~.~.~

Title: Unbreakable Bond
Summary: Oneshot. Tsuna's twin Ieyasu was brilliant, but there was always also something not quite right about him. It was as if a vital part of him was missing — a heart. (In short: Tsuna has a twin who's a complete psychopath.)
Notes: Yeah. I… I'm so sorry. This was meant to be a oneshot "glimpse" into the potential world of this story. So it's not very conclusive. Please imagine for yourselves how this story might continue through the other arcs.

Oh, and the song I used as inspiration for this is Fukanzen Nenshou, by Chiaki Ishikawa. It's the opening to Kamisama Dolls.

~.~.~

Part 1: Possibility

Iemitsu and Nana had chosen a name for their first son early on - "tsuna" for Iemitsu's father Ietsuna, "yoshi" for good luck. But their second...

Twins. It was so unexpected. Iemitsu had been called away almost immediately after they learned that Nana was pregnant - a vital mission, so serious and intense he hadn't even been able to contact her all throughout. He hadn't even known that he had two sons until he arrived at the hospital just a few days after Nana had given birth.

"This one is the older brother," Nana explained, smiling down at the blanket-swaddled baby in her arms. "I named him Tsunayoshi, like we decided."

"And this little one?" Iemitsu asked, gingerly shifting the bundle he had been handed. The infant seemed impossibly small and fragile in his grip.

"Hm, I was waiting for you to decide," Nana admitted. "Poor baby, we can't leave him without a name."

Iemitsu looked down at his younger son, just as the babe began to stir. As he shifted his head, a tuff of golden hair peeked out from among the blanket folds. Slowly, the baby's eyes slid open - the same golden color that was passed down from their ancestor.

Even though Iemitsu knew that infants were still mostly unaware of the world around them, his son's clear, lucid-like gaze made him almost certain the infant was looking at him - knew him.

"Ieyasu," he blurted. "Let's name him Ieyasu, after my great-great grandfather."

Smiling indulgently, Nana agreed.

"Grow up to be as great a man as our ancestor, Yasu," Iemitsu whispered to the infant. "A man who will lead Vongola to prosperity..."

~.~.~

It was as if those words were a prophecy.

Yasu was skilled in academics and sports, head of his class in every year. His easy, confident manner charmed classmates and teachers alike. He seemed set on the path to greatness.

It was without qualms that Iemitsu recommended him as Nono's successor - Vongola Decimo.

"It should be quite a change from your previous student, Reborn," Nono said, smiling.

"We'll see," Reborn allowed.

He knew that some people were simply gifted. However, as a pessimist by nature, he couldn't help but believe that there must be some flaw under that gilded exterior. And like a gem, the deeper and better hidden the flaw, the harder it would be to correct.

"What about the brother? Iemitsu has two brats, doesn't he? How do you want to handle him?" Reborn asked instead.

Nono hummed thoughtfully, folding his hands over the head of his cane. "I will leave it to your discretion," he said. "It may be better not to inform him, to preclude the possibility of having him contest succession."

Reborn nodded briskly and left to prepare for his assignment.

~.~.~

The brother turned out to be a non-issue. Not because his grades were middling, he could claim no achievements at all and was most often described as lacking in any semblance of ambition or drive.

Rather, because it was a good week before Reborn even saw Sawada Tsunayoshi.

"Tsu-kun has to leave early to get to school on time," Nana explained, when Reborn inquired about her other son. "He goes to Kokuyo Junior High, in the next town over. It's a bit of a trip, even on his bike." Looking uncharacteristically downcast, she confided, "I think he chose that school because he wanted space from Yasu-kun."

Not unbelievable or even all that troubling. They were twins after all, and if Tsuna wanted to establish his identity by going as far from his brother as he could, then at least the chances of him trying to claim Vongola for himself, out of jealousy or entitlement, were low.

No, what troubled Reborn was that even Nana couldn't bring herself to address her youngest too familiarly.

That's the kind of person Reborn had observed Yasu to be - as unreachable as the sky.

~.~.~

Part 2: Towering Over All

Things came easily to Yasu, sports and academics, but also the social aspects - leading his peers, gaining the support and even deference of adults, recruiting the Guardians that Reborn pointed out to him.

With a deft hand, Yasu won over to his side Gokudera, Yamamoto and Ryohei, all of his own skill and ability. He even dealt with Lambo with a steady patience that Reborn had never seen anyone display in regard to the annoying cow child, though there was always a certain degree of disinterest involved as well, as though Yasu was only doing as he was told.

The only one Reborn had marked that Yasu could not sway was Hibari. Even after Reborn arranged a match to show Hibari Yasu's strength, even when Yasu went along with it brilliantly, Hibari only looked at Yasu with an expression that was almost... uncertain.

"I did not concern myself previously, because you did not cause any disturbances in Namimori," Hibari said, "but I will ask now. What are you? You are not an herbivore or carnivore, or anything in between."

Yasu smiled, a little abashed and bemused - a reaction that perfectly balanced his easy confidence and his easy openness. "Well, I think I'm a human," he said. "But I'll do my best not to cause trouble for as long as I'm in Namimori. I've always wanted to avoid that."

Reborn watched him and had no idea if the boy was lying. He had seen Yasu lie - he knew those were lies, for a fact. But in those times... Yasu had been just like always. He had no tells. Even his breathing, even his heartbeat remained steady and undisturbed.

It wasn't even just skill beyond what any ordinary school boy should have. This was beyond even prodigious self-control. It was as if Yasu felt nothing when lying, as if lying was his normal state.

He lied well, too. Skillfully. Every reaction was just right. ...Just like all his other reactions.

~.~.~

"You will become Vongola Decimo," Reborn had concluded his explanation, when he first arrived at the Sawada house. "I will make sure of it."

Yasu had listened to him calmly, with a degree of attentiveness that Reborn was no accustomed to receiving from someone who did not know his reputation. It was, he noted absently, a strange reaction toward a toddler. Then again, Yasu didn't seem to see Reborn as a child to start with.

"…And if I wish to decline?" Yasu asked neutrally.

"That's not an option," Reborn said, neither threatening nor sympathetic. "You will be Vongola's next boss. If you try to run, you'll be hunted down. If you try to fight, you'll be defeated. Vongola is a world power without equal. So you better just accept your fate."

Yasu didn't protest or show even the slightest sign of disbelief. Instead, he looked at Reborn with a piercing gaze, as if gauging his truthfulness, and then nodded.

He never ventured another complaint or protest. He never expressed his opinion of his inheritance either.

~.~.~

When not off at his distant school, Tsuna tended to lock himself in his room and remain so quiet that it was easy to forget he was even there. The older brother was an almost non-existent presence, which Yasu never even mentioned, to Reborn's recollection.

But in the end, Reborn managed to catch Tsuna down in the kitchen, just after dawn one morning.

Coming out of the kitchen, Tsuna froze the moment he caught sight of Reborn standing on the table. "Um," he managed out, but didn't seem to know how to proceed.

"I'm Reborn, your brother's tutor," Reborn introduced himself and waited for the inevitable comment about the impossibility of a toddler teaching.

"Um, yeah. Mom told me," Tsuna finally said, edging toward the table and sliding into one of the chairs. He was supposed to be a clumsy boy, but he managed all of it without more than the softest sound. Experience, most likely, at sneaking out so early.

He didn't seem about to say anything more. "It was arranged by your father's company, for aspiring young leaders," Reborn revealed, blatantly throwing out a hook and line to see if Tsuna would bite.

Tsuna did, but not in the way Reborn expected.

"So is Yasu going to go overseas like Dad?" Tsuna asked.

Hopeful. He looked hopeful. Well, it could just be the overlooked twin's desire to no longer be in proximity to the one who overshadowed him.

That was what Reborn told himself.

"Tsuna, what do you think of your brother?" Reborn asked. He hadn't meant to be so straightforward, but something in his gut had been churning for a while now. It was an intuition he had learned not to ignore.

Teaching a student wasn't meant to feel like a long term infiltration mission. Not like this. Not like there was always a knife at his back.

"Think of Yasu?" Tsuna repeated. He looked pensively down into his cup for several long moments. "You know," he said slowly, "we used to eat together, me, Mom and Yasu. One day, we were having breakfast and... I looked at Yasu, across from me. It was like sitting with a stranger."

He slipped out from behind the table, silent as always, and padded out into the entryway.

Reborn remained where he sat for a long time.

~.~.~

There was only one time when Reborn felt like he saw the true Yasu.

It was right after he had shot Yasu with a Dying Will bullet for the first time. That was also the last time he did so.

The bullet had hit, a perfect headshot, and Yasu had fallen, a corpse by all appearances. An orange flame sprang to life over his forehead.

Yasu rose slowly and looked down at his hands as if seeing them for the first time. Gently, he pressed one against his own chest, as if feeling the heartbeat - or perhaps the flow of his Wave Energy.

Then, he looked at Reborn with a cool gaze.

That was all.

Dying Will Mode, even induced through a bullet, could be controlled, true. The energy emitted could reined in, so the user's clothes would remain intact. And some, of course, were very calm and quiet in Dying Will Mode.

But Yasu's Flame... it was cold.

"Dying Will Mode allows you to remove your body's limiters by focusing your entire existence on your Dying Will - your last regret before death," Reborn explained, after Yasu had casually extinguished his Dying Will Mode through his will alone.

"Regret?" Yasu parroted, in an unreadable tone. "I don't think I have anything like that."

~.~.~

The months went on. They all were poised, perfectly balanced, as if on a knife's edge.

Then, the message arrived - a breakout from prison, a famiglia killer on the loose.

~.~.~

Part 3: Unexpected Prominence

Tsuna had slipped out of Reborn's perception, unacceptably overlooked. Even when he guessed that Rokudo Mukuro would likely base himself just outside Namimori, most likely in Kokuyo, even when the first attacks occurred and the victims identified the uniforms, Reborn forgot the relevance of that school.

It took him - all of them, really, but Reborn knew it was his failure most of all - a few days to notice that Tsuna wasn't just coming and going without being seen, but had not been home at all for a while.

By then, it was already too late. The path of their fates had already been altered. The wheel had begun to turn. It couldn't be stopped.

