Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 10

10: 2014-2015

Aside from a little prank they played on Tsuna one morning, having convinced him that he had reacted to an intruder in the middle of the night by shooting and killing the man, nothing much else happened during September. Hisui continued to tutor Lambo in the mornings on days when he was not on duty and the child was being a perfect angel for him. Renato, however, was still dealing with the occasional assassination attempt, but he was being much gentler in how he deflected them. Yori had taken a liking to the little cow, and Leon did not seem to mind him.

Renato’s birthday arrived and, while he would normally celebrate it very quietly, with just Hisui, they had Tsuna to torture, so Hisui went around letting everyone know there would be a party at Nana’s. Tsuna was confused, he could see, because everyone kept acting strangely around him.

He could almost see the light bulb go off over the kitten’s head, when the thought occurred to him that it was his birthday the next day. He smiled slightly and said, “Everyone’s preparing for a birthday party.”

“Whoa… But you really shouldn’t be telling me about that,” Tsuna said, a flush of pleasure staining his cheeks.

“I only forgot to tell you.”

Tsuna looked momentarily confused.

“You look happy,” he observed.

“Of—of course.”

‘Oh, he definitely thinks it’s for him. Excellent.’ After school he shadowed the kid to the Sawada home and reported to Renato on the way, finding as much amusement in what Tsuna was doing as he was in listening to his lover’s reaction.

“I wonder what they’ll do,” Tsuna said to himself. “How should I react?” He faked a bunch of reactions that had Hisui in stitches. As Tsuna reached his house he said, “Anyway, I’ll just pretend not to notice what everyone is doing today.” He opened the front door and was pelted with streamers and confetti, much to his shock.

“Happy birthday!” everyone cried.

“Thank you,” Renato said warmly. “I appreciate that you guys gathered for me today. I continue to be an adult.”

Tsuna’s expression revealed that his brain was melting from confusion. “I—I thought it was for me,” he whispered. “I feel like a fool…”

Nana noticed her son’s expression and suddenly brightened. “Oh my! Tsu-kun’s birthday is tomorrow! Shall we combine them?”

Tsuna slowly turned his head to look at his mother, his expression easing slightly. He looked at Renato, who merely smirked at him.

“We got the sushi from Yamamoto-kun’s house,” Nana announced as they all filed into the living room and saw the spread.

“Wow, thank you Yamamoto-kun,” Tsuna said as he knelt down on a cushion.

“I’ll split them up,” Haru said.

“Feast!” Lambo cried. “Feast!”

Bianchi snarled. “If you don’t shut up, I’ll kill you, you stupid cow.”

That made Tsuna realize something was off and he started looking around, finally spotting Hayato crouched in the corner. Renato handed a set of tinted glasses to Bianchi as Tsuna went over to his friend.

“I remembered your birthday, Jūdaime, but it’s over for me.” Hayato collapsed, having caught another glimpse of Bianchi’s face before she slipped the glasses on.

“It’s a disadvantage not to participate in a Vongola-style birthday party,” Renato said. When Tsuna cast a look of confusion at him he added, lying through his teeth, “Yes, in our famiglia, during the even year birthdays, we have to do the Legendary Vongola-style Birthday Party. The rules are simple. The person who’s actually celebrating a birthday gives scores to each participant for their ‘present’ or ‘performance’. And then, the participant with the highest score earns an elegant present.” He paused, looked directly at Tsuna, and added, “But if you score a zero, you die.”

Another meltdown commenced. Tsuna failed to remember that Hisui’s birthday had been normal, as had Hayato’s.

“Those are the rules,” Renato said earnestly. “Everyone secretly prepared just for this day. Since Yamamoto brought the sushi, he’s awarded eighty points. The scores will be posted on the Vongola Judge Board.”

Hisui placed a little sticker with an image of Takeshi’s face on the board Renato revealed.

“Where did this come from?” Tsuna wondered out loud as Takeshi said, “Eighty points isn’t bad.”

“In order to become a mafia wife,” a blushing Haru said to Tsuna, whose expression dragged down in despair, “I will get used to this kind of an event. Okay?”

“What the heck are you saying?” Tsuna shrieked. “Don’t just say things like that!”

“I made a present,” she continued. “I’ve made a pale yellow tie and matching handkerchief. They have a target pattern on them!” She held up both items and offered them to Renato.

“He’ll be targeted too easily,” Tsuna said nervously.

Haru’s eyes went wide and teary. “Now that you mention it…”

“Thank you, Miura,” Renato said quickly and accepted them. “I think they’re wonderful. Eighty-five points.”

Hisui promptly slapped another magnetic sticker in place. Bianchi went next with “genuine Italian pizza tossing”, which ended up being a new attack technique, and resulted in a number of things in the room, television included, being destroyed. She got ninety points, and Tsuna went green when Bianchi went off to bake a pizza for everyone.

“Are you going next, kitten?” Renato asked slyly.

“How could I have prepared? I didn’t even hear about this until today, and nothing about the contest! Lambo-kun probably didn’t prepare, either.”

“That’s not true!” Lambo said, and pulled out a stick with … something … on it. “Lambo-san made this yesterday!”

“What … is that?” Tsuna asked, leaning closer so he could examine it.

Lambo giggled. “It’s a Lambo stick! You put glue on your finger, do this—” He whipped his finger around like mad. “—to get the strings out, then you twirl around the hashi and get a Lambo stick.”

He looked so adorable trying to explain that Hisui was certain he had finally lost his mind, all over a little boy his lover could barely stand to be in the same room with.

“But what the heck is it?” Tsuna demanded.

“…Five points,” Renato said, his face going a bit shifty. “Your turn, Tsuna! If you forfeit, you die with zero points!”

“Hiiiie!”

“If you don’t like it,” Renato said darkly, aiming a gun at the kitten, “show me something.”

With the sheer number of meltdowns Tsuna had managed already in less than an hour, he was surprised the kid’s brains weren’t dribbling out his ears. And then a recovered Hayato spoke. “Jūdaime, let’s team up!”

Tsuna ended up shoved into a box as Hayato explained all about the magic show they were going to do. To speed things along, after Tsuna was thoroughly scared out of his mind that he was going to die from being impaled with swords, Renato shot the kid, and then awarded a full one hundred points. Tsuna spent his birthday in the hospital. He never did ask about the alleged “elegant gift” he was supposed to get for winning. Neither did Hayato, strangely.

Several days later Tsuna came home from school and headed up to his room, where his tutors were waiting, and said, “I met a really weird person today. He beat up a dog without directly touching it…” He looked up from setting his school bag down and squeaked at the insects crawling over Renato’s hand.

