The Long Haul

By codedredalert

Chapter 10: Mukuro

Chapter Warnings: Graphic macabre desires, verbal sexual harassment.

A/N: Don't own KHR. Thanks to organized-pandemonium on tumblr for the readthrough and feedback before I posted.

===/\===

4 May

Costeggiare mourned Peppe Mari and Dario Azzara for forty days.

Hibari didn't understand why an entire organisation should go into stasis when the two who died were not central to operations, but apparently this was regular Italian mafia sentiment. Gokudera and Chiavarone seemed to think it natural. Regardless of Hibari's opinion, everything ground to a halt, and he was left to wait for unassuming days to end.

The end of waiting came when they came back from the nearby mall and instinct told Hibari that something was wrong the moment he touched the doorknob to the apartment.

"What's the holdup?" Gokudera asked. Hibari frowned and turned the doorknob without inserting the key. It turned easily all the way, the door opening ever so slightly.

Gokudera swore softly and dropped the grocery bags. Hibari pocketed his key and drew his tonfa. He waited for Gokudera's gun to cast a shadow on the door before he pushed the door open and dashed in.

"Wait, don't—" Gokudera hissed in warning but Hibari was already past the corridor, rounding the corner to find Rokudo Mukuro sitting in his place at his kitchen table. The general wariness and anger that someone had dared violate this space was replaced with disgust and fury. Mukuro was here, he'd presumed he was welcome and didn't care if he wasn't and that was such typical Mukuro

Hibari wouldn't stand for it.

Mukuro blocked Hibari's tonfa strike with great finesse, catching the bar in the tines of his trident and throwing Hibari's balance off. Using the bar to restrict Hibari's range of motion, Mukuro leapt out of reach to the middle of the room, to where his weapon's longer range would give him the advantage.

"Welcome back. Did you miss me, Hibari Kyouya?" Mukuro asked with mocking candidness. Hibari tightened his grip on his tonfa and went for another hit, only to be blocked with the trident. He hissed in frustration. He'd expected that—Mukuro was undeniably a good fighter— but the fact of it was still galling.

"Jesus, is this how the two of you are going to be the entire time?" Gokudera asked. He'd already holstered his gun and was hanging up his coat.

Gokudera accepted Mukuro's presence without a hint of surprise. Hibari took half a second to process that before slamming his knee into Gokudera's unprotected stomach. The light haired man went flying into the wall. His coat fell from the coat rack and covered his head like a death shroud.

Gokudera had known Mukuro would be here. And despite all that talk about sharing information, he hadn't told Hibari.

"Hypocrite," Hibari said, furious to the point that his voice was deadly flat. "I'll bite you to death."

There was a step behind him and Hibari turned just in time to sidestep the downward sweep of Mukuro's trident.

"Ignoring me isn't like you at all," Mukuro smiled in that disgustingly fake way that made Hibari want to quite literally want to bite something, to rip that jaw off and leave it for the scavengers. "Also, I'm afraid Gokudera-kun's quite useful, so I can't let you kill him."

Hibari's eyes narrowed. Mukuro had him at the point where the corridor opened into the room, he was literally backed into a corner, with Gokudera behind him.

Suddenly, there was a hand near his neck and under his chin, pushing his head up and dragging him backwards. Hibari stumbled and twisted, all animal alarm. A punch to the sternum set him back another two steps and –

SLAM.

Hibari found himself standing outside the apartment, with the abandoned grocery bags at his feet.

"Walk it off and come back when you're prepared to talk like an actual fucking adult," came Gokudera's slightly winded voice from behind the closed apartment door. "Also, fuck you, that hurt."

Hibari struck the door but the bodyweight behind it and the click of the lock told him that there was little chance he could get the door open without destroying it completely and raising too many questions. He seriously considered it, but 'tch-ed' at the door and turned away. Mission success meant he had to bear with it, and this mission was just interesting enough for him to care.

Hibari kicked one bag of groceries across the landing anyway. Something shattered and made a frothing dark puddle. Hibari watched the liquid spread and start to drip at the edges of the landing before he vaulted the railing, too full of ill-contained fury to deal with stairs.

He wandered the streets for a while before the jarring foreignness of it all drove him to the nearest Chiavarone safehouse. This one was a deceptively quaint little two-storey house on the outside, with a keypad and fingerprint scanner hidden in the old-fashioned metal letterbox on its front door. Hibari opened it, removed the junk mail and punched in the numbers so fast that they didn't register. He paused and let it reset before he punched in his access code again, and placed his thumb on the pad. The scanner blinked green and the door opened.