~.~.~

Mukuro greatly believed in amassing pawns, especially dumb disposable ones. So his first targets, upon entering Kokuyo Junior High, were the bullies, weak-willed posturing fools who would cover before the smallest show of strength.

It was just chance. He had simply approached another batch of such pawns-to-be, already crowding around their chosen prey, a short first year student who had pressed himself as far against the wall as he could go.

He hadn't intended to anything like help or protect. The boy he had spared another beating didn't see it that way either. He glanced at Mukuro with fearful eyes, despite the fact that Mukuro had done nothing but smile and politely ask the bullies to stop their actions.

In the moment his tormentors were distracted, the boy slipped between them and ran.

Focusing instead on his newest soon-to-be recruits, Mukuro put the underclassman out of his mind.

~.~.~

But when he was leafing through the student body files, looking for any useful skills or connections, the boy's picture caught his eye, out of a vague sense of recognition and not much else.

"Sawada Tsunayoshi," Mukuro murmured. "Namimori resident?"

That could be useful, to gather information on the town and perhaps even on the potential identity of the Vongola Decimo.

Mukuro tried to approach him, in his usual way. So why did his best mild-mannered smile send Sawada Tsunayoshi running, with barely a fearful glance back?

He had good instincts, Mukuro concluded. And also... a surprisingly strong will, to resist Mukuro's normal methods of mind control.

Ken and Chikusa had caught him easily, of course. Lancia pointedly did not look at the boy as he was dragged into their temporary hideout, for a more in-depth treatment.

"Do I frighten you?" Mukuro asked conversationally, propping his chin up with one hand as he studied the boy who had been left in the middle of the room's decaying open floor.

Tsuna swallowed and admitted, "Yes."

"You seem quite calm about it," Mukuro noted.

"There's someone who scares me a lot more," Tsuna said. "I guess I got used to being scared."

"That's tough," Mukuro said, falsely comforting. Tsuna didn't look like he believed him for a moment, and that just made Mukuro smile more. "But, you know, there would be no need for you to be afraid of me if you were on my side. I would never carelessly damage my allies."

Of course not. Waste not, want not.

"You wouldn't even have to do much," Mukuro cajoled, mostly because he didn't see Tsuna having too many uses. "Just tell me a bit about Namimori..."

Tsuna shook his head. "There's someone who scares me a lot more than you," he repeated.

~.~.~

Tsuna wasn't deaf. He wasn't blind or stupid either.

He had never thought much about what his father might do for a living. He hadn't had the time or energy to spare on it. But he knew Reborn wasn't... normal. Whatever he was tutoring Yasu for wasn't normal either.

He knew strange things had begun happening around Namimori ever since Reborn arrived. Even if he heard just snatches of rumor or saw just glimpses of his brother's strange... acquaintances, Tsuna could tell that Yasu was involved in it all.

Mukuro wasn't in Kokuyo by coincidence. His interest in Namimori wasn't coincidence.

One way or another, Mukuro would come up against Yasu, and if there was one thing Tsuna feared above all else, it was that. He couldn't go against Yasu.

~.~.~

Mukuro had good instincts too. He had just stumbled across something very interesting, he realized.

"Oh?" he drew out. "I'll have you tell me more. Or, I suppose, I'll have you show me... show me your memories."

Tsuna barely had a chance to scramble back as Mukuro surged forward. His hand gripped Tsuna's forehead, pinning him in place, and his crimson right eye captured Tsuna's gaze.

Reality fell away, and all that was left was illusion. And memory.

~.~.~

Part 4: Protection of Self

When Tsuna was still very young, it felt like things were the other way around. Yasu was the one everyone forgot about. He was too quiet, always wandering off somewhere and hiding from strangers, from their mother, from Tsuna.

Tsuna was different. He clung to Nana and hated to be alone. It was scary, to him. The world was full of scary things.

"Now, you two, stay in the yard. Don't wander off again, Yasu-kun," Nana scolded gently one sunny afternoon. "Mama's going to be a bit busy making a biiiig lunch for Papa and his guest, so be good boys, okay?"

Tsuna had nodded, and so had Yasu, after a few moments. He was always like that, pondering every action. Always watching everything. Even five years in, Nana had no idea what Yasu's likes and dislikes were. It worried her, sometimes, but she tried to always keep on smiling. Tsuna smiled back, mirroring her as children were prone to, but Yasu… he just watched, revealing nothing.

While Yasu sat on the porch and slowly turned the pages of a book, Tsuna played with his ball in the sunshine, bouncing it, throwing it, running to retrieve it and beginning all over again.

But the sound of a high-pitched yap behind him made Tsuna freeze in fear. He turned slowly, already shaking, to see the Chihuahua from a couple houses down wiggle its way past the bars and into their yard, having slipped its leash.

The little dog, even smaller than the young boy, yapped again, and tears began to gather in Tsuna's eyes. When it leaped at him, Tsuna toppled easily and began to bawl.

Thinking back on it, Tsuna knew the dog had probably just wanted to play. It hadn't bitten him, and its claws scratched only out of carelessness. But at that time, it had seemed like some terrifying beast.

Yasu ignored them both – the yapping dog, the screaming child – for several long moments. But Nana, busy in the kitchen, couldn't hear the commotion, and eventually Yasu looked up from his book, his brow furrowed in the first expression Tsuna could remember ever seeing on his brother's face.

Sliding off the porch, he walked up to the wiggling pile of boy and dog, and easily dragged the Chihuahua off Tsuna by the back of its collar. Tsuna sniffled, sitting up and wiping his tears, as Yasu watched him for a moment.

The dog continued to bark and even began to growl a little as Yasu pulled its collar too roughly. Yasu's eyes narrowed as his gaze turned to the animal. "You're annoying," he told it. The dog barked again, hackles rising.

That was a mistake.

Keeping its head and teeth away from himself, Yasu stomped ruthlessly on the dog's ribs. Something cracked, and the barking became whimpering. When Yasu kicked it away, the Chihuahua dragged itself back as quickly as it could, disappearing from their yard.

Yasu watched it go, then returned to the porch and his book.

When the whole family went for a walk with Iemitsu and his guest – the nice old man who told the boys to call him Grandpa – Tsuna saw the Chihuahua's owner, crying in next to a small shape, curled up halfway between her house and Tsuna's.

~.~.~

"Your oldest, Tsunayoshi, he's been rather… downcast, hasn't he? Did something happen?" Timoteo commented, as the two men sat together on the porch, late that evening.

"He's just shy," Iemitsu said easily. "I'm sure he'll open up once he gets used to you."

~.~.~

The first term after the twins started school, the teachers' comments about Yasu were radically different than for the rest of his school career. "Very quiet, withdrawn." "Doesn't interact well with others." "Closed off, antisocial."

By the start of the second term, Yasu had observed and understood enough to change his behavior. He came back to school with a smile that, though still a little off, quickly became more natural. He began to talk with the other students, even if his words initially made them uncomfortable somehow. By the end of the first year, the silent, unsettling Yasu had been forgotten, and all everyone could see was the friendly, open, brilliant Yasu that had emerged.

And if anyone found those old records, they were quickly written off as a result of that certain incident, which took place around the same time.

~.~.~

Tsuna and Yasu always walked home from school together. The first few days, Nana had ended up in a panic when she arrived to pick them only to find Yasu already gone. They found him already at home, afterwards, having walked back alone. In the end, Nana could only sigh and relent.

It wasn't far from Namimori Elementary to their house, she told herself, and Namimori was safe. But she did insist that they stay together. Yasu watched her silently for a few seconds, but nodded.

Usually, it was a silent walk, though to Tsuna's surprise, Yasu always took his hand, just like they had been taught in class. He had always been good at mimicking things like that.

But one day, a man stumbled into their path. He was dressed in mismatched old castoffs, his long tangled hair unwashed, and he smelled as if he hadn't bathed in months. That was probably the case, since he had been living in a shack made of cardboard boxes, just a block from their usual way home.

He also smelled of alcohol, harder and harsher than Iemitsu ever had.

"Hey, hey, boys," the man rasped. "You're good boys, right? Help a man out. Your parents give you a nice allowance, right? Spare a little for your friend."

He held out his hand, begging.

Tsuna cowered away, hiding behind Yasu, but his younger brother only stared at the man blankly. As the man persisted, crowding closer and closer, Yasu's eyes began to narrow. When the man suddenly grabbed Yasu by the shoulder, something sparked.

"You're annoying," Yasu snapped.

The man tried to say something, but it was too late. A small orange flame flared between them, washing over the man. As his clothes caught fire, he began to scream, stumbling away and futilely flailing his arms.

Tsuna screwed his eyes shut and covered his ears, whimpering, but Yasu only watched, as the man was completely engulfed, fell to the ground and eventually stopped moving.

By then, the noise had drawn attention, and several passersby had run up to the boys, pulling them away. Everyone was panicking, calling the fire department, the police, an ambulance. They were all too late.

It was judged to be a freak accident, Yasu only saying that the man suddenly caught fire, Tsuna too scared to say anything at all. He watched Yasu closely all throughout, and he could see the faint frown on his brother's face, which only grew and grew as they were detained longer and longer, when Nana fussed over them and refused to leave them alone even for a moment.

As Nana smoothed back their hair yet again and tried to insist that they spend the night with her, Yasu muttered under his breath, "Annoying…"

Nana jumped as Tsuna suddenly grabbed onto her arm. "Y-Yasu and Tsu-kun are b-big boys now," he forced out. "W-we can sleep by ourselves." She tried to protest, as Tsuna all but dragged her away, but he was determined. He could feel Yasu watching them all the while.

~.~.~

To Yasu, people had always been unreasonable. With Nana's unwavering cheer and Tsuna's quiet manner, he hadn't even understood what they wanted for the longest time.

Going to school, it became clearer. Smile, give them your attention even when you don't care, help them even with ridiculous things.

Make a sad face – that one he still had trouble with. What made people act so strangely sometimes? You had to get sad when someone else was hurt, Yasu understood eventually. Mysterious.

Another thing he understood: patience, and weighing your choices in the long term. It was annoying, acting like that to his classmates, having them come up to him all the time. But it was more annoying if he didn't, when the teachers all kept looking at him expectantly, when they insisted on having long talks with his mother.

