Grazhir :: Crossover :: Diagonal :: 07

07: Fringed World

Target 1985: Estraneo

Kiri sidled up to him and smirked in a way that made him want to shudder, but he bravely tilted his head and said, “What’s up?”

“The Estraneo have produced a prototype Possession Bullet and plan to test it soon.”

He frowned. “On?”

“They’re thinking big for some reason,” his brother replied. “They managed to quietly get Vincenzio Magnani into a seat at the 1983 elections. He’s managed to gain something of a voice in the Chamber of Deputies. They plan to shoot him with it and have him espouse their policies, hoping that his present position will allow them to alter things to their liking, and get others into position for them to shoot. A cascade effect, if you will.”

“It doesn’t sound all that much different from what Mukuro ended up wanting to try,” he pointed out.

“He may have overheard the scientists talking amongst themselves and adopted the plan as his own in order to ensure worldwide destruction.”

“And did you have anything to do with the setup for their plan?” he asked shrewdly.

“Perhaps,” Kiri said coyly. “In any case, I plan to be present for this little test and ensure that things go horribly wrong. And before you ask, I’ve been doing things like this for a long time, so don’t worry too much.”

“You know I’ll worry no matter what.”

Kiri picked him up and cuddled for a few moments, then set him back down. “I know.”

*

In actuality, Kiri went the expedient route of sneaking into the Estraneo compound and forcing the choice of which member would be the one shooting, and therefore controlling the politician. That person, of necessity, was mentally weak, as were the others chosen to go along and witness this glorious advance in Estraneo technology.

‘They’re all mentally weak,’ he thought as he observed from partial concealment behind a pillar. ‘If any of them had half the strength Sora does now I would not be able to sway them so easily, even in my weakened state. It’s too bad for them intelligence doesn’t equate the way they might like.’

He spotted the Estraneo shooter and strengthened the cloak around himself. Other Estraneo members were scattered around the hall, doing their best to look inconspicuous, but their repeated glances at the shooter gave them away to anyone paying attention.

Magnani stood up to address his fellows and that’s when the shooter fired and dropped like a stone. Kiri was mildly surprised that Estraneo had thought to cover the sound in some way, and to throw up an illusion so that no one noticed the man hitting the floor.

Kiri watched patiently as it all went to hell. Magnani broke off his speech and blinked, started to say something, closed his mouth again, then started laughing maniacally. Kiri’s brow went up at the potential evidence that the man’s mind had snapped under the pressure and that the shooter was incapable of keeping him under control.

The other Estraneo lost it and ran for their downed man, at which point Kiri set off his mental trigger and retreated from the building. He would learn plenty from normal media and from the underground gossips about what would come next.

*

Sora eyed the headlines with equal parts surprise and resignation. “At least it was limited to property damage and one person,” he said after reading the article.

“The real prize, as you know, is that I’m already hearing word that the Vindice is hunting down Estraneo personally. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bullet used was recovered, but even if not, a competent examination of the shooter would reveal quite a bit, not to mention the others who were there. How terrible that they all acted so openly in their disappointment at the failure of their initial test.”

“It’s really that simple?”

Kiri pouted at him. “Sora… Do you doubt my magnificent talent for mayhem? The subtle application of mental force to cause a ripple that effectively results in Estraneo imploding? Really now, I am a master at this sort of thing.”

“All right. I’ll bake you something special, and if we get word that all of Estraneo is behind bars, you can choose an entire evening meal. Deal?”

“But you’d let me do that anyway if I asked,” Kiri protested. “Or for that matter, claimed a day on the calendar.”

“I’ll make it with extra love?” he offered with a grin.

Kiri smirked and shook his head. “No. I have decided that you will be attending the opera with me. I think … yes. The Barber of Seville. I’ll make arrangements, so you make sure you have a nice suit ready.” He strolled off looking entirely too pleased with himself.

Sora sighed and bit his lip. He hated the opera.

*

Target 1993: Guardianship

“It’s time,” Kiri said as Sora was pulling another batch of pretzels out of the oven.

“Oh?” he said, setting the tray on a wire rack and turning around.

“Enrico is fifteen already.”

At first he didn’t understand what his brother was getting at, and then it hit him. “Has the old man been throwing people at him and pretending that’s all it takes for a guardian?”

“Essentially,” Kiri replied. “I don’t know if he expects people to just figure this out on their own, or is too busy making political arrangements with other allied families to care about proper harmonization.”

“No one ever bothered to explain it to me,” he said, “so I wouldn’t doubt he just never got around to it. When I was in charge I was so damn busy all the time that—well, I can almost understand it getting lost by the wayside. It’s still pathetic, now that I know better.”

Kiri nodded. “In any case, I just wanted you to know I’ll be moving about in the background. My ultimate goal is twofold. First, to get Enrico to have actual harmonized guardians, and second, to use this as a lead-up to the old man stepping down in a few years.”

Sora considered the implications of that. A part of him wanted to very carefully not ask any questions, and he probably would avoid doing so. But another part of him recognized that even people Enrico’s age could be, and often should be, held responsible for their actions. If a guardian wasn’t doing his or her job, should they still benefit from it?

He also wondered if Iemitsu had learned his child-rearing techniques from Timoteo, because both men were severely lacking as fathers. He would be… Sora did the math in his head and came up with sixteen for an answer. It was entirely possible that Iemitsu had learned everything about being delusional from his experiences at Vongola HQ, and Sora’s issues with the man were a direct result of Timoteo’s failures.

Kiri snatched a pretzel off the tray and bit into it.

“Well, um… Let me know the highlights?”

His brother nodded, tweaked his nose, and wandered off.

*

“What do you mean she had an allergic reaction to her makeup?” he asked in patent disbelief.

“The old man apparently had some hidden motive in presenting her as Enrico’s Sun Guardian,” Kiri replied. “He—”

“Wait, wait,” he interrupted. “Don’t tell me it was a matchmaking attempt.”

Kiri nodded and handed him a rolling pin. “Enrico was scheduled to address the upper level men at HQ at his father’s request, and his Sun suggested that he use some of her face powder to keep his face from getting shiny.”

His brows slowly rose as he rolled out the crust for a pie.

