Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 11

11: 2015

“You’ll be amused to know that Lambo is apparently quite the lady killer ten years from now,” Renato said while waiting for dinner.

He looked back over his shoulder in surprise. “The Ten Year Bazooka struck again?”

“Yes. By the way…” Renato pulled a foil-wrapped box from his pocket and offered it to him. “I love you as much now as I did then, tesoro.”

He smiled slowly and accepted, then pulled a box from his pocket and offered it. Renato accepted with a silly smile and leaned in to kiss him. Before things got too out of hand, Hisui wedged a hand in between them and pushed gently. “You won’t get any dinner if you keep that up. Save it for later, caro.”

“But if I could have you for dinner,” Renato whispered.

He smiled and shook his head. “No. I’m not going to ruin good food I’m halfway through preparing. Save it for later.”

Renato sighed dramatically and stepped back to grab a cigarette and light it. After he exhaled he said, “Well. As to Lambo. We have to back up a little. Tsuna was getting all mopey because Kyoko didn’t give him any chocolates today.”

He snorted.

“He had no idea that she and Haru had shifted their time to make chocolates to today because Haru had a test. I’m a little vague on the details and it really doesn’t matter. Anyway, Leon let me know the kitten was all regretful, so naturally I shot him. He raced off to find his crush and ended up at the house. Bianchi had told the girls she’d help them.”

“No.”

“Oh yes. Oh, and Tsuna actually owns and wears a pair of boxers with little hearts on them.”

His shoulders shook as he ladled sauce onto the next layer of the lasagne.

“They tried to figure out how to get Bianchi out of the kitchen, but Fūta’s ranking ability isn’t exactly subtle and she chased them away from the kitchen. Tsuna did finally remember that the easiest route would be to use a fifteen year old Lambo, but—and I stress this—he said, ‘I can’t ask something like that.’ We’re still good on that point.”

“So what happened?” he asked, starting the next layer.

“Lambo and I-Pin were chasing each other around, the little cow tripped and slammed into the wall, and of course he cried. Out came the bazooka. Next thing we know a fifteen year old Lambo is there, sprawled on the floor, face just dripping with blood.”

He looked back over his shoulder again with a frown.

“Turns out, as I said, Lambo is quite the little heart-breaker. Girls love to present him with chocolate on Valentine’s, and he tries to be nice and eat all of it since they go to so much trouble. Too much gives him a nosebleed, apparently. He got caught in some wind and, well, it splashed blood all over his face. Tsuna was still being a decent person and saying he couldn’t possibly use the situation to their advantage against Bianchi. And then Bianchi came in on her own, saw him, and tried to kill him with pasta.”

He shook his head in bemusement.

“So I shot the kitten again. The chocolate was saved!” Renato cried, flinging one hand up. “Lambo was saved! Unfortunately, the girls made the chocolate in pots, like a dipping sauce or fondue.”

“And Bianchi made up the rest.” He shook his head sadly. “What a waste.” He finished up and shoved the lasagne into the oven, then snatched the cigarette out of his lover’s hand and stubbed it out in the ashtray. “We have forty-five minutes. Let’s make it count.”

*

They were lounging in a tree in the yard, listening in, as Nana burst into the kitchen yelling, “Yes! I won the grand prize in the raffle attached to the tea bottle!”

“Really?” Tsuna asked. “What did you win?”

“A cruise trip to an island!”

“A ship? I get seasick,” Tsuna said quickly. “Why don’t you go with someone else?”

“I love how he automatically assumes she’ll take him,” he murmured.

“Don’t say that! This is a luxury cruise ship! Tsu-kun, all you’ve ever been on are small boats.”

“W-well, it’s still a boat, right?”

“That’s where you’re wrong! Cruise ships are like luxury hotels on the sea! They have soft beds, and high-class food. Like steak!”

“Steak?”

“And there are swimming pools and casinos on the ships! And even concert halls!”

“Nana sure sounds excited,” Renato muttered.

“I think she would have blown off Italy if Iemitsu-san had offered a cruise instead,” he replied. They dropped down and slipped inside, in preparation for their part.

“At the end it’ll reach a paradise! The tropical sun will take away all your worries!”

“All my worries, huh? Well, I guess I can go, if you insist…”

“But it’s only for two people.”

“Eh…”

“I can’t just leave Lambo-kun and I-Pin-chan and Fūta-kun at home by themselves.”

“You don’t need to worry about that,” Hisui assured her, stepping into the kitchen.

“We’ll take care of the bra—children,” Renato added. “You two should have a chance to enjoy yourselves once in a while.”

“Hisui-kun! Ren-kun! Really!?” Nana clapped her hands together in delight.

“So it’s just me and Kaa-san going on vacation?”

Nana grabbed Tsuna’s arm and pulled him close. “I wonder how many years it’s been since we gone on a vacation together? It feels like we’re going on a date!”

Tsuna freaked. “Ew, don’t joke around like that. It’s gross.”

‘And yet his crush shares so many similarities with Nana-chan,’ he thought.

On the day in question Renato drove one car and Hisui the other, because so many people were going to see the two off. Hisui had Lambo in his car, of course. Having him with Renato would have been asking for a major accident—or it would have been giving cow tipping new meaning. They saw Nana and Tsuna off and watched as they boarded the ship, then they swung into action. Hisui had everyone’s belongings safely stowed away, and a promise from the children to behave until it was time to cut loose.

As he, Renato, and Bianchi hustled the kids onto the ship he noticed Hayato, Takeshi, and Haru arrive and smiled slightly. Nana would take Tsuna to their room first, which gave them time to be pests. The kids were led off to the dining room and they approached the food-laden “Sawada” table. “Okay, Lambo-kun, go wild. But not too much, or you’ll get sick.”

Lambo laughed that obnoxious laugh and started stuffing food in his face. I-Pin and Fūta were more reserved. Bianchi just prepared a small plate for herself, as did he and Renato. By the time Nana and Tsuna arrived the table was bereft of food and Lambo was the only one in evidence. He was flat on his back on one of the chairs, holding his stomach. “Can’t … eat any more,” he mumbled.

Nana picked him up with a giggle. “What’s going on? Why are you here, Lambo-kun?”

Bianchi appeared. “When I told the stupid cow that Mama went on a trip he started crying. So I threatened him, and said that if he kept crying, Mama wasn’t going to come back. Then she started crying.” Bianchi glanced down to the side.

“I-Pin-chan is here, too!?” Tsuna shrieked.

