Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 09

09: 2014

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Renato commented as Hayato took a seat at the kitchen table and lit up.

Hayato exhaled before saying, “I got caught up in making sure I was good with the classes here, and working.”

“Oh? Found a part-time job?”

Hayato nodded. “There was a convenience store that needed help and was willing to hire someone my age, so I jumped on it. I should be able to save enough to keep on top of the rent. Are you really going to let that Yamamoto kid into the famiglia?”

“He’s already in it,” Renato replied.

“But he’s so touchy-feely!” Gokudera protested. “He’s always slinging an arm around Jūdaime’s shoulders or giving him one of those slaps on the back. He shouldn’t be touching him like that. He’s rude and clingy. Isn’t there some kind of test or something he can take? Shouldn’t he have to prove himself?”

Renato shot an amused look at the silveret, though thankfully Hayato missed it. “I’ll consider it. Good work on getting Tsuna to not ditch so often.”

Hayato shifted to puppy mode for a second, then reverted to his usual sullen look as Hisui slid the food onto the table.

“I’ll be away tomorrow,” he said.

“Oh?”

“Paint job. Shouldn’t take long. I’ll send a text if it runs over.”

Hayato looked confused, but was smart enough to keep his questions to himself. He thanked Hisui after the meal, said it tasted wonderful as always, and scampered off to his apartment.

“Where?”

“Kobe again. I really think there’s something in the water there. It just can’t be normal for that many psychos to all live in the same city. Is there anything you want me to pick up while I’m away?”

“A few cases of butterbeer would be nice.”

“Sure.”

The next morning he apparated to his usual arrival spot in Kobe and started tracking down his target. It was a crazed Rain who liked to freeze the fluids in his victims. Thankfully it was an adult, so he was not going to traumatize some poor set of parents with their son’s horrific death. Well, someone might be traumatized, but the bio showed that the guy had disowned his family several years previous.

The client wanted messy, so he shadowed the target to his apartment and forced the door to stay open when the target headed in, then sent obsidian blades to cut straight across the guy’s torso. Blood went everywhere as he the released the blades, and he added to the paint job by pulling more blood from the body and splashing it everywhere.

The door was left open, so the corpse would be found fairly quickly. He apparated back to his arrival point, sent a quick text to Daisuke, and apparated again, that time to the magical enclave to do some shopping. Cases of butterbeer went into a pouch and he picked up a handful of newspapers from around the world, as well as few other odds and ends. Back at the house he settled in on the couch with a soda to start reading through world news.

Renato arrived home and slid into the spot next to him, draping an arm around his shoulders. A kiss was planted on his cheek, then a hand gently turned his face away from the paper he was reading so his lover could give him a real kiss.

He hummed in appreciation and set the paper down. “How did today go?”

“I devised a test for Yamamoto, to satisfy Gokudera. The short version is that Yamamoto saved Tsuna from imminent death—or at least a severe maiming—and Gokudera has more or less accepted the kid as a fellow guardian.”

“And the long version?”

“Well… I started things out with testing Yamamoto on how well he dodges. Knives first, a bowgun, bullets, the usual. The kid seemed to think they were all toys.”

He brow shot up in disbelief.

“Yeah. Anyway, I got Tsuna to join in. Gokudera stood off to the side, fuming at how well the kid was doing. I invited him to assist, told him to imagine that he was going to kill Yamamoto, which perked him up. Of course, then the damn cow showed up to try to kill me again. In the end, Gokudera got a little too enthusiastic with his dynamite, the cow attacked with a missile launcher, and there was my attack at the same time—Yamamoto saved Tsuna by pulling him out of the way. Those two left trading insults with each other, so I’m sure they’ll manage to come to some kind of an accord as guardians.”

“A Storm and a Rain? Yamamoto-kun will drive Hayato-kun up the wall with his relaxed and easygoing attitude.”

Renato shrugged. “They’re young, and annoying.”

“Do you think his father will get involved?”

“I don’t know. Probably not, though. But if he does, it’ll be talking. I doubt he’s stupid enough to try to take either of us out from the shadows, not when we’ve been a part of this town for so long.”

On Sunday Tsuna came barreling into the house in a panic, almost forgetting to toe off his shoes in the entry first. “We have trouble,” he cried, pointing back toward the door. “Outside, near my house! Juice! The bird!”

Renato turned around and Tsuna freaked out on seeing that there were a number of beetles crawling over Renato’s hand. “These are my summer minions,” Renato said. “They collect information for me.” The beetles all flew away and out an open window.

“Does that mean you can talk in bug language?” Tsuna asked, his jaw hanging down unattractively.

“Bianchi is in town.”

He groaned faintly and reached for a cigarette.

“Bianchi…?” Tsuna said. “Who’s that?”

“A fellow hitman,” Renato said calmly.

Just then the doorbell went and Hisui glanced at the monitor. “Kami-sama,” he muttered. “It’s her. She found us way too quickly.”

“Go get that, will you, Tsuna?” Renato asked, innocently checking his gun and pointing the barrel straight at the boy.

“Hiiiie!” Tsuna dashed off to open the door.

The two of them ghosted into the hallway to watch as Bianchi was revealed, as beautiful as ever, wearing a visor and holding a pizza box. “Thanks for waiting,” she purred. “Here’s your delivery of Vongola pizza.”

“You—you’re that girl from earlier!”

Bianchi jerked the pizza box so the lid flipped open. “Enjoy!” she said, her voice entirely too cheerful.

Tsuna went down in stages, slowly crumpling to the floor as the miasma hit him.

Renato sighed and aimed. A second later the pizza was blown back out of range. “Chaos,” he greeted.

“Renato,” she breathed, a dusting of pink tinting her cheeks.

“What are you doing here, Bianchi?”

“I’m here to bring you back,” she said, removing the visor and tossing it over her shoulder, causing Hisui to frown at what he considered littering, never mind that his lover had just pasted a pizza over the front walk. “Let’s do another big job together! A peaceful place like this doesn’t suit you,” she said passionately. “You should be in a dark place, a dark world, where it’s dangerous and thrilling.”

“Considering that we’ve never even done a job together,” Renato said, “I’m kinda thinking you should just go back to Italy and get some more experience.”

She started to surge forward, only for Hisui to push her back with his power. “No,” he said firmly.

“Hisui,” she cried, making him twitch at the familiarity. “You shouldn’t be here, either! This quiet, boring little town is no good for you! You and Renato should be out there showing the world the power you command, making people tremble in fear at your coming!”