“And she pulled out her compact and said, ‘I use it all the time. See?’ Then she opened it and started patting the stuff on her face.”

“And that somehow translated to her death?” he asked, draping the dough into a pie plate and grabbing a knife so he could trim it.

“Oh, yes,” Kiri said. “Apparently, it’s believed that one of the ladies in residence was quite jealous of the girl and sabotaged her makeup. I overheard one of the maids saying that someone had put glass in her foundation, as one example. In any case, whatever was done to the powder caused an allergic reaction severe enough that she died before anyone could try to help.”

“Where did they get the idea jealousy was behind it? And hand me that bowl, please?”

Kiri pushed the bowl of pre-prepared apples over, though he stole one first and popped it into his mouth. “It might have something to do with the very flowery letter that arrived shortly after.”

He shot his brother a suspicious look.

“Pale pink paper, sprayed with some hideous floral scent, cursive handwriting like so many false eyelashes fallen to the page, with a declaration of love most keen.”

“Uh huh,” he said flatly. “And did you happen to get a look at this letter?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.” Kiri gave him an innocent smile. “One phrase in particular stood out, something about ‘a love that crushes like a mace’. But the gist of it was a love letter in the grand tradition of someone like your former pink-haired friend, and something about how the purest, most harmonious love was one they shared in death.”

He groaned and shook his head, then smacked his brother’s hand when he tried to steal another slice.

*

“Did you steal that idea from that one mission we did?”

“Dear brother, whatever do you mean?” Kiri said innocently.

“Right,” he said flatly. “And is it just me, or can anyone see that spade in your eye?”

“Only you,” Kiri said blithely. “In any case, it was all very tragic.”

“I’m sure it was,” he said dryly, then hopped onto his brother’s lap and snuggled in close. “So what happened, exactly?”

“Well, his Cloud was a bit spoiled and unmannerly, and you know how much that sort of thing annoys me.”

“You were nobility, so I suppose that makes sense.”

“Indeed. The mystery lover apparently arranged to poison Enrico’s fork rather than trying to mess with the food. The Cloud was sitting to his left and had a clumsy moment, dropped his on the floor. Instead of signaling a servant to provide a replacement, he snatched up Enrico’s and began to use it. He died very quickly.”

He closed his eyes and rested his head against his brother’s body. “And did another letter arrive?”

“Naturally. From what I could pick up it was on more of that overly-scented pink paper with the hideously ornamental writing. It went on about the tragedy of his survival in the last attempt and how that hussy got in the way, but that it was hoped this time they could be together in the harmony and purity of death. There was also a bit about how they hoped the letters would be buried with him, as tokens of love and devotion to take with him on his journey to the afterlife.”

“I’m feeling a bit sick to my stomach after listening to that drivel,” he complained.

“Oh, poor baby. Shall I make you some peppermint tea?”

“No.” He sat back up, balanced on Kiri’s thigh, and planted a kiss on his brother’s cheek. “I’m going to get Renato to fix it.”

“I don’t even want to know how.”

*

“He has yet to get the hint, so I tried something a little more direct.”

He thought about that for a moment and said, “I’m going to guess and say you mind-controlled or Mist-manipulated a student and had them … say … something.”

“Very good. And yes. I got a classmate to pull Enrico aside and mention how painful it must be for him to have lost two people he’d harmonized with, and then he clapped him on the back and took off. Enrico left that encounter looking confused and angry.”

“So perhaps now he’s suspicious of the lack of information. Granted, that could lead to a fight with the old man, but one can hope he will instead look to people his own age that he actually likes and might suit, rather than those superficial tossers he’s been saddled with so far.”

“It happened before classes began for the morning, so he had the whole day to think about it.”

“Um…” He bit his lip and gave his brother an uncertain look.

“Go on. You know you can ask me anything.”

“Did you actually harmonize with Giotto?”

Kiri shook his head. “I only joined because Elena talked me into it. And when she died I cracked. I didn’t harmonize with Ricardo, either. And once I discarded my body and took to possession, well, as I said before, I’m incapable of it.”

He hummed thoughtfully. “Would you like me to try to show you how it feels? Or would that be cruel?”

“I will think about it. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye on Enrico to see how he reacts.”

*

“I think we’re on the right track now,” Kiri said to him as he bisected a carton of cherry tomatoes. “He seems to be spending a lot of time with one of his classmates, who just so happens to be a Sun. Probably not someone the old man would have chosen as a guardian for his son, but Enrico seems determined to do things properly.”

“Have you taken a peek at this Sun’s mind?”

Kiri tipped his collection of tomatoes into the salad and gave him an unimpressed look. “Of course I have. I will keep an eye on the situation, but I’m leaning toward thinking that Enrico will harmonize for real, and after that he will no longer accept anything less. I also suspect he will warn his brothers about this in the event that the old man tries the same thing with them.”

“Has it even crossed his mind to be suspicious that his mysterious and deadly admirer has vanished into the woodwork?”

“He’s more than a little paranoid of late, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. It would be a bonus if he made the connection, but that might be expecting too much. All done?”

“Yep,” he said as he tipped his collection of cucumbers into the salad and tossed the contents. “Just has to chill.”

*

Target 2003: Vongola

“Now this is interesting,” Kiri said during dinner. “I told you that Enrico took over as Decimo, correct?”

Renato nodded. “So?”

“Remember when I mentioned that a ‘lost’ son was found and brought into Vongola?”

“You mean Xanxus,” Val said. “He must be … twelve this year?”

“Yes. It seems that the old man forgot to tidy up after himself when he stepped down and left a few scandalous bits of information for Enrico to find.”

“Oh,” he said. “Oh, I see.”

Kiri nodded. “Funny that. Enrico read through the material so he would know where to file it and discovered that Xanxus is not his brother. The old man saw that Xanxus could produce the Flame of Wrath and promptly adopted him. Why?”

“I see two choices there,” Lorenzo said. “Either to procure a powerful Sky for his family, or to remove the boy from a woman who’s been said to be insane. Or both, I suppose. I lean toward the former.”

“So how did Enrico handle it?” he asked.

“Very well, actually,” Kiri said. “He handled it maturely. He sat Xanxus down and explained the situation to him, and then assured the kid that he was still his little brother, blood or not. He also told Xanxus that if he continued to work hard and learn well, he was in line to join the Varia and become its next head.”