“According to my friends here, I-Pin is in town.”

“Who?”

“An assassin from Hong Kong, also known as the Human Bomb.”

“What would such a frightening person be doing in town?”

“You mean in addition to all the other assassins already in town? What do assassins do other than killing?” Renato asked reasonably. “Now, it’s time for work.”

The next day I-Pin was all over the school, showing various students a picture, never saying a word. None of the students recognized whoever it was in the image. But when Tsuna ran across the assassin, a tiny finger jabbed upward repeatedly.

Hisui followed his charge up to the roof, where I-Pin was, and settled in to watch the show. I-Pin took a bite of some gyōza, spoke in Chinese, and readied to attack.

“I don’t understand you,” Tsuna said quietly, shaking his head.

“Yesterday,” Hisui translated for his student, “I didn’t realize that you were my target, so I helped you, but today I will kill you.”

“Huh?” Tsuna turned toward him. “What are you talking about?”

“That’s I-Pin, the assassin.”

“Eh? It can’t be. This little kid?”

I-Pin spoke again, but Tsuna was already starting to freak out. “It’s that psychic power again that lets him defeat people without direct contact!?”

He sighed. “It’s no such thing. There’s a secret to this technique.”

And then I-Pin attacked, and Tsuna crumpled. “I can’t breathe… Help. What’s the secret? I’m going to be killed.”

He noted that none of what Tsuna was saying came out quite right when the boy couldn’t properly catch his breath. It all sounded so apathetic, in direct contrast to the look of panic suffusing his features. “Help? Sure.” He lifted a gun and fired as a distraction. The miasma surrounding Tsuna shattered and wisped away as he sucked it into a micro-wormhole.

“It stinks!” Tsuna complained. “What is this? Garlic?”

“That’s the secret of the technique. It’s called Gyōza-Ken. I-Pin condenses the smell from the gyōza using kenpō and sends it directly to the brain of the opponent, which numbs their brain. Once that happens, the muscles move by themselves, making it look like the person is being manipulated by psychic powers.”

Tsuna sat up and stared at the tiny assassin. “It’s a stinky means of self-defense? That can’t be true. Such an amazing technique is actually garlic? So … lame…”

I-Pin snarled silently and started sweating, then nine pinzu appeared on her forehead.

“W-what is that?” Tsuna asked shakily.

“The countdown for the Pinzu-Timed Super Explosion has begun,” he explained. “I-Pin’s shyness is at an extreme level. When it reaches peak, the nine-pin appears on I-Pin’s forehead.”

“He’s shy!?”

“The number of pinzu decreases steadily, and once it finishes counting down, the gas is released all at once, resulting in a massive explosion. It can cause a small crater.”

“That explains the name ‘Human Bomb’!”

“Make way, make way, Master of the Obvious coming through.”

“Oh, there you are,” Kyoko said, coming through the open doorway from the stairwell. She showed something to I-Pin who, after a moment, latched onto Kyoko’s leg, much like Lambo did to him on occasion.

“I-Pin is drawn to people due to overwhelming shyness during countdown, to be comforted. Or possibly just to blow someone up. I’m not entirely sure on that point,” he said, pressing a finger to his lower lip.

“Kyoko-chan is in danger!” Tsuna rushed forward, wrenched the child away from his not-so-secret crush, and threw her. I-Pin landed in Hayato’s arms, who had just arrived from the stairwell. Suddenly, it was like someone had started a volleyball game up on the roof, or perhaps hot potato, and even Takeshi arrived to join in the fun. When he ended up catching, and Tsuna screamed for him to throw as far as he could, Takeshi did so without question. I-Pin exploded far overhead as they watched.

Hisui knew from what Renato told him that she would be unharmed, so he reached out to catch her and bring her back down safely. Gokudera dashed over and tied her up, and Hisui filched the photograph from her. He looked at it, looked at the girl, and said, “You were sent to kill the person in this picture?”

She nodded.

“This isn’t Tsuna-kun,” he pointed out, then offered the photograph in the general direction of Tsuna and Hayato as I-Pin showed shock. He crouched down and said gently, “You’re still inexperienced.” He removed the rope and tossed it back to Hayato. “And you should probably consider wearing glasses.”

The next evening he was told a lovely story about how Lambo was now a “broccoli monster” and an “idiot”, that I-Pin had tried on a pair of glasses to help with her severe nearsightedness, and that Lambo had accidentally shot her with the Ten Year Bazooka, revealing to Tsuna that I-Pin was, in fact, female. Then she exploded again after Lambo managed to provoke her simply by existing (as a “broccoli monster”), which temporarily awakened her future-sealed Pinzu-Timed Super Explosion ability. A relatively normal day, in essence.

Lambo continued to spend alternate mornings at the house, learning from Hisui, and October bled into November. Bianchi turned eighteen and cooked; and no one ate dinner that night. And then December was nearly on their doorstep.

“I think it’s time,” Renato said, a weird grin on his face. “Let’s have Dino for a visit.”

His mouth twitched. “It has been a while. I rather miss him.”

“You make the call,” Renato said. “He always did respond more calmly to you. It’s strange, really. You frighten the hell out of the kitten, but everyone else responds just beautifully for you. Even Lambo is being less of a pain in the ass. Hayato is almost always calm around you…” His lover eyed him, head tilted to the side.

“Ano… You’re the one suspected of fixing me,” he replied. “Is this your way of secretly telling me you want a child?” Teasing his lover with an absolutely deadpan expression was always amusing.

Renato’s eyes went wide. “Uh…”

“Maybe I have some hint of another flame that’s vaguely analogous to Rain Flames, except that my resting expression is ‘back the fuck off’ instead of ‘tranquility awaits’.”

Leon morphed into a magnifying glass almost before Renato could reach for him. His lover studied him for a bit, then shrugged. “I can’t really tell, but it’s a thought. I always have had trouble seeing your flames.”

He shrugged. “Yes, I’ll call him.”

Dino was thrilled to hear from him, and even more thrilled to hear that he was being invited to visit if he could spare the time, to see them, and to meet his fellow … victim. “I can really come!? It’s been months! But, ah, can you ask Renato to please not shoot me?”

“I’ll consider it,” he promised. “You can either stay at a hotel, or we can put some of you up. You know how big the house is. Shamal was staying here, but he’s out tomcatting around somewhere.”

“Well… How about me and my primary guardians at your house, and the rest can use a hotel? They get upset if I don’t have at least twenty people with me in the area. I’m not sure why.”

