Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 07

07: 2009-2014

When Antonio showed up with a stranger in tow he was mildly confused. Hisui let them into the house and showed them to the living room. After inviting them to take seats he asked, “Would either of you like something to drink?”

“Coffee!” Renato called, appearing at the top of the stairs and starting down them.

He rolled his eyes and waited for an answer from their actual guests.

“Coffee is fine,” Antonio assured him with a faint smile.

He nodded and tossed a look at his lover before heading to the kitchen. A short time later he was back with a tray, actually carrying it, and slid it into place on the table. He cracked open his soda and sat back, hoping that Antonio would get around to explaining sooner rather than later.

Antonio did, after doctoring his cup and taking a sip. “Allow me to introduce Piero Zola, of the Cavallone Famiglia. Piero, this is Renato Sinclair and Hisui Nagao. I accompanied Piero because it’s just not the done thing to pop in unexpectedly and without someone to vouch for you.”

“So what’s going on?” Renato asked, reaching out to tap a cigarette out of the waiting pack and light up.

“The Cavallone Nono has a request,” he said. “It’s unorthodox, really, but as the Cavallone Famiglia is an ally of the Vongola, Nono has asked that you hear him out.”

‘All the way from Italy,’ he thought. ‘This ought to be good.’

Zola carefully reached into the inside breast pocket of his jacket and removed an envelope edged in orange, then held it out, seal up. It was mere wax, which made Hisui wonder how it was that so few people seemed to know how to do as the Vongola Nono did. Even he had figured it out after some experimentation. But, then, he was a little different than most flame-active people.

Renato took the envelope and broke the seal, removed the contents, and flipped open the folded paper and held it between them. Hisui’s first reaction was to squint, not sure he was seeing what he was seeing. ‘They want a tutor for their incipient Decimo? Since when are we teachers?’ They only actually needed one of them, but this was a long-term project, so the idea of one of them remaining in Japan was ludicrous, and they were willing to take them as a team.

Renato seemed to be similarly bemused if his muttered “Tutoring a Sky? What the fuck?” was anything to go by.

In the past they had done some tutoring of a sort, but not exactly, and not counting those times when they would spring ideas on each other to test out regarding their respective flames. Nono had occasionally asked one or both of them to assess new recruits. He wanted a mostly outside perspective on things, and it was not as though his guardians could always drop whatever else they were doing to see to it. He and Renato would take those people out on a few jobs and keep an eye on them, in some ways as a recruiter would, but also to assess their character, strengths, flaws, and give them some advice before reporting back to Nono.

They could, he thought, trade off on the duties. A hitman tutoring the heir to a famiglia? That just seemed so … bizarre. Yori trotted in with Leon on his back and paused near Renato so that Leon could crawl onto the man’s knee, then jumped up on the sofa and onto the back so he could stare down at the letter.

Hisui glanced back to see his kneazel’s tail curl into a question mark. “This is unorthodox, yes,” he said, then lit up his own cigarette. “Why us?”

“Because neither of you is likely to go all soft on a Sky,” Zola replied. “You both have well-earned reputations for exacting standards in your work, a certain sense of morals, are well-versed in languages, and … the boy does not want to take over.”

He knew that the Cavallone Famiglia had financial problems, which also pointed toward Renato, even if facility with mathematics was not the same thing as facility with accounting, working the stock market, and other such activities. There was a decent age gap, such that the idea of Renato becoming ensnared by the young Sky was mostly laughable.

Renato would stand as a better tutor simply because he was a Sun, but that was not to say Hisui was incapable simply due to his flame types. If nothing else, he could provide plenty of attacks for the young boss to learn how to respond to, avert, or avoid. It might also help Hisui to come up with new methods of his own.

Hell, a fair part of his job of late was translating “acquired” documents for Don Timoteo. He knew so many languages that the odds of them running across something he was not already fluent in was negligible. And if they did, well, that was motivation to brush the dust off his curiosity and drive.

Renato exhaled gustily. “Would we still be able to take jobs while all this was going on? And how much leeway is involved? I mean, I can think of some great places to train the kid, but they won’t all be in Italy. What languages does the kid know? If he’s gonna become Decimo he’s going to need at least a handful. What kind of a mind does he have? Because stupid people irritate me.”

Zola blinked at the rapid fire of questions. “Yes, preferably only one of you at a time. A fair amount, travel included. Three at the moment. He attended one of the mafia-run schools. He’s a bright boy, but…”

Yori meowed questioningly, tail flicking out and curling.

“He’s a bit skittish.”

Renato snorted. “Most Skies are, at first. And then they start collecting guardians and they settle down.”

He thanked the gods he was not a Sky. The idea of having so many people around him so often made his spine quiver in distaste. Earths did not feel that same impetus to gather up people, though they did have a tendency to draw them in, like the gravitational forces they could control. ‘Well, that’s ninety percent conjecture,’ he thought, having never actually met another Earth, only heard of any—some famiglia connected as allies to the Vongola since the beginning.

“So he’s a fluffy little kitten with soft claws and needles for teeth right now,” he said.

“Essentially,” Zola said, though to his credit he did look uncomfortable agreeing.

Renato folded the letter up and placed it back into the envelope. “Excuse us for a moment, would you?”

He got up when his lover did and followed him into the kitchen. “Well,” he said softly. “I suppose I don’t see why not, though leaving Japan for that long is a bit … daunting. I don’t expect Daisuke will be thrilled, but that’s a minor issue. It would mean we’d be in good with another famiglia—personally, not just by association alliance.”

“And there’s nothing stopping us from still taking jobs here through him, so long as it’s not both of us at once. We could always say yes to something like an initial testing period, and if that seemed to be going south, we’d have the option to walk away. And if it seems to be working out, getting the kid used to other cultures—not just their languages—would be an excellent idea.”