“Aw, you’re all here?” Nana said. “What a dilemma.”

He could see Tsuna freaking out again in the mirror he was holding between them. The kitten was looking everywhere in a panic, but never did notice the two of them sitting at the next table over, backs to the scene.

“Then … they’re here, too?”

The mirror went away and they popped up behind their student. “Chaos,” Renato greeted.

Tsuna jumped in fright and whipped around. “How did you all get in here!?”

‘Still with the yelling.’

“Oh, we charged right in at the entrance and beat up all the guards, of course,” Renato said as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.

Tsuna started to yell something, but choked on whatever it was. His eyes went wide with fear as he looked back toward the entrance, then over at grand staircase leading down into the dining room. The non-Nana adults took that opportunity to grab children and hide them under the table with Bianchi. Hisui and Renato resumed their earlier seats and blended in, and the mirror came back out.

“Have you seen any suspicious kids around here?” a guard asked Tsuna.

“N-no!” Tsuna’s flailing around in a panic surely was not suspicious, at all, no.

The guards all wandered off, so they came up behind Tsuna again. “Hm, not good,” Renato said, scaring another jump out of the kitten. “If we get caught, even Tsuna and Mama will get chased off the ship onto one of the deserted islands along the way.”

Nana had been served a steak by one of the staff and was happily eating, oblivious to everything else.

“Our tropical vacation is ruined?” Tsuna said weakly.

“Relax,” Bianchi said carelessly. “Everything will be fine. We just want to have a nice vacation, too.”

Tsuna took a deep breath and let it out. “Are you guys going to hide here until we get to the island?”

“What kind of talk is that?” Renato said. “We’re assassins.”

“We’ll just remove all the guards,” he added.

Lambo and I-Pin jumped out from under the table and posed. Lambo had grenades ready (still bright pink, so they were kiddy-class), Renato had a gun out, and Hisui just smiled.

“Y-you can’t do that!” Tsuna objected. “No! Wait! Don’t leave!” he cried as they took off.

Lambo was caught just a few minutes later, he could hear. He had told the kid not to eat too much, but… Tsuna snatched him up and hauled him off to the Sawada suite. He tucked Lambo into a bed and dashed off again. I-Pin had somehow been switched with her older self and was in a confused panic. She had no idea where she was and Kawahira-oji’s ramen would get soggy, whoever that was. Tsuna managed to get her into the suite as well, so she could switch back.

Hisui let himself be “caught” simply so he could say, “Did we forget to mention? Fūta-kun, Haru-chan, Takeshi-kun, and Hayato-kun are also all hiding on the ship.” While Tsuna was having another meltdown, he sped off and rejoined his lover.

That evening they all met up at the bow of the ship so they could watch Mafia Land come into view. The sheer number of attractions was amazing. Tsuna staggered up to them and gave a little sound of surprise at seeing everything. He perked up a bit and grabbed the railing, eyes widening.

“Mafia Land is something, isn’t it,” Hisui commented quietly.

It didn’t register at first, but then Tsuna’s head snapped around to look at him. “Mafia Land?”

He nodded. “I think the only person who has no idea is Nana-chan. Takeshi-kun assumes it’s part of the usual game and Haru-chan just doesn’t care so long as she can spend time with you. Of course, she’s probably also daydreaming about her wedding to you. Everyone has proper tickets. We were just all having fun playing hide and seek earlier.”

“Why—couldn’t you have invited Kyoko-chan?” Tsuna asked, his voice quiet and almost hurt in tone.

He looked over. “We did, kitten. Considering the number of times we’ve arranged for you to be able to spend time with her, I’m a little hurt that you think we’d be that kind of cruel. This jaunt conflicted with their family trip, so they weren’t able to join us. Mafia Land doesn’t stay in one place, so we had to arrange the trip for when it would be close enough to us. It takes a long time for it to make its usual circuit.”

“Oh.” Tsuna’s expression eased a little, then flipped over into shock. “Wait, what? It’s not a normal island?”

“Not in the slightest.”

“But… If that’s Mafia Land, then…” Tsuna looked back over his shoulder.

“Everyone on board is connected to the mafia. Mafia Land is a paradise created by multiple famiglie having pooled together their money, to have a place where they could relax, and even be a bit childish. It has some special aspects to it, to help make it less visible to the world, but since it mostly travels in international waters…” He shrugged. “Not everyone can come here.”

“What do you mean?” Tsuna asked, looking interested in spite of himself.

“Famiglie who indulge in the baser aspects of the underworld are not allowed. They weren’t even allowed to contribute to the funds for it.”

Tsuna furrowed his brow, no doubt thinking that all aspects were base.

“Illegal or unwilling prostitution, drug trafficking, slave trading—that sort of thing.”

Tsuna went bright red.

“We’ll be arriving fairly soon, but we’ll spend the night on the ship, and head to the island in the morning. So, don’t give your mother any trouble when it comes time to wake up. You’ll want to get breakfast before we head out. There’s a lot to do, so you’ll be sorry if you don’t eat first.” Never mind what they had planned for the kid. He felt the barest twinge of guilt intrude upon his psyche, but brushed it away. The opportunity was there; they had taken it. They were being paid to do a job, and they hadn’t actually had to pay for the tickets, not with their reputation and their association with the Vongola. He nearly laughed to himself over that, but stifled it before it could escape.

“I’ll try.”

“I hope so.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s time for dinner.” He moved far enough away to capture Lambo and heft him up into his arms. “Come along, chibi. Hopefully you’ve worked up an appetite today.”

Lambo squealed and nodded. “Lambo-san has! Lots and lots of running around.”

Because had Tsuna really expected the little cow to stay in the suite where he’d been parked? Dinner was reasonably calm, and afterward there was some shuffling as people were shown to various rooms, though it was mostly the children who needed a little help. Bianchi and Haru shared a room, while Hayato and Takeshi shared another. Fūta promised to do his best with Lambo and I-Pin for the night, and was told which rooms had Nana and Hisui, just in case.

The next morning they gathered again for breakfast, ate, then disembarked onto the “island” known as Mafia Land. Nana was having raptures over the place, but her eyes kept flicking around to check to see where the younger children were. “Tsu-kun, look,” she said, then gestured.

“Wo~ow! A beach!”

Hisui looked at Renato, confused. They were on an island—man-made or not, it made no difference—so why was a beach so surprising?

Bianchi, Lambo, and I-Pin took off for the little changing stalls and Tsuna threw his hands up in the air. “Yes! I’ll put my worries aside and have a great time!”

