They opened the door, and Reborn walked into the room he hadn't seen for fifteen days. The door shut behind him, and he didn't give it a glance. He focused on examining the inhabitants that lay on the bed.
The word came out quieter and more exhausted than last time. The purple eyes met Reborn's coal black ones as the purple-haired head lifted from the pillow.
"I'm back," said the hitman, sticking his hands into his pockets so that his lackey wouldn't see the tightness of his fists. Skull still reacted badly to seeing Reborn's anger, long used to having it directed at the stuntman. But that was before here. Before they came out of nowhere and took the three of them hostage.
"He's sleeping," said Skull, sitting up and revealing the small (no, he was small before but now he was ridiculously tiny) brunette sleeping curled up at the stuntman's side. Nothing much had changed in Reborn's student, save his size again. The tiny brunette remained stick thin and sickly pale. Reborn's nails dug into the hitman's palms, and he could barely keep from drawing blood. Skull would panic unnecessarily and become annoying. The purple-haired stuntman himself had new bruises and new red criss-crossed lines along his arms and shoulders. Reborn kept from staring at the stuntman's torso, knowing that Skull would flail and shriek if Reborn in any way reminded the stuntman of the thinness of the gown they had given the young man. He had always had a panicky, shy modesty, or had before here. And considering the fact that he had gone so far as to keep every inch of his skin covered, the thin gown was more than just an act of humiliation.
"What did they do?" asked Reborn. He would have preferred not to ask the question, but it was necessary. Fortunately, Reborn had trained his lackey well.
"A few more experiments. They came to monitor the effects of the drug on the young Vongola, but they didn't take him out of the room this time," said Skull, and Reborn wished he could hear more of his lackey's cowardly defiance in the words. More and more the stuntman spoke in flat tones, exhaustion covering everything else.
"And what did you do to keep Dame-Tsuna here?" asked Reborn. Skull flinched, but he didn't bother denying the truth.
"They ran a few more 'immortality' tests," said the stuntman quietly. This time, a trickle of blood flowed in between the fingers of Reborn's left hand. As soon as the three escaped, Reborn would return and wipe them out. He had been thinking the same thoughts the last five months, but the end was coming soon. He had heard them. Had heard what the next target they want him to eliminate was. And they would come in no less than a day and threaten him with the safety of his lackey and his student, with the poison that lay dormant in the two's systems only thanks to the antidote they applied every day. Without the antidote, the two would die in a matter of hours. They would point out that they had two hostages, so getting rid of one to make a point would be simple. Reborn knew which one would be done away with first. The acclamation that would come from killing the "immortal stuntman" would be reason enough. And they had been trying to do that enough already.
Too bad they hadn't counted on the hitman getting a hold of a vial that had contained the antidote. The residue inside the vial would be enough to duplicate the antidote, and Reborn had kept the vial in the safest place possible, under his hat. The last of them foolish enough to touch his fedora had ceased breathing. Reborn walked over to the bed, the only furniture in the room besides the toilet sitting exposed in the corner.
"How are your reserves?" asked the hitman quietly. He tried to ignore the reddish circle on Skull's left cheek in order to keep at least one hand uninjured.
"Did you bring more?" asked Skull, and the dullness in the once bright, defiant purple eyes kept Reborn's left hand in his pocket as his right brought out three small seeds. Taking them in pale, thin hands, Skull cradled the seeds. A purple glow surrounded the stuntman's hands, and Reborn blocked the camera's view. The glow was as bright and clear as always, but there was less. They must have made him use most of his flames on regenerating and staying alive. The glow faded, leaving twelve seeds where there had been three. "Sorry, sempai. Please believe me. I can't do more."