He nodded. “You’re better at negotiating than me. All that charm.”

Renato grinned. “Don’t be so modest. You were very charming the first time we ever met, especially once you relaxed a little.”

“You just had to be taller,” he said with false disgust. Those few times they had done a job together and it had required some manner of disguise, he was always the one cross-dressing and hanging off his lover’s arm like air-brained eye candy. “Get in there and start bargaining. I’ll figure out what we’ll need to take and how I’m going to explain this to Nana-chan. Oh, and are we even going to be anywhere near our house?”

Renato nodded and leaned in to kiss him, then returned to the living room.

*

“What?” Nana said in dismay.

He sighed. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

“I know, I just—” The corners of her mouth drooped down for a few seconds, then they snapped back more to a smile. “You’ll visit, of course.”

“Of course I’ll visit. Didn’t I visit when I was in Kyoto? It’s just a longer trip,” he said with a shrug. It had been a lot easier to spend time with his friend after he graduated and they moved to Namimori properly, though he rarely saw Iemitsu, or even little Tsuna. The kid was a bit frightened of him, with a tendency to squeak like a panicked mouse if he frowned or scowled, so he usually visited when the boy was at school.

“I know what this is about,” he teased. “You’re upset that me and my amazing cooking will be so far away.”

She giggled, which is what he had been going for, and said, “You’re so silly.”

*

They arrived with some extended pouches packed to the brims with various weapons and supplies. Several flies buzzed over almost immediately and engaged Renato in conversation, giving their report. “Right,” his lover said. “The kid’s upstairs with his father right now, being all weepy. Suppose I can’t blame him for that since Cavallone Nono is bedridden and not doing so well.”

“Let’s find a place to wait, then,” he said, “preferably without being visible. If he’s upset and doesn’t want to be the boss, he’ll probably do a runner of some kind in an excess of angst.”

Renato nodded and pointed. The house itself was the sort where the ground floor was actually about seven feet up, with twin, curving stairs leading up to the entrance, allowing for an arch through the center leading into a semi-sheltered courtyard. Hisui took his lover’s hand and disillusioned them, and let himself be pulled along as Renato started moving.

The courtyard was a mixture of lawn and dirt—probably used at times for practice—with Greco-Roman columns scattered about, lacking whatever they might once have supported. One was severely damaged, only half the height of the others and cracked off at an angle. They settled in to lean against a wall and wait.

Eventually a blond young man came out of the house at a fast clip and headed for the stairs. He made it down and started across the courtyard, but tripped, doing a face-plant and grunting in pain. After a moment he rolled over and stared up at the sky. Some of the resulting dirt on his face was much darker, showing that he had been crying, though the hitching of his chest also pointed to that.

They gave him a little time to calm down, then Renato whispered, “All right. Show time.”

He stripped away the disillusionment and walked with his lover over to where the boy was; the kid didn’t even notice them until Renato’s shadow fell across his face, at which point the boy jerked in surprise and tilted his head back. “Who—?”

“Chaos. We’re your new home tutors,” Renato informed him. “We’re going to make your life really exciting.”

*

“So,” he said. “Let’s get this over with. Tell us all about how you don’t want to take over leadership of the Cavallone Famiglia. The whys, the wherefores, the whining, the complaining… Let it all out.”

Dino aimed wide doe eyes at him, then the floodgates opened, which to Hisui’s mind was odd simply because neither of them normally presented sympathetic faces. He had taken Renato’s pronouncement and made a horrid, high-pitched sound of alarm, but managed to introduce himself, getting their names in return.

Afterward he had hauled himself up, though not without making it seem as though it was comparable to Atlas’s burden of holding up the sky, and led them inside, where they were joined by a man by the name of Romario. Romario greeted them almost enthusiastically and hastened off to ensure that their suite was ready, and Dino took them into a sitting room.

When Dino finally wound down he looked drained, yet relieved.

‘Has no one ever just listened to the kid?’ he wondered. “Do you feel better?”

Dino nodded.

“None of that changes anything, you realize,” he pointed out.

Dino looked as though he might start crying again and hunched his shoulders defensively.

“One of the realities of life,” Renato said, “is that if you’re raised in the mafia, walking away is next to impossible—unless you really do like the idea of your getaway location being six feet under. You have serious financial problems. Have you stopped to consider that? We don’t come cheap, so your father is taking a calculated risk here by hiring us. He’s balancing the cost against what you’ll become. How are you going to respond to that?”

“We know you’re not unintelligent,” he said. “You probably have the brains and the foresight to turn this situation around. But that’s not the whole picture. You have a lot of people looking to you, even if they’re your father’s men right now and give their primary loyalty to him. So we have a number of things to focus on. Getting you up to speed on the financial side and how to address that issue; gaining trust and respect from the men; going over your education and seeing where there are holes or what you need to devote more time to; your physical condition; your fighting ability; your guardians; and your command of your Dying Will.”

‘Kami-sama,’ he thought. ‘The kid’s face. There’s a lot to be said for choosing your path and having it lead into the mafia over being shoved into it, but the kid had to have known where his life was headed.’

Romario bustled in and said, “Gentlemen, please allow me to show you your suite. I trust that everything will please you, but if not, do tell me and I will ensure any issues are corrected.”

He got up, as did Renato and Dino, and followed, taking a moment to plant a tracker on the kid. Depending on how things went he might try to run for real, and they could not allow that. The suite they were shown to had a generously-sized reception room with a comfortable seating area and even a dining table, and two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms. He idly wondered how long it would take for Dino to intuit that his tutors were together, and how he would react to that knowledge. Dino wandered off after seeing which set of rooms they would be in, looking tragic and claiming he needed to clean up, so they turned to Romario.