*

Target 2005: Nana

Kiri approached a door he had only ever seen in gifted memories and rang the bell. A minute later the door opened to reveal Sawada Nana, who smiled. “Hello, my name is Higashi Kiri,” he said smoothly. “I used to work with your husband. Since I was in the area, I thought I might stop by and see if you had a moment.”

As expected, she accepted that without even a split second of indecision, and said, “How lovely to meet you. Sawada Nana. Do come in. Would you like some tea?”

He smiled and nodded, then stepped inside and removed his shoes, then followed her into the kitchen.

“You worked with my husband? I guess that means you do something else now,” she commented as she set to work.

Kiri took a seat. “Yes, I’m a lawyer, but I was contacted by another firm with an offer I found difficult to refuse. Sawada-san has always spoken so highly of you and I felt I would not be doing his description justice if I didn’t stop by.”

Her shoulders tensed up for a moment, which was a good sign, so he slipped tendrils of Mist into her mind to make her more willing to speak openly.

“I wouldn’t have changed jobs, but I have a younger brother I like to make sure is all right. He runs his own bar, but…”

“Oh? Is it one that serves food, too?”

“He started out only serving bar food, snacks, that sort of thing, but he’s opened it up some to serve actual meals a few nights a week. Of course, that made things busier, but he has friends helping him out.”

“That sounds very nice,” she said as she brought two cups of tea over to the table and took a seat. “I used to be a waitress before I got married.”

“Ah, so you would have some idea of what he does,” he said with a nod, then took a sip of his tea. “Mm, this is nice. Thank you.”

“Oh, you’re very welcome. How long has your brother been running the bar?”

He looked off to the side. “Since 1981. He started making mead as a hobby, and after a while he thought opening a bar would be an interesting idea and a way to sell it. We all live under the bar. It saves costs on heating and cooling.”

Nana looked surprised. “Really? Underground? Doesn’t that feel a bit stifling?”

He shook his head. “It’s decorated so nicely you don’t even notice. And there are some amazingly realistic screens on some of the walls. You’d almost think you were in a normal house. The first sub-level has a kitchen so my brother doesn’t have to cook upstairs for us. He reserves the one on the ground floor strictly for the bar.”

“My, two kitchens! Your brother does all the cooking?”

“Mm. He’s a very good cook, but I might be a little biased. Well, this has been a lovely visit, but I suppose I should be on my way. I did stop by unexpectedly, after all.” He pulled a card from his pocket and slid it across the table. “I’ll be in the area for a while yet, though, so feel free to give me a ring.”

He retreated after that, though not before seeing a curious little Tsuna peeking at him from the top of the stairs.

*

He ran into Nana while browsing the shops in town and exchanged greetings, stayed to talk for a few minutes about nothing in particular, such as the weather, then sauntered off to purchase an adorable little yukata for Sora—or two, possibly three.

It was three days after that encounter that the front desk had a message for him, from Nana, so he headed to her house and rang the bell. Nana let him in after a moment and escorted him to the kitchen, served him a cup of tea, then took a seat.

“You said you were a lawyer, right?”

He nodded. “Are you in need of one?”

“Ano…” Nana sought refuge in a sip of her tea, then got a determined look on her face. “I have to think about my son.”

He nodded supportively, inwardly pleased at what looked to be an outpouring of frustration and anger and resolve.

“We have enough money to live on, but I really have to think about my son. I’ve—I’ve been contemplating divorce,” she said, then looked away.

“I see. Do you want to talk about it? Something that significant—well, voicing your thoughts and arguments to someone can help you reach a decision.”

Nana stared at him for a long moment, then said, “He’s never here. My little Tsu-kun is five years old this year and he doesn’t even know his daddy. If the man walked in the door right now my son would count him a stranger. He sends money home regularly, but that’s not a substitute for him being here. He keeps saying he’s so busy and that he’ll try to get time off, but it never happens.” She let out a tiny sigh and sipped her tea.

“What do you think you would do if you did go ahead with the divorce?”

“I … don’t know. The only thing I know how to do is keep house and waitress, but I might be able to find a job in town. I could do that anyway, though it’d mean finding hours during the time Tsu-kun was in something like pre-school. He’s terribly shy right now.”

He nodded. “I take it your romance was something of a whirlwind?”

A smile slipped out. “Oh, yes. He was incredibly romantic, always made me feel like a princess. And it was great at first, but it can’t stay great if he’s never here. Do you think that’s unreasonable?”

“Not at all. Maybe you should decide on an adventure. If you did choose to divorce him I can help with that, but what happens when he finally shows up for a quick, and probably unsatisfying, visit?”

“Adventure? I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Such as moving to a new country. You’d have to learn a new language, but it could be very exciting and ensure that he would have serious difficulties in causing trouble for you after the fact.”

She hummed thoughtfully and sipped more tea. “I really enjoyed my language class in school.”

“Oh? What did you pick?”

“Italian.”

Kiri blinked. He’d had no idea Sora’s mother spoke a second language, nor one so convenient. He had expected to talk her around to the idea of divorce, then moving to Italy to live at Filigrana and help out so she felt she was directly contributing to her life, and sneakily making it possible for her to pick up the language quickly by implanting some basic structure into her memories.

“I’ve been teaching my little Tsu-kun, too,” she informed him. “And that’s not a bad idea. It would open up the world a bit for my son, though I would be very sad to leave behind what I’ve known all my life and my cute little house. But … I could make new friends and learn new things.”

He was tempted to poke around in her head a bit more deeply, because her almost easy acceptance of the idea was a bit disturbing to him. Had she really been this unhappy in Sora’s original dimension and just that good at hiding it?

“If I’m lucky he shows up for a week, but he spends the entire time eating, drinking, and sleeping. You know what? I’m going to do it! I’m going to divorce him and leave the country!”

*

Tsuna was a ghost behind his mother’s skirts the entire trip, or as much as possible considering how much of it was spent on planes. Kiri had facilitated the speedy divorce and helped Nana with the sale of the house (funny how full ownership was granted to her), then made the travel arrangements.

A cab dropped them off at Filigrana (the belongings Nana had decided to keep were being shipped) and Kiri led them inside. The bar was fairly lively considering it was still afternoon, but Kiri ignored all of that and led them into the kitchen.