He rolled his eyes slightly. Dino had yet to figure out that his abilities halved any time he was without at least one of his men. He had so endeared himself to them that they all jumped to do his bidding and acted like his older brothers. Gods help whoever he fell in love with and wanted to marry. “That sounds fine, Dino-kun. Shoot me an email with when you’ll be here so we make sure at least one of us is present at the house instead of both of us being off torturing Tsuna-kun.”

Dino laughed a bit nervously. “I will!” he promised. “See you soon.” He arrived on the first of December and Hisui showed him and his guardians to rooms so they could drop off their things, then nudged them into the kitchen and into seats. Romario had called when they landed, giving him time to prepare a meal for when they showed up.

He plied them with food and drink and got caught up on everything that had happened recently over in Italy—though Dino had been sending regular emails—and then listened to it all over again once Renato got home. The next day they went over to Nana’s house, all but Romario and Ivan of Dino’s men staying outside, and after speaking with Nana for a bit, they went upstairs to lurk in Tsuna’s room.

It was not long before there was a mild swelling of sound from outside the house, and then the sound of footsteps thudding up the stairs. “Ren-san! This is your doing, isn’t it?” came Tsuna’s accusatory voice. He slammed into the room and squeaked.

“We’ve been waiting for you, kitten,” Renato said.

“W-what’s going on?”

“Yo, Vongola Capo. I traveled from afar to pay a visit to you.”

Tsuna shifted his gaze from Renato to the high-backed leather chair that was new to the room.

“I’m…” Dino swiveled the chair around. He was dressed fairly casually in a set of cargo pants, a dark red t-shirt, and a green and black jacket with a fur collar. “…the Cavallone Decimo, Dino.”

Tsuna freaked; Hisui sighed; Renato smirked.

Dino hummed thoughtfully, then frowned. “He’s no good!” He propped an elbow on the chair’s arm and rested his head against his fist so he could stare at Tsuna. “You don’t have the aura. The way you present yourself is terrible. There’s no sense of anticipation.”

“Your legs are short,” Renato contributed.

“You don’t seem ambitious, either,” Dino continued, shifting to cross his arms over his chest. “You look unlucky, too. Your disposition to be a boss is zero.”

Tsuna blushed in humiliation as Dino’s men guffawed behind him. “Hey, Ren-san! Who are these scary guys!?”

“Dino is our previous student, your senpai.”

“Huh?”

Dino chuckled and relaxed, leaning forward. “Don’t let the things I said get you down, Vongola Decimo. Before I met these two, my capabilities to be a boss were zero, too.”

Tsuna let out another of those long, quiet squeaks.

“We taught Dino-kun how to become a mafia boss before coming here,” he said.

“Just look at that face,” Renato said. “The kitten thinks you’re super cool, Dino.”

“Well… Thanks to these two I’m now the boss of five thousand family members. Truth be told, there are still many things I wanted to learn, but they insisted on coming here to teach you, so I had to let them go.”

A droplet of sweat rolled down the side of Tsuna’s face and he gained a sheepish expression. “Ano… There seems to be some misunderstanding. I have no desire whatsoever to become a mafia boss.”

Dino started laughing, as did Romario and Ivan. “It’s just like they said! You’re exactly the same as I used to be. In the beginning, I thought becoming a mafia boss was absolutely insane. Decent guys don’t seek to join the mafia in the first place, right? We were born to it, though. If you keep refusing…” Dino’s expression shuttered and he reached into his jacket, then pulled out Enzio. He thrust the turtle at Tsuna and grinned. “He’ll bite you!”

Romario and Ivan started laughing again as Tsuna’s ass hit the floor. “He fell for it!” Romario said in delight.

“This turtle is called Enzio,” Dino said. “I asked for Leon, but Renato gave Enzio to me instead.”

“Well, Leon is mine,” Renato muttered darkly. “Or maybe I’m his.”

The pitter-patter of little feet sounded in the upper hallway, then Chinese. I-Pin burst into the room, being chased by a grenade-wielding Lambo. “Lambo-san is a broccoli with branches!” Lambo declared loudly.

“Oh no,” Tsuna whispered. “Lambo-kun! Didn’t I tell you not to play with grenades?”

Lambo turned his head toward Tsuna and missed seeing the cord in his path; he tripped. The pins were ripped free as Lambo hit the floor, and the live grenades went flying out the window. “Uh oh.”

“Idiot!” Tsuna shouted.

“Nice going, kitten, you distracted him,” Renato said as Dino leaped to his feet and jumped out the window.

Tsuna rushed over and hung half way out over the sill. Hisui knew without bothering to get up that Dino would uncoil his whip, use it to capture the grenades, and fling them into the sky on his way down, so they could explode safely away from his men.

The men outside laughed and chuckled indulgently as Dino landed. “It’s just one of the boss’s antics again,” one said.

“He surprises us at least once a day,” another added.

Hisui reached over and snagged the cow, pulling the kid onto his lap for the moment. Lambo squealed happily and snuggled in.

“He’s so cool,” Tsuna said admiringly.

“Do you understand now?” Renato asked. “A mafia boss will risk his life for his men.”

Tsuna whipped around with a scowl on his face. “Don’t relate everything back to that!” he whined.

Renato moved to the window and called down, “Dino, why don’t you stay a bit,” as if they hadn’t planned part of this in advance. “You can let your men go back.”

“Hey,” Tsuna muttered, “why are you deciding these things on your own?”

“We don’t have to worry if you’re with those two,” one of his men said to his fellows.

Dino sighed. “All right. I might as well give the Vongola Decimo a piece or two of advice, then.”

“For me?” Tsuna said quietly. “How nice.”

Hisui noted that Tsuna did not appear to be leaking sarcasm, and wondered at the flip-flop of attitude the kid was displaying. Was being “cool” really such a lure? Renato, on the other hand, was definitely mocking the kitten slightly when he said, “Aren’t you lucky, Tsuna?”

Before they left, Hisui slipped a temporary spare key to Romario, so the guardians could get back into the house. It had recall runes engraved on it, just in case. Nana called them down for a meal shortly thereafter and they all filed into the kitchen and took seats. Lambo and I-Pin were already waiting, and Lambo was behaving reasonably sane considering that Hisui was present.

Nana served everyone as Dino said, “So, ask me anything, my cute new little brother.” When Tsuna froze up, bowl and hashi half way up, Dino said, “Oh yeah, do you have a family yet?”

“He has Gokudera-kun and Yamamoto-kun,” he said, “and a few candidates in Hibari-kun, Sasagawa-kun, and—”

“They’re just my friends and senpai!” Tsuna interrupted. “But why did you even come like this? You seemed to be doing just fine with Dino-san.”

