plan. And like you didn’t have us do some damn weird things to get ready for this. So. What gives?”

Yeah, Squalo wasn’t just his second because he was good with a sword. “Tell you later,” he said, since Squalo got loud when he was surprised, or excited, and this was going to be one hell of a surprise, all right. Squalo wasn’t going to see it coming, no matter what he’d put together in that pointy head of his.

Wasn’t anybody going to see this one coming. Xanxus settled back into his seat, and smirked at nothing at all.

Xanxus didn’t think much of Sawada Tsunayoshi the first time he met the boy. His photo in the Ninth’s dossier hadn’t encompassed the full flailing, wailing reality of the brat’s existence. “That brat isn’t fit to lick the boots of a real heir,” he told Squalo, sourly, after the Cervello had outlined the way the ring battles would happen and they had retired to their headquarters.

“You’re going to massacre him, Boss,” Levi agreed, readily, missing the point entirely. “You’re the only one fit to be the Tenth.”

Squalo aimed a kick at him. “The boss wasn’t talking to you,” he grunted, and then jerked his head at the door. “Get out, all of you. We’ve got strategy to discuss.”

They went, obediently or sullenly, each according to his kind, and Xanxus mused on the usefulness of having a second like Squalo, someone who understood Xanxus’ moods without his ever having to make them clear. Once he had booted the door shut after Lussuria’s slinking ass, Squalo underlined the point by getting Xanxus a drink, two fingers of whiskey, neat, all without a word.

“This is a fucking farce,” Xanxus told him, when the alcohol was a warm glow in his belly.

Squalo kicked a chair over and straddled it, showing his teeth. “You’re not wrong. Buncha weaklings, all of them. Beats the fuck outta me how they took Rokudou down.”

“Luck,” Xanxus grunted. “And probably Reborn.” That one couldn’t seem to help meddling.

Squalo’s teeth flashed again. “Guess we’ll see how far luck gets ’em this time.”

Xanxus grunted at him.

Squalo didn’t need more of a hint than that, and rose immediately. “Night, Boss,” he said, and went out.

Xanxus let him go, considering the nature of luck and the Vongola’s shitty run of it, these past few years, and then went to check the Gola Mosca, while he was thinking about it.

He reconsidered his stance on Sawada after the battle for the Lightning Ring. Even an observer could feel that there was power in the brat’s Flame, as long as Sawada’s people were concerned. Perhaps it hadn’t been all luck and Reborn that had contributed to Rokudou’s defeat.

But the brat was still ten years too early to be the Tenth. Too fucking naïve, too—that much was clear in the shock on Sawada’s face when the Cervello declared his half of the Sky Ring forfeit. Xanxus had to laugh at that—hadn’t the brat known what kind of sacrifices a real boss had to be prepared to make? Especially when one of his Guardians was a damn toddler?

Ten years too fucking early, definitely, Xanxus decided, while the brat’s friends consoled him for his stupid mistake. He had potential, yeah, but even the fucking Arcobaleno couldn’t turn someone that wet behind the ears into a boss overnight.

The Zero Point came as a complete fucking surprise. Xanxus hadn’t known that Will and Flame could turned in on themselves like that, going through heat to come out into cold that burned just as fiercely as the accusations that he had betrayed the Ninth. The image that Xanxus took with him as the Zero Point closed around him and dragged him down was the cool, regretful look in Sawada’s eyes, and the last thing he felt was the shock of recognition at the sight—the face was all wrong, but he’d seen that look before, in the old man’s eyes and in Federico’s eyes.

When light and heat broke through that arctic darkness and dragged him out of that frozen silence, Xanxus could barely gasp for breath, stunned by the betrayal of his Flames and the weakness that gripped him. Mammon was hovering over him, holding a double handful of Vongola Rings and wearing a shit-eating smile that said Forgive and forget, eh Boss? as Bel proclaimed Xanxus the Tenth.

All Xanxus could do was laugh at that, at the utter ridiculousness of it, when he couldn’t even get off the goddamn ground under his own power. Bel had to shove the damn ring on Xanxus’ finger himself while Mammon prattled on about the mystic power the rings would give the new heir. “You don’t know shit,” Xanxus rasped to them, and clenched his fist around the ring.

He’d heard of the Vongola trial, mostly in whispers and the fragments of rumors, and hadn’t given them more than cursory attention, because they’d never concern him. As the outside world fell away again, Bel’s triumph and Mammon’s smugness blending with the protests of Sawada’s people, Xanxus had just long enough to wish that he’d listened to those whispers more closely.

Then the screaming started: a whole succession of voices, agonized and terrified, pleading for mercy or more time or just plain howling in senseless pain. Images came with the screams, explosions and shattered bodies, blood running across a thousand different floors and sliding off the edges of blades, and the empty gaze in the eyes of corpses, identical in men and women and children alike.

Revenge, someone whispered.

Ambush. Another voice.

Eradication. And another.

He was suspended in some kind of space, surrounded by a throng of shadowy figures. Their voices rustled like dead leaves brushing against each other, blending and overlaying each other, nearly indistinguishable.

Our past sins. Murder, revenge, betrayal. An insatiable thirst for power.

Xanxus looked through the throng, but their faces were shadowed, and even though he had seen portraits of them all, had lived for years in the house where their faces gazed down at him on a daily basis, he could not tell one from another, nor could he keep a count on them—were there eight? Or nine?

This is the bloodstained history of our Family, they whispered to him. Xanxus only half-listened, peering at them, trying to make a count, trying to bring their faces clear. You who hold the ring of the Vongola, you who claim the Sky—do you have the resolution to inherit the weight of these sins?

That one—that one might be the old man. Xanxus strained after him, but the shadow slipped away, replaced by one that may have been the Third. Xanxus snarled his frustration, and then snarled again when that shadow whirled away, too.

Do not look away, the throng whispered. Look and see the destiny of the successor of the Vongola. This is the purpose of the life you were given.

“Of course it is!” Xanxus flared, facing them and trying glare at all of them at once. “You think I don’t know exactly what I am? You think I haven’t given the orders to kill? You think I don’t know exactly what my guns and my Flames are for?”

The throng of them circled closer, a sigh rippling through them at his answer. Will you pay the price? they asked. Will you shoulder the burden of our history and all its glory? Will you uphold the Vongola?

Xanxus snarled at them again. “I’ll do whatever it takes,” he told them, gesturing at the flood of history streaming around them. “I serve the Vongola. Doesn’t matter who gets in the way of that, I’ll cut them down.”

They sighed and swayed as one. Ah…

It was the wrong answer; Xanxus knew it before the voices and images of their history fell away, before he found himself standing before the circle of them, nine in all. Only the old man showed any regret, looking at him.

The First spoke. “No,” he said, and the weight of his voice and Will drove Xanxus to his knees. “That will not do. Your heart is frozen. You haven’t shouldered our burden, even a little bit.” He lifted his hand. “As you have rejected us, we reject you.”

“Like that’s a fucking surprise,” Xanxus managed, before nine generations’ worth of Vongola-caused suffering came crashing down on him.

When he came back to himself, he had screamed himself raw, and one of the Cervello was stooping over him to strip the Sky Ring off of his hand. “The rings have rejected Xanxus’ blood,” she announced. “The winner of the Sky Ring battle has defaulted to Sawada Tsunayoshi.”

That sparked protests all around, from Bel’s squawk to Sawada’s Sun proclaiming his confusion. “How can it reject his blood? Isn’t he the Ninth’s son?”

Laughing hurt. Xanxus did it anyway, and forced himself to his feet, because he wasn’t by damn going to do this lying on the ground like a fucking worm. “Told you all you didn’t know shit,” he wheezed, and spat the blood out of his mouth. “I’m not the old man’s son. Never have been.” He laughed again, laughed at all of their stupid, shocked faces. “And you’re surprised it rejected me?”

“No.” That was Sawada, swaying on his own feet, speaking up before anyone else could. “That’s not it at all, is it? That’s just what you want us all to think.” He took a wobbling step away from his companions, towards Xanxus. “I understand, now,” he said, eyes and voice clear. “What the Ninth showed me.”

Bel took a step, and stopped when Xanxus growled at him. “Bullshit,” he told Sawada. “What can a brat like you understand?”

“Everything,” Sawada said, confident, closing the distance between them, step by shaky step. “You didn’t betray the Ninth at all, did you? You’re not here because you wanted to be the Tenth. You’re here because he sent you here.”

Xanxus coughed and spat on the ground between them. “Not bad,” he said, and ignored the shock and disbelief from the Cervello and Varia and Sawada’s own people. “No other way to make sure a brat like you was ready to take over for him.”

Sawada came closer, till he was tilting his head back to look up at Xanxus. “No,” he agreed, still in the grip of that clear, steady calm. “I’m much stronger now, thanks to you.”

“Damn right,” Xanxus told him, with the grim satisfaction of a job well done. “Would’ve killed you myself if you hadn’t gotten stronger. Might still do it if you fuck this up.”

“I know.” That clear gaze was starting to be unnerving. “You love this Family very much.”

“The hell you say.” Xanxus rolled his eyes. “What are you, brain-damaged? I was following orders.”

“That’s what you want to think. That’s what you want to believe. But you’re wrong. I felt it.” Sawada frowned, lifting a hand. “It’s still there. It’s covered over,” he murmured, and even though he looked like he was half-dead on his feet, his Flame lit again. “It shouldn’t be,” he murmured. “You’re only hurting yourself with it.”

“Mind your own business,” Xanxus told him. “Maybe I like it better this way.”

“No,” Sawada said, very softly. “No, I see now, what else he meant.”

“Sawada,” Xanxus said, warning him, but Sawada ignored him and came forward anyway, pressing his hands against Xanxus’ chest.

“You’ve given a great deal,” he said, Will pressing against Xanxus’, the raw heat of it gentled enough that it didn’t burn. It was no less determined for that. “You are owed this.”

“Fuck off,” Xanxus grated out, resisting the pressure and warmth of Sawada’s Flame. “I don’t want this.” Not again. He wasn’t going to survive another round of this.

“You’re still lying,” Sawada told him, unshakable as a mountain, and folded his Will around Xanxus and held him.

Xanxus lost the rest of his voice on the cry that tore out of his throat as Sawada’s Will pressed against the places he’d walled off years ago, after the first of the old man’s sons had died. “These are hurting you,” Sawada said, softly, Flame burning hotter, purer. “He would not have wanted this.”

“How the fuck would you know?” Xanxus gasped, hating the parts of himself that strained towards Sawada’s Will, responding to it. “You weren’t fucking there.”

“I just know,” Sawada told him, simple as that, and brought the walls the rest of the way down.

As his knees bucked and he went down for the third time that night, overcome by the torrent of things that he’d wanted to never have to think about again, Xanxus decided that, fuck it all, this time he was going to stay down.

When he woke up, he was in a pleasant room that was filled with sunlight, and the old man was sitting beside his bed, doing paperwork.

The rush of relief—and shock at realizing he was relieved—at seeing the old man doing something so emphatically normal as his paperwork rendered Xanxus’ voice into a rasping croak. “You.”

The Ninth looked up, and even Xanxus couldn’t mistake the look that crossed the old man’s face as anything but pleasure. “You’re awake,” he said, with every evidence of delight.

“No fucking kidding.” Xanxus’ throat ached with the effort of speaking, and was barely managing a whisper. “You’re not dead.”

“Hardly.” The Ninth smiled. “I told you I’d do just fine.”

Yeah, and Xanxus had seen how he’d looked when the kid had sliced the Gola Mosca open. “You were—I saw you.” It’d been clear, too, when he’d had the ring. “With the other bosses.”

The old man fucking smiled at him. “One doesn’t have to be dead to attend the trial of one’s successor, even if it often ends up that way.”

“You shitty old man.” Xanxus looked away from him, stared out the window—the sky was the deep blue of the Mediterranean; they were home. And even focusing on that fact couldn’t stop him from saying, “You scared the fuck out of me.”

He heard the sound that the old man made, surprised and wondering, and then the sound of papers being set aside. “I’m sorry,” he said, and set a hand on Xanxus’ shoulder. “I didn’t… expect it to affect you. Not like that.”

“No, you just knew it’d tear me apart from the inside out when they rejected me.” The old man had told him as much when they’d discussed what would happen if he had to take up the ring. At the time, it had seemed like an acceptable risk to take.

Now he wasn’t so sure. The thought of the trial recalled the burden that they’d placed in front of him, and that brought on a wave of nausea. Xanxus closed his eyes and fought it, and the groan that wanted to come with it, back down. “The fuck did Sawada do to me?”

“Forced you to recall yourself, I believe,” the old man said, after a moment. “And asked you to recall that you are, in fact, human.”

“I don’t think I like it,” Xanxus told him, from behind teeth that he had to clench against the nausea and sense of dizzy unbalance. Fucking hell, what was he supposed to do with all this goddamn emotional shit?

“You never have, much,” the old man agreed. His hand moved to Xanxus’ forehead and rested there, cool. “I find myself hoping that it sticks, I’m afraid. I should like very much if I could have one of my sons returned to me.”

Xanxus squeezed his eyes tighter, so he wouldn’t have to look at the man. “I’m not your son.”

“Not by blood,” the old man agreed, voice quiet. “Not by the measures of the world. But you’re the son my heart recognizes. You’re the brother Federico claimed for himself. Those are enough for me.” He sighed. “I wish they could be enough for you.”

Xanxus turned his face away at the mention of Federico and all the things that the mention of his name brought surging out of the places he’d buried them. The old man’s hand settled on his shoulder again. “Fuck,” he said, when he could breathe past the knife edges of the hurt. “Fuck. I should have been there. It should have been me.”

What the fuck had Sawada done to him, that he was saying these things out loud?

The old man’s hand clamped down on his shoulder. “No,” he said, fierce. “No. He would not have wanted that, any more than I would have.” His grip eased again. “You’ve seen the reports. The presence of one more man—even one such as yourself—would not have saved him. I would have lost both of you if you had been there.” He stopped, and then started again. “As it was, I rather thought I had.”

“You always were sentimental, old man,” Xanxus muttered after a moment.

“Perhaps,” the Ninth said, and squeezed his shoulder. “Nevertheless.”

Nevertheless, indeed. Xanxus took a breath, and another, and decided it was time for a safer subject, until he could gain some control of himself again. “Sawada has the ring now?” he asked, and opened his eyes.

“He does, and has found it in himself to face what that means.” The Ninth was looking into the distance and probably not seeing anything that was in the room. “He will do great things for our Family, I think.”

“Kick his ass for him if he doesn’t.”

The old man’s eyes returned to the present and flicked down to him, and he laughed. “Yes, I’ve not doubt that you will.”

Xanxus snorted at him. “Glad you approve of the choice.”

“I do.” The Ninth went serious on him again, looking at him with dark eyes. “I would have approved the other, too.”

The fuck? “Don’t be stupid.” Xanxus glared at him. “You saw what happened when I put the ring on.”

“Mm. I did.” The Ninth lifted a shoulder, as if it weren’t even worth mentioning. “The Ring chooses the successor the Family needs. And sometimes what the Family needs is a new direction, like what I expect Tsuna will give us, and sometimes it needs the strength that will guide it and protect it, as you would have done.” He stopped, studying Xanxus, and then continued, apparently satisfied with whatever he saw. “What was rejected was the coldness in your heart. We are a Family, my boy. The boss must care for it. Do you see?”

Xanxus listened to that—the boss had to care?—and then snorted. “Definitely made the right choice,” he muttered.

The old man’s smile was faint. “Mm. He’s done well with his people so far.”

It was impossible to mistake the old man’s intent, not when the old man was looking at him, practically mooning over him. Xanxus grunted. “Whatever. I guess he’ll do.”

“Yes,” the Ninth said, with the smile that all three of his sons had inherited, and that made Xanxus’ breath hitch to see. “I think he will.” He took his hand away from Xanxus’ shoulder and busied himself with his paperwork. “Now that you’re awake, there’s someone who’ll be wanting to see you. I’ll just send him in, shall I?”

“Whatever,” Xanxus muttered, and settled back against his pillow as the old man went out. It’d be one of the Varia, wanting to report their status—Bel, probably, wanting to talk about who was going to take Squalo’s place, since he had exactly the right kind of initiative to put himself forward in a time of chaos. Of course, he trusted Bel about as far as he could throw the little shit, but it wasn’t like he had a lot of options to work with in the other squad leaders.

Damn Squalo for getting himself killed, anyway, and that thought came with another wave of sickness—damn Sawada and his fucking Will, too, because this was already getting fucking impossible to stand.

Xanxus gritted his teeth and was trying to ride it out when a ruckus raised itself outside his door. The distraction was a welcome one, and he raised himself up on an elbow to listen to the voices as they spiraled upwards, until someone yelled, “I can fucking do it myself!” and booted open the door.

Squalo wheeled himself into the room, expression mutinously clear even through a layer of bandages, while a handful of the lowest-ranking Varia hovered behind him. “See?” he demanded of them. “Now piss off!” Xanxus stared at him, at a loss for words, as Squalo slammed the door in their faces and wheeled himself over to the bed. “Hey, Boss.”

It was as bad as waking up and finding out the old man wasn’t dead; the shock made him dizzy. “Squalo,” Xanxus said, feeling like he had a case of fucking whiplash. “The fuck. You’re not dead.”

Squalo snorted. “Fucking Cavallone fished me out before the shark finished me off. Guess he thought he’d be able to get me to spill my guts to him for doing it.”

“That little bastard,” Xanxus managed, after a moment, some of his whipsaw dizziness grounding itself in familiar anger. “He never said a word.” And it went without saying that Squalo hadn’t, either, or else he’d have known about this a lot sooner when Cavallone spilled the plan wide open.

Squalo snorted again, baring his teeth. “Yeah. You shoulda seen the look on his face when it all came out. Turned so red I thought he was going to pass out.”

“Serves him right,” Xanxus said, because it did. Goddamn Cavallone, keeping one of his people from him like that. “Bastard. I thought you were dead.” Fuck, he was going to kill Sawada for afflicting him with this case of verbal diarrhea.

Squalo’s surprise showed in his eyes, and that only briefly. “Not yet,” he said, after a breath of silence. “Which is a damn good thing, since Bel’s already started making a hash of Varia business. Gonna take forfuckingever to get it all straightened out.”

That was so close to what Xanxus had been thinking before Squalo had come in that it startled him into a laugh; once he started, he couldn’t quite stop, till Squalo peered at him, clearly anxious, and demanded to know whether he was all right. “Yeah,” Xanxus told him, when he’d managed to get a grip on himself again. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just glad you’re not dead, is all.”

Squalo blinked, clearly startled, something like pleasure flashing in his eyes. “Yeah, well, me too,” he said, and cleared his throat. “So, anyway, here’s where we’re at.”

Xanxus settled in to listen to Squalo’s report. He could just about imagine the way Federico would have smiled at that, and said, “Not bad, cub.” For once, the thought didn’t do much more than ache.

Yeah. Maybe he was going to do all right after all.

– end –

Last Modified: May 15, 12
Posted: Aug 03, 09
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Anger Management

In which Federico teaches his brother a lesson about the importance of controlling one’s temper. For Round III of khrfest, prompt II-62. Xanxus — Anger Management; “He who angers you conquers you.”. General audiences.

Character(s): Federico Vongola, Xanxus

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.


Last Modified: May 16, 12
Posted: Mar 26, 10
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Three Things that Might Have Happened to Xanxus

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

Many Roads

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

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

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

They didn’t stop when the sun went down.

They didn’t stop when it came up.

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

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

They stopped for good when Tyr finally fell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was no fear in them, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World on its Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federico had to be seeing things.

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

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

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

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

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

Squalo was laughing.

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

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

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

Xanxus blinked at him, startled.

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

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

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

When they reached the walls they scattered.

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

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

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

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

"…looks awfully familiar from here…"

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

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


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

Well there was one way to be damn well sure.

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

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

"Boss," Squalo said, low and husky.

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

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

"Maybe because you kill most of those."

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

"And you like that," Xanxus guessed.

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

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

He pulled Squalo tighter against him and kissed him again.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Go on."

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

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

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

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

"And if he could be tamed similarly?"

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

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

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

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

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

"What has been happening?" he asked flatly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federico waited.

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

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

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

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

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

Reborn was smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federico snorted. "Like I said."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsuna was blasted through a wall and Reborn tsked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So. Are you satisfied now?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Goddamn it, Boss!"

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


"And, um. Xanxus is… he’s…"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Last Modified: Apr 16, 14
Posted: Aug 06, 09
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Surprised Into Greatness

In the universe where Federico survives, Byakuran is still a problem ten years later. This time, it’s someone else who dies to send Tsuna and Xanxus against the Millefiore. Drama with Angst, I-4

Federico sat back in his chair, eyes fixed on the harshly lined face of the man across from him. “I see why you insisted this meeting be so secret,” he finally said, mildly.

Irie’s tightly clasped hands twitched. “I know it sounds insane,” he muttered, but Federico waved that off.

“I hold fire in my hand and it doesn’t burn; we’re used enough to insane-sounding things, I think. And we’ve been watching the Millefiori for a while now. Some of my people are very suspicious of coincidence.” He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. “How sure are you that this will work?”

“I’m not sure at all,” Irie said, low and harsh. “But this is the only thing that has a chance. Sawada is the only factor that holds Byakuran back in this world, but even he can’t do it alone. It has to be both of them.”

Fedele stirred at Federico’s back, where he’d been listening in what Federico suspected was frozen horror. “Boss, Xanxus will… I mean, he’ll…”

Federico winced, thinking about it. “I know. You’re sure that bullet won’t kill me?” he asked Irie.

Irie nodded silently.

“Good.” Federico smiled with no amusement at all. “Xanxus and Tsuna deserve the chance to kill me themselves, afterward, for doing this to them.”

Sunlight fell gracefully through stained glass and into the open coffin.

Fedele had known it was going to be hard. It couldn’t be any other way when the Vongola’s Boss had been killed—not killed, the back of his mind whispered, clinging to that but he couldn’t let it show or it would all go for nothing—killed by an ambush no one had seen coming. He had forbidden anyone to tell Federico’s wife or son, saying it was for their own safety in hiding, which was true enough. But the fury and pain in the eyes of the other Guardians, the stripped, blank looks on the faces of the two kneeling by Federico’s coffin, sliced his heart like a knife.

“It was the Millefiore, wasn’t it?” Tsuna said at last, a little sense coming back into his eyes as he looked up at Fedele.

Xanxus’ head came up, too, though it wasn’t sense that was creeping into his expression.

Fedele took a breath and dropped the last pebble on the poised mountain face. “Yes.”

Tsuna nodded and he and Xanxus stood as one, and their people stepped towards them, out of the small crowd of Vongola leaders, drawn into the sudden, silent tension.

“Don’t get in my way,” Xanxus growled, shreds of brightness already crawling over his clenched hands.

“Don’t be stupid,” Tsuna cut back, cool and level with the rising of his Will. “We’ll go together. Otherwise Byakuran might get away.”

Fedele could almost hear the click as those words locked around Xanxus, and he could tell Xanxus felt it too even though he bared his teeth. “Fine. Hurry up, then.”

“Wait.” Fedele swallowed as both of them turned to stare at him; the weight of their combined focus was like running into a steel wall. “One of you has to take the Ring.”

Sandro spun around to stare at him. “Fedele, what the fuck?”

Fedele met the Lightning’s outraged look evenly. “Ricco is too young to lead, even if we all support him. Not if we’re at war. It has to be one of them. They’re the only two with the strength and the right.”

Before anyone else could start arguing Xanxus made an impatient sound through his teeth and stooped down to Federico’s body again, drawing the Sky Ring off his finger. He straightened to the sound of breath being taken in all through the church.

And threw the Ring at Tsuna.

Tsuna’s hand closed around it, though he never looked away from Xanxus. “You’re sure?” he asked, low.

“The Boss can’t lead the Varia too. We’re wasting time. Take the damn Ring and let’s go,” Xanxus bit out.

After a long, still moment, Tsuna nodded and slid the Ring onto his finger, closing it in a fist. He raised his chin and his Flame flared up in his hand, running over his glove to shape the Vongola crest. That was all Fedele had time to see before the light of Tsuna’s Flame turned brilliant, actinic white that etched people’s shadows behind them as they flung up hands and arms to shield their eyes.

When the light died and he could look back up, he found Tsuna on his knees, hands braced against the stone of the floor, breathing like he’d just run a marathon. “Anything,” Tsuna, whispered, as if he were answering someone’s question. “Anything.”

“Boss?” Gokudera asked quietly, kneeling beside Tsuna with a hand under his arm.

Tsuna looked up and smiled, wry and serene. “I’m all right.”

Fedele took a deep breath as Gokudera got the Vongola’s new Boss—sort of the back of his mind pointed out, not helpfully—standing. One more thing to do. “The Vongola Ring has accepted Sawada as the Eleventh,” he announced, completely unnecessarily but it was tradition to say it out loud, and pulled the Storm ring off his own finger, holding it out to Gokudera.

“Um. Fedele?” Giancarlo wasn’t as loud about it as Sandro, but he managed to convey what the fuck do you think you’re doing? just as well.

“The Guardians are the members of the Family closest to the Boss, most trusted to watch his back.” Fedele kept his eyes locked on Gokudera’s. “We’re the Tenth’s Guardians, not the Eleventh’s.” Gokudera’s eyes darkened and he nodded slowly and reached out to take the ring.

Giancarlo made a sound like someone had punched him in the gut and Fedele stifled a flinch at the acid rush of guilt. His fellow Guardians were going to pound the shit out of him for this, after, and he was going to deserve it. Giancarlo stepped past him, though, and held the Rain ring out, steadily enough, to Yamamoto.

“Great, fine, now can we go?” Squalo snapped, once the transfer of the Rings was complete. Fedele started to give him an evil look but noticed the way Squalo’s eyes flicked toward Xanxus, who was glaring murderously at thin air.

“Someone has to stay and guard the headquarters,” Tsuna started, and Fedele lifted his hand a little.

“We’ll do that.” Guarding the mansion, and Federico’s body, would keep his fellows from doing anything too rash, and he saw the knowledge of it in Tsuna’s eyes as he nodded.

“Very well. Let’s go, then.”

Xanxus stalked out immediately, his squad leaders swirling after him like a kite’s tail. Tsuna followed, slower, with a word to this or that underboss, a sharp beckoning gesture to Giannini, a hand on Yamamoto’s shoulder sending him after Lal Mirch as she started to slip away.

Fedele felt dizzy, head stuffed with what was true and what was apparently true and what might or might not happen. But in the midst of all that he was, at least, grateful that Tsuna seemed to be fit for the role he had to play. Whatever the truth of it wound up being.

Tsuna didn’t bother with an office, and certainly didn’t even consider taking Federico’s; if they came back from this alive he’d think about it then. Besides none of the office rooms were big enough.

Instead he took over the reception hall.

Maps and lists scattered over the tables and the parquetry floor as Gokudera pulled reports together and called in the people who kept observation on the Millefiore headquarters. Some of the reports were written in Chrome’s neat hand, and he sent Lambo to find her with a question about the underground entrances. Ryouhei and Squalo argued at the top of their lungs in one corner, pulling the blueprint of the Millefiore main building back and forth between them, stabbing at access points and each other’s chests with stiff fingers. People swirled in and out under Xanxus’ silent, brooding eye, as he leaned against the wall, and Tsuna could barely remember their names though he knew them all. The world was in freefall and the only thing holding his feet down was the promise he’d given to those who’d come before, in the no-place where they’d judged him. He would do anything it took to protect his Family and his Family’s heart.

Lal stalked in, snarling over her shoulder at Yamamoto, and Tsuna wrenched his thoughts onto yet another track. “Lal,” he cut through her protest and Yamamoto’s inexorable smile, “have any of CEDEF heard from my father yet?”

“No, nothing,” she snapped.

Tsuna breathed out, torn between cursing and giving thanks. “Then you’ll have to lead them.”

She folded her arms, giving him a stony look. “We’re not part of the Vongola.”

“This is an emergency. You are,” he rapped back.

“Besides, where else do you expect to find the one who killed Colonello?” Reborn rolled into the room with a motorized purr and Tsuna’s mouth twisted with the mix of affection and relief and pain he’d felt for most of a year.

They hadn’t been fast enough for everyone. They hadn’t been fast enough to save Verde or Skull. Or Colonello. Even the other arcobaleno didn’t know what had become of Fon, and none of them would speak of what had happened to Uni. But they had, at least, understood the non-trinisette radiation in time to save Lal and Mammon from most of it. And to save, at least, Reborn’s life.

He had insisted the protective suit be tailored into a proper, black mafia suit, and had only agreed to the wheelchair after Giannini motorized and armed it. But he was still with them, and looking up at Lal with black eyes as unreadable as ever as she whirled on him.

“Who?” she demanded, voice dark and hungry, and for one moment Xanxus glanced over at them.

Reborn shrugged. “Who knows? But we know who’s doing this, and we know where they’ll be.”