Enduring annoying things was hard, but sometimes getting rid of them made it worse. Because the things he wanted to do, his natural reactions, were as strange to other people as their actions were to him.

So Yasu learned to be patient.

But Tsuna understood better than anyone, even Yasu's patience had limits. He could read the thought behind his eyes sometimes – "You're annoying," – and he tried his best to stay away, to never be annoying to his brother. Otherwise, one day he might… one day he might…

~.~.~

Mukuro found himself forcefully expelled from Tsuna's mind, and further showed away in the real world. He didn't fight it, letting himself be sent sprawling across the dirty floor. Propping himself up on one elbow, he caught a glimpse of orange flame flaring for a moment over Tsuna's forehead, before the fight went out of him and he crumbled.

"My, my," Mukuro muttered, sitting up slowly. "How unexpected. Such a powerful spirit, and those relations… But what I never expected was a two-way connection…" He hummed to himself, as he thought over all he had seen.

His plans would need to change.

But one thing he knew for certain – he had found the Vongola Decimo.

"Sawada Ieyasu," Mukuro murmured to himself. "It seems I'll be doing the world a favor, ridding it of you."

~.~.~

Part 5: An Unlocked Heart

Like with so many things Reborn had told him, Yasu listened to the information on Rokudo Mukuro, the news of his brother's disappearance and the Ninth's orders calmly and without reaction. He closed his eyes and thought for several moments. Then, he nodded.

"We will set out tomorrow morning," Yasu decided. "I'll inform the others."

His reaction was inscrutable as always.

But for the first time, Yasu seemed to hesitate, after he called up his Guardians. "Having doubts? Rokudo Mukuro and his allies are strong, but your famiglia aren't pushovers either. You have a good chance," Reborn comforted him.

"That's not it," Yasu said. "I was simply thinking… Why take Tsuna? He isn't strong. He has no special skills. Why assume he has value to me?"

"He's your brother," Reborn replied. "It's only natural."

"Are blood ties really such a powerful thing?" Yasu mused.

"Of course. It's blood ties that make you eligible to become Vongola Decimo," Reborn said.

"Then Tsuna is just as eligible," Yasu pointed out, an issue neither of them had ever addressed. "How strange… Looking at the two of us, I wonder what makes us 'suitable' to be bosses. We don't have anything else in common, after all."

~.~.~

Yasu was a good leader. He had encouraged his Guardians to train and sharpen their abilities, and they were well matched against Rokudo Mukuro's gang. And even when they ran against an opponent they could not stop – Lancia, the strongest man in Northern Italy – Yasu himself took to the field and swept him aside with ease. The power of Vongola Primo's bloodline was a force to be reckoned with.

Telling the others to tend to their injuries and secure their defeated opponents, Yasu advanced alone. Or rather, he thought he did. Reborn couldn't help but feel Yasu's interest in going on his own was not altruistic. It was unlike the usually methodical Yasu. So he followed in secret. This would be a good chance to observe his student, without the act he put on for everyone.

Rokudo Mukuro was waiting for him. But even he stood no chance.

"Going to kill me, Sawada Ieyasu?" Mukuro asked, as Yasu burned through his Paths and laid his palm over Mukuro's face. "But then, it won't be your first time, right?"

Yasu paused, studying Mukuro thoughtfully. "He told you?" he concluded calmly.

"Not exactly," Mukuro said. "I simply saw into his heart. He's scared of you, you know. More than death or even loneliness, he fears his own brother. Though I suppose you're only family in the most technical sense."

"I see," Yasu murmured to himself, some calculation behind his clear gaze.

But that answer seemed to be enough. Flames began to gather in his palm. Still, Mukuro refused to close his eyes. He wasn't afraid of death, not again.

That was the moment when Reborn chose to reveal himself. "Well done, Yasu," the Arcobaleno said. "You've defeated the criminal Rokudo Mukuro. Now stand aside. The Vindice have arrived to take their prisoners."

In a rare show of surprise, Yasu stared at Reborn in utter stillness, his expression shifting into a frown before being quickly wiped away. As Yasu tended to when he felt he had somehow overplayed his hand, he drew back and followed Reborn's instructions. Watching and calculating again, Reborn noted, with an ever deepening twinge of concern.

Still, even Yasu's strange incomplete Flame could not match the coldness of the Vindice's sheer presence, which filled Kokuyo Center's abandoned rooms moments before the black cloaked enforcers themselves appeared. They seemed to glide over the half-rotted floorboards, soundless except for the metallic ringing of their chains.

Behind them, they dragged the bodies of Mukuro's subordinates, Ken, Chikusa and Lancia, and Reborn spared a moment of concern for how Yasu's inexperienced Guardians had reacted to the Vindice's appearance. He hoped they hadn't attempted anything foolish. The Vindice were not forgiving, even to the young and inexperienced.

The lead of the Vindice's standard three lifted his bandaged hand, a chain and collar glinting in the dim light. The open collar shot toward Mukuro's prone figure like a vice – he winced, but still refused to close his eyes or look away.

However, it still felt as if he had blinked.

In an instance, the chain flying toward him was knocked away, clattering to the floor. Instead, Mukuro found himself looking up a narrow back clad in a Kokuyo uniform.

"Hurry and run," Tsuna – it was Tsuna, unbelievably, facing down the Vindice with a strange determination and a Flame upon his forehead. "I won't be able to distract them for long."

The Vindice had paused momentarily at his sudden appearance, and Tsuna used that time to summon more Sky Flames in his open palms. The Flames flared quickly in the space between the Vindice and their target, cutting off the two sides of the room.

"What are you doing?" Mukuro asked, even as quickly stumbled to his feet. "Do you think you're playing hero? You're wrong. I'm the villain here. This is simply crime and punishment."

"I know," Tsuna said evenly, glancing back at him.

His expression, the look in his eyes were eerily similar to his brother in the midst of Dying Will Mode. However, there was a warmth there, something alive that Yasu completely lacked. Of course there was. Mukuro had felt the soft, warm part of Tsuna himself.

"I know," Tsuna repeated, "exactly what you are. You saw into my heart, didn't you? I saw you too. Being hurt, hurting others… Dying, killing – so many times, so many people. I know that you've existed deep in blood and darkness. I understand that. I accept that. I have no choice but to accept that. You didn't mean to do that, did you? Seeing someone that closely… there's no way to separate yourself completely. Because we know each other this much… We're tied together now, by an unbreakable bond."

The look he gave Mukuro was something he had never seen before – something like Ken and Chikusa, when he called them pawns and silkily threatened to abandon them (never truly meaning it, already knowing he would fight to keep them), something like Lancia, in the man's few sane, lucid moments (it wasn't forgiveness, because Lancia would never forgive him, but maybe….)

It wasn't even pity. Sympathy perhaps.

Mukuro was a killer, cruel and manipulative at best. But then, Tsuna was a coward, weak and without a single talent or skill. That coward – making a stand.

A fool.

His eyes never leaving Tsuna's calm, golden gaze, Mukuro began to laugh loudly. "I knew that last pawn would come in handy! But I suppose you can have your brother back, Vongola Decimo… if you can break my control!" he announced, his voice carrying even over the roar of Tsuna's still-burning Flames.

Annoying. The look Tsuna was giving him was definitely annoying, too knowing by far. Mukuro was an illusionist of the Mist. Being laid bare like this was unnatural.

Tsuna glanced away, as something rammed against the barrier of his Flames – the Vindice finally making their move. Even in the enforced calm of Dying Will Mode, he frowned as he struggled to hold back their assault. A few moments, and his Flames were torn apart. A black chain snaked around his body, dragging him off balance and crashing into the floor.

He groaned, the Flame on his forehead flickering out.

No longer supported by Dying Will Mode, Tsuna found himself barely holding on to consciousness. His vision faded in and out, and his ears were ringing.

But, he smiled faintly, Mukuro was already gone.

~.~.~

Part 6: Edge of Collapse

Yasu had watched impassively through the entire fiasco – making no move to help the Vindice when Tsuna interfered with Rokudo Mukuro's retrieval, but also making no move to help Tsuna after he was overtaken.

On the one hand, thinking his actions through and not acting half-cocked was a good quality for a boss. On the other, sometimes decisive action was needed.

However, any concern Reborn might have felt regarding this particular quality of Yasu was quickly being drowned by much larger, more pressing doubts.

"Wait," Reborn spoke up quickly, in lieu of Yasu, who continued to watch silently, as the Vindice moved toward Tsuna's downed form, their chains ringing ominously. "You heard what Rokudo Mukuro said. He was only being controlled," the hitman said, refusing to give any sign of unease even as the faceless specters turned on him. "Rokudo Mukuro targeted him to get at the Vongola Decimo. Until a few days ago, he had no contact with the mafia at all."

The Vindice did not back down, but they did not advance either.

"He is under Vongola's jurisdiction – and protection," Reborn pressed. "Vongola will deal with removing any lingering influence Rokudo Mukuro may have in his mind."

The words were carefully calculated to not give the slightest hint toward the possibility of Tsuna acting out of anything by coercion. As long as Tsuna remained a victim, and a civilian one at that, he would at least have some degree of protection from the Vindice. However, it seemed there would be no chance of him remaining uninvolved any longer.

There was no nod or sign of acquiescence from the Vindice. Instead, they simply turned away from Tsuna's body and swept away, dragging Mukuro's followers with them. Silence filled the destroyed room, as only Reborn, Yasu and Tsuna's unconscious form remained.

His phone beeped, a message alerting Reborn to the arrival of Vongola's cleanup crew. They also passed information regarding the Guardians – largely unhurt, nothing serious, recovery guaranteed. That, at least, was one less concern for Reborn.

Surprisingly, Yasu was the one to speak up. "What do you think of Tsuna's situation?" he asked, rather broadly.

Reborn studied him for a moment before answering. "I was surprised to see him activate Dying Will Mode, but it was likely due to Rokudo Mukuro's interference. Like I said, we will need to make sure all traces of foreign influence are gone from his mind. He might need to be sent to Italy, for that kind of delicate work."

And there, Reborn fully planned to have Nono ask Tsuna some very important questions.