“Kami-sama,” he muttered. “Tsuna-kun, get up. You look stupid sprawled on the floor like that. Go into the kitchen and get a soda or something.”

Tsuna scooted away from Bianchi and got up, then fled.

He rolled his eyes slightly and said, “It’s more than a little creepy that you followed us here.”

“First it was that silly blond boy, and now this!” Bianchi flipped her hair back and pouted.

“That’s hilarious, Bianchi,” Renato said. “You’re only seventeen and you’re calling Dino a boy? Are you sure it’s not that you’re secretly interested in Dino? Maybe trying to kill him repeatedly was your way of saying, ‘I like you’?”

He heard a squeak from behind him, meaning that Tsuna had managed to sneak back out to watch without making any noise. He tucked that bit of information away for later.

“How dare you imply that!?” she said crossly. “Well—unless the tenth dies due to an accident or … something, you two won’t be free again.” She let a crocodile tear roll down her face. “I’ll go for now. When the tenth is mur—I mean, when the tenth is dead, I’ll come to bring you two back again.” She waved languidly and departed.

Hisui reached out to shut the door, then returned to the kitchen, shaking his head.

“What’s up with that woman?” Tsuna demanded.

“She’s a freelance hitman known as the Poison Scorpion,” Renato said, taking a seat. “Her special skill is to feed people her Poison Cooking.”

“Another weirdo is here! What is wrong with your world!?” Tsuna slumped into a chair and went to have a sip of his soda, but he paused long enough to take a sniff first before daring to drink any. “She seems to like you two a lot.”

“We are good,” Renato said smugly.

“Can’t you do something? That’s the second time she’s tried to kill me already!”

Renato shrugged and lit up, taking a drag and exhaling the smoke at Tsuna. “All humans are creatures who will one day die,” he said callously. “You should think of it as training, kitten. How to dodge, for one. How to check for poisons, for another. She’ll just keep trying.”

Tsuna grabbed his soda and left, tears of despair streaming down his face.

“I’ll take duty tomorrow,” he said. “We both know how tenacious she is when given the opportunity.”

Renato nodded. “You obviously didn’t key her out of the warding.”

“No, but I should have as soon as we returned here. I just wasn’t thinking. I’ll take care of it after dinner. It won’t necessarily keep her out, but it will force her out if her intentions take a wrong turn.”

“And Nana’s house?”

“Yeah, no.”

“Wait, what?” Renato looked oddly confused by the refusal.

“The warding there is all geared toward keeping Nana-chan safe, so tinkering with the schemata to handle Bianchi specifically isn’t necessary. I’m positive Bianchi-chan would never hurt Nana-chan. She’s after—shit. Hayato-kun.” He fetched out his phone and sent a quick text to warn the kid. “I’ll make sure Hayato-kun’s warding is updated, though, because his apartment should be his haven. ”

The next morning he went off to shadow Tsuna, tying the usual listening charm to his earpiece. Maybe he could come up with some kind of jewelry the kitten could wear that was already tied in? Preferably something he could not remove? They didn’t need to listen, but it was useful.

Bianchi tried to kill Tsuna on his way to school that morning, which would have made Kyoko a civilian casualty. Perhaps he should have a little accident and give Bianchi an inadvertent haircut. He spent the better part of the morning bored out of his mind, but then came the results of that day’s Home Economics class, where the girls (and why not the boys?) had made onigiri.

The girls all paraded in holding lacquered trays with their efforts proudly presented, ready to share them with their male counterparts. He could see, through the sight on his sniper rifle, that Bianchi had slipped into the room with her own offering, and did a masterful bit of slight of hand to switch hers with Kyoko’s. Hisui was impressed that Tsuna actually noticed and was panicking over how to respond. He wanted to appreciate Kyoko’s efforts, but did not want to die due to Bianchi’s interference.

Hayato and Yamamoto crowded in and reached out to each take one, since Tsuna was frozen in place, and brought them to their mouths. Tsuna exploded with flailing hands, knocking the onigiri away from his two friends. Hisui nodded and fired, nailing Tsuna in the forehead with a Dying Will Bullet, then followed up with one to his stomach. It turned the kitten into a ravenous beast who ate every bit of food available to him, but that was fine. The other students were already convinced that Dame-Tsuna was also Baka-Tsuna and Hentai-Tsuna; more weirdness would be hand-waved away.

He reported his fun day to Renato once he got home, and his lover added it to the weekly report he was building. “Bianchi-chan almost nailed Kyoko-chan, though. Since it’s doubtful she’ll leave of her own volition, how about we give her a job to do?”

Renato got a curious cast to his expression. “I’m not paying for that shit.”

He sighed. “Ren.”

His lover looked at him sharply. “Right. If we can get her interested, she could help provide protection for the area, I guess. But how? What…” He trailed off and started muttering to himself. “We lie,” he said, “lie like dogs.”

His brow went up.

“We are pathetic when it comes to dealing with things like music and fine arts, right? Of course we are. But those are part of the curriculum. So we ask Bianchi to tutor the kitten in those every so often. If she gets at all invested in the place she’ll calm down and only target actual threats. We would be … entrusting her … with this responsibility.”

Hisui snorted. “We may as well try. And if it doesn’t work, well, Tsuna-kun will have to develop an iron stomach, immunity to poison, and good dodging skills.”

That weekend they were waiting in Tsuna’s room for him to come home. What he was doing and who he was doing it with was unimportant. Him being home so they could torture him was important. Tsuna came thudding up the stairs and burst into his room, only to stop dead at the sight of them and squeak. He dropped what he was carrying and fled back down the stairs, into the kitchen, shrieked, and thudded back up into his room.

“Hiiiiie!” Tsuna pointed back through the door. “She’s in my house! My house!”

Renato smiled. “Such observational skills!”

A look of sheer disbelief dragged down Tsuna’s expression, which was better than the fear he had been wearing.

“Bianchi-chan has agreed to help tutor you, kitten,” he said tonelessly.

“What!?”

“That’s right,” came Bianchi’s voice. “These two fine men realized what an asset I could be and asked for my help. It’s not dangerous—unfortunately—but there are classes you’re responsible for work in that neither of them are very good at. I know! I didn’t believe it at first, either, but I suppose everyone has weak points.”

Tsuna sank to the ground in a daze.