“The foot soldiers we take with us will clear the way,” Tsuna said, eyes running down yet another list as Gokudera handed it to him. “But we need CEDEF to secure our retreat. Will you do it?”

“I’m not staying in the rear,” she said flatly, arms folded.

“I wouldn’t expect you to.”

“Fine.” She turned away and stalked out, and Tsuna’s mouth quirked up for a moment at the way Yamamoto drew smoothly back out of her path and winked at him before following her. If any of them were sane by the time they left, it would be thanks to Yamamoto, he thought.

“I suppose you’re coming too?” he asked Reborn.


No other explanation was forthcoming, and Tsuna hadn’t really expected any. He just nodded and turned back to the maps and hoped that Xanxus’ version of patience would last as long as he needed it to.

Details ticked through Tsuna’s mind, past the eye of his focus, and in the back of his mind one of the voices he was currently ignoring was busy cursing Byakuran for placing his headquarters in a city. “Lal, open up a corridor to the south to get the bystanders out,” he snapped into his headset.

“Basil is taking care of it,” she snapped back. “You’re a fool. We have to have lost surprise by now.”

Tsuna’s eye measured the fire coming from the buildings that surrounded the headquarters, channeling his people toward that massive, central building. “He knew we were coming already.”

A final explosion sheared the front off one of those firing galleries and Gokudera’s voice said flatly, “We’re clear.”

“Then let’s go.”

Byakuran’s front door was locked, the entrance barred by a wall of something that probably wasn’t just steel. On the surface it looked like a good tactic, just the place to pin the attackers up against, but… “Xanxus,” Tsuna called.

A column of raging Flame licked out over his shoulder and struck the wall, flaring, eating into it, and it was only a breath before it burst.

Tsuna’s eyes narrowed, intuition ticking over. “Byakuran has something in mind,” he stated. “Keep alert.”

The strongest box and ring holders, and their support squads, fanned out to clear the building.

Ryouhei jogged at Lal’s shoulder and worried just a little. He wasn’t normally one to complain about anyone else’s single mindedness, but the darkness in Lal’s eyes made his nerves twang. He respected Lal’s professionalism, though, and when she stiffened and shouted “Down!” he dove for the floor without hesitation, along with the rest of the squad.

Lal was the only one hit.

“Lal!” He reached for his secondary box.

“Ah~h, just like that the stupid flies walk into my web,” a light voice sighed from the darkness of the ceiling. “I expected better from Lal Mirch. Colonello was thinking about you in his last moments, you know. Can’t you try to be more worthy?”

“Ginger Bread,” Lal grated, hand pressed to her shoulder.

“Quick, before you go after him,” Ryouhei muttered, eyes fixed on the floating thing in the corner that looked like a kid and talked like a devil.

Lal elbowed him back. “No. This fight is mine.”

Ryouhei had his mouth open to protest when she turned her head just a little and looked at him. Her expression made him sigh and step back. “All right. It’s yours,” he agreed, resigned; he couldn’t deny her determination or her right. He waved to their support squad, drawing them back as Lal’s rings lit with Flame, and prepared to wait.

To witness for her.

Yamamoto’s mouth quirked and he stuffed the map they’d made of the Millefiore headquarters into his pocket and called Tsuna. “The building is moving.”

“Yes.” Tsuna sounded calm, but he always sounded calm when his Will was roused. “Can you still find your way?”

“I’ll manage. I got cut off from my support squad, though, and they were pinned down by some Millefiore foot soldiers. Think anyone can get to them?”

“We’ll try.”

Yamamoto accepted that as philosophically as he could and moved on down the hall, snorting a little at the doors that opened ahead of him and closed behind. “A simple invitation would have done, you know,” he called out.

“This is an invitation.”

Yamamoto looked up and smiled, slow and hard. “Genkishi.” He lit his Ring and opened his boxes, not rushing. Genkishi might or might not be a true swordsman, but he was close enough to open a duel formally, properly. Shigure Kintoki sang in his hand, delighting in the purity of Flame the Vongola Ring provided to wrap around it. “Squalo’s still really pissed at you, you know.”

Genkishi flicked his fingers before resting his hand back on the hilts of his swords. “Superbi Squalo’s temper tantrums mean nothing to me beside my duty to carry out God’s orders.” His eyes fell on Jirou and he lifted a brow. “So it’s true. You use four blades. Perhaps there will be no need to hold back, then.”

Yamamoto set his stance and sent Kojirou winging above them with a flick of his Will. “It will,” he murmured, letting the stillness of the sword wash over him, “be my pleasure.”

Lambo was not in a good mood. First his support squad had gotten locked behind one of the sliding walls, and then he had wound up in company with Lussuria (and really, Lussuria was the kind who gave all of them a bad name), and now they were facing four piles of mobile muscles and a really disturbing woman who needed to figure out what the zipper on her top was there for.

It was not a good day.

And those muscles were really hard to do anything about.

And when Lussuria vanished into one of the piles, knee first, Lambo had had enough.

He shot the scary woman’s weapon out of her hand to give them some time and hauled out his Bazooka, groping for the trigger. Ten years from now, he was probably going to be pretty annoyed with himself, but only until he remembered how important this was.

Squalo was muttering evilly under his breath as he watched their backs and Tsuna found himself amused, inappropriate as it seemed under the circumstances.

“…fucking Yamamoto gets all the goddamn fun…”

Xanxus didn’t even seem to notice his second’s seething, and Tsuna wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, or even if he truly cared right now. No closing door or shifting wall had stopped them, and the Millefiore foot soldiers seemed to have finally drawn back from their path. Tsuna was distantly glad for that. It was Byakuran he wanted, and he would go through whatever was in the way, but the weight he could feel building up behind his floating fury would be less heavy if he didn’t have to go through stacked bodies.

There was someone ahead of them now, though. Someone leaning against the wall, tapping a crop against his leg.

“And here are the little Vongola,” the man sneered, straightening up. “Didn’t you learn from your burned fingers last time?”

“Glo Xinia,” Tsuna identified him. This one he would feel little guilt about.

“Indeed. And if I alone could kill your precious Rokudou, what makes you think any of you will survive to reach Byakuran?”

Tsuna glanced aside at Chrome, who had been following him quietly the whole way, and frowned. “Chrome?”

“We will deal with this,” she said, soft voice sweet and cold as she stepped forward and her trident flashed between her hands.

“But…” It was true, Tsuna hadn’t seen Mukuro for a little while, but that wasn’t uncommon and he hadn’t worried until now.

“Boss.” Chrome looked over her shoulder and smiled, and the smile had a dark quirk to it that was very familiar. “Go ahead. We’ll take care of it.”

Tsuna heard what she said, this time, and nodded slowly. “Very well.”

He would, after all, feel little guilt about Glo Xinia.

Gokudera swore as half the room suddenly fell away and the floor rose under him. It had been a risk to let him scout ahead, and now it looked like he’d just have to trust that nothing would stand against both Xanxus and the Eleventh until he got back to his boss.

Uri’s growl recalled him to his own risks and he slid under cover just as a small, heavy ball crunched into the wall where he’d been with a nasty, final sort of sound.

“I almost wish we didn’t have to do this,” a whimsical voice echoed through the room.

“Gamma,” Gokudera said quietly, watching the ball spark and pull itself out of the wall, soaring back over head. He flipped his jacket back from his belts. He’d read all the reports on this man, and this wasn’t going to be fun.

“Unfortunately, the princess sent me a message. Or a puzzle. Hard to tell which. Either way it was orders to go all out, I’m afraid.”

Gokudera’s hands flicked through his boxes and he sent his defenses spinning out just in time to meet the lash of lightning that hammered down in a column on all sides. “Then we’ll just have to go all out,” he said, loud enough to be heard, and rolled out from under cover, slamming home the Flame Arrow cartridge and sighting on the blocky blond man above him.

Gamma smiled wryly as he watched the shot come.

In the end, the Millefiore squads hadn’t fallen back, they had just prepared an ambush for the moment when Tsuna and Xanxus were alone, the moment when Squalo had finally been drawn off by an attacker who looked disturbingly like Belphegor and separated from them. Tsuna supposed he wasn’t surprised, but he did wish there weren’t so damn many foot soldiers hemming them in. He kicked another Millefiore away and fell back beside Xanxus. He couldn’t put this off any longer.

“Cover me,” he shouted over the snarl of Xanxus’ guns and the screams around them.

Xanxus’ lip lifted but he shot the attacking squads away from Tsuna as Tsuna closed his eyes and started to build his Flame carefully.

He’d always had to be careful; he’d broken more than one ring before he learned how to feel for the limits of the one he was using. This time the process was strange. The Vongola Sky ring didn’t seem to have any limits, no matter how he built up his power. So he let it grow and breathed through it and fought to balance the Flame reaching outward with the softer Flame that would brace him. Finally, from the heart of the conflagration he lifted his head and spoke, quiet and sure.

“Xanxus. Look out.”

He stepped past his companion and released the shot, and bodies and walls blew away from them, floor after floor and room after room.

As debris rained past them, Xanxus brushed himself off and eyed Tsuna with something besides rage in his expression for the first time in days. All he said in the end, though, was “Let’s go.”

Tsuna nodded and they climbed through what looked like some labs and maybe the communications hub unopposed.

Irie waited until the footsteps faded away to cautiously lift his head and look around his shattered control center. His mouth quirked as he looked at his smoking box weapon. He wasn’t sure any of the Vongola had realized exactly what this building was, but they’d stopped Melone’s ability to move just the same.

Now it was time for him to move.

He found his guns mostly intact in their cabinet and put a tranquilizer into each of the Cervello, just to be sure. He slipped down into the mechanics lab and dragged an unconscious Spanner under a desk where he’d hopefully have some shelter from whatever happened next. He closed the eyes of the three technicians who hadn’t lived through the demonstration of the Vongola Eleventh’s power.

And then he started stripping off his uniform.

He was down to the, in his slightly light-headed opinion, incredibly ugly boots when a voice spoke from behind him with no warning.

“Turning your coat literally and hoping to escape? How improper.”

Irie looked up, wide eyed, into the narrow, predatory gaze of the Vongola’s most dangerous and unpredictable man. “I… I can explain,” he gulped, setting his ring down and raising his hands slowly.

“Indeed?” Hibari Kyouya leaned lightly against a broken wall. “Make it fast, then. I don’t like to leave Namimori for longer than necessary.”

Once the building stopped moving, Tsuna’s people started regathering, and some of Xanxus’ with them: Gokudera scorched and limping and tight-lipped; Yamamoto in company with Squalo, laughing as he obligingly described a sword fight for Squalo’s growled critique and moving a little stiffly with a bandage across his back; Ryouhei looking battered but carrying Lal Mirch, who flatly refused to be evacuated, and guarded by Reborn and Viper despite their unremitting contemptuous jabs at each other; Belphegor waited for them, perched in a broken window, covered in blood and giggling, to say that Lussuria was busy making sure Levi survived and that Lambo was watching over them; no one knew exactly when Chrome rejoined them, but she was there, stepping silent as a shadow over the creaking floors with a soft, full smile on her lips.

They seemed to have left the Millefiore squads behind, as they gained the upper floors, and if they’d left their own support squads too, Tsuna only thought, distantly, that it was just as well. The next thing they found should be Byakuran himself.

So he was more than a little surprised when the form that stepped out of a side room and into their path was child-sized—a girl, looking weighed down by the Millefiore cloak over her shoulders.

“Sawada Tsunayoshi, Vongola Eleventh?” she asked, quietly.

His gaze caught on the ribbon around her neck and the familiar shape hanging from it. “Uni,” he murmured.

“You’ve come,” she said, with an evenness he recognized from his own voice these last few days, and that tugged at his heart but he stifled it; this was one of the two bosses of the Millefiore. She was still speaking, though, and her next words caught him entirely by surprise.

“I am the boss of the Giglio Nero, and on this day I dissolve the alliance between my Family and Gesso.” She took a step closer, level gaze turning pleading. “I am also the boss of the Arcobaleno, and as the keeper of the pacifiers I ask for the Vongola’s protection.”

“You what?” Tsuna managed after a moment, feeling like his brain was spinning.

She looked down. “Byakuran doesn’t care about my Family. It’s only my heart he wants, to control the pacifiers. I went away, inside, to protect my heart and my charge, and sacrificed my Family because of it. There was no other way. But now,” she looked up, biting her lip. “Now you’re here, and you’ve won this far, and this is the time! Please.” She lifted her hands, and he started, seeing they were full of the faint, colored glow of the lost pacifiers. “He must not have these.”

“She is correct.”

Tsuna looked around sharply to see Hibari climbing the last stairs with a rather bedraggled man Tsuna recognized after a moment as Irie Shouichi in his wake. “This,” Hibari announced coolly, “answers the questions I have had for the past five years. Byakuran must not have the pacifiers and the rings.” He beckoned peremptorily and Irie stepped forward, fidgeting.

“I have to tell you. You see, ten years ago…”

Turning the things Irie had told them over in his mind, Tsuna was unsurprised to find another of those impressive-looking and yet entirely insufficient metal walls blocking their way up to the top floor. It was the kind of mockery he was starting to recognize as Byakuran’s manner. Xanxus fired once at it without breaking stride and Tsuna gathered his Flame in his hand and punched it viciously to shatter the weakened metal, sending shards flying through the ceiling and walls above.

His anger was sizzling on the edge of his ability to control it.

He was also unsurprised to find Byakuran smiling at them, bright and cheerful in the middle of his blown-out top floor. “What a good job!” The congratulatory tone was gruesome, considering the bodies scattered behind them, and Tsuna clenched his jaw and closed a hand tight on Xanxus’ arm. They needed to know what Byakuran thought he had up his sleeve before they moved.

“What a shame you had to waste all that effort, too,” Byakuran sighed, and turned a little, crooking a finger at the one door still standing. His smile turned smug and chill as six people Tsuna had never seen or heard of filed out to stand behind him. “These are the real six Funeral Wreathes, you see.”

Gokudera made a choking sound, indignant for his opponent as much as for himself Tsuna thought. Xanxus just spat on the smoking, broken floor. “So what?” he growled.

Byakuran tapped a finger against his lips in a way that would have been playful under other circumstances, and Tsuna held back a sick shudder. “Well, I don’t want to be unfair. You’re all so tired out. So how about this! We’ll have a round of Choice.” Poison-cold eyes turned to Irie. “You’ll like that, won’t you Shou-chan?”

Irie stepped forward, faint ravaged hope showing in his eyes. “For what stakes?”

“The Trinisette, of course!” Byakuran spread his hands, the image of reasonableness. “If you win, you get all the rings and pacifiers I’ve gathered. If I win, I get all of yours.” His gaze brushed over Uni as if casually, and she shivered and moved closer to Reborn, pacifiers gathered protectively to her chest.

“Irie,” Tsuna said quietly, eyes not leaving Byakuran. “What does he mean by ‘Choice’?”

“A battle,” Irie explained, low and quick. “There are rules to it, that would limit him. It’s a game we invented years ago—”

Tsuna held up a hand to stop him. “I see.” His other hand tightened on Xanxus’ forearm and then let go. Xanxus smiled.

“You’ve mistaken us, Byakuran,” Tsuna said, lifting one hand and letting his Flame start to build. He dropped the other hand behind him and met Byakuran’s eyes, levelly.

“This isn’t a game.”

Xanxus drew and fired in one motion, and Tsuna had one moment to see rage twist Byakuran’s face before one of the six newcomers was in front of him, meeting Xanxus’ Flame.

The fury Tsuna had held back, channeled into his Will, not given in to, built and built, and now he let it go, called it up, fed it to his Flame until his burned and raged like Xanxus’. He tracked the shouts, the explosions as their people hemmed in Byakuran and his six Wreathes, and he pressed against Xanxus’ shoulder and shouted, “Together! Both of us!”

He could feel the vibration of Xanxus’ snarl, but Xanxus stopped his fire and set his feet beside Tsuna, and his Flame started to build too. “For our world,” Tsuna murmured. “For our Family.” He heard Reborn calling for everyone to get back, and whispered, “For Federico.”

Xanxus screamed as he fired, raw and agonized, and Tsuna stretched out his hand and drove his own heart and Flame out, after the thing that had twisted their world and their lives, the living person he could not allow to continue living. He met Byakuran’s eyes one last time before they disappeared in the wild fusion of Flames, blank and somehow surprised.

And then they really were in freefall and Tsuna barely had the strength left to keep himself on top of the rubble instead of underneath it. The jagged ruin still stole the world away when he landed.

Tsuna woke up with Reborn’s shoe in his ribs, which was comforting. Hazily, he decided that said something about his life. “Gokudera,” he rasped, and coughed. Dust hung thick in the air.

His right hand appeared in his field of vision, leaning over him. “Here, Boss. We’re all accounted for. Ryouhei has broken bones and Chrome is still unconscious. Mammon’s protective suit tore and he’s been evacuated back to headquarters. Squalo has a concussion and Irie has internal bleeding; we’re waiting on immobilizers to move him. Everything else is minor.”

Tsuna sagged back against the rock with a sigh of relief. “Thank you.” After this long, Gokudera knew what was most important to him. He looked at Reborn. “Uni?”

“I’m fine,” Uni answered herself, coming to kneel beside him. “Thank you for doing this.”

“You’re welcome, though we didn’t have much choice.” Tsuna waved a hand and Yamamoto stepped in to helped him up. Once he was standing, Xanxus left off growling at his people and stalked over, attitude only slightly impaired by an exhausted stagger every now and then. Tsuna couldn’t help a tiny smile.

“Is he dead?” Xanxus demanded, hard eyes tracking over each of them. A ragged edge of tension still ran through him.

“Not like you left any bodies to check,” Gokudera pointed out dryly, but Uni shook her head.

“He’s gone,” she said with certainty.

“Gone.” Xanxus looked at them, and then around at the rubble that was all that remained of the Millefiore. The tension in him wavered uncertainly.

Tsuna took a long, slow breath. “All right. It’s over, then.” He let the breath out. “So it’s time to go home.”

A murmur of relief ran through his people until a raw crack of laughter broke it. “Home?” Xanxus swayed on his feet. “What for?”

Tsuna flinched. “Xanxus…”

“Um?” Irie edged cautiously closer. “He… he isn’t dead. Federico.”

Tsuna just looked at him, completely unable to make sense of the words. “What?”

“The bullet he was shot with. It was one of the special bullets. It didn’t kill him; he’s only suspended.” Irie’s words came faster in face of their stares. “It was the plan he agreed to, for the sake of defeating Byakuran. He’s still alive.”

Tsuna’s stunned thoughts worked through that slowly. A plan. For defeating Byakuran. That required Federico be dead. Only not. He looked around at the flattened ruin he and Xanxus had made of the building and thought about the constant pain at the back of the past few days. Finally he bowed his head. “It worked,” he whispered, which was all the forgiveness and blame he could possibly afford his boss.

His head snapped up again at the sound Xanxus made. Xanxus was staring around too, eyes wild and wounded. “Boss…” he whispered, harsh, and sank to his knees like the strings holding him up had been cut.

Maybe they had.

“Xanxus!” Tsuna slid to his own knees in front of Xanxus, grabbing his shoulders. Xanxus wrenched away from him in wordless denial, but Tsuna didn’t give way

Xanxus was one of his Family.

He reached down into himself even though his Will and spirit felt scraped raw and pulled up strength out of the oath he’d given.


He leaned his forehead against Xanxus’, and wrapped his Flame around memories of Federico, and and pressed them against the void of Xanxus’ pain. He held Xanxus’ Flame in his, held on to the knowledge, the memory, that Federico loved them. “He wouldn’t have done it for anything less than our world, for anything less than the life of our whole Family. You know that!” And he knew it, because he’d given the same promise himself.


Eventually Xanxus sagged in his grip, whole body shaking. Tsuna sighed softly and leaned against him. “I know,” he whispered. “I know.” Slowly he levered himself to his feet again. “Come on. We need to get home.” He looked over at Uni and Irie. “You too.”

He was careful to put Irie in a different car than Xanxus, though.

Federico had believed Irie when he said this was the only way, that Federico himself had to be out of the picture so that the Sky ring could go to Tsuna, that only rage at his death would drive Tsuna and Xanxus to do what had to be done and see it through to the bare, blasted end. He would never have agreed if he hadn’t believed it.

When he saw Tsuna shepherding Xanxus toward the mansion, though, and saw the broken slump of Xanxus’ shoulders, that didn’t really help.

Chaos surrounded them as the wounded were unloaded and the dazed looking prisoners-turned-allies of the erstwhile Black Spell were led off to one of the emptier wings, and all of it required his attention, his direction, the reassurance that he lived. But the idea of betraying the pain and need in Xanxus’ shuttered eyes, again, made him sick. Xanxus hesitated as he came to them, turning his head away, and Federico bit the inside of his lip hard.

Tsuna made an exasperated sound and gave Federico a stern look. “Until tomorrow morning,” he said, and held up his ring hand. “Until then. Just go.” He pushed Xanxus firmly toward Federico and turned to march off toward the knot of Vongola underbosses gathering around the young Giglio Nero boss and her second, Gamma.

Federico blinked and his mouth quirked. “Well. I suppose we’d better do as he says, then.” Xanxus didn’t answer, and Federico’s heart twisted again. “Come here,” he said, softer, and closed an arm around Xanxus’ shoulders, leading him into the House. He could feel the tremors running through Xanxus and cursed himself and fate and Byakuran impartially.

He only waited until a few doors were closed behind them to pull Xanxus against him and hold him tight.

A shudder ran through Xanxus and he clutched Federico’s shoulders. “Boss…” he said, low and hoarse.

“Only to save our Family,” Federico whispered to him, one hand coming up to cradle the back of his head. “Not for anything less than that, I swear it. I’m sorry.”

Someone like Xanxus didn’t cry easily, and the harsh, stifled sobs that wrenched out against his shoulder set Federico to damning Byakuran and his ancestors for ten generations, and himself for doing such a thing to the one most loyal to him, no matter the reason. He held Xanxus to him tightly, and drew in a deep breath. “Never again,” he said, closing his eyes at what he was promising. “Never again, for any reason; you have my word.”

Slowly, Xanxus quieted, though he still didn’t look up. “Your word?” he asked, finally, voice choked and rough.

“My word,” Federico swore, wrung out by the pain he’d caused. Maybe what he promised now would lead him to a betrayal of his greater Family, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t think of doing something like this to Xanxus again.

Xanxus nodded just a little against his shoulder. “Okay.”

“I’m sorry,” Federico murmured again, at a loss because the words weren’t nearly enough but he couldn’t think of anything that would be.

Xanxus shook his head. “Just… let me stay?”

Federico caught him closer, fiercely. “Yes.”

Eventually he pulled Xanxus into the bedroom and down onto the bed, and worked off his shoes and jacket, careful to never let him go entirely. Xanxus watched him quietly, with bruised eyes, and pressed close when Federico settled beside him. It was an hour, maybe two, before the tightness of his arms around Federico finally relaxed a little, and his breath started to come deeper. Federico stayed awake, holding him close, fingers running slowly through his hair, watching over him as the sky lightened.

Never again, he promised in his heart. Whatever it took, never again.

And as Tsuna leaned wearily over a table, drinking the coffee Gokudera brought him as he spoke to Uni about the anti-Trinisette generator, the Sky ring gleamed for a moment on his finger.

Federico called in all the Family’s leaders the next afternoon, and sighed at the way they shifted and murmured among themselves. “All right, everyone shut up and listen.” He laid it all out as clearly as he could, the danger Byakuran had posed, the evidence across time that said Tsuna and Xanxus had to be the ones to bring him down, the stakes that they had gambled against, the Trinisette itself. He watched his people’s eyes move over Reborn, in his wheelchair, and over Uni, with the gently glowing box set between her hands on the table, and over Tsuna and the six who stood behind him.

“We won that gamble,” he told them, putting as much assurance in his voice as years of experience let him, “and the Family is safe.”

“And you’re alive,” Tsuna added, with just an edge of dryness. Federico was sure he’d hear more of it in private. “So there’s something left to do.”

Another stir ran through the room as Tsuna rose. He met Federico’s eyes, mouth twitching just a bit at the corner, and pulled the Sky ring from his finger. “This is yours.” He offered it on his open palm. “Boss.”

Federico took the Ring back, smiling wryly up at Tsuna. “I know you never wanted it,” he murmured, just between the two of them, and then raised his voice for the rest. “You’ve done everything I asked of you and more. Thank you.”

Tsuna snorted softly, covered by the generally relieved rustle in the room as he took his seat again. Behind him, the rustle continued as Tsuna’s Guardians passed their Rings back to Federico’s. Not the way things usually happened, but Federico took a certain comfort in the relief on a few of their faces. At least he could relieve these few from the burden of the last few days.

“Now,” he gathered his people’s eyes back to himself. “We have two last things to deal with. One is our new alliance with the Giglio Nero.” He nodded to Uni, who nodded serenely back. “We will be working together to recover the Mare rings from the Millefiore headquarters and restore that balance.”

A generally approving murmur went around. From Fedele’s quick report, it seemed that some of Uni’s people had impressed the Vongola, who appreciated honorable opponents.

“The second thing is a new member of our Family.” Federico opened his hand at Irie, sitting quietly off to the side. “Irie risked more than his life to bring us news of Byakuran and a plan to defeat him. I have taken him and a few of his own people who survived into the Vongola.”

The murmur was more dubious this time, and cut across by the harsh sound Xanxus made as he pushed half out of his chair, glaring at Irie. Federico had expected that, all things considered, and started to reach out to him, but someone else beat him to it.

“Xanxus.” Tsuna laid a firm hand on Xanxus’ shoulder, and there was compassion but no shred of compromise in his voice. Federico’s brows went up. Apparently this experience was going to have some lasting effects; he’d never heard Tsuna speak like that except in the deepest grip of his Will and in the middle of a fight.

Xanxus glowered at Tsuna, but subsided under his hand.

Another murmur went around the room, this one with a thoughtful undertone, and any protests over Irie were lost in the sudden sidelong looks at Tsuna.

Federico resisted the urge to rub his forehead and curse. Damn, damn, damn it all anyway.

He’d hoped to avoid this.

“So Cienna and Ricco are coming back to the main house soon?” Tsuna leaned back in his hair with a sigh. “Good. That will be the last thing we need to get things back to normal.”


Tsuna cocked his head at Fedele. “What? Is Cienna still upset with Federico?” Not that he could blame her in the least.

Fedele ran a hand through his hair, not meeting Tsuna’s eyes. “It… might not be the best moment for Ricco, especially, to come back.”

Tsuna frowned. “Is he that upset with his father?” He could understand being a little shocked over the whole temporarily-dead thing, but Ricco had always struck him as quite resilient.

For some reason, Fedele was giving him an exasperated look. “No, it’s this thing with you.”

Tsuna blinked, at a loss. “With… me?” Surely no one else had heard him tearing strips off his Boss for this whole affair? And even if they had, who would have told Ricco about it?

Now Fedele was staring. “Tsuna. Are you telling me you really don’t know?”

“Know what?” Tsuna was starting to get irritated with all this obscurity.

Fedele sat back, frowning at him. “That a good two thirds of the Family is saying that you should be the Eleventh, after Federico. That you already are, in fact.”

For a long moment, the words didn’t even make sense. When they did, Tsuna’s chair went over with a clatter.

They’re what?!

Federico was trying to find just the right ending to his exquisitely polite letter to the Vendicare, telling them that it wasn’t his problem if they couldn’t keep track of their prisoners and no they could not search his headquarters for Rokudou Mukuro, when his office door flung open with a crash. He had his gun halfway out before he realized that it was Tsuna.

Tsuna, panting and rather wild eyed.

“Have you heard about this?!” Tsuna demanded, before Federico would ask what the hell was wrong.

“About what?” he asked, holstering the gun and sitting back down.

“Everyone thinking I’m supposed to be the Eleventh!”

Ah. Now it made sense. Federico sighed and gave Fedele, just now coming up behind Tsuna, a wry smile. “I’ve heard it mentioned in passing, yes.” No one was quite saying it to his face, yet, any more than they’d mentioned it to Tsuna himself, which just went to show that the Vongola didn’t have any stupid underbosses.

“Sorry, Boss,” Fedele murmured, closing the doors after them. “I didn’t realize…”

Federico waved it off and pointed to a chair. “Sit.”

Tsuna sat, looking thoroughly unnerved. “I mean, when we were at war, yes, I suppose it made some sense. When it was the only way. But I’m not in the line of real descent! I would never take that away from Ricco!”

“I know you wouldn’t,” Federico said, quietly. “But, Tsuna, the fact is you are in a legitimate line. And the whole Family has just watched you prove your strength.” And his leadership, more to the point.

Tsuna downright glared at him, rather the way he often did at Reborn. “Stop helping! You can’t possibly want to see that happen.”

Federico sighed. “No, I don’t. But I have to deal with the facts as they are, and this idea has gained a great deal of momentum. I have to consider the good of our whole Family; an internal fight will serve no one.”

Tsuna’s mouth tightened and he lowered his head. “If it is your judgment that taking the Ring after you is the best service I can give to the Vongola, I will, of course, do as you wish,” he said, low.