“Ah, no,” Renato said as Haru and Fūta headed off toward the water.

“Huh?” Tsuna’s arms dropped down like limp noodles.

“You have to go to the reception desk to check us all in. You’re our representative.”

“We’ll wait for you here,” Nana said, “so don’t take too long!”

Tsuna heaved a sigh and looked away from the beach. “You totally ruined my mood.”

“It’s how it works,” Renato said matter-of-factly, then pointed. “That building right there. See the entrance?”

Tsuna heaved another sigh and slouched off.

“Nana-chan, we’ll go make sure he does things right. You have fun, and we’ll catch up as soon as we can, but don’t be surprised if we get a little distracted. There’s so much to do here!”

She smiled and nodded, then went off to keep an eye on the swimming.

Before boarding the subway, Renato paused to speak with one of the resort workers about Takeshi and Hayato. By the time Tsuna had been tossed into the subway car they were already present there, waiting.

“Huh? A subway? Why am I on a subway? Where is it taking me!?” Tsuna said from his floor-sitting position.

“We’re going to the back end of Mafia Land,” Renato said.

Tsuna jumped up with a yell. “You planned this! What’s going to happen to me?”

Renato shrugged and gazed out the window. “You’ll know when we get there.”

Tsuna turned to Hisui with a demanding look on his face.

“Hm? Oh, we’re here,” he said as the vehicle jerked to a stop and the doors opened. He pushed Tsuna out and followed, Renato behind him.

“So, you had the guts to come,” a new voice commented. “Tell me your name.”

Tsuna looked around, then cried out in pain when someone kicked him in the shin. He looked down to see a figure about Lambo’s size, with blond hair, pale blue eyes, and wearing military gear. A hawk was perched on his helmet.

“Chaos, Colonnello.”

The chibi whipped out a gun and fired; Renato nimbly dodged and shot back. Hisui pulled Tsuna off to the side to watch as the two men had some fun together with dangerous live weapons. Tsuna’s expression was horrified, scared, and … intrigued.

“Puny little bullets like these could only belong to you!”

“Using anti-tank weaponry? Your hobbies are still so tacky.”

“Are—are you friends?” Tsuna asked.

Both stopped shooting and looked at him. “We’re not friends. I just happen to know him,” Colonnello said, a frown on his face.

Renato made a rude noise.

“What are you doing here?” Colonnello asked Renato.

Renato shot him a look, the “are you fucking kidding me?” look. “I’m just here to observe while our pupil undergoes training.”

“Training?” Tsuna asked weakly. “What training?”

“Mafia Land’s back end or, as some call it, backstage, is a training ground,” he explained.

“The mafia isn’t completely ruthless,” Renato said. “On this island, even if you’re branded an intruder, you still get another chance to be tested. This training ground is that chance, and the person who’ll be testing you is Colonnello, a former member of the Italian elite commando frogman force COMSUBIN, otherwise known as Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori.”

“This baby has a military background!?”

“Hey, that’s right, you’re the Vongola Decimo. You’re not very bright, are you. But don’t worry, I’ll train you so well you’ll definitely pass the second test.”

“Let’s see what you’ve got, Colonnello,” Renato said as he rejoined Hisui.

“Hey! Wait! Don’t just ignore my questions!”

Colonnello ignored Tsuna’s ranting and pointed off over the edge of the cliff they were standing on. “You see that whirlpool, maggot? Jump in!”

Tsuna just stared, a look of despair painting his face.

“Pfft. I’m even more powerful than Sinclair,” Colonnello claimed. “If a student doesn’t listen, what do you do, Renato?”

Renato grabbed Tsuna’s arm, twisted, and forced the kid to his knees.

“You’re too soft! This is what I do!” Colonnello launched himself forward and kicked Tsuna in the face.

Leon morphed into a mallet and Renato whacked Tsuna as a reply. After a few more rounds, Tsuna went into full meltdown.

“Jūdaime!”

“Eh?” Tsuna looked around in confusion. “Am I hearing things after all those blows?”

“Maybe if you hurry up with the training bit you’ll still have time for fun,” Renato said.

“Hey!” Colonnello objected. “You just shut up and watch me do my job!”

“Maybe we shouldn’t just watch,” he mused. “After all, Tsuna-kun is our squeak toy…”

Renato nodded, looked at the chibi, and the two of them proceeded to kick Tsuna off the cliff.

“Life isn’t fair,” he muttered, stepping up closer to the edge. “It isn’t kind.”

“No,” Renato said, gazing down at their floundering student, then sent a sharp look his way when he shifted position. “You getting any feelings lately?”

He shook his head. “Not about him specifically. But…”

His lover’s brow furrowed. “But?”

He shrugged. “It’s nebulous. Something might happen today.”

“That’s both reassuring and disturbing.”

“What are you talking about, maggots!?”

Hisui rolled his eyes slightly. Military people sometimes had the worst verbal tics. “Just be on your guard.”

“Weird damn powers,” Colonnello muttered.

“You’re one to talk,” he shot back. “Didn’t mean to rain on your parade or anything.” He dodged a kick and focused on the whirlpool again. “I’m thinking the Olympic Committee would be awarding a two for Tsuna-kun’s water ballet skills.”

“You’re being generous,” Renato replied. “If I wasn’t augmenting the kitten he’d have drowned by now. Release the sharks!” he cried, then dodged a bullet.

“That’s my line, damn it!”

“Kitten,” he called down, “the idea here is to get out of the water and climb the cliff! You know, actually do something to prevent your horrific death? Do you really want to be shark food?”

Two hours later Tsuna had made it back to the top of the cliff, which was amazing to his mind. Even Dino hadn’t done so well at first, but—Dino had not had sharks and death by drowning to motivate him, either. “Good job, kitten,” he said.

“Just … gonna have … a little rest,” Tsuna mumbled, having collapsed in a heap.

“What was that, maggot!?” Colonnello barked, his hawk launching itself into the sky. “You’re not even close to being done! If you’ve got time to lie there and be a whiny little bitch, you’ve got time to train!”

Tsuna lifted his head and stared blearily at the chibi, then noticed the shadow forming around him and looked up. “Hiiiie!” He rolled away and got to his knees as a large rock smashed into the ground where he’d been sprawled.

Hisui looked up to see Colonnello’s hawk hovering high overhead, several more rocks ready to be deployed.

Tsuna darted out of the way as another one smashed down, and then a third, but triggered a pit trap. Still, as he tumbled forward and windmilled his arms in a panic, he managed to catch the opposing edge and prevent himself from falling entirely.