“Vongola is the center of our allied famiglie,” Dino answered. “That’s why it gets priority above all others in every aspect.”

He eyed the mess Dino was steadily making; as usual, the kid never even realized it.

“The Vongola is that influential?” Tsuna asked.

“Yes.”

Nana wandered back into the room and paused. “Oh my, Dino-kun. You spilled your food. Let me get something for that.” She wandered back out.

“Without his men, Dino functions only half as well,” Renato said in an aside to Tsuna. “He’s the type who can only use his powers for the famiglia or in front of his men. Without them, his athleticism drops dramatically.”

“Renato,” Dino said wearily, “you really want Tsuna to believe stuff like that? It’s just because I usually use forks and knives, so I can’t use hashi very well.”

He snorted. “Dino-kun, you spent a year in Japan.”

Dino jumped up in embarrassment, and promptly tangled his feet; he face-planted, thankfully missing anything more painful than the floor. The impact was accompanied by a shriek from Nana, who ran back into the kitchen. “In the tub! The bathtub!”

Renato finished the last of his meal and got up, heading to the bathroom. Hisui paused to settle Nana first. “Whatever it is—and I have a good idea—don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it, all right? You haven’t even eaten yet, so get yourself something, sit down, and relax. Worry about cleaning up afterward.”

“Well, all right.”

He nodded and followed the others. Enzio had slipped away from Dino and gotten wet, unfortunately. As some unholy creation of Leon he was a little quirky. I-Pin dashed in and attempted Gyōza-ken, only to fail.

“Enzio is a sponge snapping turtle,” Renato explained in an aside to Tsuna. “He swells up to immense size if he’s immersed in water. The enlarged Enzio becomes feral and might well devour an entire house, or worse. Think Godzilla.”

“Stay back,” Dino said firmly, gently pushing Tsuna behind him with one hand, his other getting his whip. “Nobody interfere. It will be a disgrace for the Cavallone Famiglia if their Decimo can’t even take care of his own pet.” He readied his weapon and struck, saying, “Calm down, Enzio!”

Tsuna crashed into the wall, a nasty welt forming on his cheek.

“Sorry, sorry!” Dino cried. “I slipped!”

“Do you get it now?” Renato tried again. “He’s not fully himself if his men aren’t around.”

“Stop it, Enzio!” Dino lashed out again with his whip, nailing Tsuna, I-Pin, and Lambo that time. “Sorry, sorry! Are you okay?”

Hisui pulled the two little ones out of the way and shoved them behind him, stroking a healing finger across their hurts as he did so.

“Do something,” Tsuna hissed at them.

“He did say not to interfere,” Hisui replied, exchanging a look with Renato, then flicking his eyes up to Leon.

“But the house will be demolished at this rate,” Tsuna said in a panic.

Renato sighed and reached up to get Leon. “I won’t directly interfere, but Leon can help.”

Leon jumped off Renato’s hand and landed on Tsuna’s face, then morphed into a mask. Dino noticed in his peripheral vision and pivoted sharply. “You’re here, Romario? I thought you went back with the others. Idiot! Stay back and leave this to me!” Dino’s competency level skyrocketed and he was able to use his whip like a leash, suspending the monstrous turtle over the tub. “You need to dry out, Enzio.”

Hisui grabbed a hair dryer and got to work.

Of course, Dino tripped on his way back up to Tsuna’s room and tumbled down the stairs.

The next morning they were back bright and early, to teach Tsuna another lesson—not that the kitten would necessarily recognize it as such—and to prepare for Dino’s evaluation of the kitten’s men. Tsuna got a funny little smile on his face on seeing Dino interact with his men, then a tentative look of realization when first Hayato, then Takeshi, showed up to walk with him to school.

“So that’s Tsuna’s family,” Dino said. “Children.”

“You seem concerned.”

“Of course,” Dino replied. “After all, it’s about the family of my cute new little brother who reminds me of my past.”

“And?” Hisui prompted. “Get your plan ready. You want to test their trustworthiness, so let’s get started.” He sped off to shadow the kids and listen to them talk. A short time later a Lamborghini with tinted windows roared up and screeched to a halt. The door popped open, a whip lashed out and ensnared Tsuna, and yanked him into the car. The door slammed shut and the car squealed away.

“Jūdaime!”

“Tsuna-kun!”

“That’s unfortunate,” he said. “Looks like the Momokyokai yakuza that controls the area around here. You middle-schoolers won’t stand a chance against adult mafiosi. Leave it to the police,” he advised, never mind that no mafiosi would ever involve the police voluntarily.

“Like hell,” Hayato said before rushing after the car.

“I’ll leave the police to you,” Takeshi said, then followed.

The car pulled up off to the side and Dino emerged, dragging a still bound Tsuna with him. “Well,” Dino said, “they froze up at first, but it seems they’re set on rescuing Tsuna. I think they’re trustworthy.”

“What are you doing, Dino-san!” Tsuna cried, struggling against his bonds.

Dino turned back to start untying him with the help of one of his men. “Sorry, sorry, I just had to test your men.”

“Test!?”

“Hey, capo, we’re gonna go.”

“Good work, guys!”

“Wait, wait! What about Gokudera-kun and Yamamoto-kun?”

“Don’t worry,” Dino said soothingly. “Momokyokai is just some imaginary yakuza group Hisui made up. You’re a lucky guy, Tsuna. Such thoughtful family members.”

“They’re my friends,” Tsuna cried in frustration, “not members of a famiglia!”

“Ano… That’s right, I forgot to mention that detail,” Hisui said, a finger pressed to his lower lip. “Momokyokai is a real yakuza group here in Namimori. I hear they’re very good with martial arts.”

Dino and Tsuna both erupted on him, but he ignored that and started to wander off in a random direction. Dino and Tsuna exchanged a look, then took off after the boys.

That afternoon he was given the other half of the story. Renato had been waiting at the yakuza’s headquarters with some of Dino’s men. Hayato and Takeshi took care of the lesser yakuza, and Dino assisted when the stronger ones arrived, though not without having nailed his allies before Renato and Dino’s men revealed themselves.

Hisui was just getting ready to dish up dinner when the doorbell went. Renato escorted Hayato in a minute later. “You’re—staying here?” the boy asked, eyeing Dino.

“Yep! Well, the core group, anyway.” Dino introduced his men and grabbed a seat, smiling happily when Hisui slid a plate of lasagne and garlic-roasted asparagus in front of him. He also set a basket of garlic bread on the table, and a big bowl of salad for people to help themselves to.