Federico winced. The conscience of the Vongola had a way with pointed words. “I’m trying to calm things down. Just give it a little time.”

“I’ll try.” Tsuna sounded dubious, and Federico couldn’t really blame him.

Tsuna did his best to give things time for a month. And then another. He did his best not to fry the liver of any Family member who mentioned the possibility of being the Eleventh to him, and stopped being able to complain about it, either, because Gokudera looked like he secretly agreed with them even while he was sympathizing and Yamamoto laughed and Hibari asked what was stopping him. He held onto his patience with both hands, and his teeth on bad days, and tried not to give Federico too many reproachful looks.

The part that really got to him, though, was the way Ricco had started looking at him.

“He has to know I wouldn’t!” he insisted to Federico, almost pleading. “He knows that, doesn’t he?”

“I’m sure he does, Tsuna, he’s known you for years.” That would have been more soothing if Federico hadn’t had a little frown line between his brows. “I think it’s just that he keeps hearing the edges of conversations about this.”

Tsuna slumped back in his chair a little, contemplating fried livers again. “Boss,” he said quietly, “I don’t think this is going to go away.”

“Not easily, no,” Federico agreed, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “Not unless we make something of it. I’d hoped to avoid that.”

“I’ll be happy to make something of it,” Tsuna growled, and Federico’s mouth tilted.

“I know it’s an insult to your loyalty,” he said softly. “I’m sorry to have asked you to stand and swallow such a thing. I hope you know that I have no doubts of you at all.”

Tsuna’s temper ebbed away on that assurance, and he ducked his head. “I know.”

The moment of ease was broken by a quick rap on the door. “Dad? Are you… oh.” Ricco hesitated, and Tsuna’s heart twinged. “Well… actually, maybe it’s good if I can talk to both of you?”

“Come in, son.” Federico smiled and held out a hand. “What’s on your mind?”

“Well…” Ricco perched on one of the chairs, shifting nervously. “It’s about this thing I keep hearing, about, um, Tsuna being the Eleventh instead of me.”

Tsuna took a breath and braced himself. “Ricco,” he said as calmly as he could, “please believe me, I have no intention of doing any such thing.”

“Well, about that.” Ricco shifted again. “Um. I think it might work out?”

Tsuna stared at him, caught completely by surprise, distantly aware that Federico was staring too.

“Ricco,” Federico managed, finally, “why would you say that?”

“Well, Dad,” Ricco huffed a little, “if I’m the next Boss then I have to get married, right? And have heirs too, right?” His face wrinkled up like he’d smelled something bad. “And that means going to bed with a girl. And the… the squishy bits.” He didn’t add yuck! but he might as well have.

Tsuna opened his mouth and closed it again, exchanging completely bemused looks.

“I think you might feel differently when you’re older,” Federico started, and for a moment that made sense to Tsuna, but… thinking back he was very sure he’d grown out of the girls-are-icky stage much younger than Ricco’s current sixteen, and so had everyone he’d known.

Ricco had stopped fidgeting and was giving Federico a look of complete exasperation. “Dad. I don’t mean it like that at all.”

As Federico blinked, Tsuna ran Ricco’s phrasing past his mental ear again and started to have a glimmer of suspicion. “Ricco?” he asked, and when Ricco turned that grownups-are-idiots expression on him, murmured, “Am I right in thinking it’s the having sex with girls that’s the problem, and not having sex with girls?”

Ricco brightened up. “Yeah!” And then he glanced at his father and started fidgeting again.

Federico made a couple of tries before he settled on, “I’m sure there are ways to deal with that…”

Ricco crossed his arms and looked mulish. “I haven’t heard of any way to have a kid with another guy, have you? And I don’t have any cousins last I looked. Except Tsuna.” He hunched down a little more and added, “And have you heard what they want me to do?! They want me to marry Mari!”

Tsuna sat bolt upright. “Exactly who has suggested marrying off my daughter?” he asked, very evenly. His two-year-old daughter!

Ricco blinked and edged back in his chair. “That was, um, Filippo Diatto.”

“I see.”

Federico looked like he was getting a headache. “Tsuna, please don’t kill anyone without letting me know first,” he murmured, and sat back, running a hand through his hair. “Ricco. I suppose I can understand why you might be hesitant. But giving this up… do you really understand what this means?”

Ricco looked up at him, serious. “It means that Tsuna will be Boss after you, and take care of the Family. It means I’ll be an underboss, I guess.”

“And under Tsuna’s orders,” Federico added, gently. “Even if you disagree with him. Can you give him your whole loyalty that way?”

Ricco looked over at Tsuna and said, directly to him, “Yes.” He broke into a sudden smile, the same one that melted resistance when Federico showed it. “I trust you. You’ll take good care of everyone.”

“Ricco,” Tsuna said, softly. He reached out and laid a hand on Ricco’s shoulder. “I’m honored by your trust.”

Ricco blushed and ducked his head. When he looked up at his father again, his eyes were wide and entreating. “Dad. Please. I think this would be best for everyone. I mean… if I’d had a sister you wouldn’t have forced her to marry someone she didn’t like, would you?”

Federico shook his head, looking stunned. “No. No, of course not.” He pushed away from his desk and held out his arms. “Ricco, come here.”

Tsuna smiled softly and looked away, giving Ricco’s teenage dignity a little privacy as the two of them hugged each other tight.

“I never intended to do any such thing,” Federico said, a little husky, and Ricco nodded vigorously against his shoulder. He took a deep breath and looked across at Tsuna. “So. Considering this… are you willing to take the Family after me, Tsuna?”

Tsuna took a moment to reorder the thoughts that Ricco had turned upside down and settled his shoulders, meeting Federico’s eyes. “I am.”

Federico smiled that sweet, bright smile for him. “I have no doubts of you,” he said, quietly.

Tsuna bowed his head, giving again, silently, the promise he’d given once before. Anything for his Family.

Ricco straightened up and scrubbed a hand, as if casually, over his eyes. “Okay! I can tell Lambo it’s all okay, then!”

After a moment of silence, it was Tsuna who said, “Lambo?”

Ricco froze. “Oh. Um.”

“Lambo?” Federico echoed.

“Um. Yeah.” Ricco smiled at them both hopefully, edging backward toward the door all the time. “So, that’s all cleared up, right? Great!” He was out the door before either Tsuna or Federico could frame the question hovering over both their heads.

“On the bright side,” Tsuna finally said, a little weakly, “after this, managing the Family should be simple.”


Gokudera leaned back in his chair and gave Tsuna a wry smile across the desk. “Well, at least this time we have a little more notice to prepare.”

“I’m not sure that’s actually an advantage,” Tsuna told him. Staring down the gauntlet of inheritance without a mafia war to distract him was doing bad things to his nerves.

“Well I appreciate it,” Gokudera said dryly, and Tsuna shook himself and smiled at his right hand.

“I know. Most of the re-organization is falling on you. I’m sorry I can’t—”

Gokudera waved a hand to cut him off with a small smile. “Boss. It’s my job, and it’s one I’m glad to do for you. You take care of boss-stuff and leave the rest to me.”

Tsuna reflected, once again, that he didn’t know what he’d done to deserve the friends, and soon the Guardians, fate had given him, but it must have been something pretty stupendous.

“Speaking of which,” Gokudera added, “have you found anyone who might take over—”

A tap at the door interrupted them, and Ricco stuck his head inside. “Tsuna, do you have a moment?”

“We were just,” Tsuna started, but Gokudera shook his head, suddenly smiling cheerfully.

“No, it’s nothing that can’t wait. Go ahead.” He stood and gathered his paperwork and was out the door before Tsuna could do more than blink.

“Well, I guess I have a moment.” He waved Ricco to a seat. “Something on your mind?”

“Only the same thing that’s on the mind of absolutely everyone in the entire Family,” Ricco snorted, and Tsuna had to stifle a laugh.

“So what about your dad’s retirement?” he asked, obligingly.

“Well.” Ricco ran a hand through his hair and took a breath. “I was thinking that I should take the Varia.”

There were still times, even after all these years, when the mafia world shocked Tsuna, and this was one of them. “Why?” he finally managed to ask.

Ricco just looked back at him, eyes dark and serious. “We both know Xanxus is going with Dad, when he retires. There’s no way it could be different. And the knowledge that the leader of the Varia wields the Sky Flame has been one of our hole cards for a long time, hasn’t it? There’s only one person with the Sky who can take the Varia now.” His mouth quirked. “Mari is way too young.”

Tsuna, who had had his mouth open to mention how young Ricco still was, closed it. He was starting to have a suspicion of why Gokudera had left so fast; Ricco had a solid grasp on strategy, at least, if he’d spoken to Tsuna’s right hand ahead of time.

“Tsuna.” Ricco leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “I know you don’t like assassination or most of the rest of the Varia’s business. But there will still be times we need it. And when those times come, the Varia had better still be the best. I can do that for the Family.” Softly he added, “And for you.”

Tsuna spread his hands flat against the desk, examining them, looking at the wink of the ring he was using now and remembering the oath he’d given to win the approval of the Vongola Ring. “I know,” he finally said, quietly. “I know you’re right. And I know you can.” He looked up with a wry smile. “I should have done what I was thinking about and asked you to take CEDEF, a few years ago, when my father retired.”

Ricco grinned at him. “I’d still have suggested this instead. I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”

“You’re your father’s son,” Tsuna murmured, and smiled a little at Ricco’s faint blush. “All right. I want to discuss this with a few other people, but… If you’re willing, I’ll be glad to have you.”

Ricco nodded solemnly. “Thank you.” The grin flashed again and he added, as he rose, “Boss.”

Tsuna watched him leave and thought about the future fast approaching. It wasn’t one he’d expected, when Reborn showed up on his doorstep or when he’d agreed to follow Federico. He’d never wanted to be the Vongola Eleventh. But this was the future, and the Family, that had come to him, and he’d found that he loved that Family too much to refuse.

“Anything,” he murmured again to the waiting shades of those who’d gone before.

They followed along at his shoulder as he went to find Gokudera.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Dec 14, 09
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Archimedes’ Lever – One

What if Squalo had been taken in by the Vongola earlier, and met Xanxus much sooner? What change would that have made in both of them? Drama, I-3

In the end it all came down to Xanxus, Rafaele decided later. He didn’t normally pay much attention to the mafia children until they were old enough to seek a real position. As both Gianni and Maria were wont to say, each in his or her own way, they had their fellow Guardians to satisfy any such urges. But having Xanxus running around the main house like a kid-shaped bomb, ready to go off at any second, would make anyone a little more alert. So when Tyr mentioned, after the sparring session when they were both wrapping their various cuts and bruises, that there was a promising new swordsman coming along among the children, Rafaele listened.

“Ten years old?” He paused with a palm full of salve and looked over at Tyr. “I’m not saying you’re wrong, but how can you judge his promise so young? Or, perhaps I should say, his endurance?”

Tyr ran a cleaning rag down his sword in steady, even strokes. “You can tell with this one.”

Tyr never used two words when one would do, or would do for the sufficiently alert mind willing to puzzle at it. You can tell, he’d said.

Which was how Rafaele came to be walking across the lawn of one of the mafia-run schools, tracking down a boy called Superbi Squalo. The teachers had known who he wanted as soon as he said the word “sword”, and he thought that should probably tell him something. When he stepped through the last grove of bay laurel and out onto a grassy ring to see a thin boy lunging ferociously against practice dummies, he had the first inkling what that something was.

The boy spun toward him, sword in a low guard that looked so perfectly natural and unthinking in a ten year old’s hand it send a faint shiver down Rafaele’s spine.

“Who are you?” The question was a little wary and a little predatory, too.

Well, fair enough, he was a stranger and this was a school full of mafia children. “Rafaele Martelli of the Vongola.”

The wariness relaxed a bit, edging toward the kind of dismissiveness Rafaele more expected from a kid. “Something you wanted?”

“I heard you were good with a sword,” Rafaele answered easily. “I came to see.”

Squalo frowned, easing back on his heels. “You’re not with the Varia. I know Tyr already. Who are you?”

Rafaele silently aimed a mild curse or two at Tyr for not mentioning the part about already having scouted the kid for his own division of the Family, and then wondered why he hadn’t. “I’m the Ninth’s Rain Guardian,” he supplied, wondering how that would be taken.

Squalo’s eyes lit and gleamed. “The one who’s supposed to be a swordsman.” He was forward on his toes again. “Show me.”

Rafaele blinked. “That’s a bit presumptuous of you, don’t you think?” he murmured.

“I don’t care.” Squalo’s stare was fit to burn a hole through him and focused like… focused like the edge of a sword, Rafaele finished the thought slowly.

“Well, perhaps we can show each other, then,” he allowed, and considered how those words echoed in his own mind as he shrugged out of his jacket and chose a practice blade from the rack.

Squalo’s style was far more aggressive than his own, but it wasn’t thoughtless. In fact, Rafaele could see the boy learning—sharpening, he couldn’t help but think—as they fought. And when he eventually brought Squalo to a halt with the blunted point at his throat, Squalo’s eyes were steady on him, unflinching. Rafaele drew back slowly, almost ready for Squalo to drive in on him again, not acknowledging his defeat.

Maybe he’d lived with Xanxus for too long already.

Instead, Squalo straightened up and nodded sharply. “I’ll get better than that.”

Rafaele gave him a thoughtful frown. “Why?” he finally asked. Tyr was right; Squalo’s dedication was unmistakable and he had some notion of progress and pace already. But what was driving him?

Squalo was looking at him like he’d suddenly started speaking Russian instead of Italian. “To get better.”

Rafaele’s mouth quirked. “I gathered that, yes. But what do you want to get better for? What’s the ultimate purpose of your swordwork?”

Squalo was still giving him the strange-foreign-language look, and Rafaele was getting a bad feeling about this. Perhaps he just wasn’t using the right words, though; Squalo was from an established mafia family after all. He thought for a second and finally tried it the way he thought Gianni might phrase it.

“What does your sword serve?”

Ah, that seemed to click. Squalo settled and nodded a little and looked up at Rafaele more calmly. “Perfection,” he answered.

Rafaele took a slow breath. This. This was what he had felt, hovering in the back of his head ever since he first saw the boy. This was why Tyr had wanted him to come. “Perfection itself must serve some larger end, or it’s sterile,” he said quietly. And Tyr believed that, but he was a little too given to the love of perfection, himself, to make someone like Squalo believe it. It was on Rafaele to make sure their new young sword didn’t set himself up to snap.

Their new young sword, who was just about scoffing at him; well, if he’d wanted an easy life he shouldn’t have said yes when Timoteo came asking for Guardians. “Perfection is weakened by thinking like that,” Squalo declared. “You can’t look away from it at other things.”

“And yet I won today,” Rafaele pointed out. “And my sword serves the Vongola Family, not itself.”

Squalo glowered at him and muttered. “Just ’cause you’re older.”

Rafaele smiled wryly. “That is an advantage. But having something to serve gives you strength that you’ll never find in the sword alone.”

Squalo crossed his arms and eyed Rafaele skeptically for a long moment. “Prove it.”

Rafaele thought about that for a moment. “All right, then.” He held out a hand. “Come with me. We’ll visit some other people who serve the same thing I do and perhaps you’ll see.”

If they hurried, he could probably catch Maria’s afternoon training session.

They were in good time to find Maria grinding her training partner into the mats with her customary efficiency. Even Squalo looked a little impressed by the sound Alberto made landing. Maria shook her hand out briskly and looked over at Rafaele with a raised brow.

“You’re early.”

“I was hoping I could catch you for a bout today.”

She smiled at that, slowly. Alberto managed about half a laugh as he levered himself to his feet. “Sounds like that’s my cue.” He waved at them as he staggered out.

“For a little more than just practice today, I think,” Rafaele added.

Maria’s brows went up at that and she glanced at Squalo as Rafaele directed him over by the wall. “Who’s this?”

“Superbi Squalo. We’re having a philosophical debate.” Rafaele smiled a bit at the exasperated look Maria gave him, just about a match for Squalo’s.

“Fine, whatever.” She smiled again when Rafaele chose an unblunted blade and beckoned him onto the floor.

Fighting with a sword against bare hands required a different technique than against another sword, and fighting against Maria required total concentration. Rafaele couldn’t spare anything to watch Squalo watching them as they pressed each other harder and harder, only hope that he would see everything. Rafaele held out as long as he could, drove himself the way he would for a fight the Family required and pulled Maria along with him, hoping it would be enough for Squalo to see.

Eventually even his speed and footwork wasn’t enough, and Maria twisted past his blade and slammed him into the mats, one arm against his throat, teeth bared in a grin. Rafaele let his breath out and nodded.

And then he just lay there, panting for breath as Maria hauled herself upright. Finally he turned his head to look over at Squalo who did, indeed, look impressed. “Maria,” Rafaele told him, a bit hoarsely, “is one of the Vongola’s strongest fighters.” He looked up at her and asked, levelly, “Maria, what does your strength serve?”

She snorted and toed him in the ribs, probably for making her into a teaching demonstration. “Stupid question. The Vongola, of course.”

He gave her a wry shrug, asking silently who else he should have used. She glared, but held down a hand to help him up, tacitly forgiving him. “One person alone, even the strongest, will fail in the end,” Rafaele said to Squalo, pressing a hand against his ribs. “The Vongola have always known this. If we fight as part of the Family, though, for the Family, there is always both need and strength beyond just ourselves.”

Squalo was frowning again. “But all that will distract you from being the best fighter you can be,” he protested.

Maria’s snort was more emphatic this time. “Do I look distracted to you, kid?”

Squalo hesitated. “Well. No, I guess not.”

“Rafaele reads too much.” She waved at him dismissively. “He makes it more complicated than it has to be. If you don’t fight for something, if it’s just for the sake of fighting, you’re nothing but a mad dog.”

Squalo opened his mouth, eyes hot, and then closed it again slowly, frowning at Maria, and then at Rafaele. “Tyr… is better than you are,” he finally said to Rafaele.

Rafaele suppressed a smile at the edge of uncertainty in Squalo’s voice. “He is. And, yes, part of it is probably because he cares so much for the sword itself.” He came to crouch in front of Squalo and laid a hand on his shoulder. “But once you have that sword, what are you going to do with it? Just keep looking for people to fight and kill?” Because then, he was starting to fear, you became Xanxus and he really didn’t think they needed any more like that. He felt Squalo’s shoulder settle under his hand, and those sharp eyes were focused again when Squalo looked up.

“No. Not like that.”

This time Rafaele let the smile show. “Good. I’ll be glad to fight beside you, then.”

Maria put a knee in his shoulder and shoved him over. “Yes, yes, good fellowship toward all men, and the rest of that. You’re in front of the medicine cabinet, move.”

Rafaele righted himself with a low laugh as Maria pulled out the antiseptic and started spraying it over her cuts from their fight. “Maria is our Cloud Guardian,” he told Squalo, by way of explanation. He watched it sink in, that the Cloud thought fighting for the Family was the right thing, and nodded to himself, pleased.

“Come and meet some of the others,” Rafaele offered. “It’s good to learn to fight against many kinds of opponents.”

“Okay.” This time Squalo didn’t bristle at the hand Rafaele rested on his shoulder to guide him through the halls.

It didn’t take long for everyone to get used to Squalo popping in and out of the main house, usually in search of Rafaele but he’d take anyone he could pin down for a training session. That included Piero, and Rafaele supposed he should have known that meant Squalo and Xanxus would meet sooner rather than later. He still had a moment of unease the day he emerged onto the outdoor shooting range and found Squalo quietly watching Xanxus shoot.

Squalo was never quiet without a good reason.

Xanxus, on the other hand, was always quiet when he was shooting, and the way he looked at the targets never failed to put a chill in Rafaele’s veins. Piero praised Xanxus’ focus and dedication, but to Rafaele the boy looked more than a little crazy like this—like he had someone particular in mind to aim at and was enjoying it a lot.

And Squalo was leaning against the rail of the gallery, eyes fixed on Xanxus.

When Xanxus emptied his clip and stepped back and saw them, his face shuttered instantly, eyes flicking between Rafaele and Squalo a few times before settling on the other boy. “What are you staring at?” he demanded.

The rudeness rolled right off Squalo, who was downright grinning. “You. That. That was cool. Hey, do you fight close-range, too?”

Xanxus snorted, hands moving over the gun, reloading without looking. “Of course.”

Rafaele raised a brow at Piero, who shrugged and mouthed, “Street fighting.” Rafaele remembered where they had found the boy and sighed. Squalo was far more enthused.

“Great!” He practically bounced down the steps and held out a hand to Xanxus. “Fight with me!”

Not for the first time, Rafaele reflected that mafia children grew up in a very different world than other children. Piero was nodding approval, though. “Yeah, you two should be decently matched, and you should get more practice against edged weapons. Go ahead.”

Xanxus grunted and jerked his head at Squalo.

Rafaele trailed the three of them inside, hoping that his bad feeling about this was an overreaction.

Xanxus fought without any kind of restraint that Rafaele could see, but that didn’t seem to faze Squalo. Of course, in justice, Rafaele had to admit, neither did getting hammered through the mat by Maria, who didn’t believe in mercy to her training partners no matter how young. Squalo met Xanxus’ vicious blows and kicks with fluid twists that were starting to be his personal style, and matched Xanxus’ bared teeth with a grin of his own. When he landed on the mat for the last time, arm twisted hard behind him, he actually laughed breathlessly as he tapped out.

“That was great,” he declared, working his shoulder a little as Xanxus let him up. He stuck out his other hand, shaking fine hair back from his face, and grinned up at Xanxus. “I’m Squalo. Good to meet you.”

Xanxus nodded a little, looking satisfied at having won, though he ignored the extended hand loftily. “Yeah.”

Squalo’ eyes were just about glowing. “So. You want to train some more some time?”

Xanxus gave him a proud look, the kind that always made Rafaele feel a headache coming on. “Think you’re good enough to train with the Ninth’s son?”

Squalo tipped his head to the side. “Oh, you’re his fourth son? I thought you were older.” He shrugged it off. “Well, whatever.”

Xanxus turned very still, staring at him. “You… didn’t know who I was?”

“Sure I did.” Squalo grinned as he stood. “You’re good, that’s what.”

Rafaele could think of reasons, though none he liked, why that would make Xanxus look annoyed, but none why it would make him look, just for a moment, lost. He frowned and tucked the moment away to think about later.

“So, what about it?” Squalo prodded.

“I… sure, I guess so,” Xanxus muttered.

Squalo was pleased and Piero looked approving, so Rafaele resigned himself. Hell, maybe having someone close to his own age would help civilize Xanxus a little, he thought, wistfully. “Come on then,” he told his protege. “You can have another round with Xanxus later. Tyr wanted to see you today.”

As he shepherded Squalo out, he glanced back to see Xanxus watching them leave with a tiny frown of what looked like genuine puzzlement.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Dec 22, 09
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Archimedes’ Lever – Two

Squalo bonds with Xanxus, and none too soon as Xanxus finds out some things the Ninth had kept from him. Drama with Angst and Sort-of Romance, I-4

Squalo strolled around the edges of the wedding crowd beside Xanxus, keeping an eye out for any unattended cake they could nail down. He didn’t have all that much of a sweet tooth personally, but it was a way of keeping score among the kids. After all, twelve year olds couldn’t rack up kills yet, or negotiations concluded in their Family’s favor. “Vieri are here,” he observed. “Furetto, too. Guess that means Bertoldi’s dad made him stop sulking and come along.” He snorted a little; as if Bertoldi had ever had a chance with Dianora Leone.

Xanxus just grunted, and Squalo grinned crookedly. Sounded like Xanxus was in a bad mood. Again. He just kept chatting. Xanxus brooded a lot; Squalo hadn’t been sure what the word really meant until he’d met Xanxus, but Xanxus was practically the definition of it. He came out of it eventually, if you just stayed close.

Well, and didn’t lecture, which was where the grown ups always seemed to go wrong.

“Orsini, too,” he observed idly, watching Giotto and Ignacio maneuvering for the punch bowl—good luck on that.

His head snapped up at the sound Xanxus made this time, low and ugly. “Xanxus?” His friend’s face was dark and hard, lips curled up a little over his teeth, and a tingle slid down Squalo’s nerves at that signal of a threat or fight on the horizon. Xanxus wasn’t looking at the Orsini boys, though. His eyes were fixed straight ahead where Pino Tomasso and a few of his friends had come to stand.

Oh, great.

“Wedding isn’t the place to start a fight,” Squalo sing-songed under his breath, not that he thought that would do a bit of good if Xanxus lost his temper. The only answer he got was a snarl. Squalo sighed and stuffed his hands in his pockets and followed along, because Xanxus wasn’t turning aside a single centimeter. He never did, and Squalo liked that, no matter how many lectures from the grown ups it meant.

“Hey, Xanxus,” Pino called, crossing his arms. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

The only answer he got was a stony stare. He plowed on anyway.

“Doesn’t seem like the kind of place you’d be comfortable.” He grinned at his friends, who grinned back and nudged each other. “I mean, a wedding. Must be kind of new to you, huh?” His smile turned vicious and his voice lowered as he finished. “Since your mom never had one, did she?”

Brightness flashed around Xanxus’ clenched hand, and something very dark twisted his face. Squalo felt like that twist was in his gut, too. A few heads turned out among the crowd of grown ups, but damned if Squalo was waiting for them.

A man took care of his own business.

And wiping the smirk off Pino Tomasso’s face with a fist to his stomach and an elbow across his jaw was damn satisfying business. Pino spat blood and straightened up with the help of a hand under his arm, glaring at Squalo as a few more boys materialized out of the crowd at his back. Squalo could see Xanxus staring at him, from the corner of his eye, but he kept his gaze on Pino, daring him to say more. “You’ll regret standing by a bastard like Xanxus,” Pino told him, low and vicious, and then there weren’t any more words, just fists. Squalo could hear Xanxus snarling, behind him, and the memory of how his face had looked at Pino’s words drove Squalo’s feet faster and his fists harder. By the time Rafaele and two of the Tomasso’s men arrived to pull them apart there was only one of Pino’s friends still standing.

“Honestly… can’t even stay out of trouble at a wedding…” Rafaele muttered as he swiped at their faces with a wet handkerchief.

“They asked for it,” Xanxus growled, twisting aside.

“Even if they did, this wasn’t the place for it,” Rafaele told him severely. Squalo didn’t think that was entirely fair.

“You’d have done it too, if they’d said that about your mother,” he pointed out.

Rafaele paused and sighed. “I see.”

“Besides, I was the one who punched Pino first.” Squalo grabbed the cloth away from Rafaele to clean his own face with, frowning. “And you were right.”

Rafaele blinked. “Excuse me?”

“It is different, when you’re fighting for… for a reason.” Squalo didn’t look up. “For Family.” He glanced at Xanxus, who had stopped still and was looking at him very oddly. Squalo shrugged and finished wiping the blood off his chin and offered Xanxus the handkerchief.

After a moment, he took it, not quite meeting Squalo’s eyes. “Yeah. Whatever.”

Squalo snorted a little, and winced at the way it made his ribs hurt. He was still amused. Xanxus was really bad at the people stuff.

Rafaele was shaking his head. “The two of you,” he sighed.

Squalo considered that for a moment and smiled. “Yeah,” he agreed, flashing a grin at Xanxus.

Xanxus finally met his eyes and took a slow step closer.

Squalo leaned back on his un-sprained hand and gave his mentor a satisfied look. “The two of us. That was what you wanted me to do, wasn’t it?”

Rafaele put a hand over his eyes and laughed helplessly.

Training with Gianni was kind of like training blindfolded, only worse, because you saw things all right, but you couldn’t trust any of them. Squalo absolutely hated it, and badgered Rafaele to convince Gianni to come more often, because anything he hated that much was obviously a weakness. Today there were real obstacles among the illusions, which was a particularly nasty touch that Squalo appreciated. Or, at least, he would appreciate it as soon as his head stopped ringing.

“Urgh,” he said, and rolled over on his back to see what it was he actually tripped over. A footlocker sat where none had a minute ago, and the opponent he’d been chasing after had disappeared.

No wonder the Ninth’s right had was supposed to be so good at negotiations.

By the time Gianni called a halt for the day Squalo was covered in bruises and Gianni didn’t have a mark on him, the bastard. Squalo grinned at him. “I’ll be better when I come back.”

Gianni smiled just a little, but whatever he’d been about to say slid out of Squalo’s mind as one of the shadows along the wall stirred.

“Xanxus!” Squalo trotted over before his friend could slip away or do any of the other stupid things he’d been doing this whole week. “Here to train or just to watch?” he asked. Xanxus’ answer was a particularly inarticulate grunt and Squalo’s smile quirked. “Well, anyway, come on.” He took the precaution of towing Xanxus along with him as he racked his sword and nodded to Gianni, and didn’t let go until they were out in the hall. They walked together silently, and Squalo waited.

“You’re really going?” Xanxus finally asked, head down, hands shoved in his pockets.