Entering the relative gloom, Hibari stepped carefully over a pair of familiar sneakers strewn haphazardly in the narrow corridor. For whatever reason, it seemed that Chiavarone was holed up in this safehouse instead of at his mansion.

Hibari took the stairs up and opened the door to the master bedroom without entering. Chiavarone was standing at the desk of the small room, papers strewn across the walls, the desk, the floor. A glass of whiskey with a large ball of ice was in his left hand, with the bottle in easy reach.

"Romario?" Chiavarone asked, voice gruff but urgent, glaring at the papers. There was a glimmer on his cheek. He'd been crying, perhaps he still was. "How many? Did Antonio and Luca make it? Have you told Rosa and Anna about their husbands yet? Shit, I'm not a helpless damsel, I should be there helping!"

"I'm not Romario," Hibari replied, and the blonde finally looked up.

Chiavarone looked terrible, the dark circles around his eyes blue-black like bruises and the usually messy bedhead an unholy disaster.

"Oh," said Chiavarone. "Kyouya. I didn't notice… When did you get here? There should have been a bell or notification buzzer or something."

Hibari nodded to the red light blinking next to the screen showing the entranceway. Chiavarone stared at it for a moment.

"Oh," he said, shoulders slumping and sounding defeated. "Maybe Romario's right, I should stay here."

"Fight me," Hibari said from the doorway.

Chiavarone looked at him in disbelief.

"Fight you?" he repeated. "Literally or like don't listen to Romario?"

"Yes."

Chiavarone looked from Hibari to the papers he'd been working on, then to the whiskey in his glass.

"I won't make a very entertaining fight, Kyouya, seeing as no one else is here. You know how I am." He said it bitterly, and quickly downed his whiskey while looking at the wall over the edge of his glass.

Hibari strode across the room and grabbed Chiavarone's hand. He pulled the signet ring off Chiavarone's little finger and shoved it onto his own. Temporary Chiavarone member was enough to extract some sort of fighting competency from the blonde, and Chiavarone certainly knew him long enough to accept it.

"Fight me," Hibari demanded again, dropping Chiavarone's hand. Chiavarone hissed a breath, the bleariness in his eyes hardening slightly. Hibari didn't back down.

"Fine. You know what? Fine. I'm not in the mood to argue with you," Chiavarone grumbled. "But first, drink with me. It's been a spectacularly shit day, I'm exhausted, and not nearly drunk enough. You don't deserve that kind of handicap."

===/\===

"Walk it off and come back when you're prepared to talk like an actual fucking adult," Gokudera said through the door, one hand over his stomach. His goddamn intestines felt bruised. "Also, fuck you, that hurt," he added in a lower tone.

Gokudera tensed in anticipation and sure enough, Hibari kicked the door. There was the sound of glass breaking on the far side of the landing, near the lift, and then… nothing.

Gokudera breathed a sigh of relief.

"The skylark is as delightful as ever," Mukuro commented. "Have you been getting along well?"

"Oh hell no, this is on you. If he broke the door, it would've come out of your paycheck, you complete and utter bastard. You could have told just me your arrival time instead of breaking into our apartment," Gokudera replied. He paused with his hand on the door handle and considered going out for the bags he'd dumped outside, then thought better of it. Hibari wasn't naturally the sly sort but it was probably still a good idea to wait a little more to make sure he'd left. "Also you said you were wrapping things up in America a month ago."

"But there were a full forty days of mourning for the Costeggiare heir, no?"

He was right. Gokudera scowled at the door.

"I do pay attention," said Mukuro smugly, when it became apparent that Gokudera had no reply. Gokudera glowered. The real reason he'd asked Mukuro to arrive early was so that there would be some time for Hibari to calm down again. Gokudera wasn't about to tell him that, though.

"Shut up and have a seat," Gokudera said instead. He took a file from under the coffee table. Mukuro raised an eyebrow and started to smirk. Gokudera glared at him.

"I said shut up," Gokudera said and Mukuro snickered.

"Oh, but I haven't said anything. Yet."

"This room is secure," Gokudera insisted.

"Of course," Mukuro said, smooth to the point any sane person would want to punch him for being patronising. Gokudera sat down and threw a cushion at Mukuro. Unfortunately, the mist guardian caught it easily and took a seat cross legged on the floor on the side of the table closest to the balcony, right in Hibari's lounging in the sun spot.

"Right," started Gokudera, brisk and businesslike. "So, long story short. Introductory negotiations are in two days. Use your handy reputation as a deranged mass murderer to remind Costeggiare that they aren't the biggest fish in the pond, because, if Chiavarone is right, they've been getting some ideas about that. Bring weaponry but nothing conspicuous. That means no trident."