"I'll believe you this time," said Reborn, keeping the gruffness in his voice to mask the massive anger simmering beneath. Skull had done many things that Reborn found irritating, but the anger went far beyond anything Skull had or could have done. And he hadn't done any of that here anyway. Three weeks into the abduction, the youngest acrobaleno's whining and self-importance had been stripped away, leaving a flat tone and pathetic exhaustion behind. And those things didn't irritate Reborn. They angered him. They angered him from the first time Skull had been dragged away after presenting himself as a test subject in the place of Dame-Tsuna. Reborn's student would have protested, but the drug had already been injected at the time. Dame-Tsuna had rarely moved after that injection, the drug leeching his sky flames dry while forcing him to produce more. That draining/production process had caused years to leave the boy, shrinking him to his current size. His once nineteen year old student (a year away from finally taking his place as Vongola's head) had been reduced to looking like a six year old. They probably planned to leech the brunette until the boy was no bigger than infant, because the purest flames came from the youngest forms. That is why the arcobaleno had been turned to babies, to more properly use their flames. That is the theory they had come up with and forced Reborn's student to prove.
"Can I lay back down, sempai?" asked Skull, and Reborn frowned. The hitman placed a hand onto the stuntman's forehead, careful to keep the hand angled away from the camera. Reborn's hand glowed yellow and proved them wrong. The hitman had better control over his flames in his adult form with no loss of purity. The yellow glow pulsed carefully down Skull's head and to the stuntman's body, hopefully undoing some of the damage they had caused.
"Yes," said Reborn, removing his hand. Skull fell back onto the bed, and Dame-Tsuna stirred. Brown eyes blinked open, though they didn't open to their full size, the eyelids heavily resting at half-mast.
"Reborn?" came the tired inquiry. Reborn stooped to gaze at the glazed brown eyes. Small hands reached forward, and the hitman complied with their request and picked the boy up. The boy wore the same thin white gown as the stuntman. The small (no, tiny) head nuzzled into the crook of the hitman's neck. "I know where they have Leon."
The whisper shocked the hitman, but Reborn kept his expression neutral.
"Where is he?" the hitman whispered back as he bounced the tiny child a bit to portray a picture of comfort. Any idiot would know that Reborn didn't do comfort, not even for his stupid student. But they would be fooled, and if Dame-Tsuna in his drugged state was fooled too, then Reborn could forgive the boy this one time.
"Two floors up and the third door to the right," whispered the boy, and Reborn could hear the words fading in fatigue. "Reborn, we need to leave today. They want you to kill grampa next…"
"I know," said the hitman, bouncing the boy gently and allowing the boy to fall back into unconsciousness. "I know."
Skull's dull purple eyes gazed at Reborn, and the hitman almost gave into the urge to kick the stuntman and knock that look out of those should-be alive eyes.
"Get up," he commanded, and his lackey struggled to get up. But all the training in the world could not fight back months of constant injuries. With a sham scoff, Reborn pulled his lackey up, making sure to pocket the seeds. Skull leaned against the hitman, little energy left. If Reborn could afford to delay longer, he would. But the escape had to happen now, or they would never survive. And his lackey would go first, followed by his student….and then Reborn would destroy them and himself in the process.
"You're bleeding, sempai," Skull said flatly, and Reborn realized he had given Skull the nail mangled hand. The stuntman didn't flinch, didn't even have a flicker of panic or disgust cross his face. That dull look remained. Reborn gritted his teeth this time since his hands full.
"How observant of you," growled Reborn. The stuntman flinched under the tone, and the hitman gritted his teeth again. "I'll be fine."
"Are you sure, sempai?" asked Skull, a twinge of concern spiking the tone. Reborn's jaw eased.
"Don't question your betters, lackey," said Reborn. Gathering his strength into his left leg, he kicked down the steel door. Immediately sirens wailed, and men with Kurz assault rifles appeared in front of them. With a smirk, Reborn took a seed out of his pocket and pumped it with sun flames before throwing it straight at the men. Vines appeared in place of the seed and wrapped the fifteen men tight. One seed down. Eleven more to go.
Three seeds were used on the stairs, and Reborn had to cut through some vine remnants to get to the second floor. The hitman may have only used one if his lackey hadn't taken so long to climb the stairs, but seeing as the blank look had been replaced by a rather determined but still frightened look, Reborn let the lack of speed slide. Eventually, the three reached the floor, and Reborn used two more seeds to ensnare fifty men in white coats. He could have knocked the men out, but his lackey had flinched at the sight of them, and so the hitman had decided that they need a more uncomfortable and painful incapacitation. No one made Reborn's lackey flinch but Reborn.