“We’d like the reports on his schooling,” Renato said, “and a map of the grounds.” He paused, eyeing Romario speculatively. “Sun, eh? Maybe some aspects of Rain?”

Romario nodded. “I will get those for you by this evening at the latest. And yes, I am primarily a Sun.”

“Not the kid’s guardian?” Renato ventured.

Romario shrugged. “There’s something there, but… The young master has been so resistant to following in his father’s footsteps…”

Renato nodded. “So he’s subconsciously blocking off any harmonization, with the added complication of him seeing you as something of an authority figure. And that’s assuming you even want to be his guardian or feel any pull toward him.”

“I’m fine with the position,” Romario replied, “if it works out that way. He’s a good kid.”

“How far are you willing to go?” he asked. “Because he’d need to see you right there beside him, out there doing all the physical aspects of training, showing that you’re willing to go the distance.”

Romario nodded again. “Like I said, he’s a good kid. I’ll do what it takes.”

Renato scratched his jaw contemplatively, then said, “Why don’t you bring that information along with dinner. We can eat in here and talk, plan.”

“I will do so. If you’ll excuse me?”

Renato nodded, and Romario took his leave. The moment the door was shut Hisui was sweeping each room for bugs or cameras. Surprisingly, there were none. He was not quite sure how to feel about that. Were they that desperate? Or just that confident, seeing as how they came with the personal recommendation of the Vongola Nono? Even so, he tossed out a spell to muffle anything they said. “No bugs,” he informed his lover, “but I intend to set up some warding, to ensure it stays that way. In this case, however…”

“Misdirection?”

He nodded. “If they do manage to sneak something in, I’d rather they heard innocuous conversation over utter silence. Something I can turn on and off depending on whether we have someone else in here who would notice if they were to go over any recordings.”

“All right. I’ll start putting the ‘safe’ things away while you do that,” Renato said, then chose a bedroom for them to use. They had determined, finally, that by coating his hands in flames Renato could use an extended pouch the same way a magical could, which vastly simplified things.

Hisui pulled Yori out of his pocket and set him down, then pulled a temporary ward set from one of his pouches and got to work, starting in the reception room.

Romario showed up at seven with a large cart filled with food and pushed it over to the table. He unloaded everything, poured wine, and waited until they had seated themselves to also sit down. A folder of material was set in the center of the table, as well, which Renato took and began to flip through.

Hisui cast a few spells under the table to ensure nothing was amiss, then picked up his cutlery and began to eat, which clued his lover in to it being safe. Renato set the folder to one side and also began to eat. Conversation consisted of small talk during the meal, getting a feel for Romario as a person, and afterward, once dessert was enjoyed, they all moved to the seating arrangement over near the fireplace.

Renato busied himself with the folder again, handing pages to Hisui as he finished reading each one, then reassembled it a short time later. “So, all right. The kid’s not bad, but there are definitely areas which could be improved. But, given the famiglia’s position, I think we’re going to have to press pretty damn hard on the financial aspects.”

Romario looked uncomfortable at the reminder of their overall situation, but nodded. “Nono has instructed me to cooperate as much as possible without giving away anything … private.”

He eyed the man for a moment. “What’s the overview on the financial situation, then? What’s the money maker?”

Romario exhaled noisily. “Protection racketeering primarily. The usual. People pay us for protection against rivals, thieves, even the police.”

His brow furrowed in confusion. That was fairly standard and not a bad way to have the approval of the people in one’s territory, so why were they losing money?

“Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of encroachment since Nono got ill, and we’ve been having trouble keeping on top of it.”

“Ah,” Renato said quietly. “I can work with that. If nothing else, I can meet with whoever is in charge of priorities and assignments right now, and the financial side in general. We can’t do actual jobs of that nature unless Cavallone Nono wants to fork over the usual pay, and I don’t think that’s going to happen, not with what we’re already getting paid. So, let’s talk about the kid.”

They spent the next three hours going over a plan of action, then Romario loaded up the cart again and hastened off with a promise of breakfast being delivered.

The next morning Renato went off to speak with certain people and Hisui dragged Dino off to start in on physical training. He focused on stamina first and ran the kid into the ground, only letting him slow down to a walk so that he could better gulp down lukewarm water or a sports drink without tripping over his own feet and ending up sprawled on the ground. He did that often enough as it was; Hisui couldn’t remember the last time he had encountered someone so clumsy. When it got close to noon he sent the boy off to clean up after refreshing the tracking spell, and met his lover for lunch in their suite.

“The kid’s a mess,” he said, slicing into his ossobuco and taking a bite.

“Well, mafia-run does not mean those types of schools are actually teaching the kids to be mafiosi,” Renato replied.

“I assume you made a decent start on getting certain things ironed out.”

“Oh yes, you better believe it. Gotta have something for the kid to actually inherit, after all. I’ll get it straightened out. Besides, they have to be doing reasonably well if we expect to be able to haul the kid off to points unknown.”

“You thinking of that mountain area we found? The one with all the exciting wildlife?”

Renato grinned and nodded. “It’s close enough to one of the houses and we have room.”

“Right. The kid is so clumsy it’s like watching a physical comedy routine in action,” he said with a sigh. “Please, when you see it, try not to laugh in his face.”

“For you to say that means you’ve been sorely tempted.”

“Yes.” He rolled his eyes. After a deep sip of wine he added, “Once you don’t need Romario I’ll add him to the mix, so that the kid can see his man doing everything he does, show his commitment and support.”

“Yeah. Probably within the next couple of days, a week tops,” Renato replied. “Once these guys stop looking to him first before doing what I say. I’m glad they’re so loyal and all, but it can get somewhat annoying when I’m trying my best to get them back into business as quickly as possible.”