“Sora~!”

His brother whipped around with a smile and brushed his hands off on the towel he kept at his waist. “Kiri, you’re back!”

He snatched Sora up for a cuddle, then turned to their guests. “I’d like to you meet Nana and Tsuna,” he said, ignoring how Sora went a little stiff in his arms. “And this is my little brother, Sora.”

“I’m so pleased to meet you,” Sora said slowly. “I hope your stay with us will be comfortable.”

Kiri gave him a hug and set him back down, then ushered Nana and Tsuna out and downstairs, where they ran into Renato.

Renato eyed the newcomers, then said, “The room is ready, like you asked for.”

Kiri nodded. Renato had long since moved into his brother’s room, so the extra room on the same level was handy. The last thing anyone wanted was for a small child to wander into Lorenzo’s lab. He would have to check to make certain Viper had put up a Mist barrier to divert the boy, and if not, get it done while Nana and Tsuna were settling in.

“Thank you.” He led the two into the guest room on that level and gestured. “It’s not much, but it will mean you won’t have to worry about housing for now.” There wasn’t a lot of free space left over, but there was room for two beds, even if they were singles.

Nana gave him an uncertain look.

“What is it?” he said.

“Um… Well… Your brother is tiny,” she said barely above a whisper. “And the … man … just outside.”

“They met at a group help meeting for people with dwarfism,” he lied smoothly. “All my brother’s friends are tiny.”

“I see,” she said, then smiled brightly. “It’s terribly cute!”

He set down the suitcases and said, “I’m going to let you get settled in. Once you’ve finished unpacking we can see about getting you two fed, all right?”

“All right!”

He nodded and quit the room, then headed downstairs to ensure Lorenzo’s lab was off-limits.

*

Target 2008: Ensemble

Sora was tending the bar when a very familiar person danced into Filigrana and started twittering. What Lussuria was doing in town was not something he would inquire about, but he was curious all the same.

“Ciao~!” Lussuria said to him. “I love the sign outside! And the décor in here~!”

He smiled automatically and nodded. “Thank you. Can I get you anything this evening? Some mead, something to eat? We serve proper meals on Friday and Saturday, so…”

Lussuria snatched up a menu and sat down. He hummed as he read, then nodded vigorously. “Yes. I would like some of your baked penne, garlic-roasted asparagus, and—you make this mead yourself?”

Sora nodded. “From local honey.”

“…The sweetest one you have,” Lussuria trilled.

“All right.”

“And while I’m waiting for the main meal, a small salad.”

He nodded again. “I’ll get right on that.” He grabbed the sweetest mead he had from his supply and poured, then set the glass in front of Lussuria, then went into the kitchen to toss together a quick salad, delivered it, and got started on the actual meal.

When he came back out and served it Lussuria twittered again and dug in after a brief, almost unnoticeable pulse of Sun Flames. Lussuria squealed, which sounded off with his mouth full of food, and after he swallowed he said, “I’ve never had something like this with an offbeat cheese blend. It’s fabulous~!”

“It’s just something I tried one day and ended up liking.”

“I am very glad I stopped in here, then.” Lussuria blinded him with a smile.

“Just let me know if you need anything,” he said.

Lussuria kept the menu handy as he ate and nodded occasionally. Twenty minutes later he signaled for attention, so Sora went back over to hear, “I adore the food~! So, could I get a large helping of that pasta salad to go?”

“Enough for how many people?” he asked.

Lussuria hummed. “Seven. And I assume since it’s cold it travels well? I’m a few hours away from my destination.”

“Yes, but since you’re a few hours out, I can include a frozen pack to help. It keeps well for several days in the refrigerator—assuming it doesn’t get eaten straight away.”

Lussuria smiled. “Sounds great.”

He nodded. “I’ll go get that ready, then.”

“Oh, and—” Lussuria glanced at the menu again. “A dozen bottles of that mead?”

“Mm. Be back shortly.”

After Lussuria left Renato hastened over with a quirked brow. “That was the Varia Sun, right? He’s kind of hard to mistake. He ordered a lot to go.”

“He also checked to make sure nothing was poisoned before he ate. I don’t know whether to be pleased or concerned.”

Renato shrugged. “Would it be such a bad thing if—well, technically it’d mean having closer ties to that family, but… On the other hand, if you manage to seduce the lot of them with your cooking…”

Sora snorted softly. “I’m having a hard time believing that’d work with Xanxus.”

Renato shook his head. “You have no idea, tesoro.”

*

A week later Lussuria showed up again and ordered a meal for himself. He was just as twittery as the last time and just as complimentary about the food. As before he ordered a large to-go order, along with another dozen bottles of mead, though that time he wanted a mix of flavors.

The week after that Levi showed up. He grunted more than he spoke, and he only stayed long enough to pick up a to-go order. Renato smirked at Sora. “I think the whole seduction thing is full speed ahead, tesoro. Why else would they be showing up weekly to haul food four hours north?”

Lussuria showed up the week after and tried the tuna carpaccio. He snagged Sora as he wandered by and said, “Where did you learn to cook?”

He blinked. “I learned out of self-defense. My brother can’t cook to save his life, so I did my best to take up the slack. Just, you know, starting from a recipe and then tinkering with it until I was satisfied.”

“I do like that you have some Asian dishes on the menu.”

“It’s easier now to get supplies for that than when we started this place.”

“He could stir fry weeds and get a gourmet meal out of it,” a passing Renato commented.

Lussuria giggled. “Any chance I could convince you to try tom yum goong?”

His brow furrowed. “That depends. Is it spicy?”

“It has chili peppers in it.”

He bit his lip. He had tried making Shi’s favorite dish and he and his Storm had been upset to discover that the change in stature made them unable to handle a lot of heat. “I can try, but I’m not sure how well it would come out. I don’t do well with that kind of spiciness in terms of being able to check the taste. Still, I suppose I could try…”

“I’ll buy all the ingredients~!” Lussuria trilled.

He considered it some more. “I’d need time, so… All right, here’s the deal. If you can be here at around eleven on whatever day, I could try. We don’t open until two, so that’d give me time to try. I wonder if it’d freeze well…”

Lussuria clapped excitedly. “Let me think… I’ll source the ingredients and we can pick a day next time I stop by.”