"Is that wise?" Yasu asked. "That may be Rokudo's plan. If he can take control of Tsuna again, while close to the core of Vongola, he could deal a great deal of damage before he is stopped."

"Don't underestimate the Vongola," Reborn said. "Nono and his men won't fall for such a cheap trick. And even if that's the case, what do you suggest? Eliminate the threat once and for all?"

That wasn't even vaguely an option. Iemitsu would not allow it – not to one of his precious boys. Even if Tsuna was the oft-forgotten shadow to Yasu's brilliance, Iemitsu still loved him. The bond between parent and child couldn't be severed even by distance or years apart.

Yasu was silent, as he considered Reborn. Again, watching, calculating.

In the end, Yasu didn't answer, as Vongola's people streamed into the room, crowding around both boys.

~.~.~

Reborn organized things quickly, and Tsuna was loaded onto a plane for Italy before the day's end. He hadn't regained consciousness and was unlikely to do so for days yet, having used Dying Will Mode and his Flames so recklessly for the first time, but he was still administered tranquilizers all the same, as a precaution.

Racing ahead along the invisible network that connected the world was a heavily encrypted message to Nono and his Guardians.

It did not contain nearly as much information as Nono would have liked, but he was not truly surprised to receive it. Even in Reborn's increasingly laconic reports, the Vongola boss had been able to read a growing sense of unease.

Something wasn't right with Vongola's chosen heir. And this was Nono's chance to find out what that might be.

But first things first.

"How is Tsunayoshi's condition?" Nono asked his Mist Guardian, Bouche Croquant.

The dark skinned man frowned, taking a moment to answer. "There are traces of forced entry into his mind. Someone certainly went through his memories. There is also a faint abnormality, but it may be just an echo. It should not be enough to alter his behavior," he said carefully. "If I may speak honestly… there is no sign of mind control or possession."

Nono remained unperturbed. "A man like Rokudo Mukuro is not dangerous only due to his illusions," he said. "Tsunayoshi had no knowledge of the mafia before this incident, and his actions were all taken under extreme stress or even duress. A certain degree of leeway must be allowed in such a case. If you believe he is not in danger, then I am happy to hear that."

He smiled kindly, an expression that made several of his Guardians shake their heads. They knew that Nono's benevolence hid a very sharp edge. But it was not false. He was glad, truly. If nothing else, his Outside Adviser would be inconsolable and unusable, should his oldest have been more deeply wounded.

Losing a child was not a pain Nono would wish on anyone.

"But since he is here, I would like to take this chance to speak to Tsunayoshi," he continued. "Please have him awakened. We have certain matters to discuss."

~.~.~

Part 7: Nothing like a Leader

Fear was clear in every line of Tsuna's body as he watched Nono enter the infirmary room set aside for him. Even his grandfatherly smile didn't help the boy relax.

"I am your father's boss, Timoteo," he introduced himself. "We met once before, but you were very young…"

"I remember," Tsuna said quietly. That had been the day when… Swallowing heavily, he pushed the memory away. "It's, um, nice to see you again, Grandpa…?"

He added the appellation only with some hesitation, but Nono nodded encouragingly. "Now, Tsunayoshi," he continued, leaning toward the boy, where he sat in a chair next to the bed, "Reborn told me what happened. I'm sure it was very difficult for you, but I need to know your side of the story too."

He could see, even before he finished speaking, that Tsuna would not answer him truthfully. More than fear, the distrust and doubt were clear in his eyes.

"…I'm sorry," Tsuna said quietly, looking down at his clenched hands. "I don't remember anything."

~.~.~

"I heard Iemitsu visited you," Nono said, taking a sip of his tea. "Were you happy to see him?"

"Um… I guess," Tsuna hedged, fidgeting in his seat. Even the picturesque veranda, with its view across the well-tended garden was not enough to make him relax. It didn't help that he still didn't understand why Nono insisted on meeting with him so often – visiting him before he was pronounced healthy and released, asking him to go on walk around the manor, inviting him to tea or to dinner… it was very strange.

And he kept asking questions. No one, not even Nana had ever expressed that much interest in Tsuna or anything related to his life. It was unsettling and suspicious. The closest Tsuna could remember happening was the way the teachers had often pulled him aside asked how he felt and if he was sleeping okay, after the incident in their first year of school, when Yasu…

Frowning, Tsuna pushed the memory away.

He hoped it was the same. In that case, it would all go away soon enough.

But Tsuna couldn't help thinking that it was unlikely that his father's boss, of all people, would waste so much time on Dame-Tsuna's feelings.

He had another idea, too, which seemed a bit more plausible. Darting a glance at Nono over the rim of his teacup, Tsuna tried to gather the courage to approach it.

"Um, Grandpa…" Tsuna began uncertainly. "Reborn said you sent him, to train Yasu. Are you… are you going to have Yasu come here?"

"That's right. In fact, I would like to make your brother my successor, when the time comes," Nono said. His smile didn't waver, but Tsuna thought something in his eyes sharpened.

It was just as he thought. Nono's real interest was in Yasu. Well, that made sense. Back when they went to school together, the only reason people talked to Tsuna was to ask about Yasu.

"Yasu is… really talented," Tsuna said quietly. "He's smart and good at sports. Everyone likes him, and there isn't anything he can't do. I'm sure you'll like him too, when you meet him again."

After all, everyone liked Yasu. That's why… there was no point in saying anything. No one would believe Tsuna, even if he was brave enough to try.

"Everyone? What about you? Do you like him?" Nono asked gently, but far too knowingly.

"He's my brother," Tsuna shrugged. There was nothing else to say.

~.~.~

Tsuna had moved up to helping Nono file paperwork, even if he could only offer the most menial assistance. Since he couldn't read Italian, he was at least judged to be a minimal security threat, despite the supposedly confidential nature of many documents.

It was nice to at least have something to do.

However, it didn't save him from the continued interrogations.

"We received word of a break out, from Vendicare of all places," Nono said. He didn't look up from the papers he was reading, but Tsuna knew better than to assume the old man wasn't watching his reaction. "It's quite something… Apparently, several prisoners were able to escape, thanks to outside help. Details are scarce, but the breakout is believed to have been caused by Rokudo Mukuro."

"Oh," Tsuna said, focusing intently on straightening the stack of pages in his hands. 'So Mukuro got his friends out,' he thought. 'I'm glad…'

The expectant silence made cold sweat break out across his back.

"I'll get some tea!" Tsuna blurted out and, without waiting for Nono's response, ducked out of the office.

~.~.~

In the hallway, he breathed a sigh of relief as he plodded in the direction of the kitchens.

However, all of his relief drained away as Tsuna felt a heavy, piercing stare directed at him. His shoulders drawing up defensively, Tsuna glanced around from under his bangs.

A tall, dark-haired man was glaring at him from a little further down the hall – he had stopped once he caught sight of the teenager. Tsuna hunched even more and tried to scurry past, but with an angry sound and quick angry footsteps, the man stalked up to him.

His hand snapped out to grab Tsuna by the front of his shirt, lifting him off his feet.

"U-um…" Tsuna stammered, terrified.

"You're it? Pathetic!" the man spat. "I won't let sniveling scum like you take over Vongola!"

"N-no, it's not me," Tsuna protested, almost whimpering. Of course, everyone was always interested in Yasu. "M-my brother…"

It was an easy mistake to make. Nono and his Guardians were the only ones aware of the details of what had occurred with Mukuro and Tsuna. All the staff gossip could tell was that a Japanese boy was spending a lot of time with their boss. The conclusion was obvious – their mysterious heir had finally come to Italy.

Tsuna cowered as Xanxus glared at him again. "Then why are you the one here, trash?"

Xanxus didn't bother waiting for a reply, which Tsuna wouldn't have been able to articulate anyway. He didn't know Nono's reasons and… To be honest, Tsuna hadn't exactly pressed for a way home. "Home" was still where Yasu was. Better to remain in Italy for a while longer.

Nono had noted that too. It was a strange reaction, for a boy who clearly wasn't enjoying his time abroad.

"It doesn't matter which of you little shits it is!" Xanxus continued acidly. "I'll defeat you both and take the title for myself!"

"D-defeat?" Tsuna repeated. "You're going to fight? Fight Yasu?"

His voice rose, taking on a high, terrified edge. Xanxus stared to scowl again, but he paused without saying anything. He could see, without quite understanding, that something in Tsuna's reaction wasn't quite right.

"I'll win and prove that I'm the one worthy of becoming Vongola Decimo," Xanxus declared, shoving Tsuna away. Stumbling a little as he regained his feet, Tsuna looked at him with the same fear and… concern. Something about that look unsettled Xanxus far more than he wanted to admit.

Sneering, Xanxus spun on his heel and turned to depart, but a timid tug on the sleeve of his jacket made him pause.

"Be careful," Tsuna said quietly. "Yasu is… Yasu is not the way you think. He's not like everyone thinks."

~.~.~

Part 8: Declaration of Intent

After their return from Kokuyo Center, everything seemed to return to the way it was before – quiet, peaceful days of school and training, far removed from the mafia and its darkness.

It seemed that way, on the surface. But in truth, only Yasu and Reborn truly acted the same.

The new awareness of what they had become involved in was all too clear in the grim, thoughtful look that appeared in the Guardians' eyes. Hibari sought out Reborn for answers, this time not even denying Reborn's offer of a position in Yasu's famiglia – though not accepting either. Even Nana showed the strain of worry under her cheerful façade, despite the excuses Reborn fed her regarding Tsuna's absence.

And for all that he put on a good act, Reborn was also tense as he waited for a response from Nono.

That was the scene Iemitsu burst in on, when he arrived home after a two year absence.

"Nana! Yasu! Papa's home!" he crowed, spreading his arms wide as he barged into the house. But Reborn could see that even Iemitsu was not quite his usual self, an edge to his idiot act that threatened to reveal the Young Lion hidden underneath.

Iemitsu swept Nana up in an ecstatic embrace and would have probably tried the same with Yasu, had the teenager not carefully remained just out of easy reach. Still, Iemitsu's eyes quickly swept over Yasu's form, searching for any injury or sign of his battle with Rokudo Mukuro.

He needn't have bothered. Yasu had been almost entirely unhurt.