“And not intimidate them to the point where they wet themselves?” he asked wryly.

After lunch he sat Dino down and started quizzing him on the other languages he knew, basically by speaking to him conversationally, but varying which language by sentence, to see how fast the kid could switch mental gears. Dino was flustered in no time flat, but Hisui did not let up. He was patient enough when it came to waiting for a response, but he nailed the kid with a senbon every time Dino answered in Italian.

Finally coming to the conclusion that Dino was good at French, moderate at English, and barely conversant with Japanese, he started speaking entirely in English for the rest of the afternoon. Once he felt the kid was a lot more comfortable with it he would switch to Japanese. After that he would spend the afternoons dealing with the written forms, and then perhaps teach him additional languages. Familiarity with the cultures and customs would come later. Romario could join in when he was available, just like he would be joining in for the physical training.

A week later he was surprised to see that Dino’s clumsiness decreased drastically once Romario had been included in things. ‘What the hell?’ he thought. ‘What’s going on here?’ Romario took everything in stride, did everything that was asked of him, with no complaints or even a vague hint of crossness. Maybe it was having some effect on the kid? Maybe Dino respected him that much? It had to be his childish desire to walk—run—away from the mafia that had prevented harmonization. Given a little more time he could easily see the bond snapping into place, before the kid would even realize what was going on.

*

Dino looked around somewhat in awe. They had flown into Osaka and traveled the remainder of the way by car. Dino and Romario in the car with them, and the remainder of the men in a second car following them. They could have taken a limousine, but that would have attracted the wrong kind of attention in a place like Namimori.

Yori pranced off with Leon on his back, happy to be home, and Renato showed the men to rooms so they could unload. At that, it would only be a temporary base. Most of the training they had in mind would take place at a location they called the Mountain of Death, about a half hour away from Namimori.

Dinner that night was full Japanese, right down to the hashi. It was time for Dino and his men to immerse themselves a bit now that they had the language down. Dino, of course, made a complete mess of things, but Hisui just sighed slightly and made the barest roll of his eyes. They had waited until the kid was eighteen to take him out of the country, so he was an adult, even if he was not considered one by Japanese standards.

He had difficulty relating to Dino at times what with the disparity of their backgrounds. He had been more mature at fourteen than Dino was at eighteen, but the kid was getting steadily better, especially after he had harmonized with Romario and started picking up other guardians. It was something of a pain dealing with Michael (a Storm) and Bono (a Lightning) in the same room together, but the two were mature enough to make it work for the sake of their Sky. Ivan was a Rain, so he was never a problem.

After dinner Renato reminded them not to wander. Namimori was a peaceful little town for the most part, so seeing a bunch of foreign men roaming around in high-class suits was going to make people talk. He did not want word getting back to Nana-chan. He would visit her, of course, but the other stuff should be kept out of her purview. Tourists did not go to Namimori as a rule.

After Dino went to bed they had a little conference with the guardians. “You guys follow in the other car, but at a distance,” Renato said. “We’ll leave a trail for you to follow at the mountain. It’s important to see how he handles things on his own at first.”

Romario nodded. “I understand.” He glanced at his fellow guardians, who also nodded.

The next day they bundled Dino into a car and drove away, not telling him where they were going. Even after a year of being put through the wringer the kid still balked at times, and he was slowly gaining a look of suspicion as they left the car behind and started walking into the forest surrounding the base of the mountain. Hisui left senbon sticking out of trees along the way to guide the others, and they knew to keep back out of sight once they caught up.

They finally ran into something interesting: a bear. Dino squeaked like a newborn kitten and shakily uncoiled his whip, then started flailing around with it in a parody of fighting, trying to drive the creature away.

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Kami-sama,” he muttered. “Look at that. The damn bear is confused. I didn’t think a bear could make that expression.”

Renato sighed along with him, shaking his head. “Tch. Blasted kid. He’s useless if he doesn’t have one of his men nearby.”

The bear kept tilting its head, trying to figure out what the strange beast was, and let out a somewhat tentative roar. Dino squeaked again and redoubled his efforts, managing to coil the whip around his own legs and yank himself off balance. He hit the ground face-first. The bear shuffled back a little and tilted its head again.

He could feel the guardians approaching and brought a hand back to remind them to stay out of sight; when he felt them stop he returned his full attention back to the pathetic “fight” going on in front of them. Dino had managed to untangle himself and get back up. ‘Say what you will about his ineptitude,’ he thought, ‘but for all the fear he wears like a cloak, he’s still got plenty of guts. That or he’s worried Renato will shoot him again.’

Leon had displayed a very remarkable talent. Eating emotions and shape-shifting was not the limit of his bizarreness. Renato had had some loose bullets on the table while he was packing a magazine and Leon had lashed out with his tongue and swallowed one, causing Renato to nearly flip out with worry. The chameleon had refused to cough it back up until several days later, at which point it came out glowing. They’d had no idea what to do with it.

It was not until Renato had taken a job that they had any idea what the glow meant. He had come back home with a look of bemusement on his face and said, after a lingering kiss of greeting, “That bullet.”

“Yes?”

“It ignited Dying Will Flames in my target.”

“Eh?”

Renato had led him over to the sofa and sat down, then lit up and took a long drag. After he exhaled he had said, “Yeah. I shot the guy in the head because I was feeling feisty. A few seconds after he went down I saw Dying Will Flames erupt from his forehead. The weirdest part was that his clothes disintegrated, all but his boxers. He jumped back up, shouted something about how he was going to propose with his Dying Will, and raced off. I was so surprised I almost let him get away. I killed him, of course, but…”

“Huh.”

“I’m really confused, tesoro.”

“That makes two of us.”