"Ah, but they'd never see it." Mukuro pointed out.

Gokudera fought the urge to punch him in the overly smug face, but Mukuro's abilities were at that level.

"Fine, as long as you're certain of that. Prepare for a metal detector, thermal cameras, and a pat-down, though I doubt they'd dare. I'll refuse diplomatically, and if they insist, well, do what you must but don't kill them," Gokudera couldn't imagine any enemy grunt patting-down Mukuro or Hibari and getting away with it, but Costeggiare had been unpredictable of late. "I'll procure appropriate gifts for Old Man Mari. I'll also keep working on the bomber case. If it really was Dulio, I need to find evidence."

Mukuro gave a bored nod. Looked like he'd read the briefing notes Gokudera had sent him. Good.

"I need you to discreetly scout the Costeggiare headquarters. We've managed to get blueprints and some information of the comings and goings, but confirmation is always nice, especially personal confirmation. You don't have a lot of time, if you'd been here earlier it would have been helpful."

"No need to lecture," Mukuro said with a touch of amusement. "Two days is plenty of time."

"Now, about your sleeping arrangements," Gokudera started and Mukuro waved to cut him off.

"I'll stay at a hotel. Being undercover is fun and this place is quaint, but there really isn't enough space for all of us. Besides," he looked slyly at Gokudera, setting off warning bells. "Do you really want me sharing a bed with the skylark?"

Gokudera shuddered thinking of the property damage bill if Mukuro so much as tried to put one foot in Hibari's room. He had been about to suggest that Mukuro stay at a nearby hostel, so this worked out. Still, for Mukuro to suggest it…

"That's... considerate of you." Gokudera said, making a token effort but failing to hide his suspicion.

"I'm always this considerate."

"Yeah, sure," Gokudera said flatly, not believing him one whit. "Anyway, for the actual negotiations, just back me up. Your briefing documents should have our bottom line and ideal scenario, but we have quite a bit of flexibility. A lot of what we'd be doing is feeling out Mari's position, we are very prepared to walk away. I'm finalising strategy with the Tenth tonight, the plan should be in your inbox by tomorrow morning. Questions?"

"None at all." Mukuro smiled.

===/\===

Unlock the door. – 18

Or I'll break it down. –18

===/\===

When Hibari returned to the apartment, the door was unlocked. Gokudera was at the sofa, typing away.

Ignoring the other, Hibari searched the apartment, opening every drawer and compartment, and running his hands over the undersides of all the tables. He didn't find anything, and nothing seemed to have been moved or touched, but he wasn't satisfied. Mukuro couldn't be trusted and Hibari had no idea how long the illusionist had been here. Still, he couldn't think of anywhere else to look, so he was left with pacing the apartment and glaring suspiciously at every piece of furniture.

"If he really wanted to spy, he wouldn't need to bug the room," Gokudera pointed out without looking up. Hibari stopped in his tracks.

"You called him," Hibari said accusatorily.

"Yeah, I did. Are you an illusionist?" Gokudera asked rhetorically. Hibari growled but didn't respond otherwise. "By the way, you're still in your outside shoes."

Hibari was, but he didn't appreciate that being said.

"Look," Gokudera said, pausing his typing. "I'm sorry."

Hibari stared.

"I would offer to let you hit me, but I can't afford that since we're seeing Costeggiare so soon," Gokudera continued. "I mean it, though. After this mission, when we're back in Namimori. One free hit. Let me know if you want that in writing."

"Hit you," Hibari repeated, unsure what to make of this sudden, bizarre offer.

"That's what the baseball freak said you took as an apology. So I'll say it again. I shouldn't have signed Mukuro onto this mission without telling you, because you're my partner. I fucked up, and this is me apologising."

Hibari considered this. Baseball freak? Yamamoto Takeshi, then. Hibari did recall one incident, when Yamamoto Takeshi had been his mission partner and ended up dragging Hibari into a trap because of some emotional sentiment. Yamamoto had bowed to Hibari after, apologising and saying something about hitting him. Hibari had been similarly confused and very much more annoyed, but he swung at Yamamoto. Yamamoto blocked the strike, sweating nervously and complaining that Hibari had actually done it at full strength. It had become a spar that Hibari had quite enjoyed.

"That's different," Hibari concluded. It had been a very calming fight, though he suspected that Yamamoto's box weapons had something to do that. A few people had tried to explain box weapons to Hibari before, but he'd never been particularly interested. If he hit his enemy hard enough, he won. If the enemy didn't go down with one hit, hit again. It didn't have to be so complicated.