"Hi, Dad," Yasu greeted. "It's good that you're here. I wanted to talk to you."

"Oh? Then I'll leave you boys to it," Nana laughed brightly. "I've got some shopping to do!"

Once she had gone, Iemitsu spoke first. "You did well, Yasu," he said. "I'm glad you're alright. I knew you could it! You're my son, after all!"

Yasu smiled tolerantly as Iemitsu puffed up and preened in pride at his son's accomplishment. It was, admittedly, impressive for a teenager who had been a civilian only a year before to have defeated a famiglia killer like Rokudo Mukuro, along with his gang of murders.

"How's Tsuna? Did you see him in Italy?" Yasu asked, neither accepting nor demurring the praise. That was the first time he had asked about his brother.

"Tsu-kun? Yes, I dropped in to check on him," Iemitsu said, beaming. "He's doing fine. Nono told me there's no lasting damage, though it seems he doesn't remember anything either. It's too bad he got dragged into this, but he's in good hands now. They'll send him back soon."

"I see," Yasu murmured. He smiled. "Then why don't we go to see him? Actually, I would really like to visit Italy. After all, it's going to be my home one day…"

~.~.~

Iemitsu agreed rather easily. He probably wanted to brag and show off his son to Nono. And why not? Yasu had exceeded all expectations, as always.

Reborn didn't protest either. Perhaps it was for the best, to let Nono judge his own heir in person. He did insist on the highest degree of secrecy for their trip. He claimed concern for assassins and dissidents within Vongola – he and Iemitsu shared a knowing look, both thinking of a certain name – but there was more to it.

Revealing Vongola's heir was not something they would be able to take back easily. It was a show of trust that, if revoked, would imply a weakness in the boss's judgement, in the famiglia.

Better to leave themselves room to change their minds, than to commit when things were still so uncertain.

Fortunately, it was easy to explain why a teenager might be spotted with Iemitsu. A wig and a change of clothes, and Yasu could easily pass for Basil, as long as no one looked too closely. And given the expert way Yasu mimicked Basil's manner of hanging two steps behind and in Iemitsu's shadow at all times, most didn't even give him a first look, much less a second one.

Nono had smiled and greeted Yasu happily, of course, and Yasu did the same in return, but Reborn had learned to read his student well enough to see the sharp, considering edge in his gaze. For once, Yasu was genuinely curious about something.

However, whatever questions he had toward Nono, he was unwilling to voice with his tutor and father in room. If nothing else, Yasu certainly understood secrecy.

Reborn remained behind, as Iemitsu and Yasu departed, the latter once again playing the part of the submissive follower.

Nono chuckled, with a strange sort of humor, once they were alone. "I keep looking for some flaw in him and thinking, 'Surely no one can be that perfect. There must be something he's hiding.' That's the kind of life I've led, I suppose," he admitted.

Reborn huffed, unwilling to admit that his thoughts had initially been the same. A pessimistic – realistic – certainty that something had to be wrong. "Of course he has some flaw," he muttered. "I'm sure of it."

"Perhaps his weakness is that he is not a very good brother," Nono suggested, smiling oddly.

After all, Yasu had not asked about Tsuna, even once.

Iemitsu hadn't either, of course, but he often forewent things like that. He knew where Tsuna's room was, and he would barge in without bothering to warn or inform anyone. But Yasu was the opposite. He liked to know as much as possible, to plan carefully.

"Do you really believe that?" Reborn asked.

Nono was silent for a long moment. "I would like to believe that," he admitted.

However… he wasn't sure he could.

~.~.~

Part 9: No More Civility

The Ninth Vongola boss's smile had been fake, Yasu thought. And not just the way his father's grins hid the truth about him. That smile had been almost like Yasu's – a perfect calculation to fit what others wanted to see, to smooth the way.

It was something Yasu had been thinking more and more since Reborn had appeared – was there someone like him out there? Someone who saw the world the way Yasu did? Namimori, Yasu realized in a way he had never quite grasped before, was a tiny corner of a wide, wide world. Before, Yasu had not felt it worth the effort to explore that world, but now…

He wanted to know.

The easiest way to ask the questions he needed answers to would be to speak with the Ninth alone. But at the same time, Yasu did not want to tip his hand to Reborn. His tutor was an impressive individual, deeper and more inscrutable than anyone Yasu had ever met, and Yasu knew Reborn did not like him. Perhaps the hitman did not dislike his charge either, but it was only practicality that kept him from turning on Yasu.

Well, some people were like that. Yasu simply never gave them any opening to attack him.

That was why, after dinner, when darkness fell over the countryside and the hallways outside Yasu's suite grew silent, he silently slipped out and began to retrace his steps to Nono's office.

He was not entirely sure how acceptable it was for "the CEDEF's Basil" to wander the halls at night, so Yasu simply avoided the few staff members he came across in his trek.

With what Reborn called Vongola's Hyper Intuition, Yasu could always judge when someone drew near, even if he could not conclusively say he saw or heard their approach. Using that instinctive guide, he simply pressed himself into the shadows as necessary and waited, completely still, until the maid or servant passed by.

It worked without fail, even on the occasional security guard. So Yasu was honestly surprised when a young man, striding by purposefully, suddenly spun around and drew his gun on Yasu, the barrel aimed at him with unerring accuracy.

Ironically, Xanxus – and it was him, since in truth only Varia Quality, or perhaps only the Varia leader himself, would have been able notice Yasu's presence – had shared the same thought as Yasu, to speak with Nono alone, leading to his own not entirely authorized nighttime excursion through Vongola headquarters.

"You've got some balls to try sneaking into Vongola," Xanxus sneered. "But you don't have the skills to back it up, trash."

It seemed Yasu didn't have much choice but to make himself known. "It is only I," Yasu said, as he stepped out of the shadows, doing his best to imitate Basil's speech patterns. His Italian was still a bit weak, though he had begun studying it as soon as he understood the situation with Reborn and Vongola.

Xanxus's eyes narrowed, staring at Yasu intensely, even though he had made sure to the light fell in a way to obscure his features.

"You're not the CEDEF brat," he declared with absolute certainty. He smirked suddenly. "I see… So you're 'Yasu' then."

It was an insane leap of intuition, backed by a great deal of knowledge about Vongola's secrets. Yasu studied the man for a moment, then spread his hands and smiled.

"Oh, you know? That's good," he said in Japanese, beaming in guileless relief. "I was told to keep it a secret, so I couldn't even ask anyone for directions back to my room…"

But Xanxus only continued to glare. It wasn't that he didn't buy Yasu's act – as a few rare people instinctively distrusted him – or even that Yasu's act angered him – some people simply hated the person Yasu portrayed himself as, even though they didn't understand it was all fake – but rather that he had already decided to hate Yasu, and Yasu specifically.

Still, Yasu continued to smile mildly.

Though his lips curled mockingly, Xanxus didn't call Yasu out on his fairly weak excuse. "Listen up, trash," he barked instead. "I'm the one who will become Vongola Decimo! Crawl back into whatever hole you came from, and I might let you live."

Yasu blinked, his brow furrowing faintly in something that might have been surprise or maybe concern. "I was told," he said, in a mild tone, "that I was the only possible candidate left, the last resort."

That wasn't exactly true, since there was also Tsuna, but Yasu understood that no one would consider his brother, when compared to him. He didn't see any need to mention that caveat.

"If you have the proper qualifications for the position, I'm glad to hear that," he continued. "Are you related to the current boss then? At least, I was told that the biggest obstacle was the bloodline requirement…"

Yasu easily guessed that Xanxus was not truly capable of becoming Vongola Decimo. Gokudera had spouted the same nonsense, though Yasu still wasn't sure if he had actually believed it, been deep in denial, or been angling for a position under Yasu all along.

Reborn had made it clear that there were no other options, that Yasu had no way out of becoming Decimo. Even if he refused, even if he tried to run, Vongola would force him to become what they wanted. So it was easiest to just give in, even if he found it terribly annoying to jump through so many hoops.

However, Yasu had not expected Xanxus's violent reaction – after all, he did not know who Xanxus was, nor did he know the secret behind Xanxus's situation.

Without warning, Xanxus lunged for Yasu, gripping his shirt and pulling him closer to shove the barrel of one pistol under his chin. But with barely any delay in reaction, Yasu's hand snapped out to wrap around the weapon, forcefully tilting it away from his face, as his glowing, cool eyes stared into Xanxus's crimson gaze.

The standoff remained for several long moments, while Xanxus struggled to get his ire under control.

In the end, he snarled and shoved Yasu away, holstering his weapon and stalking away without so much as a backward glance. Yasu's considering gaze followed him until he disappeared into the shadows.

~.~.~

Part 10: Emotional Handicap

Nono sighed, looking old and weary, when Yasu broached the subject with him. "That was my son, Xanxus," he said. "He is the leader of the Varia, Vongola's independent assassination squad."

"Your son…" Yasu repeated thoughtfully. "If you don't mind me asking… why didn't you make him your successor?"

"Xanxus is not…" Nono pursed his lips and shook his head. "It's not possible," he concluded. "I cannot make him my successor."

"Why?" Yasu pressed, frowning in a way that conveyed earnest concern and a desire to understand. "Please, tell me. If I'm really going to be Vongola X, I need to know about my famiglia. Please."

"…Xanxus does not have the qualification to become Vongola's boss," Nono said quietly. "He is powerful, yes, and charismatic. But he is also too quick to anger, too focused on himself, too hard on his subordinates. Too deep in the blood and sin of the mafia."

Nono smiled, looking at Yasu.

"You might think it's strange, to choose a boy who is so far removed from our world, but it is precisely that quality that I want you to bring to Vongola. I want you to look at the mafia and at our famiglia with the eyes of someone who does not see it as normal, who does not accept its ways," he said, placing one gnarled hand over Yasu's. "I hope that someday… you might lead Vongola away from the dark path it has traveled for so long."

If he was lying, Yasu couldn't see it. His smile, his manner, all of them were compelling and easy to believe. Just like Yasu's. But… that just made it all the more strange. This? This was the reason?

"Why?"

The question emerged without conscious thought. It just made no sense. What was so terrible about the mafia? Yasu didn't like it because it was messy and needlessly complicated, but that wasn't what Nono was talking about. Dark path? Blood and sin? What did that even mean?