“Yeah,” Squalo said quietly. “Tyr thinks it’s the right time. That I need to see and fight more styles than I’ll find here. Feels like he’s right.” He glanced up at Xanxus’ dark expression. “It’ll probably only be a year or so.”


Squalo rolled his eyes silently and tried another approach. “Well, how am I supposed to be able to keep up with you, if I don’t keep advancing?”

That nudged Xanxus into an equally familiar but different response, one brow lifting as he eyed Squalo. “Think a lot of yourself, don’t you?”

Squalo laughed. “Wherever you go, I’m following.” He grinned as Xanxus’ stride hitched; Xanxus never expected things like that, it was almost too easy. “I have to be the best to keep up, right?” He looked up to find Xanxus staring at him and shook his head, jostling Xanxus’ shoulder companionably with his own. “Come on, you know that by now, don’t you?”

Xanxus looked away and walked on. After a few more strides he said, quietly, “You want to train a few rounds before you go?”

Squalo smiled. “Sure.”

Squalo expected to be welcomed home after a year away, but Rafaele had greeted Squalo with such a fervent “Thank God you’re back,” that Squalo was instantly suspicious.

“What’s going on?”

“It’s Xanxus.”

Squalo narrowed his eyes and sat down at Rafaele’s kitchen table with folded arms. “Okay, what did you guys do wrong this time?”

Rafaele gave him a stern look for a moment before sighing. “All right, perhaps there’s some justice in that.” He poured two cups of coffee and sat down across from Squalo. “There’s been some factional trouble brewing, a few of the under-bosses starting to say that Xanxus should be heir, not Federico. What we’re afraid of is that they aren’t moving on their own.”

“Outsiders stirring up trouble?” Squalo had seen that often enough in school.

“Maybe. The Cetrulli, Gianni thinks.” Rafaele took a sip of his coffee and leaned back. “The problem is that Xanxus has heard and seems to be taking to the idea.”

Squalo shrugged. “Well, why wouldn’t he?”

Rafaele coughed on a swallow of coffee and frowned at him. Squalo leaned back and frowned right back at him.

“Look. I follow Xanxus, okay? That doesn’t mean just calming him down so he’ll go along with whatever you and the Ninth think is good. If he wants to compete with Federico to be the Tenth, it’s him I’ll be helping.”

Rafaele set his cup down carefully. “If you follow him, and intend to aid him, doesn’t that include protecting him from the manipulation of outsiders? It won’t serve him if the fight just breaks the Family apart for the Cetrulli to pick off. This is why the Family must come first, Squalo.”

Squalo thought about that. “Yeah, okay. I guess you’re right.” Of course, if Xanxus still thought it was a good idea, some other month when it wouldn’t just stir up trouble some other Family could take advantage of, well that would be another time.

Rafaele breathed out. “Good. Help me keep this from getting out of hand, then.” His mouth quirked wryly. “You’re probably the only one he’ll listen to right now.”

Squalo snorted and pushed himself onto his feet. “That’s because none of you understand him.”

At the time, even he didn’t know how right he was, but they all found out six weeks and four days later. Squalo remembered that day very clearly for a very long time.

It started with an explosion.

Squalo ran for the Ninth’s office, and at first everyone around was running in the same direction. The closer he got, though, the more foot soldiers were retreating just as quickly, and Squalo had to shove his way past to break out in the clear area around the office door. Which was when he could hear who was shouting.

Xanxus’ voice pulled him in the door like it was a rope tied around him.

The room was a wreck. The bullet-proof glass of the window was shattered and blown out. Chairs and a table were overturned. As Squalo came in he had to duck the vase Xanxus had just hurled at the wall, and was pelted with shards as it burst.

“All this time!” Xanxus shouted, pointing at the Ninth, and Squalo could see why Gianni was standing in front of his boss looking tense; Xanxus’ Flame was flickering in and out around his hands. “What the fuck, were you just laughing at the idiot who fell for it?!”

The Ninth pulled Gianni gently back, brows twisted. “Xanxus, no…”

Xanxus laughed, harsh and raw. “Telling me I was your son so your goddamned Family could use me! And all this time it’s a lie, and I’m nothing!” Squalo’s eyes widened, hearing that.

“No! I didn’t ever mean to use you, and I never wanted it to be a lie…!”

Shut up!” Xanxus screamed. This time it was a chair he picked up and hurled against the wall with wild strength, cracking the back and two legs off. The rage and outrage and raw fear in his voice made Squalo flinch.

“Xanxus,” he called, trying to break through.

“Nothing,” Xanxus grated, glaring at the old men like he didn’t see them, like he hadn’t heard Squalo at all. Squalo took a breath.


Both the Ninth and Xanxus looked around at that, but Squalo only had eyes for Xanxus. “Boss,” he said, more quietly. “What does it matter?”

“…what?” Xanxus really looked like he didn’t understand the words, and Squalo told the crinkle down his spine to go away and stepped closer.

“What difference does it make?” he asked as he came to stand in front of Xanxus, holding those blank eyes with his. “You’re still you. You’re Xanxus. That hasn’t changed. That’s all that matters.”

Slowly Xanxus’ eyes focused on him properly. Very quietly, hoarse from screaming, he asked, “Are you telling me the truth?”

Squalo stomped down a wince at that. Man, when the Ninth fucked up, he did it in style, didn’t he? “I am,” he answered, flat and sure, and reached up to grip Xanxus’ shoulder. He didn’t move as Xanxus’ own hand flashed up, though he did relax when it clamped down on his wrist, holding his hand in place.

Xanxus took a slow, shuddering breath and looked up at the Ninth. “Why?”

“Because I wanted it to be true,” the old man said, and even Squalo could hear the ache in his voice. “Because it was true in my heart. Not to use you, I swear it. If you’d chosen to leave the mafia and go be a citrus farmer, I’d have still thought of you as my son.”

Xanxus had that blank look again, but his voice was more normally puzzled and exasperated when he asked again, “Why?

The Ninth sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Finally he said, quietly, “Because underneath the angry, sullen child I first met, I could see the man you might become. And I wanted very much to know him.” He looked up, and Squalo glanced away, embarrassed by the raw emotion in his face. “I still want to know him.”

A shudder ran through Xanxus, under Squalo’s hand. “I’ll… I need to… I’ll just…” Xanxus spun around abruptly and stalked out the door. Without letting go of Squalo’s wrist.

Squalo waved his fingers at the Ninth and Gianni in what he hoped was an It’s okay, I’ll handle it, stay there sort of way, and let himself be towed along, down the halls as people ducked out of their way, and back to Xanxus’ rooms. Xanxus slammed the door behind them and stood for a moment, half turned away from Squalo.

“You called me ‘boss’,” he finally said.

Squalo shrugged. “You’re the one I follow. Doesn’t matter to me whether you’re his blood or not. You have the Flame. You have the strength.”

Xanxus looked around at him, eyes dark, still breathing fast from the fight and their retreat here. “But not the right.”

Squalo smiled, crookedly. “You have the right to me.”

He didn’t quite realize the double meaning of what he’d said until the agitation in the set of Xanxus’ shoulders, and tightness around his eyes, changed. “Do I?” He pushed Squalo back up against the closed door, grip on his wrist shifting, and asked again, lower. “Do I? Are you really mine?”

Squalo swallowed; there was hunger in the way Xanxus looked at him, and more than one kind of hunger. He thought he could answer the part that wanted a place and reminders of his worth, but the other… He’d only just started getting to grips with all this hormone stuff and still wasn’t entirely sure about the whole women thing, but… this was Xanxus. And that was different. Slowly he reached up with his free hand, winding his fingers in Xanxus’ jacket. “Yeah.”

Xanxus’ mouth covered his, hot and wet and a little awkward. Squalo didn’t care, because it felt good to have Xanxus’ body pressed against his; it felt right. When Xanxus’ thigh slid between his legs it felt better than good.

“So,” he said, breathless, “if being the Tenth is out, how about the Varia?”

Xanxus lifted his head. “With you, you mean?”

Squalo shrugged, looking up at him. “I’m yours, right?”

The tautness in Xanxus finally relaxed and he leaned against Squalo, letting out a slow breath.


“He’s still in there, huh?”

Squalo leaned in Xanxus’ doorway, arms crossed. “Yeah.”

Rafaele sighed. “I guess we have to come to him, then.”

“Not yet, you don’t.” Rafaele blinked and Squalo glared. “Not until he’s ready to talk to you.” And he closed the door firmly.

“Still not yet?”


“We can’t just wait on his brooding forever,” Gianni said over the maid’s shoulder.

Squalo took the tray of food from her and raised his brows at Gianni. “Why not?” He closed the door.

“Are they still out there?” Xanxus asked as Squalo sat on the edge of the bed.

“It is the main house,” Squalo pointed out. “I don’t think they’re going anywhere.”

Xanxus ran a hand through his hair. “Why?” He sounded at a real loss and Squalo cocked his head.

“Guess you won’t know until you ask them,” he said quietly.

“Okay, go get the Ninth, you can come in,” Squalo told Rafaele, and ignored the things Rafaele muttered under his breath. He just went back to stand at Xanxus’ shoulder.

Once the Ninth and Gianni and Rafaele had gotten themselves settled, there was a moment of uncomfortable silence. The Ninth finally broke it with a cautious, “I’m glad to see you’re doing all right, my boy.”

Xanxus twitched. “Quit calling me that. It’s not like I’m really your son.”

Squalo thought the Ninth almost flinched.

“You’ve been my son in my heart,” the old man insisted.

Xanxus’ hair was a complete mess from how often he’d been running his hands through it. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” he demanded. “You said you didn’t lie to me just so you could use me, but why else would you do something like that?”

The Ninth looked down at his hands. “When I first saw you I saw a child who’d been hurt and denied far too often. I didn’t want to deny you again, and you’d been told you were mine. If I was to take you in and raise you as my own, what harm in letting you, and the rest of the world, believe you were mine by blood, too? At least,” he finished, quieter, “that was what I thought then. I…” he sighed. “I’m sorry.”

Xanxus just stared at him, face blank. “I don’t get it.”

Rafaele stirred, glancing between the Ninth and Xanxus and… Squalo? “Look,” he said, “Squalo doesn’t care where or how you were born, does he? He follows you anyway.”

Squalo’s spine straightened at that and he gave his mentor a hard look. “Damn right.” He glanced down at Xanxus, and settled a bit as he saw the hard line of Xanxus’ shoulders relaxing a little.

“It’s like that,” Rafaele went on. “Timoteo doesn’t care about those things either. He wants you to take a son’s place in this house, regardless of whether you were born to it or not.”

Xanxus’ eyes on the old man were dark, now, and confused Squalo thought. “But why me?” he finally said, voice low and cracking a little, and Squalo couldn’t help reaching out to close a hand on his shoulder.

The Ninth smiled, gentle and maybe just a little wobbly. “I told you that already, didn’t I? I saw some of what you might become. And I think I’ll like that man, and I want to know him.”

A shudder ran through Xanxus, under Squalo’s hand, and he bit his lip. “But I… I’m just…” He bit down harder, stopping himself.

Squalo considered the tension he could feel and made shoo-ing motions at the old men with his free hand. After a judicious look at Xanxus, Rafaele nodded and stood. As the Ninth and Gianni followed, and turned toward the door, Xanxus said, low and rough, “Come back tomorrow…?”

Squalo felt like he might need to squint in face of the Ninth’s sudden smile. “Of course, my boy.”

Squalo listened for the door closing before he came around to kneel between Xanxus’ legs and pull him close. Xanxus’ arms locked tight around him, and now Squalo could feel his whole body shaking. “Hey,” he said, quietly, not adding any idiocy about was Xanxus okay, just letting him know Squalo was there. They stayed there for a long time.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Dec 23, 09
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Archimedes’ Lever – Three

Xanxus is finally finding his place in the Family when everything is upset again. Drama, Angst, I-4

When Xanxus finally came out of his rooms the way people looked at him made him twitch. He really wanted to scream at them that it was all over, now, didn’t they know he was a fake anyway? But they wouldn’t have any clue what he meant.

His fa— the old man had explained it, when Squalo had, eventually, let him in.

“Even if we put it around that you’re not mine by blood, half of them won’t believe it,” he’d said quietly. “And the other half… well. If your blood comes from the Second instead of me, it’s still Vongola, and there have been times in our history when legitimacy was… made not to matter.”

“And we have to deal with the situation as it is,” Staffieri had added. “Simply disowning your claim and suppressing this would be no service to the Family. Or to you.”

Part of him was glad they felt goddamn guilty about this, and part of him was uncomfortable about feeling glad, and most of him was pissed off about both parts.

When they got to the Varia, the looks changed, and Xanxus was glad of it. These looks were only assessing, only wondering Are you stronger than me? and he could deal with that a lot easier. He straightened his spine, and listened to Squalo pointing out this or that squad leader and listing out his strengths and weaknesses, and recalled that Squalo had been trained to lead this group.

Eventually Tyr met them, a lean graying man, one handed, who cast a dry glance over the tail of Varia members they’d picked up. “Squalo,” the man said, not sounding loud but clear enough for everyone to hear, “is it true you’re willing to step aside in Xanxus’ favor?”

A low murmur ran around the watching crowd as Squalo raised his chin. “Of course.”

Tyr ran a subtle eye over the watchers and nodded to himself. “All right, then.” He beckoned to Xanxus. “Come show me what you’re made of.”

Xanxus shrugged. He’d expected a trial of some kind.

“The Varia’s standards of training are harsher than most,” Tyr noted, apparently to thin air as he led Xanxus out into open air. “Nothing is forbidden. No blow, no weapon, no technique, as long as you don’t actually kill each other.”

Xanxus considered that. So he couldn’t shoot the man straight on with his Flame, and that was about it. Not bad. “All right.”

Tyr turned fluidly and lunged straight for him, blade suddenly out.

Xanxus bared his teeth as he spun aside. Now this he understood.

Tyr was good. Maybe even a shade better than Squalo, with a sword, and Squalo had come back from his year away able to beat Martelli two out of three. Xanxus didn’t have attention to spare from the fight, but still quick flashes of awareness of the watching Varia came to him: people standing silently, people hidden in the shadows of trees and buildings, the glint of sun on metal, the rising tide of whispers running under the crack and roar of his shots.

When he and Tyr stopped still, the edge of Tyr’s blade against his throat and the barrel of his gun pressed to Tyr’s chest, there was silence.

Tyr’s expression was just as cool and dry as it had been at the start. He nodded and flicked his sword away, stepping back. “You’ll do.”

A low laugh ran through the crowd and the watchers unraveled at once, talking quietly, smiling, hands cutting the air demonstratively. Xanxus caught a few bits of conversation.

“Another year at least…”

“…months, maybe.”

“…right now if it were for real, but…”

Tyr murmured, undervoiced, “The day you can defeat me clearly is the day they will accept you as the Varia’s leader.”

Well all right, that made sense. Xanxus nodded. “Okay.”

“At least,” Tyr added, even dryer than usual, “with the both of you here I can be fairly sure you’ll give your whole attention to it. Squalo has been rather distracted this year.”

Squalo gave the man a dirty look. “Some things come first.” He edged closer to Xanxus.

Xanxus let a breath out. He understood this place. He could deal with it. And Squalo was right here with him. He’d have a place of his own to stand in while he tried to figure out how the hell to deal with his… He hesitated and finished the thought slowly.

His family.

Xanxus pulled out a chair and slouched comfortably down into it. “So? What’s this about?” He noticed Staffieri’s faintly disapproving look and traded him a half-hearted sneer. Getting the old man’s Guardians to frown used to be kind of a fun game, but there wasn’t as much shine to it these days.

Not that that stopped him from sitting any way he damn well wanted to.

“Tyr said you asked for my squad,” he prompted, crossing his legs.

“I’m not sure it isn’t overkill, but I’d rather be safe this time,” the old man sighed. “More than one of our mainland holdings has been attacked this month.”

Xanxus’ brows rose. “I didn’t hear anything about a new war.”

“All of the attacks were specific hits on the under-bosses in charge there,” Staffieri said quietly, folding his hands. “They were all done by the same man. He alleges to be an independent, but we doubt that very much.”

Xanxus cocked his head. “So you want him taken out, or the people behind him?” He smiled thinly. “Or both?”

Staffieri glanced at the old man, and then across the table at Federico. “That is the subject of some debate.”

Xanxus eyed his bro… Federico with real surprise. “You think we should go for the source?”

Federico gave the old man a rueful smile. “I’m afraid so. Less,” he looked back at Xanxus sharply, “to make a clean sweep of it…”

Xanxus snorted. Yeah, he’d always been the only practical one as far as he could tell.

“…than because I don’t think we can avoid it and we might as well face them on our own terms.”

The old man leaned forward on his elbows and sighed. “Perhaps you’re right, and we can’t avoid it. But I would like to try for a little longer. We’re aware of the threat now, and by answering it this way,” he opened a hand at Xanxus, “we leave the door open for less explosive negotiations.”

Xanxus grunted. “Guess I can wait for later, then.” The old man looked a little pained and he rolled his eyes. “Tell me who I’m after, then. We’ll take care of it.” Staffieri slid a folder down the table to him and he flipped through it. Finally he flipped it closed with another snort. “Piece of cake.”

Federico laughed a little. “Good to see you enjoying your work.” He leaned over and ruffled Xanxus’ hair.

Xanxus swatted at his hand indignantly. “I’m not goddamn twelve anymore, knock that the fuck off!” He would have thought his damn brother got the hint when Xanxus bit him for doing that, when he was fourteen.

Federico leaned his chin on his fist, grinning. “What? I am glad, that’s all.”

“Well yeah, since it doesn’t involve you dying, I bet you are,” Xanxus muttered.

“That too,” Federico agreed.

Xanxus considered, glumly, what kind of boss Federico was likely to be to work for. Maybe, when he was in charge, he could move the Varia headquarters further away from the main house.

The old man was smiling a little.

Xanxus pushed himself up and waved at the lot of them with the folder. “We’ll take care of it. I’ll tell you when we’re done.” He stalked out while he still had some fucking dignity and went to find Squalo. Squalo was good at planning this kind of stuff.

And he made the world feel a little more real after Xanxus had had to deal with his damn family.

“It was the Cetrulli. We caught a few of them who were slow getting away from the ambush.”

Xanxus felt like his brain was buzzing. He could barely make sense of Maria’s words. Or maybe that was because of her voice, flat and toneless.

Federico’s body was laid out laid out under sheets in front of them. The useless doctors had already gone away.

“The Cetrulli,” someone said, and he realized distantly that it was him.

The Cetrulli Family had killed Federico.

They had killed his brother.

He turned his eyes from the body to his father; it felt like his neck muscles creaked, like he’d been frozen there, staring, for years.

“They’re going to die,” he said, as flat as Maria had been. “I’m going to kill them. Every single goddamned one of them.” The more he thought about that, the more he wanted to move, to go, right now. His voice rose. “I’m going to burn their House to the ground.” Nothing he was looking at made sense to him, except Federico’s still body.

And the slicing edge of rage in the old man’s eyes as they rose to meet his. That too.

“Yes. Take who you need and do it.”

Staffieri stirred, looking up. “Timoteo…”

“I will not forgive this,” the old man said, low and harsh. “He was right all along. We should have taken this war to the Cetrulli months ago. I’m done speaking to them.” His voice fell to a whisper. “Let his brother avenge him in the name of our Family.”

Xanxus couldn’t listen to anything else. He felt like he could barely hear anything else. The Ninth said he could go, that was all he needed. He spun away, and Squalo was at his side as he stalked through the halls, snapping orders, calling not just for his own squad of the Varia but all the others too.

His guns were around his hips. People were boiling out of the house behind him. Squalo was beside him, sword in one hand. So were the old man’s Sun and Storm, and Xanxus remembered that the body laid out beside Federico’s had been Rizzo’s son.

There was road and city and road, and then the climb through the low hills to the Cetrulli main house, and the silence of the Varia spread out around him, the faint rustle of other foot soldiers following after.

And then there was Flame.

There was rage like he hadn’t felt for years, blind, red fury at the whole world. No, not the whole world—just the Cetrulli. They had taken something, stolen it, they had tried to make his world the bleak, filthy scrabble it used to be, and he was going to destroy them for it. The Flame of Wrath rose up out of the core of him, pressed diamond hard and sharper than any steel, and he fed it to his guns and fired it out, away from him.

Walls cracked and burst and he barely noticed them falling around him. Men ran through the burning halls and he shot them down as they crossed his path. There was nothing but the Flame and his rage and the screams and movement of the world fading around him.

“Xanxus. Xanxus! Boss!”

He snapped back into focus, because those were Squalo’s hands on his arms, shaking him. “What?”

Squalo’s mouth twisted. “It’s over.”

Xanxus looked around at the smoking ruins of the Cetrulli house, the litter of rubble and bodies. “Oh.”

Squalo pushed him down on a reasonably flat pile of concrete, hands still firm on his shoulders. “You back with me, now?”

Xanxus had to think about it for a moment. “…yeah.”

Squalo just nodded and sat down beside him and fished out a rag to start cleaning his sword with.

As the shock of coming back lifted, Xanxus leaned forward, elbows on his knees. He hurt. There was no blood of his on him and he hurt anyway. That was not, he decided, fair. He’d destroyed the ones who tried to break his world, shouldn’t he not hurt any more?

Except that the part they’d broken was still gone.

The thought made him suck in a fast breath between his teeth and swallow down a raw sound in his throat. Squalo left his sword and rested a hand on his back without looking up. “Here,” he said quietly.

Yes. What was his was still here.

At least… part of it. Another part, part of his… his family, wasn’t, no matter how much he destroyed. All told, he’d have preferred spending all this effort before that happened; that seemed like a fairer exchange.

Xanxus scrubbed a hand over his face. “Maybe,” he said, very low, “you and Martelli weren’t crazy after all. What he always said about doing things for the Family.”

“Yeah,” Squalo said quietly. “I think he was right.”

Eventually Xanxus stood up again and looked around for his squads to take them back home.

Xanxus slouched in a chair and snorted under his breath as yet another ambassador from another Family danced around trying to tell the old man that he shouldn’t have smashed the whole Cetrulli Family for killing his son.

The Orsini’s man glanced at him nervously. “The destruction of the entire Family…” he started, and Xanxus lost his temper and slapped a hand down on the table. He took some satisfaction in the way the man jumped.

“They touched my Family,” he growled, and ignored the way Staffieri’s brows quirked at his emphasis. Too bad if he didn’t like it; the man wasn’t his right hand, after all. “They should have goddamn well expected it, and so should the rest of you spineless little—”

“Xanxus,” the old man cut in, firmly.

Xanxus snorted and leaned back, still glaring at the Orsini idiot.

“The Cetrulli took it upon themselves to assassinate my heir,” the old man told the ambassador levelly. “The Vongola were well within our rights to return such a mortal blow and insult.”

“Well, perhaps, but the whole House…” the Orsini man dithered.

“Then perhaps,” the old man said quietly, “their allies should take the lesson to heart.”

Xanxus’ lips curled up as the man excused himself, looking spooked.

“Well, this has been enlivening,” the old man’s Outside Advisor said, sounding genuinely cheerful as he and the whole lot of the Ninth’s Guardians stretched or relaxed in their chairs, ranged behind their boss.

Xanxus eyed them. “There aren’t any more idiots come to complain, then?”

“That was the last of them,” Martelli agreed.

“Mm.” He was almost disappointed. The more he could scare the envoys, the less those Families would ever consider touching his again.

Piero chuckled. “Don’t worry. You’ll get to intimidate more of them at the next social gathering, I’m sure.”

Xanxus paused in the act of slouching a little more. “The next what?” He scowled at his father. Hadn’t everyone figured out years ago that he didn’t mix with all those damn parties where he was supposed to smile and not shoot anyone?

“I wasn’t going to mention that quite yet,” the old man murmured, and Piero looked abashed.

“Um. Oops?”

“You are not making me go back to parties again,” Xanxus stated.

“I’m afraid it’s likely you’ll have to,” the old man said, and it didn’t help at all that he sounded apologetic. “If you’re going to be the new heir.”

Xanxus stared at him. “That’s not possible,” he finally managed. “I’m not really…”

The old man held up a hand. “I said, years ago, there have been times in our past when legitimacy was made to not matter. And, in fact, there is no actual evidence that you are not legitimate.”

Xanxus opened his mouth and closed it again, totally at a loss. “But… my…” His mother. The son of a whore was pretty damn illegitimate, wasn’t he?

The old man stood and came around to the chair beside him, lying a hand on the rigid line of his arm. “Your mother was married. The license was among her papers. I don’t know why or exactly when the man left; we don’t know for sure that he’s still alive. But they were married.”

“But she said…” Xanxus felt like something important was upside down somewhere.

“She said you were my child, too, and she and I never met.” The old man shrugged. "As for your earlier lineage… well, you do favor the Second. He had a handful of children outside his marriage, to be sure, but there was also a legitimate child who married out of the mafia, and her children are not well documented in our records.”

“And more importantly than that,” Martelli said, quietly, “you have taken this Family as your own and proven you will defend it.”

“You’re definitely the strongest of Timoteo’s sons,” Piero put in.

“And while you will be a bit of a change in leadership style,” Staffieri observed dryly, “you have demonstrated leadership among the Varia. With more flair, it must be said, than either Enrico or Massimo.”

Xanxus stared at them. “You agree with this?!”

“You’re not the barbarian brat you used to be,” Maria said bluntly. “You haven’t even shot any of these idiot envoys, over the past few months. We agree.”

Xanxus looked over at Sawada, who was looking back steadily at him. “The Family comes first, among the Vongola,” the man said quietly. “You, among all the Ninth’s sons now living, will do the best job of protecting the Family.” He smiled suddenly, showing his teeth. “At least you will now.” Sobering again, he added, “You might think of it as fulfilling the wishes of your brother Federico.”

Xanxus almost flinched.

The old man patted his arm. “So I’m afraid there are parties in your future,” he concluded with a tiny smile. “If it helps, you have my permission to continue intimidating the Cetrulli allies all you like.”

Xanxus was quiet for a few moments. “Give me some time, okay?” he finally said. Time to actually make this make sense, which it wasn’t quite doing yet.

His father smiled, a little sadly. “As much as you need, my boy. I think we all need a little time for this.”

That, Xanxus decided as he rose, was an understatement. But he didn’t suppose any of them had a lot of choice, now.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Dec 24, 09
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Archimedes’ Lever – Four

Squalo is growing into his place at Xanxus’ side, and starting to look around them for some support. Drama, I-3

“Here.” Gianni handed Squalo a second wineglass. “Take Xanxus a drink before he sets something on fire with his glare.”

Squalo snorted. “If you think another drink will make him glare less…” And here he’d thought the old men had finally figured Xanxus out better than that.

“No, but you’re bringing it to him and that will,” Gianni noted with dry amusement.

Okay, maybe they had gotten it.

“Hurry up, before we have another incident like the Mondial wedding,” Gianni added.

Squalo laughed, remembering the Tomasso heir retreating like something a lot more important than a bit of his hair had been singed. “You sure?” he asked a bit wistfully, recalling the satisfaction on Xanxus’ face as he’d reholstered his gun.

“Yes, very.”

Squalo rolled his eyes a little at the repressive tone. “All right, all right, I’m going. Mom.” He strolled off though the shifting after-dinner crowd, mouth quirking as he listened to the grumbling behind him about insolent brats with no respect. He’d had two Family mentors, ever since the day Xanxus had said yes to the Ninth, and he understood why. Everyone knew exactly who Xanxus’ right hand would be, and Gianni was the one who could show him how that worked. But the man really needed to loosen up, now and then.

Besides, between Gianni’s indignation and Rafaele’s snickering, he figured his teasing was pretty much right.

“Hey, boss.” He slid up onto the windowsill beside Xanxus and offered him the second glass.

Xanxus grunted and took a swallow, eyes still tracking restlessly over the crowd. Unfortunately, there weren’t any Family enemies to terrorize at this party. Eventually Xanxus sighed and glanced over at him. “So, what are we going to do about the Varia, anyway?”

Squalo grimaced. It was starting to be a familiar conversation. “Still isn’t anyone I’d call ready to take it over, even if Tyr is getting old. Not besides you or me.”

“I can’t run the Family and the Varia too.” Xanxus tilted his glass, frowning at the wine in it. “Have you seen the crap that lands on the old man’s desk?”

That, and what landed on Gianni’s too. Squalo leaned back against the cool glass. “I can probably handle most of it, if I have to,” he said quietly. “We’ll just have to keep looking for the right person.”

“And that’s another thing.” Xanxus crossed his arms, glass dangling from his fingers. “The old men run on about how my Guardians are supposed to be the ones closest to me, but I don’t have people close to me!” He glanced at Squalo. “Not besides you.”

“Well, you know who your Rain will be, then.” Squalo smiled at his boss’ irate grunt. “Don’t worry so much. The more you have to do with the rest of the Family, the more chances to meet the ones you need.”

Xanxus downright glowered at him. “If this is a trick to get me to agree to more goddamn parties…”

Squalo laughed. “Only if there’s more idiots you can shoot, promise.” As Xanxus settled down again he added, thoughtfully, “What about Levi?” Levi was definitely loyal to Xanxus, and gave him the respect Squalo knew his boss still craved.