“I think it’s time to step things up a little,” Renato said. “All of this has been amusing, but at some point…”

“People are gonna start showing up,” Hayato said.

“Yes. Dino, you want to help?”

“Of course!”

“There’s a spot we can go to not too far outside town,” he said.

“You’re not taking him … there?” Dino asked.

“Not yet,” Renato said, “though … soon.”

They waited until after Hayato left to actually discuss the plan. If Hayato’s loyalty was where it should be, he would have felt compelled to clue his boss in on the deception they were planning. As it was, they hauled Tsuna off for a “picnic”, and it was not until they arrived that Tsuna bought a clue. It might have helped that someone spoiled it for him.

“Training?” Tsuna echoed. “We’re not here for a picnic?”

“We’ve traveled all the way to Japan to see my cute little brother,” Dino said. “I thought I could pass down my whip-handling skills to you.”

“Eh!?” Tsuna said as Dino offered him a whip. “Ano… I don’t think I’ll need a weapon.”

“Take it,” Dino insisted. “It’s my old one. I want you to have it.”

Tsuna accepted it with a look of surprise.

Dino fetched out Enzio and a bottle of water, then poured some onto his pet and set him down. “His size and aggressiveness varies depending on the amount of water. He’ll be your sparring partner. That hard shell will protect him.”

“What!?”

“Don’t worry,” Dino said. “Without any more water he won’t grow any bigger. When things get dangerous my men will help you.”

Enzio scuttled toward Tsuna much faster than a turtle ought to be capable of and Tsuna started to freak out, despite that fact that Enzio was not much bigger than Yori. “Hiiiie! Go away!” He lashed out with the whip and managed to wrap the end around Enzio, then yanked back and sent the turtle flying.

Unfortunately, Enzio landed in a nearby well. It went downhill from there, and Tsuna ended up in the hospital with a damaged leg. Had it been broken, Hisui would have considered sneaking in to dose the kitten with a potion and infusing him with magic, or Renato could have sped things up with Sun Flames, but there was no real need.

Once Tsuna was out Dino continued to help them torture Tsuna. They went to the Mountain of Death (where Bianchi, Haru, I-Pin, and Lambo had “somehow” gotten lost) and were repeatedly terrorized by Enzio, had a New Year’s Vongola-style “Family Versus” battle against the Cavallone Famiglia, and generally made Tsuna’s life hell while they still had willing assistance.

*

Lambo was doing very well with Japanese forms of writing. Either the kid was actually quite smart, or he adored Hisui so much that he was doing his damnedest to live up to his expectations. Given that, when Lambo showed up that morning for another lesson, Hisui decided to take him out shopping instead, and gave Nana a quick call to let her know he would be stealing the boy for the day rather than just the morning.

They went into a store that catered to the child-age range and browsed around. Lambo kept pointing at things he wanted—rather greedily, considering he wanted approximately the entire store’s inventory—but Hisui firmly told him, “Five things, chibi. One for each month you’ve been getting lessons from me and doing so well. So choose wisely. Preferably things you can play with over and over again.”

Lambo looked thoughtful at that and settled down a bit. “Does a box of crayons count as one thing, or many things?”

“You can’t buy individual crayons, so a box of them is one thing,” he replied.

Lambo hummed and started eyeing things more carefully. He was a very clever little cow in the end. He wanted crayons, a shrink-wrapped bundle of colouring books, a bucket of Legos, a tub of modeling clay, and a box of coloured chalk. He was headed to the register to pay when he noticed a young boy with European features looking around, with no parent in evidence. “Hold on just a moment, Lambo-kun. I’m curious.”

He went over to the child and tilted his head. “Are you all right?”

The kid stared at him, then nodded slowly. ‘So he understands Japanese, or he’s being polite.’ “Do you need any help? Because I don’t see anyone here with you, and I’m a little worried for you.”

“…I was trying to decide if I would go to the school now to see someone, or wait until after school let out.”

His brow furrowed at the answer. “That’s not going to be for some time if you wait. I’m Nagao Hisui, by the way. This little man with me is Lambo.”

The kid’s eyes widened. “Do you know Renato Sinclair?” he whispered.

“He’s my partner. He’s keeping an eye on our student today.”

The kid’s eyes got even wider and he bit his lip, then looked around quickly. “Tsuna-nii is your student?”

“Yes,” he said, wondering just how the kid knew that.

“There’s mafiosi after me… The Todd Famiglia. Can you help? I wanted to speak to Tsuna-nii because—well, because. But if you’re who I think you are…”

He smiled slightly. “Yes, I can help. So, let me pay for these things, and we’ll be off. I’ll take you someplace safe, and make sure you get to speak with Tsuna-kun, too. You stick close, okay?”

The kid nodded.

He continued on to the register and paid, then slung the bag over his shoulder and resettled Lambo, who kept trying to feel the thing up in anticipation, then motioned to the unnamed boy. He wasn’t getting any hinky feelings about the kid, so… “We’ll go around the corner and check to make sure no thugs are watching,” he said, “and then I’ll get us to the house real fast. Are you all right with that?”

The kid nodded again.

They ducked around behind the shop and he checked the area with his power, then crouched down long enough to heft the kid up to his other side. “Hold on. And you might want to close your eyes in case you get motion sickness. You, too, Lambo-kun.” Then he sped himself up fast enough to be a blur and made it to the house in record time. Once through the gate he slowed down to normal speed and set the boy down.

“Let’s go inside, then,” he said, and opened the door, then ushered the child in and followed. After divesting himself of his shoes and waiting for the boy to do the same, he led into the kitchen and parked Lambo in his usual seat, then set the bag on the counter. “Which toy would you like to play with?”

Lambo scrunched up his brow, obviously thinking hard, then said, “Lambo-san would like the Legos.”

He pulled the bucket out and set it on the table, then turned to the mysterious child. “Would you like something to drink? There’s water, soda, juice, tea…”

“Um, soda?”

He nodded. “Lambo-kun, would you like some grape juice?”

Lambo beamed and nodded. “Please, Nagao-san!”

“Please have a seat,” he told the boy, then got the drinks ready, and a soda for himself. “So, all right, you have men after you. Do you know if they’re in town?”

The kid nodded. “I saw them, three of them.”

He hummed and got out his earpiece, the one tied to Renato, and wore it. “Ren?”

“Yes?”

“Have you seen three bruisers in town at all? I have a boy here who’s being chased by the Todd Famiglia.”

“The Todd Famiglia? Those are not nice people. No, I haven’t, but… What’s this kid look like?”

