A/N: Please remember that I will not update this for a while. I plan to come back to it, but I have stories I need to work on more urgently. Enjoy the chapter!
"Good evening," said Tsuna warily. All his guardians stared at him, and only years of training kept Tsuna from squirming.
"Good evening, Tsuna," said Takeshi. The rain guardian grinned, but the strange look twisted the grin into something less genuine. "Did anything interesting happen today?"
"I finished all my paperwork," said Tsuna as casually as possible. "But I probably have some more when I get back."
"Is it true?" asked Lambo. His green eyes were wet around the edges and shone with betrayal. "Tsuna-nii…Did you really them alone?"
"Leave who alone?" asked Tsuna, getting a very bad feeling.
"Maa, I'm sure that Tsuna has a good explanation," said Takeshi. Why did his hazel eyes seem sharper than usual. "Right, Tsuna?"
"I'll bite you to death for committing such indecent acts," said Hibari, with a cold anger that Tsuna had never heard. The cloud guardian usually sounded emotionless. Tsuna glared at Mukuro. Whatever the illusionist had done, he had crossed the line. Mukuro could tease and taunt the other guardians. Tsuna understood the illusionist's sadistic nature and Mukuro's need to try and see how far he could go. But there was far and too far, and no one seriously hurt Tsuna's guardians, emotionally or otherwise. The illusionist grinned, sealing his fate.
"I'm sorry, but I told them everyt—"
"Another word, Mukuro, and I will tell Martha she will have another set of hands in the kitchen," said Tsuna darkly. Mukuro immediately closed his mouth, and his face paled. Tsuna turned to his currently most reasonable guardian. "What did Mukuro tell you, Takeshi?"
"He told us you are a terrible father to the EXTREME!" yelled Ryohei, making everyone on the table wince for different reasons. Tsuna leaned back in his chair before grabbing the child in his lap who nearly slid off. "Is that EXTREMELY him?"
"…it's true," whispered Lambo, tears gathering in the teen's eyes. The others commenting on the now visible blonde boy, but Tsuna only saw his lightening guardian's hurt gaze. The same gaze that a much younger Lambo had sent towards a burly Bovino who had refused to take the five year old back. Tsuna's blood boiled and fueled his unlit but burning Will.
"Mukuro," said Tsuna. "Tell them the truth."
"I did," said Mukuro smoothly, apparently not seeing the state his boss had entered. "I told them how you had a passionate night with that woman and then proceeded to leave her without any way to contact you. So when she found out that she was pregnant, she couldn't find you. And you never even had the heart to check on her, too ashamed by your lapse of judgment, and so she had to raise the child by herself. But 5 years later, she died, leaving your child on the street with nothing but a name for a father. He has had to scrounge for food on the streets like a common urchin until he was found half-starved by a maid in the alley who recognized the resemblance and took him to your office. She forced you to see the truth and acknowledge your mistake, and she gave you no choice but to take in the boy and raise him as your own like you should have done from the start."
Silence fell on the table as Mukuro continued to smirk and Tsuna stared unbelievingly at him. Before the mafia don could say a word, Hayato slammed his hands on the table.
"How dare you! Primo would never behave in such an indecent manner," said Hayato. "It's obvious the woman forced herself on him. Then she dared run off without telling him and deprive him of his child."
"Wow, I didn't know you had such an interesting history," said Asari, smiling at a confused Giotto. "I thought your mom and dad died in the fire. It's a good thing your dad survived."
"He's not my dad!" Giotto yelled.
"He's not?" asked Asari, as the guardians backed up in their chairs. The little blond boy had looked entirely too much like Tsuna in the young don's angry mode. Tsuna rarely entered that mode, but no one, guardian or not, got in his way when he did. "Then who is he?"
"I don't know," said Giotto, his cheeks puffing out and ruining his almost scary imitation. How could the kid do that if he wasn't Tsuna's son? The boy's blue eyes widened as he realized that the guardians were all staring at him. He glared back at them and then sunk deeper into Tsuna's lap to hide from the continual gaze.
"So he's not your son?" asked Takeshi. Tsuna held back a sigh.
"No. Venci found him stealing from the kitchens. I went to stop Venci from attacking the boy when Giotto here knocked Venci out."
"He knocked out Venci?" asked Lambo, backing farther away from the child. So the child was some sort of demon like Reborn then. Most of Lambo was relieved that the boy wasn't Tsuna's son, but Lambo also felt guilty. The teen shouldn't have believed Mukuro's stupid lies. The whole story sounded like something out of Chrome's favorite soap opera, and Tsuna would never do something like that, especially knowing what happened to Lambo.
"Yes," Tsuna said nodding absently. "I was going to give him to Hayato to place in one of the orphanages, but he said a man told him not to speak to me until I completed a task."
"What task?" asked Takeshi.