Xanxus made a dubious noise instead of rejecting the idea outright, which Squalo figured for a good sign. He added Levi to his mental list along with Enrico’s oldest boy.

“Speak of the devil,” he murmured as a confused scuffle broke out on the other side of the room and Tazio appeared out of the crowd, strolling toward them with a perfectly innocent expression.

“Hey, Uncle Xanxus, Squalo,” he greeted them, easily.

“What’d you do this time?” Xanxus asked, eyeing the brief hubbub as the girl Dino Cavallone had escorted flounced away.

“Not a thing.” Tazio gave them both an angelic smile. “I was all the way over here, wasn’t I? I couldn’t possibly have gotten Camilla to tell her big sister that Dino hadn’t wanted to go with her in the first place, could I?”

Xanxus snorted with dark amusement. “Sure you couldn’t.”

Squalo watched the way Tazio grinned for Xanxus and recalled the way Tazio had always called Xanxus “uncle” despite only being three years younger, and nodded and silently checked the Sun off his list. The only question now was how long it would take Xanxus to realize.

“I don’t like you leading this one yourself,” the Ninth… fretted was the word, Squalo decided, and settled back in his chair with a sigh.

“If it’s going to succeed for sure, I need to be there. And if it isn’t going to succeed, why the hell are we sending it?” Xanxus told him bluntly.

“At least don’t go in first, then.” The old man was starting to look stubborn.

“How are we supposed to get in, then?” And Xanxus was starting to sound exasperated.

“What if someone else goes first to breach the walls?” Rafaele put in.

“Like who?” Xanxus snapped.

Squalo shrugged and elaborated. “There really isn’t anyone else we have right now better suited to blowing things up.”

Rafaele’s lips quirked. “I’m not surprised. But I was thinking of an outside contractor. Do you know Gokudera Hayato?”

After a moment Gianni said, cautiously, “Isn’t he a bit of a… lone wolf?”

Loose canon Squalo translated to himself, and sat up, more interested.

“So maybe he and Xanxus will have a topic of conversation,” Rafaele murmured dryly.

Squalo glared at his mentor, but couldn’t quite put as much force behind it as he wanted; it might be true.

“Isn’t he rather young?” the Ninth asked, frowning.

“A bit perhaps, but he’s very good at what he does.”

“Mm,” Gianni nodded, agreeing. “Word is that he was trained by Shamal.”

Xanxus waved a hand. “All right, we’ll take him.” He cast a look at his father and added. “And now will you stop worrying?”

The Ninth smiled wryly. “I’m afraid not, my boy, but I will stop objecting.”

Xanxus looked satisfied for a moment, and then gradually more uncertain. Squalo caught the suddenly softer smiles on Rafaele and Gianni and clapped Xanxus on the shoulder to distract him from noticing. “Let’s go get everything together, then, okay?” He paused on their way out only to grimace at his mentors; why was it so hard for everyone to understand that Xanxus just wasn’t good at the whole warm and fuzzy thing?

Fortunately the team they were taking in against the Tomasso holdings in Catania was about ready to go; Squalo had made sure of that. Contacting their “contractor” was the most time consuming thing left, and Gokudera agreed to meet them in the city.

When they met Squalo understood why the Ninth had hesitated. The kid couldn’t be more than fifteen. But that was the age he’d been when he went on his training journey, after all. Squalo looked at Gokudera’s eyes instead of his age.

That was when Gianni’s hesitation made sense to him. He’d seen eyes like those before. His boss used to have them.

“…so we want the walls down here and here,” Squalo finished explaining, watching too-sharp eyes track over the building plans as he pointed. “Can you do both at the same time?”

“Yeah, I can do it.” Gokudera slung a small pack over his shoulder, fingers drifting over the canisters at his belt, gave them a jerky nod and vanished into the falling evening.

“Well.” Squalo looked after the kid, brows raised. “Guess we should get ready, then.”

Squalo barely had their people positioned when the explosions started. Kid worked fast. Xanxus made an approving sound, and Squalo had to smile wryly. They had impatience in common, that was for sure.

And then he set those thoughts aside for later, because it was time to move and his mind was divided into the him that kept track of their people, of who was where, of whether they needed to slow down or speed up, and the him that ran at Xanxus’ back, guarding it, exulting in the speed and fire and grace of destruction. This didn’t have quite the edge of a Varia mission; this was a warning to the Tomasso. A sharp one, but only a warning. The men with them were regular foot soldiers of the Family, and they were here to destroy property not lives. Except for the unfortunates who got in their way.

Squalo listened to the reports from the watchers spread blocks away. “Boss! Time to be going,” he called. Reinforcements were coming thicker and they really would be in an all-out war if they didn’t go now.

Xanxus looked around the shambles of the building and everything in it with some satisfaction. “All right. Guess so.”

Squalo called for everyone to pull back, watching with some amusement as Xanxus fired on a few gaming tables and reduced them to finer splinters on his way out. Xanxus’ edge wasn’t as whetted on these trips, when they went out for general destruction, but he seemed to get more enjoyment out of them. Squalo suspected the Ninth’s desire to have his son not lead from the front was doomed to disappointment.

More of his mind was taken up, now, with their men, with the pace of the withdrawal, and his eye tracked over the small squads as they regathered, counting up. Only a few casualties, that was good. And here was their contractor, slipping out of the shadow of a broken wall, hard eyes passing without really seeing over the gathered Vongola. Squalo shook his head, thinking absently that the kid needed to keep a better eye out around him.

Later, when he had time, he wondered if the universe just waited for him to think things like that.

One of the early, scattered Tomasso reinforcements came running heedlessly through the flickering darkness and broken concrete and straight into Gokudera, sending them both down. The Tomasso man’s eyes were dark and blind with rage, and he didn’t seem to notice the people just beyond; his attention was all on Gokudera, and he had a gun already in his hand.

Squalo hissed, without even time to swear as he turned, feeling for footing for a lunge, and he wasn’t sure even he would be in enough time. Gokudera had one of his slender explosives in his hand, but the gun was trained already…

A line of Flame cut the night and blew the Tomasso man back through one of the remaining walls.

Squalo breathed out. For a second he wondered if Gokudera had been hit anyway, because the kid was just kneeling there in the rubble, staring at them. No. At Xanxus. Squalo saw his lips shape the word “Why”.

“Well, what are you sitting there for?” Xanxus asked, and jerked his head at the waiting vans. “Come on.”

“I… But… Yes.” Gokudera stammered, and rose and followed after Xanxus, eyes still wide.

Squalo strolled after, mouth quirked. If he was reading this situation right, there was some potential here.

“So,” he murmured to Xanxus once they were all rolling, “we could probably use an explosives expert for this kind of job, don’t you think?”

Xanxus cocked a brow at him. “Thinking of recruiting the kid?”

“Thought I’d mention it, yeah. See what you thought.”

Xanxus snorted. “I’m not the one you should talk to about bringing people into the Family.”

“Yes you are,” Squalo said with absolute surety and then had to come up with an explanation that would make sense in face of Xanxus’ startled look. “Look, you’re the heir. You’re going to be the Tenth. It’s about time you started building up your own people.” Which was also true.

Xanxus gave that a generalized grunt of acknowledgment and Squalo sat back, satisfied. It never took Xanxus long to act once he’d made up his mind.

Today it didn’t take any longer than the drive back home. As soon as Gokudera had been passed through by the medics, Xanxus cornered him. “You’re not affiliated, right?”

Gokudera looked a bit wary at that. “Yeah, I’m not.”

“Good. Any problems with coming into this Family, then?”

Squalo nearly laughed out loud, both at Xanxus’ bluntness and the kid’s stunned expression.

“But… You mean… You want me?” Gokudera sputtered.

“Yeah. I could use you.”

It took the kid a few swallows to speak. When he did, his voice was husky. “You saved my life.” He bowed his head formally. “I place my life in your hands. Boss.”

Xanxus blinked a bit at this evidence of high manners. Or maybe just at Gokudera’s utter sincerity. “Well. All right, then.” He set a hand on Gokudera’s shoulder to steer him toward the house, and Squalo was nearly blinded by the brilliance of the kid’s smile as he looked up.

He followed along after them, wondering idly what Gokudera’s alignment was. Definitely potential, here.

Squalo watched Xanxus knock briefly on the Ninth’s door and casually boot it open, and shook his head, amused. Xanxus was always going to ignore manners and forms, and unlike the stray they’d adopted he didn’t have to work to do it.

“You wanted me?” Xanxus slung himself into one of the chairs and Squalo came to lean against the back.

“Yes.” The Ninth was smiling. “Reborn is back from the Cavallone Family assignment, and I wanted you two to meet again.”

Xanxus nodded at the baby in the suit sitting in one of the other chairs, just a bit warily. After all, they’d both worked out now and then with Lal Mirch and you tended to respect the kind of people who came up to your knee and still pounded you into the mats like a tent peg. Squalo was wondering about something, though.

“The Cavallone?”

“Indeed.” The Ninth was smiling into his mustache, Squalo thought. “Reborn does… tutoring, I suppose you could say, at need. The Cavallone heir needed some personal attention to settle him down.”

Squalo snorted. “Dino? Didn’t need settling down as much as stirring up. He drove me so damn crazy…” And then he woke to the implication of Reborn being back, and straightened. “You mean he is?”

“Dino is taking up his responsibilities in an acceptable fashion,” Reborn said calmly.

Squalo was impressed.

“More than just acceptable,” the Ninth murmured. “The Cavallone are making a strong recovery under his leadership. Nevertheless, I’m glad you’re back with us, Reborn.”

“So?” Opaque black eyes raked over both Xanxus and Squalo. “You need me for your own heir?”

The Ninth waved a reassuring hand as both Xanxus and Squalo stiffened. “Only in that he will need to have confidence in you when he takes the Family. I would like Xanxus to have your support.”

“It’s the same thing, isn’t it?” Reborn sipped a tiny cup of coffee. “One way or another.” He hopped down and strolled over to stand by Xanxus’ boot. “I’ll watch them.”

For some reason that made the Ninth smile. “Try not to inspire my heir to shoot you, please.”

Reborn smiled faintly. “We’ll see.”

“The hell is this?” Xanxus asked, eying Reborn.

“We’re seeing what kind of boss you’ll be,” Reborn told him.

“One that’s too busy for idiocy,” Xanxus said, brusque, and looked up at the Ninth. “Was there anything else?”

The Ninth was still smiling, and his amusement gave Squalo a bad feeling. “Not immediately. Though I must say, I’m pleased to see how well young Gokudera is settling into the Family. He’s had a reputation for being untamable for years now.”

“Wouldn’t say I’ve tamed him,” Xanxus muttered, and Squalo had to roll his eyes. Since Xanxus apparently didn’t notice these things until they hit him over the head a few times, no, he probably wouldn’t.

“Gokudera Hayato?” Reborn mused. “Is he really the kind you want in the Vongola?”

Xanxus focused back on him sharply, eyes narrow, and his words picked up an edge of growl. “The decision was mine to make.” Squalo automatically eased forward onto his toes in response to that tone, started to ease himself back when he remembered where they were, and hesitated when he recalled who they were dealing with.

Mayhem was not forthcoming, though. Reborn looked at Xanxus for a long moment and nodded. “Possessiveness can be a good trait in a boss.” He nodded again at the Ninth while Xanxus was staring and Squalo was trying not to gape. Who the hell was this guy to come in and read Xanxus that well with just a look? “We’ll get started, then.” He sprang lightly up to the chair arm and then the back and then Squalo’s fucking shoulder, and gave him a companionable smile sharp as a knife.

Squalo was getting the feeling it was going to be a long month.

Shouting and crashes were not unusual things to hear from the rooms the regular Family members used to train. Explosions, however, were. Squalo strode quickly down the hall, wondering if one of the Varia had wandered into this wing and why.

It wasn’t one of the Varia he found, though. It was Gokudera.

Gokudera and Dangelo Ceirano, one of the rising young hitmen, were being pulled away from each other as smoke cleared. Squalo’s eye traced the scorch marks and the hide-out knife in Ceirano’s hand, reconstructing the fight. Gokudera had attacked first, he thought.

“What the hell?” he asked conversationally, strolling over to Gokudera and taking his shoulder, gesturing the other men away with a jerk of his chin.

Gokudera’s glittering eyes never left Ceirano and his spine was stiff. “He has no right to say that about the Tenth,” he snarled, completely ignoring the line of blood starting to trickle down his jaw.

“I say what I see,” Ceirano snapped back, gesturing with the knife. “Xanxus doesn’t give a damn about the Family, about the mafia, about our traditions or rules. Not really. And if that’s true, he has no place as heir.”

Squalo cocked his head, considering. If this was just disaffection, he would take Ceirano down himself and be done with it. But there were murmurs running around the room, just on the edge of hearing—not agreeing but doubtful and that was just as much of a problem in its way. He sighed, briefly damning Rafaele and Gianni for teaching him to think about these things. The Varia were so much easier to deal with.

He squeezed Gokudera’s shoulder, quieting him as he sucked in a breath, probably to yell back some more, and stepped forward. “Someone who’s only watched from a distance has no business having an opinion.” Which should get Ceirano’s mind off Gokudera and onto Squalo, seeing as Squalo had basically just insulted his profession as a sniper.

Sure enough, Ceirano’s lip curled up and he glared at Squalo. “It doesn’t take being up close and personal to see this.”

Squalo’s eyes narrowed at the unmistakable emphasis on “personal”. Yeah, he went to Xanxus’ bed, and no one was damn well going to comment on it unless they wanted a very personal fight indeed on their hands. Before he could invite Ceirano to that very fight, though, a tall shadow stirred in the doorway opposite and Xanxus stepped into the room.

“If I’m so out of touch, then when you surrender after I beat you I should just kill you instead of accepting it, right?” he said casually. “You still have the guts to say that shit to my face?”

Ceirano’s glare tracked around to Xanxus, never wavering. “Damn right I do,” he answered, voice flat.

A corner of Xanxus’ mouth curled up. “Well, then.” He crossed the room, stride easy, and opened the door to the outside before looking over his shoulder. “Come on,” he said softly, eyes bright.

Ceirano stalked after him out the door, and the people in the room and the hall drifted after, including Gokudera who was looking vengefully pleased.

“Hmm. He still has a very short temper.”

Squalo looked down to find Reborn beside him, and wasn’t really surprised. He showed up in the damnedest places, and always when Xanxus was around. Squalo shrugged. “He’s strongest when he’s angry.”

Reborn looked up at him, eyes dark and unreadable. “Do you think that’s the way it should work?”

“That he’s strongest when he’s angry? Don’t see why not. It works that way for a lot of people, as long as they can stay focused.”

Reborn shook his head. “No. Do you think it’s right that he’s angry so often?”

Squalo sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “There are a bunch of things I don’t think are right. That doesn’t usually change them.”

Reborn sprang up to his shoulder, ignoring Squalo’s exasperated glare. “If you’re his right hand, it’s your business to change them for him, just as it’s his business to change them for the Family. Let’s go see how he does with that.”

Squalo muttered under his breath about not being Reborn’s damn chauffeur all the way outside.

Xanxus and Ceirano were squared off at either end of one of the terraces, and they both had their guns out. Squalo was actually a little interested to see how this went; Xanxus didn’t often face someone else who used guns with the kind of precision he did. Xanxus was practically lounging against the stone balustrade, smiling darkly at Ceirano, daring him to shoot first.

Ceirano loaded calmly and did.

After the first few shots, Squalo sighed. Xanxus was playing with the man. He hadn’t aimed a single shot of Flame at Ceirano himself, only using it to dodge. He was laughing, by now, with that exhilarated and just a little crazed note in it that always made Squalo smile and a lot of other people back away slowly.

“He spends too much time fighting his past,” Reborn observed in Squalo’s ear.

“There’s a lot of it to fight,” Squalo said quietly, glancing over at him.

“If he loses track of which is past and which is present—” Reborn broke off, leaning forward as Xanxus finally left off his game and drove in on Ceirano, coming hand to hand. Ceirano’s knife flashed out again, glanced off the barrel of Xanxus’ gun, caught his shoulder as Ceirano was thrown back by a kick to the stomach.

“Stubborn little shit, aren’t you?” Xanxus asked, conversationally, and aimed a gun straight at Ceirano. He smiled, teeth showing as startled protests started to rise around them, and pulled the trigger.

“He forgets less, these days,” Squalo told Reborn, leaning back against the outer wall and crossing his ankles.

Ceirano, smoking a bit, slowly hauled himself up from the crater Xanxus’ shot had left in the lawn, and looked up a little blankly as Xanxus stood over him, second gun pressed to his forehead. For a long moment neither of them moved, and the watching crowd seemed to hold its breath.

“Well?” Xanxus prodded, and not just metaphorically. The blank waiting cleared from Ceirano’s eyes at the brief jab of the barrel, replaced by startlement and then anger and finally a rueful twist of his mouth.

“You win,” he said.

“Damn right I do.” Xanxus holstered his guns and put his hands on his hips. “And you get what you paid for, Ceirano. You serve me and I’m stuck with you. Imagine how overjoyed I am.” He turned on his heel and strode off the impromptu field, gathering Squalo up with a gesture, leaving Ceirano staring after him.

As the door closed behind them, Squalo heard Ceirano start to laugh.

Xanxus eyed Reborn as they moved through the halls. “Have a front row seat?” he asked, sarcastic.

“That would be Ceirano’s,” Reborn noted, sounding perfectly serene. “Mine was close enough, though.” He hopped down without a word or wave and trotted off down the hall toward the Ninth’s wing. Xanxus growled.

“You know,” Squalo murmured, thoughtfully, “one of these days I think I’ll start wearing spikes on my shoulders. Could we say that was a new part of the Varia uniform, you think?” He was satisfied when Xanxus relaxed enough to laugh, even if it was just a snort.

Change things for Xanxus, huh? If Reborn couldn’t see the ways Squalo did that every day, he could just go suck eggs, legendary hitman or not.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Dec 25, 09
Name (optional):
japanimecrazed and 11 other readers sent Plaudits.

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.


Last Modified: May 15, 12
Posted: Dec 26, 09
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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.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Dec 27, 09
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jeun_jie, japanimecrazed and 15 other readers sent Plaudits.


In the universe where Xanxus is the Tenth, what happens to Tsuna and his friends? Drama with Humor and Tangential Romance, I-4

Tsuna stood in the shade of the small ‘control tower’ building and watched as a sleek private jet rolled to a stop, and tried not to fidget.

“Why did the Tenth have to come here?” he asked Reborn one more time. “I haven’t even graduated from high school yet!”

“Because he’s the one you’ll serve when Iemitsu retires and you take over CEDEF,” Reborn told him. “It’s about time you met each other. Quit complaining.”

“Who said I was going to take over CEDEF?” Tsuna muttered, more out of habit than hope at this point.

“I did.”

Tsuna sighed and then stood up straighter, nervous, as the jet’s door opened and a tall, dark man prowled down the stairs. He was followed by another man, lean and not quite so tall with a fly-away brush of short silver hair, and—thank goodness!—a boy about Tsuna’s age, looking around with sharp eyes under a curtain of darker silver hair.

“Xanxus,” Reborn greeted the one in the lead, not that Tsuna had really had any doubts.

“Reborn.” Xanxus looked Tsuna up and down and lifted a brow. “You’re sure he beat Mukuro?” he added doubtfully.

“Quite sure. Not that he wasn’t pathetically clumsy about it.” Tsuna rolled his eyes and caught what might have been a glint of sympathy in Xanxus’. “Which is why I wanted you to come help with his training,” Reborn finished.

“What?!” Tsuna yelped.

“Well of course,” Reborn told him, perfectly serene. “I can’t arrange escaped mafia criminals for you all the time, you know.”

“He didn’t tell you,” Xanxus stated rather than asked, and snorted.

“He usually doesn’t,” Tsuna admitted.

Xanxus looked him up and down again, more measuringly this time. “Hm. Got a problem with training against me?”

“I, um, don’t want to die and I don’t like pain?” Tsuna suggested, not entirely sure this would weigh with the kind of people Reborn seemed to know.

“Ah, don’t worry about that,” the lean man put in with a rather unnerving smile. “You probably won’t die.”

Tsuna sighed, slumping. Yeah, that was about what he had figured.

“This is the Vongola house in this town,” Reborn announced when they arrived.

It was the first Tsuna had heard of any such thing, and the first time he’d ever seen the large, western style house they had pulled up to. For the first time he wondered exactly how much money Reborn had at his personal disposal, to set this up.

Actually, considering property damages, maybe he should have wondered that sooner.

He helped haul luggage into the spotless foyer while Xanxus looked around, hands on his hips. “Nice place,” Xanxus observed with a hint of what sounded like suspicion. Xanxus, Tsuna reflected, seemed to know Reborn awfully well.

“I called in some of the Family to get it ready.” At Xanxus’ frown Reborn added, “They’ve already left again.”

“Good,” Xanxus grunted. “Can’t stand having a bunch of fawning idiots around.”

Tsuna blinked, started by the harshness of that comment on the Tenth’s own Family.

“They’re not actually pretending, you know,” Squalo said, in the tone of someone who’d said it many times before. “Just because they’re not afraid of you any more. I mean, how long has it been since you even broke someone up during training? Someone who wasn’t Varia,” he added.

Xanxus made a noncommittal sound and turned down the hall, glancing into each room as if he expected to find concealed attackers. Squalo looked after him, shaking his head and smiling crookedly, and jerked his chin at Gokudera, who followed quietly after Xanxus.

“If he doesn’t believe his own Family respects him, there will be trouble,” Reborn said.

The tolerant look slid off Squalo’s face and he narrowed his eyes at Reborn. “He’s getting there,” he snapped.

“He’s the Tenth now,” Reborn shot back, inflexible. “Get there faster.”

“Mind your own business,” Squalo growled, and Tsuna tip toed back a little, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. “You’re the Ninth’s man. You don’t know the Tenth.”

“If he can’t inherit the Ninth’s men, the Vongola will fail at the end of this generation,” Reborn said quietly.

Squalo’s mouth tightened and he said, just as soft, “And do you really think Iemitsu will give Xanxus everything he gives the Ninth? Do you really think you will?”

Reborn pulled the brim of his hat down, quiet for a moment. “That’s why I’m here,” he finally answered.

“Then I guess we’ll see.” Squalo turned away, following Xanxus and Gokudera.


Tsuna started a little, and tried to breathe normally again as the tension in the front hall eased. “Yeah?”

“Tell Yamamoto to stop by and see us, once he’s done with his team practice.”

Tsuna stared at him. “Um. Okay?”

Reborn didn’t explain the non sequitur, just hopped up onto Tsuna’s shoulder as he turned back for the next suitcase.

To Tsuna’s temporary relief he was not tossed to the Tenth’s un-tender-looking mercies the very next day. Instead he was training with the boy his age, Gokudera Hayato. His relief was only temporary because this involved getting blown up.

“You need to increase your endurance,” Reborn declared. “We’ll start easy; just put out all the bomb fuses before they go off.”

Put out the fu—?”

Gokudera flicked and fanned sticks of dynamite through his fingers and lit them off his cigarette quite calmly. Tsuna didn’t have time to protest further before the bombs bracketed him on all sides and he’d been shot.

More bombs. Fewer bombs. Bombs further away. Really a whole lot of bombs. Small bombs hiding among bigger bombs.

It was the last that got him, and when he came to he was still smoking.

“Idiot,” Reborn told him. “You need to pay better attention.”

“I was paying attention,” Tsuna protested, spitting out dirt. “It’s just… they looked…”

“Perspective,” Gokudera supplied, perched on a rock with one knee drawn up. “If I can distract you with the larger ones, the smaller ones will seem like regular bombs further away. They’re scaled to look exactly alike.”

Xanxus, leaning against a tree to watch the show, made a satisfied sound. “Hayato will be our best strategist, eventually.”

Tsuna blinked as Gokudera’s cool, businesslike look evaporated into a soft smile and bright eyes and… was Gokudera actually blushing?

“Tenth,” Gokudera murmured. Then he seemed to notice Tsuna smiling and cleared his throat. “So. We going again?”

“Of course,” Reborn said, and Tsuna stood with a sigh.

It was getting on towards evening when Reborn finally said they were done, and Tsuna just collapsed where he stood. “Ow,” he added, after a moment to catch his breath.

“What the hell?” Xanxus was asking Reborn, not quite quietly. “He acts like a total wimp, but he’s been running around like a crazy man putting out bombs like it’s nothing all day.”

“That’s Tsuna,” Reborn said, uninformatively. Tsuna figured that meant he was going to have to do this again tomorrow.

“Hey, Tsuna!”

Tsuna hauled himself to his feet with a smile. “Yamamoto.”

Yamamoto strolled up, bat over his shoulder, and blinked at Tsuna’s ragged, dirt streaked clothes. “Been practicing hard?”

“I guess so, yeah,” Tsuna sighed.

“Yamamoto, good, you’re here.” Reborn landed hard on Tsuna’s shoulder. “There are things you need to work on, too. Squalo,” he added, “Yamamoto uses a sword.”

That seemed an odd way to introduce them, to Tsuna, but sure enough Squalo straightened up and took a long step forward, eyes on Yamamoto. He didn’t speak, though.

Yamamoto cocked his head in friendly inquiry, bat shifting just a little against his shoulder.

Tsuna yelped as a sword blade slid out of Squalo’s sleeve and he lunged at Yamamoto. Everyone else, he realized, was just standing there looking on, and he wondered again when he had stopped knowing any sane people.

One strike that Yamamoto met, bat suddenly a sword, laughing; a second that he dodged, and Squalo’s face was completely still; a third that he stepped into and Squalo’s eyes narrowed and something small flew from Squalo’s sword and Squalo was leaping back from the explosion that blew Yamamoto through the air.

Yamamoto lay still where he’d landed.

“Yamamoto!” Tsuna started to go to him only to fetch up short against Gokudera’s grip on his arm.

“Don’t,” Gokudera said quietly, eyes on Yamamoto as he stirred and slowly levered himself upright.

“You wave a sword around, but you’re not a swordsman,” Squalo said, loud and flat. “With that skill level you’re no use to anyone.” He turned on his heel and stalked away from them all. Xanxus, Tsuna noted even in his distraction, watched Squalo go with a tilted smile.

“Let me go,” Tsuna hissed to Gokudera.

“Do you really think he’ll want sympathy when he’s just been beaten that easily?” Gokudera asked, though he also let Tsuna go. Tsuna hesitated.

“Well.” Yamamoto walked toward them and he was smiling the way he always did, but there was something different in his eyes. “It’s good to see you, Tsuna, but I guess I should get back to practice.” He patted Tsuna on the shoulder companionably and walked on.

“Yamamoto.” Tsuna hesitated.


Tsuna glared at Reborn. “What’s good about it?”

“Yamamoto needs a reason to be serious.” Reborn was smiling his barely-there smile. “And Squalo wouldn’t have been that angry if Yamamoto didn’t have it in him to be better.”

Xanxus snorted. “If it’s the sword, yeah. You’re a complete bastard, you know that?”

“I,” Reborn said, “am the very best home tutor.”

Tsuna thought about that, and about himself and about Yamamoto and about the Family that Reborn said he was already a part of, the whole way home.

For three days Tsuna tried to catch up with Yamamoto at school and completely failed. Yamamoto seemed just as sociable and cheerful as ever, but he was always on his way somewhere: to buy lunch because he’d forgotten his; to team practice, though Tsuna didn’t see him there when he stopped by on his way out to his own training; to take a make-up test, and that was when Tsuna got suspicious, because he usually had to take all of those and he didn’t have any that day. Finally Tsuna asked Reborn if he thought something was wrong. Reborn smacked him casually over the head.

“Idiot Tsuna. Of course something’s wrong. Yamamoto isn’t the kind of person to take being beaten easily.”

After that, Tsuna insisted on visiting Yamamoto’s house and finding out what his friend was doing.

“Takeshi?” Yamamoto’s father smiled. “So, it’s something to do with your business, is it?”

“Um.” Tsuna fidgeted guiltily.

“Takeshi is at the dojo two blocks down.” Yamamoto-san went back to chopping ingredients, knife flashing, still with that odd smile.

“I’ll… just go see how he’s doing, then.” Tsuna slipped back out of the shop and looked at Reborn. “Was that weird, or is it just me?”

“I didn’t see anything odd about it,” Reborn told him, and pointed down the road. “That way.”

Tsuna sighed and headed on toward the dojo. It was a nice one, large and traditional and set back on a big lot with willows and pines leaning around it. Tsuna peeked in the window slats to see if Yamamoto was really in there, and wound up clinging to the slats in shock. Yamamoto was there all right.

He was moving through the open room like water flowing, one form after another, and Tsuna would almost swear his sword was leaving trails in the air. “Since when…” he whispered.

Yamamoto paused and came to the door, looking around. “Is someone…? Oh, hey, Tsuna!” He grinned. “Come on in. I’m sorry,” he added, penitently, as Tsuna slipped inside and toed off his shoes, “did I worry you?”