Gokudera frowned.

"Okay…." Gokudera said slowly, obviously missing something. "Wanna explain that?"

"Fighting you isn't entertaining."

"What?" Gokudera asked, offended. "And fighting him is?"

Hibari didn't know what Gokudera was surprised about. Hibari had never shown interest in fighting the bomber, and he never concealed his interest when he wanted to fight someone. Sparring a range weapon user when his own preference was melee was not impossible, but it was hardly as entertaining. Hibari made an exception for Reborn, but the hitman was interesting in other ways, and excellent at hand-to-hand if it came down to it.

"Yes."

"Fine," Gokudera said, still frowning, but he put his legs up on his sofa and continued with whatever he was doing before.

===/\===

6 May

Gokudera blearily realised there were people talking. It was just sound at first, voices. One was deep and taut, like a double bass. The other was playful and dark, like a child at a playground, abandoned but not knowing it. As the light beyond Gokudera's eyelids grew brighter, the sounds strengthened to form words.

"You haven't asked me about Chrome yet."

"I don't ask you things."

"Not out loud, but I know you want to know. Anyway, there's always a first time. Ask me about cute little Chrome, Hibari Kyouya."

"Will you fucking shut the hell up already? God," Gokudera complained, turning to bury his face into his pillow further. The conversation broke and the quiet was letting Gokudera drift off again when Mukuro spoke.

"Another false alarm? I'm surprised you tolerate him mumbling nonsense in his sleep."

The smell of coffee, the chink of a teaspoon in a cup. After so many months, it was as good as an alarm. Gokudera felt himself growing more awake already. Goddamn Pavlovian responses.

"Look at you, Hibari, you've turned absolutely domestic. Making coffee and everything. Wait 'til word gets home."

BAM!

Gokudera jolted, looking over to see what happened. Hibari had slammed the kettle on the table, which had sloshed water in Mukuro's direction, and Mukuro was a good six feet away from where his voice had been earlier. Gokudera was willing to bet that a few seconds ago, Mukuro's hands had been where the kettle was.

"I don't want to deal with your bullshit until afternoon," Gokudera warned as he hauled himself into sitting upright. On the table, his phone had its message alert light on. He tapped it to check, but they all seemed to be from Haru. She could wait.

"It's half past twelve," Mukuro supplied helpfully. Gokudera groaned, that was later than he'd intended.

"Shit, okay, up," he muttered, lurching to his feet and staggering to the kitchen table. Hibari put the coffee mug in front of him. Gokudera sipped at the coffee and let the rich, bitter caffeine ease him into being an actual, functional human being. The sugar pot arrived deftly on the countertop and Gokudera tossed a couple of cubes into his cup. Hibari placed a teaspoon on the counter and took the pot of sugar, placing it back in the cupboard.

"Thanks," Gokudera said as he used the teaspoon to crush the cubes a bit before stirring.

"This is hilarious," Mukuro remarked from a safe distance.

"Fuck off, Mukuro. I haven't even finished my first cup of coffee yet," Gokudera sighed before Hibari could attempt bodily harm again. "In fact, just shut up until I've finished about three more doses of caffeine and sugar."

"He's gone and kept the sugar," Mukuro pointed out.

"Yeah, he does that."

"'He' will bite you to death," Hibari interjected, which could have been funny from anyone else, but from Hibari it was clearly a threat.

"How cute."

"Mukuro," Gokudera warned.

"Alright, I can play nice. You want to talk about serious mafia things, sure. Will you be going like that, mister right hand?"

Gokudera had fallen asleep in his going out clothes for Gale. He snorted. He was half-asleep but not so unawares that he'd try to go for a meeting as is.

"I'll change and shower." He paused. "Not in that order."

"And your hair?" Mukuro pressed, though he smiled at the joke. Gokudera's hand went to his hair.

"What about my—oh. Right." He'd dyed it again several times during the mission, to a darker brown than he'd bought the first time. The last time he'd done it was shortly after the bombings. The colour had faded to a light brown, but it was a far cry from the silver that was associated with Vongola Storm. "I have stuff to wash it out and dye it back to normal." He eyed Mukuro and Hibari. "Don't kill each other while waiting."

Mukuro laughed.

"Oh Mr. Right Hand Man, it's as if you've never signed off on missions where it's just the two of us."

"I remember signing off on a fuck ton of property damage bills, that's what I remember," Gokudera said dryly. "And it'll damn well come out of your accounts if anything similar happens on this mission."