“So, kitten—”

“Not you, too,” Tsuna whined.

“—I’ll be making a little time here and there to help you out with music appreciation and fine arts classes. I’d help with home economics, but Hisui is a fabulous cook in his own right, just like Mama is. Still, I might be willing to give Mama a hand from time to time.”

Tsuna squeaked like a leaky tire releasing air, then jumped up, ducked past Bianchi, and fled down the stairs when the doorbell chimed. “Gokudera-kun, what’s up?” drifted up the stairs.

“Would you like some watermelon? It’s supposed to be really sweet.”

“…I’m very thankful, but right now I’m in the middle of something, so…”

“Some kinda trouble?” Hayato asked darkly. “If you want, I’ll take care of it for you.”

“…Eh?”

Bianchi’s head had snapped up on hearing the name of the visitor, but paused. Her eyes went watery on hearing her brother’s voice. She turned slowly and walked toward the stairs.

“Actually,” Tsuna said, “now we have…”

There was a loud thunk, which prompted Hisui to actually get up to go see what was happening. Hayato was just standing there, his eyes wide and his complexion tinted green. “My sister!?”

“Hayato,” she breathed.

Gokudera’s stomach made the most appalling sound. He hunched over in pain, then fled, abandoning his watermelon.

“He’s always like that,” Bianchi commented, then sighed. “So strange.”

“They’re siblings?” Tsuna muttered.

“Good to see your comprehension skills aren’t completely useless,” Renato said.

Tsuna scowled and took off after his friend.

“Well,” Renato said, “maybe this will end up in a little heart to heart for those two.”

An hour later Tsuna came back, hastily toed off his shoes, and rushed upstairs. Hisui eyed the stairs briefly and went back to speaking with Nana, asking her how her attempts at Italian cooking were coming along.

Five minutes after that Tsuna came into the kitchen and focused on Renato. “Will you—will you do me a favor?”

Renato’s brow went up slowly. “You can barely manage to focus on your homework, kitten. Why on Earth would I do any favors for you?”

Tsuna sagged.

“Tsu-kun?” Nana said, a vague frown on her face. “Are you not taking full advantage of the help Hisui-kun and Ren-kun are giving you?”

Renato got up and laid a “friendly” arm around Tsuna’s shoulders. “Let’s go outside and talk, kitten.”

“Oh, I have to see this,” he muttered, and got up to follow.

“So what exactly is this favor you want?” Renato asked once they were safely away from Nana.

“Can you beat up Lambo-kun a little?” Tsuna asked hopefully.

“The hell?” he muttered.

“Gokudera-kun came up with this plan,” Tsuna explained, “and showed me a picture of Bianchi-san’s old boyfriend—he looks exactly like Lambo-kun when he’s switched out with the Ten Year Bazooka! So if you beat him up a little, he’d use it, and then Bianchi-san would chase after him…”

Renato’s expression went from amused to cold. “What the hell is wrong with you? You’re asking me to beat up a five year old child.”

“But you’ve attacked him before!” Tsuna protested, looking confused.

“Mio Dio,” Renato muttered. “I defended myself. There’s a difference. If the little cow brat gets hurt because of his own actions, that’s not on me. How about you go beat up on a five year old and see how well you sleep at night?”

Tsuna slowly got a horrified look of realization on his face. That was when Lambo decided to join the party, his attempt at evil laughter coming out more like the asthmatic braying of a donkey. “Lambo-san is going to be brave and jump from up here! Die, Reborn!” he cried as he leaped. “With the stun-gun he got from the boss, zap away!”

Hisui pinched the bridge of his nose, then reached out to cushion the little cow’s fall. His actions did not prevent the little guy from accidentally electrocuting himself, nor bursting into tears once he was on the ground. The bazooka came out and Lambo shot himself in the face. When the smoke cleared a confused, fifteen year old Lambo was sitting there.

He eyed Tsuna, who looked at Lambo, then the house, then Lambo, and then looked up at the sky as though it was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. Hisui exchanged a look with Renato, one of well-hidden surprise, then walked over to Lambo and crouched down. “You might want to make yourself scarce,” he said quietly. “There’s a woman inside who will likely try to kill you if she comes out and sees you.”

Lambo got a frightened look on his face. “Bianchi is here?” he whispered.

He nodded.

Lambo jumped up and fled, so Hisui got up and eyed Tsuna again.

“All right, kitten, good choice. Now, let’s go do some homework,” Renato said, slinging an arm around Tsuna again and leading him back into the house.

Several days later Hisui was making sure Tsuna got to school on time. They were interrupted by a girl mincing up with a dreamy look on her face. “Hello!”

He nodded, since she was looking at him.

“My name … is Miura Haru,” she said, blushing, her hands coming up to clasp under her chin. She was drooling just a tiny bit.

Hisui cursed the fact—for just a tiny, tiny moment—that magical people aged much more slowly, and that his looks were so … pretty. “I see,” he said slowly, glancing toward the house he had witnessed her emerging from.

That made her blush harder for some reason. “Will you be … my friend?”

Beside him, in his peripheral vision, he could see Tsuna’s jaw drop. “Miura-san, you seem to be under the mistaken impression that I’m your age.”

“What? But—”

“Tsuna-kun, we need to get going if you’re to get to school on time,” he said, giving the boy a nudge. “It was nice meeting you, Miura-san.” He and Tsuna continued on, but he could feel her skulking along behind them.

They got all of a block before she dashed up and shrieked, “You’re a bastard! Your horrible loser influence has infected this poor boy so badly he didn’t even introduce himself!”

“Hiiiie,” Tsuna quietly squeaked.

“Just look at him!” she said, darting around in front of them and grabbing Tsuna by the shirt. “He’s obviously pure-hearted while yours is just rotten!”

Hisui was torn between laughing and interfering, and had to press a finger to his lips briefly.

“We’re obviously having a misunderstanding here,” Tsuna choked out.

“What misunderstanding!?” she demanded. “It’s all very obvious.”

“Miura-san,” he said.

Her head whipped around to look at him, the blush coming back. “Yes?” she breathed.

“Please refrain from manhandling my student.”

“Student?” She blinked at him.

“Yes. Student. I went to school with his mother.”

She released Tsuna with a gasp and backed up, then fled.

“Words fail me,” he said, then straightened Tsuna’s shirt and nudged him forward. “That was like one of those cliché manga stories. Huh. Maybe you two are destined to be together.”