The next time they had visited the Vongola, Renato had asked if they had any prisoners they were planning to kill. Nono had said yes, and Renato asked if he could perform a little experiment before they were dealt with. Nono, having become intrigued at that point, agreed, so long as he and his guardians could watch. Renato had an entire magazine of those glowing bullets by that point and shot the prisoners one by one, and each of them had the same reaction.

“Regret,” Nono had murmured. “They feel regret. That’s the only reason they survived a shot to the head that would otherwise have killed them.”

He and Renato had shared a look.

Nono had been insanely curious at that point as to where the bullets had come from, but they weren’t talking. Renato did agree, however, that he might be persuaded to use those bullets for a good cause, at some point down the road. Dino had been the first unlucky person to suffer a shot to the head in the name of training and it had worked beautifully, though he had first been shot in the legs, because that wouldn’t be fatal. It’d had the effect of allowing Dino to be able to jump around as if he was on the moon, or as if Hisui had altered his personal gravity. Even so, it was far better for the kid to train without that crutch, so that when he was able to realize his flames on his own, he would be that much stronger.

The bear had progressed far enough in its confusion to sit back and quite nearly paw at its head, so Hisui encouraged it to go away with a careful application of his power. Dino calmed down and was able to re-coil his whip and hang it off his belt, though when he looked over at them a fierce blush appeared and he could not quite meet their eyes. “Not so good.”

He huffed quietly. “Not so good,” he repeated.

Renato surged forward and urged their student on, and he waved a hand back at the others to follow. They eventually ended up at a lovely area with a cliff and waterfall and a clearing they could eat in. He signaled again for the guardians to stop, just inside the tree line, as Renato gazed up at the cliff face.

“Dino!”

“Y-yes?”

“You are going to climb this cliff like a professional.”

Dino gawked at Renato in disbelief.

Renato chuckled; it was low and menacing, full of promises. “Really? You dare look at me like that, after so long, as if I might be joking?”

Dino blushed again and shrank back a little, then did his best to straighten up. A look at the cliff saw him shaking slightly.

“Tch.” Renato smirked. “There’s a nice pool right there for you to fall into should you miss your grip or footing. So, get started, young one.” He pulled out his gun and aimed.

Dino shrieked and stumbled off toward the cliff, and started climbing. No matter how many times he had been shot with one of those Dying Will Bullets, he was convinced the next time would be his death. He made it several meters up before he lost his grip and tumbled down into the pool, then surfaced, sputtering.

Renato trained his gun on the kid and smiled. “Nice try. Let’s do better this time, hm?”

Dino quaked and leaped out of the pool, face-planted, got back up, and started climbing again.

Hisui faded back into the trees and went to stand by Romario. “Your boss is just…”

“I know. Maybe with time we can at least extend his range.”

“We can hope. Though the idea of a boss on his own, especially a Sky, is somewhat ludicrous.”

It took a week of attempts for Dino to climb the cliff, and another week after that before he could climb it on the first try. Hisui was always ready to help cushion the fall, though he did not prevent them. Doing so would be babying the kid, and that was not part of the job. The week following that they finally allowed his men to join them visibly. They would all climb the cliff, then do some jogging on a path at the top, and then practice with their weapons.

His ability to materialize objects and move them around was invaluable in giving the men targets to aim for, and in learning how to deal with hitting something that did not shatter like the glass it was. It did wonders for their aim, if nothing else, though he had to be careful when any of them were using guns. Dino’s facility with his whip improved steadily, and his stamina skyrocketed.

By the time six months had passed Dino was able to call on his Sky Flames without being shot. Then they had even more fun.

China was next, and they spent six months there, and then it was back to Italy for a time. Dino managed to harmonize with Brutus (a Cloud) and Brizio (a Mist) with barely any effort, which meant they would be sticking around for some time. New bonds were touchy, and adding two new guardians into the mix after more than a year of the others working together was a volatile situation, especially given the natures of the two new men.

On the other hand, they all got training in resisting Mist-driven illusions, though Hisui was at an advantage due to Occlumency and his unique mind. Brizio’s initial efforts all had a strangely translucent quality to them, but with some time and effort he was able to block them out entirely. Renato was also able to do so, but they could both allow for at least a faint trace to affect them, just enough so that they could tell what Brizio was attempting to do.

“I think it’s time, since we’re stuck here for a while, for us to push the kid into starting up his own venture,” Renato said during breakfast.

“The foundation you told me about?”

Renato nodded.

“That will mean all of them learning the ropes of a new business. Do you mind if I visit Nana for a week, then?”

“Hm? No, go ahead. We won’t be going anywhere here for a while.”

By the time he returned his lover had sketched out the idea for Dino and his guardians, and the kid was quite taken with the idea. The Cavallone Foundation would add a layer of respectability to the famiglia, be doing actual good works within their territory (in addition to the protection they provided for a fee), and help launder money.

All those “anonymous” donations, used for the welfare of the community and to pay the salaries of those working there, who just happened to mostly be part of the famiglia. It would be assisting local hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, elder care facilities—though they would start out small and work their way up to more ambitious endeavors. It would also result in a lot of people who benefited from those services providing information, like an intelligence network. Even if some of the information that came in was fallacious, all of it would be carefully vetted before being acted on.

Hisui went back to running Dino and his men ragged during the mornings, for the sake of stamina and their abilities. Renato had them all in the afternoons. On the weekends the two of them would go to the house in Rozzano to be away from it all.

The Cavallone Nono was still hanging on, possibly propped up by the evidence that his son was settling into the position, and happily enough discussed issues with Dino. Nono’s attitude trickled down through his guardians and to the other men in the famiglia, and they were all dividing their loyalty between Nono and Decimo.

The Cavallone Foundation was up and running well under the guidance of the financial sorts in the famiglia, so he and Renato hauled Dino and his guardians off to France for a while, then England, but they hastened back to Italy when a call came in that Nono was failing fast. He held on long enough to see his son one last time.