“All right,” he said with a nod.

The very flamboyant Sun danced off a bit later with another to-go order and two dozen bottles of mead.

“This is getting weird,” he said to Renato.

“And I think you’re denying the knowledge that you’re sucking the Varia into your sphere of influence. Want to bet on whether or not any of them are even harmonized with Xanxus?”

He shook his head.

The next day he received another surprise. He had just finished a meeting with one of their other customers (Kiri and Viper had both been out when their other customer had arrived, so he had to handle the Mist aspect) when into the bar walked Romario and Dino. Dino looked painfully young to his eyes and more than little downtrodden.

They took a table as he headed to the bar itself and Nana went over to take their order. After a minute she walked over to him and said in confusion, “They don’t have a clue what they want.”

“I’ll talk to them.”

She smiled in relief and headed off to another table.

Sora strolled out from behind the bar and over to Dino’s table in time to hear, “—only sent me because he doesn’t care if I die!”

“Dino, no,” Romario said. “He just—”

“Just what? You didn’t overhear what he said.”

Sora coughed, which made Dino blush. “Ciao. I heard you were having some difficulty in deciding. I’m the cook, so if you have any questions…”

“Oh, um…” Dino glanced at his menu. “Chicken cacciatore, I guess.”

Romario nodded. “The same. Whatever wine you think goes with it.”

“…All right,” he said when they requested nothing else. “I’ll have that out for you shortly.” As he walked away he heard, “An Arcobaleno? Here? But Dad—” He signaled to Renato on his way to the kitchen and once inside he said quietly, “The two that just came in? The blond kid and his companion?”

Renato nodded. “What about them?”

“That kid’s a Cavallone. And they aren’t here because they heard the food was good. I saw that Kiri got back, so will you ask him to set a spy on them to keep track of their conversation?”

Renato leaned in to give him a kiss. “Okay.”

Sora set about making the latest order and delivered it himself. “If you need anything else, just signal.”

“I’m curious about something,” Romario said, and continued when Sora nodded, “There’s not a lot on the menu.”

“Right. I buy by day for Friday and Saturday, so the menu is limited by what I decide to purchase. Though there are a few things I always get.”

“I see. Thank you.”

He nodded and wandered back to his bar. After closing he was snagged by Kiri before bed.

“They’re here to spy on us,” his brother said. “The Cavallone Nono is apparently feeling a little threatened because some of the people in his territory have been coming here for help rather than soliciting theirs, so he sent one of his sons to investigate.”

“And the comment Dino made about his father not caring if he died?”

“That came up, too. The twins are duking it out for the position of Decimo, and he didn’t want to risk either of them. Cavallone is also curious in a general sense, so now that Dino is of age, he finally sent someone out he felt he could both trust and risk. However, Dino is in a bad position because, from what I could get out of them, Dino’s mother died in childbirth, and he’s been taking the blame for that.”

Sora frowned. “That’s patently ridiculous.”

Kiri shrugged. “I agree, but people are irrational beings and like to find an external source of blame. Dino is the scapegoat for his mother’s death. The only one wholly on his side is Romario, who was more or less pushed into being the kid’s nanny when he didn’t harmonize with either twin. He has harmonized with Dino, though neither of them are aware of it because the bond itself is a bit ghostly. On a side note, they adored the food.”

He rolled his eyes. “All right, fine. So maybe they’ll return and have more of it.”

Kiri gave him a knowing look. “I didn’t get much about those two from Byakuran, but I can already guess what’s going on in that head of yours.”

“Hm, let me think,” he said dryly, “that I have the idea to add them to our family?”

“The other Dino did adopt you as his younger brother, so yes.”

“Well, they didn’t expect to stumble over Arcobaleno,” he said.

Kiri shook his head. “That just made him nervous.”

*

“Hold up!” Renato said as he latched onto the arm of a young boy and prevented him from dashing off. “And just what do you think you’re doing?”

Sora caught up and eyed his lover’s prey. How Hayato had found his way into Filigrana he would not question. He would, however, do his best to draw the kid in and give him a safe home. “I would say dine and dash, but considering this one never even ordered I’m thinking swipe and sprint.”

“Let’s take him to Kiri,” Renato suggested.

Sora nodded and waved to Rio, who came over. “Can you watch the bar for a few?”

“Sure thing!”

Downstairs he located Kiri and pointed at the interloper. “I think he just ran away from home,” he whispered to his brother after Kiri picked him up. “Take a look?”

Kiri eyed the boy intently for a few minutes, despite the fact that Hayato was struggling to get away from someone less than half his size. “Yes, he ran and found this place by accident. If we keep him, perhaps he and Tsuna can harmonize for real this time?”

“That’s what I was thinking. Do you think it’d be a problem to make his father not give a damn, assuming he does now?”

Kiri shook his head. “I’ll take care of it.”

“I think … in this case, knowing how Hayato is, a mental tether wouldn’t go amiss?”

“I agree,” Kiri replied, then set him down.

“So, I’m Sora. What’s your name?”

Hayato scowled at him, but Sora could see the underlying fear.

“If you were in here trying to steal food, I bet you’ve run away from home. Do you need a place to stay for a while?”

“You’re just a little kid!”

Renato chuckled. “Oh, you have no idea, do you, kid.”

Hayato struggled some more and failed to free himself.

“Do you need a place to stay?” Sora repeated. “Tsuna probably wouldn’t mind having a friend his own age around.”

Hayato looked cautiously interested. “Tsuna?”

He nodded. “He turned eight this year. He and his mother live here and she waitresses. You could always help out with a bit of cleaning to pay for your keep.”

Hayato wrinkled his nose at the suggestion.

“What?” he said. “Does the idea of actually doing a little work upset his highness?”

Hayato started struggling violently in Sora’s direction, but Renato held him easily. The struggling stopped when Nana and Tsuna wandered in and Nana began to coo about how cute the child was, and then he just looked confused.

Tsuna sidled up to Sora and whispered a little too loudly, “Who is that?”

“You can call me Mama,” Nana said to Hayato with a bright smile. “Everyone does.”

“He was caught trying to appropriate food,” he whispered back.