“He has brown hair and eyes, about four feet tall, European, maybe eight or nine?”

“Ask him if his name is Fūta.”

“Is your name Fūta?”

The kid nodded and sipped his soda.

“Yes.”

“Okay, he’s Fūta de la Stella. The ranking kid?”

“Oh. Now I have a face to go with the name. Well, I found him in a store and brought him home for now. He was debating on when to go find the kitten to talk to him. I promised he’d get a chance to.”

“I see. I’ll bring Tsuna home with me, then. And I’ll keep an eye out on the way for those men.”

“Right. I’ll see you then.” He removed the earpiece and tucked it away. “Ren-kun says he’ll bring Tsuna-kun here after school, and keep an eye out for those men. Are you hungry?”

Fūta looked indecisive, so he let it pass for the time being and asked, “Well. How do you know Tsuna-kun?”

“Um, I saw him about six months ago, but I never actually talked to him.”

“From what I remember Ren-kun saying, you need to be able to see someone’s face to do a ranking, correct?”

“Yes.”

He nodded and changed the subject entirely. “What would you like to do while you wait?”

“Fūta-kun can play with Lambo-san?”

Fūta looked over in surprise. “Okay!”

Hisui wandered off and got a book, then settled in to read, ready to mediate any disputes that might crop up, though he hoped that the two would play amicably. When it got on toward time for lunch he got up and started to prepare spaghetti, since that would be simple and presumably something both boys would enjoy, and a salad.

Lambo was momentarily torn between his Legos and food, but food won out, and he swept all the blocks into the bucket after getting a nod from Fūta. Hisui said, “Chibi, you and Fūta-kun go wash up. We’ll eat in just a minute.”

Lambo nodded and led Fūta away, so Hisui set the table and slid dishes into place, then helped the chibi back into his seat when the boys returned. He did have to clean up Lambo’s face once they were done eating; the little guy had a wee bit too much fun with the spaghetti.

“You want the Legos again, or a different toy?” he asked once the table was cleared.

Lambo eyed Fūta, who glanced down at the bucket. “Legos again!”

“All right.” He set the bucket back on the table and turned away to clean up. Renato and Tsuna eventually appeared, so he set his book aside.

Fūta took one look at Tsuna and slid off his chair, which is when it all went funny. Fūta’s eyes went starry in a way he had never seen before, but had heard of. Things in the kitchen started floating, including Lambo, who started giggling madly, and Fūta began to speak. “Tsuna-nii’s sprinting ability is ranked 86,202 out of 86,202 people. Running ability is ranked 85,900 out of 86,202 people. Stamina is ranked 86,182 out of 86,202 people. Tsuna-nii’s ranking in overall abilities is … last place.” His eyes faded back to their normal brown and he pulled a big red book out of his jacket … somehow.

‘How are these kids doing stuff like this?’ he complained. ‘Maybe all flame-users have some vague ability at magic? Life itself could be called a form of magic, I suppose, so life force…’

“His rankings haven’t changed at all,” Fūta muttered, setting the book down and getting a pen. “Well, I’ll write them down anyway. Punching strength, kicking strength, and sprinting ability are all last place… I wish Tsuna-nii would try harder.” He finished jotting down his findings and looked back up again, then blushed. “I finally get to meet you!” he said happily. “I’ve been calling you Tsuna-nii… Can I keep calling you that?”

While Tsuna was having a meltdown, Renato walked over and said, “Didn’t see those men, but they could be anywhere in town.”

“I’m being chased by the mafia!” Fūta told Tsuna. “Please, Vongola Decimo, Tsuna-nii, please help me!”

“What are you talking about!? How am I supposed to deal with the mafia being how I am!?”

“I know that,” Fūta replied. “Because you—” He glanced down at the book for a moment. “You’re placed last in overall combat ability and intelligence out of 872 mafia bosses.”

Hisui reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Great.”

“But you’re placed first in your inability to turn down requests!” Fūta pointed at the applicable line.

“Fūta is an informant,” Renato said. “His rankings are one hundred percent accurate, and information is very valuable in the mafia. It’s thought that if you could get his book, which is filled with rankings, the entire world would be in your grasp.”

“So that’s why the mafia are after you?”

“Yes, for this book. So save me, Tsuna-nii!” Fūta put on a wicked set of puppy-dog eyes and aimed them at the kitten.

“No… No, no, noooo! I’m not that bad at turning down requests!”

“That’s not all,” Fūta said happily and pointed at another line. “Tsuna-nii’s lack of ambition is also placed first amongst all bosses, so I won’t have to worry about you taking my book, will I?”

Tsuna started to go into another meltdown. “Why don’t you help him?” Renato said smoothly. “You’re not going to just leave a weak little animal out in the savanna for all those carnivores, are you?”

Fūta upped the intensity of his puppy eyes.

Tsuna made the mistake of looking too long and slumped. “F-fine.”

While Fūta was jumping up and down with happiness Hisui murmured, “Another opportunity, it seems.”

Renato nodded. “Kind of disheartening to hear that the kitten’s intelligence is…”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean hard work can’t make up for a lot,” he replied. “And he has guardians, at least one of which is very smart, and another is when he can focus. Even Lambo-kun is smart, but he’s too young yet to rely on in that sense.”

Renato aimed a skeptical look at the cow, who had enticed Fūta to start playing again, and even got Tsuna involved.

“Ren-koi, he’s basically learned Japanese writing in five months. He’s not an idiot.”

“All right, all right. Look, you keep the cow brat occupied for the next few days while I watch over Tsuna and Fūta. I don’t want him getting involved in any of this and mucking things up. I have every expectation that those Todd mafiosi are going to catch up and I want to maneuver Tsuna into saving the kid.”

“Sure. I’ll check his Italian and probably move on to French or English.”

“You could always start electrocuting the kid.”

He frowned. “What, because of that whole ‘thunder set’ and ‘electric horns’ business from a ways back?”

Renato nodded.

“Are you sure this isn’t just you wanting to torture the inept assassin in your life?” he asked suspiciously.

“Tesoro, you wound me,” Renato replied, placing a hand over his heart.

He snorted and shook his head. “Right. Why don’t you take those two to Nana-chan’s. Hopefully you’ll run across those men on the way. Or if not, maybe over the weekend. Fūta-kun seems set on getting protection from the kitten so we might as well deliver and subtly nudge Tsuna-kun in the process. Maybe that will have more of an impact than what’s been done so far.”

“And all else failing, when it gets warmer, we switch tactics.”

He nodded. “It worked for Dino-kun. Actually, is Mafia Land going to be in the area anytime soon?”