Right about then the subway train schussed to a stop and ejected Hayato and Takeshi. Tsuna got curious enough to manage to haul himself up so he was half way out of the pit, so he could see. Hayato rushed up to pull him the rest of the way free with his usual cry of, “Jūdaime!”

“W-what are you doing here?”

Hisui frowned, materialized a senbon, and flicked it at his student before Hayato could reply. “You could try saying ‘thank you’ before demanding answers.”

Tsuna winced. “Thank you, Gokudera-kun.”

“Better.”

Takeshi laughed and scratched the back of his head. “You were taking a really long time, so we went to the reception desk.”

“They said if we took the subway we could meet up with you,” Hayato added.

“You probably really don’t want to be here,” Tsuna said slowly.

“I suppose you can train these two, as well,” Renato said to Colonnello.

“Wow, training?” Takeshi said.

Hayato, on the other hand, looked suspicious. Tsuna got to his feet just as an explosion rocked the island and promptly fell over again, one leg dangling into the pit.

“Enemy attack!” came over a hidden PA system. “Enemy attack! Please proceed to the nearest shelter! We are now entering combat mode!”

“Is some kind of event starting?” Takeshi asked as another explosion shook the island.

Hayato helped Tsuna back up as he said, “Hisui-san, Ren-san, if this place is being attacked…”

“It’s probably the Carcassa Famiglia,” Renato stated. “They are enemies, and they’re stupid enough to do something like this.”

Tsuna yanked at his hair. “Which means a battle is about to break out here!?”

“Kitten, the battle has already started,” he pointed out, as Colonnello’s pacifier started to glow.

“One of—”

Renato nodded. “Then it would have to be Skull, don’t you think?”

“This isn’t good,” Colonnello said. “The famiglia assigned to island security today went back to the mainland for the anniversary of their capo’s death.”

“No way…” Hayato breathed.

“What do we do!?” Tsuna said.

“Of course, as long as I’m around, I won’t let them have their way,” Colonnello declared. “Except… It’s time for my nap.” He promptly fell asleep.

“Damn—” Renato scrubbed his face with one hand, muffling part of what he said. “—sleep cycle. Just ignore Colonnello. You should be more worried about Mama and the others, kitten. We can take the subway back to—”

Tsuna had already taken off, his two friends in tow. They reached the train and got on, and only then noticed that none of the lights were on. He and Renato blended into the foliage, and he watched as the boys looked back to realize that the two of them were no longer there, panic briefly, and jump back out so they could dash off along the tracks.

“Huh,” he said. “I guess a threat to his mother is enough to get him moving of his own volition.”

“I already know she’ll be fine,” Renato replied. “You’d have told me otherwise. But, well, let’s go. If Skull is attacking…”

“He’ll have that stupid octopus with him.”

They got back to the main part of the island well before the three boys and settled in high up to watch. He could see Nana and Bianchi ushering the kids toward where resort workers would have directed them, that being Mafia Castle. Haru had taken the lead, and the little ones were in the middle. Half the attractions had been blown to smithereens, but the castle itself was untouched. Unfortunately, the most Tsuna was going to be able to enjoy was the beach, and even that was doubtful.

Tsuna emerged from the subway tunnel into sunlight and was noticed by Nana, though she and the others continued on into the castle quickly enough. It was then that various famiglie started to argue about who should take charge of the defense, among them the Difo, Beccio, and Nuevo, and the argument began to get heated.

“If you need someone at the helm,” Hayato interrupted, “our boss is perfect for the job!” When the scores of adults objected to the fluffy kitten he snarled, “Got a problem with the Vongola!?”

Renato set up a sniper rifle and sighted as Carcassa forces stormed the area. Takeshi was having a grand time from the looks of it dodging bullets while Tsuna ran around in shrieking circles. Everyone else actually fought, either with dynamite (Hayato) or guns. And then Skull showed up in his signature leather and motorcycle helmet, a purple pacifier hanging from around his neck.

“It’s the Carcassa Famiglia’s strategist, Skull!”

Renato snorted. “I don’t remember much from those jobs, but even I know Skull is a lackey.”

“What? That little shrimp?” Tsuna said.

“You’d think he’d have learned by now that size means nothing,” he commented in annoyance.

“No doubt about it,” that same mafioso said. “The purple pacifier is a sign of an Arcobaleno.”

“Arcobaleno?” Tsuna asked.

“Arcobaleno means rainbow,” the man said, “and it refers to the seven strongest infants in the mafia world.”

“There are seven of them!?”

“Doesn’t matter, I’ll take them out,” Hayato promised, dynamite at the ready.

“At least one of them is doing something,” he muttered. “Eh, or trying.”

“There’s something behind him! An octopus!?” Tsuna cried, after the smoke from Hayato’s failed attack cleared.

“I just know Skull is getting off on this, listening to them talk,” Renato said quietly, “so he can bask in their fear. What a dork.”

“I’ve heard that Skull controls that giant armored octopus, its actions linked to the infant’s finger movements.”

“Amazing!” Takeshi breathed. “But how?”

“Now is not the time to be impressed,” Tsuna snapped.

“Well? Who’s next?” Skull asked, wiggling his fingers and directing his companion to sweep away a good dozen or more mafiosi.

“How about you?” Renato muttered toward the tiny figure. “Can you give me a vocal boost?”

“Sure,” he replied, and cast a diffusive amplifier on his lover.

“Yo, Skull!” Renato shouted. “Haven’t you eaten that thing yet? It’s probably damn tasty. Maybe I should buy you a drink to go with some tako sashimi.”

Skull jerked and tried to figure out where the voice had come from. “Don’t be ridiculous! I will waste this damn island. I’m acting under the orders of the Carcassa Capo! You are all enemies I must defeat.”

Renato made a cutting motion across his throat and Hisui obliged by removing the spell. His lover fired, twice, then stowed the sniper rifle and launched himself. Hisui followed his lover down from their perch, making sure to cushion their landing.

“Die!” Skull shouted, and moved his hands.

“What a shame,” Renato said mock sadly. “Your portable sashimi source can’t understand your commands any longer.”

“Oh,” Tsuna said quietly, “I get it.”

Skull twitched—which was still a better expression of panic than Tsuna could manage—and said, “In that case, I’ll order the fleet to bombard the castle!”

“Not happening,” Hisui said, glancing up. “Colonnello just arrived, and you’re messing with his turf. While you’re watching your plans go up in smoke, could I interest you in some acupuncture?”