The year following the funeral was spent getting everything sorted out, and propping up Dino when he would break down. For some reason he preferred Hisui for those moments. He decided it was because he was usually so non-judgmental, and because he was not one of the men looking up to the kid. Realistically, Dino should have been allowing his guardians to carry that burden, but the relationship between the men continued to deepen, and he and Renato would not be there forever.

Nono’s guardians stayed on in a semi-retired advisory capacity, often involving themselves in the foundation, acting as oversight for the people actually handling its operation, or as oversight for those involved in handling the protection of their territory.

In April of 2014 a text came in from Antonio, asking them to please come to the Vongola base.

“What’s going on?” Dino asked.

He shrugged. “We won’t know until we answer the summons.”

“Don’t worry, kid,” Renato said. “We’ll let you know, if we can pass on anything at all.”

The drive was pleasant and they arrived at the manor three hours later, to be met by Antonio at the doors, who accompanied them inside and handed them over to Brabanters and Ganauche. ‘It’s a little odd not seeing Iemitsu here,’ he thought, ‘but he has other duties.’

The room they were led to was more of a study, with a cozy grouping of seats near a fireplace and a desk off to one side. Ganauche waved them into seats, and Hisui bowed first, as always.

“I am … getting on in years,” Nono said after greeting them. “It is time to see to the next generation.”

And Don Timoteo’s sons were all either dead or on ice (in the case of Xanxus). None of them had had children, or if they had, none were Skies. Which left—?

“The only qualifying bloodline member remaining will need to be trained, and I am requesting that the two of you handle this for me. I have heard more than a few reports from the Cavallone Nono before his death about the great strides you two made in preparing the young Decimo. You have performed admirably, and have strengthened that famiglia and our alliance at the same time.”

Renato’s chin started to jut out.

“You are curious as to who this person is,” Nono said, chuckling slightly. “You know him already, though not, perhaps, very well. When the Vongola Primo stepped down he moved to Japan and lived out the remainder of his life there under a new name. The most recent two of that line are Sawada Iemitsu and Sawada Tsunayoshi.”

His brow shot up in surprise. They were bloodline? Iemitsu was the boss of CEDEF, the Consulenza Esterna Della Famiglia, which meant he was out of the running. So, little Tsuna? The squeak toy? The one Nana kept saying in her letters was lazy and unmotivated and kept skipping out on school? That Tsuna? “Kami-sama,” he muttered.

“I realize that Tsuna is young, very young, but I believe you can temper your methods against that. Not baby him, but…”

“I’m sure we can come up with a plan of action,” Renato said confidently. “Dino is getting on well at this point, so it’s not as though we need to stick around, and he needs to learn to manage without his tutors hovering in the background. It probably doesn’t hurt that Nana knows both of us.”

“And trusts you,” Nono said. “Tsuna would be, I believe, the kind of successor who would continue to guide the Vongola in the less base aspects of the business.”

“I wish to clarify,” he said, and when Nono nodded, he continued, “If he is the only eligible Sky, then we will have an idea of just how firm we may need to be—or how devious.”

“He is it,” Nono confirmed, “though I had hoped years ago that it would not come to this. I had the child’s flames sealed with the expectation that one of my sons would take over for me and that little Tsuna could live a normal life. Unfortunately, as you know, they have preceded me to the silence of the grave.”

Though he did not show it he felt a bit horrified at that admission. If it was anything like a magical it was possible that the sealing of one’s flames would leave a person feeling … empty, cold, and lacking. He had never witnessed Tsuna manifesting Sky Flames, but he was not often around the child. Perhaps Nono had done it to ensure the child never manifested them? Because if he had there would have been no choice, just as there was apparently no choice now.

Renato jutted his chin out again and said, “You believe that if we shoot him, they’ll be freed.”

“Yes. And prove to the boy that he has them at all,” Nono replied. “He will have to be led to understand that even were they left sealed, we have enemies who would think nothing of assassinating him once they realize where the succession must go. I could wish that other children had been born, earlier on even, but I must work with what I have available to me.”

The mafia world would devolve into anarchy if the Vongola Famiglia suddenly fell apart. They had a huge job on their hands. Deciding not to take it was not an option, not with Nana’s son involved. ‘In the end,’ he thought, ‘it’s just as well the kid is scared of me.’

“How often do you want reports? And would we be funneling them through Antonio or reporting more directly?” Renato asked.

“To me. Antonio is not equipped to deal with something of this nature, though he still may offer you the odd job, assuming it would not interfere with the main task. However, that brings up a point. I wish for little Tsuna to become the best he can; therefore, while I can appreciate the both of you acting in defense of your own lives, the boy must be pushed to defend himself and what guardians he gathers. To this end, aside from a special phone number I will provide, I will employ the use of messenger birds when necessary.”

He nodded to himself. One of the things he had done as a “job” had been to purchase birds in the magical “world”, ones they could breed, a book explaining how to train them, and provide “collars” for those same birds. The runes engraved into them would help keep the birds from being noticed and protect anything they were carrying from the elements, and could be charged with flames. If they were going to settle in Namimori again he might as well get a few for their house, to facilitate certain aspects of the job.

“Of course,” Nono added, “if it comes down to it, and the boy’s life is in a danger you honestly believe he cannot avert, save him, and then train him that much harder. I would prefer that such would never be necessary, but it will depend a great deal on who comes after him once word begins to filter out, because it always does.”

Renato nodded (though Hisui was thinking of ways to give the kid a breather in that situation, to be able to regroup and try again, sort of like helping to cushion Dino’s falls) and asked, “VPN video conferencing?”