“Hiiiie! What are you saying!? I like—I—” Tsuna pressed his lips together and frowned.

They made it to school without further incident, and Tsuna was able to get to homeroom on time. He stuck around disillusioned, listening with half his attention and taking the occasional look through binoculars, but mostly just reading a book while perched in a tree. It was a quiet day and a quiet afternoon. He stayed with Tsuna until shortly before dinner, going over his homework with him and trying to get the boy to think rather than automatically assume he couldn’t do any of it. All it took was a slight scowl and Tsuna would scramble to try again. Who knew being so unintentionally intimidating to the kitten from a young age would come in handy down the road?

Renato took over the next day. When he got home he took one look at Hisui and started laughing.

“What?”

“Oh, tesoro. That girl you ran into yesterday? She’s cracked. She’s got so many screws loose I don’t know how she doesn’t fall apart into tiny little pieces,” Renato said, sliding into a seat.

He sighed. “What happened?”

“She decided that you are, ah, not right in the head—” Renato paused to snicker madly. “—and that Tsuna was taking advantage of you and filling your head with nonsense to make himself feel better. You know, because he’s such a loser, and he wanted someone to feel superior to.”

“Not right in the head?” he parroted in disbelief.

Renato nodded. “She can’t believe you’re as old as you are, for one thing. Anyway, she caught up with Tsuna on the bridge, wearing armor, carrying a motorcycle helmet, and wielding a hockey stick. She challenged him. Gokudera happened to walk by, saw what was happening, and rushed to the rescue.”

His head dropped in resignation. “He didn’t realize…”

“Uh huh. Dynamite city. She ended up in the river, drowning.”

“You shot him, he jumped over the side, and saved her.”

“And now she’s decided she’s in love with the kitten. It was hilarious. That boy gets into way too much damn trouble. Unfortunately—for Tsuna, anyway—his grades have been so bad he’ll have to attend summer school, even with all the time we’ve been putting into getting him working.”

“Which means we won’t have that all that extra time to start running him into the ground.”

Renato nodded, then snickered again and shook his head. “Maybe that girl will be good for Tsuna. He needs people around him to keep challenging him, pushing him.”

“We can hope. Let’s go for sushi tonight,” he suggested.

That netted him a look of banked curiosity, and a nod. At Takesushi they sat at the counter and ordered. Yamamoto treated them just like any other customers, though there was an edge to his gaze, like the razor-sharpness of his blade. “How are things?” Yamamoto asked conversationally.

“Fine,” Renato said, accepting a lacquered tray and setting it before him. “Your boy seems to be getting along well with our student.”

“…Yes, he keeps telling me about this game.”

Hisui eyed the man blankly. Tsuyoshi had not been in town when he and Nana were kids. He had moved there not long before Hisui moved back from Kyoto post-graduation, after his wife had died, but he had to have picked up on the gossip. There was also that little detail of Tsuyoshi having retired from the mafia. Why he had picked Namimori was beyond comprehension, but then, it was not as though he had ever bothered to ask. Perhaps he had wanted a quiet little place to raise his son and start a business in.

“There’s games, and there’s games,” Renato replied, then lightly coated the fish side of a piece of sushi with soy sauce and popped it into his mouth.

“Maybe I should teach my boy a few things.”

“It wouldn’t hurt,” he said. “There are some things only a parent can pass on.” Sadly, Iemitsu was not that parent for Tsuna, and Nana was so far out of the ball park. She was too indulgent, possibly as a response to Iemitsu rarely if ever being home after Tsuna got to a certain age. And when he did show up he acted like a lazy bastard, wandering the house in his underthings, drinking too much, eating too much, and unintentionally terrorizing the kitten with his fearless and boisterous behavior. It was as though the man expected his son to be a carbon copy of himself, and refused to see anything to the contrary, despite calling the poor boy things like his “little tuna-fish”.

‘Yeah, let’s not give the kid a complex or anything,’ he thought, accepting his own tray of sushi and preparing to eat. Tsuyoshi was a master at making the stuff and it deserved to be eaten with respect. Not, as he had once witnessed Iemitsu do, gleefully eat fatty tuna while grinning at his “little tuna-fish”.

If Iemitsu decided to visit they would probably have to do some damage control. It was … unfortunate … that the man was the External Advisor. He had to wonder if Tsuna would retire his father after he stepped in officially as Vongola Jūdaime and choose someone else, someone he could actually work with and trust. Iemitsu had more than likely irreparably damaged his relationship with his son with his efforts to keep them protected.

He shook his head and tried to focus on the food.

They went over to the Sawada house at the weekend to have breakfast with Nana and the rest of the household. He was eating sōmen when Lambo came thudding down the stairs, laughing that “evil” laugh of his. Lambo appeared in the doorway with his horns askew, saying, “Lambo-san is here!”

Tsuna sighed. “At least put your horns on straight,” he said wearily.

Lambo’s eyes went wide and his cheeks dusted pink with embarrassment. “It was intentional,” he claimed, “but Lambo-san will fix it anyway.” He reached up to pull the misplaced horn out of his hair and stick it into its proper place at the side of his head. His eyes went all watery, then he scowled. “It really was intentional! Die, Reborn!” he cried, producing a normal bazooka and firing.

Renato caught the missile with his hashi and flipped it back, propelling it and Lambo away.

Hisui eyed the ceiling as his lover distracted the others, then fixed the hole with some magic. An hour or so later, when they were outside smoking, Lambo came back, with a boy about Tsuna’s age who looked to be the nervous type. Or perhaps it was Lambo himself causing that reaction. The boy had Lambo on his shoulder and a wooden case in his hands, but that was quickly forgotten when the cow brat tried to kill Renato again, twice.

Tsuna and Bianchi came out of the house to see what the commotion was about, just about the time that Lambo burst into tears and shot himself with the Ten Year Bazooka. Fifteen year old Lambo had obviously been in the middle of a meal given the hashi he was holding. “Hello, young Vongola Jūdaime,” he said, then noticed Bianchi and went white. “Goodness. I think I’ll excuse myself.”

Bianchi stared back.

“It’s okay,” Tsuna said. “I explained everything to Bianchi-san.” He turned to her with a nervous smile. “See? After ten years, Lambo-kun turns into this. You get it, right? …Bianchi-san?”

“So you were alive. Romeo…” Her expression hardened.

“No!” Tsuna shouted. “Run, Lambo-kun!”