Indeed, Colonnello’s hawk companion had flown the Rain Arcobaleno out into position, and the chibi quickly blew to pieces the ships that had been firing on the island.

“Skull-sama,” was heard from Skull’s helmet, “all ships have been sunk!”

Tsuna sighed, then scowled. “Why didn’t you guys get here sooner!?”

Hisui moved over to lay a hand on the back of Tsuna’s neck and squeeze. “Again with the yelling,” he whispered. “And what do you care? You weren’t fighting in the first place. No, you were flailing around in a panic, but good job dodging all those bullets, kitten.” He wondered if it was the famed intuition of the Vongola at work.

“So, Skull,” Renato said, “you were planning to destroy the castle with what, exactly?”

Huge hands or not, Skull knew when it was time to flee.

“You’re just … going to let him go?” Tsuna asked.

“Kitten, we’re just visitors,” he explained. “The attacking force has been driven off. Nana-chan and the kids are safe, and that’s all we needed to ensure. If you wanted a different result, perhaps you should have done something? You don’t get to complain about the outcome if you refuse to actually stir yourself to action.”

“I—”

“I suggest you go find your mother, kitten. She’ll be wanting to know that you’re all right.” He gave the kid a little nudge. “Let the people who gave a damn about our safety deal with the aftermath.”

It was on the trip back home that Tsuna found him as he was staring at the ocean. The boy leaned on the railing next to him and said, “Why do you call me kitten?”

“Do you know what newborn kittens are like?”

Tsuna made a frustrated sound at the redirect. “No.”

“Newborn kittens are blind and deaf. They don’t have much of a sense of smell, either. They rely on their mother to feed them, keep them warm, and protect them. By their second week their eyes start to open and they begin to gain a sense of smell. By the third week their ears start being useful and they recognize their litter mates as something more than warmth. Fourth week, they can see much better, start to explore, take care of themselves, and their hearing develops. Fifth week? Well, I think you might be getting the picture here. Or…?”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“Well, there you go. You can spend your whole life denying reality, willfully being a kitten. Blind, deaf, unaware, ignoring the fact that there’s an old man out there grieving the deaths of three of his sons and was left with no choice but to choose you as his heir. But that won’t stop the enemies of the Vongola from coming after you, your family, your friends, whoever gets in the way … and slaughtering every last one of you. Do you want to be a kitten, or a man?” With that he walked away.

*

The second Kyoko was out of sight Tsuna thrust his arms up in the air. “Yes! I’m in the same class as Kyoko-chan, and I get to research our old childhood dreams with her!”

‘Kami-sama,’ he thought, exchanging a look with Renato, ‘he looks like he just won a damn medal.’

“Oh, so she’s to be the future wife of the tenth?”

Tsuna froze, then dropped his arms and looked around wildly. “Who is it? Huh? Was I just hearing things?”

“What a pretty girl.”

“Hiiiiie! There is someone! Who is it!?” Tsuna was crushed to the pavement seconds later by an airborne sphere coming to rest.

“Good day, Decimo! I’m one of the Vongola Famiglia’s specialized weapon tuners! My name is Giannini.”

“Another weirdo?”

Renato stepped out of concealment and approached. “You’re Giannichi’s son?”

“Oh, good day, Sinclair. Thank you for taking care of my father.”

“This is rare, for a weapon tuner to leave Italy.”

“Yes,” Giannini replied. “Weapon modification for overseas famiglia members has become an emergency priority under Nono’s orders.”

“We’ve heard about it. This is to counter the recent assassination attempts on mafia leaders and their successors, right?”

“Correct.”

“What!?” Tsuna left off whining about his hurts to get upset for an entirely different reason. “Hey, wait! Then … that means I’m in danger, too?”

“Of course it does,” Renato said with a sigh.

“No way! You have to do something!”

“Always with the yelling,” he said, stepping out of concealment.

Tsuna looked vaguely ashamed for a moment, then said, in a normal tone, “How much longer are you going to squish me?”

“Oh! Sorry,” Giannini said apologetically, then worked the controls on his odd little conveyance to rise up a little.

Shortly thereafter they were inside the house. “What does Giannichi think about the recent assassinations?” Renato asked.

“My father believes they’ve been occurring because a famiglia has perfected optical camouflage technology and…”

Hisui watched as Tsuna clapped his hands over his ears and started shaking his head. ‘Still not ready to be a man, eh?’ The kitten raced off to his room. A shriek was heard moments later.

“Oh, he must have found the stuff I unpacked,” Giannini said, then zoomed off upstairs.

‘Poor kitten,’ he thought, as Hayato burst into the house and dashed upstairs. ‘His lovely time with his crush has just been … crushed.’ Lambo joined in, asking for his bazooka to be “tuned”, and Giannini practically wet himself on seeing it—or at least that was the impression Hisui got.

“You guys can use my room,” Tsuna shouted after having yet another panic attack. “But you can’t come into the kitchen! I have something very important I need to do there!”

“All right,” Hayato said carefully as Tsuna fled off downstairs.

Considering he was the only one who generally never used a weapon (he did not think that firing Dying Will Bullets on occasion counted), he was the one to shadow off behind Tsuna to supervise. ‘Which really means I want to see how much of a fool he makes of himself,’ he admitted. ‘I really need to do another job soon. The amount of idiocy around here makes me feel violent.’

It wasn’t long before Hayato came down to show off his modified dynamite. A part of him badly wanted to ask just how it could be modified, aside from … exploding more? But he restrained himself and simply watched. When Hayato set it off it was like someone threw a party—possibly a wedding party, given the doves that appeared and flew away. The anticipatory smile on Hayato’s face turned brittle and the pink of humiliation and anger dusted his cheeks. “I need to have a talk with Giannini,” he growled before storming off.

Next down was Renato, though he had serious issues with the belief that his lover would let just anyone touch his weapons. “Chaos, Kyoko,” Renato greeted.

“Why are you here? Go back to my room,” Tsuna pleaded.

“No. I wanted you to see a modified Dying Will Bullet,” Renato replied, revealing his gun.

“No, wait! Kyoko-chan is here!” Tsuna flailed his hands around uselessly. “Don’t shoot!”

“Die.” Renato fired, only for the bullet to travel all of six inches before plopping to the floor. The gun went away and they all stared at the bullet, which was wriggling around of its own volition. His lover picked it up, stared at it some more as it rolled around in his hand, then said, “I believe I’ll be having a discussion with Giannini,” before departing.