Sin… That's right. That was what people said about killing. You've sinned. You have blood on your hands. Yasu didn't understand that either. What was so terrible about someone dying?

Even with his mind spinning, Yasu saw the way Nono's brow furrowed at the question. It was familiar. The teachers had all once looked at him like that, when he asked questions that no one else seemed to need.

Questions, he had thought waspishly, that they didn't have answers to.

"I mean, why didn't you have Reborn teach him instead?" Yasu corrected, glancing away for a moment, as he sought to hide his thoughts. "Wouldn't it be easier to teach him how to be the kind of boss you're looking for instead? You're his father. I'm sure he could come to understand your wishes."

Nono just looked sad – and maybe guilty. "Unfortunately, that is impossible," he said.

Yasu didn't reply, simply turning back to watch Nono with an earnest, piercing look he knew often made people questions themselves and eventually cave in to his questions and requests. It seemed to work, even on Nono, who closed his eyes and said quietly, "It's not as if I want to turn my back on him. Xanxus is my son and I care for him deeply, but he can't…. He is too proud. He won't listen. He won't give up either, not while there is still breath in his body. In the end, all I could do was seal him away…"

What a dull man, Yasu thought in disappointment. He really was just the same as everyone else, simply better at hiding it. He still thought in strange, senseless ways, still acted according to some rules that Yasu couldn't see or understand.

Dull. Dull. Dull.

Well, there was nothing to be done about that. The fact still remained that Yasu had no choice but to take over Vongola. And Xanxus, it seemed, would be an obstacle to that.

If he wouldn't give up, then it was best to take care of the problem quickly.

Yasu smiled kindly. "I understand. I'll make him acknowledge me as Vongola Decimo – I'll challenge him to a duel."

"Duel?" Nono repeated, his eyes widening in surprise. "My boy, that is not…"

"It'll be alright," Yasu insisted. "In the mafia, the one who loses becomes the winner's subordinate, right? I won't make him do that, but this way he'll see that I can become a worthy leader for Vongola. Like with Gokudera."

Nono looked troubled. "Xanxus is not someone who will hold back… or someone to simply bow his head. He is… a very dangerous opponent."

"More dangerous than Rokudo Mukuro?" Yasu pointed out. The answer was uncertain, making Nono hesitate. "Don't worry. Please believe in me. I won't lose." Yasu smiled, with a hint of levity. "After all, Reborn wouldn't forgive me if I did."

Like always, that hint of humor was just enough to tilt things in his favor, though Nono's instinctive answering smile was uncertain and barely half-hearted. "Then I'll arrange a formal challenge," he began, only for Yasu to shake his head.

"He's a proud man, right? It would be a hard blow to his pride for someone else to witness our duel. It's better if we settle it between the two of us." Yasu smiled again, encouraging. "That same pride means he won't go back on the outcome."

~.~.~

Part 11: Black, Black, Black

In the end, Nono did not entirely agree, but he did not go so far as to outright forbid it. Yasu could see the old man's hope for… something, reconciliation perhaps? And that was enough. That would just work to Yasu's advantage.

All that remained was for "Basil" to find Xanxus and pass him a message – something that would look unremarkable enough, despite the witnesses – then slip away before he had a chance to read it.

Xanxus did not stop to think twice about accepting the challenge within. It was the perfect opportunity for Xanxus, an excuse to do what he had so wanted to at the chance meeting in the night hallway. And this time, Yasu would be the one at fault, the one who had challenged him, the one who had bitten off more than he could chew.

Tsuna's strange warning – 'Yasu is not the way you think,' – was pushed aside by his fury and bloodlust, together with the faint call of his intuition.

When Xanxus stepped into the old catacombs beneath the mansion, where the sounds and the damage of their battle would go unnoticed, Yasu was already waiting there. He looked utterly calm – no, not even that. He looked utterly detached and disinterested, as if Xanxus was barely worth his time and attention.

It infuriated Xanxus — more than anything, he hated being looked down on.

How dare this brat, this trash, who had never suffered a day of hardship in his life, look down on Xanxus? What gave him the right? His precious bloodline?

Without conscious thought, Xanxus had bared his teeth and reached for his guns as he stalked toward his opponent.

However, Yasu was a step ahead. There was a flash — an impression of light — from the Dying Will Flame on his forehead, then he was gone, no longer in front of Xanxus. Pure battle-honed instinct made Xanxus throw himself aside, just in time to avoid a hand covered in Flame slicing through the space where his knee had been a moment before.

In an instance, Yasu had closed the gap and attacked, and he continued to press his attack, easily ducking around Xanxus's attempts to get in him in his sights. He seemed to read his opponent's every move before Xanxus even thought it, the legendary Vongola intuition closing the gap in experience that should have existed between them.

Scowling, Xanxus pulled the twin triggers, despite having nothing like a clear shot. The bursts of Flame sent him flying back, putting distance between him and Yasu, whose golden hair fluttered in the exhaust that passed him by.

He straightened slowly, regarding Xanxus — now too far and too on guard to attack easily — with the same expression of indifference. No, it wasn't even that. It was simply a profound lack, an emptiness.

"So that's how it is," Xanxus muttered. "Not the way everyone thinks… No, you're certainly not the golden savior the old man is hoping for."

"Neither are you," Yasu said flatly, his eyes — eerily reflecting the glow of his Dying Will Flame — piercing through Xanxus. He didn't stop there. "You've never been what he wanted. But he believes in me. He believed in me without ever meeting me, while you could never—-"

That was enough — more than enough. With a roar of pure rage, Xanxus threw himself at Yasu… which was exactly what his opponent wanted.

He slipped under Xanxus's wild blasts and past his guard. A deceptively light touch against Xanxus's shoulder, and Flames burned deep. In the same movement, Yasu hooked his foot over Xanxus's ankle, sweeping his legs out from under him. Unbalanced from the sudden pain, Xanxus stumbled and fell on all fours, even as one arm gave out.

Without hesitation, with the same graceful calculation, Yasu brought his foot down on the back of Xanxus's knee. Something crunched, and even Xanxus couldn't quite bite back a strangled sound.

Yasu hopped back as Xanxus's Flames flared wildly, too weak and uncoordinated to catch their target. Instead, he slowly leaned down to pick up one of Xanxus's lost guns.

It was too large for his hand, but all the same it began to glow as his Flames were gathered within.

As Yasu approached him, Xanxus managed to snarl up at him, face twisted in equal parts pain and fury. "Going to kill me?" he sneered. "Go on! Show your true colors!"

Yasu responded by kicking him sharply in the side, throwing onto his back. "You're wrong," Yasu said evenly, pinning Xanxus's good arm with one foot and kneeling to place the muzzle of the gun under his chin. "I'm not going to kill you. Reborn wouldn't even let me kill Rokudo Mukuro, much less you. And the Ninth… He would probably resent me in his heart. So I won't kill you. In fact…

His face had shifted into a terrifyingly realistic expression of helpless grief and bewilderment — a child forced to experience a cruelty that made no sense.

"I tried to just disable. I just wanted to show you that I'm strong enough to lead Vongola! I never meant for this to happen! I never wanted this! I never thought that you would be so proud, so unyielding, that you would…"

And just as smoothly, that mask slipped away, leaving only the same absolute emptiness.

"…kill yourself."

~.~.~

Part 12: I Want to Cry

The door to Tsuna's temporary room burst open, and Iemitsu barged in just the same way he had always arrived home, taking up the entire space with his sheer presence — as if to mask how out of place he truly was.

"Tsu-kun! How are you? Feeling better?" Iemitsu exclaimed, sweeping up his oldest into a hug before the boy could protest. Tsuna's squirming warm weight was reassuring, and Iemitsu squeezed a little tighter, for a moment.

It was bad enough for Yasu to be dragged into something like dealing with that mass murder, but at least Yasu always seemed more than a match for anything he faced. Just the thought of shy, timid Tsuna in the clutches of such a depraved monster was enough to make Iemitsu go cold.

"I was fine when you left," Tsuna grumbled, pressed against Iemitsu's chest. "They're just keeping me for observation, right?"

Finally letting Tsuna free, Iemitsu ruffled his hair, despite the basilisk look Tsuna shot him from under his fringe, and took a moment to simply marvel at the sight of his boy. Well, he looked more like Nana's boy, down to the pout, but this was definitely one of his boys.

Without meaning to, Iemitsu leg his smile slip away.

"…What's wrong?" Tsuna asked, looking up at him with endearing concern.

"Tsu-kun…" Iemitsu said awkwardly. "Do you know where Yasu might have gone?"

The way every expression slipped from Tsuna's face made an unpleasant shock run through
Iemitsu. This was the face Iemitsu had dreaded seeing when he first tentatively brought up Rokudo Mukuro to his son. But why now?

"Yasu… is here?" Tsuna murmured. He swallowed heavily and quickly looked aside.

"He hasn't been to see you?" Iemitsu realized, disappointed and somehow even more uneasy. Hadn't they come to see Tsuna in the first place?

Tsuna shook his head, still not looking at Iemitsu. All the same, his father forced a smile clapped him on the shoulders. "That's okay. I just wanted to see if you anything. I can't seem to find your brother. It's like he's disappeared… Well, I'm sure he'll turn up!"

~.~.~

Tsuna didn't move from his spot until long after the door had clicked shut behind
Iemitsu. Then, he dropped into crouch, as if his legs gave out, and covered his head with his arms.

Yasu. Yasu was there. Of course he was. Of course. This was where Yasu would permanently go, one day soon.

It was okay, Tsuna told himself. It would be okay. Yasu didn't care if Tsuna was here, hadn't even come to check on him. So there was no need to worry. He'd be okay just as long as he stayed out of Yasu's way.

Besides… besides, it wasn't like Yasu would do anything crazy here. The mafia was too unknown, too powerful for Yasu to act recklessly. He'd hold back, just watching, until he was a little more certain of the rules, of his own place.

Because, no matter how they annoyed him, Yasu had never so much as struck one of their classmates, even in first grade. He had only watched the teacher, seeing the way those that bullied too obviously were reprimanded and punished.