Tsuna sounded out the word, then whispered, “He’s got nothing to eat? He can have some of my dinner.”

Sora smiled softly. “That’s really sweet of you. He might make a good friend for you. I know it’s a bit hard being here around so many adults.”

Tsuna trotted over and smiled at Hayato. “Ciao! My name’s Tsuna. What’s yours?”

Hayato looked between Tsuna and Nana, confused, then said, “Hayato.”

“That’s a Japanese name like mine!”

Hayato nodded slowly.

“Want to see my room? I share it with my mother, but… Or we could get a snack.” Tsuna grabbed Hayato’s arm and dragged him away.

*

“Voi! What’s so special about this place?”

Sora’s head shot up to see Squalo accompanying Lussuria over to the bar.

Lussuria gave him a blinding smile as he slid onto a stool. “Ciao~! Everyone loves the food I’ve been bringing back, so I brought a friend along this time.”

“That’s nice to hear. What can I get you two?”

Squalo sat down with a scowl and said, “The tuna carpaccio.”

‘Good thing I bought tuna today,’ he thought and nodded.

“Hm. Pork stir fry.”

“And to drink?”

“A middling mead,” Lussuria said, “for both of us.”

When he brought the food out he fussed under the counter for long enough to feel the pulse of Lussuria’s flames again, checking the food and drink, then left to check on various tables. Before they departed another to-go order was placed.

“Next we’ll be seeing Xanxus in here,” he muttered.

*

Dino and Romario showed up again on a Friday afternoon and ordered stromboli and wine. Sora noticed as he worked that the two of them kept eyeing him and his guardians (when they appeared)—but of course, they had no other customers that day, so there was nothing to see.

But they kept showing up, even with nothing to see (because when other customers did appear, Kiri or Viper made sure it was never noticed), and Sora finally went over to take a seat at their table one day to talk.

“You guys really seem to like coming here,” he commented.

“Oh, um, yeah,” Dino said awkwardly. “The food is excellent.”

“So I should keep pretending you aren’t here to spy on us for your father?”

Dino jerked in surprise and sent a glass flying, then blushed and stammered out an apology.

“I suppose I can understand why he might be … hm. I’m not sure what to call it, actually. But surely you’re a bit bored of never actually witnessing anything going on. Do you even want to be doing this? Isn’t there something you’d rather be doing?”

Dino stuttered a bit and gave Romario a desperate look, then said, “I, um, well, I’ve always been fond of horses. But my father isn’t exactly keen on the idea.”

“With a name like yours?” he said.

“There is that,” Dino admitted, not even pretending otherwise. “I, um… I never expected to find Arcobaleno here. I figured you’d all have an in with some big family.”

Sora shrugged. “I didn’t see the point. I have my own little family and we wanted to be neutral. I don’t like the idea of someone else dictating my actions, telling me what I can do for a living or what jobs I take on.”

Dino adopted a wistful look. “That sounds wonderful.”

“Want a job?”

Dino blinked. “What?”

“Do you have hearing problems?”

“N-no, I just—a job?”

“That is what he said,” a nosy Renato said as he slid into a chair. To Sora he said, “Are you adopting more strays?”

He smiled. “Trying to!”

“Doing what, precisely?” Renato asked.

“I was thinking I could teach them how to shop for me, then they could take that over so I didn’t have to. It’s annoying at times dealing with people who keep cooing at me and asking about my mommy. We could figure out how to free up a room, so that and board would be part of the deal, along with the rest in actual money.”

“If you’re going to do that, we’d have to also ensure they could both defend themselves, break up any bar fights…”

He eyed his Sun. “Actively?”

“Yes.”

He looked at Dino again. “We noticed you the first time you came in. We investigated, of course. If you want to get away from your father I’m prepared to give you a helping hand. Because really? You’re not going to find anything. Neither of you are skilled enough.”

“That’s a bit harsh,” Romario said.

“But true,” Renato replied.

He turned to his Sun and said, ?I could see if Kaminari and Kumo are willing to share a room.?

?If you ask them they probably would. Kaminari only goes in his room to sleep, and Kumo could still have plenty of alone time even if they were sharing, I think. The other option is to build an extension off the back, but that doesn’t fly well with our security. The other option would be Arashi and Kaminari.?

He nodded. ?That might work.?

Dino had a confused look on his face due to the language change.

“And language lessons,” Renato added.

“My father is paying for our accommodations,” Dino pointed out.

“Even without any progress?” he asked.

Romario nodded. “As much as I prefer not to acknowledge the truth, I believe Dino is correct in that his father simply wants him out of the way. If you’re offering a job, then…”

*

“What the hell, trash!?”

‘Kami-sama,’ he thought, eyeing the arrival of the entire Varia into his bar.

Renato appeared at his side as if he teleported and smirked at the Varia Mist. “Yo, Shamal!”

Shamal’s head whipped around toward the sound, and gawked. “Oh my God, is that you, Renato?” He then tried to look like he had not just showed his blatant surprise to the world at large and ruined his stylishly lazy mystique—or whatever he was going for.

His Sun strutted over and hopped up on a chair. “Why yes, yes it is. I had no idea you were…”

Shamal scoffed. “Liar.”

“So what brings you all here?”

“The trash better be right about the steak here,” Xanxus said, “or I am going to introduce him to some very painful corrective methods.”

Sora ghosted over and waved at a table, unwilling to let Nana handle them, then flipped menus into place. Renato jumped down and leaned in to whisper, “I’ll take care of the orders.”

A short time later he was delivering seven orders, though the thought of feeding Bianchi of all people, who turned out to have Cloud Flames in addition to Storm—not a terrible surprise considering how many Hayato had in his stable—was a bit odd. If she was anything like her counterpart she likely would not automatically poison the food he brought out. And if she did, he bet that Kiri or Viper would be more than capable of shifting blame off Filigrana to where it belonged.

Xanxus cut into his steak and shoved a huge piece into his mouth, chewed, and grunted in what sounded like pleasure. Sora nodded to himself and returned to the bar. It wasn’t long before Renato wandered back to him and said, “He wants another one.”

*

Target 2009: Vongola

A cackling Kiri took a seat at the dining table.

Sora eyed him as he slid plates onto the table with Val’s help. “What are you up to?”