Lambo fled, Bianchi hot on his heels, a platter of Poison Cooking appearing in her hand. “I’ll kill you!” she snarled. Then she pulled out a gun and aimed, and started firing.

“Don’t worry,” he said to Tsuna, who was wobbling alarmingly. “She has horrible aim. See? One just flew right past you and she’s not even facing this way.”

Tsuna did a little dance that might be mistaken for a child’s way of saying “I desperately need the bathroom” and squeaked. “You have to do something,” he cried. “Someone could get killed!”

Renato produced his gun and aimed. “How about you do something, kitten?” He fired, nailing Tsuna in the forehead. The boy went flying and landed on the stranger’s back, then popped back up with a cry of, “Reborn! I will stop the fight with my Dying Will!”

“The secret to stopping battles is to make people lose their will to fight,” Renato said calmly, and fired twice. “Shoot both cheeks and you get—”

Hisui pressed a finger against his mouth to prevent the forming smile from appearing. Tsuna’s face had puffed up like some horrific allergic reaction—or that of a chipmunk on a nut gathering binge.

“—the stare down effect,” Renato finished.

The stranger took one look and fell over in a dead faint. Bianchi came back into view, a platter of food still in her hand, and stared at Tsuna. She hummed curiously, then slammed the food into Tsuna’s face. “You piss me off,” she said, then wandered into the house.

“Looks like it doesn’t work on Bianchi-chan. Huh.”

*

Things were quiet for most of August. They spent a lot of time working with Tsuna due to him having to attend summer classes, being firm about the need for him to give more focus and attention to his work. The kitten was getting better slowly. Half-day classes meant they had that much more time to devote to getting the boy up to speed and getting him used to just doing the work instead of blowing it off for more pleasurable activities such as video games.

His (official) birthday was revealed to the Sawada household when Nana made a fuss and insisted on cooking a special meal for him, of all his favorites. Lambo was actually well-behaved for once, but that might have had something to do with the amount of sweets on hand.

When they rolled into September Tsuna managed to delay enough that he was going to be late for the opening ceremony that started the second term of the year. Hisui simply used it as an opportunity to nail the kitten with another Dying Will Bullet, then shadowed him to school. Along the way Kyoko’s brother tried to speak with him, reaching out to grasp Tsuna’s wrist, and was pulled along.

“Your power and stamina are much better than what I’ve heard,” Sasagawa said admiringly once Tsuna sputtered to a stop at the school entrance. “You have passion, too! You’re definitely a talented guy who can be found only once in a hundred years! Sawada Tsuna-san, join our club!” he entreated.

“Hiiie? How—how do you know my name?” Tsuna asked.

“I heard about you from my younger sister,” Sasagawa replied.

“Onii-chan!” came a familiar female voice. He glanced that way to see Kyoko rushing toward them, a bag cradled in her arms. “You dropped your bag on the street!” She made it to them and handed the bag over, then blinked and said, “Oh, good morning, Tsuna-kun. Why are you two together?” She glanced back and forth between them. “Onii-chan, don’t tell me that you grabbed Tsuna-kun and gave him some trouble!”

“I did not!” Sasagawa said strongly.

Hisui edged closer and shoved some clothes into Tsuna’s hands while the kid was freaking out. Why it was such a surprise that Kyoko had a brother…?

“Tsuna-kun,” Kyoko said, “you can just ignore my brother’s babbling about boxing, okay?”

“Boxing?” Tsuna muttered as he shoved his legs into trousers.

“Oh, I haven’t introduced myself yet,” Sasagawa said, then shouted, “I’m the captain of the boxing club, Sasagawa Ryohei! My motto is ‘extreme’!”

Tsuna poked a bewildered face out of the shirt he was putting on.

“I welcome you to the club, Sawada Tsuna-san,” Ryohei said, planting a solid and friendly hand on the kitten’s shoulder.

“Don’t force him into your club, Onii-chan,” Kyoko said firmly.

“I’m not forcing! Right, Sawada-san?”

Hisui mostly stopped paying attention at that point and wandered off to settle in to spy, letting Renato know about the development.

“It’s about time he ran into the kid,” his lover replied. “This could be an opportunity. I’ve spent time already with Ryohei in disguise so…”

“You might want to come to the gym after classes let out, then. Kyoko-chan seems to have inadvertently persuaded the kitten to at least go talk to her brother, even if we both know the last thing on his mind is joining a club.”

“All right. I’ll be there.”

After classes he shadowed the kid to the gym and saw that Renato was already there, in his disguise as Master Paopao. Tsuna, of course, saw right through it, but Ryohei was not that gifted. What Tsuna did not understand was that he most likely had the Vongola intuition, known to crop up in their Skies.

“Oh, Sawada-san,” Ryohei said happily, “I’ve been waiting for you! Upon hearing your reputation, the elder of Muay Thai came all the way from Thailand!”

‘In less than a day?’ he thought, laughing silently in a shadowed corner.

“This is Master Paopao!” Ryohei said, gesturing toward Renato.

“I want to see a match between the captain and the new member,” Renato chirped.

“What!? What are you saying? You want me to do boxing?”

“Obviously,” Renato said mockingly.

Before he knew it, Tsuna was geared up and in the ring, with Ryohei ready to fight. “Let’s go, Sawada Tsuna-san! No need to hold back on your strength!”

Kyoko, Hayato, and Takeshi had arrived to watch and were cheering in the background.

Ryohei danced forward and wailed Tsuna in the face, knocking him flat. “Don’t be careless, Sawada-san,” he remonstrated.

Tsuna sent a desperate look at Renato, shaking his head violently. Renato smirked and re-aimed, and shot Ryohei instead, who collapsed on top of Tsuna. “It’ll be fair if both of you are shot, right?”

Just then Ryohei got up and stared down. “What’s wrong, Sawada-san? Can you stand up? If you can stand up, we’ll continue!”

Tsuna’s face morphed through shock to bewilderment to thoughtfulness.

“Sasagawa Ryohei,” Renato said quietly. “An impressive one. Next up is you, Tsuna.” Renato’s gun flashed up and fired.

“Reborn!”

‘Why does he keep saying that?’ he wondered. ‘No one else does it. The kid thinks too damn much about all the wrong things.’

“With my Dying Will, I will reject the offer to enter the boxing club!” Tsuna proclaimed.

“Oh? I won’t inquire why,” Ryohei said, “since I believe we can communicate with our fists. Enter the club, Sawada-san!”