Even then… even against that man, maybe Yasu wouldn't have dared to do that if he hadn't seen the way everyone else disregarded the homeless, the way no one cared whether they lived or died, the way a businessman had kicked one of them aside when they begged for alms, afraid of getting their stench on his suit.

The memory of the homeless man's screams as he burned alive still made Tsuna shudder and force down bile.

It wasn't as if anyone in this mansion was innocent. They were mafia — cruel killers, just like in Mukuro's memories. All of them had probably committed far greater sins than Yasu had ever even considered, and unlike his brother, they understood why their actions were wrong.

If anything, the dark underworld was the perfect place for Yasu. They certainly deserved him, a voice whispered in Tsuna's mind, an echo of the Mukuro Tsuna had gotten such a close look at.

Wasn't it for the best? Someday soon, Yasu would leave and Tsuna would never have to think of him again. Unlike Iemitsu, Yasu wouldn't bother coming back to tiny, dull Namimori. Tsuna would be able to forget all about him, about what he'd done, about being afraid…

Except…

He wouldn't forget, would he? Tsuna would always remember — remember Yasu, remember that man's screams. He would never be able to forget because they were brothers, because they had spent fourteen years together, because their lives were bound together.

He didn't want another memory like that. He didn't want to forever remember another dead body.

His hand was trembling as he grasped the doorknob. But Tsuna forced himself to take that step beyond the door.

~.~.~

Part 13: No Control

"And where are you going?"

Tsuna froze.

"Well, Tsuna?" Reborn pressed, pressing the barrel of his gun to the back of Tsuna's head. The most interesting part was how he had ended up standing on the back of Tsuna's neck to do so, all without Tsuna noticing him.

"I-I-I was just… getting some water?" Tsuna tried.

Reborn remained unimpressed. "You were told to stay in your room and contact the servants selected to assist you if you needed anything," the hitman said. "You were specifically told this because it would be annoying to explain if you were caught out. So out with it. What are you up to?"

"Um, well…" Tsuna stammered, drooping. But to Reborn's surprise, he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, though he didn't dare to try to raise his head. "Hey, Reborn? Where would you go if you wanted to fight without anyone noticing?"

"Off for a clandestine duel date?" Reborn drawled, though he finally lifted his gun away from Tsuna's skull. It shifted back into Leon, scuttling up onto Reborn's shoulder. "You've been here for not even two weeks, and you're already going native. That's Primo's blood at work for you…"

"That's not it! I-I wouldn't do something like that!" Tsuna protested. He tried to turn around to look at Reborn, only for the hitman to stomp on the back of his head forbiddingly, keeping Tsuna bent in a weird position. "Dad was looking for Yasu," Tsuna blurted out, and even thought Reborn couldn't see his expression, he could feel the boy tense and tremble a little. "I thought… he might be…"

Jumping off onto the floor, Reborn looked up into Tsuna's face with a frown. "And you think Yasu would have gone somewhere he could fight without anyone noticing?"

"W-well… for training?" Tsuna suggested. He tried to give Reborn a smile, but it wasn't more than a half-hearted twitch of the lips.

"The only place like that around here is in the old tunnels beneath the mansion," Reborn muttered, mostly to himself. "But why do you think Yasu would go somewhere like that?"

Tsuna didn't answer, his lips thinning. Reborn could see the fear swimming in his eyes. In truth, Reborn had his own suspicions about why Yasu might want to go to such a location.

"Or would a better question be why you're looking for him in the first place?" Reborn added, his eyes narrowing.

"…Because he's my brother," Tsuna said quietly, an unreadable expression taking over his face.

Reborn sighed. "Fine then. Go look for your brother." And, because he was neither heartless nor prone to ignoring his intuition, he held out his hand, Leon winding his way down onto his palm. "Take Leon with you," he ordered. "But you better not let anything happen to him."

Nodding seriously, Tsuna accepted the small green lizard, which blinked up at him with wide yellow eyes.

That way, Reborn would be able to find him – to find them – quickly, once the hitman dragged Iemitsu and Nono along.

~.~.~

What was he doing?

Tsuna didn't know

What was he hoping to achieve?

Tsuna didn't know that either.

All he knew… was that he didn't want to see it again, that man, that dog. He didn't want another memory like that.

He wasn't even sure where he was going. Once he stepped into the dark, slightly damp catacombs, his feet seemed to move on their own, and Tsuna found himself taking one turn, then another, by some instinct, for all that every tunnel looked just like the others.

By that same instinct, his legs pumped faster and he broke into a sprint. Tsuna could see it now, flashes of light up ahead, and he thought he could feel a warm surge of air against his face following each one – Flames; a battle.

Tsuna had spent years hiding his presence from his brother, to the point that it had become second nature. So it was no surprise Yasu didn't notice him, even when Tsuna rounded the corner and came upon that scene.

His brother, crouching over Xanxus's prone form and holding a gun under his chin.

"Yasu, stop!"

Tsuna called out without thinking. If he had thought… would he have found the courage?

That was the first time he had ever spoken against Yasu, stood against what his brother wanted to do. There was no going back after that, both of them would realize.

Yasu turned instinctively. With his attention divided, Xanxus seized the opportunity. He threw his weight sideways, unbalancing Yasu. Flames of Wrath flared in his good hand, and though Yasu dodged the fireball easily, he was still driven back even further.

But there was nothing like concern in Yasu's eyes as he looked with cool calculation at Xanxus, and at Tsuna – and at the tunnel behind Tsuna. The gun was still in his hand, glowing as he raised it.

Common sense would be to attack his opponent, the one he had been fighting, the bigger threat. But Yasu had never thought like other people.

The one he pointed the gun at was…

The light of the Flames bearing down on him reflected in Tsuna's wide eyes for an infinitely long moment. He raised a hand, as if to ward them off, the other curling over his shoulder, and then he vanished from sight, completely engulfed.

The blast slammed Tsuna's body into the brick wall behind him, all but pulverizing the surrounding stone as well. He slumped bonelessly, his knees hitting the ground jarringly, followed by the rest of his body.

"Tsuna!"

Two voices yelled his name – one, Iemitsu just coming upon the tunnel where Yasu and Xanxus had made their battleground, several men following at his heels. The other – Yasu, just before he threw himself at Xanxus.

The gun went skittering away across the ground, with no way to tell who had dropped it.

As Iemitsu and Nono's Sun Guardian Brow Nie Jr. crouched beside Tsuna's body, the latter already calling up his Sun Flames, the Storm Guardian Coyote Nougat rushed forward to drag Yasu off of Xanxus.

"Stop it!" Coyote barked, struggling to haul Yasu away as the boy strained to continue his assault. Yasu's motions were still too precise to be called flailing, but the cold calculation of before was gone – as if wiped away by rare fury.

"No! Let go! This bastard—!" Yasu yelled, never taking his eyes off Xanxus as his expression twisted in anger and pain. "Just because he couldn't stand to lose! This bastard shot Tsuna!"

For once, Xanxus was caught off guard – honestly speechless by the strange, unexpected, unbelievable turn. He hadn't felt that way for a long time, that sensation of paralysis and disconnect from reality, as if everything was completely beyond his reach.

He could only turn his head to watch Nono, Reborn on his shoulder, arrive last at the mouth of the tunnel, Yasu's words echoing to them as they took in the chaotic remains of the battlefield. His eyes met Nono's, and…

What must it look like? Who would they believe – Yasu, their precious heir, or Xanxus, who had attempted no less than a coup against his own famiglia?

"No…" Xanxus breathed without meaning to. "I didn't…"

He couldn't read the look in his father's eyes.

~.~.~

Part 14: Process and Conclusion

"Tsuna, Tsuna…" Iemitsu repeated, hovering uselessly over his son's terrifyingly still body.

"There's still a chance," Brow Nie told him distractedly, his Flames dancing over Tsuna. "He must have managed to block the worst of it with his own Flames…"

Jumping off Nono's shoulder as the old man stood stone still, only looking at his son, Reborn quickly made his way over to the two men. His approach seemed to finally snap Iemitsu out of his daze, and his expression twisted.

"You! What were you thinking, sending him alone?!" Iemitsu demanded.

'I thought he was a coward who would just run and hide if things got dangerous,' Reborn didn't say. He knew there were limits that should not be crossed. He also didn't say, 'I thought your other son would hesitate a little more before resorting to fratricide.'

Because Yasu didn't care about Tsuna. He had said himself that he didn't understand the importance others placed in bonds of blood and family. He would not be driven into such an emotional outpouring by Tsuna being injured.

Because Xanxus had never been a good actor. Capable of hiding things, but not at falsifying his own emotions. The stunned look on his face could only be real.

Calling up his own Flames, Reborn added his power to Brow Nie's. "Where's Leon?" he asked, even as most of his attention focused on the weak palpitations of Tsuna's heart.

"That's what you're worried about?!" Iemitsu snarled.

"Iemitsu! Help Coyote!" Brow Nie snapped. "You're worse than useless here!"

For a moment, the Outside Adviser looked ready to protest. Then, a dark look entered his eyes. Rising, he stalked off, past Nono and into the tunnel where Xanxus still kneeled in something like shock.

Reborn just hoped he didn't kill Nono's last son, not before they got to the bottom of things.

A tiny green head poked out from under the edge of Tsuna's hood, a little singed, but otherwise alright. Leon blinked up at his owner with what Reborn thought was guilt and pleading in his yellow eyes.

"He protected you, huh? What a foolish boy," Reborn murmured to himself, even as Leon curled against Tsuna's neck and flicked a long tongue over his cheek in gratitude.

Then again, there were worse things to be than a fool.

~.~.~

Brow Nie and Reborn were able to stabilize Tsuna enough to move him back up to the mansion and to the infirmary. Still, he would be in danger for a while yet. There were limits to what even Sun Flames could fix and to what the body could endure.

Leon had parted from Tsuna only reluctantly, and even rejoining Reborn, the chameleon pressed close to his master's skin for comfort.

Watching Tsuna's stretcher disappear into the operating room, Iemitsu was pale with fear. He stared fixedly at the red sign showing an operation in progress, until Nono gently pulled him away. "This is a matter that requires the presence of the Outside Adviser," the old man said firmly, though not unkindly. "Come. There is nothing we can do here."