Kiri’s laugh cut off midway. “Hm? I just heard some hilariously amusing news.”

Sora took his seat and picked up his cutlery. “All right. Were you going to share with us, or just ‘kufufufu’ to yourself for a while.”

“You wound me. Of course I was going to share. I just wanted to enjoy it for a bit first. But since you’re feeling pushy—I blame you for that, Renato—I could share sooner than I’d planned.”

He looked at his brother expectantly, but when Kiri gave a subtle head tilt toward Nana, he nodded and dropped the subject except to say, “Whatever it is it’s probably not suitable for dinner conversation, so I suppose it can wait a little.”

Only after Nana and the two kids were elsewhere did Kiri open up and say, “Iemitsu has been frozen.”

“…What!?”

Kiri nodded. “Now, you know I did some tinkering with that whole situation. One of the things I did aside from slide that divorce in quietly was to make Iemitsu think he was taking regular holidays to go see them when in reality he was just off skiing or lazing about the area.”

“And that translated into being frozen somehow?” Lorenzo said.

“Timoteo wanted to meet Iemitsu’s precious and adorable little ‘tuna-fish’ and so off they went to Japan, only to find some random family living in the house and no idea what he was babbling on about. Timoteo investigated back at CEDEF and found out that his hand-picked man to head that was full-on delusional. Enrico got involved, and he essentially asked why they went there at all considering he got notice of the divorce years ago. So… Timoteo decided, without consulting anyone, to use Zero Point Breakthrough and freeze Iemitsu, because it was too risky to have him running around or even in a mental facility.”

“How did Enrico react when he found out?” Shi asked.

“He was very quietly furious. He wanted to ice Iemitsu in the old fashioned way, with a bullet to the head, but since that option was taken from him, he took possession of the results and locked it away somewhere in a sub-level of HQ. He also retired his father as an advisor, because the old man can’t unilaterally make decisions like that after he’s stepped down, and asked Massimo to become the new head of CEDEF.”

*

Target 2010: Overture

When he went up to the ground floor to start prep work for the day Sora was not expecting to see a white-haired, bearded gentleman sitting at the bar. The man in question was wearing a stylish outfit in half purple, half red, had a cane in one hand, and a rather odd smile on his face.

“Ciao,” he said pleasantly, hopping up onto a stool. “Dare I ask how you managed to get in?”

“Hello, hello, hello!” the man said exuberantly. “I have a proposition for you!”

He sat there in a bit of a quandary. If the man could get in past Kiri and Viper’s protections, would he notice if Sora webbed into him? Or sent off a spy to get the attention of the others?

The man chortled and pointed his cane at nothing in particular. “Yes, an offer! I am Sheogorath, Daedric Prince of Madness.”

“You’ll fit right in, then,” he muttered.

“I know!”

Sora was about to call for a brief tactical retreat when Kiri and all his guardians emerged from the stairwell with varying expressions of confusion or irritation. Kiri looked particularly upset to see a strange man lounging in their bar and Viper’s mouth was quirked in that odd triangular shape that denoted unhappiness mixed with annoyance.

“An offer?” he said as the others found seats.

“And what in blazes is a Daedric anything?” Lorenzo asked grumpily.

“Such cheek!” Sheogorath said. “Did you know? There are multiple dimensions wandering about—”

Sora snorted.

“—and not all of them are similar to this one. And not all of them have the same belief systems or abilities. For example, where I’m from there’s none of this Dying Will Flames thing. Instead, we have magic.”

Renato rolled his eyes.

“Who here would like to participate in a little example fight?” Sheogorath asked brightly. “I’ll summon something and one of you can tear it to pieces.”

“In my bar?”

Sheogorath waved his cane again and all the tables and chairs pushed out against the walls.

“Fine,” Renato said, “I’ll do it.”

“Capital!” Sheogorath jabbed the end of his cane at the air and a very peculiar thing appeared; it looked like it was formed from electricity.

Lorenzo leaned forward in interest as Renato slid off his stool and brandished two guns. The thing arced electricity at his Sun, which Renato only barely managed to dodge, and his Sun responded with a hail of gunfire. It went down after a minute of Renato bouncing around like rubber and dissolved in a crackle of electricity.

“You still haven’t said what the offer is or even what Daedric is,” Sora pointed out.

“Right-o! You lot seem to have a tiny problem.”

Val huffed in annoyance.

“I can fix that, but it would require a bit of a sacrifice on your parts. You see, it would mean coming to my world.”

“You’re saying you know how to break this curse?” Viper said intently. “We’ve searched for decades!”

“I can’t break it so much as transfer it onto other people,” Sheogorath said with a quirky grin. “Let them worry about it. You would all get back your proper bodies. And you—” He aimed his cane at Kiri. “—would have a suitable body again.”

“But we’d end up in a completely unfamiliar world, with no place to live,” Shi said. “Assuming any of this is more than a pipe dream.”

“Vaermina handles nightmares,” Sheogorath said with a brief frown. “In any case, the passage through the Void and Oblivion would allow me to shift the curse and give you back what you’ve lost. True, you wouldn’t suddenly gain the ability to do magic, but you’re not without your talents. And to spice up the deal, I’ll even provide you with … hm.”

“You seem surprisingly sane for the Prince of Madness,” Lal pointed out.

“I’m on my worst behavior at the moment! You know what? I’ll even include those two strays you picked up, the blond and his friend.”

“Why would you offer this?” Sora asked.

“I’m mad!” Sheogorath said. “Why do I need a reason to do anything? I know how to convince you,” he said happily, then pointed his cane at Kiri.

Sora’s brother dropped like a stone and the illusion masking his features sheeted away like water, revealing some unfamiliar face which slowly morphed into what Sora knew to be Daemon’s actual features.

Kiri stood up with a look on wonder on his face. “I feel whole again,” he whispered.

“That’s right,” Sheogorath said. “I’ve fixed you up!”

Kiri stepped away a few paces and started weaving illusions so realistic and deep that Sora was starting to get a headache from his brain trying to resist the belief that they were in a jungle complete with appropriate animals. Cashew chittered like mad and tried to leap onto a handy tree only to land on the floor with a look of confusion.

“I’m convinced,” Kiri said.