“No, no, it wasn’t—” Tsuna started, only to be overridden by Reborn.

“Yes, Tsuna is an idiot, so he was fretting. So? How is it going?”

Yamamoto smiled wryly. “It’s good. At least I think so.” He looked round at the scattered remains of straw bundles. “If you don’t mind, though, I think… I think I’d rather not show you yet.”

“I understand.”

Tsuna was glad someone did. “You’re sure you’re doing all right?” he asked, hesitantly.

Yamamoto smiled at him, open as always though there was a layer of darkness in his eyes now. “Honest, Tsuna. I’m good.”

Tsuna smiled back; obviously there wasn’t anything he could say to change this. “All right. I’ll let you get back to it, then.” He made a face. “I was on my way to training anyway.”

Yamamoto laughed. “Hey, good luck. Oh.” He paused, back to them. “Don’t mention this to Squalo, all right?”

“If you want, sure,” Tsuna assured him.


Tsuna was silent for a while as they walked on down the road. “Reborn,” he said, finally, “is this really going to be all right?”

“Yamamoto is strong enough to be your friend,” Reborn said, serenely. “Have some faith in him.”

Tsuna took a deep breath and let it out.

“All right.”

“All right,” Reborn announced, “today you’re working with Xanxus.”

Tsuna looked at Xanxus and instantly felt scrawny. And breakable.

“You use very different techniques, it should be interesting.” There was, Tsuna felt, something ghoulish about Reborn’s good cheer as he cocked his head at the Tenth.

Xanxus gave him a dark look. “Interesting, huh?” Tsuna was slightly cheered by this evidence that other people than him knew Reborn was evil that way. His eyes widened, though, when Xanxus drew a gun and a hard glow lit his hand on the grip.


“The Vongola Flame,” Reborn agreed.

Xanxus raised the gun and fired at the cliff face, a lot of which turned into rubble.

“Heee!” Tsuna squeaked. He really couldn’t help it.

“It’s about time you got some experience against someone else who uses the Flame,” Reborn told him with perfect ruthlessness.

Tsuna missed most of Reborn’s lecture about special bullets and Wrath and some other Vongola boss who’d also used guns, because he was staring at the cliff in horror. When Reborn shot him he was actually relieved, because it was a lot easier to look at the Tenth’s Flame and not run screaming when Dying Will was humming through his nerves and thoughts. He was also grateful for the week of practice against Gokudera, because he needed every bit of speed and precision to dodge Xanxus’ shots; he had more agility, especially in the air, and that was good since he absolutely had to close hand-to-hand.

The thought stirred, in the back of his mind, that he should do something about that.

More and more of his attention, though was taken up with the taste, for lack of a better word, of Xanxus’ Flame. It was hard and wild, and there was something running through it like a scream heard in the distance. The word Reborn had spoken came back to him: Wrath. A compression and sharpening of the Flame.

He thought Xanxus’ Flame could get a lot sharper than this, too, if he were facing a real enemy. Someone who threatened the things Xanxus cared about.

That reminded him of someone.

When Reborn finally said they could stop and Tsuna collapsed on a rock, panting and aching in every muscle, that thought stayed with him. “Xanxus-san?” he finally said, hesitantly.

“Hm?” Xanxus was leaning back, legs crossed, looking like he’d maybe had a decent workout and could go another round any time.

“Reborn said that Mukuro was with you, now?”

Xanxus snorted. “As much as he’s with anyone.”

“I’m glad,” Tsuna said quietly. He got an odd look from Xanxus for that.


“The things they talked about, that their own Family had done to them.” Tsuna groped for the right words. “I don’t understand a lot of what Reborn talks about, the traditions and things. But that… that’s just wrong. They need someplace to be that will be better. So if they’re with you, now, I’m glad.”

“You think I can be better for them?” Xanxus asked, brows raised, and Tsuna looked up at him.

“I think maybe you’re a little like Mukuro when you care about something. I think maybe you can understand him better than other people.”

Xanxus eyed him for a long moment and then, rather to Tsuna’s surprise, turned and gave Reborn a very hard look.

“That’s Tsuna,” Reborn said evenly. “You’ve seen his technique up close, now, and you know what he did to Mukuro. It’s his intuition that’s developing fastest, not his offensive abilities.” He cocked his head. “Isn’t that good, for someone who will be your outside advisor?”

Xanxus answered with a wordless grunt, leaning back to stare up at the sky.

“He could probably master the Zero Point, too,” Reborn added, and sat calmly as Xanxus jerked back upright. “If you agree.”

Tsuna had no idea what they were talking about, but he did his best not to quail under the burning stare Xanxus gave him.

The Tenth stood abruptly. “I’ll think about it.”

“What’s the Zero Point?” Tsuna asked as Xanxus strode away.

Reborn was smiling. “If he agrees, I’ll tell you.”

Their next visitor was a lot more unexpected than Yamamoto had been.

“Hibari-san!” Tsuna scrambled to his feet as Hibari looked him up and down, because he could already hear Hibari’s admonishment about letting his school uniform get dirty by sprawling around on the ground. And Hibari’s admonishments never stopped at words. Tsuna dusted himself off, nervously, as well as could be when Xanxus’ last shot had slammed him into a small crater.

Hibari sniffed and glanced at the others. “Baby.” He nodded acknowledgment to Reborn, fingers already working delicately around the handle of his tonfa.

“Hibari.” Reborn was almost smirking, Tsuna swore. “I’m still a bit busy, but I thought you might like to go a few rounds with Xanxus.”

Hibari’s focus shifted and he examined Xanxus for a long moment. “Are you strong?” he finally asked.

Xanxus’ mouth curled. “Are you?” he returned.

Somehow Tsuna wasn’t at all surprised when they both lunged for each other and Xanxus caught the first tonfa on the barrel of his gun. He backed up out of the way along with Squalo and Reborn.

“He’s good,” Squalo said, arms folded, eyes fixed on the fast, brutal exchange ranging up and down the boulders in front of them. It was the most civil thing Tsuna had heard him say in days, which was a bit of a relief.

“Of course he is.” Reborn crossed his ankles. “I wouldn’t have recommended this if he weren’t.”

“He’s also,” Squalo noted as Xanxus shot the ground out from under Hibari and Hibari sprang forward instead of back, teeth bared, “crazy.”

“Hibari enjoys fighting, and he likes fighting strong opponents the best,” Reborn answered, composed. “You should understand that.”

“Mmm.” Tsuna didn’t understand the sidelong look Squalo gave Reborn.

The open area they’d been using as a practice ground was smoking and scattered with rubble by the time Xanxus got Hibari down. “So?” he asked, out of breath and dripping blood from the side of his head but also grinning, gun trained straight at Hibari.

Hibari looked up at him, expressionless, and twisted, coming up, steel first, inside Xanxus’ reach.

Xanxus laughed as he rolled back and kicked Hibari hard over him and against the broken rocks.

“Um,” Tsuna murmured. “Is this a good idea? I mean,” he went on as both Reborn and Squalo looked at him blankly, “one of them could get seriously hurt if they keep it up.”

Squalo shrugged. “That’s how we’ve trained, for a long time.” With another of those looks at Reborn he added, “Been a while since someone else could keep up.”

It was getting dark before Xanxus and Hibari stopped, and they only did because this time Hibari was actually unconscious. Xanxus took a while to straighten up, too, before spitting out a mouthful of blood and slinging Hibari’s body over his shoulder. “Persistent little bastard,” he panted, limping over to them and letting Hibari slide down to the rock beside Reborn. His teeth glinted in the dusk. “He’d fit right in with the Varia.”

The words left a little silence behind them that wasn’t broken until Squalo stirred and looked down at Reborn. “When you said you’d serve the Tenth,” he said quietly, “you weren’t kidding were you?”

“I’m going to forget you said that.” Reborn tugged his hat down a bit.

Squalo looked away. “Yeah. All right.”

Xanxus was frowning down at Reborn. “Wait. Are you saying that’s why you called the kid here today?”

Reborn shrugged. “I thought you’d both enjoy it, either way.” When he looked up he was unreadable, even to Tsuna. “But the thought occurred to me, when I met Hibari.”

Xanxus looked at Reborn for a long, silent moment, eyes dark, before he glanced down at Hibari, who was beginning to stir. “A new leader for the Varia, huh? He’d have to work his own way up.”

“With Hibari,” Reborn said dryly, “it couldn’t possibly happen any other way.”

“Well, good.” After a moment, Xanxus added, “Tell Sawada what the Zero Point is.”

Reborn smiled. “As you wish.”

Tsuna wondered again what the Zero Point was, that Xanxus was so wary of trusting him with it.

Five days later, he stood on the cliff, staring at his hands with wide eyes, and understood. “I can’t,” he said, husky, raising shocked eyes to Xanxus. “I can’t do that to you!” Now he understood why Squalo had been so tense these past few days.

Xanxus’ mouth twisted. “Not without this, anyway.” He pulled something out of his pocket and flipped it through the air, gleaming. It was a ring. “That’s why I sent Hayato back home to get it.”

“Ah.” Reborn sounded pleased. “That,” he lectured Tsuna, “is the Sky Ring. With it, Xanxus will be able to melt the Zero Point again. With all of the Vongola rings together, anyone could do it.”

“Oh.” Tsuna nibbled on his lip. “Well, I guess…” He could tell, though, that the Zero Point was a harsh technique, and he didn’t like the thought. Finally he straightened up. “Show me, first, then. Use it on me.”

Xanxus’ brows lifted. “What are you, kid, a masochist?”

Tsuna frowned. “You’re telling me to do this to you aren’t you?”

Xanxus snorted. “That’s different.”


Xanxus was silent for a long moment, hooded eyes fixed on Tsuna. Finally he sighed, exasperated. “Fine, fine. Don’t complain to me after.” He holstered one of his guns and laid his hand over the remaining one, closing his eyes. The alternation of his Flame was slow to build but eye-hurtingly bright when it flashed. Tsuna took a breath and gathered his own Flame. Finally Xanxus’ eyes opened, dark and clear, and he raised the gun and fired. Tsuna met it, as he was learning to, but this time the touch of Xanxus’ Flame was very different—draining, slowing his strength, stilling everything. Tsuna gasped as ice closed around his gloves, not really cold but an absence that seared him. It was a shock like being cut and not seeing his blood flowing.

When Xanxus’ hand settled over his, with that ring glinting on his finger, and Tsuna could feel it, could feel his own Flame again too, the relief made him dizzy. “Xanxus-san,” he whispered, looking up at him.

Xanxus frowned a little. “You okay?” he asked briskly.

“Why is it all right for me to do this to you?” Tsuna demanded, voice cracking a little.

Xanxus looked away abruptly. “I’m used to it,” he finally answered.

He didn’t mean the Zero Point itself, Tsuna could see that. Trying to think what else might feel like that, though, made him sick. And angry. A small, hot anger in the center of his chest at people he’d never met and probably never would.

The Zero Point was something that might stop those people, though.

“All right,” he said, low, and Xanxus looked back at him, sharp and startled. “I’ll do it. I’ll learn it. But I’m stopping for the day if I think we’ve done too much.” He looked up at his prospective boss, Will rising, lifting his determination like a tide.

Xanxus’ mouth quirked. “You will huh?” He stepped back again and aimed at Tsuna, the hard glow of his Flame steady this time. “Ready or not, then.”

Xanxus fired on him again and again, ruthless, pushing Tsuna back and back as he tried to catch the rhythm of the Zero Point. But even when the shots left him smoking, they didn’t break that new determination. Every now and then Tsuna caught a glimpse of Squalo, off to the side, leaning against a tree with crossed arms and a sardonic smile. He thought maybe he was starting to understand Squalo, too, a little.

It took hours, but finally Tsuna found his balance and when he closed with Xanxus that time he left Xanxus’ gun hand frozen. Xanxus’ expression didn’t alter a hair as he laid his ring hand over it and melted the not-ice. “Again,” he said.

“Wait.” Tsuna stepped back, frowning down at the ground. “There was something…” He placed his hands together, as if for the Zero Point, and felt it again, like something he’d heard years ago and forgotten but might remember if he could just find the thread of it. Finally he looked up, determined. “Yes. Again.”

Xanxus frowned at him, and frowned at him some more when he backed off to take the shots again. “What the hell, Sawada?” he asked after the first few left Tsuna smoking again.

“It’s something else,” Tsuna insisted. “There’s something else I could do with this.” He took a breath and focused again. “Please.”

Xanxus’ mouth tightened, but he fired again. And again. And again.

As he watched the last shot coming, Tsuna thought what he wanted was like the Zero Point inside out. Moving with the thought, he turned his hands around.

The flow of his Flame reversed.

This time he didn’t stop, either his Flame or Xanxus’. This time Xanxus’ Flame ran into him with no resistance and flared through him—out from him, overflowing. He let it, let the new strength drive him forward, closing hand to hand before Xanxus could move. “This,” he said quietly, hands closed around Xanxus’. “This was it.”

He stepped back, meeting Xanxus’ shocked stare calmly.

“I told you,” Reborn said into the silence. “Tsuna’s intuition is what’s growing the fastest. That’s how he’ll best serve you.”

Tsuna smiled at that. “Yes.” He looked up at Xanxus, calmed by the way he’d found, by the assurance that he could do better for Xanxus than piling more pain on him. Xanxus looked back at him, and Tsuna could see something slowly relaxing in him.

Leaning against his tree, Squalo was downright grinning.

Tsuna thought it was just typical that whenever Xanxus and his people were running out of groceries it was him, and sometimes Gokudera, who got sent out for more.

“Here,” Gokudera said, holding out a bag. “I’ll put stuff away upstairs if you get the kitchen.”

Since it had already been a very long day and the thought of not climbing stairs was extremely appealing, Tsuna agreed.

Most everything was easy enough to find the right place for, in the refrigerator or the pantry, though the package after package of instant noodles amused him as he stacked them neatly on their shelf. This, he thought, might be what people usually meant when they talked about the eating habits of bachelors. The only one of those he’d known previously was Yamamoto’s father, and that was obviously a special case.

He heard the refrigerator open and close while he was putting away the last of the rice, and then the sliding door out onto the deck behind the house.

“So? What do you think?”

Tsuna peeked around the pantry door to see Squalo setting a beer down by Xanxus, who was lounging in one of the deck chairs and might have been there the whole time. Squalo leaned against the rail across from him.

“What do I think of what?” Xanxus asked and took a long swallow. Tsuna went back to trying to find room for the new bottle of vinegar.


Tsuna froze.

Xanxus snorted. “I think he’s crazy. Pretty sure I said that before.”

Tsuna reached for the last bag, trying to stack things quickly and silently so he could see about sneaking out of there.

“He’ll fit in, then. But do you think he’ll be loyal?”

“To the Family? I’m guessing so; he’s a protective little bastard. Should have seen him when you were having your go at his friend the swordsman.”

Tsuna anticipated another loud and profane tirade over how far Yamamoto had to go before Squalo would call him that. Instead Squalo said quietly, “That’s the Family. Do you believe he’ll be loyal to you?”

There was a moment of silence and then Xanxus snorted. “As long as he does his job, what difference does that make?”

“You know,” Squalo said dryly, “if anyone ever wanted to know all the things that are really important to you, all they’d have to do is listen and see what you act most careless about.”

“Squalo.” It was a growl, and Tsuna peeked around the edge of the door cautiously. He saw Squalo push away from the rail and come to kneel beside Xanxus’ chair instead, looking up at him.

“Boss,” was all Squalo said, but Tsuna could hear things in that one word he didn’t even have names for.

Xanxus looked down at Squalo for a long moment, eyes dark, and finally glanced away. “Have I told you have have a really damn smart mouth?”

The mouth in question quirked. “Not just lately.”

“Well you do.” Xanxus reached out, though, and rested a hand on Squalo’s shoulder. After a moment he turned back and Tsuna, still trapped at the pantry door, could see he was smiling a little. “There are better uses for it.” He slid his hand up into Squalo’s hair and pulled him closer. Squalo went easily, eyes sliding half closed as Xanxus’ mouth covered his. “Come here,” Xanxus murmured after a moment, and Squalo slid up to straddle his long legs and be pressed tight against him as both Xanxus’ hands slid up his back and pulled him down to another kiss.

Tsuna took the chance while they were distracted and scuttled for the hall, face burning. There were no crashes behind him so he thought he’d gotten away clean, but he didn’t slow down until he ran into Gokudera at the bottom of the stairs.

“Sawada?” Gokudera’s hand slid to his belts, and he glanced around sharply. “What’s wrong?”

“Huh? Oh.” Tsuna realized he must look a little wild. He felt like it, wide eyed and probably very red. “No, no! No, it’s not… Nothing’s wrong, it’s just… um… Xanxus-san and Squalo-san… um…”

Gokudera frowned at him for a moment before his own eyes widened a bit. “Oh. Yeah.” He was turning a little pink himself. “Yeah, they’re um. Yeah.” He glanced down the hall Tsuna had come out of and cleared his throat. “So. I guess we shouldn’t start dinner yet, huh?”

“No! Really not!” Tsuna squeaked.

“Right.” After a moment Gokudera suggested, “Delivery?”

“Good idea,” Tsuna agreed fervently.

Dinner was enough to get them both past the embarrassment and talking sensibly about the weather in Italy, but as he walked home that night Tsuna remembered the question Squalo had asked about his loyalty to Xanxus and the way Xanxus hadn’t answered it.

He thought especially hard about the things Xanxus acted careless about.

Tsuna was back to exercises against Gokudera’s explosives because Hibari had been back for Xanxus today. Again. Tsuna was reminded of the last time Dino had come to visit, and the way he laughed when he’d said Hibari didn’t need a reason to fight, just an occasion. Xanxus seemed to like being the occasion.

Tsuna thought they were both kind of weird.

“Ninety percent chance of success is going to get a whole new meaning with him, I can tell,” Squalo was saying to Reborn as Tsuna and Gokudera came in for a drink. “I can’t wait until he meets Bel.”

“It will probably take a while to pry him out of Namimori,” Reborn cautioned. “But if he knows he can find so many strong opponents by coming to Italy we can convince him to transfer his attachment. Dino is already telling him little things about the honor and traditions of our world.”

Squalo’s smile tilted. “Ceirano will like having someone else around who’s into tradition; they’ll get along.”

“As much as two people aligned with Cloud ever do,” Reborn murmured.

“No surprise.” Xanxus joined them and caught the bottle of water Squalo tossed him with his off hand. He was favoring his ribs today, Tsuna noted. Hibari was already halfway into the trees, one arm dangling.

They were definitely both weird.

“So, we’re done for the day?” he asked hopefully, glancing up at the clouds. He’d felt a drop here and there and it looked like it was just about to open up and pour.

“Of course not. This is a good opportunity to train in low visibility,” Reborn declared.

Tsuna groaned. Of course.

Tsuna was drenched and gasping for breath, and the puddles were nearly ankle deep before Reborn finally declared himself satisfied for the day. Squalo wasn’t in quite such bad shape, but he hadn’t spent the first half of the day being blown up either. Tsuna dragged himself back under the trees, feeling like a drowned rat.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when Yamamoto spoke from the shadows beside him.

“So, is it my turn now?”

“Yamamoto!” Tsuna’s first response was relief, because he had been starting to get worried. His second was to get worried, because Yamamoto had a glint in his eyes that he didn’t get even when he was pitching in a tight game. Yamamoto was also carrying a shinai over his shoulder where his bat normally rested.

Squalo’s lip curled. “Back for more?”

Yamamoto’s answering smile was perfectly affable. “Yeah. I’m going to stay with Tsuna.”

“Even if you’re too weak?”

“We won’t know that until I try.”

“Bad timing, fighting the Rain on ground like this,” Squalo said very quietly, and vanished into the falling water.

“Yamamoto…” Tsuna started to say, only to be stopped by a heavy hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t interrupt,” Xanxus told him, eyes narrowed on Yamamoto.

Yamamoto just stood, head cocked, not even looking focused. Tsuna was about to say something, and never mind what the crazy people he was with thought, when that stillness broke. Yamamoto spun on his heel, sword dropping low and coming up in a sure slash, and…

Tsuna stared. The shinai had become a katana. And Yamamoto had caught Squalo’s descending stroke out of nowhere.

“Hmm.” Squalo smiled slowly. “Not bad, kid. Not bad.” He disengaged and sprang back. “Just not enough.” He came in again, faster this time, and Tsuna took in a breath to call something, he didn’t know what, because Squalo was looking a lot more serious than he had while he nearly skewered Tsuna himself. Gokudera seemed to agree, because he took a step forward with a worried frown.

The tip of Yamamoto’s sword dipped to the ground and slashed up, and water followed it. When either of them could be seen again, Yamamoto was behind Squalo. Now it was his turn to charge. Squalo was already turning, though, and Tsuna bit his lip hard.

“Quit worrying so much,” Reborn said, landing on Tsuna’s free shoulder. “Yamamoto is a natural.”

“But,” Tsuna started, strangled, and then gasped. Yamamoto’s hand slashed up and across as Squalo blocked a sword that wasn’t there. Instead it was coming in the other hand, and Squalo’s jacket fluttered, torn. He looked down at it for a long moment.

“Huh.” His eyes on Yamamoto were sharper than ever. “Your style. What’s it called?”

“Shigure Souen,” Yamamoto said, and smiled a little differently than he usually did.

“Thought I’d seen it before.” Squalo’s teeth showed. “Of course, the last time I saw someone using it, he lost.”

They met again, fast and sharp and brutal, and Tsuna felt like he could barely breathe. He knew Yamamoto, he knew Yamamoto always found a way when something was important, but he’d also spent some of the last few weeks fighting Squalo himself. He knew Squalo was the Tenth’s right hand, the strategist who taught Gokudera, the strongest among the Vongola after Xanxus himself. This couldn’t possibly end well.

“Been a while since I watched Squalo get serious,” Xanxus said, leaning back against a tree. “It’s good to see. Is that kid strong enough to take it, Reborn?”

“Yamamoto?” Reborn was smiling under his hat. “Of course.”

There was no question; Tsuna was surrounded by maniacs.

Xanxus grunted, watching.

“He thinks fast,” Gokudera murmured. “Most don’t realize how Attaco di Squalo works.” He straightened suddenly and Tsuna looked back at Yamamoto and Squalo. They were lunging for each other with what looked like exactly the same stance.

At least it looked that way until the actual strike.

Squalo landed hard in the mud and rolled back to his feet, eyes blazing. “What the hell was that?!”

“Shigure Souen,” Yamamoto gasped, down on one knee but grinning. "Eighth form."

“That wasn’t Autumn Rain,” Squalo growled.

Yamamoto blinked. “Of course not. It was the eighth form, Pouring Rain.”

Squalo opened his mouth and froze. “Like that, is it?” he finally said, very quietly, voice almost lost in the downpour. “Well, then.” He smiled, thin and sharp, and beckoned. “Get up and turn your goddamn sword around and show me the real thing.”

Yamamoto met him again, and Tsuna listened to Reborn explaining what must be the shape of Shigure Souen to Xanxus and Gokudera. His eyes were fixed on the flash and dart of swords in the rain, the hard, fierce light in Squalo’s face and the smile on Yamamoto’s. Watched as water swept up and away from Squalo’s charge and Yamamoto leaned into his stance, sword steady. Watched as Yamamoto fell.

“He’s still alive,” Reborn said quietly in Tsuna’s ear.

“Wasn’t that overkill, using Scontro on him?” Xanxus asked, as Squalo hauled Yamamoto back under the trees and dumped him there.

“No.” Squalo’s smile was wide enough to belong on his namesake.

Xanxus lifted an eyebrow as Yamamoto stirred and Tsuna hurried to help him sit up. “He’s that good?”

“He will be.” Squalo flung wet hair back with a toss of his head and kicked the bottom of Yamamoto’s shoe. “Keep working on it, kid.”

Yamamoto’s unsteady laugh broke the glare Tsuna started to give Squalo. “I will.”

“Are you all right?” Tsuna demanded.

“Yeah, sure.” Yamamoto blinked up at him as if he didn’t know why Tsuna might have asked, and Tsuna had to restrain the urge to bang his head against something. They were all crazy.

“Well then.” Xanxus stood over them for a moment. “Looks like you have someone for CEDEF, Sawada.”

Tsuna opened his mouth and closed it again. “I’m glad you’ll be with me,” he said at last, to Yamamoto.

As they gathered everything, and everyone, up to slog back to the mansion Xanxus and his people were staying at, Gokudera helped Tsuna get Yamamoto upright and finally ducked under his other arm to help him walk. “Swords make you crazy,” he muttered.

Tsuna couldn’t help laughing, even as Yamamoto looked slightly bewildered by both of them.

At least one person agreed with him.

Tsuna stood out on the private runway again, this time with Yamamoto beside him, and watched the stairs wheeled up to the side of the jet.

“…and for fuck’s sake learn how to use your edge,” Squalo was lecturing Yamamoto. “If you’re not serious about the sword it’ll kill you, and damn good riddance.”

“Yes, Squalo.” Yamamoto smiled agreeably, and Squalo eyed him with suspicion.


“Are you sure this guy isn’t just a complete idiot?” Gokudera asked his senior doubtfully.

“Idiot savant, maybe,” Squalo muttered.

Gokudera eyed Yamamoto and nodded. “Yeah, that sounds right.”

Tsuna could see that Yamamoto was trying not to laugh out loud.

“Nice that Squalo’s found a toy that bites back,” Xanxus murmured, a sardonic glint in his eye.

Tsuna turned to him. “I’m glad you came, and that I had a chance to meet you and work with you, Xanxus-san,” he said politely, which seemed to amuse Xanxus.

“You should be ready for the next insane mafia criminal Reborn finds for you anyway.”

Tsuna quailed a little at the thought, because he knew quite well Reborn would. He pulled himself together, though, because there was something else he needed to say. “Tenth.”

That pulled Xanxus’ attention to him, all right, and Tsuna looked up at him.

“I’ll get stronger. I promise.” At Xanxus’ startled look, he waved a hand, trying to take in the whole mafia thing. “For this.” He took a breath. “For you.”

It was hard to stand there under the sudden sharpness of Xanxus’ gaze, but Tsuna had thought long and hard about this and watched Xanxus with his people, and listened to the little things Reborn said about the Family heir. Xanxus had been hurt, like Mukuro had been hurt, and it was wrong. Tsuna couldn’t see that and do nothing.

“For me?” Xanxus’ voice was harsh, and in the disbelieving edge of it Tsuna heard the darkness he would need to cleanse this time.

The calm that was almost Dying Will stirred in Tsuna and made his voice low and even. “For you.” He remembered how Squalo had said it and smiled. “I’ll be the Tenth’s man, won’t I?”

After a long, still moment Xanxus nodded. “All right.” No more than that before he turned away toward the jet, but Tsuna settled back, satisfied. Xanxus hadn’t pretended it didn’t matter, this time.

He and Yamamoto, Reborn on his shoulder, retreated indoors as the engines started.

“So,” Yamamoto said as they watched the jet rise. “Italy, huh?”

Tsuna gave his friend a long look. “You’re sure you want to come too?”

Yamamoto smiled, eyes still on the jet. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”

Tsuna clasped his hands and told his nerves to go away. “Italy, then.”

“You’d both better start training harder, then,” Reborn told them. “I’ll call in some favors.”

“Harder?!” Tsuna had a bit of difficulty imagining that.

“And you should tell Kyouko soon,” Reborn added. “She’ll need time to decide.”

Tsuna just squawked wordlessly. It didn’t help that Yamamoto was stifling laughter.

“You can start with running the distance home.” Reborn pulled out his gun. “How can you expect to take over CEDEF without being in better shape?”

“Who said I was going to?” Tsuna demanded out of pure reflex.

Reborn smiled. “You did.”

Tsuna sighed. He supposed he had at that. On the bright side, he decided as Reborn took aim at him, he probably had an answer that would keep the career counselor at a distance for the rest of the year.

He supposed he’d better start learning Italian.


Last Modified: Jun 04, 10
Posted: Jan 02, 10
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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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Sugar and Spice

In which meeting the boss’s daughter changes Squalo’s life. Teen and up. Genderswapped Xanxus; alternate canon history.

Character(s): Superbi Squalo, Xanxus
Pairing(s): Xanxus/Squalo

Squalo detested parties and everything they stood for: crowds of politely smiling people standing around, pasting thin veneers of civility over longstanding feuds and plotting to stab each other in the back, and only attended them under duress. Nevertheless, it was at a party that his life changed forever.

He couldn’t remember, after, what the occasion had been, but his attendance as the head of the Varia had been mandatory. So Squalo drifted through the crowds of people with a sneer fixed on his face, staying aloof of the double-dealing and politicking and counting down the minutes till he could escape and wondering whether he should have killed Tyr after all, if this was to be the legacy he’d inherited, until a commotion had erupted on the fringe of the crowd.