Nono steepled his hands in front of him, elbows supported by the arms of his chair, and considered. “I’ve no doubt that both of you could remember a lengthy password, so yes, though only in dire situations. Otherwise the more usual means. I fully expect that you two can vet any potential guardians for the boy. They will all probably be similarly young.”

“How soon would you like us to begin?” Hisui asked.

“Soon,” Nono said unhelpfully. “I realize you must tie up any loose ends with the Cavallone Decimo, but if you would return here prior to your departure for Japan, we will provide communications equipment and the password, along with the private number I will be setting aside.”

Shortly thereafter they were back in the car and driving to Cavallone Manor. “Dino will not be pleased.”

Renato took a hand off the wheel long enough to flip it negligently. “I stand by what I said earlier. The boy has to let go of us and fly on his own. Or gallop, as the case may be.”

He scowled. “It was an observation, not a complaint. I happen to agree with you that Dino needs to stand on his own, with the support of his guardians. He’s certainly been trained to within an inch of his life. Even so, you’d think he’d have outgrown that clumsiness by now. What do you think of enlisting that boy, Gokudera, as a potential guardian?”

“Shamal’s erstwhile apprentice?” Renato hummed thoughtfully. “The boy is desperate to be part of a famiglia and he’s the right age. He’s a Storm, so he’ll be volatile. That’d require some fancy footwork to get him to cooperate in the beginning.”

“So misdirect him. And if he doesn’t work out, we’ll figure out how to handle it then. No reason the kid can’t make a career as a freelancer if it comes to that.”

Renato hummed again. “I can always entice him there by asking him to evaluate the potential Decimo. That would make him feel important. He’s also part Japanese and I know he knows the language. All we’d have to do is ensure that the kitten wins whatever test is presented and Gokudera should fall right in. The two hardest to deal with are Storm and Cloud, anyway.”

“Mist isn’t always easy,” he pointed out, “and neither is Lightning.”

“I know,” Renato said, and sighed. “Hell, they’re all a pain in the ass at that age. I was a pain in the ass at that age. Hopefully we can find a good set in Namimori, because importing a bunch of kids would be next to impossible.”

“I wasn’t a pain in the ass at that age,” he said flatly.

His lover snorted in amusement. “Maybe not, tesoro, but you do share some similarities with a classic Cloud temperament. The biggest issue with Gokudera is that he doesn’t exactly have a lot of money at hand. Sure, his daddy is rich, but that doesn’t mean the kid will have any to take with him.”

“…How do you feel about an investment property?”

“Not a bad idea,” Renato said admiringly. “We could push one through and ensure the kid gets a place there, but not make it too easy on him. If he asks for help that’s one thing, but I’m willing to bet he’d be too proud. He’s also a smart kid, and I don’t doubt he’d want to get away from Bianchi.”

He rolled his eyes. “Don’t we all? She really needs to find someone else to obsess over. She’s lucky I haven’t permanently maimed her yet.”

Renato refrained from commenting, and instead said, “Soon as we get back to Dino’s I’ll do some checking, start making calls. You’re better at dealing with the kid when he’s sobbing on our boots, so…”

“Yes, I’ll handle that. We can always pay for Gokudera’s flight over as part of the evaluation deal. Guardianship, though… We’ll just have to cheat that. One of us can sneak the information into the system.”

“For one of us, or one of our aliases?”

“Good question. Dr Borin, I think. After all, Shamal did say the kid was fantastic at mathematics.”

“That’s fine. What about—eh, how about we do the lease agreement for the kid with me as a—well, I guess it would depend on who was actually on-site. Then again, the kid probably won’t know much of anything about how things work, so if we just give him a key and lay out the rules and the monthly rent due…”

“Odds are we’re going to have to ‘encourage’ someone to move out. We’ll figure it out once we have the place. We’ll just have to remember to make sneak inspections of the—actually, let’s see if Dino has anyone who wants to retire and would be willing to take on the role of manager. That’d save us a lot of trouble right there. And we are going to a lot of trouble for one volatile teenager. Kami-sama.”

“Hopefully it’ll be worth it in the end.”

When they arrived at the house Renato went straight to their suite and started working on the property issue, so Hisui tracked down Dino to break the news. Predictably, Dino squeaked like a damn kitten and aimed a set of watery doe eyes at him. “What!? You’re leaving?”

“Yes,” he said flatly.

Dino sat down next to him and leaned against him. “I guess it had to end sometime. Though I guess I won’t miss the part where you two scare me to death on a regular basis.”

He snorted. “Sure. Listen, kid. I have two things to talk about. First, think about it like this. You’ll get to meet our new student at some point, and you can look at him, and think back, and realize just how very far you’ve come.”

“That’s true,” Dino said, sitting up properly. “Is he as bad as I was?”

‘Worse, if what Nana has to say is true.’ “Comparable, at least. So feel free to feel superior when you do meet him. Second, I have to ask if you’ve got anyone who’s looking to retire, someone good with management.”

“Eh?”

“We need someone to manage a building we’re planning to purchase in the next couple of weeks, someone good with figures, and maintenance if possible. Flame-active or not is fine, but they obviously must be in good standing and willing to move to Japan.”

“Ah… Let’s go through the files, then,” Dino promptly suggested. Several hours later they had a list compiled and planned to speak with those men the next day. Dino ordered dinner for three in the tutors’ suite and they headed that way, finding Renato busy on his laptop and with a phone at his ear.

He eyed his lover before taking a seat at the dining table and lighting a cigarette, pulling a spare ashtray over. “If he’s not off the phone by the time dinner arrives, I’ll fling something at him.”

Dino laughed quietly as Renato glanced over with a frown, but kept right on talking into the phone. Ten minutes and a cigarette later Renato was off the phone and a knock came at the door. Hisui got up to answer it and allow the food to be rolled in, then went to sit back down.