Less than a minute later they heard a frightened scream. Tsuna shot up from his chair and fled upstairs. Several minutes after that—and plenty of noise that caused Kyoko to keep looking at the ceiling with an air of bemusement—a chibi version of Hayato appeared.

“So cute!” Kyoko said as she slipped out of her chair and crouched down in front of Hayato. “Were you playing with Lambo-kun?”

A look of shock passed over Hayato’s face before it turned to something closer to anger. “What did you say!? Don’t look down on me, woman! I’ll blow you and your brother up!”

Tsuna dashed in and snatched Hayato up. “Hey, wait! Let’s talk over there.”

The anger bled away to surprise. “Wow, Jūdaime, you’re suddenly so strong!” As Tsuna carried him away from Kyoko he noticed something out the window. “Oh, there are some weird guys on the telephone pole outside!” he said and pointed.

His brow went up. A look out the window showed nothing in particular, but Hayato was not prone to lies or flights of fancy, so he ignored the argument going on and cast out a gravitational net. Hayato was right; two people were clinging to the telephone pole. He tapped his earpiece as Hayato struggled free from Tsuna’s hold and brought out an array of dynamite.

“Don’t take out dangerous stuff like that!”

“I’m going to go blow up the guys on the pole,” Hayato insisted. He was nearly at the door when Takeshi wandered in.

While the three of them were arguing Renato came downstairs to see why he’d been summoned. Hisui pulled him aside and whispered into his ear. “Two unknowns, optical camouflage, on the telephone pole out there. Hayato-kun can see them, but no one else can. Eh, actually, they’re moving. Takeshi-kun left the door open…”

Renato nodded and examined his “modified” Dying Will Bullet again, which was moving around like a damn inchworm in his hand.

Hayato finally realized that he’d been chibified and freaked out, then freaked out a second time and went for his weapons.

The unknowns were inside, clinging to the ceiling. “It’s damn frustrating not to be able to see this with my eyes,” he whispered.

Takeshi tried to divest Hayato of his cigarette and failed, and the chibi got off his attack—of party streamers, confetti, and doves. Hayato’s eyes went wide and his jaw clenched.

Renato whispered back, “Pretty sure it was Verde who designed whatever it is they’re using. That would make sense given that he would want to remain unaffected by whatever manner of optical camouflage he came up with.”

They watched as Hayato got a crafty look on his face and asked Takeshi—who still did not recognize him—to teach him to play catch, then positioned himself just so. The first pitch hit one of the two unknowns and Hayato immediately tossed the ball back and asked for a second try, that time jumping up in front of the second unknown.

The impact broke the suits the two were wearing, rendering them visible. “Damn it, we’ve been found out!”

“Good job, Hayato,” Renato praised. “Excellent tactics.”

Tsuna finally bought a clue and realized the two were assassins there to kill him, and went into a meltdown.

“Since we’ve already been discovered,” the shorter assassin said as they both pulled out guns, “we’ll just kill him directly!”

“Ren-san, help!”

Renato shrugged. “I can’t do anything,” he said, holding out his hand palm up. “My weapons are useless. Look. This bullet is dancing!”

The larger assassin kicked Hayato across the room and stuck his gun in Tsuna’s face. The bullet stopped dancing and shot off on its own, to nail Tsuna in the forehead.

“Interesting,” he commented as Tsuna died, revived, and proceeded to kick the crap out of the two assassins. “It makes no damn sense, but interesting.”

“Go back and give my regards to your boss,” Tsuna said, the flame on his forehead sputtering out.

Renato and Hisui each took an assassin and dragged them away, out of sight, so that Hisui could “dispose” of them.

When he returned from dumping the two in a grotty Tokyo alley, he snatched up Hayato and walked off with him, ignoring the outraged struggling. “Stop that and think,” he said quietly. “You’re in a small child’s body right now. Do you really think people aren’t going to haul off a strange, European-featured child to the police station in an attempt to find his parents?”

Hayato stilled in his arms. “Good point.”

“Yes. It’s been so far beyond five minutes that I’d rather you stayed with us until you return to normal. I’ll contact the school and let them know you’re sick, if necessary. We also need to get you new dynamite.”

Hayato snarled and shook a tiny fist. “That bastard!”

“I’m sure Ren-kun will beat some sense into him, and hopefully he’ll go back and get more lessons from his father. Hayato-kun, I’m proud of you.”

The boy blushed.

“You saw the assassins and, despite people saying you were seeing things, you persevered. You even came up with a viable plan to expose them with what resources you had on hand, so that everyone could see the danger, so that people could react. From what I understand those two managed to take out a lot of people with those suits. You did well.”

“Shouldn’t they have, you know, waited until later, when Jūdaime was asleep and unprotected?”

He shrugged. “I can only assume that they were so pumped up over earlier successes that they got overconfident. Or maybe they wanted the thrill of sneaking in with so many people around, to prove they could do it again. We may never know. But we do know that people are aware of Tsuna-kun’s status and location.”

It took a week for Hayato to go back to normal. It took a week for Tsuna to come to him to talk. “So, I guess I’m in danger.”

He nodded.

“I’m probably not going to be able to get away from this.”

His brow went up.

“I’m still not all that good at school.”

“You don’t have to be blindingly intelligent, kitten, but you do have to try. If nothing else, trying at things helps you to know where your limits are, or could be. Maybe your strengths aren’t in mathematics or chemistry. So what? It still helps to have a basic understanding. You’re not stupid. You got right away what Ren-kun did against Skull, before anyone else seemed to. That’s not nothing.”

“What are you good at? In the normal world, I mean.”

“Languages. I am exceptional at languages.”

Tsuna’s brow furrowed. “But what do you do with them?”

He blinked. “Translation work, kitten. Being fluent in multiple languages is a valuable skill. I have a contract with a publishing house, as an example. Say for instance that some book gets written over in Germany and they want it here in Japanese. I’m one of the people who does the translations for things like that.”

“People get paid for that?” Tsuna looked bewildered for some reason.

“Of course. Someone has to do it, and it’s still a job. It’s exacting work. It pays well.”

“Then why don’t you just do that?”

He smiled slightly. “Because I like getting psychos that the police can’t handle or even find off the streets. We’re getting off topic, though. School isn’t the sum of your life, or where you learn everything. Sometimes it’s something as simple as walking out the front door in the morning and realizing that there are people waiting for you, to walk beside you, when you learn something. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to do our best to pound knowledge into your head. And soon, physical things, because one of the most important bases you can have is stamina. Stamina plus resolve will get you places you never dreamed you could reach.”