"Alright, we'll try to keep it vanilla—"

Mukuro dodged the swipe of Hibari's tonfa and sidestepped the follow-up kick but missed the second tonfa, which caught him in the hip. Hibari raised his tonfa for another hit, but Mukuro darted away again.

"We need him in one piece for the mission later," Gokudera directed at Hibari. Hibari spared a moment to glare at him. "I know, I know. I agree with you, he deserved it."

Hibari glared harder.

Gokudera sighed.

"Avoid the face," Gokudera waved resignedly. Hibari immediately launched himself forward but Mukuro was gone, leaving only a faint indigo mist. Hibari paused, taking in this new situation before dashing for the door.

"Wait, you can't be seen like that—" Gokudera heard the door slam and just gave up.

He used to think paperwork cut down years of his life. Having these two on the mission was probably going to take a decade from his life span.

Gokudera downed his coffee and headed to the shower. He duly applied the store products he'd bought according to the instructions and sat to wait, taking the time to check through the backlog of messages on his phone.

Hey mister don't you have something to say to me –86

Are you ignoring me?—86

I thought we were friends hayato I thought we had something –86

Omg u are actually ignoring me –86

Omg we are done I want a divorce —86

Sign those friend divorce papers pronto hayato also I want the house and the cat –86

What the actual fuck, Haru.–59

Meanie! All I get r insults but takeshi gets IDK SOMETHING COOL I SAW HIS FB POST DX - 86

shit I forgot your birthday. – 59

N I gave u like extra days to rmb but u didnt – 86

U make me sadz hayato –86

I better get alimony 4 this –86

Okay enough with the joke. I'm stuck with crazy powerful psychos one and two over here, cut me some slack, woman. –59

Who is number 1? –86

They alternate. –59

Lol –86

But yeah. Sorry for forgetting. –59

Haha, im not srs anw—86

Oh I know! say "~*HARU-SAMA IS THE GREATEST FRIEND EVER AND ALSO SUPER CUTE AND AWESOME*~" and ill let you off for this EGREGIOUS friend fail –86

"~*HARU-SAMA IS THE GREATEST FRIEND EVER AND ALSO SUPER CUTE AND AWESOME*~" –59

OMG I CANT BELIEVE YOU DID IT –86

IM SO SCREENSHOTTING THIS AND PRINTING IT–86

BEST BDAY PREZZIE EVER THIS IS HILARIOUS OMG IM DYING—86

WAT IS AIR–86

Gokudera escaped to the shower, his phone buzzing on the sink non-stop for a solid two minutes.

===/\===

To Gokudera's surprise, he didn't have too much trouble calling Hibari and Mukuro back to the apartment. They'd clearly fought, clothes mussed and Hibari favouring his left arm, but still in relatively good condition.

Celeste drove them, which seemed to pacify Hibari at least a little. Gokudera made Mukuro sit in front, and let Hibari glare daggers from the backseat diagonally across the car. The journey was uncomfortable silence that wore at Gokudera's nerves. He was already feeling slightly frazzled when they pulled up to the gate of the Costeggiare house. It was an old coastal home, all Mediterranean colours, with simple and elegant shapes, its own dramatic section of cliff face, and a winding road up to it.

The guards let them in without trouble, perhaps cowed from the invisible wash of Cloud flames rolling off Hibari and Mukuro's slight, creeping Mist flames as well. God knows Celeste herself was paler than when she first picked them up.

There was no one at the main door, so Gokudera made the call and let himself in. The foyer was grand but conservatively-styled, with dark wood accents and marble floors. It was empty except for a man in his early thirties, who started at the appearance of the three strangers. He looked vaguely familiar, Gokudera had probably seen his face in a file somewhere.

"We are here to meet with don Mari," Gokudera said, raising a hand to show the storm ring, and keeping the other in plain view so the other man wouldn't go for his gun. "From Vongola. He should be expecting us."

The Costeggiare man's shoulders eased up.

"This is hardly the best time," he said. "I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave and reschedule."

"Oh? Is this the new Right Hand?" Mukuro asked, head tilted slightly in interest, troublemaker smirk firmly in place. Gokudera could roll with this.

"Hardly. Capo for half a year, Remigio Mancini," Gokudera said, the name finally coming to him, and the man paled a little. Vongola intelligence was accurate, then. Good. "Leave him alone, Mukuro."

The man paled further at Mukuro's name, just as Gokudera had intended.