The boss led the way from the infirmary, Iemitsu, Reborn and Brow Nie following. Yasu was the last to fall in line, his eyes lingering on closed doors.

"Will Tsuna recover?" Yasu asked quietly, as Reborn jumped onto his shoulder.

"Probably," Reborn said, though he was not half as confident as he made himself sound. "Who would have thought your brother would be able to use his Flames that well? Well, I suppose Rokudo Mukuro wouldn't have been able to pull out his potential if it hadn't been there in the first place."

He watched Yasu closely, but as always the boy gave no reaction.

Fortunately, Xanxus had come quietly, though Iemitsu had almost attacked him before Nono interfered. By the time they emerged from the catacombs, Xanxus regained control of himself, his expression closing off completely. If he considered simply running, he made no attempt. Even Xanxus would hesitate to take on Coyote, the Ninth's right hand man, especially with only one arm and one leg still functioning.

He hadn't been taken to a prison cell – but only just. The room they reconvened in instead was set aside for meetings with outsiders that were barely above enemies, reinforced and wired with both cameras and weapons.

"Now," Nono said quietly and gravely, as all of them – Xanxus, Yasu, Iemitsu, Reborn and his two Guardians – gathered, "I want to hear what happened, from everyone."

Biting the inside of cheek, Yasu looked away, as if in guilt. "…I challenged him to a duel," he admitted. "We were fighting. I was winning… He said he wouldn't accept that. That we were just scum. That he wouldn't accept us or our cursed blood. Then… Tsuna ran in. And this bastard, he… he shot Tsuna."

Yasu had kept his head bowed as he spoke, but his tone was filled with repressed anger and bitterness. It sounded terribly realistic, except that Reborn knew Yasu didn't care about anyone's opinion of him or his blood, did not even understand the importance of blood.

It was, however, enough to make the others doubt. Reborn could see the Guardians' thoughts – "We should have killed him eight years ago, when we had the chance." Iemitsu looked just short of attacking Xanxus where he stood, while Nono just looked old and tired.

But he was still Vongola's boss, and no matter his feelings, Nono turned to Xanxus with a stonily blank expression, waiting for his side of the story.

However, gritting his teeth, Xanxus remained silent. What could he say? Claiming Yasu was a liar would just make him sound like one. With their cold glares on him, he knew that even if this was supposed to be his famiglia, he was the outsider here.

"Nothing to say for yourself?" Iemitsu snapped impatiently. He took a threatening step forward, as if already aiming to deal out the punishment, but a sharp look from Nono kept him from moving further.

Nono looked at his son for a moment later, but Xanxus remained stubbornly silent. The old man let out a heavy breath, but before he could say anything, Reborn spoke up.

"In that case, let's hear from the last witness," he suggested, jumping onto the table in the center.

"I'm afraid Tsunayoshi is in no condition to tell anyone anything," Nono said wearily. "There's no telling when he will regain consciousness, or if he'll remember anything, given his concussion."

"I doubt he'd say anything anyway," Reborn snorted. "You noticed it too. He's quite closed-mouthed, isn't he? Well, I suppose 'hear' isn't the right word. Instead, we'll see what the witness saw. Right, Leon?"

He held up the small green chameleon, who flicked out his tongue and began to shift shape. Soon, Reborn was holding a small screen, which began to flicker, showing static.

"I sent Leon with Tsuna," Reborn explained, "and this is what he witnessed."

The static on the screen cleared, resolving into a dark image of the catacombs. The picture shook – in time with Tsuna's footsteps – and light flared periodically, easily recognizable to all of them as Flames in battle.

Then, Tsuna – and Leon, on his shoulder – turned the corner, to the sight of Yasu pinning Xanxus, a gun in his hand.

Back in the meeting room, with everyone's gazes fixed on the screen, Yasu sighed silently. There was no doubt this was the real thing and not some trick by Reborn to psyche him out.

He knew enough to guess that things were about to get very difficult for him.

"It seems… staying here any longer will be too troublesome," he said quietly.

That was the only warning.

The room had been enforced, against guns and explosives. But it could not stand against the sudden blast of Yasu's pure Sky Flames. An entire wall and part of another, along with half the ceiling, were almost instantly burned away, opening up to the clear evening sky and the grounds around the mansion.

As the rest of the room was engulfed in smoke and dust, Yasu nimbly jumped on top of the rubble, about to take off. A bullet whizzed past his head, making him pause and glance back.

Reborn had been the first to recover, and the only one able to act, Xanxus disarmed and still injured from their battle. He leveled his pistol at Yasu, who did not even have the grace to look intimidated. In fact, he had no expression at all as he looked down on all of them.

"What do you think you're doing, Yasu?" Reborn asked with deceptive calm.

"I'm leaving," Yasu replied simply. The apparent disinterest in his expression only worsened Iemitsu and Nono's bewilderment. He sounded like a completely different person. The change was paralyzing in its abruptness. "I didn't want to be Vongola Decimo from the start. I just thought it would be more trouble to fight it. But staying here will be annoying too, especially after this. So there's no reason to force myself to endure it. I suppose I'll go see what this wide world has to offer…"

He spoke blandly, as if entirely detached from the situation he was in, as if there was nothing to be concerned about. As if this was a normal, everyday thing.

"Y-Yasu… What are you saying? What's going on?!" Iemitsu burst out, desperate.

"I didn't shoot your other brat," Xanxus finally spoke up, his voice tight and bitter, "he did. Because that idiot walked in on him trying to kill me."

"That's impossible!" Iemitsu protested. "Yasu wouldn't—!"

"I did," Yasu confirmed. There was no point in hiding it now, when Reborn's pet would reveal the truth anyway. When he was already leaving with no intention of coming back.

"Why?!"

"Because there's no way Tsuna would keep quiet this time," Yasu said coldly. "He tried to stop me. He wouldn't keep it to himself. I didn't expect something like that lizard… I guess that's what I get for rushing in without considering everything."

"Do you really think we'll just let you go?" Reborn asked, his mouth thinning. "There are laws even in the mafia. And attacking your own family and famiglia is against the most important one of all. What were you thinking? Being so foolish isn't like you, Yasu."

"It was foolish," Yasu agreed. "But I guess I thought you might not be such dull, nonsensical people. You're just the same as everyone else, always going on about your rules that make no sense. What's so wrong about attacking someone you're related to? You're all killers, so why does it matter if I do the same? What difference does it make whether you share a bloodline? I don't understand it."

Honest frustration colored his tone faintly, before it slipped away.

"As for your laws… I'm tired of rules, I'm tired of conforming to these pointless expectations. In the end, it was always untenable." He sighed, then met Iemitsu's and Nono's gazes. "These fourteen years weren't bad, but now I guess it's time to find my own path. Thank you for all your help. Farewell."

The polite phrases sounded like mockery, made worse by Yasu's half-bow, just before he turned away.

Reborn fired, ignoring Iemitsu's protests – he aimed to disable still – but Sky Flames flared between them and Yasu, like a shield, making everyone reflexively cover their faces from the whipping gusts of hot wind.

The Flames dispersed a moment later, but Yasu was already gone.

~.~.~

Part 15: To Exist

When Tsuna came to, what greeted him was a white ceiling he had seen once before. He was in the infirmary's private room again, just like the first time he woke up in the mansion.

It seemed he had survived, somehow.

Turning his head, he saw someone sitting in the chair beside his bed – Xanxus, one arm in a sling, one knee in a cast, eyes closed but brow still furrowed even in sleep.

Tsuna blinked up at him, feeling too floaty to be surprised or even worried. Finally, the sight seemed to register somewhere in his mind, and Tsuna smiled. "Glad you're okay," he slurred, smiling.

The sound of his voice surprised him, since he hadn't meant to speak, and woke Xanxus, whose eyes snapped open, already reflexively glaring. He turned to look at Tsuna, then reached over and picked up the vase on the bedside table – and threw it at the door.

Vaguely, Tsuna wondered if this was another side effect of the painkillers he was almost certainly being given.

"You trash! He's awake!" Xanxus bellowed.

There was a commotion outside the door, before it was violently thrown open and Iemitsu burst into the room, his gaze immediately snapping to Tsuna's form. Raising one hand, the one without an IV, Tsuna waved clumsily.

Grumbling under his breath, Xanxus climbed to his feet and limped toward the door. For a moment, Iemitsu considered reminding him that he wasn't supposed to walk on that leg, but he thought better of it. And… he wasn't sure how to act toward the man one of his sons had tried to kill and then framed for the attempted murder of the other.

Vongola would have some difficult times in the near future, as everyone tried to adjust to what felt like their perceptions being turned upside down.

Caught up in those thoughts, Iemitsu settled into the chair beside Tsuna's bed with a grim, troubled expression. He tried to soften it as he looked at Tsuna, who blinked up at him sluggishly.

"Hi Dad," Tsuna murmured.

"How are you feeling, Tsu-kun?" Iemitsu asked, smoothing back his hair. Tsuna wrinkled his nose, but didn't protest the gesture.

"Okay, I guess," he said. "'S probably the pain killers though…"

"Do you remember what happened?"

This time, Iemitsu could see the way Tsuna didn't answer, only looking away. He sighed, petting the boy's hair again. He really had missed a lot, hadn't he?

"Tsuna… Yasu is gone. He left," Iemitsu explained slowly. "We haven't been able to track him down, but it sounds like he has no plans to return here or to Namimori."

Tsuna was silent for a long time, staring up at the ceiling with a distant look in his eyes. "Maybe…" he said finally, "that's for the best. Maybe Yasu will be able to find a place where he can be happy, without people always annoying him, always forcing him to act like he doesn't want to. That would be nice…"

In the end, he knew Yasu had never been cruel or malicious. He didn't hate anyone. He just didn't understand either. The world humans lived in – their society, their rules – only frustrated him.

If Yasu could be happy too… Tsuna wished for that. Because, no matter what, they were still brothers. Even if that didn't mean anything to Yasu, even if it was one-sided, to Tsuna they were still bound by an unbreakable bond.

"…Yes," Iemitsu agreed quietly, "that would be nice."

If only the ties of blood – Primo's blood – could be so easily severed…

~.~.~