Leon lay curled in the corner of a glass cage, and faded yellow eyes glowed bright at the sight of their master. With surprising gentleness, Reborn lifted the chameleon out of the glass. Wrapping himself once around his master's hand, Leon glowed and turned into the familiar green pistol. The hitman instantly pointed it at the trapped men.
"S-Sempai!" came a cry, and distracting the hitman long enough to give the men in white coats (he would refer to them as scientists, but even Verde wouldn't stoop so low) a few more moments of life. Skull was tugging and pounding on a steel door that had grunting and groaning coming from the other side. Frantic purple eyes turned to the hitman. "P-please help. Oodako's in there! Please, sempai!"
"Fine. But you owe me, lackey," said Reborn, pointing and shooting a mild Chaos Shot at the door's lock. The door flew open, and tentacles surrounded the stuntman. The same criss-cross lines that were drawn on Skull's arms and legs decorated the rubbery skin. "Now move."
The three (or rather now five) made better time as the huge octopus carried the stuntman and smashed anyone in their way that didn't end up trapped in vines or shot with compacted sun flames whose intensity had blown more than one limb off. Reborn had five seeds left as the five broke out into pounding rain. Smirking at the timing, Reborn wrapped his student in the hitman's suit coat and dashed out into junkyard, glancing behind to make sure that the octopus and his stupid lackey were right behind them. After the stuntman and the overly large octopus had cleared the entrance they had exited from, Reborn threw the last five seeds at the five entrances. Vines wrapped the entrances tightly, and Reborn knew he could focus on more important things for now. They were all trapped (they had gotten cocky and decided to give him his ultimatum together), and the hitman decided they could wait as his student coughed and the stuntman's gown gained a new level of transparency despite the octopus's attempts to shelter the stuntman. Reborn knew that the closest safe house would be fifteen miles north, and he would get them there before either his lackey or his student caught pneumonia and wasted all his effort rescuing them.
Reborn woke up to a semi-familiar ceiling. When one traveled as much as he did, every ceiling seemed to bear a faint sense of familiarity. Only the ceiling to one Sawada Tsunayoshi's room had ever held a feeling the hitman could call home. Reborn shot upright as he realized that the right side of the bed was empty. Why had they taken his lackey and his student so early in the morning? Did they want to remind him whose lives they held in their hands? But no, they were trapped. Trapped like rats in the same place they had dared to hold Reborn's lackey and student. The same place that they had successfully held the world's greatest hitman for five months. After Reborn was through with them, no one else should be moronic enough to attempt such a thing again.
"You're awake," said a soft voice, and a woman's face smiled at him. Reborn could never ignore how much Aria looked like her mother when she smiled. "I brought you an expresso."
Reborn barely gave the cup a glance.
"Where are they?"
"Hm? Skull and Tsunayoshi? They are in their own rooms. We put you all in the most comfortable rooms we had available after you collapsed on my front doorstep," said Aria.
"Where are they?" asked the hitman. He wouldn't let her distract him.
"We're taking care of them. You don't need—"
"Don't tell me what I need," said the hitman, glad his fedora his most of his ferocious expression from her. He would not be redirected or ignored. No one would keep the two from him. Their lives would not be tampered or used as bargaining chips ever again, not if Reborn had to rip the two away from the sky arcobaleno's clutches.
"Follow me then," said Aria calmly, though she could not mask her surprise as well as her mother. The hitman gracefully stood, ignoring every muscle that rewarded him with pain for moving so suddenly. Leon had settled on his hat from who knows where (Reborn needed to focus, he needed to be aware of his surroundings). They went down the hallway, and Reborn marked the possible escape routes as he mentally mapped the area. Three doors lead to bedrooms with windows (the bedroom he had been in didn't have one) and two to bathrooms with air ducts that should be large enough to crawl through. The hitman could possibly fight his way out, but this was the Giglio Nero mansion filled with actual Mafioso, not overpaid idiotic flunkies. His best chance would be to smuggle himself and the other two out. Aria opened a door, surprise flickering in her eyes as she found Gamma already in the room.
"He wouldn't stay put until he had seen the young Vongola," said Gamma by explanation. A tuft of purple hair stood out from the cream walls, and a restlessness settled in Reborn's mind. The hitman smirked as he neared his lackey.