“Ah…” Renato took out his phone and started fiddling with it. Technology had, indeed, made the things into little computers, and they were exceptionally handy, so long as they had the proper software installed to protect their contents and connections. “It’s not scheduled to come this way until mid-March, but that’s a thought. We can have a little holiday…”

“Which means we take Tsuna-kun and his guardians to get the stuffing kicked out of them by Colonnello, while anyone else along has actual fun. Speaking of which, is Fon still in the area? I-Pin-chan is still around, after all.”

“I’m not sure. But since he knows we’re here and she’s been living at Nana’s…”

He never, not even once, made reference to what could have happened to Renato, and he knew his lover appreciated that lack of “I told you so” from him. It had been approximately a year after Renato’s memories had been meddled with that they were clued into the “amazing reward” awaiting those who finished those mysterious jobs.

Whoever had done the memory alterations must have been working on a set of conditions that were less than intrusive; otherwise, Hisui’s memories would have been attacked. The thought of his lover being cursed into that tiny form still gave him disturbed dreams from time to time, usually after seeing one of the Arcobaleno. The fact that Renato sometimes woke up looking haggard told him that his lover also suffered from remembrance.

Renato had been replaced by a man they knew only as Ciro. He had no idea what he’d have done had Renato not backed out. Their relationship had still been relatively new, and to have his lover turned into an anomaly… He shook his head to clear away those thoughts. “Well, I see no reason why we can’t plan for that. Tsuna-kun, Hayato-kun, Takeshi-kun… possibly Ryohei-kun. I can’t see trying to get Hibari-kun involved, not as a Cloud.”

Renato shook his head. “No. He does need training, but he’d never stand for crowding of that nature.”

He nodded his agreement, then snickered quietly. “We should consider seeing if we can get Dino-kun to train him, next time he visits. That would be hilarious.”

“Assuming Nono doesn’t send him here on some bizarre mission. He might get ideas from the reports we’re sending back. For all that he’s fairly detached, he does seem to have Tsuna’s overall welfare in mind. Devising tests for the guardians isn’t outside reason.”

“A fair point,” he allowed.

“All right. I’m going to shadow these two back to Nana’s. Keep Lambo here for a while, just in case. I’ll call if necessary.”

“Sure.”

Lambo was sad to see his playmates go, but happily enough played with Hisui, who found that Legos were a lot of fun, even as an adult. A text came in on his phone a couple of hours later: clean-up on aisle six. He blinked. That was an incident code they had worked out. He sent one back: depositing cargo first. Then he looked at Lambo and said, “It’s getting close to dinner time, chibi. I need to get you back to Mama.”

Lambo fussed a bit, but willingly enough allowed himself to be carried off to the Sawada home at high speed and handed over. Hisui went to rendezvous with Renato, and found him with three knocked out men. “Tsuna-kun’s work?”

Renato nodded. “I’ll explain in detail after. Can you dump them somewhere like, I don’t know, a back alley in Tokyo or something?”

“Sure.” He was done quickly, then walked home with Renato.

Once inside the house Renato said, “So, we got to the house okay, but while we were upstairs those men showed up. They may have spotted Fūta through the window.” He shrugged. “The kitten upset me when he suggested getting Nana to send them away.”

He frowned and caught Yori when he jumped up to be petted. True, it was not unreasonable for a minor to look to an adult for protection, but Tsuna had wanted to pit his naïve mother against mafiosi?

“Fūta objected, pointing out that, according to rankings he’d done, the Todd Famiglia is ranked seventh for bloodlust out of all the mafia famiglie. Tsuna then decided they’d sneak out the back door, which was fine, except that I-Pin was practicing back there and the men heard it, came to investigate… Tsuna and Fūta fled. The interesting thing was me hearing Tsuna say, ‘Sometimes I find myself disgusting. I’m glad I managed to run away.’ ”

“At least he has some level of self-awareness that his behavior could use some work,” he commented.

“Yes. I’m sure you can start building up a mental list of things to throw back in his face, because I just know it’ll be needed at some point. Anyway, the kids got separated and the men caught up with Tsuna, started threatening him, and Fūta came to the rescue, managing to pit the men against each other using his rankings on them.

“Unfortunately, Tsuna wasn’t able to get Fūta away while the men were fighting each other, because the kid wanted to write the rankings down. He’d forget, otherwise. That was when I shot the kitten, and he beat them into the ground. As soon as those two headed back to the Sawada house I contacted you.”

“Let me guess,” he said. “Fūta-kun is now terribly confused because Dying Will Mode has never been figured into his rankings, and Tsuna-kun has jumped straight to the top of the adoration list.”

Renato chuckled. “Yep. Nana was thrilled to have another kid in the house.”

The next day he watched as Fūta kept popping up to wave at Tsuna during school, encourage him during P.E. class, and generally be nearby. He got back to the house before Tsuna, ready to beat some homework into the kid, and was shortly joined by Fūta, who took a seat at the table in the room. When Tsuna arrived and trudged into the room his face fell on seeing the younger boy.

“What’s the matter?” Fūta asked. “You don’t look well.”

“Dino incoming,” he heard in his earpiece.

“Ano…” Tsuna let his bag slide off his shoulder and hit the floor. “You followed me everywhere today!”

“But I wanted to stay by your side,” Fūta said, eyes wide with uncertainty. “Do you need help with anything?”

“I—I don’t need anything,” Tsuna shouted. “Just don’t come to school anymore!”

He frowned at the severity of the reaction. Yes, the kid had made a something of nuisance of himself, but yelling at him was not going to solve anything. Fūta’s eyes started to go watery, but they were interrupted by the promised Dino, accompanied by a score of his men.

“Yo, Tsuna! How have you been?”

“Dino-san!”

Dino smiled, then switched focus to the younger boy. “Hm, there’s no mistaking it. This is the real Ranking Fūta, all right. It’s rare to come across you no matter how hard you’re trying.”

Fūta stood up and moved closer. “Hello, Bucking Horse Dino.”

“Nice to meet you,” Dino said cheerfully. “It’s quite a feat to have earned his trust, Tsuna. Let’s get down to business, though. There’s a reason why I came today. Fūta, I’d like to purchase the rankings of a certain mafia famiglia.”

Tsuna went into meltdown, seemingly unable to understand just how valuable Fūta’s ability was, or why anyone would care.

“In our area lately, the Gospella Famiglia has been passing firearms to hoodlums and bringing harm to civilians. We can’t let them get away with it, so I’d like a list of their most influential weapon dealers. Can it be done? And of course—” He nodded to Romario, who flipped open a briefcase packed with bills. “—we have money.”