"I don't know," said Tsuna, as he adjusted position so that Giotto could continue to hide behind the tablecloth but not fall of the man's lap. "He says he can't tell me."
"We should throw him out," said Hayato. "He's probably a spy for an enemy famiglia who have cosmetically changed him to make it easier from him to infiltrate our inner circle and gain our trust."
Tsuna really wished his stormed guardian was joking. But no, Hayato was serious. And the worst part was that the claim was entirely plausible.
"No, he's not," said Asari with an easy going grin. "Giotto lives down with the others. And it was the man with the black fedora who made Giotto come here, right, Giotto?"
The blonde boy nodded numbly, surprise stretching his face.
"The man with the black fedora was the one who sent me to my dad. I was supposed to stay in the closet until Chichi smiled at me. That took a loooong time, but that's how Chichi became my papa. So that means that Uncle Tsuna's supposed to be your papa. You're really lucky because if I had to have another papa that wasn't Chichi, it would be Uncle Tsuna."
Asari's grinning statement confirmed a suspicion Tsuna had only now realized he had. Reborn was behind this. Tsuna's tutor had been hinting for months that, with the relative peace in the mafia world, this was the perfect time for Tsuna to start thinking about Vongola's future. The famiglia was barely 10 years old! Why did they have to start worrying about the next generation?! Tsuna could almost hear Reborn, after a hard smack on Tsuna's head, saying that it is never too soon to plan ahead. But on this one, Tsuna wasn't going to give in to Reborn. If what Asari had said was true, then the hitman had already put Asari in danger by associating the boy with the mafia. Tsuna couldn't undo that damage. Hayato needed Asari as much as Asari needed Hayato.
"The same man with the black fedora," said Mukuro with another smirk. "That means that little Asari here is probably a spy as well. We should throw them both out, just in case."
"Now, now," said Takeshi, "there just kids."
"No, Pineapple Head is right. We should send them the orphanage in Venice," said Lambo, almost managing to not flinch under the illusionist's stare. He wasn't fond of Asari. Ever since the kid came, he had stolen everyone's attention. Hayato didn't yell at Lambo like the man used to. And Tsuna-nii sometimes let Asari stay in the boss's Vongola office when Lambo wasn't allowed in there except for when missions were assigned. It wasn't his fault that the office sometimes exploded when he was in there. And that only happened when he was younger. Lambo shrugged and added, "It's better safe than sorry."
"No one asked for your opinion, cow moron! The brat would never be a spy!" yelled Hayato, his face changing from red to purple.
"How would you know? Did he mention the man with the black fedora before?" asked Lambo.
The bomber and right hand man to the Vongola boss paled, and Lambo's green eyes widened. Before the teen's thoughts could form into words, Hayato stood so fast that his chair fell backwards and bowed so deeply that his forehead hit the table.
"I'm so sorry, Primo," the bomber cried. "He mentioned it, but I had thoroughly checked him out by that point. He has no other famiglia ties, and the encounter was entirely coincidental. We decided that the man with the black fedora was an UMA that had seen the compatibility between me and the brat and decided to send him my way so that we could better the world."
"An UMA?" Tsuna asked stunned, the rest of the question stuck in his throat. Just when Tsuna thought his right hand man couldn't get weirder…Tsuna sighed and smiled. After years of getting to know his storm guardian, Tsuna could almost see the man's reasoning. It would be easier to make the man with the black fedora an UMA than a possible enemy famiglia member once Hayato had fallen in love with the little boy. That unbelievable denial should worry Tsuna, but Tsuna knew from experience that no one slithered his way into Hayato's heart with foul intentions. Many a female had tried. But seriously, the man with the black fedora. Tsuna really hoped that his tutor's amazingly awful but effective disguises weren't working through description - if that made any sense. Then again, sense and Vongola didn't exactly mix.
"I've been teaching the brat, so he's getting fairly good at classifying and understanding the types and purposes of UMAs. He won't be so easily manipulated again," said Hayato, lifting his head enough so Tsuna could see the small quirk to the bomber's lips. Maybe Tsuna should worry about Hayato's blind loyalty a little bit. Reminding himself that Hayato rarely gave out that loyalty (Tsuna and Asari were the only two current recipients), Tsuna took a deep breath whose effect was rendered ineffective thanks to Asari's next words.
"Yep. Chichi said that the man with the black fedora is a human-like UMA with the objective of speeding up humanity's progress in order to welcome them into the universal community, so it was okay to listen to him, but that I should tell Chichi if I see the man again in case it's another UMA in disguise next time."
"Exactly, brat," said Hayato, the quirk on his lips morphing into a small smile.
"On second thought," said Lambo with a disturbed look on his face. "We should send them both away so that Octopus Head doesn't corrupt them."
"What did you say?" growled Hayato.