"You shouldn't annoy our hosts," said the hitman, ignoring the almost hidden look of incredulity in the sky arcobaleno's eyes. Wide purple eyes landed on the hitman and softened with relief.
"I was just checking on your student, sempai," grumbled Skull, annoyed frustration flittering across the stuntman's face for the first time in four months. The hitman scoffed as he took in the stuntman's dark long sleeved shirt and long baggy pants. So their hosts weren't complete morons.
"Sempai?" said the stuntman, his voice soft and quiet like it had been before becoming flat.
"Spit out, lackey," said the hitman, failing to keep the snap out of his voice. The stuntman cringed, but the purple eyes flickered hesitantly to Reborn.
"Did we escape?"
The hitman delayed answering by huffing in annoyance. He quickly scanned the area and made sure that there was not even vaguest hint of vapor or humid heat that indicated the use of mist flames. They hadn't used mist flames before, but he would not put it past them. But no, the current surroundings and the facts of how the three arrived here matched up perfectly.
"Of course. I am the world's greatest hitman," said Reborn with a confident smirk. The stuntman muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "show-off" and "couldn't have done it without me." The hitman would have hit his lackey, but Reborn's hands had loosened at the stuntman's characteristic mutters.
"Where were you?" asked Aria, directing the question to Skull, who stiffened and automatically stepped in between the woman and Dame-Tsuna. The hitman reassessed his conclusion that they hadn't used mist flames.
"They were held hostage by the remnants of the Estraneo famiglia," said the hitman, dragging the two Giglio Nero's attention from his lackey.
"So that's why you've gone rogue," said the woman with an understanding smile. Unlike her mother's, it lacked the desired effect. She could not understand anything of what had happened in the last five months, not by looking into his eyes or even reading his thoughts. If she looked at the bagginess of the teenage clothing on his lackey and the wispy puff of hair on his unhealthily thin student, maybe then she could start understanding. He moved closer to the bed and his lackey who slumped a little as the hitman got closer. The greenish yellow shade on the skin of the stuntman's hands and face warned the hitman that the drug was coming in to effect and would soon have the stuntman writhing in pain.
"Here," said the hitman as he took the vial out of his hat. The stuntman took it without a word, and the purple glow surrounded the thin hands again. They hadn't given Reborn's lackey gloves then. So much for understanding. The drop or so that remained in the bottle expanded and soon the whole vial filled to the top. The stuntman moved to wake Dame-Tsuna, but Reborn grabbed the stuntman's wrist. "Drink it."
"The young Vongola has two-"
"Don't argue with me, lackey. Drink it first," said the hitman, glaring at the almost defiant purple eyes. The stuntman raised the vial to his lips and drank greedily. Had they not offered him anything to drink or eat either? Without wasting another second, purple flames erupted in the thin hands, and the liquid swirled again in the vial.
"Young Vongola," said Skull before Reborn could make a remark. The stuntman tugged the little boy and shifted the tiny brunette off the boy's side and onto the boy's back, revealing Dame-Tsuna's face and skin that also held that yellowish-green hue. The boy's eyes remained closed. Skull leaned close to the boy's ear and whispered so quietly that Reborn had to strain to hear the stuntman's voice. "Tsuna."
Brown eyes blinked open, and Skull gave the tiny brunette a wide, excited grin.
"Skull?" asked Dame-Tsuna weakly. Skull pressed the vial to the boy's lips, and Dame-Tsuna drank quickly, though by the grimace, Reborn assumed that the tiny brunette did not enjoy the taste. After the vial was pulled away, the brown eyes better focused on Skull. "Reborn?"
Skull stepped to the side so that Dame-Tsuna could see Reborn clearly, but the stuntman didn't move out of the boy's reach. Tsuna's eyes turned orange as they turned on Reborn, and the hitman would have returned to the vine-wrapped base and finish the job he should have taken care of five months ago. They had used mist flames. Tsuna grabbed Skull's fingers and tugged, and when the stuntman gazed down at the tiny brunette, Dame-Tsuna grinned and nodded slightly. Reborn had seen the same routine many times in the last few weeks, but the hitman had assumed that the orange in his student's eyes had been an effect of the drug, not a manifestation of the Vongola hyper intuition. So for four weeks at the very least they had…
A hand fell on the hitman's shoulder, and Reborn glared at the hand's owner. Skull flinched, but the stuntman kept the hand in place.