“No!” What followed was a high-speed dance recital, only ended when one of Tsuna’s refusals actually resulted in him lashing out to nail Ryohei and knock him out of the ring.

There was a deep silence, and then Ryohei sat up from where he crashed and said, “I like you even more! Your boxing skills are platinum! I’ll definitely welcome you in!”

“You look so happy, Onii-chan,” Kyoko commented.

Tsuna got a look of confused despair on his face, then sank to the ground when Renato said, “Want to join the family?”

On Wednesday Renato came home with a friend in tow.

“Shamal?” he said as they entered the living room. “When did you get into town? And why this town?”

“Ah, well… I ran into a little difficulty,” Shamal said, slumping into a chair. “If I’d known, well… I wouldn’t have made those moves on the Queen. Then at least I wouldn’t be internationally wanted for cheating on 2,082 women simultaneously.”

“Kami-sama,” he muttered. “You want something to drink?” Dealing with a womanizer was no reason not to be polite.

“Got any beer?”

He sighed and went to fetch one, and coffee for Renato. For himself he got his usual soft drink.

“As for why here, well, why not here? I figured since I was in the country I’d come visit.”

“So you’re hiding.”

“About that…” Renato said.

“Yes, he can stay, but only if he agrees to owe us a favor.”

Shamal looked at him sharply, suspiciously, but eventually nodded. He knew what kind of cooking he’d be enjoying if he stayed.

Tsuna came down sick on Friday. They were walking the kid to school to ensure he got there on time and that no one bullied him along the way—always a possibility—when the kitten suddenly raised a hand to wipe at his brow.

“I feel really weak,” he said quietly. “Maybe I caught a cold?” As he brought his hand down he saw something that made him squeak in fear. “What is this!?”

“You’ve contracted a fatal disease called Skullitis,” Renato said callously. “You’re going to die.”

Tsuna sank to his knees, staring at his palm.

“Do you know how many Dying Will Bullets you’ve been shot in the head with?”

“Wha—I don’t know… How many?”

“Exactly ten. It’s said that when you’ve been killed that many times with a Dying Will Bullet, it’s possible for something horrible to happen to the victim. Who would have known it would be an incurable disease? Too bad.”

“Why didn’t you say something before all this?” Tsuna asked. “If I’d known…” He sighed and got up, then began walking away from the school. “I’m going home, then.”

“You’re handling this better than expected,” he commented.

“Who would believe such a silly story?” Tsuna said crankily. “You guys probably snuck a temporary tattoo on my hand. It’ll wash off easily enough.”

When they got the house Nana was out, probably shopping, and Tsuna went to the sink to take care of the alleged prank. He turned on the tap and glanced down at his hand, and freaked out again. “What the hell!? It’s talking!”

He sidled over quickly to take a look. “I’ve never gotten a one hundred on a test,” he read. “Ah, yes. Skullitis is an interesting disease,” he informed their student. “Those skulls will keep multiplying and writing out your secrets, right up until you die.”

“It’s also known as the ‘embarrassing yourself before death’ disease,” Renato added helpfully.

Tsuna furiously pumped the soap container and started scrubbing his hand, then shrieked loudly. “It’s multiplying! And this—”

“It’s an embarrassing secret only you know, right?” Renato said.

“So that means this is seriously a disease!?” Tsuna was so pale the marks stood out in stark relief.

He moved off out of Tsuna’s direct line of sight and sent a text to Shamal, asking him to come over immediately for a case of Skullitis, as he was calling in that favor.

“Oh, hey, the kitten is finally paying attention,” Renato said mockingly. “By the way, Skullitis will kill you in an hour from the first time you feel the disease. So you have…” He glanced at the clock. “Thirty minutes to live.”

“Noooo! I can’t die! I’m too young to die!” Tsuna wailed, swaying back and forth.

“You’ve already died ten times, kitten,” Renato said. “What’s once more?”

Tsuna went still, then wailed again. “Help me! I don’t want to die with my shame written all over my body!”

“No can do, kitten. Actually, wait,” Renato said, looking for all the world as if something had only just then occurred to him. “You think—?” he asked Hisui.

“He does owe us a favor,” he murmured.

“What?” Tsuna said. “He who? What?”

“We know of a doctor who’s really good at handling incurable diseases. If I call him over, he might be able to do something.”

“Why didn’t you say so earlier!? Hurry up and call him!” Tsuna demanded.

Renato hummed thoughtfully. “With that kind of an attitude out of you, I don’t think I’m in the mood to.”

Tsuna hit the floor in an obsequious pose. “Renato-sama! Please call that doctor over!”

Renato scratched his jaw, a dubious expression on his face. “Will you score within the top ten on your next test if you’re saved?” When Tsuna took too long to respond—probably because he was swearing in his head—Renato added, “If you don’t want to live…”

“I do, I do! I will, I will, I will! I definitely will!”

Right about then they heard a man grunting in pain outside. Tsuna rushed out, not even bothering to dry off his hands.

Bianchi had arrived, as had Shamal, and he was down for the count with a plate of poison cooking on his face. Though, Hisui could see, he had managed to shield himself somewhat with a handkerchief.

“It’s been a while since I killed someone for the good of the world,” Bianchi commented, hands on her hips.

“You!” Tsuna pointed at her rudely. “Don’t kill people at my house!”

“Such a tomboy as usual,” Shamal said, reaching up to flip the mess away and get up. “Girls should be like that. Now I like you even more,” he declared, darting over to smooch her on the cheek.

Bianchi twisted and nailed him in the face with her boot, knocking him half way down the walk.

“Wha—who? Who is that guy?” Tsuna said.

“Oh, that’s the doctor we were talking about,” Renato said. “Dr Shamal.”

Shamal popped back up and made for Bianchi. “No need to be embarrassed, Bianchi. How about a kiss?”

She nailed him with a roundhouse kick. “Go away!” she yelled.

“That’s … a doctor?” Tsuna asked, pointing limply at the body. “A guy like him can really cure me?”

“What is it with you and comprehension, kitten?” Renato complained. “How many times do we have to repeat stuff before it sinks in?” To a just standing Shamal he said, “Yo, Shamal. This is Tsuna. He’s infected with Skullitis.”

“Oh, right,” Shamal said, reaching up to cradle his head. “You called me over because of that. It’s a shame, really, but you know I don’t treat guys. He’s just gonna have to die. He’s a bit young, but you know, that kind of thing happens daily.”