“Okay.”

His brow crinkled faintly. Was that assent? A lack of denial? Of rebellion?

“My mother might have been there, a week ago. So okay.”

He nodded. “After school, come here. You’ll be home in time for dinner every day, and have time in the evenings for homework if it’s not already done. Weekends off, unless something comes up.”

Tsuna nodded and left.

When he came back, after school on Monday, Hisui ran him into the ground for two hours, just as he used to do with Dino. He was allowed to slow down to a walk so he could take in water or a sports drink every so often. “You’ve got one thing on Dino-kun, kitten.”

“What’s that?” Tsuna gasped, his face red from exertion and sweat dampening everything.

“You’re not clumsy the way he is. You lack coordination, yes, but that can be trained into you. He’s inherently clumsy in normal life.”

Tsuna gaped. “Have you not seen me in P.E. class?”

“Of course I have. And I also know that you’ve spent a lot of time trying to withstand the bullying, and that every effort was met with scorn. You gave up, you stopped trying. I won’t allow that, though. You try, and you keep trying, until you realize that you can do it. Because we know you can. For all that we tease you and give you a hard time, we wouldn’t bother if we thought it was hopeless, if we thought you were hopeless.

“Also, don’t mistake things. The coordination and reflexes necessary for, say, surgery are not the same as those for a baseball player. Some people do well with a sword, some with a gun, some with just their hands. What matters is what you’re good at, not what someone else is good at. Now, you’ve had your break, so back to running.”

Renato had him for the second two hours, when Tsuna’s body was convinced it was dying, to etch knowledge into the boy’s head, like acid on metal, though not so damaging. They started speaking to him in Italian, getting him to learn through immersion, so that his frustration at his inability to communicate would spur him on. There was a great deal of pointing and pleading looks, answered by the Italian word for something.

Over the weeks leading up to summer break Tsuna had learned some patience, how to stop and listen, how to try to puzzle things out. He learned how to pace himself. He learned ways to retain information, even if he remained abysmal at certain subjects. He learned that he was not hopeless. He still freaked out too often for comfort.

*

“I’ll meet you there,” Renato said.

Hisui gave him a kiss and headed out to the community center to ensure things were ready. Not long after he arrived the others showed up, that being Hayato, Takeshi, Ryohei, Haru, Lambo, and I-Pin. A short time later Renato came in, followed by Tsuna a minute after.

“Ren-san!” Tsuna said as he burst in through the doors.

“Hey, Tsuna-kun,” Takeshi greeted.

“…Everyone’s here? What are you all doing here? What’s with this unusual atmosphere?”

“Of course they’d feel a bit different today,” Renato said. “Today is the Vongola-style community relationship-building Tanabata contest.”

“What the hell is that?” Tsuna muttered as he walked up to the front of the room.

He sighed. “Everyone performs something to do with Tanabata, the judges review it, and then we see who gets the highest score,” he said, pointing at the scoreboard, which looked suspiciously like the one they had used for the Vongola-style birthday party. “The person with the highest score gets the wish they wrote on their tanzuku.”

Tsuna looked at Renato. “That’s why you took mine away? Forget it, just give it back to me! It’s fine even if it doesn’t come true. I’m not interested in joining superstitious games like these!”

“It’s not superstition,” Renato said. “Because of the considerable influence of the Vongola, the success rate of the wishes has been one hundred percent. In the past, people have become kings, and one even became the first man on the moon.”

Tsuna looked at how excited the others were, then adopted a dreamy look, and Hisui just knew the wish had to do with Kyoko. “I—I can get mine, too?”

“It’s simple,” he said. “So long as you can make these judges happy.” ‘Though really, maybe at some point you’ll wake the hell up and realize that working for these things personally is a better choice.’

Tsuna spun around and noticed that all the seating had been filled with the neighborhood elderly.

“For the mafia,” Renato said, “communication with the elderly is indispensable. No matter which country it is, the local elderly are important supporters. Without their trust, it’s over. And, Tsuna… You’ve already signed up. If you try to forfeit now, according to the rules, no matter where on Earth you try to run to, we’ll stop your dreams from coming true.”

Either Tsuna actually believed that, or the evil smile on Renato’s face scared him, because the kitten freaked out. “…I do want my wish to come true, but I didn’t prepare anything,” he said mournfully.

“You can relax, Jūdaime,” Hayato reassured him. “I’ve got it all ready! So just relax. Let’s win this contest and get our wishes fulfilled.”

“Then Goku—”

Renato cleared his throat loudly. “Now, the Vongola-style Tanabata contest is about to start!”

Haru hopped up onto the stage and faced the audience. “The M.C. for this event is going to be Miura Haru of Third Street. Everyone, if you feel that a performance is suitable for Tanabata, then please raise the fan in your hand. The total will be noted on the board for each entry. The first performer is the Namimori baseball team’s hope, Yamamoto Takeshi-san. His wish is to ‘get into the quarter-finals for the district tournament’.”

He noticed Tsuna freak out again at the realization that his wish would be broadcast to the room.

Takeshi got up on stage and started juggling. “I’m going to use balls that symbolize the stars to show the Milky Way.”

The crowd seemed entertained, enough that Hayato muttered, “Oh, this is bad. It’s more popular than I thought it’d be,” then called out, “Yamamoto-kun, pass one of those balls here!”

“He’s not going to fall for that,” Tsuna commented.

Takeshi’s smile disappeared and his expression went to one of focus. “Watch this!” He drew back and threw, lodging one of the spiked balls into the wall between Hayato and Tsuna, cracking the plaster.

“You shouldn’t use violence,” an old man said disapprovingly.

“You can’t destroy public property,” added an old woman.

Takeshi smiled sheepishly and scratched the back of his neck. “Whoops, sorry. Oh, right. Dad wanted me to give out some Tanabata sushi to everyone. Don’t forget to bring some home when you go.”

Most of the crowd did a one-eighty when they realized who Takeshi was and flung their fans up in approval.

“Seventy points,” Renato said, “not bad.”

Hisui slapped a chibi-Takeshi magnetic sticker in place.

“Up next is the extreme boxer, Sasagawa Ryohei-san, and the Bovino family’s little grown-up, Lambo-kun. Please welcome them to the stage!”

Both were dressed a bit differently than normal, he noted.

“I want boxing to become a national sport!” Ryohei bellowed, thrusting one fist into the air.

“I want to rule the world!” Lambo cried, putting on an evil face.