Squalo’s first real look at the Ninth’s adopted daughter was of her standing over Vittore Barassi with a clenched fist and a thunderous glare. Vittore himself was on the ground, clutching a bloody nose and damn near howling. The howl changed to a squeal when Xanxus drew a foot back and kicked him in the balls. As every man in the room cringed, she spat on Vittore, though the gesture almost seemed to be an afterthought, and said, “Touch me again and I’ll rip it off.”

That was the kind of thing that would be an empty threat in the mouths of most women; as Xanxus turned on her heel and sailed out of the room, Squalo couldn’t help but be sure that she’d meant every word of it.

Squalo remembered to breathe again as the Ninth came forward with apologies for his daughter’s behavior, profuse as they were insincere, and the buzz of conversation resumed. He’d heard that the boss’s daughter was a real spitfire, but that didn’t begin to do justice to Xanxus.

He passed the remainder of the party in a thoughtful kind of a daze.



It didn’t take too much time spent hanging around the main house to figure out that Xanxus was as proud as Lucifer and had a hair trigger temper to boot, and was probably more than a little bit crazy. She was spoiled rotten, too, probably because it was easier to just give her what she wanted than to argue with her.

It was just as clear that marriageable age or not, Xanxus wasn’t going to stand for being traded off to some mafioso whelp in order to cement an alliance or a trade deal. Not that Squalo thought that the Vongola’s old man was that stupid, of course, but it sure seemed like plenty of other Families were. On the other hand, the Ninth did seem to be at a loss for what, precisely, he was supposed to do with his daughter.

She should have been a son, Squalo thought privately, after a handful of weeks of watching her skulk around the main house, snarling at her brothers and terrorizing everyone who crossed her path. She was bold and dark and astonishingly real in comparison to her adopted brothers, and she would have made an incredible Tenth. Squalo could imagine what it would be to follow a will like hers, dense enough to bend reality around it, and the thought made him shiver sometimes as he watched Xanxus.

Fascinating as she was, though, Squalo didn’t actually fall in love till the day that she turned on him, wheeling on him even faster than he’d suspected she could move, and slammed him against the nearest wall with a gun under his chin. She fixed him with a burning stare, and demanded, “What the hell do you want, you fucking stalker?”

The swiftness of it shocked Squalo; no one was supposed to be good enough to get the drop on him like that, not even the Ninth’s daughter. It startled him into honesty. “You,” he said.

Xanxus sneered at him. “The fuck makes you think you’re good enough?”

“What makes you think I’m not?” Squalo retorted, letting the steel slide down out of its sheath under his sleeve as he hooked a foot around her ankle and swept her feet out from under her. He dodged the blast of Flame that would have taken his head off as she went down, and brought the blade up, aiming for her throat.

Xanxus caught the sweep of it on the barrel of her gun as her eyes caught fire, and she actually laughed as she came rolling to her feet and closed with him.

Squalo was dimly aware that he’d lost his damn mind somewhere along the line, since one did not pick fights in the hallways of the main house like it was the Varia’s headquarters, and one especially did not pick fights with the boss’s daughter. He couldn’t really care, not when it was taking all his considerable skills to keep up with her. Xanxus fought like a demon, using dirty tricks that nice mafia girls weren’t supposed to even know existed, and didn’t seem to care when his sword caught her arm and laid it open, since that gave her an opening to press. She was magnificent, and Squalo couldn’t even make himself mind when his boot caught on a rug and he went down.

Xanxus pounced, landing on his chest and pinning his wrist under a knee as she planted the muzzle of her gun right between Squalo’s eyes. The half-crazy glitter in her eyes said she was going to pull the trigger, and Squalo exhaled, because fucked if this wasn’t the perfect way to go, better than anything he’d dared to hope for previously.

The Ninth’s voice came cracking into their little tableau like ice snapping in the winter. “What is the meaning of this?”

Xanxus didn’t look away from Squalo. “He annoyed me.”

“Then he should apologize,” the Ninth said. “There’s no call for open warfare in the corridors.”

“I don’t want an apology,” Xanxus retorted. Her finger was hovering over the trigger still. “Blood’s better.”

“You’ll have to make do with one,” the Ninth told her, exasperation dripping from every word. The floor vibrated under Squalo’s shoulders as he approached them. His face appeared over Xanxus’ shoulders; Squalo suspected him of being torn between irritation and entertainment. “You may not kill the head of the Varia, no matter how much he’s irritated you.”

Something went sharp in Xanxus’ eyes. “What’s the Varia?”

So the Ninth hadn’t told her, even though his sons knew. Squalo wondered why he was surprised, for a moment, and then cast it aside with a mental shrug. Wasn’t like that was important just now, not when there was something bigger and better demanding his attention. “Not mine any more,” he said, and lifted his free hand to fumble at his throat, pulling the insignia pinned there free of his collar. Xanxus let him do it, and took it from his fingers when he offered it to her. She eyed it curiously, muzzle never wavering from its spot between his eyes.

The Ninth protested, of course. “You can’t be serious.”

Squalo smirked at him. “Law of the Vongola,” he said, and returned his eyes to Xanxus, who was examining the insignia. “Law of the Varia, too. Loser serves the winner.”

“Yes, that’s very true,” the Ninth said, “but Xanxus isn’t going to take over the Varia—”

It was the wrong thing to say, or maybe the right one. Xanxus’ eyes flashed. “Don’t tell me what to do,” she said, and her fingers curled around the little pin. She rocked back on her heels and stood in one easy movement, and kicked Squalo in the side. “Take me to the Varia,” she ordered. “Show me what they are.”

“Sure thing, Boss,” Squalo gasped, and pushed himself up off the floor.

Xanxus smiled at that, like she liked the sound of it, and after that, not a thing the Ninth said or did could budge her.

– end –

Last Modified: May 09, 12
Posted: Feb 06, 10
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ellie and 7 other readers sent Plaudits.

Under the Sky

Part of the Sugar and Spice arc of Choice. Xanxus doesn’t like the way most mafia men drool, but she does like the way Squalo approaches her. Written for the Porn Battle prompt: Xanxus/Squalo, genderswap. Porn with Characterization, I-4

Character(s): Superbi Squalo, Xanxus
Pairing(s): Xanxus/Squalo

It wasn’t unusual for Xanxus to storm into her office, possibly destroying things in her path depending on how much of a snit she was in, but today her lips were tighter than usual and her glare was sharper. Squalo took his feet off the table, getting ready to move if he had to, and tossed the file on the latest Leone sprig aside. “Something up, Boss?”

Her lip curled up in a snarl. “Total assholes.” She pronounced it like a sentence of death.

“Lots of those around, yeah,” Squalo agreed, still waiting to see if the death would be literal this time or not. He tensed a little, feet under him, when she turned that glare on him.

“Like you’re not just as fucking bad, whenever you forget your goddamn place.”

Ah. That. Someone had tried to get fresh with the Vongola daughter again. Squalo really had to wonder just how many morons one world could hold, that word hadn’t gotten around yet just how bad an idea that was.

Of course, in a way, he couldn’t blame them. And this was, just maybe, the opportunity he’d been hoping for.

He leaned back deliberately, looking up at her. “I’ve never once forgotten my place.” As she took a step toward him, hand flexing around the butt of her gun, teeth bared, he added, “I said it before, didn’t I? Loser serves the winner.”

That stopped her and she stared down at him for a long, intent moment. “He does, huh?” she finally asked, perfectly expressionless. Squalo smirked.

“He could.”

Hell, if he’d wanted to live a long, safe life he’d never have joined the Varia.

The hard, warning glitter in her eyes as she reached down, wound his tie around her fist and yanked him to his feet with it sent a shot of heat through him. Which just confirmed that he was in exactly the right place, even if it wasn’t a sane one. “Prove it,” she demanded.

Squalo was more than ready to prove it and he went easily when she hauled him down to a kiss, opening his mouth for her and resting his hands lightly, respectfully on her hips. He hissed, cock twitching, as she bit at his lower lip, and she was smiling when she drew back.

“Maybe.” She turned away, giving his tie a final jerk which he interpreted as a command to follow her back out into the halls. After they’d gotten a few odd looks, he tried to tone down his grin a bit. God knew Xanxus would probably shoot him if she turned around and saw it, and while that was pretty exhilarating in its own right he was hoping for something a little different tonight.

She led him into her room with every appearance of unconcern and threw the lock on the door firmly. He was about to get either laid or killed, possibly both, and as long as the second followed the first he wasn’t sure he’d care. This was Xanxus, after all, and he already knew he’d follow her till he died, most likely at her own hand all things considered.

She spun around and looked him up and down, hands on her hips. “Lose the clothes,” she ordered.

Squalo shrugged and stripped out of his coat and shirt, kicked off his shoes and pants, skinned out of his underthings. He spread his arms, smiling a bit mockingly. “And what now, Boss?”

Her eyes gleamed as she looked him up and down. “I guess it’ll do.” She set a hand on his chest and shoved him back onto the bed. Squalo stretched out and made himself comfortable, watching under his lashes as she undressed; Xanxus had zero respect for anyone who cowered.

Of course, she was also capable of shooting a person for insolence, but that just kept life interesting.

“And keep your hands to yourself,” she told him as she climbed onto the bed.

Okay, that was a bit disappointing. Nevertheless, Squalo murmured, “Whatever you say, Boss,” and reached over his head to wind his fingers into a pillow. Her smile gained an edge of approval. Her shoulders also relaxed, though he doubted anyone less dedicated to Xanxus-watching would have noticed it. On reflection, it didn’t surprise him; given her mother’s work, she must have had to fight men off before she came to the Vongola. Well, if that was the way this had to go, he didn’t actually have any objections.

In fact he nearly groaned out loud when she slid a hand down between her legs, fingers stroking slowly back and forth as she considered him. Wary or not, he should have known Xanxus wouldn’t be shy. “Fuck, Boss,” he breathed reverently, and yeah, that did it, and thank God he already knew how much she liked the way he always, always gave her her title.

She swung a leg over, straddling him, and reached down to wrap her hand around his cock, head tilted as she weighed it in her palm. With some effort, he kept himself from rocking up into her hand; this was her show and if he tried to run it he’d be dead without even a last ride to show for it.

He couldn’t keep himself from the shocked sound he made when she lifted up and guided his cock against her and pressed right down onto him, though. He wasn’t fucking surprised when she hissed and slowed almost immediately.

If Xanxus had ever fucked anyone before, he was pretty sure he’d have known about it by now.

Calculation flickered through his head, even as he trembled with the urge to push up into the tight, tight heat that was closed around the head of his cock. No one told Xanxus what to do, and she’d already made it clear his role here wasn’t to give suggestions. If she pushed herself now, though, who knew if they’d ever get to do this again? So… he’d just have to not-suggest and rely on her temperament to do the rest.

Actually, that would be pretty damn easy.

He let himself gasp, let himself shiver under her, hands fisting tight in the pillow. “Boss,” he said, tight and pleading, “oh fuck Boss…” He let his hips lift just a tiny bit before he made himself lie still again, and damn but that took willpower.

From the way Xanxus was smiling now, slow and dark, it showed.

“Hm.” She rocked up and just a tiny bit more down onto him and gasped out a laugh at the sound he made.

A little bit. And a little bit more. It was practically torture, and Squalo’s skin was slick with sweat from the effort of lying still under her as she worked herself down onto him slowly. He didn’t make any effort to hold back his gasps and whines, and by the time she was all the way down he was shaking and panting. Her eyes stayed fixed on him the whole time, nearly glowing.

And that was almost hotter than the grip of her body around his cock.

She planted her hands against his chest and rocked over him, slowly, not lifting up, just… moving. Grinding. That would probably have driven him crazy even if he wasn’t two thirds of the way there already.

God, Boss, please,” he begged, and moaned when she rocked up and back down, fast. The edge of a purr in the sound she made nearly made him come right there and then.

She rode him slow and hard, and pleasure nailed every sense he had to the edge of bearable. The shift of her breasts as she moved, the flex of her thighs against his hips, the little sounds of pleasure low in her throat, the scent of her hanging heavier in the air until he could almost taste it as he panted, open mouthed, for breath—all of it grabbed him by the spine and fired his nerves until he was trembling on the edge.

“Please, Boss, please let me touch you,” he gasped, because the tiny portion of his brain that still worked told him he never wanted to leave this woman unsatisfied.

“Mmmm.” The huskiness in her voice made him shudder. “All right.”

Squalo freed one hand from its death grip on the pillow and swiped his tongue messily over his thumb before sliding it between her folds to rub over her clit. She arched over him with a hiss, nails biting into his chest, and he rubbed harder, panting, dizzy with the wild heat of her, the body knowledge that he belonged to her. She jerked against his hand, driving down onto him faster, and Squalo’s breath was hoarse and desperate in his throat when she groaned and her body tightened ferociously.

He finally broke and drove up into her helplessly, barely able to gasp as orgasm caught him and wrung him out like a rag over and over.

When the world stopped exploding behind his eyes he eased his hand away and let it fall back against the bed. He wanted a chance to do this again, after all, and if that meant obeying her without question in bed as well as out of it, well hell; that was a fucking bonus. “That about what you had in mind, Boss?” he gasped, looking up at her.

She bared her teeth. “Something like. I guess.” She was breathing hard, too, which he took some satisfaction in, though he wasn’t surprised at all when she hauled herself off him and sprawled back on her pillows, planting a foot on his hip and shoving him aside. He resettled himself out of arm’s reach to catch his breath.

“Well, then. Any time you want, Boss.” He glanced over at her, catching her eye and added, lower, “Anything you say.”

The satisfaction that flashed over her face and the faint curve that her mouth settled into nearly made him feel ready for another round. Later, he decided, crawling out of bed to go hunt for a towel. Later, when she decided she wanted his service again. The thought coiled, hot, at the base of his spine.

The law of the Vongola. The loser served the winner. He’d meant that with all his body and soul when he’d said it, and being able to follow the scorching flame that was Xanxus’ will was all the reason he’d ever needed.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Feb 06, 10
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What Xanxus wants, Xanxus gets. Smut like nobody’s business. For Porn Battle IX, prompt: Xanxus/Squalo, genderswap, boots. Girl!Xanxus, alternate canon.

Character(s): Superbi Squalo, Xanxus
Pairing(s): Xanxus/Squalo

Xanxus has legs that just don’t quit, and she dresses to kill more literally than most women do. When they’re on a mission, it’s all boots to the knee and sleek leather pants that hug the muscles of her thighs and the curve of her ass and hips. There’s a lot to be said for that, but even more to be said for what passes for her business attire, since she’s perfectly willing to trade the leather pants for skirts that are short enough to be practically indecent when she crosses her legs and they creep up her thighs. Squalo’s pretty fond of those skirts, actually, especially when Xanxus crooks a finger at him and says, “Come here,” as she uncrosses her legs and spreads her knees wide.

He does, and drops to his knees for her. What Xanxus wants, Xanxus gets, and that’s just fine by Squalo, who jumps to obey his boss’s every whim. Most people suppose that it’s because Xanxus is the dictionary definition of volatile. Fewer people suspect the truth, and Xanxus herself is not one of them. Squalo doesn’t mind that; he’s her man every way it matters and a few it doesn’t. As long as she allows that, he’s good.

Xanxus isn’t much for the things other women like, foreplay and kisses and soft fluffy shit like that, so Squalo doesn’t bother much with the preliminaries. When he sets his hands on Xanxus’ knees and slides them up her thighs, feeling the power in the solid muscles under creamy skin as he rucks her skirt up, it’s more for him than for her. Xanxus raises her hips when he hooks his fingers in her panties and draws them down, and makes an impatient sound as he takes his time about it. Squalo doesn’t mind that, or the hand that descends onto his head, gripping his hair and urging him forward. Squalo goes willingly, burying his face between her thighs as she spreads her knees wider. He breathes in the damp, musky scent of her, and she tightens her fingers in his hair, growling at him, voice gone husky with demand. Squalo runs his hands up her thighs to lift her hips and leans forward to taste her, tongue sliding against the slick folds of her cunt and stroking against her clit.

Xanxus’ growl changes to something like a moan as she rocks up against his mouth as Squalo laps at her. She’s already wet, must have been thinking about this for a while before she put down the file she’d been reading and beckoned him over, and she makes a half-gasping sound when he slides his fingers up into her. He fucks her on them as he mouths her, tongue flicking against her fast, the way she likes it. She’s tight around his fingers, muscles already fluttering as he strokes them against her, three of them twisting and curling inside her. It’s no surprise to him when she comes off fast, shuddering and bucking against his mouth with a breathy little groan that sets Squalo’s cock throbbing in his pants.

She’s got him trained well; some women want to have a moment after they come, but Xanxus isn’t that type. More is never enough for her, so Squalo keeps his mouth on her, tongue moving against her, sliding against her clit and between the folds around his fingers. He works her until his jaw aches, while Xanxus gasps above him, head thrown back against her chair, sooty lashes fluttering over her eyes as she grips Squalo’s hair and the arm of the chair, white-knuckled.

Just when Squalo thinks he’ll die if he doesn’t get off soon, Xanxus pushes him away from her and plants one booted foot on his chest, pushing him over. He lands flat on his back and stays there while she stands and strips out of her blouse and that skirt. “Well?” she says, standing over him and wearing nothing but those boots and a challenge in her eyes.

That’s his cue to undo his pants, fucking finally, and he can’t help groaning in relief as he does, shoving them and his underwear down his hips. Xanxus wrenches his shirt open herself as she kneels astride his hips, so close to his cock that he can feel the heat of her. She rakes her fingernails down his chest, casual as a cat sharpening her claws, and Squalo grunts at the sting of it. He doesn’t let that stop him from raising his hands and palming the lushness of her breasts. Xanxus arches into his hands as he plays with them, the only thing truly soft about her, and rocks over him, frustratingly close, until Squalo can’t stand it any more and moans, “Boss, please…”

That’s what it takes to get her to reach down and take him in hand, calloused palm wrapping around his cock and guiding it into her. Squalo groans at the slick heat of her body as she settles over him, one sure swift movement that nearly drives him out of his head. Xanxus plants a hand on his chest, pinning him down and balancing herself as she rides him, hips rocking over his, fast and hard. She does this for herself; it’s Squalo’s job to brace her, one hand on the curve of her back and the other free to fondle her breasts. He bites his lip as he does, trying to hold out against the scorching heat of her body and the way she looks as she takes her pleasure from him. Xanxus scowls as she drives herself down against his cock, as single-minded for this as she is for everything else, until she hisses at him to touch her. Squalo slides his hand down from her breast to the tautness of her stomach and then presses them against her clit, stroking hard, and that sends her off again. She groans as she comes, arching over him, wild hair damp at the temples and her chest heaving as her muscles ripple around Squalo’s cock.

She’s the most beautiful damn thing Squalo’s ever seen, especially when he drives his hips up against hers and she gasps as each ragged thrust wrings another spasm of pleasure out of her. Squalo groans, watching her, feeling the gathering pressure of his orgasm building, and finally she looks down at him. It’s the satisfaction in her eyes as she surveys him and the possessive quirk of her lips that undoes him. Another groan rips itself out of his throat as his hips buck under hers and pleasure comes crashing down on him like a tidal wave, rolling through him relentless and fierce.

When it finally lets him go, he’s as limp as a jellyfish washed up on the tide, and can only pant for breath as he stares up at her. But Xanxus doesn’t really care much for the afterglow and climbs off him, stretching shamelessly, with only the faintest of wobbles in her knees. Squalo pretends not to notice that, though he does take a certain workmanlike satisfaction from seeing that she’s not as unaffected as she thinks she is.

Then Xanxus kicks him in the ribs. “You gonna lie there all day?”

“No, Boss,” Squalo says, with a wheeze, and rolls to his feet to get them some towels to clean up with. He’s just chivalrous like that, and besides, Xanxus is perfectly capable of lounging at her desk mostly naked if he doesn’t.

And while Squalo really wouldn’t mind that at all, it’d be hell on his productivity.

– end –

Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Feb 06, 10
Name (optional):
Amber_Nicole_Woods and 6 other readers sent Plaudits.

Like Chile on the Tongue

Xanxus likes being on top. Adult! Part of the Fem!Xanxus branch of Choice. Genderswap, pegging, overtones of D/s. Filthy, filthy smut. Like, seriously, I think this is the porniest thing I’ve written to date.

Character(s): Superbi Squalo, Xanxus
Pairing(s): Xanxus/Squalo

Squalo’s eyes felt like they were about to pop out of their sockets. “Oh sweet Jesus, Boss,” he said, staring.

Xanxus’ lips peeled back from her teeth. “Yes?” She leaned back on her elbows, mother-naked. “Was there something you wanted to say?” Her eyes glittered beneath her lashes, practically daring him to object.

Squalo swallowed hard. And here he’d thought that the thing with the cock ring had been exciting. Maybe he should have seen this one coming when it’d become clear that she was digging into the catalogs.

“Well?” she said.

He wet his lips. “No, Boss.”

Xanxus arched an eyebrow. “No?” Her voice was husky, practically a purr.

The thing was nestled between her thighs, jutting out from them, thick and blunt. He couldn’t see any straps holding it in place, which meant that the other end was–

“Oh fuck,” he moaned as his cock throbbed in his pants. “Boss…”

Xanxus’ eyes passed over him, head to toe. She smiled, lips curling slowly, and crooked a finger at him. “Come here.”

Squalo stumbled his way to the bed, knees weak just from looking at her, and stopped short when she grunted at him. “Boss,” he said, breathless with the anticipation singing through him.

Xanxus’ eyes moved over him again. “Strip.”

“Yes, Boss,” he said, even as he scrambled to obey the order, struggling out of his shirt and hopping on first one foot and then the other as he tugged his boots off.

Her eyes stayed on him until he’d shucked out of his pants and underwear, hooded under her lashes. “Mm,” she said when he was finally naked. “Eager, aren’t you?”

Squalo took pride in the fact that he had only ever given her the truth, and so he nodded, not entirely trusting his voice for the answer.

Xanxus huffed, but the sound of it was grudgingly pleased. “If you’re so eager, then suck it.”

Squalo couldn’t move immediately because something in his brain shorted out just at the thought. “Boss…” His voice was hoarse in his own ears.

She made an impatient sound and spread her knees wide, gesturing. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

“No, Boss,” Squalo said, and lost no more time scrambling onto the bed with her and kneeling between her legs. From this angle he could see how it fit into her, the pearly white thickness of it holding her open and gleaming slickly where her body folded around it. “Oh, God,” he whispered. Xanxus made an impatient sound and he bent his head down to stroke his tongue against the base of it, tracing the tip of it against her skin and the dildo, tasting her on it. Xanxus’ breath hitched at that and she spread her thighs wider, tilting her hips up as he explored the shape of it with his tongue. It was thick, fitting snugly against her clit, and tapered to a stylized head that was smooth under his lips.

Xanxus watched him run his mouth over the smooth column of it. Her eyes were dark; she kept them fixed on him, avid as he ran his tongue around the head. “Go on, then.”

Squalo obeyed; it was thick enough to fill his mouth and stretch his lips as he stroked his mouth down the shaft, taking as much of it as he could before pulling back, slow, letting his lips drag against the smooth silicon of it. Xanxus watched him, cupping a hand around one of her breasts and playing with it as Squalo bobbed his head over the dildo. “That really the best you can do?”

She said it like a dare, but reached her other hand down to him, resting it against the back of his head, heavy. Squalo groaned as the weight of it demanded more of him. He sucked in a breath as her hand guided him down the dildo and it nudged at the back of his throat. It had been a long fucking time since he’d had to do something like this.

It was worth it for the way Xanxus’ eyes flared and the sound she made when he relaxed his throat muscles and swallowed the thing, going all the way down it till his nose was pressed against her. “Look at you,” she said, fingers curling in his hair as the scent of her filled his nostrils. Her hips lifted, pressing the dildo deeper, and she made an interested sound as it shifted against her.

Squalo moaned, too, when her fingers tightened in his hair again and she lifted him up, not too far. He wasn’t surprised when her hips rolled up again, sliding the dildo between his lips, fucking his throat. She groaned, her breath coming faster as she moved her hips, and his cock tightened between his legs. He reached a hand down to it, pressing his fingers against the base, going lightheaded with the shallow breaths that were all he could manage as the dildo slid over his tongue, watching her.

Xanxus teeth were set against her lower lip, pressing down and chasing the color out of it, and her eyes went narrow as her breathing turned uneven. “Fuck,” she said, breathless, “fuck, fuck…” Her skin was beginning to gleam, breasts shifting with every panting breath she took, but she didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Finally she hissed her frustration and said, “Give me your fucking fingers.”

Squalo moaned around the dildo and circled his fingers around the base of it, pressing them against her clit. Xanxus groaned, hips rocking up and grinding against his fingers, and her entire body shook as she finally came.

Squalo couldn’t help whining, watching her, cock aching with how unbearably sexy she looked and sounded, dizzy with wanting her and with how breathless he was. But he didn’t move until Xanxus opened her eyes again, the gleam of them dark over the color of her cheeks, and showed her teeth as she pulled him the rest of the way off the thing. Squalo gasped for breath as it slipped free of his mouth. “Oh, fuck, Boss,” he said, when he could manage it.

Xanxus drew her knee up and planted a foot on his shoulder, pushing him over. “You can do better than that,” she announced. Squalo pretended not to notice how husky her voice was, despite the petulance of her words.

He caught the little tube she pitched at him then. “Boss?” He glanced at the label–oh. Oh, yes.

“Get yourself ready for me.” Then she seemed to stop and consider the order. “On your knees. So I can watch.”

Squalo couldn’t help the sound he made at that, hoarse, but it just made her smile. “Yes,” he breathed, and rolled over to plant his knees against the mattress, spreading them wide as he flicked the cap of the lube open and slicked his fingers. The rhythm of Xanxus’ breathing changed when he canted his hips up and reached down and back, turning faster as he stroked his fingers between his own cheeks. Squalo permitted himself a grin since he had his forehead pressed against the sheets and his face tucked against his forearm, and gave her a show, circling his fingers slowly, working the muscles loose before he pressed the first one in.

It’d been a long time since he’d done this, too. Thank fuck for muscle memory and the fact that he could hear Xanxus’ soft breaths behind him. He could imagine her eyes on him, watching him play with his own ass, stroking his fingers in and out of himself, spread open and wanton for her. That thought was almost hotter than the pressure of his fingers; it made him groan and his cock twitch, full and heavy between his legs.

He wasn’t surprised when Xanxus spoke, her voice rough. “How long are you going to take?”

Squalo let his fingers slip out of himself with a last flourishing twist that made him gasp. “I’m ready whenever you are, Boss.”

The mattress dipped and moved as she did; Squalo moaned as her weight leaned against him just briefly, soft breasts pressed against his back and the dildo smooth against his hip while she retrieved the lube. “Boss…” He craned his head, trying to get a look at her, and caught a glimpse of her sitting on her heels, wet fingers slipping over the dildo, meditatively slow. “Oh God, Boss, please…”

“Mm,” she said and moved again, coming up on her knees and reaching for him.

Her hands closed on his hips, holding them, and her thumbs curved over his ass, spreading it wide. Squalo panted, closing his hands on the sheet and gripping them, and gasped at the first cool slide of the dildo stroking against him, rubbing between his cheeks. Xanxus made a sound behind him, a considering, thoughtful one, and moved her hips again, slowly. Squalo shuddered at the teasing thickness of the dildo as it moved against him but not in him, taut with how close it was. “Boss, please,” he groaned. “Please, I want it, please…”

“Do you really?” she asked, all idle curiosity except for the vibrant huskiness of her voice.

“God, yes, please…” Squalo groaned as she kept sliding it against him, deliberately slow. “Please, Boss, put it in me. Fuck me, please…”

“Mmm.” She drew back and Squalo moaned as the blunt head of the dildo came to rest against him. Xanxus gripped his hips tightly, holding him so that he couldn’t push back against it, and he whined. She laughed; the sound of it was wicked and satisfied. “All right,” she said, and pushed into him in one smooth movement.

Squalo heard the sound that she made, breathless and pleased as her thighs pressed against his and she ground against him, but he couldn’t focus on it, not when the sharp stretch of his muscles had all of his attention and he was gasping for breath at the feeling of being filled up so completely. Then Xanxus drew back and rocked it into him again, before he’d had a chance to adjust to that first burning stretch. The feel of it was too raw to recognize as pleasure at first, which was probably the only thing that was keeping him from coming on the spot. He gasped for breath, gripping the sheets with white knuckles as Xanxus ground against him, making low, pleased sounds with every minute shift of her hips.

Then Xanxus’ fingers flexed against his hips, digging into them, and she made a sound that was low and hoarse. “Fuck,” she said. “Fuck.” The dildo ground deeper as she pressed against him, and the mattress shook as she shuddered, coming off again.

Squalo closed his eyes, imagining it: how her back would be arched and her face would look, fierce in her pleasure, and him on his knees for her, with that dildo buried in him, all the way to the hilt. “Boss,” he moaned. “Boss, please…”

Her fingers dug into his hips. “Yeah,” she said, voice gone smoky and deep. “Fuck, yeah.”