"We apologise for the bad timing, but as you know, we had to travel quite a distance to be here and it is difficult to gather these many people of suitable rank. We regard Costeggiare too highly to send anything less," Gokudera said, as amiably as he knew how. Charisma was not his strong suit but he had learned a little, from the Tenth and Reborn. Besides, it was true. It would be foolish and disrespectful to appear with anything less than the Right Hand, and two other Guardians, especially for a first official visit.

"I see," Remigio said.

"If we could extend our trip any further, we would, but we've waited out the mourning period already and this one gets annoyingly restless when he's away from home too long," Gokudera tried to joke, gesturing at Hibari.

Hibari glanced at Gokudera, unamused, but he let it go without a fuss. Remigio didn't seem sure how to take it, so he kept a neutral expression.

"I'll show you to the boss," Remigio said. He led them to a set of old, oak doors, and after a quick knock and answering "come in", he held the door open for them.

The room in which don Costeggiare received them was, if Gokudera had to put it in a word, heavy. The afternoon sunlight cut a rectangle across Mari's antique desk and chair, making it glow gold on dark browns, and leaving harsh black shadows. The sturdy, matching shelves and liquor cabinet were dark, and while what little showed of the wallpaper was light, the curtains and the carpet were dark, and richly patterned. The men, and Mari himself, were dressed in pure black, making sombre shapes against the backdrop of curtain.

A single, smaller chair was at the desk, opposite Mari.

Gokudera walked to the chair with wide, unhurried steps, even though he was conscious of that heaviness, of every eye on him. If he broke into anything vaguely resembling a jog, Mari would know he could be intimidated. If he dawdled or was too slow, he would look rude or suspicious. He kept his chin up until he was before the desk, right next to the chair. He gave a nod to Mari, then to Mukuro. Mukuro obligingly pulled the chair out for Gokudera to sit, and sit he did.

Mukuro and Hibari stepped into place, Mukuro to his left, and Hibari to his right. The men lining the wall behind Mari shifted uneasily, but Gokudera stopped himself from looking back, lest it break the spell of the presence these two Guardians had by just standing there. He wondered briefly if this was what the Tenth felt like, with legends and monsters and nightmares condensed into men, at either side of an age-old throne.

"So, today I finally hear what business brings the Japanese right on the heels of my son's burial," Mari started, his tone amiable but his stare a challenge.

"Our condolences for your losses, don Mari. Thank you for taking time so soon after your mourning for our business discussions," opened Gokudera. Shit, was that too weak? Too late, anyway. He glanced at Hibari and nodded, and Hibari placed the bottle of thirty-year Yamazaki whisky on Mari's table. "A gift."

Mari considered it with his deep-set eyes before raising a hand to call one of his men forward.

"A glass for myself and the young Vongola capo here," Mari said. Gokudera fought to not show his irritation. Mari had to know Gokudera was more than a mere captain, and bringing attention to their age difference was clearly an attempt to undermine Gokudera's authority. This was a carefully calculated barb. Gokudera couldn't rise to it.

It's just like endgame chess, he told himself. Lambo's being annoying but if you lose to Irie, the penalty's going to be absurd. Concentrate.

A man brought two glasses and poured a finger of whiskey in each before placing a glass within easy reaching distance, one for Gokudera and one for Mari. Mari took his with his left hand, displaying the heavy gold ring on his little finger. The Costeggiare insignia was a lady's side profile made out like a shoreline, with hair for waves, and a compass rose brushing her lips.

"To the absent don Vongola." Mari raised his glass. God, he really was going to harp on Gokudera's rank, as if Costeggiare was anywhere near large or influential enough that Tenth would have to come personally.

"To your famiglia, and its swift recovery," Gokudera responded.

They both downed the whiskey and placed the glass back on the table.

"I'll be upfront with you, capo," Mari said, sitting back and lacing his fingers atop his belly. "I agreed to this meeting because I want answers. You were there when my son and Right Hand were killed. Isn't that amazing coincidence, 'Smoking Bomb'?"

The light glinted on Mari's ring. The unsaid question hanging in the air, almost tangible, was 'Could you have done that? Did you?'.

Gokudera could have, and done it better to boot, but Mari already knew that. Gokudera was more interested in what the line of questioning implied. Costeggiare thought he was the bomber? Did Mari not know about the police investigations with Duilio? He had to, Corvi was involved. Unless the fractures in Costeggiare were wider than they knew, and Corvi had somehow covered that up.

"Coincidence indeed. We similarly did not go unscathed in that event," Gokudera said, choosing his words carefully, to angle as if Mari was hinting at an alignment of goals, rather than a poorly veiled accusation. "We have been looking into the bombing as well, and would be open to a trade of information, if that is what you are suggesting."