“Right-o!” Sheogorath warbled. “So, how about you lot think about my offer and I’ll get back to you in, say, a week’s time? If you plan to accept you should probably stock up on goodies. You’d be able to find a nice place, I’m sure, and perhaps run another bar, grow some things you can’t find where I’m from… Might run into a spot of competition from the existing assassin’s guild, but I’m sure you can work that out suitably. Right, I’m off! Ta ta!” He gestured with his cane, which created a purple portal of some sort, and walked through. It collapsed a second later, leaving no evidence of his passage.

“Um…”

“Family meeting,” Kiri said, then started moving the tables back into their proper places.

“All right,” Sora said once they were seated and had drinks. “Kiri, you’re really back to full power?”

Kiri nodded. “It’s like I never discarded my body. So, wonderful, I’m fixed, but the rest of you…?”

Viper frowned. “I guess it would have been too much to fix one of us and we’ll have to take it on faith—assuming we agree to do this.”

“And he said to stock up,” Renato said. “What isn’t over there?”

“Cashew can carry a ridiculous amount,” Sora said, “but we’d still have to plan carefully. Assuming we agreed.”

Looks went around the table.

“A entirely new world?” Val said. “With no idea what we’d be getting ourselves into? But for the chance to be normal again?”

“As normal as any of us can be,” Lal muttered.

“But, Lal, think about it. We could…” Rio trailed off with a wistful look.

“It would mean leaving Nana and the boys on their own,” Lal said. “We’d have to account for that. Nana can’t run this place on her own and it wouldn’t be fair to leave her hanging.”

Sora frowned.

“We could always contact Xanxus,” Renato said. “He never really shows it, but he loves this place. Maybe he could find someone competent and reliable to oversee things. Sora could give the place to Tsuna. Even if the kid does run off to be an interpreter for the UN, he would still have a place to call home and some income. Nana could take over as cook.”

“I’m getting the feeling we’re leaning toward taking a leap of faith and going,” he said, glancing round at his family.

Viper sighed. “What have we got to lose? If what we found out before is true, we’re either going to die horrible deaths or end up as Vindice! Why not take a chance? At least we’d have some kind of a choice.”

“A choice that might allow us to finally … you know,” Rio said, looking off to the side. “Maybe it wouldn’t be void of assassins and the like, but…”

“No mafia,” Lal said.

“Right. The magic thing sounds a bit daunting, though.”

Viper scoffed. “I doubt the average peasant has the time. And while it’s true he said nothing about the sort of society we’d be entering, magic rather does paint a certain picture.”

Lorenzo looked aghast. “You mean … no electricity?”

“So bring along the stuff to make solar panels or something, and schematics. And there’s water power, and wind,” Val said. “And you showed me that one time how to make a battery.”

Shi exhaled slowly and looked at Sora. “The real question is this: what does your intuition tell you?”

“Um…” That was a good question. He sat back and closed his eyes, concentrating on the situation. He came back to his surroundings some unspecified time later and said, “I’m not getting any bad feelings. I’m almost one hundred percent certain we’d be restored to our pre-curse bodies and alive.”

“As opposed to bodies matching our real ages?” Val said.

He nodded. “I mean, I’ve no idea what we have to expect wherever we’d be going—well, aside from those assassins he mentioned—but we’d be alive, healthy, young, and still have our abilities.”

“We’d need to pack a lot of seeds, coffee, weapons, clothes, coffee, Sora’s mead equipment, Lorenzo’s lab—”

“Pack it all!” Lorenzo said vehemently.

—a coffee grinder, coffee…”

Shi looked contemplative as Renato kept listing off coffee every third time and said, “Do you think this new world has tofu?”

“Kiri, can you mind-fuck someone and have them bring back a—”

“I’m going to convert all my assets into gold bullion,” Viper said.

“What about my motorcycle!?” Val cried. “It’ll be tiny compared to the new me! Do you think magical people even have them?”

“Guns! We need guns!” Rio nearly shouted. “And all the stuff to make bullets!”

Kiri leaned over to Sora and whispered, “Probably not a bad thing that he fixed me, you think? I’m going to have to mind control a number of people in order to get us supplied in a mere week.”

“Will you get some people to go buy packets of seeds for like … everything?” he whispered back, then said loudly, “People, people! Settle down. We need to make lists, all right? And I have to get this bar ready for opening in a few hours.”

“I’m going to need a lot of batteries,” Lorenzo muttered, “and a dozen or so laptops. Maybe a solar charger.”

Val gasped and looked at Sora. “What about your kitchen?”

“Huh?” he said, feeling a bit annoyed that his family was not doing as he requested.

“All your tools and implements and … things! Do you think they’d even have stuff like that wherever we’d end up? We can’t very well bunk off and leave Nana with nothing to cook on.”

“Oh dear. Like I said, start making lists, please,” he tried again. “Write down everything you can think of that we might need, and we can go over it at lunch. Viper, will you send something off to Xanxus about keeping an eye on this place in a week? And … Lal, will you talk to Dino and Romario? Mention horses if it helps. Maybe we can work in a stable or something. That should pique his interest.”

*

They were waiting upstairs when the time came, rather impatiently, and all of them jumped a little when a purple portal appeared and Sheogorath stepped through swinging his cane idly. “Hello, everyone!”

“How does he do that?” Val whispered.

“The portal?” Sora whispered back.

“No, that greeting. It sounds English, and yet I know it’s not.”

“The chaos this past week was simply breathtaking! Just magnificent.”

“You know,” he whispered, “you’re on to something here. I know that’s not English or Italian or anything I actually recognize, and yet we all understand him.”

“And how you’ve managed to pack so much into that tiny little squirrel…” Sheogorath shook his head and sighed happily.

Dino and Romario exchanged a worried look.

“Maybe I should create a new creature to carry my luggage,” Sheogorath continued. “People can be so unreliable, after all, especially the insane ones.” He clapped his hands briskly and smiled. “So, are we all ready?”

“…Yes.”

“Splendid! Capital! And all these crates are going, too, I suppose.”

He nodded. “Preferably, yes.”

“Wonderful!” Sheogorath brandished his cane and swirled it around. Purple started to bleed out the end and form a sphere that encompassed them all, and their belongings. And then there was just blackness.