Tsuna went into full freak-out mode, even going so far as to latch onto Shamal from behind and begin pleading with him for help. Bianchi snickered madly at Tsuna’s predicament, Shamal kept trying to fend him off, and Kyoko showed up to warn Tsuna about her brother’s continuing efforts to induct him into the boxing club.

Shamal took one look at the girl and immediately started trying to kiss her, which actually sent Tsuna into Dying Will Mode without being shot. He and Renato exchanged a surprised look as Tsuna’s clothing dissolved, but the kid did not act as they expected him to. He just sat down on the spot and moped, his Dying Will Flame sputtering out almost immediately.

After a sharp look from Hisui, Shamal finally brought out a case filled with capsules and said, “Fine, fine, I’ll cure you. Just stay still. The opposite of Skullitis is Angelitis.” He ran his fingers over the capsules and pulled one out, then flicked it. It split apart in the air and released its cargo.

“A mosquito?” Tsuna asked.

“Shamal is a doctor,” Renato lectured, “but he’s also a freelance assassin called Trident Shamal. His skill is to control mosquitoes called ‘Trident Mosquitoes’ that carry incurable diseases to kill enemies, six hundred sixty-six of them, one for each of the diseases Shamal himself is infected with.”

“Go for it, Angela!” Shamal said. The mosquito landed on Tsuna’s arm and bit him, and slowly the skull markings and text bubbles faded away.

“Thank you so much!” Tsuna said, looking elated. “But what made you change your mind?”

Shamal looked a bit shifty for a second, his eyes darting toward Hisui, then he said, “Well, when I read one of the secrets on your back—I started to pity you. I mean, it’s so pathetic that you’d never talked to a girl before you met Kyoko-chan. You’ve probably never even kissed a girl! I couldn’t let you die before you even managed that much!”

*

“I know that look,” he said. “What happened today?” Maybe he should get on with that enchanted item idea for the kitten so he could listen in on his days off. On the other hand, the look on his lover’s face as he prepared to speak told him Renato enjoyed being able to have story time.

“Oh, I was spying on Hibari, that Cloud. He’s really good for a kid his age. I still think it’s weird that he chose to stay at Nami Middle instead of moving up to high school, but… Anyway, I decided to have some fun. I told Tsuna, Hayato, and Takeshi that we’d make a hideout for the famiglia at the school. Takeshi, of course, still thinks it’s all a game, but he was very enthusiastic about the idea.”

“Let me guess. Hayato flipped, then went into puppy mode.”

Renato nodded. “I suggested the reception room, because it’s almost never used, but neglected to mention the part about how Hibari had claimed it. So we all got up there and the boys walked in, and Hibari confronted them, wanted to know why they were there. Hayato didn’t know who he was, but he sure got pissed off when Hibari censured him for smoking and smacked the cigarette right out of his mouth.

“Tsuna got wailed in the face with a tonfa, the other two went to his defense, got downed, then Tsuna shook off the pain and looked around, started freaking out. So I shot him. Long story short, I ended the fight before it got too crazy—Hibari had just asked if he could kill Tsuna, after all—and Hibari went after me instead. Apparently I’m ‘amazing’.”

He smiled. “You are.”

Renato grinned. “Well, Hibari tried to lay a hand on me, so I exploded a bomb in his face and got the kids out of there, then lectured them about battles. I think it worked out well. Hibari is intrigued now, and he knows that Tsuna is not quite the herbivore he thought.”

“I invited a few people over for tomorrow.”

“Oh? Oh, right. Hayato’s birthday. You going to cook up an Italian spread?”

“Of course. Do you have any preferences?”

“Chicken scallopini, ossobuco, spinach cheese manicotti, lasagne, baked ziti—”

“All right,” he cut in. “I’ll make a number of dishes and we can all sample.”

Renato grinned and nodded.

By the time Hayato showed up everyone else had already arrived—Shamal, Tsuna, Nana, Takeshi, Ryohei, Kyoko, Haru, Bianchi (wearing a set of tinted glasses she promised not to remove and that Hisui had ensured would stay on for the duration), and Lambo. Why they were including the girls he was not entirely sure, but he did not mind feeding extra people. And maybe Haru would finally figure out how old he really was.

Hisui had set up a sideboard just covered in food and had a stack of plates, a collection of cutlery, and plenty of napkins waiting. The second Lambo came in the door Hisui hauled the kid off and sat him down for a talk. “Lambo-kun, if you cause any trouble tonight, I will make you regret stepping foot in this house. If you attempt to kill Renato tonight, I will make you regret ever coming to Japan.”

The kid laughed that obnoxious laugh, so he lifted the kid up with his power and plastered him against the wall.

“Laugh all you want, chibi, but I’m not joking. This is my house, not Mama’s, so you follow my rules. If you behave yourself we’ll get along just fine. This is supposed to be a party, a happy event. If you cause trouble, I may just have to break your damn legs.”

The colour drained from Lambo’s face and his eyes went all teary. He could tell the child wanted to get out the Ten Year Bazooka and use it, but Hisui’s power prevented it. “If you intend to keep on with being a hitman, you need to learn control. I can help with that, if you want it. But you have to behave yourself. Blindly attacking gets you nowhere, and all it does is make people laugh at you. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”

Lambo sniffled and nodded.

“Will you behave tonight? Or do I have to boot you out of the house?”

“Lambo-san … will behave.”

He nodded after a moment and slowly brought the kid back down and into his arms, then got out a tissue and wiped Lambo’s nose. “I made sure there’s a little takoyaki for you, and I have some grapes for after. I know you like those. But there’s plenty of other food, too. So, shall we go join the party?”

Lambo aimed a set of wide green eyes at him and nodded again.

“All right. Let’s go have some … safe … fun.” He brought the child back into where the others were, personally prepared a plate for the kid, and set him up at the table, then patted him on the head before going off to get his own food. He realized a little while later that he had developed a shadow. Lambo was following him everywhere, and eventually latched onto his leg.

He looked down to see the kid staring up at him adoringly and sighed faintly, then detached him and picked him up. “What’s up, chibi?”

Lambo just stared at him adoringly some more. Renato was having silent hysterics on the other side of the room, and Shamal was giving him a funny look. Nana, on the other hand, had her hands up under her chin and was cooing.