"Lambo," said Tsuna warningly, cutting off Lambo's smart (or rather dumb) response. "I would be careful what you say since you still have fifteen more hours of training with Hayato this week."
The teen wisely shut his mouth.
"Bovino Lambo has a point," said Hibari. "Gokudera Hayato's judgment is obviously allowing his emotions to cloud his judgment. The children could be spies."
"They're not," said Tsuna, automatically straightening. Hibari barely spoke, and when he did, he hated being corrected. Tsuna still had a healthy fear (terror) of his cloud guardian, but Tsuna couldn't allow his cloud guardian to start because if not both Asari and Giotto would end up in a small unmarked room somewhere a thousand miles away to be "interrogated." "They're a part of a plot by Reborn to prepare for the future generation of Vongola. Asari mentioned others, so there is probably one for each of us. A successor to raise and eventually train to take over our positions."
"Correct, Dame Tsuna," said a voice that made Tsuna's already stiff posture rigid. "It's good to see that all that tortu-training paid off."
"Just call it torture," muttered Tsuna. It wasn't like anyone here believed otherwise.
"So do you like the presents I've sent your way," said Reborn, a smirk on his face.
"No," said Tsuna flatly. "They're human beings. You can't decide their fate like that."
"I decided yours," said the hitman as he sat on the chair directly opposite Tsuna. Tsuna held back a huff. He had always hated how his tutor could silence him with one word, though usually the hitman used his guns for that purpose.
"But these children aren't yours," said Tsuna, refusing to back down.
"Because they're yours," said Reborn, putting his feet on the now clear table. Tsuna glanced down at his empty plate and glared across the table. He didn't know how, because the hitman wasn't in the room for long before he spoke. Tsuna's hyper intuition was highly tuned for Reborn and could tell when Reborn was in a room after at most five minutes – Reborn was still the world's greatest hitman after all. But somehow Tsuna's missing food was Reborn's fault. The smirk on the hitman's face was proof. "Don't make me go over there and hit your head to jumpstart it. The culprit's on your lap."
Looking down, Tsuna resisted the urge to pull out a camera. Giotto had stuffed the food in his mouth as was evidenced by the smears of sauce and other ingredients decorating the boy's cheeks. The food and excitement coupled with boredom at the adult's continued conversation had caused the blonde boy to fall asleep. He looked, as the girls would put it, irresistibly adorable.
"So there's one of those for each of us?" asked Takeshi. "It would be fun to have someone to teach baseball to."
"I would show mine the extreme way of boxing," said Ryohei.
"A young mind to mold would be an advantage," said Mukuro. "My plans could use such a…convenience."
"You bring one into my wing and he will be bitten to death," said Hibari, standing up and leaving. He rarely stayed after the meal was finished, and the conversation was beginning to wear on him. Chrome gave him a sad look, but he pretended not to see her.
"But wouldn't it be interesting to have another true carnivore in the house?" asked Reborn. Hibari stopped. "The difference between a carnivore and an herbivore isn't always nature. Nurture can make a huge difference."
"Enough," said Tsuna firmly but not loudly. He didn't want to wake the children. Asari had succumbed to sleep too which would have been unusual if he hadn't been recovering from a bad cold. "They are not staying here."
"But—" started Takeshi.
"I said no," said Tsuna. He stood, not noticing how carefully he cradled Giotto in his arms. "And that answer is final."
"Tsuna-nii is right," said Lambo glaring at the child in his big brother's arms. "They should all go to the orphanage."
"Not Asari," said Tsuna, biting back a sigh. "Asari stays."
"Fine," muttered Lambo, and Tsuna attributed the lack of argument with the earlier threat. If Lambo managed to "rid" the mansion of Asari, the fifteen hours would be Reborn-level torture from Gokudera.
"Aw, that's not fair, boss," said Mukuro, and Tsuna contemplated taking out his gloves and X-burning the illusionist into oblivion. No one would blame Tsuna except for Chrome, and Chrome would forgive Tsuna eventually. "Why does your dear right hand man get to keep his and not us?"
"Because Asari's actually Hayato's son, and I don't trust you with a child," said Tsuna, leveling Mukuro with a glare that said exactly what would happen if the illusionist uttered another word. "Don't forget to go report to Martha in the morning."
Mukuro cringed but didn't protest. He didn't want to prolong his punishment or worse trigger his boss's normally dormant sadistic tendencies. Being raised by the world's most arguably sadistic man had side effects, and Mukuro had long learned (and relearned and relearned and rerelearned) that activating those side effects was a terribly painful idea.
"I have to find a room for the boy until morning," said Tsuna.
"He could stay in your room," said Reborn.
"No," said Tsuna. "He won't."