“I have a few leads,” Renato said as he picked up his utensils. “It’s going to require that we go over there, though. There’s one place in particular where the owner is looking to retire and doesn’t have any family to pass it on to. Smallish place, only ten units, several of them are open, plus the manager’s apartment.”

He nodded. “We have files on people to talk to about managing the place for us. We can go over those tomorrow, interview them, and see if any of them will suit. But the sooner we get over there for a visit and get a building squared away…”

“You didn’t say why, though,” Dino pointed out.

“We have a potential guardian in mind for the kitten,” Renato said, “but he’s only thirteen at the moment and it’s not like he’s got a huge bank account. We need a place for him to live, and since he’s a Storm…”

Dino started laughing. “I see. You have to cater to his temperament. So you buy a building, point him at the place, and fix his rent. And you’d have someone you could trust managing the place and to keep an unobtrusive eye on him.”

“Very good,” he praised lightly.

“And if he doesn’t click?”

“Then we figure out what he wants to do and give him a few nudges, introduce him to some people,” Renato said. “Poor kid could use a hand, but we’re not about to just hand him salvation on a silver platter.”

“Who is it?”

He and Renato exchanged a look, then he said, “Gokudera.”

Dino’s eyes went wide. “No.”

He arched a brow.

“You do realize Bianchi will probably figure out where he’s gone to and follow.” Dino paused, then smiled. “Of course, that means she’ll leave me alone.”

“Tch. She would anyway,” Renato said. “The moment she finds out we’re no longer here, she won’t care about trying to poison you. Of course, if we find out you were the one to tell her where to look…” His expression went dark.

Dino laughed nervously and shook his head. “Not a chance. You might ‘forget’ and shoot me with a normal bullet, or make me into a pincushion of pain.”

“It’s so delightful when a student respects his teachers, don’t you agree, tesoro?” Renato said cheerfully.

The next day they talked to each of the men on their list and decided on one of them, a Giovani Carolla. He was told to get his affairs in order in preparation for a move and sent off. Renato got on the phone again to arrange for transport and they were on a plane the next day to Osaka. They stayed in a hotel and slept like the dead, then Hisui apparated them home so they could meet with the estate agent and start the process of purchasing the property.

Once it was theirs tickets were sent to Carolla for his flight. Renato would go pick him up at the airport. Hisui had some birds to go select and purchase, not to mention supplies to pick up, a building to effect repairs to, and an apartment to ward. No silver platters, but he would ensure the boy would be safe in his own home, even if Gokudera would never realize the protections he would enjoy.

The apartment in question was not very large, but it didn’t need to be. After he embedded the warding materials and charged everything up, he splashed magic around liberally in order to clean the place, effect repairs, spruce it up, and generally make it nice, if bland. He did the same for the other open apartment. Any of them which opened up he would “fix”, but that would happen in its own time. The owner had already packed up his life and moved, so Hisui moved on to that apartment and gave it the same treatment. Both the manager’s apartment and the one intended for Gokudera were furnished, as well, with simple but study items.

By the time Renato returned with Carolla the man was able to move into his new home without any fuss. They stayed long enough to ensure the current tenants had met Carolla, then returned to Italy to speak with Gokudera.

“You want me to do what?” the kid said, eyeing them with marked distrust.

“And here we thought you’d be interested in being a guardian for a Sky,” Renato said. “But if not, we have other people we can talk to…” He made as if get up.

“No!” Gokudera said quickly. “I never said I didn’t want to. I want—I want clarification. You’re talking about lies.”

Renato’s smile was sharp and showed too many teeth. “Yes, lies. As I said, you’ll have a chance to evaluate the Sky. And then you can confront him. Throwing him off balance first only makes sense.”

“This is a rare opportunity,” he stressed. “The odds of finding an unattached Sky… Most dream of that sort of thing.”

Gokudera looked torn, longing and suspicion warring for control of his expression. “I—I can’t really afford to—”

“Not a problem,” Renato interrupted smoothly. “We are asking you to do us a favor, after all. So, as part of the payment for this evaluation, the plane ticket is included, along with one month’s rent on an apartment. You decide you want to stick around and I’m sure you can find a part-time job of some kind to keep the place.”

“And if it doesn’t work out?” the kid asked warily.

“Then we set you up with a contact,” he said, “which is more than most people get when they start in the business.”

Gokudera actually looked interested in that. “How did you start?”

“I was scouted,” he replied. “Someone took note of my abilities and recruited me. Once I proved I was worth the effort I was taken on by a famiglia as an associated freelancer. I was fourteen.”

Gokudera’s eyes widened slightly. “You didn’t join.”

He shook his head. “Didn’t want to. But I did want to make my own way, and I’ve been doing this for twenty years. What do you say? You willing to take a chance? You stand to gain the Sky, and you know what that means.”

Gokudera frowned, his gaze darting off to the side. He started twisting one of the rings he was wearing and licked his lips. “I can apologize to him after, right?” he muttered.

Hisui played with Renato’s fingers under the table while they waited. The offer was on the table and it was never wise to push a Storm if there was no respect built up.

“I’ll do it!”

“Got a passport, kid?” Renato asked.

“I—no.” Gokudera deflated.

“Also not a problem. We’ll get you set up. The only thing you’ll need to bring is yourself and your personal belongings. Forget about the weapons, kid. Once we get set up over there we’ll bring you over and you can get settled in, and then start your evaluation. And when you’re ready we’ll get you enrolled.”

“No weapons?” The kid looked horrified.

He rolled his eyes slightly. “You make up a list. We know you favor dynamite, but are you getting it already made? Do you make it yourself? Make up a list, kid. It’ll be waiting for you.”

Gokudera nodded. “Yeah. I will.”