"You would know something of bombs," Mari said, tilting his chin down. The tone changed it from a musing to something darker. Gokudera consciously unclenched his own jaw as discreetly as he could. Mari was making it difficult to keep this discussion going civilly.

"Thank you, I think I would. And here is a free comment—from what I've learned, the make of it was amateur," Gokudera scoffed as mildly as he could. He willed himself to look bored and disinterested.

Mukuro outright laughed, and it took everything Gokudera had in him not to shoot him a warning look. He had to trust that Mukuro knew what game was afoot.

"What is this? Do you mock my grief? My need to inquire about my son's death?" Mari asked Mukuro directly. Being talked over rankled Gokudera's pride something fierce, but he held it in check. Mukuro was supposed to be attention grabbing, it was why Gokudera had called him in.

"Ah, no, no, not at all, Costeggiare," Mukuro replied smoothly as Gokudera took a breath to regain his patience. "Merely at the thought of this flashy one being assigned an assassination." Mukuro patted the back of Gokudera's chair in a caricature of fondness. Some of the Costeggiare men in the back flinched with the movement.

"Hn," Hibari murmured in agreement, and there was even a hint of amusement in his voice. If Gokudera wasn't already sitting, he might have fallen over in shock. Well, it seemed that these two could put up a front of cooperativity if they had to.

"Mukuro is right," Gokudera continued, and those who hadn't flinched before made slight, uncomfortable shifts at the name. "Vongola's assassination squads are renowned for their competence. On my honour as Right Hand, we never put a hit on your son or your right hand. If we had, it would have been a cleaner job. The Vongola Decimo dislikes civilian casualties."

Mari bristled and Gokudera felt with absolute clarity that this was the moment he could take control of the flow in the conversation.

"Speaking of my boss brings me back to the business at present. We are here to open business negotiations," Gokudera reminded Mari, sweeping his hands open to mimic Tenth. It was an invitation, a gesture of peace. It also subtly pointed at Mukuro and Hibari, fighting powerhouses in a famiglia best known for its weaponry dealings and uncanny fortune. "If you are not interested, we will leave."

Mari made a show of considering this and Gokudera decided to force his hand.

"I see," Gokudera said, pushing his chair back. "Well, thank you for your time, don Costeggiare. We will see ourselves out."

"No need to rush about, young man," Mari grumbled. He waved his hand for Gokudera to stay seated. "What business have you come to propose?"

"A real estate transaction," answered Gokudera. "Of several of your coastal properties."

He held up his hand for the file and Mukuro produced it from thin air with a flourish. Gokudera handed it over to Mari.

"We are prepared to pay the price listed there," Gokudera concluded.

Mari opened the file, glanced at it, and threw it down on the table in disgust.

"This is an insult!" he growled, with a deep resonance only someone with that broad a chest could achieve. Gokudera didn't react. He had sent a real estate surveyor to evaluate the properties the week before, the price offered was objectively fair, if on the low end of the range. Mari was just posturing.

A tap on the shoulder from Hibari.

"This is the market price," Hibari interjected, his tone was textbook boredom. Gokudera could imagine Hibari's neutral face perfectly, even though he couldn't look back. "Europe's market is deteriorating. You need a buyer who won't ask to many questions and Vongola is the only mafia family with substantial assets outside Europe. It'll be worth less than that by next week and you won't have a buyer if you continue insulting us. This is your best offer."

Mari stopped short in his show of anger, his bluff called for the second time today. He gestured for someone to refill their whiskey glasses. He raised his glass to Gokudera, and Gokudera mirrored him and drank.

"No insult was meant," said Mari, his tone neutral once more but still taut with control.

"Likewise," said Gokudera.

"Still, I have heard this argument before," Mari said. "So, it is true that the Bucking Horse had a protégé in the Vongola, and bloody high up as well."

Gokudera stepped on Mukuro's foot pre-emptively, in case the mist guardian decided to sow more rumours. Fortunately, neither of his fellow guardians reacted. Gokudera made a quick mental note to thank Hibari later.

"Chiavarone is indeed a valuable ally to the Vongola," Gokudera said, keeping his tone professional. Hibari was getting agitated, Gokudera could sense it, but any attempt he made to tell Hibari to calm down now would likely just aggravate him further. "But the two are very much separate. Any agreement will be with Vongola."

Mari scoffed.

"Even if we set aside the matter of your alliances, these properties have been in my family for years," Mari said tapping the file with one meaty hand. "This is not a matter of mere money, young man. If you insist on treating it as such, then you are a fool."