It was warm. Giotto had never felt so warm. A lovely rhythm beat in Giotto's ear and echoed through his body. He snuggled into the warmth, and his nose caught a strange musty smell mixed with a faded burnt smell. Giotto didn't mind burnt smells. Burning meant fire. He liked fire, especially in winter when everything was cold. They made things warm and safe, because wild animals never came near fire. And Giotto could use the flames to protect the others from the adults who tried to take their food. This warmth smelled like a friendly fire. Mean fires smelled spicy or sweet. Friendly fires smelt burnt because they were happy to warm you and not look for something else to burn like your hand or your house. Giotto finally realized that the rhythm of the friendly fire matched his own heart's sound. Giotto hadn't known that fires had heartbeats. Maybe they crackled and made too much noise for a person to hear their heart. But this one was a quiet fire, and Giotto liked the ba-bump of its heartbeat.
"Fiora, which of the guest's rooms are available?" crackled the fire, and Giotto frowned. He thought he could hear the fires talking to him sometimes in their crackles, but he'd never heard words so clearly before. But then this was a special friendly fire.
"I'm afraid none of them are ready right now, sir," said a girl's voice. It wasn't Elena's, but maybe a new girl had come to stay with them while Giotto had gone to get food. She probably wouldn't last long, since other kids tended to get scared off by Daemon or Alaude eventually. Sometimes G even shooed a few away. People tended not to be able to put up with them, not even other kids. "We're in the middle of remodeling them."
"Let me guess, Reborn ordered it," crackled the friendly fire. Why did the voice sound familiar? And why didn't Giotto hear any of the others?
"Y-yes," said the new girl. Maybe she was the only one talking because she couldn't sleep. Or maybe she was the only other one who could hear the fire. Or maybe Daemon was playing another prank. The friendly fire let out a sigh, and the fire sounded as if it sighed all the time. Maybe it needed more firewood.
"Back to Hayato then," sizzled the fire. It definitely needed more wood. It's G's turn. G should get it.
"H-he's in his room, sir," said the new girl. Why was she talking about rooms? There weren't any real rooms in the abandoned house. The inside walls were all gone, thanks to several fights between Alaude and Daemon.
"Thank you," crackled the fire. Or was it a fire? It sounded almost like a man. Like the one that was supposed to make Giotto laugh, or try to. Giotto would leave before that happened, because adults weren't funny. He had even lied to the man so that the man wouldn't try to make Giotto laugh by tickling him like the man had earlier. Adults were bossy and mean and didn't waste their time making kids laugh. Except for maybe Asari's papa. Asari's papa had made Asari laugh. But then, it wasn't hard making Asari laugh. Asari smiled and laughed all the time, even when things were hard. Giotto had never heard Asari's laugh so full though. Asari's laugh always sounded a little empty, missing something. But with the man that Asari called his papa, Asari's laugh hadn't been missing anything. And Asari had said the man that was supposed to make Giotto laugh could be Giotto's papa. Giotto didn't need a papa. Giotto needed to be strong for the others. He couldn't have a papa like Asari. Then who would look after the others?
Something suddenly tried to pull him away from the friendly fire, but Giotto grabbed the soft warmth and didn't let go. Because even if Giotto couldn't have a papa, he could have fire. Fires were warm and took care of everybody. And even if this one needed something to burn, Giotto would give it wood and then it would glow brightly and the others would be warmed by it too. And maybe they could learn to hear its heartbeat like Giotto could. The heartbeat fluttered, and Giotto knew it was confused. The fire didn't know why Giotto wasn't letting go. Giotto would tell it, but Daemon would make fun of him again. And then G would get mad and plot revenge for the slight to Giotto, and somehow it would all end with Daemon and Alaude destroying more of the house. So Giotto held onto the fire, making sure to keep the fluttering heartbeat in his ear.
But the something pulled harder, and the warmth wrapped around Giotto's hands and made them let go. The fire made Giotto let go, and the something took him and placed him on something else that was soft but cold. Giotto struggled against both somethings, but he couldn't open his eyes. If he did, it would give the somethings an advantage, because Giotto would stop struggling to get to the friendly fire that was moving away.
"Go," said the something. It was a man. Giotto struggled more. The others! "He'll be fine."
"Giotto wants to go with his papa," said a very familiar voice. Asari. Why was Asari here? Asari hadn't stayed with them since finding his papa. So why was—?
"I'm not his papa," crackled the fire. No, not fire. It was the man that was supposed to make Giotto laugh. Giotto stilled. He had fallen asleep on the table after eating both his and the man's food. And there had never been a fire. "He'll be better off here."
"But Uncle Tsuna would make a great papa," said Asari in what Giotto knew was the closest thing to a whine that the cheerful boy could make.
"No," said the fire—no, man. Giotto squeezed his eyes shut and sunk deeper into the second something that was a bed. "I wouldn't."
Giotto ignored how sad the man sounded, because he wasn't a fire, and Giotto couldn't get close to him.