"W-we…we knew you'd get us out, sempai," said Skull.
"If you ever keep information like that from me again," said Reborn as he grabbed the hand and flipped the stuntman onto the bed, making sure to avoid his student. "You might not live to regret it."
"Sempai! That hurt!" cried the stuntman as he sat up. For an instant, fear coursed through the hitman. But no, his stupid lackey had gone back to whining, and apparently the stuntman had the same bad habit as Reborn's student to whine about things that didn't matter and stay silent on the things that did. The hitman would beat that habit out of both of them, but the two wouldn't get much out of the lesson now. Pulling a chair away from a nearby desk, Reborn sat himself down beside the bed.
"The boy's guardians will be here in an hour as will the other arcobaleno," said Aria. Reborn grunted and didn't turn to look at her. He didn't want to see her attempts at sympathy when she went ahead and did whatever she wanted. The whisper of thought in the back of the hitman's mind that said that the sky arcobaleno was doing her best and that the others had probably been scared out of their minds by Reborn's bizarre actions, Skull's disappearance, and Dame-Tsuna's kidnapping was promptly silenced without mercy. The smartest of the guardians and arcobaleno might have connected the three incidents, but Reborn doubted that any of the guardians or arcobaleno would have used their brains in that state. And if their brains had been working properly in the first place, then they would never have been able to get two arcobaleno and the Vongola Decimo. A tug on his sleeve brought the hitman's attention back to the bed he had been staring at.
"We have an hour," said Dame-Tsuna, tugging harder on the sleeve. The sheets shifted and revealed that the boy now wore orange pajamas with blue paw prints on them. Doubtless, the woman thought the outfit made Reborn's student cute. "Please, Reborn?"
Purple eyes joined completely open brown ones in their plea, and Reborn silently sighed. The two wouldn't leave him alone until he gave in, so he would do as they asked this once. And they would pay for it later. Because last thing Reborn needed was the Vongola guardians and the arcobaleno to see his student and lackey with such pathetic expressions. Double checking that no one was anywhere near the room, Reborn climbed into the bed as Dame-Tsuna and Skull scooted further right to make space. The hitman gave his back to the two as he kept his eyes on the door. A tiny back met his, and he could see purple strands of hair from the corner of his eye as Skull moved in close to the hitman's shoulder and Dame-Tsuna. A warmth emanated from the tiny back and from the breath that rustled his long sleeve's fabric.
Exactly half an hour later, the guardians and arcobalenos stumbled into the room to find the three sleeping deeply on the king-sized bed. Aria shooed the guardians and arcobaleno out before the two groups had a chance to recover from the scene. None of the three on the bed had slept well the night before, and Aria knew the escapees need their rest. Plus Aria's mother, dead or not, would never forgive her if she didn't grab a camera and record the event. When else would she catch the famous Reborn snuggled back to back with a child-sized Vongola Decimo and a relaxed Skull curled half way around the tiny brunette while the stuntman's head touched the back of the famous hitman's shoulder? The Giglio Nero smiled gently as she closed the door and ushered the slightly less worried guardians and arcobaleno to the rooms set aside for them. No one noted the black eyes that opened as the door closed.
The hitman scoffed and flipped himself over, pushing his lackey's forehead back with two fingers. The stuntman grunted and grumbled sleepily but moved back, though his hair still brushed the suit sleeve. Dame-Tsuna shifted, and the tiny head settled onto the hitman's stomach. If the woman was going to take a picture, she had better to do it right. This position would work best for blackmailing his student and lackey into obedience, since the two looked so innocent and peaceful despite being so close the world's greatest hitman. Making sure the two were sleeping peacefully one last time, the hitman allowed his mind to give into exhaustion and his body to relax fully. The two were safe. Five months, two days, and fifteen hours too late, but they were safe. And Reborn swore to himself in his last conscious thought that the two would remain that way.