"If this is not a matter of price, then what would you accept as a worthy exchange?" asked Gokudera, struggling to keep his frustration from showing. They were finally getting somewhere, he couldn't rise to insult now.

Mari considered this question for a moment before his thoughtful gaze settled on Mukuro.

"Yes, perhaps there is something," Mari muttered to himself, nodding slowly.

The old man leaned forward and pulled open a desk drawer. Gokudera tensed in anticipation, but Mari didn't pull out a weapon. Instead he took a single piece of paper, with a printed image and some text at the bottom.

"This painting was stolen from us when I was a boy," Mari said gruffly, sliding the paper across the table. "I want it back. The bastards won't sell for any price and the place is locked up tighter than the damn Vindice prison."

Gokudera took the paper and looked at it.

"I've heard of this person. The security on his residence is rather renowned," commended Gokudera, raising his eyebrows. He passed it to Hibari, who hummed neutrally and passed it to Mukuro. Mukuro considered it before passing it back to Gokudera.

"Well, we already did Vindice. I wouldn't mind a challenge to keep my skills from rotting," commented Mukuro lightly.

Gokudera nodded as he took back the paper. Message received loud and clear. Mukuro thought it could be done, but not easily. Gokudera turned back to Mari.

"And if we present this to you, we have a deal," Gokudera said aloud for confirmation, gesturing with the piece of paper. In the back of his mind, he had a nagging suspicion that this second half of the deal was set for failure, or a test. Still, the Tenth was depending on them, on him. If the painting existed, Gokudera would see this deal done.

"Yes," Mari said, the heaviest and shortest word Gokudera had ever received. They shook hands. Hibari filled their glasses again and they drank to the deal.

The Vongola guardians left without further pleasantries.

===/\===

"God, I thought that'd never end," Gokudera groaned from the front passenger seat, motioning for Celeste to pull over near the Parco del Poggio. "I feel like I need to sleep for a year. No fighting," he added quickly before he opened the door to step into the park, suddenly realising he'd let Hibari and Mukuro sit next to each other. He whipped his head round quickly enough to make his vision spin. Hibari was on edge, Mukuro was as unreadable as ever, and Gokudera felt the mother of all migraines coming on.

"You know what, everyone out. Thanks, Celeste. Out, out, c'mon you two."

Hibari was out of the car in a moment, as if the seat were red hot. Mukuro took his time. Gokudera nodded at Celeste, who looked to HIbari. Hibari nodded once, sharply, and she drove off.

"Thanks for the good work earlier," Gokudera told them. "I have a plan on how to move forward from here but I'll need to talk to some people first. Let's meet at back at the apartment at seven and split for now. Don't draw attention to yourselves," Gokudera warned, glancing in Hibari's direction to make sure he was heard. Hibari wasn't paying attention, too busy glowering at Mukuro. Gokudera stepped in between and pushed Mukuro away by the shoulder.

"I'd appreciate if you two didn't fight," Gokudera said, now that he was directly in Hibari's line of sight.

"As you wish," Mukuro said, with obvious amusement, almost a purr. He motioned as if he were tipping a hat to Hibari and walked away, disappearing in the shadows of a street corner.

Hibari made a dissatisfied noise and began stalking off in the other direction.

"Hey," called Gokudera, hesitant to call Hibari's name too loudly in such a public place. Hibari paused and turned back, brows furrowed.

"Thanks. For the support and tolerating Mukuro. I'm guessing it wasn't easy or pleasant."

They stood there for a beat. Hibari's expression barely changed, then he inclined his head and continued on his way.

===/\===

Chiavarone's a fucking idiot. Apparently, there was another fight between his men and Costeggiare, can you believe it? Right before we went to negotiate. – 59

Anyway, we got the deal. Art and money for the land that will corner him, but we need to get the art. I already have some of Rain types around to ensure street tensions don't escalate, will probably need to borrow more from baseball freak. Will get full report to you tonight. – 59

Those two behaved, just like you said, Tenth. – 59

===/\===

A/N: Bad joke time- Remigio Mancini can't be right hand man because Mancini means left hand (apparently?) heheh.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND I'M SORRY FOR THE LONG WAIT GOSH IT WAS SUPER LONG EVEN FOR ME. Figuring out Mukuro and how he affects the dynamic Hibari and Gokudera had up til now, and trying to be clever with plot was really tough DX. I hope I succeeded.

As usual, any encouragement is appreciated because I've fallen out of this fandom.

Special thanks to that tumblr anon who sent me lots of asks, I love questions, and I love you 0u0. Sorry I haven't gotten round to all of them yet, I'm very slow, but hey, new chapter, right? The encouragement worked!