Squalo’s breath caught as she drew back, pulling almost all the way out of him, and escaped him on a cry as she thrust into him again, the dildo sliding in at just the right angle and raking pleasure up his spine. Xanxus grunted at him as he writhed in her hands, moaning in his throat as he tried to shift his hips, and held him in place. “There, huh?”

“Yeah, please, oh–!” Squalo moaned as she rocked into him again, fucking him at that angle with hard, sharp thrusts that sent pleasure stabbing through him. “Fuck, Boss…!” She slammed into him again, faster and harder, and he lost it, all the world narrowing down to the fire that raced through him, turning him inside out with the force of it as he cried out, keening and wordless.

Xanxus fucked him through it, hips pounding against his, dildo driving against the way his body tried to wring closed on it. She cursed as she did, the profanities rolling off her tongue in a fluid moan. Squalo sagged in her hands, gasping for breath as the short jerks of her thrusts sent sensation rolling through him, like aftershocks following an earthquake, almost too much to stand when all his nerves felt like they’d just been scoured clean. Xanxus just swore at him, too, and hitched his hips higher, holding them up as she fucked him, grinding against him and seeking her pleasure again, until she found it and her voice faltered and fell silent. Squalo’s hip stung as her fingernails dug into them, breaking the skin in a couple of places as she shook.

His muscles felt like they were made of jelly; when she released her grip on him, Squalo sprawled against the bed, groaning as the dildo slid out of him and sent one last shudder walking up his spine. “Fuck,” he said, low and reverent. “God, Boss…” He forced himself to curl onto his side, away from the wreck of the sheets, so he could look at her.

Xanxus was still panting, chest heaving and skin gleaming. As Squalo watched, she reached a hand that was trembling just a bit down and pulled the thing out of her. Squalo couldn’t help the little sound of appreciation he made as she did, especially at the sight of the bulbous shape of the end that had been inside her, large and glistening with how wet she’d gotten. No wonder she’d ground against him so hard; that thing must have been pressing against all the right places.

Xanxus looked at it for a moment and then dropped it, snorting. “Lot of work, just to get off,” she said, sounding vaguely dissatisfied.

Squalo stepped on the stab of his disappointment. “I guess so.”

She flicked a glance at him, one that was indecipherable. Then she snorted again. “I’ll have to get one with a vibrator in it.” She settled herself against her pillows and stretched, long and hard, and spread her knees again as she gave him a pointed look. “Get your lazy ass over here and make yourself useful.”

Squalo knew he was grinning and couldn’t make himself stop. “Yes, Boss,” he said as he marshaled his wobbly muscles and shifted himself over to bury his face between her thighs.

He really was the luckiest bastard in the world.

Last Modified: Aug 31, 13
Posted: Apr 11, 10
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A Love for Living Dangerously

Squalo is Xanxus’ man, which means he’ll let her do whatever she wants with him. Adult for smut, light bondage, breathplay, and intimations of D/s. Part of the girl!Xanxus branch of Choice.

Character(s): Superbi Squalo, Xanxus
Pairing(s): Xanxus/Squalo

Squalo wasn’t a fan of letting his boss go off to dinners at the main house all by herself—not because she couldn’t take care of herself, far from it, but because sometimes she didn’t take care of herself out of some perverse stubbornness of her own, and he hated watching that happen. Not that he really thought the old man or his sons meant badly, not really, but it was God’s own truth that neither Enrico nor Massimo or even the old man really understood Xanxus. They just didn’t get the fire or the strength of her and kept trying to shape her into something she wasn’t while they called it love.

To make things more difficult, Xanxus didn’t have any kind of sense when it came to her family, not really. She trudged off to dinner with them whenever they called and Squalo couldn’t find some reason to get her out of the commitment. She didn’t trudge back afterwards: usually she came back in a rage, either a quiet one that left her lips pressed together tightly and didn’t break until she’d broken something—a glass, somebody’s arm, once a chair—or a loud one that ended with bullets flying and Squalo sparring with her till they were bloody, sweaty messes who couldn’t move any more. And even after her temper had cooled off she went around brooding for days, until she managed to shake off whatever it was her idiot family had said or done this time.

When the invitation showed up, Squalo scrambled to find a plausible reason for Xanxus not to take part in celebrating the end of Federico’s peripatetic education, but couldn’t. For a wonder, all the Vongola’s many enemies were quiet or licking their wounds and the new batch of Varia recruits hadn’t yet begun trickling in. There was nothing to excuse Xanxus from attending the dinner in Federico’s honor, and if Squalo were any judge, the old man had planned it that way, the cagey bastard. Wasn’t anything for it, anyway, except to wait till Xanxus had left to rush around, laying in antiseptic and bandages and putting the good glasses away in exchange for the cheap mismatched stuff that wouldn’t destroy the Varia’s budget when Xanxus smashed it. No sense in not being prepared, after all, and it kept Mammon from bitching about the waste.

When Xanxus came in, Squalo was settled on the couch, prepared for the worst and ready to come up fighting if he had to. He wasn’t prepared for Xanxus to given him an appraising look as he greeted her, or for her to stride over to him and plant a heavy hand against his chest to hold him in place as she looked down at him. Squalo looked back, baffled, because she wasn’t swearing and she wasn’t wearing that pinched expression that was the other normal result of extended exposure to her family.

She started plucking at his clothes instead, undoing buttons and pushing his jacket off his shoulders. Squalo moved to help, automatically, until she grunted at him. “Hold still.”

Squalo blinked and did, puzzling over this strange mood until she leaned closer to push the jacket down his arms and he caught the scent of the wine on her breath. That explained a little of what was going on. Wasn’t unusual for the old man to serve drinks with dinner, though Xanxus usually sneered at wine and went straight for the harder stuff, scotch and brandy and vodka, things that put a fire in her eyes and never seemed to affect her aim, no matter how much she’d had.

So that was one mystery dealt with, but it still didn’t explain why Xanxus was bent over him and undressing him with her own two hands, concentrating so hard that there was a line drawing her brows together as she peeled Squalo out of the t-shirt he wore under his uniform. It obscured his vision for a moment as she pulled it over his head.

It never did to take one’s eyes off Xanxus, even for a split second. While he was shaking the hair back from his eyes and wondering why Xanxus was having that much trouble clearing his hands—she couldn’t be that drunk, could she?—Xanxus moved, hiking her skirt up her thighs and setting her knees on either side of Squalo’s hips as she twisted the shirt around his wrists, using it to bind them together.

Squalo went still with surprise and the way all the blood in his body rushed straight to his cock. “Boss?” he said, careful to keep his voice neutral, careful not to assume or presume anything until she gave him some kind of hint about what she was thinking—

“Shut up.” Her hand fell away from his wrists and circled around his throat, not tight enough to keep Squalo from sucking in a startled breath as her thumb stroked up his carotid artery and pressed against the underside of his chin, tilting it up.

Squalo opened his mouth to hers, groaning against it as Xanxus’ tongue swept against his and his cock throbbed in his pants, achingly hard just from this. Her mouth still tasted a little bit of wine, something sweet and complicated and meant for desserts. She kissed him slowly, like she meant to take her time with it—fuck, Squalo thought dizzily, she probably did.

That thought pulled another groan out of him. So did the way Xanxus’ fingers tightened on his throat, subtly, as he shifted his arms, settling the bundle of his wrists behind his head more comfortably. She had to have felt the way his pulse sped up at that and the way his breath hitched; he certainly felt the way her mouth moved against his, curling a bit as he stilled beneath her obediently.

Her other hand swept up his side and splayed itself over his ribs, counting them off and tracing over the patterns of old scars and newer ones, running over the places where the keloids were still shiny and pink and the places where they’d already faded to white. She’d given him some of those scars herself, but she touched them all, fingers wandering over them impartially as she kissed him, until Squalo felt shivery inside his own skin, sensitized to every light brush of her fingertips.

He groaned again when Xanxus lifted her hands away from him and pulled away from his mouth. When he lifted his head and looked, she was drawing back from him, stripping out of her shirt and unhooking her bra. That was worth losing her hands on his skin, definitely, so he stared, drinking in the paleness of her skin and the fullness of her breasts until he realized that she was watching him. Her eyes were dark when he met them; she looked like she was weighing something in her head.

Squalo raised his eyebrows at her since he wasn’t sure whether her proscription against speaking was still in place. Xanxus huffed out a breath and leaned in again. Her breasts were soft against his chest and her teeth were sharp when they closed on his lip. Squalo just groaned with that, closing his eyes and shifting under her, spreading his knees wider and trying to relieve some of the tightness of his pants. Xanxus’ teeth tightened against his lip, enough to sting, as she growled something at him, a warning. Then her hand slid down his stomach and over the front of his pants.

Squalo shuddered at the warm, heavy pressure of it; it took an enormous effort to keep his hips from lifting and rolling against her hand. He trembled with it, panting for breath, and was rewarded when Xanxus huffed again and stroked her tongue over his lower lip. “Don’t you dare come yet.”

Squalo thought she might have been waiting for a response and managed to eke out a strangled, “Yes, Boss.” He’d guessed right, because she grunted her approval and thumbed the button on his fly and pulled the zip down. Squalo groaned with relief as she did, head falling back as she reached inside and pulled him out. Her fingers moved over the shape of his cock, still slow, like she was learning the shape of him. There was something curiously impersonal about it, something almost clinical in her expression, but that didn’t stop pleasure from dancing over his nerves until he had to bite down on his lip himself to keep from rocking into that methodical touch.

He was on the verge of begging by the time Xanxus glanced at him again. Her eyes were still unreadable, dark beneath her lashes. “Enjoying this?” she asked as her thumb moved back and forth over his head.

Squalo thought he might have whimpered, something inarticulate and hoarse climbing out of his throat and passing for yes.

Her mouth curved, just faintly, and her fingers wrapped tighter around him. “You can come now,” she said as she stroked him hard.

Some lightheaded part of his brain wanted to protest, wanted to ask about her, but he couldn’t, not when the heat contracted on him at the casual command. It tore through him as he bucked into her fist, coming so hard that his vision whited out and his throat felt scraped raw with the sounds he made.

Xanxus was still perched over him, one hand gripping his shoulder for balance, when he came back down. When Squalo looked up at her dazedly, she was watching him. Her expression would have been unreadable even if his brain hadn’t just melted out his ears.

Squalo had to swallow a couple of times and wet his lips before he could manage speech. “Fuck, Boss…”

Her hand was still between his legs, sticky fingers playing with skin that was almost oversensitive, dancing on the edge of what was bearable. “You like this,” she said, finally. It was half a question and half a statement.

There was no way in hell he had the kind of brains left to manage this kind of conversation, so he didn’t bother trying to puzzle his way to the right answer. Squalo rested his head against the bundle of his wrists and gave her the simple, true one instead. “I love it,” he said as her fingers moving over him made his cock wonder whether it might be able to get up and go again.

Xanxus’ fingers froze on him and she stared at him. Then the hand on his shoulder gripped tighter, enough to maybe leave a bruise and to penetrate through some of the haze fogging Squalo’s brain. “Do you?”

“Fuck, yes,” Squalo breathed as something hot and possibly suicidal uncurled in the pit of his stomach in response to the way her eyes sparked. “Anything you want, Boss. That’s just fine by me.”

There was no way she could mistake his response, not when his cock was twitching in her hand, answering the way her eyes had flared and the way her fingers were digging into his shoulder. Xanxus stared at him for a moment before her hand loosened on his shoulder and slid sideways, wrapping around his throat tight enough that Squalo could feel his pulse beginning to pound. Her grip was tight enough to constrict his breathing; black spots swam in front of his eyes and his cock throbbed in her fist.

Just when he wasn’t sure whether he was going to last much longer without sliding down into unconsciousness, her grip eased and he was able to suck in a lungful of air under the weight of her hand and her stare. “Your man,” he told her, hearing the hoarseness of his own voice, when he caught a second breath. “You can do whatever you want with me.”

The seconds ticked past as she looked down at him. Then she snorted and stood. “Lie down,” she said as her hands went to her skirt.

“Yes, Boss.” Squalo couldn’t quite contain his smile as her skirt slid down her hips and her panties followed it. He wriggled around, stretching out on the couch and hooking his wrists over the arm of it, and watched her—bare and gorgeous and more dangerous than any three men put together—as she hooked her fingers in the waistband of his pants and underwear and dragged them down his thighs. Xanxus just rolled her eyes at him when she caught him doing it, and threw a knee over his hips to straddle him. Then she sank down on his cock with a low, breathless sound.

Squalo groaned, fingers clutching at the cotton of his shirt as her body wrapped around him, tight and slick, and fixed his eyes on Xanxus. She leaned over him, eyes half-lidded and lips parted, and planted a hand on his chest as she raised herself up and rocked down on him again, fucking herself on his cock. Her hips moved fast, the pace of them urgent as she panted over him, until she bore down on him. She ground against his hips as she slid her fingers down between her legs to stroke herself until her body seized on his, wringing tight. Squalo watched her, breathless with the way her muscles rippled around him and how she groaned, arching over him, riding it out.

She seemed a little surprised that he was still hard when she opened her eyes again. Squalo shrugged at her as best as he could with his hands bound up—wasn’t like he was going to come off fast again the second time. Xanxus snorted at him, rocking against him and making a sound that was almost pleased as his cock slid deeper. Squalo sighed at that, shuddering as the slow rock of her hips added to the pleasant tension threading through him.

Then her hands spread against his chest. “The fuck am I doing all the work for?” Her teeth were showing between her lips, just a little.

Squalo couldn’t quite help the laugh that bubbled out of him. “Sorry, Boss.” He drew a knee up, planting it against the cushion, and rocked his hips up to meet hers, driving a groan out Xanxus as he pressed deeper, fucking her harder. He let the sounds she made guide him as she arched and flexed over him, her eyes going hazy, until his thighs were burning and he was panting with how close he was.

Xanxus looked down at him when he made a sound, something inarticulate and entreating, and her teeth showed again. “Put your back into it,” she told him, and gasped when he obeyed, hips slamming up against hers, cock driving against her harder and faster. She swore, something inarticulate, urging him on as she ground down against him. She gripped his shoulders and panted as he spread his feet wider and fucked her, trying to find the angle that would send her off again, until she gasped, arching over him and shaking as she threw her head back, eyes squeezed shut.

Squalo groaned, hips jerking against hers as he chased the same edge she’d found, heat and need twining through him, but it wasn’t until she’d opened her eyes and looked at him and curved her fingers around his throat again to hold him that he found it. He groaned as pleasure swept him down, breaking him into a thousand pieces with its fierceness.

It took him a long time to pull himself back together. Xanxus was still spread over him when he finally managed it, sprawled across his chest in a lazy drape, and his arms were numb with how long they’d been trapped over his head. “Jesus, Boss,” he managed, finally.

Xanxus grunted something against his shoulder, apparently not inclined to move, and didn’t stir when he lifted his arms and shook them free of his shirt. Squalo grimaced at the tingle of blood flowing back into them, and then realized that he wasn’t sure where to put his hands now that they were free.

Well, if she were going to kill him for his impudence, she probably would have done that already this evening, he decided, and tucked a hand under his head as he settled his other arm around her.

The curve of Xanxus’ back went tense under his hand and then relaxed again; her breath gusted against his throat, warm, as she snorted. Since she couldn’t see him, he permitted himself a smile before indulging his curiosity. “So who did you kill at dinner?” That had to have been what had put her into such a relaxed mood. “Enrico?” He was probably her least favorite family member; Squalo had a bet going with himself over how long it was going to be before Enrico finally met with a fatal accident.

Xanxus’ breath brushed against his throat again as she huffed. “Didn’t kill anyone.”

“Huh.” So much for that theory. “Maim him instead?” This was Xanxus, after all.

“Don’t be an idiot.”

Squalo raised his eyebrows at the ceiling. “Sorry, Boss.”

Xanxus left him to wonder what had happened for a while longer before she finally said, “Federico wants to meet you.”

It didn’t quite register at first that that was her explanation. When it did, Squalo blinked a little at the ceiling, wondering at it. “Okay.” He’d figured that it would have to happen sooner or later; everyone knew that the old man was going to leave it all to his youngest son. Professionalism and his own curiosity made him ask, “What’s he like?”

“He’s not actually an idiot.” Xanxus stirred against him and Squalo realized, belatedly, that he was stroking her back.

But she didn’t tell him to stop and he liked living dangerously, so he kept going, running his hands up and down the sleek curve of her spine. “That’ll make for a refreshing change.”

Xanxus didn’t answer him immediately, but when she did, it was to say, “Yeah. Yeah, I think it will.”

And when Squalo finally met Federico Vongola a few days later, he understood what she’d meant.

Last Modified: Aug 31, 13
Posted: Dec 29, 10
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Vantage Point

There are far worse ways to die than this. For Porn Battle XI, prompt Xanxus/Squalo, genderswap, possession, voyeurism. Part of the Fem!Xanxus part of Choice.

Character(s): Superbi Squalo, Xanxus
Pairing(s): Xanxus/Squalo

It ended the way sparring with Xanxus generally did: the room was a smoking ruin and Squalo was on his knees for her, out of breath and holding still because there was a warm muzzle resting between his eyebrows. And, of course, he was hard, but that was normal when it came to sparring, too. There was nowhere that Xanxus was more herself than in the middle of a fight, and what she was was amazing. All in all, Squalo figured that if he had to go out, doing it at her feet looking up at the sleek lines of her legs and the wildness in her eyes wasn’t a bad way to do it.

But this wasn’t going to be the day that happened. Xanxus looked him over, flicked the safety back on, and holstered her gun. “Come with me.” The command was peremptory; she gave no sign of what she was thinking. Squalo rolled to his feet, adjusted himself discreetly, and followed after her without question since she was already striding away. Not towards her quarters, he noticed, stifling faint regret, but towards her office. Oh well. Sometimes the mood to fuck took her after a good fight and sometimes it didn’t. Wasn’t his place to complain either way. They were going towards her office; maybe she’d had a breakthrough on the Cizeta job.

At the door, Xanxus waved him ahead of her. “Inside.” She still wasn’t giving him any sign of what was on her mind. That may not have been a good thing; was she annoyed that he’d managed to land a strike on her? But wounds didn’t usually bother her, and this one barely even qualified for the title—the slice across her thigh had been a clean one, hardly more than a scratch, and had already scabbed over. Squalo puzzled over the curt command as he entered her office and brought himself to rest at attention. Xanxus pulled the door closed; he thought she may have even locked it, though the tumblers were well-oiled and the click of them was soft.

She eyed him again and snorted. “Strip.”

It wasn’t worth trying to figure out what was on her mind, he decided, hastening to obey as quickly as he could make his fingers undo buttons and zippers and laces. Maybe she was in the mood after all. He wasn’t going to dare presume (though his cock did). “Boss,” he said, once he was standing naked for her.

Xanxus made a circuit around him, running her eyes from the top of his head to his bare feet. “Mm.” She pointed—at her desk? No, her chair. “Sit.”

Baffled, Squalo obeyed, easing himself down into her chair. The leather creaked as it took his weight; the seat was adjusted for her height and not his, but he didn’t complain. Not that there was anything in the world to complain about, because Xanxus was unbuttoning her shirt and letting it fall, undoing her bra and discarding it. Squalo made a sound, watching avidly as she undid her skirt and let it slither down her legs and then peeled out of her panties.

Her mouth curled; she came around the desk and pushed the papers on it aside to sit herself down in front of him. Squalo stared at her, hearing himself make another sound when she lifted a knee and planted her foot squarely on the armrest of the chair, spreading her knees wide and displaying herself. “God, Boss…”

She leaned herself back on one hand and draped the other across her thigh, running her fingers over the cut he’d given her, still looking at him, still silent. Squalo looked back, drinking in the slope of her breasts and the lushness of her body and the sheer unthinking arrogance in the tilt of her head, aching with how much he wanted her. Her mouth curled, finally. “Touch yourself.”

His breath quickened. “Yes, Boss.” He dropped a hand to his cock, fisting it.

Xanxus made an impatient sound. “So I can see.” She seemed to consider her orders a bit more and added another clarification. “Slowly. And don’t come till I tell you.”

A shudder walked down Squalo’s spine and he groaned. “Anything you say, Boss.” He spread his knees wider for her and loosened his fingers around himself, running them up and down his cock and hissing between his teeth as he slid them over the head of it. He dropped his other hand down to play with his balls, determined to give her a good show, if that was what she was after.

Her eyes rested on him, heavy as a hand, as he worked himself for her. Her color was running high again, like it always did after a sparring match, and her eyes were half-lidded and gleaming. “What goes through your head when you’re on your knees for me?”

Squalo’s cock twitched in his hand as her question reminded him of the moment barely past; he saw her eyes sharpen. “That I’m yours.” He had to string the words together carefully, thanks to how dizzy the heat running through him was making him. “That it would be a good way to go, if that’s how you wanted to end it.”

Xanxus made a soft sound, one part hunger, one part satisfaction. “Would it?”

“Anything you want from me is good, Boss.” Squalo ran his thumb over his head, back and forth. “Because it’s you.”

“Mm.” She ran her hand up her thigh and tucked it against herself, sliding her fingers between her folds. She was already wet; the sight dragged a groan out of him. “That why you get hard when we fight?”

“Sort of, Boss. Sort of not.” He couldn’t quite tear his eyes away from the slow back-and-forth of her fingers or the way she circled her clit and traced the shape of herself.

“Tell me.” Xanxus’ voice had dropped, gone husky; his cock twitched in his hand, responding to that tone. Squalo gasped and pressed his fingers against the base of it: not yet, she hadn’t given him permission yet. “What gets you so hard?”

You, Boss,” he breathed, hearing the sound she made then. “It’s you, when you fight, there’s nothing else but you. That’s what you were made to do, and you’re so… so…”

“So…?” she prompted when he faltered, at a loss for words.

Squalo raised his eyes to hers. “Beautiful.” It was the truth, whole and perfect. “You’re beautiful, Boss.”

Xanxus stared at him; she’d stopped moving her fingers. “Beautiful.”

“Beautiful,” he repeated, because he never had lied to her and he wasn’t going to start now. “It’s the way you move and fight and how you look when you fire a gun, and your strength, and… you. It’s just you, Boss.”

She stared at him, eyes gone opaque. “You are one crazy son of a bitch.”

Squalo could feel the ice creaking beneath his feet. He shrugged at her and himself; if he had to go, having this be the last thing he ever saw wouldn’t be so bad, either. “Maybe, Boss. But I’m a happy one.”

He breathed a little easier all the same when that earned him a ghost of a smile.

Then she raised her foot and prodded his shoulder, digging her toes into it. “I didn’t give you permission to stop moving.” Squalo didn’t even know what the sound he made then was, but it made her smile again. He nodded and began running his fingers up and down again, breathless.

She watched him, holding her own fingers still, before saying, “So. Anything I want.” That was skipping right over the things that had confused her, but there weren’t any surprises there. She began stroking herself again; he had to wet his lips again. The corner of her mouth kicked up. “So that’s what you’re thinking when I’ve got you on your knees.”

It sounded like a dare; maybe it was. Maybe she wanted to see how far he was willing to go. Well, for her, he was willing to go all the way. “Sort of.”

Xanxus made a satisfied sound, like she’d expected as much. “Tell me.”

Oh, God. Squalo took a breath, steadying himself against the surge of adrenaline. “Sometimes,” he began, daring a glance at her eyes. They were dark. “Sometimes I think about you. How you stand over me. And what would happen if you decided you wanted me right there.” Dangerous territory, that; her eyes narrowed. He plunged on. “If you decided to pull me to you right there and have me put my mouth on you while I’m still on my knees, when it’s perfectly clear how completely you own me.” He couldn’t help moving his fingers faster; just talking about it conjured up the image for him, how it would feel to put his face between her thighs and taste her on his tongue while she stood over him.

Xanxus made a sound; the hardness was fading out of her eyes. He went on. “I think about how you would pull my hair to tell me what you wanted.” She was moving her fingers faster, stroking them over her clit. “How I’d still be able to smell the gun smoke, how it would be on your skin. How you would sound, whether you would want me to put my fingers in you. Whether you would let me touch myself, or if you’d tell me to keep my hands off my cock. So I think about that. Sometimes.”

Xanxus hummed something between her teeth and pushed a finger into herself. Squalo groaned, watching her. “Go on,” she said, voice low and rich, as she worked herself open right there in front of him.

“God, Boss.” Squalo swallowed, hard, and slowed his hand down lest he explode. “Okay, um.” He wet his lips. “I think… I think about what it would be like if you decided to wear one of your toys, maybe even while we fought. And how it would be if you decided to push me over and pin me under you so you could fuck me with it.” She made a low sound and slid a second finger in with the first; this seemed to be working just as well for her as it did him. Squalo kept going, the words spilling out of him. “Maybe you’d make me suck it first, just grab my head and fuck my throat to get it good and wet, before you pushed me over and pulled my ass into the air and put it in me.” She liked doing that, maybe even as much as he liked having her do it. She groaned now, listening to him describe it. “It would be so good to be on my hands and knees while you rode me, so good to have you fuck me hard, for just as long as you wanted.” He was breathless, half-giddy with the fantasy he was spinning and with his fingers on his cock, and from watching Xanxus fuck herself on her own fingers, three of them now sliding in and out of her, gleaming and wet. “I’d scream for you, Boss. And anyone could walk in and see me begging you to take me harder.”

That did it; Xanxus groaned, hips jerking against her own hand as she arched, eyes squeezing shut. Squalo moaned, watching her and pressing his fingers hard against the base of his cock, until she sagged against the desk, panting, fingers still tucked between her thighs. She opened her eyes again after her breathing had steadied. “That’s what you think about?”

“Sometimes, Boss.” He raised his eyes to hers. “Boss, please, I can’t—please, Boss, let me come.”

Her mouth quirked. “That what you need?” Squalo nodded, swallowing hard as she took her hand away from herself and spread her knees wider. “Come here.”

“Oh, God,” he breathed. “Yes.”

She snorted and pulled him in against her when he surged out of the chair. “You think you can fuck me?” she asked, wrapping a leg around him and closing her hand on his nape.

Yes,” he said, nearly shaking with how much he needed her, how close she was, her body radiating heat against his.

Xanxus made a satisfied sound and reached down to guide his cock against her. “Come on and show me what you’ve got,” she said as he moaned. She gasped when he let his hips snap forward, burying himself in her. “Fuck, yeah…” She dug her nails into his nape. “C’mon, fuck me now.”

“Boss…” Squalo planted his hands on her desk and bit down on his lower lip, doing as she ordered, driving against her, hard and deep. Xanxus hissed and wrapped her legs around him, pulling him deeper and groaning as he fucked her. It was almost unbearable to be inside her after spending so long talking and touching himself; Squalo could taste blood from where he was biting down on his own lip to keep from coming too soon.

“What else?” she demanded, hoarse. “Tell me what else you think about.”

“You,” he gasped, hitching her hips against his. “Putting your hand on my chest and pushing me down. Pulling your skirt up and then riding me just like that.” He licked his thumb and got his hand between them to rub it against her clit; he was shaking with the effort of holding himself back from the edge. “You when you come, the way you sound and the way you smell and taste, how you feel around me, God, Boss, I never stop thinking about you, I belong to you, I have you ground into my bones, I—”

Xanxus arched under him, groaning as her body wrung tight on his. “Now,” she gasped. Squalo obeyed, orgasm slamming into him like a fist and knocking the breath out of him as it whited out his vision altogether.

He was draped against her when he came back down again; she was holding him up and still had her hand on his nape. Squalo hardly dared to stir against her as the words he’d babbled to her began to come back to him as his head came clear again.

“That’s what you think about?” Xanxus’ words were slow, her tone thoughtful.

Squalo stared past her shoulder to the papers strewn across her desk, contemplating his own mortality. “Yes, Boss.”

Xanxus tightened her grip on his nape. “Oh.” It could have meant anything. “Oh.”

He nodded, hardly daring to breathe.

Xanxus slid her thumb over his nape. “How long?” she asked, when he shivered.

“Since the beginning.” It was only the truth.

Xanxus hissed something between her teeth, profane, and tightened her grip when he would have pulled away—to do what, he wasn’t sure. Apologize, perhaps. “You…” she started. Squalo could count the number of times he’d heard her sound that confused on one hand and still have fingers left over.

“Me, Boss,” he agreed.

She snorted something and loosened her hand, flattening and spreading it in the space between his shoulder blades. Squalo’s breath caught in his throat when she kept going, smoothing her hand down his spine and back up again. “Boss,” he breathed, very close to trembling. She kept touching him, fingers slow against his skin, and a shudder rolled through him.

She didn’t say anything at first, just kept touching him till he was trembling against her. “You’re mine,” she said at last, curving her palm around his nape again. “Aren’t you.”

Not really a question so much as a statement, that, but it needed answering. “Yes, Boss.” Squalo wet his lips. “Heart and soul and body. Yours.”

Xanxus sucked in a breath, but didn’t say anything else.

It was a long time before she let him go.

Last Modified: Aug 31, 13
Posted: Jan 27, 11
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