He nodded to himself and carried Lambo off to the kitchen long enough to get some grapes for him, who accepted them with a little giggle and started savoring them one by one. He kept the child with him for the remainder of the party, even made sure he used the damn bathroom, but Lambo went to Nana willingly enough once things wound down.

After the guests had departed for the evening Renato laughed. “Mio Dio, you had that cow brat eating out of your hand! What did you do to him?”

“I threatened to break his legs.”

Shamal gawked. “Cold!”

He shook his head. “I told him flat out that he had to behave himself, that I would make him regret causing any trouble while he was here. I may or may not have lectured him a tiny bit. The last thing I wanted for was this to devolve into a damn free-for-all with civilians in the room.”

“And that, somehow, made the kid adore you,” Renato said, shaking his head.

He shrugged. “I laid down the rules of being in this house. No causing trouble, no trying to assassinate Ren-kun.”

Renato smiled, then paused. “But nothing about outside the house?”

He thought back and shook his head. “I can’t take away all your daily excitement. It helps keep you on your toes.”

“Tesoro!”

“The kid hates being ignored,” he pointed out. “Even if he wasn’t trying to kill you he would probably still be an obnoxious little cow brat around you, simply because you refuse to even look at him normally.”

“Damn Lightnings,” Renato muttered. “If this works out like I think it will, you get to figure out how to train the kid.”

“Of course. But I know you can take care of yourself, so dealing with the kid’s attacks shouldn’t ever be a problem. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll learn something. Personally, I think the Bovino boss is a fucking moron, telling a five year old that he has to assassinate you before he’s considered in the running to be the boss at some point. Was he trying to get the kid killed?”

Renato started to say something, paused, and leaned back against the wall. “The kid’s weaponry is mostly kiddie class. Do you think maybe his boss sent him here as part of some convoluted training exercise?”

“You’re known for being dispassionate and merciless, but I don’t think most people would assume you’d whack a small child for real.”

“Maybe if it’d been Bel,” Renato muttered.

He sighed. “Crazed psychopaths aside…”

“No, you’re right. I suppose I could go a little easier on the brat.”

“Whatever. Time to clean up.”

The next day Renato went off to shadow Tsuna after their usual breakfast, and Hisui was doing the dishes when the doorbell chimed. He glanced at the monitor and blinked stupidly at seeing no one out there. It rang again a minute later, and that time he went to investigate. On opening the door he still saw no one, but then his leg was latched onto. “Lambo-san is here,” came the child’s muffled voice.

He reached down to detach the child and lift him up, then carried Lambo inside and closed the door. “What are you doing here so early, chibi?”

“Lambo-san wanted to see the nice man again.”

‘Nice? I threatened bodily harm.’ “I see,” he said and brought the child to the kitchen, grabbing a few thick books on the way. He placed those on a seat as a booster and parked the kid, then went to get some of the grapes that had not been consumed the night previous. After sliding a small bowl of them in front of Lambo he took a seat for himself. “What would you like to talk about?”

“Nagao-san will listen?” Lambo looked shocked. He chose a grape from the bowl and stuffed it into his mouth.

“Sure. Why don’t you tell me about how you got to Japan?”

“Lambo-san is very good at hiding and stowed away on a plane.”

“I don’t imagine that was very comfortable.”

Lambo shook his head and stuffed another grape in his mouth, then said, “Lambo-san was achy and cold when he arrived.”

“I see. And please finish chewing before you answer. It’s impolite to speak with food in your mouth.”

Lambo paused and gave him another wide-eyed look, then nodded. It seemed the child appreciated to some extent having rules laid out.

“Did you stow away on something else to get here to Namimori from the airport?”

After Lambo swallowed he said, “On trains. They went really fast!”

He smiled slightly. “They do that here, yes. I’m impressed. Most people your age would never be able to make that trip on their own.”

Lambo beamed at the compliment and started chattering away a mile a minute. Hisui just smiled through all of it, nodded at times, and asked the occasional question. The child was actually delightful when he wasn’t off on a raging terror of chaotic behavior.

“Do you think you’ll start going to school here?” he asked once the child wound down.

Lambo got a look of horror on his face, then leaned forward. “Lambo-san can’t do that,” he whispered. “Lambo-san has trouble with—with—” He frowned cutely. “The squiggly writing.”

He chuckled. “There are several forms of Japanese writing and each has its own use. Did you go to school in Italy?”

Lambo shook his head.

“How did you manage to read the signs so you knew which trains to stow away on?” he asked curiously.

Lambo produced a cell phone from his hair and woke it up, then showed him a little app that translated images of writing on the fly.

“Very clever, chibi. Again, I’m impressed. Would you like to learn about Japanese writing forms?”

Lambo gasped. “Really? Nagao-san will teach Lambo-san?”

“Yes. I don’t make offers I don’t mean. Besides, since you’re in the country illegally it isn’t as though you could easily be enrolled in school here to learn the normal way, and your parents certainly aren’t in evidence.”

“Lambo-san is an orphan,” the child said matter-of-factly.

“Eh?”

“Lambo-san was told that his mummy died and his daddy was killed by Reborn.”

“Are you even a bloodline Bovino?”

Lambo looked confused.

“Who is your guardian?”

“Lambo-san doesn’t know.”

“I see.” He would worry about that later. “Let me make some tea, and then we can start a lesson.”

Lambo scampered off shortly before lunch, probably so that Nana wouldn’t get worried. That evening he told Renato what he had learned from Lambo, which caused his lover to become thoughtful. “I don’t actually know, either,” he said. “Let me do some checking. It’s turning into a bizarre little mystery.”

Renato was often seen tapping away at his laptop over the next several days, and finally had something to share. “The kid’s not bloodline.”

“So who the hell is he?”

“This is…” Renato shook his head. “Right. Lambo is the illegitimate son of Giana Vicario and Romeo LaMorte—yes, that Romeo—and was given to the custody of Giana’s sister, who happened to be married to a non-bloodline mafioso of the Bovino Famiglia. The sister and her husband are also dead. Technically, no one has proper custody of the kid.”

“I am starting to form a picture in my head of why Lambo-kun is the way he is,” he said slowly, “and possibly why he was sent off with one hell of a lie.”

Renato nodded.

“But of course, should Lambo end up as one of Tsuna’s guardians, I expect the Bovino boss would weep tears of joy, and not because of the supposed honor.”

“It’d be because the kid was no longer his responsibility in any way,” Renato said.

He sighed and reached out for a cigarette.