Fūta smiled. “That won’t be necessary. You rank number one out of 82,263 when it comes to mafiosi who care for the welfare of civilians! I like that kind of boss. And besides, Dino-nii, who is Tsuna-nii’s sworn brother, is also my brother, right?”

Dino looked a little surprised, then smiled. “I’m glad to have such a nice little brother. Thanks a lot, Fūta, Tsuna.”

Fūta copied some information down on a spare piece of paper and offered it to Dino. “Here’s a copy of the rankings.”

“Thank you! I hate to be in a rush,” Dino said, “but we really need to get this mess cleaned up. So, see you later!”

It went downhill from there, after he suggested that Fūta do some rankings for Tsuna. Haru showed up and made a nuisance of herself, I-Pin and Lambo scampered in, and Hayato dashed in to complain that no one had mentioned the Ranking Prince was around. At some point Takeshi showed up.

Haru went for rankings about her charm, what she liked best about Tsuna, Lambo was ranked most annoying and also number one when it came to people wanting to kill him and use him for a seat cushion.

Hisui frowned at that and glanced out the window; it had started raining.

Hayato supposedly loved kids and would be an excellent child-care worker, rather than his hope of being the Vongola Decimo’s right-hand man. While he was trying to deal with that shock, Bianchi came in and Hayato went down like the Titanic. “Take this opportunity and do a love ranking,” she said. “It’s time to clarify who loves who.”

He smirked. “I agree! Fūta-kun, please do a love ranking for Tsuna-kun.”

“What!? No!”

“Tsuna-nii’s love ranking … number one is … Leon!”

Hisui laughed softly, unable to help himself. Haru was devastated, Tsuna was having another meltdown, and the others were staring at Tsuna as if he really was a pervert.

“Haru has lost!” the girl wailed, stumbling over to the window to stare out morosely. “Haru’s heart is just like the sky; a rain storm.”

A second later everything hit the floor as Fūta snapped out of it. “Rain?”

Hisui realized that getting anything done at that point was going to be impossible unless he scared the living daylights out of everyone there, so he went home and resolved to speak with Tsuna the next day. He managed to steal the kid away after breakfast and haul him off to one of the lesser-visited parks.

“What’s this about?” Tsuna complained. “I had things I wanted to do.”

His brow went up. “This is about yesterday. And after we’re done talking, we’re going back to the house and you’re going to get your homework done, as I expect you didn’t bother last night. So, here’s the thing. You yelled at Fūta-kun.”

“He was being really annoying!”

“So are you, pretty much every damn day, but you don’t hear me yelling. Fūta-kun looks up to you, and trusts you. Are you trying to tell me that you find it so burdensome? That someone out there actually thinks well of you? You, the boy who’s been called a loser and no good for how many years now? And when someone does express admiration for you, your response is to yell at him? I can understand getting frustrated with someone like Lambo-kun. He’s only five and at loose ends. He’s not old enough to understand how his behavior affects others, not really. But you’re fourteen, kitten. Don’t you think you should be a little kinder, and try for once in your life to think about other people?”

“You’re not being very kind,” Tsuna said sullenly.

“Don’t avoid the issue. You nearly made Fūta-kun cry. Does that make you happy? Did you get some sense of pleasure out of it? Making someone smaller and weaker than you feel like that? So you’re saying it’s all right for the older kids at school to treat you like that? You deserve it? Because you’re smaller and weaker? You once asked Ren-kun to beat up a five year old, but you seemed to learn from that. Then you turn around and try to throw your mother under the bus, and yell at a child. I brought you out here so that no one else would hear, but I don’t want you to answer me right now, because all you’ll probably do is feed me a line of bullshit. So, we’re returning to the house and you will do the work you neglected yesterday.”

“I did do it!”

His brow went up. “Still with the yelling. Tell me something, is that yelling actually getting you anywhere? We’re going back to the house and I will look your work over. If necessary, you’ll re-do it.”

Tsuna’s expression congealed into a sullen pout, but he docilely enough got up when prompted and returned to the house. Hisui looked over the work and sighed at the number of mistakes and what he suspected were wild guesses, then began explaining how to do things, again. He sincerely hoped that Fūta’s ranking about the kitten’s intelligence meant little in the face of the billions of people on the planet.

Before he let Tsuna re-do his homework he wrote up sample problems and had him work on those first. He wanted to see that the kitten really was getting it. He also used his power to keep everyone else out of Tsuna’s bedroom, to avoid distractions.

“I don’t want to be in the mafia.” Tsuna’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“I know,” he said quietly. “Unfortunately, you were born into it. You either do or die.”

“And you?”

“I chose it. But I chose not to be an official member of any famiglia. I started out as a freelancer with an association to a famiglia and I still am, though I made connections with Vongola and Cavallone along the way. The work paid for my schooling, both high school and university, for my apartments, my clothes, my food, my house. I do a lot of translation work, too, so I have money from that. We spent five years tutoring Dino-kun, and helped him to set up a foundation that assists the people in his territory at no or low cost to them.”

“But you’ve killed.”

He looked Tsuna straight in the eyes. “Yes. I’ve killed roughly three hundred-fifty people since I was fourteen. Before that, and even after that, I spent a lot of time driving thugs away from your mother, people who wanted to steal from her or rough her up, to make sure my best friend didn’t get hurt. That’s how I got noticed.”

“D-driving them away?”

“Yes. I never made a kill until I was offered a job. Those three men you knocked out on Fūta-kun’s behalf? I disposed of them for you by taking them away while they were still unconscious. If they have any sense at all, after waking up in an alley elsewhere, they’ll stay the hell away from Namimori.”

“You—you didn’t kill them?”

He shook his head slowly. “Not my job, kitten. My job is to help raise you up, to make sure you and your men survive.”

“But they’re my friends,” Tsuna whined in frustration.

“Yes. What of it? They’re also your men. You don’t always—how can I put this?” He sighed. “Hayato-kun is your friend, but to him, his first thought is that you’re his boss. The friend part comes second to him. If you want to understand that better you’d have to ask him, because I’m not going to betray his trust. Sometimes people are family because they’re born to it, and sometimes it’s because you choose to be. To me, your mother is a sister, my little sister. We have no blood relation whatsoever. Dino-kun calls you his brother. Fūta-kun calls you his brother. They claim you as family because they want to, not because they have to. You’re my annoying little nephew.”

He smirked when Tsuna made a face. “Think about it, because we’re not going anywhere. And now, let’s get back to work, so you can finish up and go have some fun.”