“So cute,” and “What could it be?” and “Probably the story of the cowherd and the weaver,” drifted up from the audience.

“Of course not!” Ryohei denied. “You all guessed wrong!” The two removed their yukatas and flung them aside.

“Lambo-san is a panda!” Lambo declared, holding a piece of bamboo up to his mouth. “Lambo-san will give it his all and eat bamboo!” He was wearing a panda costume, but had not bothered to remove his horns.

“I’m a koala, eating eucalyptus leaves!” Ryohei proclaimed, looking almost adorable in his koala costume.

Two fans slowly rose up in the audience.

“Two points,” Renato announced.

Ryohei and Lambo fumbled their way off stage, with stomach complaints, and Haru announced, “Next up is cute I-Pin-chan, who wants to see her teacher again. She’s a little nervous, though.”

‘So Fon isn’t in town, or he’s hiding,’ he thought.

Everyone in the audience stood up to bow. “It’s the bodhisattva of the land…” and “That’s great,” could be heard.

Tsuna freaked out as soon as pinzu appeared on I-Pin’s forehead. “Danger!” He rushed forward and snatched her up, then flung her out the window, as high as he could manage.

“Beautiful fireworks!” and “Amazing!” were heard as the girl exploded.

“I-Pin received ninety-five points,” Renato reported.

“And,” Haru said, “the last performance is by the golden pair of Gokudera Hayato-san and Sawada Tsunayoshi-san. Their wish is to—”

“Whoa, wait!” Tsuna cried in a panic.

Hayato snatched the papers from her hand and crushed them. “Don’t be in such a hurry to read them. I want to give someone a surprise. So, when you think of a two-person performance, you think of the kind of magic tricks you do at parties. But I’m not dumb enough to try the same trick twice. Today is the seventh of July, so…”

Hayato produced a scandalous number of knives in his hands. “I’m going to throw seventy-seven knives.”

“You’re going to throw them at me?” Tsuna asked, eyes wide with fear and sweat already trickling down his face.

“Dodge well, okay!”

“You’ve got to be kidding! It’s not possible!” Tsuna said as he prepared to flee.

“What, you’re going to give up?” Renato asked mockingly.

“I could die! There’s no need for me to lose my life for something like building community relations!”

“Oh, see, that was the wrong thing to say, kitten,” Renato said darkly. “All there is for people who don’t take community relations seriously … is death.”

Tsuna was not expecting the bullet to come from Hisui; he was too busy staring at Renato. Tsuna hit the floor, popped back up, and yelled, “Reborn! Perform with my Dying Will! Okay!” Tsuna reached out and yanked a discarded yukata off the ground and slipped into it, then “borrowed” the baseball bat Yamamoto carried around. “I am … samurai Tsuna! Go ahead and toss them!”

“Okay, Jūdaime!” Hayato said happily. “Here they come!”

‘What the hell is he thinking?’ he wondered, and watched as Tsuna deflected every knife off to either side, where they fell harmlessly.

The crowd went wild for the performance and voted unanimously.

“Well,” Haru said once it was over. “Let’s have the awards ceremony. The winners, Gokudera-san and Sawada-san, will have their wishes fulfilled by Ren-san.”

Renato smirked and stepped up to the stage. “Hayato’s dream is ‘to become Tsuna’s right-hand man’, so have this.” He reached over into a box and pulled out something puffy and large, then tossed it at Hayato.

“What’s this?”

“A sleeping bag that represents Tsuna’s right hand,” Renato revealed. “Next is Tsuna’s wish.”

“Hiiiie! Don’t say it in front of everyone! This is embarrassing!”

Renato smiled, and it was not innocent. “I knew this would happen, so I already told Nono that you had another wish,” he said softly, then more loudly, “Tsuna’s wish is to ‘become a good Jūdaime for the Vongola’. Nono was so happy he cried, and said he’d definitely fulfill it for you.”

Tsuna crumpled to his knees, torn between relief and panic.

*

Hisui fed the messenger bird some treats as Renato investigated the parcel it had brought them from Nono. There was a Sky Flame-sealed letter and a Sky Flame-sealed package inside the outer wrappings. Renato opened the letter and held it between them.

Nono was informing them that a breakout had occurred at Vindicare. Eight people had broken out, including Rokudo Mukuro, formerly of the Serpente Famiglia and responsible for its utter destruction.

“Wonderful,” he muttered. “And what are the odds that this bunch will show up on our doorstep?”

“After having already had assassins come after Tsuna? Pretty damn good.”

“And why the hell do half this bunch of presumed Italians all have Japanese names? I kind of get it in the case of Hayato-kun. He ran, so it’s only natural he’d have taken the name his mother gave him. But these people? Maybe we should take that as a huge clue that they do, in fact, intend to come here?”

“Maybe they’re so bored in Vindicare that they hold classes in there amongst the inmates not in the Water Prison, to do something with their time? It may very well be teaching each other their respective languages and culture.” Renato shrugged.

“So this package has a weapon for Tsuna?”

Renato set down the letter and opened that instead. Inside was a set of … wool gloves? “What the hell?”

He looked back at the letter again and kept reading. “Says here that given Tsuna-kun’s striking resemblance to Primo and our reports on how he chooses to deal with his opponents while in Dying Will Mode, he had Giannichi devise a set of gloves for the kitten, based on Primo’s.”

“Well at least it wasn’t a damn fork,” Renato said. “Yeah, sure, let’s all be scared of the Vongola Quarto, Forksassin.”

He snorted in amusement and said, “Well, Tsuna-kun is Primo’s direct ancestor, unlike Nono. It’s a good a weapon as any I suppose, though I could have wished for them to be in bracelet form so he could wear them all the time. Kid’s going to be embarrassed carrying these around stuffed in a pocket or on a string around his neck or something.”

“I could wish that none of it was needed, but it’s not so simple for certain types. It’s almost like how wizards need wands.”

He frowned and examined the gloves. Were they made of some special substance that started out innocuous, but transformed? He did not dare do anything to them, though he would prefer to. Runes, perhaps, to ensure recall abilities, but without knowing what they were… He blinked when Leon struck with his tongue and stole the gloves—though they were more like mittens—and swallowed them.

Renato eyed his pet. “Right. That’s bad.”

“They’re definitely coming here.”

“Yeah. And whatever Giannichi came up with wasn’t good enough for our little friend here.”

“Think we should give Shamal a heads up in case he wanders back this way?”

Renato eyed Leon again and nodded slightly. “I’ll send him a message, just in case.”